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Predictions! UFC ‘Orlando’ Undercard Preview – Pt. 2

There will be much swangin’ and, ideally, some bangin’ as well.

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight sluggers Jeremy Stephens and Josh Emmett will attempt to parlay their recent knockout victories into a title shot this Saturday evening (Feb. 24, 2018) when they duke it out inside Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.

UFC on FOX 28 also features a pivotal women’s Strawweight scrap between Jessica Andrade and Tecia Torres, a Light Heavyweight throwdown between Ovince Saint Preux and Ilir Latifi, and a potential “Fight of the Night” between Mike Perry and Max Griffin.

The FOX portion of the card gets four “Prelims” undercard bouts to beef it up (check out the Fight Pass portion here). So, here they are, deboned and butterflied for your consumption.

135 lbs.: Renan Barao vs. Brian Kelleher

We are closing in on four years since Renan Barao (34-5) fell to T.J. Dillashaw in what remains one of the biggest numerical upsets in mixed martial arts (MMA) history. He is just 2-3 since that fateful night, most recently taking an absolute beating from Aljamain Sterling in Anaheim.

Though the two are the same height, he will have four inches of reach on Brian Kelleher (18-8).

“Boom,” sufferer of similar weight cut issues, submitted Iuri Alcantara in his UFC debut in a sizeable upset, only to be upset in return by Marlon Vera less than two months later. Undeterred, he returned to action against Poland’s Damian Stasiak and handed him a whooping in hostile territory, earning “Fight of the Night” in the process.

He has submitted eight professional opponents and knocked out another seven.

Back in the early ‘10s, when Barao could rehydrate with an IV and showed real confidence, this fight would have been a wash. He’d have jabbed and leg-kicked Kelleher to death on his way to 30-27s across the board.

Now? It’s impossible to have any faith in him. His fight IQ has looked utterly woeful in recent fights, leading him to try to slug it out with Jeremy Stephens and neglect his own grappling against Sterling until it was too late to matter. In addition, there’s no telling how his gas tank will hold up after another brutal cut to 135 pounds. Kelleher, on the other hand, has the motor on him to stay in Barao’s face all night and wear him down.

Barao just doesn’t seem to have the mental strength to compete at the highest level anymore. Kelleher outworks him to a narrow decision victory.

Prediction: Kelleher via split decision

135 lbs.: Sara McMann vs. Marion Reneau

Sara McMann (11-4) emerged from her 1-3 skid on the warpath, running over Jessica Eye, Alexis Davis and Gina Mazany with ease. Most expected her to do the same to Ketlen Vieira, but the Brazilian came back to submit her late in the second round in Sept. 2017.

She will give up two inches of reach to Marion Reneau (8-3-1).

“The Belizean Bruiser” is still going strong at age 40, arguably deserving the win in each of her last four fights. The two decisions she did get saw her stop Milana Dudieve and Talita Bernardo in the third round to up her career finish total to seven.

Five of those finishes came via strikes, including one in just 10 seconds.

McMann has the skills to crack the division’s Top 5 and never leave: Heavy hands, a developing submission game, and nigh-unmatched wrestling. I really thought she’d put it all together, only for her to collapse against Vieira and get submitted like old times.

She has to be firing on all cylinders here. If she gets lax in the striking, Reneau has the power to turn her lights out, and the Belizean’s guard is a genuine hazard should McMann get lax on top. Still, despite myself, I’ve got faith in McMann. She may not have enough time left in the cage to fully realize her potential, but even half of that potential is enough to carry her to victory here. Strong top control wins the day.

Prediction: McMann via unanimous decision

115 lbs.: Maryna Moroz vs. Angela Hill

Maryna Moroz (8-2) announced her arrival into UFC with a 90-second armbar of Joanne Calderwood, and though she came up short against Valerie Letourneau her next time out, she bounced back with wins over Cristina Stanciu and Danielle Taylor. She couldn’t quite do the same against Carla Esparza, however, and struggled against the former champion’s takedowns en route to a decision loss.

She was supposed to fight Jamie Moyle last month, but the latter suffered an injury just days before the event.

Angela Hill (7-4) won and defended the Invicta Strawweight title before putting on a Fight of the Night with Jéssica Andrade in her UFC return. After getting back in the win column with a decision over Ashley Yoder, she threw down with American Top Team standout Nina Ansaroff and lost another competitive decision.

She will give up four inches of height and three inches of reach to Moroz.

Moroz’s key issue is that she has two solid aspects of her game, her boxing and her submissions, and zero ways to connect them. Her fights go where her opponents want them to. This time around, that means she’ll be trading with a better Muay Thai stylist despite having the skills to overwhelm her on the mat.

Moroz’s height and length definitely work in her favor, but Hill has the skills to get inside and go to work. Unless Moroz can hit a flying armbar, expect Hill to work her over at close range with punches and kicks for 15 competitive minutes.

Prediction: Hill via unanimous decision

170 lbs.: Alan Jouban vs. Ben Saunders

Alan Jouban (15-6) got off to a strong 6-2 start in his UFC career, including three “Fight of the Night” bonuses and victories over Belal Muhammad and Mike Perry. He has since been on the wrong end of bonus-winning stoppages from Gunnar Nelson and Niko Price, the latter of whom needed just 104 seconds to put away Jouban with strikes.

“Brahma” has earned nine professional wins by (technical) knockout and one by submission to punches.

Despite three consecutive wins and UFC’s first-ever omoplata submission, Ben Saunders’ (21-8-2) second UFC run came to an end after a knockout loss to Patrick Cote. He came right back after submission Jacob Volkmann in 17 seconds, however, and defeated Court McGee before suffering a knockout loss to Peter Sobotta in Sweden.

He stands two inches taller than Jouban and will have four inches of both reach and leg reach on him.

There are two ways this fight could go: Either these two go at each other and turn the lights out in a hurry, or get overly protective after their recent knockout losses and stare at each other for 15 minutes. I’m thinking the latter, as both had been stopped before and came back aggressively.

Which is bad news for Saunders.

“Killa B” is one of the most entertaining grapplers in UFC and has heart for days, but his chin just isn’t there anymore. It seems like he gets rattled by every clean punch he takes and his defense has never been great. Worse, his ability to take it to the mat is limited to pulling guard against a defensive wrestler of Jouban’s caliber. While both are vulnerable enough to make this intriguing, expect Jouban to find a home for his left hand before long.

Prediction: Jouban via first-round knockout

UFC on FOX 28’s main event could be something special and there are a few match ups that just scream “highlight material.” See you Saturday, Maniacs.

Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on FOX 28 card this weekend, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” match online, which is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX at 6 p.m. ET before the FOX main card action kicks off at 8 p.m. ET.

Current UFC “Prelims” Prediction Record for 2018: 34-7

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Predictions! UFC ‘Orlando’ Undercard Preview – Pt. 1

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is bringing a bevy of “Prelims” fights to UFC Fight Pass and FOX this weekend (Sat., Feb. 24, 2018) when UFC on FOX 28: “Emmett vs. Stephens” storms Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. MMAmania.com’s Patrick Stumberg kicks off the UFC on FOX 28 “Prelims” party with the first installment of a two-part undercard preview series below.

Ain’t no rest for the wicked …

Fresh off his knockout of “The Korean Superboy,” Jeremy “Lil’ Heathen” Stephens returns to action this Saturday evening (Feb. 24, 2018) at Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., taking on newfound contender Josh Emmett in UFC on FOX 28’s main event of the evening.

The four-fight main card also features a potential women’s Strawweight title eliminator between Jessica Andrade and Tecia Torres, plus Ovince Saint Preux vs. Ilir Latifi and a guaranteed slugfest that pits Mike Perry against Max Griffin.

With just four main card bouts that means a lot of “Prelims” undercard bouts, specifically nine this time around. It’s a 5:4 split between Fight Pass and FOX. So let’s take it from the bottom-up:

155 lbs.: Gilbert Burns vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier

Gilbert Burns’ (12-2) world-class Brazilian jiu-jitsu and developing striking carried him to victory in his first three UFC appearances, but weren’t enough to save him from losses to Rashid Magomedov and Michel Prazeres in Brazil. His sole 2017 performance was perhaps his most impressive yet, however, as he destroyed Canada’s Jason Saggo with one punch in Pittsburgh.

“Durinho” owns seven wins by submission and another four via (technical) knockout.

Though he came up short against Chad Laprise in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Nations,” Olivier Aubin-Mercier (10-2) emerged as a standout contender with wins in six of his next seven fights. His current three-fight streak includes submissions of Thibault Gouti and Drew Dober, plus a split decision over Tony Martin.

Seven of the eight submission wins that “The Quebec Kid” has secured have come by rear-naked choke.

Now this is an interesting fight, pitting top-tier jiu-jitsu against top-tier Judo. Despite Burns’ struggles against the human-shaped bulldozer that is Michel Prazeres, I’m leaning his way, as he looks like the more complete and dangerous striker. It’s also worth remembering that Aubin-Mercier’s last defeat came against an excellent jiu-jitsu artist in Carlos Diego Ferreira, who has not shown Burns’ takedown skills or punching power.

