Duke’s UFC 259 Breakdown and Predictions for your DFS Lineups!!!
UFC 259 might be the best card of the year. That isn’t hyperbole. Three title fights. Top to bottom bangers. Joe Rogan back on the commentary. Pay Per View. When there is a number next to ‘UFC’ we typically expect the biggest and best. It doesn’t always deliver, but this card feels special. Per usual, there are 15 fights, but I’m hoping and praying that all the title fights make it to Saturday night and we don’t have too many on the Prelims/Early Prelims fall by the wayside. Inevitably we’ll end up around 12. Go away, Covid.
I mention Joe Rogan being back in the commentary booth. What are your thoughts on Rogan? Hit me up on Twitter @DukeDFS to let me know as I’m genuinely curious. He seems like one who causes some division within the MMA world. For me, he’s one of my first memories of the UFC. Back when he had hair, and there were very limited rules. His growth and popularity have mirrored or even eclipsed the growth of our beautiful sport, and his infrequent presence in the booth has me wondering if he’s still needed.
Would the UFC be fine without Joe Rogan? 100%. Does his presence hurt? 0%. His podcast has exposed our fighters to a larger audience and helped build their brand. I love Joe Rogan. It does seem like lately, he’s falling off a touch in the commentary aspect. Every slight submission attempt is met with a boisterous “IT’S OVER!” Every punch that lands clean is met with a loud “HE HURT HIM!” Sure, there is something nostalgic about it, and he’s still far better than quite a few of the analysts who sit in his seat when he’s not there (COUGH * BISPING * COUGH), but it does feel like he’s less and less invested every time he’s on the broadcast. Let’s hope I’m wrong. And again, let me know what you think!
Last week was a mixed bag for both Adam and me. I essentially broke even over on SuperDraft and didn’t play any DK/FD after we were reduced to nine fights on fight day. We have a very bizarre main event with Jairzinho forgetting he was in a fight. I actually liked the approached Gane took in the fight. Sure, we all wanted him to push the action and get a finish, but that tactic was just about the only way he could lose the fight. He wasn’t happy about it, but what can he do? Krylov put up quite the fight. Bueno Silva wins the fight but ends up in a draw thanks to the point deduction from the fence grab.
However, the biggest surprise of the night was the absolute start to finish domination by Alexis Davis over Sabina Mazo. She landed all three of her takedowns, and Mazo looked defeated quite early in that fight. Funny enough, it was Davis who looked like she had been in a war. That scar tissue doesn’t lie! Regardless, that was a piss poor evaluation by me and added more hours to my process this week.
I don’t believe in being DUE for anything. That’s not really how the world works. I don’t think we are DUE for an undefeated card or anything, but it does feel like we are just middling our way through the UFC schedule. That’s not how I want to roll. My nose is to the grindstone this week. The 15 fights give us 15 opportunities to find our edge. Let’s find it and hammer it.
UFC 259: Blachowicz vs. Adesanya Fight Info
- March 6, 2021
- UFC APEX, Las Vegas, NV
- Main Card: PPV – 10:00pm
- Prelims: ESPN/ESPN+ – 8:00pm
- Early Prelims: ESPN+ – 6:00pm
Jan Blachowicz vs. Israel Adesanya – MAIN EVENT TITLE FIGHT!
Welcome to 205, Izzy! The Middleweight champ and current #3 ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the world is looking to become a part of the select group of Champ Champs. The controversy is swirling as this move directly coincides with Jon Jones’ move to heavyweight. Regardless of which side of the spat you fall, you have to appreciate the opportunistic nature of this title shot for Izzy.
Jan Blachowicz is a big mo fo. He’s a deserving champion. He’s not Jon Jones. There is a reason he’s been an underdog in eight of his last nine fights. Let me repeat that for you. Jan Blachowicz, the current Light Heavyweight Champion of the world and winner of four straight fights and eight of his last nine, has been an underdog in eight of his last nine fights. It’s wild to look back on in this current moment, especially as you go back and watch the film. The devastating nature of some of his wins shows the pure terror he can unleash in the cage.
It’s important to note that Adesanya has the perfect frame to responsibly add weight. Standing 6’4” and long, he’s never been an overly muscle-bound fighter, making it harder to add weight or having to fight severely underweight when making the step up in weight class. He’s also not likely to hit the 205 limit and says he’ll come in somewhere in the mid-190s. When I look at Adesanya’s fights against the bigger 185ers, the speed difference is pronounced. He’s always fought in and out of the pocket, but his movement looks a half step faster against the likes of Vettori or Costa. He’s also been able to handle himself well in the clinch and with takedown defense. Vettori and Costa are both rather large men, but Blachwicz is a polar bear. He’ll likely try to make this a dirty boxing match and push Stylebender against the game, carrying his weight.
