The UFC returns to the USA and a full crowd for a fight night event this weekend as Curtis Blaydes fights Chris Daukaus in Columbus.
After an amazing trip to London, we have another heavyweight main event this time with two fighters battling to stay in top five conversations and enter their name into the round-robin that’s buzzing in Francis Ngannou’s absence.
We’ll also see a huge flyweight eliminator between Askar Askarov and Kai Kara-France to see who could be the next title contender in the division.
Marc Diakiese (14-5) vs Viacheslav Borshchev (6-1) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
A lightweight bout to open up the main card in this one. Diakiese has lost five of his last seven and is battling for his UFC career right now, having lost to Rafael Fiziev and then Rafael Alves most recently at UFC Vegas 42. Borshchev is 6-1 professionally with a huge body shot KO against Dakota Bush at UFC Vegas 46 in his debut last time out.
Diakiese and Borshchev are both strong kickboxers with good explosive power in their attacks, while grappling is their weakness although they’re strong enough to hold their own. Diakiese has a major speed advantage between the two and from the outside will look to land kicks and combinations, while Borshchev will look to walk forward and counter with power shots and he has the ability to end the show early.
This will be a highly entertaining striking battle and I’ll be surprised to see it go the distance. Diakiese’s defeats have come to some of the top guys in the division, and Borshchev is one of the best strikers in the division. It’ll be fun and competitive, but I think the power advantage will take it’s toll as the fight goes on for him to score a late finish. PICK – Viacheslav Borshchev via Knockout, Round 3
Ilir Latifi (16-8) vs Aleksei Oleinik (59-16-1) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
Big heavyweight bout in this one to warm the crowd up for the rest of the main card. Latifi is a former light-heavyweight who has lost three of his last four, but picked up a win against Tanner Boser last time out at UFC Vegas 28 via split decision. Oleinik has lost his last three, getting KO’d by Derrick Lewis (UFC Vegas 6), Chris Daukaus (UFC Vegas 19) and dropping a decision to Sergei Spivak most recently at UFC Vegas 29.
Latifi is a little man for the division with big weight and an excellent wrestling skillset, while Oleinik is a submission specialist looking for his 60th professional win. He is the master of the Ezekiel choke and is even capable of getting taps off his back with it, so Latifi must be careful. He has an incredible squeeze and can take a huge shot on the chin. Age is a big factor in this fight with a combined age of 82, so I don’t think it lasts too long.
Latifi is going to look to take the fight to the ground with wrestling and stay on top, throwing elbows and ground and pound to earn a win. Oleinik will happily go to ground and will look to sweep him with jiu-jitsu and then explode with chokes and limb attacks.
If this fight is on the way to the mat, then there are plenty of avenues from which Oleinik can secure a submission. He’s by far the bigger man, with Latifi way undersized for the division, and with great experience and submission skills I expect him to be be able to stay on top for long enough to wrap something up and squeeze the life out of Latifi for a win. PICK – Aleksei Oleinik via Submission, Round 1
Askar Askarov (14-0-1) vs Kai Kara-France (23-9) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
An absolute banger and my pick for the fight of the night in this flyweight bout. Askarov is undefeated earned a dominant win over Joseph Benavidez at UFC 259 last time out. Kara-France has found a resurgence recently and earned a huge KO win over Cody Garbrandt at UFC 269 toset this title eliminator bout up.
Askarov is phenomenal. His wrestling is so clean and crisp, and his grappling skills deserve far more praise than they get and they already get plenty. Askarov’s striking is decent too, with decent power and enough to concern opponents to back up to the cage which allows his takedowns. Kara-France has got solid boxing skills and great power in his hands, while his takedown defence is decent and his lateral movement is solid.