Aubin-Mercier can play backpack against the majority of the division, but not against someone this skilled on the mat. Unable to engage in his ideal style of fight, he’ll be forced to trade strikes with a faster and more powerful kickboxer, ultimately losing the decision.

Prediction: Burns via unanimous decision

205 lbs.: Marcin Prachnio vs. Sam Alvey

A world-class Kyokushin karate standout, Marcin Prachnio (13-2) enters the Octagon on an eight-fight win streak, including six first-round knockouts. The streak includes a split decision over jiu-jitsu standout Leandro Ataides and an 83-second finish of 36-fight veteran Gilberto Galvao.

All of his 11 stoppage wins have come in the first round

Consecutive losses to Derek Brunson and Elias Theodorou didn’t discourage Sam Alvey (31-10), as he went on to win five of his next six bouts. He stumbled a bit last time, though, losing a snoozer to the debuting Ramazan Emeev.

“Smilin’” steps in for the injured Jake Collier on less than two months’ notice.

Prachnio’s Kyokushin base is extremely visible … and not always in a good way. While he’s lethal at short range, mixing up tight punches and surprisingly compact high kicks, his footwork is all over the place and he tends to wing his punches when launched from anywhere outside the pocket. If Alvey had any sort of consistency, I’d pick him to win here, as Prachnio leaves countering opportunities you could drive a truck through.

Unfortunately, Alvey is Alvey, cripplingly boring and painfully reticent to actually unleash the crazy power in his hands. Prachnio, if nothing else, is extremely busy, which ought to carry him past the ever-gunshy Alvey. Though an Alvey haymaker out of nowhere is always in the cards, Prachnio’s volume and aggression should win the day.

Prediction: Prachnio via unanimous decision

135 lbs.: Rani Yahya vs. Russell Doane

More than 15 years after his professional mixed martial arts (MMA) debut, Rani Yahya (24-9) remains a standout Bantamweight, losing just once in his last seven fights. In his most recent bout, he put a loss to Joe Soto behind him with a rapid submission of Enrique Briones in the latter’s native Mexico.

He owns 18 professional victories via submission.

A perfect (2-0) UFC start, including a submission of jiu-jitsu ace Leandro Issa, gave way to four consecutive losses for Russell Doane (15-7), including first-round submissions against Pedro Munhoz and Mirsad Bektic. Last June, he came up big with his back against the wall by knocking out Korean striker Kwan Ho Kwak in Singapore.

He will have an inch of height and three inches of reach on Yahya.

Predicting a Yahya fight has gotten easier over the years. He’s going to spend the first round on top, then gas out halfway through the second before surviving the third. His opponents just have to survive, wear him out, and then deal as much damage as humanly possible in the final round.

Unless, of course, he manages to submit them. Unfortunately for Doane, he’s going to get submitted.

Doane has just one non-controversial win in his last six fights, got submitted by two of his last three opponents, isn’t a great wrestler, and doesn’t hit hard enough to turn Yahya’s lights out before he gets wrangled to the mat. Yahya locks up submission No. 19 before too terribly long.

Prediction: Yahya by first-round submission

125 lbs.: Alex Perez vs. Eric Shelton

Alex Perez (19-4) — the former Tachi Palace Fights Flyweight champion — put together a four-fight win streak to earn a spot on Dana White’s “Tuesday Night Contender Series,” where he submitted Kevin Gray in less than three minutes. His UFC debut was equally successful, tapping Filipino prospect C.J. de Tomas with a lovely anaconda choke.

His only losses since 2012 came against TUF 24 competitor Adam Antolin and UFC veteran Jared Papazian.

Eric Shelton (11-4) and the judges had a bit of an adversarial relationship in his ZUFFA career, as he fell to Tim Elliott by majority decision on TUF 24 before dropping split decisions to Alexandre Pantoja and Jarred Brooks in his first two UFC appearances. He finally earned his first promotional victory in Nov. 2017 with a decision over former pro boxer Jenel Lausa in Sydney.

His finishes are split 5:2 between submissions and (technical ) knockouts.

An interesting factoid: Shelton actually has a loss to Gray back in 2015. Since then, though, he’s consistently held his own against world-class opposition, which gives him the edge in what looks like a very evenly-matched fight. Perez presents a similar skillset, combining quality combination striking with strong submission grappling.

The key difference, like I said, is that we know Shelton’s game works against the best. We don’t know if Perez’s does. Shelton edges out the striking and takedown battles to win a competitive decision.

Prediction: Shelton via unanimous decision

135 lbs.: Manny Bermudez vs. Albert Morales

New England’s top prospect for quite some time, Manny Bermudez (10-0) has not tasted defeat since his second amateur fight back in 2012. All eight of his professional finishes have come in the first round, including seven submissions.

He stands three inches shorter than Albert Morales (7-3-1) at 5’6.”

Morales’ UFC career has been consistently entertaining, but not terribly consistent, as he is just 1-3-1 in five octagon appearances. He enters the cage on the heels of consecutive losses to Brett Johns and Benito Lopez, although most of the media scored the latter fight for Morales.

“The Warrior” has submitted three professional opponents and knocked out another two.

Bermudez’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu is absolutely sick. The man is a straight-up terror on the mat and has a Brian Ortega-esque ability to lock up front chokes in the clinch. The question is whether he has the wrestling to actually apply that jiu-jitsu — his controversial victory against Saul Almeida suggests that’s not necessarily the case. Morales, despite his ugly UFC record, is game as hell and capable of at least holding his own wherever the fight goes, meaning Bermudez is in trouble if he can’t impose his will.

That said, Morales isn’t a standout wrestler and the fight is basically over the moment Bermudez gets him to the mat. There’s also every reason to believe that Bermudez has improved considerably since that Almeida fight, as he is just 23. Though Morales has the skillset to play spoiler, I’m thinking Bermudez grounds him early and twists him into an unpleasant pretzel not long after.

Prediction: Bermudez via first-round submission

Four more UFC on FOX 28 “Prelims” bouts to preview and predict tomorrow, including a pair of showdowns between top-ranked Bantamweight contenders. See you tomorrow, Maniacs!

Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on FOX 28 card this weekend, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” match online, which is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX at 6 p.m. ET before the FOX main card action kicks off at 8 p.m. ET.

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UFC 221 predictions: ‘Rockhold vs Romero’ FOX Sports 1 ‘Prelims’ undercard preview

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is bringing a bevy of “Prelims” fights to both UFC Fight Pass and FOX Sports 1 this weekend (Sat., Feb. 10, 2018) when UFC 221: “Rockhold vs. Romero” storms Perth Arena in Perth, Australia. MMAmania.com’s Patrick Stumberg continues the UFC 221 “Prelims” party with the second (and final) installment of a two-part undercard preview series below.

Perth, Australia, won’t get to see local favorite Robert Whittaker defend his Middleweight title, but they still get to see a world-class match as Yoel Romero steps up to face Luke Rockhold in the pay-per-view (PPV) main event of UFC 221 this weekend (Sat., Feb. 10, 2018) inside Perth Arena.

Earlier in the evening, Oceanic knockout artists Mark Hunt and Tai Tuivasa take on Curtis Blaydes and Cyril Asker, respectively, and Jake Matthews attempts to reassert his status as a top mixed martial arts (MMA) prospect at the expense of Chinese slugger Li Jingliang.

Four FOX Sports 1 “Prelims” undercard bouts will set the stage before we get to the paid content (check out the Fight Pass portion here), though, so let’s have a look:

155 lbs.: Damien Brown vs. Dong Hyun Kim

Damien Brown (17-11) made his fellow Aussies proud at UFC Fight Night 101, surviving early adversity to edge Jon Tuck by split decision. “Beatdown” wasn’t quite as successful seven months later in Auckland, however, suffering a one-punch knockout loss to Vinc Pichel. The good news for his is that he rebounded well, taking Frank Camacho to a “Fight of the Night” split decision in Nov. 2017.

He’s stopped eight opponents via submission, six by form of choke.

Dong Hyun Kim (15-8-3) — best known for his insane war with Polo Reyes at UFC 199 — has dialed back his brawling a bit to secure two consecutive UFC victories. After a grappling-heavy victory over Brendan O’Reilly, he took on the smoldering husk of Takanori Gomi in Saitama and knocked him silly in just 90 seconds.

He will have an inch of height and two inches of reach on Brown.

Before anything else, please go to UFC.com and look at Kim’s haircut. Back? Alright, let’s get into it.

This just seems like a rough style match up for Brown. Kim looks to be the stronger grappler and showed that he knows how to scrap against Reyes, surviving the Mexican bruiser’s best shots for more than two rounds before finally succumbing. Brown is going to have to out-technique him, for which he doesn’t appear to have the toolbox.