Adesanya is so smooth with his striking. He’s equally adept at fighting orthodox and southpaw and flows between the two throughout the fight, presenting ever-changing looks for his opponent. Like so many these days, Adesanya loves to mix in the kicks to his attacking arsenal. Whether to the calf or the body, he kicks with intent and does enough damage to set up a high kick.
Izzy always says he’s the first Adesanya. He’s not like anyone else. This would be quite the accomplishment to grab the 185 and 205 belts.
Jan is a ruthless Polish polar bear who has a deadly counter left hook and hulk-like strength in the clinch. He also has a great chin to boot. In what was undoubtedly the best performance of his career, it was that counter left that wobbled Reyes.
Jan has had a fascinating career. He starts out 2-4 in the UFC before going on this run. He’s beating names in the sport, but a lot of these guys are coming in from interesting spots. He bounces back with a big submission win over Devin Clark in 2017. Clark is on the smaller side of 205 and has been submitted three times in his career. Alright, good win regardless.
Then he gets a big win over Jared Cannonier. Another name in the sport but one who made the move down to 185 after realizing he couldn’t get it done at 205. Jan beats Krylov, who’s game but middling in the division. He beat Luke Rockhold, who came up from 185. He beat Jacare, who came up from 185. The jump from 185 to 205 is typically not kind to fighters. In the middle of all of that winning was a loss to a healthy Thiago Santos.
Getting KOd by Santos just happens. We’ll talk about him later, but it’s a touch of death type of power. Santos is a big 205 pounder. Different from some other names Jan had beaten to date. Very early, Jan was working behind that stiff jab and hard body kicks. Jan was doing well keeping his distance until he ate a shot or two. Immediately he was closing the distance and moving into the danger zone. The typical opportunistic wrestling that we see from Blachowicz was ineffective, and Jan looked a touch rattled. Rattled Jan means Jan rushing in, and even his iron chin couldn’t stand up to the right/left combo that dropped him from Santos.
I see two keys from that fight. 1) Jan was second on every attacking exchange. He was worried by the power of Santos and looked hesitant to strike first. 2) It wasn’t a massive bomb that dropped Jan, but two sharp strikes back-to-back as Jan rushed in that did the damage. Why is that key? I love Israel Adesanya, but we can’t put him in the same stratosphere as Thiago Santos for power. But my god is he hyper-accurate with his striking. Clipping a guy in the right spot can turn the lights out on anyone.
To me, this comes down to who fights their fight. Jan isn’t a wrestler but will use his superhuman strength to wrangle his opponent to the mat. Can Jan make this a dirty, scrappy fight? How does he do it? I honestly don’t know unless he clips Izzy because Israel’s movement and use of range should keep him in relative safety for 25 minutes.
Jan is taking some late money, and to an extent, I get that. He’ll be the bigger man. After all, he is the reigning champion. He is the more powerful fighter. He does have good BJJ if he can get this to the mat. I just can’t see the referee raising his hand when this is all said and done. Izzy is too good in too many areas and should carry a massive speed advantage in the octagon. God bless Jan for making it here, but I see another Champ Champ added to the list come Sunday morning.
Lastly, the total is sitting at 2.5. Anyone thinking under has to believe Jan gets a finish. While Izzy could clip Jan, that chin should hold up. Izzy is used to going 25 without breaking a sweat, and assuming he plays the pick and pop game, he could dance through the first two rounds. If you like Izzy, the over is the play.
OFFICIAL PICK: ADESANYA
Amanda Nunes vs. Megan Anderson – TITLE FIGHT!
On paper, there is nothing left for Amanda Nunes to do in this sport. She’s murdered everyone at 135. She’s beaten Valentina twice. She beat Cyborg. A Champ Champ herself, holding belts at 135 and 145. She dethroned the UFC queen Ronda Rousey in the most devastating fashion I can ever remember. I’ll never forget the stunned look on Rousey’s face as she stumbled around the ring, full well knowing the gig was up. Because I’ve watched it maybe 30 times today, and it’s only a minute, here is the full fight for those who missed it or forgot how much better Nunes was than Rousey.
You didn’t even get to see the full range of Nunes’ skill in that fight. She can wrestle. And she can strike. She can kick. She can do it all in this sport. Nunes has a killer instinct, but most importantly to me, she knows how to win.
Germaine de Randamie is a legit Muay Thai, shootboxing, kickboxing champion. Nunes could have stood and traded strikes with her, but why play to your opponent’s strengths, even if it doesn’t meet or beat your own skillset, if there is a clear path to victory? Amanda rag dolled her ass down eight times and walked away with a clear victory and the belt (49-45, 49-46, 49-44). Even against Spencer, whose best chance to win was lucking into a submission somehow, was dominated on the feet and the ground as Amanda landed 6/7 takedown attempts (50-45, 50-44, 50-44). Amanda is the GOAT.