This is a really good match-up, with different outcomes possible for both fighters. Ultimately though, the wrestling of Askarov just looks like too much for Kara-France to handle. Despite his good scrambling skills, Askarov has a habit of controlling guys once he has them down and his attempts are relentless until he gets them there. I’ve not seen anybody deny him on the mat yet, so until Kara-France does it it’s hard to predict he will. PICK – Askar Askarov via Decision
Matt Brown (25-18) vs Bryan Barberena (16-8) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
Big banger at welterweight incoming here. ‘The Immortal’ Brown is on a farewell tour and earned a big KO win over Dhiego Lima at UFC Vegas 29 in his last bout, while Barberena is 2-2 in his last four with a win over Darian Weeks at UFC Vegas 44 last time out bringing him on a wave of momentum.
Brown is a brawler at this stage of his career, with violent striking and great power in his limbs while he looks to take your head off. He’s also a solid wrestler when he needs to lean on it, which isn’t very often. Barberena is a powerful brawler too, but he’s been more prone to punishment since getting badly beaten by Vicente Luque five fights ago.
This fight will almost certainly be a barn-burner. Barberena will walk forward into the range that makes Brown incredibly dangerous and they’ll brawl in a phone booth until someone falls. Brown could get clipped, but the likelihood is he uses his clinch game well to land elbows and knees too. Ultimately that will be the difference and Brown climbs further up the all-time knockout list. PICK – Matt Brown via Knockout, Round 2
Joanne Wood (15-7) vs Alexa Grasso (13-3) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A women’s flyweight fight as the co-main event, but no idea why considering some of the fights on this card. Wood (formerly Calderwood) is on a two-fight losing streak, dropping a decision to Lauren Murphy at UFC 263 and then getting submitted by Taila Santos at UFC Vegas 43. Grasso on the opposite hand has won each of her last two, claiming a decision win against Maycee Barber most recently at UFC 258.
Wood is a solid striker on the feet with good pressure fighting, mixing in clinches but struggling to battle against submission and grappling experts. Grasso is a solid boxer with some decent takedown skills of her own, while the volume of her striking is high. Wood likes 50/50 positions quite a lot to try and stamp her authority on fights, but Grasso will look to avoid them and just pump her jab and kicks from distance.
Defensively both of these women are not good defensively when it comes to grappling, so expect it to stay on the feet as much as possible. Wood needs to close the distance and will try to clinch, but Grasso has good movement and excellent boxing and that should ultimately be enough to stay away from the clinch and claim a pretty comfortable win. PICK – Alexa Grasso via Decision
Curtis Blaydes (15-3) vs Chris Daukaus (12-4) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
Heavyweight main event, stake your claim for fight of the night. Blaydes was on a great run before running head first into a Derrick Lewis uppercut at UFC Vegas 19 and going unconscious, but bounced back with a dominant win over Jairzinho Rozenstruik at UFC 266. Daukaus was doing the same until Lewis KO’d him against the cage at UFC Vegas 45 in the final card of 2021 to snap a five-fight win streak.
Blaydes’ game plan is the same against everyone – shoot for the takedown and dominate you on the ground until you can’t get up or the timer runs out. Daukaus on the other hand has got brilliant boxing and hand speed and is believed to have tremendous jiu-jitsu skills although it’s not been seen in the UFC just yet. If he’s going to win here though, he’ll need to show it from his back.
Blaydes will use his looping hooks on the feet and some low kicks to set up takedowns against the cage and while that’s the plan Daukaus will use his speed to land as much damage as he can. Once Blaydes shoots though, it’s unlikely he doesn’t get the fight down and then it’s a case of whether or not Daukaus can get back up or submit him from his back. I’d hedge my bets that is highly unlikely. Blaydes will lay and pray for 25 minutes from top position and do enough damage to earn a dominant win. PICK – Curtis Blaydes via Decision
TJ Brown def Charles Rosa via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Fast start from Brown as he lands his jab well and a hard calf kick too as he takes the centre. Rosa looking for some calf kicks of his own now, but Brown is landing his right hand really clean and crisp. Rosa lands a hard low kick that drops Brown, but Brown then catches the next kick, fires one of his own and then drags him to the ground. Rosa threatens with a guillotine but Brown scrambles back to his feet quickly and they go back to striking. Rosa’s low kicks having a big effect and forcing Brown to switch stances, but Brown’s strikes landing really well. Brown goes for a takedown again but Rosa is able to scramble with another guillotine attempt, but ends up on his back with Brown searching for a head-and-arm choke. Rosa defends well and then eats a few ground and pound shots to end the round. 10-9 Brown.