If Kim does go full zombie again, it could come back to bite him, but he’s shown a willingness to actually fight smart recently. He mixes up straight punches and takedowns for a comfortable victory.

Prediction: Kim via unanimous decision

170 lbs.: Rob Wilkinson vs. Israel Adesanya

Rob Wilkinson (11-1) earned (and defended) the Australian FC Middleweight title before answering UFC’s call in Nov. 2017. Stepping up on short notice for Abu Azaitar, Wilkinson took on the returning Siyar Bahadurzada and succumbed to the Afghan’s power partway through the second round.

He has submitted six professional opponents … all in the first round.

Israel Adesanya (11-0) — currently ranked the No. 5 middleweight kickboxer on the planet by LiverKick.com — put together a 65-5-2 record in the discipline despite splitting his time with MMA since 2012. His time in our sport of choice has seen him stop all 11 of his opponents, including Kenan Song and Melvin Guillard, with strikes in less than two rounds apiece.

He stands one inch taller than Wilkinson at 6’4.”

Fans should be as excited about Adesanya’s debut as they were about Gokhan Saki’s. Adesanya may not have quite the list of accomplishments “The Rebel” does, but unlike the Turkish slugger, he’s in his athletic prime at 28. It also helps that he’s a joy to watch, packing the sort of fluid and destructive attack his nickname suggests.

Wilkinson is a fairly solid wrestler, which is worth keeping an eye on after another striking prodigy in Muslim Salikhov got wrecked on the mat, but Adesanya’s got good hips and a knack for throws in the clinch. After the way Wilkinson struggled to manhandle a blown-up Welterweight in Bahadurzada, I don’t see him shutting down Izzy. Adesanya wears him down at range before polishing him off once he’s good and tired.

Prediction: Adesanya via second-round technical knockout

145 lbs.: Alexander Volkanovski vs. Jeremy Kennedy

Despite standing a mere 5’6,” Alexander Volkanovski (16-1) has emerged as a Featherweight prospect worth watching during his three-fight Octagon tenure. The former Australian FC champ brutalized both Yusuke Kasuya and Mizuto Hirota before outclassing New Zealand’s Shane Young on UFC’s last venture to “The Land Down Under.”

Nine of his 12 professional finishes have come by form of knockout.

Jeremy Kennedy (11-0) — who has had fights with the likes of Josh Emmett and Mirsad Bektic fall through — has used dominant wrestling to put together a three-fight win streak in the competitive Featherweight division. His victims include inaugural The Ultimate Fighter: “Brazil” winner Rony “Jason” and Kyle Bochniak, who was last seen beating prospect Brandon Davis.

“JBC” stands five inches taller than Volkanovski, though their respected reaches are identical.

Though Volkanovski is still a little too over-reliant on the overhand right, his wrestling technique, bottomless gas tank, and sheer power are enough to make him a massive handful. Even better, Kennedy doesn’t have the style to exploit Volkanovski’s lingering issues. He’s at home in the clinch and relentlessly pursuing takedowns, which plays right into Volkanovski’s sledgehammer hands.

Volkanovski’s strength gives him the edge inside and Kennedy’s usual gameplan puts him well within that overhand right’s limited range. Unless Kennedy has a jab and commensurate distance striking game to go along with it, the local boy overpowers him in the pocket for either a grinding-heavy decision or late stoppage via strikes.

Prediction: Volkanovski via unanimous decision

125 lbs.: Jussier Formiga vs. Ben Nguyen

It’s been more than eight years since Jussier Formiga (20-5) beat Shinichi Kojima to become the world’s top Flyweight, but he’s certainly done well for himself in UFC. After a rough 1-2 start that featured losses to John Dodson and Joseph Benavidez, the Brazilian won five of his next seven bouts, most recently choking out “Ulka” Sasaki in Japan.

He has two inches of reach on ‘Ben 10.”

Ben Nguyen (17-6) went from viral sensation to legitimate contender in just five UFC fights, losing only to Louis Smolka in a barnburner during that span. His latest win was his biggest to date, a 49-second submission of Tim Elliott that earned him “Performance of the Night” honors.

He has knocked out nine opponents and submitted another five.

For my money, Formiga has the best back takes and back control since a prime B.J. Penn. He excels at exploiting any tiny opportunity he’s given and is an absolute leech once he gets his hooks in. He’s held his own on the mat against the likes of Wilson Reis and Ray Borg and has a significantly better body of work against world-class Flyweight fighters.

I just can’t pick against Nguyen, though. “Ben 10” might be the biggest puncher in the division and has shown much, much improved scrambling and takedown defense since that donnybrook against Smolka. He’s young, explosive and packs more than enough heat to crack Formiga’s jaw. Though another Formiga victory through positional brilliance is possible, my gut says Nguyen scores his biggest scalp to date.

Prediction: Nguyen via first-round technical knockout

If nothing else, Romero vs. Rockhold is some A++ matchmaking — can’t wait! See you Saturday, Maniacs.

Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 221 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.

Current UFC “Prelims” Prediction Record for 2018: 25-3

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UFC 221 predictions: ‘Rockhold vs Romero’ Fight Pass ‘Prelims’ undercard preview

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is bringing a bevy of “Prelims” fights to both UFC Fight Pass and FOX Sports 1 this weekend (Sat., Feb. 10, 2018) when UFC 221: “Rockhold vs. Romero” storms Perth Arena in Perth, Australia. MMAmania.com’s Patrick Stumberg kicks off the UFC 221 “Prelims” party with the first installment of a two-part undercard preview series below.

With Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight champion Robert Whittaker on the mend, two of the 185-pound division’s most freakish athletes do battle in Perth, Australia, this Saturday night (Feb. 10, 2018) as Yoel Romero faces former division roost-ruler, Luke Rockhold, in UFC 221’s pay-per-view (PPV) main event.

The Aussie faithful will also get to see Mark Hunt face rising Heavyweight prospect Curtis Blaydes and up-and-coming knockout artist Tai Tuivasa throw down with Cyril Asker.

Before all that, though, we’ve got seven “Prelims” undercard matches that will set the PPV stage. Here’s the Fight Pass line up:

155 lbs.: Ross Pearson vs. Mizuto Hirota

Once feared as among the division’s premier strikers, Ross Pearson (19-14) enters the cage this weekend having lost four in a row and five of his last six bouts. He last fought in New Zealand, where local favorite Dan Hooker timed a vicious knee to turn the lights out in the second round.

He stands one inch taller than Mizuto Hirota (18-8-2) at 5’8.”

Hirota — who won Lightweight titles in both Sengoku and DEEP — finally picked up his first UFC victory in Dec. 2016 with a decision over Cole Miller. Things have been a tad disastrous since, however, as he was battered by Alexander Volkanovski and pulled from a fight with Charles Rosa because of a failed weight cut.

“Pugnus” has stopped 10 opponents with strikes, including fellow Japanese standouts Satoru Kitaoka and Masakazu Imanari.

This is probably the Japanese mixed martial arts (MMA) fanboy instincts I’ve tried so hard to suppress talking, but I’ve got Hirota here. The book is out on Pearson, who is just 2-6 in his last eight bouts and had to settle for split decisions in those two victories. Hirota is as durable as they come, can handle himself on the inside, and has the takedown prowess to ruin Pearson’s day.

Pearson does have a habit of coming up big when he’s been counted out, of course, and is sharper than Hirota with his boxing. Still, I believe Hirota can weather his best shots and eke out a decision through effective grinding.

Prediction: Hirota by split decision

135 lbs.: Teruto Ishihara vs. Jose Alberto Quinonez

The ever-charismatic Teruto Ishihara (10-4-2) rattled off two brutal knockouts following his draw with Mizuto Hirota in The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Japan” finals, only to suffer consecutive upset defeats to Artem Lobov and Gray Maynard. When UFC next returned to Japan, “Yashabo” took on Filipino striker Rolando Dy and survived a late surge to win a unanimous decision.

This will be his first Bantamweight appearance since 2014.

Jose Alberto Quinonez (6-2) defeated Bentley Syler and Marco Antonio Beltran on his way to TUF: “Latin America” finals, where he lost a decision to former victim Alejandro Perez. Though he has fought just three times since that Nov. 2014 defeat, “El Teco” has yet to taste further defeat in UFC, most recently defeating former castmate Diego Rivas in Mexico City.

He has knocked out two professional opponents and submitted another.

Ishihara’s power is catastrophic, but there just hasn’t been any development in his game since joining UFC. He’s still a one-handed slugger with cardio issues and iffy defensive wrestling. Despite training with Team Alpha Male, his takedowns aren’t much better — the ones he tried on Dy looked more like football tackles than polished double-legs. If he can’t get rid of his opponents early, he’s in trouble against someone with a solid sprawl.

Quinonez is more polished all around, can wrestle fairly well and proved that he can fight through heavy firepower against Joey Gomez. Clean boxing and resilience carry him through the early storm, after which he takes over with punches and takedowns.