Let’s talk Megan Anderson because there is a six-foot Aussie who will be standing across from Nunes, and while this fight seems one-sided, let’s double and triple check before making a selection.
Megan Anderson struggles to find opponents because she is abnormally large for her sport. The 31-year-old is a true 145 pounder. She’s tatted up from head to toe and long. She’s battled some issues outside the cage that she says caused her major performance issues. She insists that is handled and behind her. She’s certainly looked better in her last two fights with two first-round stoppages over Fairn and Dumont. That is the part I struggle with here for Megan. She went 15 min with Holly Holm, but the fight wasn’t particularly close. Holm outstruck her and landed four of eight takedowns to secure an easy unanimous decision. She KOd Cat Zingano, but we all know she can be a bit of a train wreck. But is that her best win?
Norma Dumont and Zarah Fairn would be +150000 against Nunes. Credit to Megan on finishing these women early, and she does have nine stoppages in 11 wins, but this is such a massive step up in competition that I worry about her path to success. Keep in mind, Norma Dumont had Megan up against the cage grappling for most of the first round and took her down before getting cracked with a straight right down the middle. That is Megan’s weapon. Her length and her striking power. Is she a better striker than Nunes? Nope. Can Megan out point Nunes? Nope. So, her path is literally to avoid the takedowns and win a standup battle, ideally knocking out Amanda Nunes.
Honestly, the only time we’ve really seen Nunes in trouble was on her back with Cat Zingano launching elbows at her face from the mount. If I thought it was in the skillset of Anderson to takedown Nunes and make her work off her back in addition to her striking, I’d give her more of a chance. In a strictly stand-up battle, I have to go with the champ and MASSIVE favorite here in Amanda Nunes.
Lastly, Amanda is a new mother. Her partner Nina Ansaroff just gave birth to their beautiful baby girl. As someone with a young child, I can attest to how little sleep new parents actually get on a nightly basis. In the UFC embedded videos, Amanda has spun that into a positive, saying she’s finally on time for training because she’s up with the baby anyway.
OFFICIAL PICK: NUNES
Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling – TITLE FIGHT!
The People’s Championship! Assuming you think betting odds carry merit, Izzy is -230, and Amanda is -1000. This currently sits at -110 for each. This is a true championship fight. Frankly, I could flip a coin here.
Petr has never been stopped as a pro in MMA. He has unbelievable cardio. Obviously, with his boxing background, he’s an elite striker. His hands are lightning-fast and pack a punch. He fights with expertise from the orthodox or southpaw stance. His kicks land with power, as well, and do damage in addition to dropping the opponent’s hands. The overhand right is the most devastating blow from his orthodox stance, but he loves the jab-jab-uppercut combination from southpaw. He has elite power for the division in both hands.
Aldo really hurt him with the calf kicks early, but Petr adjusted fairly quickly and eliminated those attacks through his own offense. We’ve just witnessed him go HARD for every bit of 25 minutes and really exploding with power late in the fourth and to get the finish in the fifth. The one potential hole in his game is his takedown defense, but even that minor chink in the armor seems to be fixed.
Aljamain is the legit next best fighter in the division. He’s a true challenger and so damn good that he’s not even an underdog in this fight. He has really great wrestling/grappling. One obvious advantage that stands out is Sterling’s reach. At 135, a 71” reach is ridiculous. He uses his speed and length to win fights at distance. He doesn’t have a ton of power, but that’s not how he fights. A one-punch KO artist, he is not. Great leg kicks but mostly to keep distance. He goes to the calf, to the body and up the middle, especially to back his opponent into a more comfortable range.
I mentioned Yan’s cardio, but shit, Aljamain’s cardio is elite, too. Can Aljamain use that wrestling and BJJ skill to lock up a submission? Yan is a terminator who just keeps getting up if he’s taken down. That top game will be huge for Sterling or wrapping up the back and grabbing a rear-naked choke. The tough part about predicting any of this is it would be the first time it’s happened. Yan has never been submitted. We saw against Stamann, Sterling isn’t a great wrestler, but when he got him down, it was immediately working for a finish.
Petr has that Tiger Muay Thai striking advantage. Aljamain typically uses his wrestling to gain an advantageous position but also to wear out his opponent. I just haven’t seen Petr wear down. If anything, he gets stronger as the fight goes. I would hope Aljamain knows that, as well. His best bet is to treat this fight like he did the Sandhagen fight. Grab a takedown early and lock up a submission when the fighters are dry. I’ve literally gone back and forth on this 10 times, but the sharp striking of Yan + his gas tank + his power seems like too much for Aljamain to overcome. I hate to do it, but I’m taking Yan here.