More of the same from both guys to start the second round as Brown takes the centre and applies pressure with his right hand, while Rosa throws out leg kicks and then gets taken down by Brown. Brown transitions to the back and looks to control the position but Rosa threatening with a guillotine again and then is able to scramble to top position. Rosa tries to take an arm but Brown is able to reverse and ends up on top himself again, then moves for a head-and-arm choke again. Rosa defends brilliantly then eats a big elbow from Brown after trying for a triangle. Rosa goes for an armbar and Brown manages to escape before going right back to top position. Rosa is looking for submissions constantly but Brown is a step ahead, defending and maintaining control. Brown takes the back and puts both hooks in but once again Rosa defends it and they see the round out exchanging strikes on the ground. 20-18 Brown.
Final round and Brown looking for more of the same, getting on the front foot and landing a big right hand before getting a takedown and slamming Rosa down early. Brown takes the back and starts working for a rear-naked choke but Rosa gets to his knees and gets back to his feet, before eventually being able to put Brown on his back and get top position. Brown works his way back to the feet and then forces Rosa down to the mat, before securing top position and landing some heavy elbows. Brown slides over into mount and looks for the head-and-arm choke again before Rosa gets to his knees and back to his feet. Brown goes for a takedown but Rosa works for a d’arce choke as we enter the final minute. Brown defends it well but Rosa isn’t giving up the neck. Brown gets to his feet and lands a one two before moving back into the same d’arce position to see the round out. Should be a Brown decision victory. 29-28.
Brian Kelleher def Kevin Croom via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x2, 29-28)
Very fast start to the fight from Croom, with lots of forward pressure and blitzes using his size advantage to get the best of Kelleher early. Kelleher takes the centre now and Croom being very active, before a big right hook from Kelleher drops him! He gets straight back up and Kelleher goes for another, but misses and then gets hit with an accidental low blow to pause the action. Croom using his big reach advantage well for now, just pawing out the jab to create distance. Kelleher trying to mix up his attacks and goes for a takedown but Croom defends it before landing a hard low kick. Front kick to the face lands from Kelleher but Croom keeps using his distance and just touching Kelleher up. Big spinning back fist lands from Kelleher before a left hook and a takedown to end the round on top. 10-9 Kelleher, just.
Croom opens up the round with a big one two that lands flush, but Kelleher eats it and keeps coming forward. Lots of volume from Croom in this round, but Kelleher is moving well and looking to counter. Nice body kick from Croom before a check-left hook from Kelleher lands too. Croom blitzes forward and gets Kelleher against the cage to clinch, using his size to wear Kelleher down. Big body shot from Kelleher, and then another, before he shoots for a takedown. Kelleher goes for a submission on the ground and looking to control the position, stopping Croom from getting back up. Big elbow lands from Kelleher, but he has a big cut above his eye after a knee landed from Croom as he went for the takedown. 19-19 for me, but could go either way.
Kelleher goes straight back to body work in the third round early on and then shoots in for a takedown to control early. Kelleher looking to take the back and secure a choke but Croom fights his way back up, only to be dragged back down immediately. Kelleher lands some ground and pound while transitioning ground positions, then lands a big knee and slams Croom back down as he tries to get back up. Kelleher completely dominating the grappling exchanges here and controlling the positions as we enter the final 90 seconds. Kelleher rolling with him and looking for a rear-naked choke but Croom fighting the hands. Heavy ground and pound from Kelleher to end the round in what could possibly be a 10-8 round, should seal him the fight. 29-28 for me.