Prediction: Quinonez by unanimous decision

170 lbs.: Luke Jumeau vs. Daichi Abe

Luke Jumeau (12-4) put submission losses to future UFC competitors Li Jingliang and Jake Matthews behind him with six consecutive stoppage victories, including a technical knockout of TUF: “Nations” competitor Vik Grujic. “The Jedi” upset Dominique Steele in his Octagon debut, but couldn’t quite handle the relentless pressure and wrestling of Shinsho Anzai in “The Animal’s” native Japan.

All nine of his professional finishes have come inside of two rounds.

Daichia Abe (6-0) made his professional MMA debut in Pancrase in April 2016 and won its Welterweight title little more than one year later, felling former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) standout and professional boxer Hiromitsu Miura with punches. He went on to face Korean bruiser Hyun Gyu Lim in his debut, fighting through an eye poke to drop “The Ace” late and secure a decision victory.

Four of his six wins have come by form of knockout, three in the first round.

The X-factor here is Abe’s judo. The two are well-matched on the feet, both packing plenty of skill and aggression, but Jumeau’s takedown defense and bottom game remain underdeveloped. Grujic and Anzai demonstrated that you don’t even need all that much craft to dominate him on the ground … just gusto and determination.

It’s a toss-up so long as it stays on the feet, with Abe’s power giving him a slight edge. It’s a wash on the ground, though, and that decides it. Abe holds his own in the exchanges and mixes in enough throws and top control to take the decision.

Prediction: Abe via unanimous decision

Four more UFC 221 “Prelims” undercard bouts to preview and predict tomorrow, including the Octagon debut of one of the world’s best kickboxers. See you there, Maniacs.

Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 221 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.

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UFC Belem preview, predictions for ‘Machida vs Anders’

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will continue its Brazilian journey this Saturday evening (Feb. 3, 2018) as the world’s largest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion makes its debut in Belem.

In the main event, former champion Lyoto Machida looks for a much-needed win against rising star Eryk Anders, while former title contender John Dodson attempt to put his split decision loss to Marlon Moraes behind him against Pedro Munhoz one fight prior.

The card will also feature Valentina Shevchenko’s flyweight debut against power-puncher Priscila Cachoeira and an intriguing clash of styles between Michel Prazeres and Des Green.

As always, you can check out the UFC Belem “Prelim” predictions here and here, then wash them down with the odds and betting lines here.

Shall we?

185 lbs.: Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida (22-8) vs. Eryk “Ya’ Boi” Anders (10-0)

This is how I envision the thought process behind this fight coming together

UFC Exec 1 (UFCE1): You know how Machida has been crushed by athletic southpaws three times in a row?

UFC Exec 2 (UFCE2): Yeah?

UFCE1: What if we put him against another one?

UFCE2: You’re a damn genius.

UFCE1: Damn straight. Now quit hogging the coke.

That’s oversimplifying things, of course, but the anticipation of watching Machida fight has been replaced with dread. I’m legitimately worried for his physical well-being at this point. If there was anything left of the former champ, he would have smashed Derek Brunson, whose boxing acumen doesn’t extend far past “I throws the left hands that makes the peoples fall down.”

Anders’ fight with Markus Perez, who seemed more concerned with his Genki Sudo impersonation than with actually winning the fight, showed that the former Alabama standout still needs a lot of refinement to make a true run at the division elite. Even still, I just can’t pick Machida against him. “The Dragon’s” defense has left him and the intercepting counters that felled light heavyweights just aren’t there anymore. Anders catches him in a wild exchange early on and hands Lyoto his third consecutive scary knockout loss.

Prediction: Anders by first-round knockout

135 lbs.: John “The Magician” Dodson (19-9) vs. Pedro “The Young Punisher” Munhoz (15-2)

I can’t look at John Dodson and not see lost potential, even with his clear love for and dedication to the sport. His game has just never evolved from hurling left hands in new and exciting ways. He utterly lacks any kind of offense from his lead hand and his output fluctuates strangely, leading to unnecessarily close and dull fights.

See: Wineland, E.

Luckily, though I don’t see him challenging for the title with the Big Three (Cruz, Dillashaw, Garbrandt) and Marlon Moraes in the way, he’s still well-equipped to beat the majority of the division, including “The Young Punisher.”

Munhoz has an absolute bear trap of a guillotine and is tougher than a two-dollar steak in hockey pads, but his wrestling has not developed as it should, forcing him to use pressure striking to provoke opponents into ill-advised takedown attempts. While he has enough power and aggression to make this work more often than not, he can look worryingly mortal when the choke isn’t there.

Unless he can become the first person to dent Dodson’s chin, it won’t be there. Take Munhoz’s ground game out of the equation and you have a solid-but-not-spectacular bruiser, the sort that Dodson loves leading on merry, painful chases around the Octagon. Dodson’s freakish athleticism, speed, and reflexes keep him on his feet as he potshots the advancing Munhoz for three full rounds.

Prediction: Dodson by unanimous decision

125 lbs.: Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko (14-3) vs. Priscila “Pedrita” Cachoeira (6-0)

As I write this, Shevchenko is as high as a -900 favorite in places. The second-most lopsided favorite on the card is Fight Pass opener Polyana Viana at -370, whose opponent has never beaten anyone with a win on their record. Note that I said “win on their record,” not “winning record.”

Cachoeira winning this fight would flat-out astonish me. I’m talking Darren Elkins-Mirsad Bektic levels of jaw-dropping “that did not just happen.” She’s a flat-footed power-puncher with no concept of defense or pacing, the perfect opponent for Shevchenko to dissect as she sees fit.

Cachoeria was originally supposed to debut against Lauren Murphy, which would have been somewhat winnable, but she holds zero advantages over Shevchenko outside of one-shot power and a bit of height. Shevchenko basically wins this however she wants, outclassing Cachoeira on the feet and mat in a triumphant flyweight debut.

Prediction: Shevchenko by unanimous decision

155 lbs.: Michel “Trator” Prazeres (23-2) vs. Des “The Predator” Green (20-6)

Prazeres, one of the UFC’s assortment of Unreasonably Huge Brazilian Lightweights (UHBL) alongside Francisco Trinaldo and Gleison Tibau, suffered from traditional UHBL issues when he first joined the UFC, dominating the early portions of fights before gassing to death. Like Trinaldo, however, he seems to have fixed the cardio issue and emerged as a serious threat to the division.

When he’s firing on all cylinders, his relentless takedowns, suffocating top control, and surprising hand speed are a handful for almost anyone at 155. Green, though a capable wrestler and striker in his own right, will most likely struggle with Prazeres’ boxing and raw physicality.

The one caveat, of course, is that Prazeres has nuked the scale in two of his last three fights, weighing in at 158 against Gilbert Burns and 159 against featherweight late replacement Mads Burnell. Those fights also happened to be his best cardio performances to date, and while correlation is not causality, it’s worth keeping an eye on, especially since Green will make him work for every takedown.

Expect Prazeres to find most of his success on the inside, trading high-speed punches and keeping Green’s back acquainted with the fence and mat long enough to take the decision.

Prediction: Prazeres by unanimous decision

265 lbs.: Timothy Johnson (11-4) vs. Marcelo Golm (6-0)

I am of the school that believes that the onus is on opponents to keep people from being boring. If you can’t keep the guy from leaning on you for fifteen minutes, that’s your problem. People are going to fight in the way that maximizes their chances of making money, and if you don’t like it, make him stop.

That said, god damn is Johnson painful to watch. Despite his wrestling pedigree, he struggles badly to complete takedowns, turning almost all of his fights into painful slogs against the fence. He was originally set to fight fellow grind enthusiast Luis Henrique, which could have been absolutely agonizing. Instead, he gets Golm, an untested up-and-comer with quality finishing ability and serious size but little on his résumé.

Which sounds more than a little like Johnson’s last opponent, Junior Albini. And we all know how that went.

I’ll freely admit that this pick is colored by a personal distaste for Johnson’s fighting style, but I don’t think it’s too intellectually dishonest to pick a young, imposing powerhouse to beat a guy who just lost to a young, imposing powerhouse in one-sided fashion. Johnson’s win/loss/win/loss streak ends as Golm hands him the first losing streak of his career.

Prediction: Golm by first-round TKO

185 lbs.: Thiago “Marreta” Santos (16-5) vs. Anthony “Lionheart” Smith (28-12)

If you had asked me which early-2010s Strikeforce competitor would be on a three-fight knockout streak in a crowded division going into 2018, my answer probably would not have been “the guy who got knocked out by Adlan Amagov with the most telegraphed, straight-armed windmill swing I’ve ever seen.”

And yet, here we are.

Anthony Smith has gone from a finish-or-be-finished attraction to a genuine contender on an 11-1 run, finally utilizing his towering 6’4” frame to great effect and showing surprisingly resilient takedown defense. He seems to have finally hit his stride at the age of 29, ten years and more than 40 fights into his career.