OFFICIAL PICK: YAN
PROGRAMMING NOTE: WE ARE THREE FIGHTS INTO A 15-FIGHT CARD AND ALREADY OVER 3,000 WORDS. I ASSUME YOU ALL HAVE LIVES AND WANT TO RESPECT YOUR TIME, SO I’LL TRY TO KEEP THE REST OF THE BREAKDOWNS ON THE SHORTER SIDE. REMINDER, ADAM MARTIN ALSO HAS AN ARTICLE OUT FRIDAY WITH HIS DFS BREAKDOWNS. WE WILL BOTH BE ON THE LIVESTREAM FROM 7-8 PM EST ON FRIDAY IF YOU WANT TO JUMP IN AND ASK QUESTIONS!! ADAM WILL BE IN THE CHAT AN HOUR PRIOR TO LOCK TO HELP OUT WITH DFS AND BETTING Q’S YOU HAVE, AS WELL.
Islam Makhachev vs. Drew Dober
Mini-Khabib vs. the pure power of Drew Dober. What a battle this could be. On the surface, this does look a bit like a poor man’s Khabib v Gaethje. Neither isn’t even close to that level yet, but we have a hard-nosed striker with big power in Drew Dober filling the Gaethje role and Makhachev training with Khabib every day, knowing how to fill that role. Alright, maybe that was a bit of a stretch, but you get it…styles make fights, and each has their path to victory.
Perhaps it’s unfair, even if obvious, to compare Makhachev to Khabib. He’s nowhere near the striker that Khabib was, and while he’s an elite wrestler, we are comparing him to one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time. Of course, there is going to be room for disappointment with that lofty expectation. The disappointment for me comes from his inactivity. We haven’t seen Makhachev since September of 2019. He had a scheduled bout with Alex Hernandez canceled. Then he had two fights with Rafael Dos Anjos canceled in October and November. It’s been one thing after another with an infection that he said would keep him out of training for a month as the latest reason for the most recent cancelation. But it’s not like he’s been home eating Cheetos; the man has wanted to fight and been matched up against some studs.
The Tsarukyan fight was an interesting film study. For one, I’m pretty high on Tsarukyan. He was 22, I believe, when these two fought and has certainly made strides since, winning his next three UFC fights. Tsarukyan is also no slouch in the wrestling game himself and had Makhachev in some tough spots in the first round AFTER Makhachev hit him with the sweep and landed in the mount position. I loved the action to get to the spot, but within no time, Tsarukyan was back on his feet. Makhachev really uses his gas tank as a weapon, and that third round was a demolition.
The Ramos fight showed a bit more skill on the feet; it was still mostly one strike at a time. Very few combinations from Makhachev. The major growth in his striking game came in the way of feints to bate Ramos. He didn’t land a takedown, but a big knee in the third dropped Ramos, and Makahchev laid on top for four minutes. It was a good game plan by Islam but not a dominating performance that makes me think he’s a future champion like everyone is saying.
I want so badly to take Dober here, but I don’t know that I can. If you stand in front of Drew Dober, you are going to have a problem. He took out two highly-rated prospects in his last two wins over Haqparast and Alexander Hernandez. Both of those wins came inside the final bell, and both in devastating fashion.
But where does Dober struggle? Wrestling and movement. He was beating Dariush…until Dariush took him down. He beat Alex Hernandez, but Hernandez took him down on several occasions, and it took Dober almost two full rounds to work out the lateral movement of Hernandez.
Drew Dober has been working with Trevor Whittman and Dustin Gaethje, and perhaps that experience improves their gameplan for this fight. Dober absolutely has the power to finish this fight. I’m so tempted to grab him and do think there is value in his number, but the fact remains, if Makhachev focuses on wrestling, it looks like he can keep Dober pinned to the mat. Let’s see if Makhachev can shake off the ring rust early and get back to his roots because if this is a standup battle, I’ll take my odds with the live dog here. Dober gets the finish inside the distance!
OFFICIAL PICK: DOBER
Thiago Santos vs. Aleksandar Rakic
Go back and watch that Glover fight against Santos. Santos rocked Teixeira in the first minute before Glover does what Glover does and ended up on top after a ridiculous scramble to survive. Santos is not good off his back. Glover rode him the rest of the round. In the second round, he moved to southpaw and started landing kicks, but then once again, Glover took him straight to the mat. Once again, Glover rides out the rest of the round on top and nearly finishes the fight if not for the bell. In the third, after nearly being submitted at the end of the second round, Santos stuffed one takedown and landed a massive left. He carries this insane power all the way through a fight.