Court McGee def Ramiz Brahimaj via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
Great start to the fight for McGee, who is using his superior striking to his advantage to keep distance. Brahimaj clinches against the cage but McGee seems physically stronger and is able to turn him and get the fight down. Brahimaj defending a lot against the cage, but lands a strong knee to the gut of McGee before forcing a separation. Brahimaj takes th centre now and is striking well, but McGee keeping the pace high and landing the more significant strikes. McGee lands a huge right hand that drops Brahimaj just as the buzzer goes! Saved by the bell! 10-9 McGee.
McGee comes out early and lands a hard low kick and right hook that drops Brahimaj again, who gets up quickly and shoots for a takedown. Brahimaj gets it and starts looking to take his back, but McGee defends it and then is able to get a takedown of his own. Brahimaj gets back to the feet but McGee is just too physically strong for him right now and is wearing him down. McGee locks his hands and gets another takedown, but Brahimaj bounces back up quickly. McGee using his strength again to control, before shooting in for a takedown. Brahimaj defends and the two engage in a striking battle, but McGee is too strong again and clinches up to end the round again with another takedown. 20-18 McGee.
McGee steps over and goes immediately for another clinch and takedown situation, but Brahimaj is looking to defend it well and throws a nice knee to the body. He then drops down for a guillotine and it looks quite tight but McGee defends it and ends up dominant in top position. Brahimaj goes for another guillotine and wraps the neck up, but McGee stays calm and is able to pop his head out and push Brahimaj against the cage. Brahimaj tries to get back to his feet but McGee grinding him out and takes the back. McGee going for a rear-naked choke now, but Brahimaj turns to his back which allows McGee to move into mount. Brahimaj tries to scramble but gives up his back again and McGee dominantly rides him from position to position until the end of the round. Great win for McGee. 30-27.
Jamie Pickett def Joseph Holmes via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Good start to the fight as both men look to take the centre of the cage and trade strikes. Holmes starting with a bit more intent, just missing with a head kick but then landing a nice straight right. Pickett blitzes forward with an attack of his own, but Holmes clinches up and uses his strength well against the cage. Holmes lands a nice right hand and then just misses with a head kick again, but Pickett clinching well to stifle the attack. Hard low kick from Holmes but Pickett gets a takedown to end the round. 10-9 Holmes, just.
Aggressive start to the round from Pickett as he comes forward with a hard front kick to the body and then a big left hand, before looking to get a takedown. Holmes looks more tired already but gets back to his feet and lands a hard right hand, but Pickett responds with a takedown attempt again. Strong body kick from Pickett lands, and now his left hand is landing well too. Holmes goes for a single leg takedown but Pickett defends it well in a clinch position. Pickett being very aggressive and coming forward hard with Holmes looking tired, but he responds with a nice slip left hand before they clinch again. Pickett explodes again as the round ends and should take that. 19-19.
Pickett being aggressive once again in this final round as Holmes throws a hard right hand. Pickett using his better conditioning and strength right now to stop Holmes’ momentum, but eats a body kick for his troubles when they separate from the clinch. Pickett lands a nice side kick as Holmes is looking for a big shot. Another clinch situation initiated by Pickett before a nice elbow from Holmes lands. A left hand stumbles Pickett again but then he goes for another clinch and just avoids a big elbow. Big high kick from Pickett lands well and the round comes to an end, with what should be a Pickett victory. 29-28.
Bill Algeo def Joanderson Brito via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28 x2)
Quick start from Brito as he takes the centre, moves across the octagon and gets a body lock to look for a takedown. Algeo defends it well but eventually Brito gets it and takes the back while standing. Brito transitions around and picks Algeo up, then walks around the octagon for a few seconds before slamming him down and taking his back. Brito looking for a rear-naked choke but Algeo is defending well. Brito looking for the choke but Algeo turns into Brito and ends up reversing the position on top, looking for big ground and pound strikes. Brito looks to explode out and gets back to the feet quickly and goes back for another takedown. Brito lands a nice jab but then eats a big knee up the middle from Algeo, before shooting in for another takedown that gets defended to end the round. 10-9 Brito.