Which is why it’s a shame that Santos is going to take his head off.

“Marreta” seriously impressed me in his dismantling of Gerald Meerschaert, whom I thought would dominate him on the mat. His enormous physical strength has translated into rock-solid balance and his power is as terrifying as ever. Though Smith isn’t as fragile as his six (T)KO losses would suggest, his defense is still lacking; he has the second-highest strikes absorbed per minute on the main card and gets hit by more than half the strikes that come his way. He simply cannot mix it up with Santos and expect things to go well.

I want to see Santos against a powerhouse wrestler before I hop back on the hype train, but I’m comfortable saying that he adds Smith to his highlight reel.

Prediction: Santos by first-round knockout

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 125 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET and the main card at at 10 p.m. ET.

For much more on this weekend’s UFC Fight Night 125 event, click here.

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UFC on FOX 27 predictions: ‘Jacare vs Brunson 2’ FOX Sports 1 ‘Prelims’ undercard preview

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is bringing a bevy of “Prelims” fights to UFC Fight Pass and FOX Sports 1 this weekend (Sat., Jan. 27, 2018) when UFC on FOX 27: “Jacare vs. Brunson 2” storms Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. MMAmania.com’s Patrick Stumberg continues the UFC on FOX 27 “Prelims” party with the second (and final) installment of a two-part undercard preview series below.

Two Strikeforce veterans meet again in decidedly different circumstances this Saturday (Jan. 27, 2018) when “Jacare” Ronaldo Souza throws down with the resurgent Derek Brunson at UFC on FOX 27, which takes place inside Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The FOX Sports-televised card also sees Dennis Bermudez face Andre Fili in a clash of fighters on the rebound and one of the best prospects in the game, Gregor Gillespie, throw down with the durable Jordan Rinaldi.

In addition to the six FOX Sports 1 “Prelims,” this article will also include the second Fight Pass undercard bout that was announced just yesterday (check out a preview here), further supporting my theory that UFC operates solely to make my life difficult.

Anyway, let’s begin:

155 lbs.: Erik Koch vs. Bobby Green

Denied a Featherweight title shot in 2012 because of injuries, Eric Koch (15-5) is just 2-4 since that layoff and has seen four fights fall apart due to further issues staying healthy. After missing two additional years of action, Koch submitted Shane Campbell, only to fall victim to Clay Guida’s patented smothering in Oklahoma City.

“New Breed” has submitted eight professional opponents.

Bobby Green (23-8-1) punched his way unto UFC prominence with four consecutive wins in the Octagon, most notably a split decision over Josh Thomson. He is winless since, however, dropping three straight before holding Lando Vannata to a split draw in Oct. 2017.

“King” will make just his fourth Octagon appearance since 2014.

The combined amount of unrealized potential here is mind-boggling. Koch looked like an absolute stud during his title run, stopping Raphael Assuncao with one punch, while Green held his own against some top-notch lightweights. Now they’re fighting for their UFC lives.

Koch is more exciting thanks to the fact that he actually bothers to punch jaws instead of just running his own, but I’ve got Green. Koch has consistently struggled with capable wrestlers and doesn’t have enough firepower to crack Green’s beard. In addition, Green is arguably the best opponent Koch has faced since 2013, while the inverse isn’t even remotely true. Boxing and takedowns keep Green afloat in UFC’s deepest division.

Prediction: Green via unanimous decision

145 lbs.: Mirsad Bektic vs. Godofredo Pepey

Mirsad Bektic’s (11-1) path of destruction — hampered only by persistent injuries — had many labeling him a future champion in the 145-pound division. After four UFC victories and two rounds of rearranging Darren Elkins’ face, however, “The Damage” roared back to knockout Bektic in one of the greatest comebacks in recent memory.

Bektic is an inch taller than Godofredo Pepey (13-5), but will have a three-inch reach disadvantage.

Brazil’s Pepey bounced back from a 1-3 UFC start to earn three consecutive bonus-winning first-round stoppages, including a flying triangle of Andre Fili in Rio de Janeiro. He’s gone 1-2 since, a submission of Mike De La Torre sandwiched between decision losses to Darren Elkins and Shane Burgos.

Eleven of his 12 professional mixed martial arts (MMA) finishes have come in the first round.

By all rights, Bektic should utterly obliterate Pepey. He is by far the sharper, more powerful striker and — if he elects to take it to the mat — Pepey’s guard is nowhere near scary enough to save him from Bektic’s Earth-shattering ground-and-pound.

The real question is where Bektic’s mind is at. That was a rough, rough loss to Elkins and the psychological impact of being knocked out while miles ahead has me worried. Still, he’s young enough to rebound and so outclasses Pepey on paper that I’m comfortable picking him anyway. He comes out looking to make a statement, flattening the Brazilian early and pummeling him until the referee steps in.

Prediction: Bektic via first-round technical knockout

125 lbs.: Katlyn Chookagian vs. Mara Romero Borella

Following a perfect (7-0) amateur career, Katlyn Chookagian (9-1) defeated Isabelly Varella for the CFFC Flyweight title before knocking out Stephanie Bragayrac in her sole defense. Her UFC run has seen her go 2-1 as a Bantamweight, falling to Liz Carmouche, but edging Lauren Murphy and Irene Aldana.

She stands three inches taller than Mara Romero Borella (12-4) at 5’9.”

Undaunted by three consecutive (technical) knockout losses, Romero Borella put together a six-fight unbeaten streak, including a decision over UFC veteran Milana Dudieva in her sole Invicta appearance. Three months after that last victory, she overcame short notice to submit Kalindra Faria in her Octagon debut, needing just 2:54 to do so.

She has stopped four opponents via armbar.

Romero Borella is clearly a major threat on the ground, but it remains to be seen how well she can consistently implement her trips. Chookagian has proven that she can physically hold her own against Bantamweights and mixes up her striking and grappling well enough that the Italian should struggle to bring her down, leaving her at the mercy of Chookagian’s combination striking.

Stopping Faria is legitimately impressive and it’s entirely possible that I’m not giving Romero Borella enough credit, but Chookagian’s superior stand up and proven takedown defense have me leaning her way. Leg kicks and boxing earn Chookagian the judges’ favor.

Prediction: Chookagian via unanimous decision

115 lbs.: Randa Markos vs. Juliana Lima

Though ranked No. 14 at the start of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20, Randa Markos (7-5) upset Tecia Torres and Felice Herrig before running afoul of Rose Namajunas in the semifinals. She’s alternated losses and wins in UFC proper, going 3-4 overall but giving top prospect Alexa Grasso everything she could handle in Aug. 2016.

She will give up two inches of reach to Juliana Lima (9-4).

Lima — who welcomed Joanna Jedrzejczyk to UFC back in 2014 — rebounded from that loss with wins in three of her next four bouts, the sole loss coming to Carla Esparza at UFC 197. This set up a fight with late replacement Tecia Torres, who handed “Ju Thai” the first submission loss of her career.

She owns two wins by (technical) knockout, though none since 2013.

For being ostensibly a Muay Thai specialist, Lima has relied almost entirely on her wrestling during her UFC tenure, being remarkably ineffective when she can’t impose her takedowns. Unfortunately for her, Markos can keep up with her in that department and packs a thudding right hand with which to control the striking.

The X-factor here is Markos’ propensity for lapses in fight IQ, but Lima is straightforward enough that the path to victory should be clear. Markos sprawls-and-brawls, possibly giving up a takedown or two, but keeping that alternating record intact over the course of 15 minutes.

Prediction: Markos via unanimous decision

125 lbs.: Justine Kish vs. Ji Yeon Kim

Injury ended Justine Kish’s (6-1) TUF 20 run before it could begin, but she got off to a strong start in UFC proper with wins over Nina Ansaroff and Ashley Yoder. She wasn’t as lucky against Felice Herrig, who used superior grappling to overcome Kish’s sheer strength and take home a unanimous decision.

She has submitted two of her seven professional MMA opponents.

Ji Yeaon Kim (6-1-2) — who went to draws with vastly more experienced opponents in her first two professional fights — rattled off six straight to earn a spot on UFC’s roster. She debuted last June against Lucie Pudilova, landing some solid blows on the striking specialist, but ultimately losing the decision.

This will mark her Flyweight debut.

Kish is by far the bigger name, but I’m honestly leaning toward Kim. Kish’s game is fairly empty outside of decent knees and monstrous physical strength, which should be less of a factor when she doesn’t have her customary size advantage. She’s plodding and easy to hit on the feet, where even the fairly rough Kim should be able to find the mark.

Kish’s one clear avenue of victory is grinding out Kim the way she did Ansaroff. She’s not a great wrestling technician, though, and will struggle to brute-force her way into top position the way she did at 115 pounds. Kim picks her off with power punches, racking up enough damage to overcome the time she spends with her back on the fence.