On the feet, Santos can bang with anyone in the division. The guy lost a split decision standup battle against arguably the GOAT, Jon Jones. The knee injuries were certainly a setback but didn’t take away any of his power. If anything, his gas tank could be questioned in that Glover fight. He claims to be in tip-top shape for this fight, and knowing full well that Rakic isn’t some gold medal wrestler, I can’t imagine we see this fight going the distance.
Do we talk about Rakic enough? He’s 13-2 in his pro MMA career and has just one loss in his UFC career to Volkan Oezdemir. I actually had Rakic winning that fight but did have a wager on Rakic, so I’m likely a bit biased. He’s starched Devin Clark and Jimi Manua and picked up a solid unanimous decision against Lionheart Anthony Smith. The left head kick finish of Manuwa was particularly impressive, especially for such a big man. It was a vicious knockout and completely intentional. He landed a straight right, stepped through, and then unloaded the left shin into the chin. It was beautiful, but I don’t know that it even gets that far against someone with the hand speed and power of Santos.
My knock on Rakic is that he throws a great straight right hand, but oftentimes, it’s not set up with anything. There isn’t a feint. It’s not a jab, then right. It’s just a right, and his chin is left on a plate. He’s never been knocked out in his career, but he’s never fought anyone with close to the power of Santos. I’m actually surprised to see Santos as the dog here, but Rakic is the younger man by eight years and could/should be riding a 14-fight win streak. If Rakic somehow has developed a wrestling game that can match Glover’s since last August, we might be in trouble here, but in a strictly stand-up battle, I like Thiago Santos to get back on the W train.
OFFICIAL PICK: SANTOS
Dominick Cruz vs. Casey Kenney
Putting Casey Kenney on a card with Megan Anderson is something else. Dana is a funny guy. If you don’t know, Kenney had some disparaging remarks about whether he would or would not hook up with his co-worker on a podcast. It more than ruffled a few feathers but didn’t cost him his job. Now, they are likely to bump into each other at some point here being on the same fight card. Oh, to be a fly on the wall when that happens. Megan towers over Kenney. That’s the funny part. Anyways…what a fight here.
I’m a huge Dominick Cruz fan…in the booth. I think he’s one of the best analysts in the game and can be ruthless if a fight isn’t going a certain way for one of the men/women in the cage. I love that. Tell it like it is. That’s also why I’m so curious to see him getting back in there. He’s not a bum. He’s right on the edge of the top 10 in the division, but at his age and with his injury record, coming off back-to-back losses to Cody Garbrandt and Henry Cejudo, you have to wonder what the upside is. A paycheck, sure. What about his career? His legacy?
His last meaningful win was in January of 2016. That’s five years and however many surgeries ago. Granted, he lost two title fights, but at 135, speed is king. If you don’t have power, you better have speed. Is Cruz getting any faster with age? I don’t think so, but I’d argue that he is still one of the best fighters in this division.
His movement is his weapon. Creating odd angles and being hard to hit is the name of the game. Henry Cejudo wrote the playbook on stopping Dom with the barrage of leg kicks he landed early. Kill the movement, kill the man. Obviously, Cruz made a big stink about the early stoppage, and I get that. Cejudo caught him with the knee and had him rocked, but to Dom’s point, he’s never been knocked out in his career and wasn’t knocked out here. Also, Casey Kenney ain’t Henry Cejudo.
Cruz opened this fight as a favorite, and it’s been bet through the number to the point of Kenney as a -130 favorite at the time I’m writing this breakdown. You want to talk about fast hands? Casey Kenney has fast hands. That’s his main strength. His speed. The fight against Nathaniel Wood was a fun re-watch as the two combined for over 259 significant strikes. Kenney did absorb several shots but did the more significant damage. He was happy to lead the dance or counter.
Obviously, this is a close fight, but there are a couple of things to consider. The ring IQ of Dom Cruz could be the difference here. Wood and others were happy to stand in front of Kenney and exchange. Dom will be anywhere but in front of Kenney. Kenney was absolutely ragdolled by Dvalishvilli in his only loss in the UFC. It was a hell of a long time ago, but Dom used to wrestle quite a bit in his heyday. He took Demetrious Johnson down 10 times (10 years ago…). This could be a changing of the guard, but for some reason, I want to give old man Cruz the benefit of the doubt one last time. This will be Kenney’s toughest test to date and either vault him into the top 15 or set him back on his quest to the top.