Brito coming forward with a blitz and walking Algeo down with big strikes, but then he eats a big right hand from Algeo that wobbles him. Brito immediately turns and goes back for the takedown, but Algeo defends it perfectly and lands a big knee from a front headlock position. Algeo lets him back up and lands a left hand on the break but Brito is just walking forward through the storm. Big one-twos from Brito snap Algeo’s head back and he looks hurt but once again Brito goes for a takedown and Algeo is able to stuff it and reverse position to end up on top. Algeo moves into side control but Brito gets back up. Algeo lands a big knee but then Brito fires back with a big right hand. Algeo clinches up to end the round, very close. 19-19.
Algeo opens the round with a nice one two, before Brito comes forward with a big blitz of strikes that land well. Brito continues to walk forward and do damage with big shots but Algeo timing him well with counters and clinching up to slow down the Brazilian’s momentum. Brito continues to walk forward constantly and goes for a spinning elbow, but Algeo slips it and showboats. Final minute and Brito is really pushing the pace but Algeo gets a big hip throw and ends up on top landing big elbows then takes the back. Algeo ends the round on the back and should take the victory in a great back and forth fight. 29-28 Algeo.
Viacheslav Borshchev def Dakota Bush via Knockout, Round 1 (3:47)
Fast start to the fight for Bush as he stays at distance and throws lots of kicks early on. Big overhand right lands but Borshchev eats it. Borshchev steps in and lands a nice little blitz with a left hook, but Bush moves in for a takedown and gets it. Borshchev defends himself well down there and is able to stand up, but gets wobbled by a strike. Bush moves in for a big finish but Borshchev avoids and lands a big left hook counter. Bush gets another takedown and tries to take the back but Borshchev escapes and goes into the guard, landing heavy body shots from top position. He gets back up and backs Bush against the cage, slips a shot and lands a huge body blow that drops him!! Borshchev lands a few follow up shots but that’s that! What a knockout!
Katlyn Chookagian def Jennifer Maia via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
Chookagian starts the fight well with a big slip right hand that lands flush, while Maia looking to land some low kicks. Chookagian is really sitting down on her punches right now, landing well and maintaining distance well. Maia lands a big left hand and Chookagian gets a body lock and a takedown to sit in half guard on top position. Good shoulder pressure from Chookagian and she defends the sweep well before passing to side control, before laying down some shoulder strikes from the top. Chookagian tried to pass to mount but Maia bounces back up quickly, eats a knee and the round ends. 10-9 Chookagian.
Aggressive start to the round from Maia as she steps forward and lands a hard right hand, but Chookagian slips a second attempt and gets another body lock to look for a takedown. Maia defends it well this time though and then they break, with Chookagian looking to control distance again with her jab. Maia leading with a low kick and doing well, but Chookagian bouncing and lands a nice right hook. Maia looks for a body lock this time and rushes Chookagian against the cage, but she defends it well and reverses the position to look for a trip herself. Maia lands a couple of right hands in the pocket, before Chookagian lands a big head kick and then a nice knee too but Maia continues to be aggressive and walk forward. Maia looks for an arm drag but Chookagian defends and ends up on Maia’s back with both hooks in looking for a choke to end the round. 20-18 Chookagian.
Maia coming out strong again in this final round but Chookagian using her teep kick brilliantly to maintain distance and landing her right hand and jab. Maia lands a big right hand but she’s just a step behind right now. Nice head kick from Maia, but Chookagian responds with a low kick. Lovely overhand right from Chookagian, followed by a clean one-two but Maia is still there. Nice right from Maia on the break from a clinch lands clean but Chookagian starting to take over with counters and jabs. Big right hand from Maia lands and then they exchange right hooks. Final 30 seconds and Chookagian looks super comfortable, then lands a huge one-two and a third on her way back to claim a big win. 30-27 Chookagian.