Prediction: Kim via split decision

155 lbs.: Vinc Pichel vs. Joaquim Silva

Vinc Pichel (10-1) made it all the way to the semifinals of TUF 15: “Live,” only to run into Al Iaquinta and, in his UFC debut, get suplexed into oblivion by Rustam Khabilov. Though he missed all of 2013, 2015 and 2016, he enters the cage on a three-fight win streak, most recently wiping out Damien Brown with one punch in Auckland.

All eight of his (technical) knockout finishes have come inside of two rounds.

Joaquim Silva (10-0) — representing “Team Shogun” — saw his TUF: “Brazil” 4 run come to an end in the semifinals courtesy of teammate Glaico Franca. He has enjoyed considerably more success in UFC proper, however, racking up three consecutive victories.

“Neto BJJ” has finished eight opponents in the first round, five of them via strikes.

Silva has been booked to fight Gregor Gillespie and Mairbek Taisumov during his UFC tenure. Both would have eaten his face. Pichel isn’t on their level, but his wrestling and punching power make this a rough match up for “Netto BJJ,” nonetheless.

So long as Pichel stays busy and doesn’t let Silva outland him the way he did Brown, he should be able to control from top position and keep Silva’s dangerous hands at bay with his height and reach advantages. Steady takedowns secure Pichel’s second win in almost four years.

Prediction: Pichel via unanimous decision

145 lbs.: Austin Arnett vs. Cory Sandhagen (7-1)

Austin Arnett (15-3) was a little more pyrite than golden early in his career, starting off 2-2, but put together 13 consecutive wins to earn a spot on “Tuesday Night Contender Series.” Though he ultimately came up short, he put on one of the season’s best fights against Brandon Davis, slugging it out for 15 fun minutes.

He owns six wins each by knockout and submission.

Cory Sandhagen (7-1) won his first five MMA bouts, winning a regional title in the process, before suffering a career-first loss to Jamall Emmers in his LFA debut. The loss appears to have invigorated him, as he has since knocked out his last two opponents in a combined 4:07.

This will be his second fight in nine days.

If Sandhagen isn’t dead on his feet from fighting twice in less than two weeks, I see him taking this. He’s a fluid, dangerous striker with great instincts in his scrambling and takedown defense. While Arnett’s got a beard on him and some solid pop in his hands, his defense isn’t great and he ran out of steam against Davis when he couldn’t put him away early.

Arnett’s experience is an X-factor, but Sandhagen’s strength of schedule looks as good … if not better. Sandhagen’s fluidity carries him to victory in an entertaining, competitive striking battle.

Prediction: Sandhagen via unanimous decision

The rematch between Jacare vs. Brunson is some tantalizing stuff, and there’s some solid match ups here and there to support it. See you Saturday, Maniacs.

Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on FOX 27 card this weekend, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 5 p.m. ET before the FOX main card action kicks off at 8 p.m. ET.

Current UFC “Prelims” Prediction Record for 2018: 13-1

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UFC 220 predictions: ‘Miocic vs Ngannou’ FOX Sports 1 ‘Prelims’ undercard preview

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is bringing a bevy of “Prelims” fights to both UFC Fight Pass and FOX Sports 1 this weekend (Sat., Jan. 20, 2018) when UFC 220: “Miocic vs. Ngannou” storms TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. MMAmania.com’s Patrick Stumberg continues the UFC 220 “Prelims” party with the second (and final) installment of a two-part undercard preview series below.

Eight months after getting his revenge on Junior dos Santos, Stipe Miocic takes on his most terrifying challenger yet this Saturday evening (Jan. 20, 2018) in UFC 220’s pay-per-view (PPV) main event: Cameroonian knockout artist Francis Ngannou.

In addition, Light heavyweight champ Daniel Cormier will have his hands full as well inside TD Garden in Boston, Mass., when he tangles with Volkan Oezdemir, while Featherweight knockout artists Calvin Kattar and Shane Burgos set the stage one fight prior.

UFC 220’s PPV main card isn’t everything, of course, and we’ve still got four “Prelims” undercard matches to preview and predict (check out the first batch here) before we get there.

145 lbs.: Kyle Bochniak vs. Brandon Davis

Kyle Bochniak (7-2) made his Octagon debut just nine days after his previous fight and, though he ultimately came up short, gave the favored Charles Rosa a run for his money in Boston. He got back on track with a controversial decision over Enrique Barzola, but had no answers against Jeremy Kennedy’s wrestling.

“Crash” stands three inches shorter than Brandon Davis (8-2) at 5’7.”

Davis put a 1-2 start to his professional career behind him with six consecutive victories (or a 6-1 run, depending on whether you ask Sherdog or Tapology) to earn a spot on Dana White’s “Tuesday Night Contender Series.” He made the most of the opportunity with a terrific slugfest against Austin Arnett, whom he overwhelmed with volume on his way to a decision victory.

Three of his eight professional wins have come by form of knockout.

By all rights, Bochniak should be winless (0-3) in UFC. Not a single member of the media had the Barzola decision going his way — they were divided only by whether Bochniak won even a single round. He’s just not all that good, average-to-decent in most areas, but lacking any standout skills.

Davis, on the other hand, does have standout skills, namely insane durability and quality combination striking. With his height and length, he should be able to come out ahead in most exchanges, out-landing Bochniak and using his inconsistent-but-effective head movement to steer clear of return fire. He’ll probably look like a mess afterward, but I fully expect a triumphant debut for Davis.

Prediction: Davis via unanimous decision

170 lbs. Abdul Razak Alhassan vs. Sabah Homasi

Abdul Alhassan’s (8-1) streak of first-round destructions came to an end early last year when Omari Akhmedov survived the early onslaught to take a split decision. He was then booked to face Sabah Homasi (11-7), who slugged it out with him until an awkward stoppage halted things near the end of the first.

Prior to the Akhmedov fight, none of Alhassan’s bouts had lasted more than 83 seconds.

Homasi joined his American Top Team squad on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 21, where he lost his sole bout to Carrington Banks. He eventually made his UFC debut on a 15-day turnaround against Tim Means, who steadily broke him down for a second-round stoppage, and then came the Alhassan fight.

His 10 stoppage wins are split 8-2 between knockouts and submissions.

The first fight was basically exactly what we expected before Herb Dean stepped in. Considering that Alhassan’s loss to Akhmedov wasn’t enough to halt his free-swinging ways and Homasi has continued to trade leather despite four (technical) knockout losses, I don’t picture the rematch going terribly different. Once again, it will come down to whether Homasi’s chin can hold up long enough for Alhassan to wear himself out.

Methinks no.

While Alhassan was beginning to flag, Homasi is still far, far too fragile and willing to throw down to survive Alhassan’s bombs. Another wild scrap ends midway through the first courtesy of a booming right from “Judo Thunder.”

Prediction: Alhassan via first-round knockout

125 lbs.: Dustin Ortiz vs. Alexandre Pantoja

Dustin Ortiz (17-7) defeated prospects Jose Maria Tome, Ray Borg and Justin Scoggins in his first four UFC appearances, losing only to John Moraga by split decision in that span. A 2-4 crash followed, but he earned the most stunning win of his UFC career in Aug. 2017 with a 15-second knockout of rising Team Alpha Male product Hector Sandoval.

He owns seven wins by knockout and two by submission to strikes.

In 2015, Alexandre Pantoja (18-2) choked out Damacio Page to unify the RFA and Legacy Flyweight titles and earn the No. 1 seed on TUF 24. He reached the semifinals before falling to Hiromasa Ogikubo, then picked up consecutive UFC victories over Eric Shelton and Neil Seery.

He will have two inches of reach on Ortiz.

I genuinely believe Ortiz is better than his recent struggles would indicate. He’s a powerful, dangerous scrambler with a bottomless gas tank and serious physicality for the weight class. Pantoja is a skilled striker and extremely adept at taking the back, but his loss on TUF showed he could be ground down and he had issues with Shelton, who is a similar breed of high-speed grappler.

I expect this to be close and full of arguments on either side, but Ortiz’s strength should put him either on the right side of the fence or in top position for just long enough to eke it out.

Prediction: Ortiz via split decision

145 lbs.: Dan Ige vs. Julio Arce

Dan Ige (8-1) — the latest product of Hawaii to step into the Octagon — slugged his way onto the “Tuesday Night Contender Series” with wins in promotions like Legacy and Titan FC. There, “Dynamite” picked up his sixth consecutive win with a submission over Cuba’s Luis Gomez.

Half of his professional wins have come by submission.

Julio Arce (12-2) racked up a perfect (8-0) amateur record and a flawless (7-0) professional record before falling to Brian Kelleher in consecutive Ring of Combat title bouts. He has since won five straight, stopping Lloyd Irvin acolyte Peter Petties on the fifth episode of “Tuesday Night Contender Series.”

He steps in for the injured Charles Rosa on around three weeks notice.