OFFICIAL PICK: CRUZ
Song Yadong vs. Kyler Phillips
Song is 23, and Phillips is just 25, so you are probably assuming these two are pretty green in the cage. But Yadong comes in with 21 professional fights and Phillips with nine. Even though he’s the favorite, I feel like people are sleeping on Yadong here. While he started his UFC career with fights in and around China, his last four fights have been in the States, and he’s put his ability on display in each.
The win over Vera is his most recent fight and his best performance. The majority draw against Stamann was questionable, but he showed a good chin and was able to stand back up after Stamann took him down. It was a weird fight, in general, but Yadong had him in a guillotine and was getting ready to sink his hips to lock it in when he inexplicably landed a knee to the head of a grounded Stamann. It was as if he didn’t know the rules. A point was deducted, and he was playing catchup from there. He’s all fast-twitch action, jumping in and out of the pocket with short, sharp shots. Despite those big actions, he shows cardio that can last 15 minutes.
Phillips is a bit of a mixed bag. He’s a creative striker with enough skill to get by but does a lot of his damage on the ground. He’s been in the BJJ game since he was a baby and very comfortable on the mat. That is his likely path to victory here. Phillips has extremely long arms for the division and an awkward striking style. If he can keep this on the outside, land some shots, and then throw a punch followed by a takedown, he can absolutely have success.
For me, I’m taking the showstopper. Yadong is my guy. My math is saying he’ll likely be a bet for me come Saturday, and I like him to win the fight. Both of these meatheads are tough guys, and while I like Song’s power and Phillip’s ability on the ground, I can see this one going the distance.
OFFICIAL PICK: YADONG
Joseph Benavidez vs. Askar Askarov (Askarov missed weight by a pound but looked spent and didn’t try to lose the weight even though he had time. Bumping Benavidez a bit)
JOEY BENAVIDEZ! Thirty-six years old and as fast as ever, but how is that chin doing, good sir? Deiveson Figueiredo separated his brain from his skull a couple of times over 2020 and most recently won by submission at the end of the first round. Benavidez was dropped with one shot behind the ear but was able to fight off several submission attempts and get back to his feet. Those fast hands were on display as he landed a few quick combinations, but Deiveson dropped him basically every time he landed. It’s separating what we saw from the champ and comparing it to what Askarov can bring to this fight.
Askarov brings a 12-0-1 record to the octagon and is not Deiveson Figueiredo. He’s a completely different fighter and is calmness personified in the cage. One interesting note: he’s almost deaf. He can’t hear his corner during the fight, and basically, everything he does is pre-planned and/or reacting in the moment. He’s one of the best wrestlers in the division and will be the bigger fighter on fight night. He’ll have a reach advantage, strength advantage and is eight years younger. If Askarov wants to get this to the ground, he will.
I have Askarov winning a decision. Expect a flurry from Benavidez to start the fight before this one eventually ends up on the mat in all three rounds. Another win for Eagles MMA.
OFFICIAL PICK: ASKAROV
Rogerio Bontorin vs. Kai Kara-France
I’ve lost more money on Kara-France than I’d like to admit. He’s a bit of a decision fighter who looks like he should be better than he is. The losses to Royval and Moreno aren’t bad losses. He dropped Royval in their fight with a straight right. Royval is just a long, awkward submission machine. There was also a potential illegal knee thrown in there, as well, but they are claiming it hit the neck. Kara-France did show great scrambling ability early in their fight but was in trouble so many times in the fight. KKF was looking for solutions to Royval, shot for a double leg, and ended up in the guillotine that would end his night. Royval seemed a level above Kara-France.
The same could be said for his fight with Moreno, another loss for Kara-France. If we go to the Tyson Nam fight, we find some success. His footwork and distance management were superb. He mixed in several kicks. He was first to the point of attack. However, he was still fighting off his back foot early more than I would have liked to see. Pressure is key for Kara-France.
Bontorin is super strong. Very aggressive. His striking is limited, but he’ll punch, punch and wrestle. All of his strikes come from wide angles. It is rarely sharp strikes through the middle. The damage he did to Paiva was from a massive knee as they were standing back up, and the cut he created was responsible for the stoppage. Interestingly, Borg was beating Bontorin at his own game. It’s important to note that Borg did miss weight and carried that advantage on fight night. Bontorin seemed limited in all aspects with Borg controlling the wrestling. But Ray Borg is a wrestler. Kara-France can wrestle. Bontorin should be able to go back to the well with wrestling again.
So, who wins? For me, Kara-France has the advantage on the feet. He has surprising power in his hands and the clear speed advantage. His takedown defense is pretty good. He has teammates fighting on the card, so you know his gym will have him ready to go. I’m fully prepared to be let down again, but I’m going with Kara-France.