Explosive start to this one with Royval taking the centre and using speed, but Bontorin lands a hard low kick that drops Royval early. Royval throwing a lot of kicks, but Bontorin looking to counter with his flush right hand. Royval goes for a body kick that Bontorin catches and then lands a right hand as Royval spins. Bontorin transitions to a takedown and gets side control but Royval very good with scrambles and looks to get to his feet. Bontorin holds him there briefly but Royval eventually gets back up and goes back to being very active. Slip left hand from Royval lands clean, before another takedown from Bontorin. Royval staying active from his back as he tries to roll through and starts throwing elbows, before both get back to the feet to end the round. 10-9 Royval.
Quick start again as Bontorin throws a right hand that drops Royval and he goes straight into his guard. Royval trying to scramble with submissions but Bontorin stays calm and takes the back. Royval defends it expertly but Bontorin retains the control from top position and lands a big elbow. Royval climbs back to his feet as Bontorin goes back to striking and then drops him with a nice left hook. Royval straight back up though and looking to overwhelm Bontorin but Bontorin staying calm and looking for control. Royval trying to up the pressure but Bontorin gets a body lock and trip in the final seconds to end the round on top. 19-19 for me.
Final round and Royval lands a big knee and hook combo. Bontorin fires back with a huge right hand, left hook combo that lands flush but Royval’s chin is holding up. Bontorin is loading up on his punches and Royval is able to land a few softer shots. Bontorin lands a leg kick and Royval goes down, but Royval defending with his submissions and looking for a gogoplata. He transitions to an armbar and it looks like Bontorin taps (?!) but the referee doesn’t see it and then Bontorin escapes and the fight continues. Royval transitions and is able to sweep Bontorin to get on top as we enter the final minute of the fight. Hard elbows from the top for Royval but Bontorin firing back from the bottom with elbows of his own. Royval landing some huge elbows and the buzzer goes. 29-28 Royval for me but could easily go the other way too! Great fight.
Collier comes forward very aggressively in the opening minute, walking Sherman down and throwing hard right hands. Sherman looking to counter with right hooks but Collier doing well to avoid too much damage early. Collier storms forward and pushes Sherman to the mat. He moves straight into full mount and lands some big nasty elbows from the top that cut Sherman open. Sherman tries to kick off the cage but just puts himself in an awful position. Sherman rolls over to his belly and Sherman synches up a rear-naked choke and gets the tap for the victory. Impressive performance.
Two very hard low kicks from Chikadze open the fight up before a nice right hand behind them. Kattar takes the centre of the octagon trying to pressure him, but Chikadze with great footwork around the outside to stay off the cage. Chikadze lands two hard body kicks and a right hand then goes for another kick but loses his balance and Kattar charges for a takedown and secures top position. Kattar working to pass Chikadze’s guard but he’s defending well. Chikadze tries to get back up but Kattar drags him back down. A scramble sees Chikadze end up on top but Kattar reverses it to an arm triangle from the bottom and then secures the back with a body triangle to see out the round. 10-9 Kattar.
Hard body kick from Chikadze early on and he starts blitzing Kattar with hard punches and a variation of kicks again. Kattar switching stances to take the kick away from Chikadze. Kattar pressuring forward and landing hard strikes that have Chikadze looking a bit more tired. Big jab from Chikadze though and then Kattar continues to come forward and Chikadze is tired! Kattar lands a big right hand then shoots for a takedown but Chikadze defends it. Big knee from Kattar lands, followed by a left hook. Huge step-in elbow from Kattar and Chikadze is struggling. Kattar lands a big left hook and follows it with a body shot. Four big left hands from Chikadze land but Kattar responds with a huge right hand and a knee, then he secures a takedown and heavy right hands to end the round. What a round! 20-18 Kattar.