Ige is cut from a similar cloth as Kelleher, being a come-forward bruiser who leans heavily on his wrestling … and I was initially leaning his way. Re-watching Arce’s DWTNC fight, though, I find myself favoring him. After a rough first round, he made excellent adjustments to shut down Petties’ grappling and tear him apart at range. Arce has definitely improved since the Kelleher losses and looks to be by far the sharper striker.

Ige’s relentlessness and the fact that Arce took this on short notice make it a bit dicey, but I say Arce controls the stand up and — after an adjustment period — fights off Ige’s takedowns to score the win.

Prediction: Arce via unanimous decision

The Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight titles on the line on the same night? Sign me up. See you Saturday, Maniacs!

Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 220 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.

Current UFC “Prelims” Prediction Record for 2018: 8-0

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UFC 220 predictions: ‘Miocic vs Ngannou’ Fight Pass ‘Prelims’ undercard preview

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is bringing a bevy of “Prelims” fights to both UFC Fight Pass and FOX Sports 1 this weekend (Sat., Jan. 20, 2018) when UFC 220: “Miocic vs. Ngannou” storms TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. MMAmania.com’s Patrick Stumberg kicks off the UFC 220 “Prelims” party with the first installment of a two-part undercard preview series below.

The first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) pay-per-view (PPV) event of 2018 features some very literal heavy hands.

Heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic takes center stage at UFC 220 against the colossal power of Francis Ngannou in the promotion’s return to TD Garden in Boston, Mass., while Light Heavyweight roost ruler Daniel Cormier attempts to shut down the wholly unexpected rise of Volkan Oezdemir.

The PPV main card also pits two of the Featherweight division’s top prospects — Calvin Kattar and Shane Burgos — opposite each other, as well as must-watch Bantamweight standouts Thomas Almeida and Rob Font.

UFC 220 features seven “Prelims” undercard matches this time, split 4:3 between FOX Sports 1 and Fight Pass. Let’s first check out the online line up:

145 lbs.: Matt Bessette vs. Enrique Barzola

Matt Bessette (12-1) put together a respectable 5-2 Bellator MMA record before making a full jump to CES, where he won and twice defended the Featherweight title. This got him a “Tuesday Night Contender Series” shot against Kurt Holobaugh, who knocked him stiff in the first round, but was subsequently discovered to have used an IV, resulting in a “No Contest.”

He replaces Arnold Allen, who ran into visa issues, on around a week’s notice.

Enrique Barzola (13-3-1) took home the gold on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Latin America” 2, out-grappling Mexican knockout artists Horacio Gutierrez in the tournament finals. Though a questionable decision loss to Kyle Bochniak halted his momentum, he enters the cage on a two-fight win streak, most recently defeating TUF: “Latin America” competitor Gabriel Benitez.

“El Fuerte” stands three inches shorter than the 5’10” “Mangler.”

I’ll admit, I haven’t watched as much tape on Bessette as I should. I had most of a writeup ready ahead of time for Allen vs. Barzola, since I was going to a place with iffy wifi, but then Allen had to go and have visa problems, so I’m working on limited information. There’s only so much you can do when you have to reconnect to the network every two minutes of a YouTube video.

Said limited information shows that — while Bessette is very capable on the inside — his ringcraft isn’t great and he can be overwhelmed by pressure. Barzola’s rapid-fire boxing and adeptness at blending his striking and takedowns seem like a good way to punish those deficiencies … especially on short notice. Barzola — who has proven his grit — sets the pace, lands punches and spends enough of the fight in top position to earn the win.

Prediction: Barzola via unanimous decision

115 lbs.: Maryna Moroz vs. Jamie Moyle

Maryna Moroz (8-2) sent the women’s Strawweight rankings a-wobblin’ in her short-notice debut, which saw her upset the massively favored Joanne Calderwood by flying armbar. She’s gone 2-2 since, defeating Cristina Stanciu and Danielle Taylor between losses to Valerie Letourneau and Carla Esparza.

Five of her wins have come by either armbar or straight armbar.

Jamie Moyle (4-2) went 3-1 in Invicta, submitting J.J. Aldrich along the way, before becoming Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s second pick on TUF 23. Her run ended in the quarterfinals, after which she defeated Kailin Curran and dropped a decision to Viviane Pereira in UFC proper.

At 5’1,” she is six inches shorter than Moroz, though the reach difference is only two inches.

Man, that height difference. Moyle’s a capable wrestler and Moroz is too comfortable off of her back, but the other “Iron Lady” should be able to tear apart Moyle on the feet, using that range to stifle Moyle’s takedowns and steadily wear her down. Pereira showed that Moyle can be overpowered on the feet, which certainly bodes well for Moroz, and Moyle is neither the striker Letourneau is nor the takedown artist Esparza is.

So long as Moroz is busier and more aggressive than she was against Taylor, she should take this comfortably. Moroz pieces her up on the feet for a decision win.

Prediction: Moroz via unanimous decision

155 lbs.: Gleison Tibau vs. Islam Makhachev

Gleison Tibau (32-12) put together a 5-1 streak from 2013 to 2015, beating the likes of Jamie Varner and Norman Parke, before falling short against Tony Ferguson. He bounced back by demolishing Abel Trujillo in 105 seconds, but saw the win overturned to a disqualification loss due to a failed drug test.

This will be his first fight in 26 months as a result.

Islam Makhachev (14-1) saw his unbeaten record go up in smoke thanks to a one-punch knockout loss to Adriano Martins, then had insult added to injury when he tested positive for meldonium before a planned fight with Drew Dober. He has since gotten back on track with consecutive decisions over Chris Wade and Nik Lentz.

He owns six wins by submission and another two by (technical) knockout.

While Makhachev isn’t quite the physical powerhouse Khabib Nurmagomedov is, I can see him finding success against the Brazilian goliath by applying a similar sort of mindset, relentlessly pushing for takedowns and forcing Tibau to either lose a decision on lack of volume or gas himself out trying to keep up. Tibau isn’t a cardio machine at the best of times and a two-year layoff cannot have helped things.

The one real concern is whether Makhachev’s mental fortitude can hold up against a man this big and this adept at stuffing takedowns. Having already powered through a brutal knockout loss, I say yes. Tibau starts off strong, but defending Makhachev’s dizzying array of takedowns and trips eventually wears him out enough for the Dagestani to pull ahead.

Prediction: Makhachev via unanimous decision

Four more UFC 220 “Prelims” undercard bouts to preview and predict tomorrow, among them three debuting “Tuesday Night Contender Series” winners and what should be a slobberknocking rematch between Abdul Razak Alhassan and Sabah Homasi.

Same time as always, Maniacs!

Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 220 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.

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UFC Fight Night 124 predictions, preview, and analysis

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) hits St. Louis, Missouri, this Sunday evening (Jan. 14, 2018), bringing with it a clash of featherweight knockout punchers in the main event.

In addition to Jeremy Stephens vs. Doo Ho Choi, the card will feature mixed martial arts (MMA) legend Vitor Belfort against fellow highlight machine Uriah Hall, Paige VanZant’s flyweight debut against Jessica Rose-Clark, and a clash of welterweight prospects between Kamaru Usman and Emil Meek.

You can check out the Prelims here and here. Once you’re done with that, why not take a gander at our odds analysis, too?

Back? Good. We’ve got work to do.

145 lbs.: Jeremy Stephens (26-14) vs. Doo Ho Choi (14-2)

Do you know what’s kind of fascinating? Jeremy Stephens, regarded as one of the scariest punchers in the UFC, has not stopped an opponent with punches since January 1st, 2011. He has just two finishes in his last seven wins, one by head kick and one by knee. It’s unquestionable that he has bricks in his hands, but his accuracy is seriously lacking.

Choi, on the other hand, is laser-accurate and the scariest puncher Stephens has faced in years.

The two real questions of this fight are whether Stephens can get his leg kicks going and whether Choi’s war with Cub Swanson has any lasting mental or physical repercussions. As Stephens showed against Gilbert Melendez, he can cripple opponents in a hurry, which could be devastating considering Choi’s boxing-centric style. Further, if Choi has lost confidence or his chin, it could be an extremely short night.

Even with these caveats, though, I’m leaning towards Choi. The Swanson fight wasn’t his first slugfest and Stephens has a bad habit of getting in his own way, prioritizing haymakers over patient technique. He’s going to struggle to land clean on Choi and his overeagerness will expose him to his foes monstrous power.

“Lil’ Heathen” runs face-first into what might be the division’s best right cross after a few competitive minutes.

Prediction: Choi by first-round knockout

185 lbs.: Uriah Hall (13-8) vs. Vitor Belfort (26-13)

This is a fight in which absolutely nothing would surprise me. This pair’s mental implosions are the stuff of legends.

Vitor is always good for some out-of-nowhere sparking, but there is nothing going his way here. Hall is younger and has almost half a foot of reach on him. Unless Vitor has some slight echo of TRTtor lurking in his veins, it’s hard to envision him winning this matchup with any consistency.