OFFICIAL PICK: KARA-FRANCE
Tim Elliott vs. Jordan Espinosa
Tim Elliott. Another underrated fighter, in my opinion. His last three losses were to the current champ, Askar Askarov, who is now in the top 5, and Brandon Royval, who is probably a top 5 fighter in the division. He’s a bit like Dom Cruz with his movement, but it appears of late that he is trying to lessen the wild strikes but keep the movement. With both, he did have some gas tank issues. Adam and I have talked about it the last few weeks, but James Krause is really putting together some good fighters right now. Elliott is back with Krause, and we fully expect him to have at least a good game plan.
One of the problems I have with Elliott is his inability to finish fights. He’ll have guys hurt and not be able to get the finish. He only has the submission win over Mark De La Rosa in this stint of his UFC career. I just got done telling you about how good Askarov is with his ground game, but it was Elliott who outwrestled him in their match. However, he couldn’t hold the position or do enough damage when he had success to get a victory. He landed a takedown against Figueiredo but was reversed and submitted. Elliott has mixed in the kicks with his attacks.
Espinosa is an enigma for me. I’m looking for his quality win and can’t find it. Matt Schnell and Alex Perez both submitted him in the first round. He won a decision against De La Rosa and lost to Dvorak in a fight that wasn’t even close. He closed that fight as a -110 favorite and lost 30-27 on every card. Espinosa fights long. He throws kicks from distance, high and low, and accurate. He does plant down on that lead leg and leave it out there to receive damage. That is his pivot for all attacks, and should you take that away, he’ll really struggle. Espinosa looks like he’s on ice skates half the time. He’s off-balance quite a bit and bounces way back after an exchange.
Elliott is only 34 but has been in the game since 2009 and has a lot of miles on his body. The new fighting style certainly helps his gas tank. He picked up the win against Benoit but didn’t have as much success with the wrestling as he probably would have liked. The massive positive I took away was the lack of extreme drop-off of energy levels in the first minute and the last. Old dogs can learn new tricks. The feints of Dvorak caused Espinosa a lot of issues, and the movement of Elliott should do the same. I’m going again! Give me another dog.
OFFICIAL PICK: ELLIOTT
Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Carlos Ulberg
This is a scary fight. Nzechhukuwu seemingly has everything you can’t teach. He’s gigantic with an 83” reach. His issue is that he’s a bit of a gentle giant. He looks nice, and he fights nice. Physically, his body has matured over the last few years, and he’s added elements to his game. He does leave his lead right leg out on an island ready to be attacked. I wish he used his jab more. You’ll see his right hand is out almost the whole fight, but it’s mostly to gauge distance and control the hands so that straight left can get through. He does fight with forward pressure, which always helps with the judges in a close fight. The teep kicks have added another weapon to add damage to the body of these big boys.
Then we have Ulberg. The male model trying his hand at this MMA thing. I’m mostly joking, but the lack of experience is staring us in the face here. To be honest, watching his fight against Oliveira, I was wondering what all the fuss was about. Sure, he throws leg kicks with power. He was lunging in with the jab. He missed with the right badly a few times. Then bang. The left lands on the chin, and it’s over. Obviously, he’s training with Adesanya and looks like a million dollars in trunks, but he has some power in his hands and is aggressive at the point of attack. I don’t know that I’ve seen enough to lay -250 on this dude, but he sure looks like the more likely fighter to get the win.
Nzechukwu probably needs something similar to the Stosic fight. Press the action, land a few shots, and hope he kicks you in the dick 10 times and gets two points deducted. Short of that, I’ll take Ulberg.
OFFICIAL PICK: ULBERG
Sean Brady vs. Jake Matthews
How in the world does Jake Matthews have 14 fights in the UFC at just 26? It seems like he’s been around forever because he has. The former prodigy has stuck around and is coming off the back of three straight wins. The quality of those wins can be called into question, but he beat the man put in front of him. That’s all you can do.
Most recently, he beat the hell out of Diego Sanchez. Matthews looked very sharp, landing at will on the feet and finishing rounds with takedowns. Diego was carrying a spare tire around the ring. There is nothing to take away from that fight. Against Emil Meek, it was all wrestling all the time. Takedown after takedown, grinding out a win for Matthews, and that is where he is at his best. His standup is fine, good even. His wrestling is underrated and can steal rounds for Matthews. The trouble for Matthews is that Sean Brady is a problem.
Brady comes in 13-0 and really without a fight that looked in danger of losing. Court McGee has had a tough run of late, and Brady beat him up for 15 minutes, landing two takedowns, stuffing all six of McGee’s takedown attempts, and winning the fight going away. He wrestled his way to a win over Naurdiev with another four takedowns. Guess what? He took down Christian Aguilera, too, but this time didn’t leave it to the judges and got the guillotine submission. He’s a BJJ black belt and extremely physically strong. His stand-up is evolving. He has a sharp counter left that he likes to throw and is starting to learn how to use the jab. If anything, he’s a touch too patient to work for the takedown.