Kattar comes out with forward motion once again and is putting a pace on Chikadze, who’s trying to recover his cardio still. Elbow from Kattar lands and then a flush one-two straight down the middle lands. Kattar steps forward with his jab and is teeing off on Chikadze, who can’t get his hands up to block his head. Two low kicks from Chikadze and a left hand, before a big right cross. Kattar goes for a takedown but Chikadze just about stays up with a little help from the fence. Both guys are tired, but Kattar pushing forward still. Huge right elbow lands from Kattar and then they trade hooks to the chin. Chikadze lands a right hand that gets Kattar to cover up, but Chikadze swings wildly and misses big. Kattar continues with forward pressure to close the distance but then just misses with two big shots. Big spinning elbow from Kattar right on the buzzer. What a fight. 30-27 Kattar.
Kattar crowding Chikadze with forward pressure as he looks to stop the kicks, and he’s just picking the jab well. Chikadze is looking for kill shots now but he’s too tired to land, while Kattar continues to come forward with his jab and picking him apart. Huge elbow again from Kattar and then he shoots for a takedown, but Chikadze defends it brilliantly and lands some big strikes of his own. Chikadze lands a big right hand but Kattar comes forward with his jab and elbows. Head kick attempt from Chikadze but Kattar just keeps coming forward. Massive elbow from Kattar and the buzzer goes again. 40-36, this is a beating now.
Chikadze comes forward early throwing bombs in the final round. Kattar continues to walk forward and just jab him to death, and Chikadze just has no answer for the pressure. Two huge elbows land back-to-back from Kattar, but Chikadze’s chin holds up again! Another nasty elbow from Kattar as he starts throwing them instead of hooks. Chikadze lands a nice one-two before Kattar lands a spinning elbow. Kattar just constantly coming forward with elbows and straights. Chikadze backing up and getting pieced up as Kattar looks for a finish. Huge right hand lands on the chin but Chikadze is still standing. Chikadze throws a one-two and Kattar responds with another flush spinning elbow. Both guys swinging for the fences with 30 seconds left. Kattar starts throwing elbows and drops Chikadze right on the buzzer!! He follows up with a couple of shots, but that is an exclamation point on a stunning performance. Wow! 50-44 Kattar for me.
We ended 2021 with a decent 8/13 return with three perfect picks at UFC Vegas 45 to move to 508/792 (64.14%) with 214 perfect picks (42.13%).
We’ll look to improve that here, starting with the prelims of this 10-fight card.
Silvana Gomez Juarez (10-3) vs Vanessa Demopoulos (6-4) – (Strawweight/115lbs) FIGHT MOVED TO UFC 270 DUE TO COVID-19 PROTOCOLS
An interesting women’s fight to kick off the year in the strawweight division. Juarez got smoked in her UFC debut against Lupita Godinez, getting submitted via armbar in round one at UFC Vegas 39. Demopoulos also suffered defeat in her UFC defeat, losing a unanimous decision to JJ Aldrich at UFC Vegas 35.
Juarez is a crisp, fast and powerful striker on the feet, with some decent grappling skills that are usually enough for her to at least try and keep a fight standing. Demopoulos on the other hand is a terrific grappler, but outside of that she tends to struggle big time in her opponents wheelhouse because her wrestling is pretty average at best. If she can’t get the fight down, she leaves herself open to problems which explains her pretty poor record.
As mentioned already, Juarez has the ability to generally keep the fight standing against non-wrestlers and if she can do that here she should be able to strike her way to a comfortable decision win. If Demopoulos is able to get her down though, this could end quickly. Unfortunately, I see Juarez standing firm and earning the victory. PICK – Silvana Gomez Juarez via Decision
Charles Rosa (14-6) vs TJ Brown (15-8) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
A fight put together on short notice after a drop-out on fight week, Charles Rosa steps in by chance to take a fight now at lightweight. Rosa has alternated wins and losses since 2014, claiming a defeat to Damon Jackson at UFC Vegas 39 most recently. Brown on the other hand earned a split decision win over Kai Kamaka at UFC Vegas 25 in his last bout to snap a two-fight losing streak.