Belfort has been knocked out in four of his last six fights. He looked like garbage against Nate Marquardt and turns 41 in a couple months. Even the mutual fight IQ issues are in Hall’s favor; he might be a disaster of a fighter, but unlike Belfort, he can actually come back from adversity. He did so brilliantly against Krzysztof Jotko last time out, after all.

Make no mistake, Hall can absolutely throw this fight away and isn’t the sort of wrestler the Vitor generally has the most issues with. Still, I say he rocks and stops Belfort sometime in the second.

Prediction: Hall by second-round TKO

125 lbs.: Paige VanZant (7-4) vs. Jessica-Rose Clark (8-4)

Paige VanZant’s fall has been precipitous. It became very clear very quickly that she cannot handle opponents that she can’t physically overpower on the inside. She’s yet to improve her clinch entries and was getting chewed up on the feet by Bec Rawlings before pulling off a head kick out of nowhere.

Basically, she’s very good at what she does (smashing people in the clinch and from top position), but very poor at imposing her ideal fight. I’m not sure how much of that can be explained by her draining herself to make 115, but for her sake, it had better be a lot.

Clark is the sharper striker by a fair margin and has both the wrestling and scrambling to steer clear of VanZant’s suffocating ground game. As a former bantamweight, she should also hold her own when they tie up. She picks VanZant apart for a wide decision win.

Prediction: Clark by unanimous decision

170 lbs.: Kamaru Usman (11-1) vs. Emil Meek (9-2)

From what I’ve read, a massive chunk of the UFC’s welterweight roster turned down a fight with Usman. I definitely can blame them, since ducking is weaksauce, but I understand where they’re coming from. He’s an absolute tank of a man, enormously strong and skilled with his wrestling on top of being an increasingly effective striker. While his sparking of Sergio Moraes was his first UFC TKO, he’s laid down beatings on very solid fighters.

Meek simply does not have the tools to stop him. He’s got solid power, sure, but Usman can hold his own in the striking and put him on his back basically whenever he wants. “Valhalla” will need another miracle like he pulled off against Rousimar Palhares; unfortunately, Usman’s fight IQ is exponentially higher than Palhares’ and he actually has some standup skills to disguise his takedowns.

To me, this would be every bit as big an upset as Darren Elkins over Mirsad Bektic if Meek pulled it off. He won’t. Usman batters him on the feet and the mat until the ref moves in for the rescue.

Prediction: Usman by second-round TKO

There you have it.

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 124 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:00 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET and the FS1 main card at 10 p.m. ET.

For much more on UFC St. Louis click here.

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UFC Fight Night 124 predictions: ‘Stephens vs Choi’ FOX Sports 1 ‘Prelims’ undercard preview

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is bringing a bevy of “Prelims” fights to UFC Fight Pass and FOX Sports 1 this weekend (Sun., Jan. 13, 2018) when UFC Fight Night 124: “Stephens vs. Choi” storms Scottrade Center in St Louis, Missouri. MMAmania.com’s Patrick Stumberg continues the UFC Fight Night 124 “Prelims” party with the second (and final) installment of a two-part undercard preview series below.

Featherweight fireworks are in store for St. Louis, Mo., this Sunday evening (Jan. 14, 2018) as knockout machine Doo Ho Choi throws down with Jeremy Stephens in the main event of UFC Fight Night 124, which will air live on FOX Sports 1.

Forty pounds higher, Uriah Hall squares off with Vitor Belfort in a clash of strikers with flashes of brilliance, while Paige VanZant makes her Flyweight debut against Jessica Rose-Clark and Kamaru Usman attempt to extend his UFC win streak to seven at Emil Meek’s expense.

There are only four main card fights, but there are four “Prelims” undercard matches on FOX Sports 1 to beef up the broadcast (check out the Fight Pass portion here). Here they are, broken down for your enjoyment:

145 lbs.: Darren Elkins vs. Michael Johnson

Darren Elkins (23-5) — once an afterthought at 145 pounds — has emerged as an unexpected contender under the tutelage of Team Alpha Male. His current five-fight run includes wins over Chas Skelly, Mirsad Bektic and Dennis Bermudez, all fights in which he was an underdog.

“The Damage” will give up two inches of arm and leg reach to Michael Johnson (17-12).

It’s been a rocky road for Johnson, who snapped a two-fight losing streak with a stunning knockout of Dustin Poirier before dropping two straight to Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje. To his credit, the latter battle earned several “Fight of the Year” accolades, but he’s taking the plunge to 145 nonetheless.

He has scored eight professional wins by (technical) knockout.

I’ve picked against Elkins in three of his last four fights and the crow is starting to taste bad. I’m going to put my faith in him here, which will probably result in him losing, but I’ve actually got good reason.

Frankly, I think moving to 145 pounds is a terrible decision for Johnson. That 1-4 run he’s on should be 2-3 — he deserved the win against Beneil Dariush. And losing to monsters like Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje is nothing to be ashamed of. A fully equipped Johnson has the firepower to take out Ekins, but I can’t pick him to win his Featherweight debut against a guy with this sort of pressure. Elkins, as always, walks through fire to wear down Johnson and eke out the decision.

Prediction: Elkins via split decision

155 lbs.: James Krause vs. Alex White

James Krause (24-7) — despite a two-fight win streak — decided to try his luck on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 25, where he reached the semifinals before getting overpowered by Jesse Taylor. He got back on track on the Finale with a decision over Tom Gallicchio, upping his UFC record to 5-3.

He is two inches taller than Alex White (12-3) and will have as many inches of reach on him.

White started his UFC as a Featherweight, going 2-2 with wins over Estevan Payan and Artem Lobov. Following the latter victory, he made the jump to lightweight, where he’s suffered a decision loss to Tony Martin and scored a technical knockout finish of Mitch Clarke.

He owns five professional wins each by knockout and submission.

White is tough, powerful and relentless. What he isn’t is slick enough to get inside on Krause or sufficiently equipped to exploit Krause’s iffy takedown defense. All the grit in the world isn’t worth squat if he’s getting picked off by jabs and long kicks the entire time.

Krause’s skillset (strong striking and grappling without the wrestling to support it) isn’t enough to carry him into the division elite. It is, however, more than sufficient to take out mid-tier sluggers like White. Krause pieces him up at range and threatens a few takedowns to take home the decision.

Prediction: Krause via unanimous decision

155 lbs.: Matt Frevola vs. Polo Reyes

Five consecutive victories, including one each in World Series of Fighting and Titan FC, put Matt Frevola (6-0) in center stage on the “Tuesday Night Contender Series” season finale. There, “The Steamrolla” took on fellow unbeaten Jose Flores and picked up his third professional submission victory.

In addition to his professional record, he went 8-0 as an amateur.

Polo Reyes (7-4) was outgunned by teammate Horacio Gutierrez on TUF: “Latin America” 2, but proved his chops with three wins in his first three UFC appearances, including a “Fight of the Year” contender against Dong Hyun Kim. The momentum was not to last, however, as he was beaten down by James Vick this past May.

At 5’11,” he is two inches taller than Frevola.

Frevola is built for entertainment. What he isn’t built for is consistent success. He keeps his hands low and marches forward, winging haymakers and looking for poorly disguised takedowns. Reyes is right at the threshold of people he has a shot against.

And, I think, just ever-so-slightly on the wrong side of it. Frevola is going to slug it out with Reyes, which is the worst possible way to fight him. Unless Frevola’s wrestling is sharper than it’s looked, Reyes outbrawls him on his way to a late stoppage.

Prediction: Reyes via second-round technical knockout

170 lbs.: Thiago Alves vs. Zak Cummings

A tough loss to Carlos Condit sent Thiago Alves down to 155 pounds, where he promptly missed weight by over six pounds, and lost a decision to Jim Miller. He went back to 170 pounds and handily beat Patrick Cote, but Hurricane Irma left him unable to face Mike Perry in September.

He owns eight UFC wins by knockout, though just one since 2008.

Though he fell short on TUF 17, Zak Cummings (21-5) has established himself as a capable Welterweight despite a couple of scale fails. He is currently on a 4-1 streak wherein he survived the distance against Santiago Ponzinibbio and earned a stoppage in three of the four wins.

He stands three inches taller than Alves at 6’0.”

Cummings is definitely on a role and his pressure game is deceptively effective. Even so, Alves’ performance against Cote has me leaning “The Pitbull’s” way. Cummings is fairly straightforward in his attack and is almost certainly slower than Alves, who will have the edge in footwork and the takedown defense to force prolonged striking engagements.

Though Cummings packs a decent punch, it’s not enough to rattle Alves, who’s proven he can do real damage on the counter. He piles up leg kicks and counter punches on his way to a decision victory.

Prediction: Alves via unanimous decision

Not the worst way to start the year, I suppose. See you Sunday, Maniacs!

Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 124 card this weekend, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET before the FOX Sports 1 main card action kicks off at 10 p.m. ET.

Final UFC “Prelims” Prediction Record for 2017: 160-95-2 (1 NC)

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