Sean Brady is a hell of a prospect, but this fight is closer than Vegas would have you believe. These fighters have a lot of similarities. Matthews certainly has the experience advantage, but Brady has a heavy top game, if he can get the fight where he wants it.
OFFICIAL PICK: BRADY
Livinha Souza vs. Amanda Lemos
Can I just say pass and move on? No? Shit.
Lemos picked up a nice win over Inoue last time out. These girls were slanging and banging out there with Lemos, looking dominant in the unanimous decision win. I really thought Inoue would have an advantage on the ground but it was Lemos who had her way. She is a volume striker. That can get it done and has for her in the past. If you head to Tapology, you’ll see that she’s been an underdog in her last few fights. Now, she’s a massive favorite. Is that a market overreaction, or has Lemos found something? Her striking is sharp, and she’s never lost in this 115 lb division. The left jab, in particular, can do some damage. She can also sit down and throw big combinations with power. It was a straight right from Lemos that dropped Mizuki. She’s fast.
Souza was the next big thing at one point. She came into the UFC with only one loss on her record and having run through basically the entire Invicta roster. The loss to Van Buren put a damper on her party. She doesn’t throw a ton of volume, so if she gets behind in a fight, she really struggles to play catch up. Van Buren, in particular, gave her issues because she couldn’t take her down. After that, there was no plan B. That worries me a touch. She looked much better against Yoder. She had a heavy top game and constant work rate but once again not a ton of volume. Yoder just doesn’t compare with hand speed to Lemos, and I think Souza is going to struggle.
I wouldn’t bet this with my worst enemy’s money. However, I do like the favorite here with Mrs. Lemos.
OFFICIAL PICK: LEMOS
Uros Medic vs. Aalon Cruz
Aalon Cruz is a big, long fighter for 145, but is he any good? Spike Carlyle came in as a pretty decent underdog and obliterated him inside of a minute. At 155, he’ll have less weight to cut and hopefully come in with a more sturdy base. All of his striking is set up with kicks. His finish on the Contender Series was from a flying knee in a fast-paced, three-round fight that had Dana White making the ‘signing checks’ movement. Outside of the highlight, there just isn’t a ton to love about his game. There isn’t a ton of power. His movement is just ok. His cardio looks great, which might be his best asset.
Medic came in 6-0 and picked up the big first-round KO on the Contender Series himself. He’s all damage, all the time. Big body kicks. Left hands to the dome. Good movement. Great frame. He’s also neutralizing the big advantage Cruz typically has at 145 with his size. Medic is a 170 pounder who’s moved down to 155.
This isn’t the highest level MMA fight we’ll see on the night, so I’m hesitant to really pump the tires on anyone, but I love Medic in this spot.
OFFICIAL PICK: MEDIC
Mario Bautista vs. Trevin Jones
Man, I hope this fight actually makes it to fight night because this could be a banger. For one, I like both of these fighters. How can you not like Trevon Jones, who comes in as a +430 underdog and battles? He’s fighting out of Guam, which is a head-scratcher. Fighting out of the southpaw stance, he does create some problems for his opponents. Jones was completely outmatched by Valiev and getting brutalized on the feet AND THEN…the big right hands dropped Valiev, and he wasted no time hammering Valiev on the ground to get a finish. Jones lost the first round. He was losing the second round yet pounded Valiev on the counter. He has big power.
Bautista is a legit 135 fighter just waiting to bust through to the top 15. All around, he’s a much better fighter than Jones, but so was Valiev. He likes to finish fights and hasn’t lost outside of his UFC debut against current #2 ranked Cory Sandhagen. His movement creates really good angles and makes his opponents hesitate while they are trying to find where he is. The game plan against Miles Johns was solid, if not a touch boring. I lost count, but Bautista threw something like 6,000 feints at Johns and tried the knee 4-5 times before finally landing it and ending the fight. Obviously, he’s getting really good training at the MMA Lab. I like where his career is heading.
Not for nothing, but Jones has three losses by split decision on his record, as well. He’s more of a power puncher than a fighter at this point, and his choice to stay in Guam doesn’t necessarily lead me to believe he’s taking the necessary steps to improve. However, he’s here, and he’s always got that big right hand in his back pocket. In saying that, Bautista has shown he can fight a smart fight. These guys can both end it, but with Jones looking to mostly counter and Bautista willing to wait for a mistake, this could end up in the judges’ hands.
OFFICIAL PICK: BAUTISTA
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