Both of these fighters are primary grapplers and have amassed 17 submission victories combined in their careers. Rosa is a karate striker, but his black belt in jiu-jitsu is where he looks to take fights towards at all times. Brown on the other hand is a very fast striker who also likes to use his blitzes to try and score takedowns and secure submissions. For the most part, Brown has the advantage in the striking department and with his own decent ground game he will likely be quite comfortable here.
Brown will look to keep this fight standing for as long as possible and use his speed to close distance and land big strikes. If Rosa gets the fight down he’ll have the advantage but Brown is no slouch himself in the grappling so I expect ‘Downtown’ to be able to navigate his way to a victory. PICK – TJ Brown via Decision
Brian Kelleher (23-12) vs Kevin Croom (21-13)- (Featherweight/145lbs)
A fight that was made on Wednesday night as Kevin Croom steps in on mega-short notice to fight Brian Kelleher, who moves up to featherweight for this one. Kelleher bounced back from defeat to Ricky Simon at UFC 258 to earn a decision win over Domingo Pilarte most recently at UFC Vegas 34, while Croom was beaten by Alex Caceres last time out at UFC Vegas 20.
Kelleher is a relentless pressure fighter with some good power in his strikes and a good wrestling base to fight from. Croom on the other hand is a well-rounded fighter who also has a good wrestling base with some decent power in his strikes. Kelleher is going to be at a big size disadvantage in this one, moving up a division and being shorter with less reach too. But against Pilarte that was the same (without the weight) and he dominated that fight from start to finish.
Looking at their skillset, Croom and Kelleher are very similar but Croom definitely looks to wrestle a lot more and keep volume high. That plays well into the favour of Kelleher, who is styled towards that type of fight. He has been in camp so the pace shouldn’t be an issue, and he has the power to land a counter and end this early. PICK – Brian Kelleher via Knockout, Round 3
Court McGee (21-10) vs Ramiz Brahimaj (9-3) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A banger at welterweight between two exciting fighters at 170-pounds. McGee is a grizzly veteran who snapped a three-fight win streak last time out with a decision win over Claudio Silva at UFC Vegas 27, while Brahimaj claimed a first-round submission win over Sasha Palatnikov at UFC Vegas 34.
‘The Crusher’ is a relentless pressure fighter with a bottomless gas tank and excellent wrestling skills, while Brahimaj is a super talented grappler with all nine victories in his career coming via submission and eight of those coming in the first round. McGee’s best chance of victory comes if he is able to wear Brahimaj out over the course of the fight, which is possible if he can continuously stuff takedown attempts.
McGee has never been submitted in his career, so it would be some achievement if Brahimaj was able to do that. Ultimately though I do expect the younger fighter to be able to use his wrestling to neutralize the cardio and grapple his way to a victory, but probably by decision. PICK – Ramiz Brahimaj via Decision
Jamie Pickett (12-6) vs Joseph Holmes (7-1) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
A short-notice bout is the featured prelim bout for this card in the middleweight division. Pickett bounced back from a first-round KO defeat to Jordan Wright at UFC 262 by earning a decision win over Laureano Staropoli at UFC Vegas 41, while Holmes steps in on less than one week’s notice for his UFC debut on a seven-fight win streak.
Pickett and Holmes are both rangy strikers, with a long reach for the division among both of their weaponries. The issue Pickett has despite the fact it’s a short-notice fight, is that Holmes uses his range in a far better way and is far more consistent. He’s faster, seems to have more power and is a much better grappler too.
Neither fighter is particularly keen on throwing tonnes of volume, so I wouldn’t expect a barn burner by any stretch of the imagination. But ultimately, Holmes is a better version of Pickett and considering they’re matching up against each other, I expect Holmes to claim a career-best win. PICK – Joseph Holmes via Decision