Category: UFC previews

PREVIEW | UFC 257: Poirier vs. McGregor – Full card and predictions

THE UFC’s first pay-per-view event of 2021 sees its biggest draw return to the octagon atop a stacked main card to be hosted at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi.

Fighters littered up and down the card will be keen to latch onto the attention garnered though the highly-anticipated main event, with plenty of statements to be made on the famed Fight Island.

>> SCROLL for the full card and predictions

Just over a year removed from his spectacular showing at UFC 246, ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor steps into the octagon for a second time against Dustin Poirier, but much has changed since their first meeting in 2014.

Both have gone on to claim UFC gold in the lightweight division but will be out to impress current title holder, Khabib Nurmagomedov and potentially earn rematches against the undefeated Dagestani champion.

They won’t be the only 155-pounders eager to claim their contendership status, with the co-main event pitting vicious New Zealand striker Dan Hooker against UFC newcomer Michael Chandler.

Hooker’s last bout saw him edged by Poirier in a five-round war, while Chandler has held brass in Bellator’s lightweight division and now makes the long-awaited move to MMA’s leading promotion.

Another title eliminator of sorts takes place as women’s flyweight contenders Jessica Eye and Joanne Calderwood lock horns, with both eager to climb back into the top five and claim challenger status.

Another women’s bout slots into the main card as Brazilian prospects Marina Rodriguez and Amanda Ribas do battle, both on hot streaks and holding the potential to rise steeply with an impressive outing.

A potential banger between two men with some of the best monikers going around rounds out the main card action, as Matt ‘The Steamrolla’ Frevola meets Ottman ‘Bulldozer’ Azaitar. The undefeated Azaitar has shown plenty during his short time in the UFC, but comes up against a tough Long Island favourite in this bout.

FULL CARD AND PREDICTIONS:

FOTN: Hooker vs. Chandler
POTN: McGregor, Ribas, Azaitar
Prelim banger: Arman Tsarukyan vs. Nasrat Haqparast

MAIN CARD

Lightweight | Dustin Poirier [2] vs. Conor McGregor [4]
Prediction: McGregor by T/KO

Lightweight | Dan Hooker [6] vs. Michael Chandler
Prediction: Chandler by decision

W. Flyweight | Jessica Eye [6] vs. Joanne Calderwood [7]
Prediction: Eye by decision

Lightweight | Matt Frevola vs. Ottman Azaitar
Prediction: Azaitar by T/KO

W. Strawweight | Marina Rodriguez [8] vs. Amanda Ribas [10]
Prediction: Ribas by submission

PRELIMINARY CARD

Lightweight | Arman Tsarukyan vs. Nasrat Haqparast
Prediction: Tsarukyan by decision

Middleweight | Brad Tavares [14] vs. Antonio Carlos Junior
Prediction: Tavares by T/KO

W. Bantamweight | Julianna Peña [7] vs. Sara McMann [9]
Prediction: McMann by decision

Light Heavyweight | Khalil Rountree Jr. vs. Marcin Prachnio
Prediction: Rountree Jr. by T/KO

EARLY PRELIMINARY CARD

Middleweight | Andrew Sanchez vs. Makhmud Muradov
Prediction: Muradov by T/KO

Catchweight (150lbs) | Nik Lentz vs. Movsar Evloev
Prediction: Evloev by decision

Flyweight | Amir Albazi [15] vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov
Prediction: Albazi by submission

Image Credit: UFC – (Retrieved via) Main Event

PREVIEW | UFC 251: Usman vs. Masvidal

FIGHT ISLAND sets the scene for one of the most highly anticipated UFC cards of 2020, with no less than three championship belts put on the line across an incredible main card. The rollercoaster inflicted by the ongoing pandemic has not surpassed the UFC, but ‘Gamebred’ Jorge Masvidal lived up to his moniker in stepping in to challenge Kamaru Usman for his welterweight title after number one contender, Gilbert Burns tested positive for Covid-19.

Alexander Volkanovski‘s maiden featherweight title defence was momentarily poised to headline the event until Masvidal intervened, but the Australian will nonetheless have plenty of eyes on him as he looks to defeat former champion, Max ‘Blessed’ Holloway for a second time. Rounding out the title fights, a new bantamweight king will also be crowned when Petr Yan and former 145-er Jose Aldo lock horns for the vacant title, despite the latter coming in off consecutive losses.

The higher ranked fighter across each of these bouts remains unbeaten in the UFC, with each having lost just once over their respective professional careers. But they all face seasoned veterans who have once held UFC gold in some capacity, although we’re not entirely sure Masvidal’s ‘BMF’ title counts.

Rounding out the main card are two matchups from the female divisions, carrying implications on the title and rankings pictures in their own right. Former strawweight champions Jessica Andrade and ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas are poised to complete their long-awaited rematch, ranked one and two at 115-pounds. At flyweight, Amanda Ribas will look to spoil Paige VanZant‘s comeback party, as they meet for what may be the latter’s last fight in the promotion.

We break down every fight on the stacked main card, give our predictions for each, and outline a potential sleeper hidden on the prelims.

>> SCROLL for the full fight card and predictions

MAIN CARD

Welterweight | Kamaru Usman [C] vs. Jorge Masvidal [3]

The rise to superstardom has been meteoric for one, ‘Gamebred’ Masvidal, and a title fight triumph on six day’s notice against one of the most fearsome current champions would cap off his incredible, 18-year journey. This man came up fighting in Kimbo Slice‘s backyard and looked certain to take up journeyman status as the UFC’s welterweight gatekeeper, but that all changed in March, 2019.

Since baptising Darren Till in enemy territory and delivering a post-fight three piece to Leon Edwards backstage, the legend of Masvidal has grown immensely. A five-second knockout (the fastest ever) of Ben Askren might have also helped to build his legend, which was only cemented as he secured the ‘BMF’ belt in his infamous meeting with Nate Diaz, last year.

While the straightforward matchup for Usman after accounting for Colby Covington seemed to be Masvidal, the Cuban-American was jumped by Brazilian contender, Burns for the opportunity as he struggled to meet eye-to-eye with the UFC during contract negotiations. But Masvidal is surely now receiving all he is worth for the chance to hand Usman his first loss in the promotion, among the beautiful backdrop of Yas Island.

It is hardly rare that much of the talk coming into a title fight revolves around the challenger, but the current champ should have no qualms about the current narrative. Yes, Masvidal has nothing to lose either way and will be forever respected for his feats, and the late change of opponent is highly disruptive, not to mention Masvidal’s terrific takedown defence, but… wait, is anyone else thinking Masvidal might clinch this?

In all seriousness, Usman has looked near-unbeatable both in his run to UFC gold and during his short title reign, and will look to once again dominate the next name put up in lights to take him out. The champion has phenomenal cardio and smothering grappling, which he uses to wear on his opponents while pouring on punishing ground-and-pound.

There is not doubt that the longer this fight goes, the more chance Usman is of taking it out, especially given the late call-up and long haul flight Masvidal has embarked on. Usman does not quit, nor let up, and that could be a problem for the challenger past Round 3.

Masvidal does have that aforementioned takedown defence, going at a resistance rate of 77 per cent. The best chance for him to win will be via an early-ish KO or TKO, and the fact that every round starts on the feet plays into his hands. If Masvidal can remain on the feet for long enough or suck Usman into a striking battle, he has all the experience and power to take him out. He will have to remain wary of Usman’s power though, and the champ’s chin has proven to hold up well.

This fight should be an absolute corker and rightly fronts the event as a whole. It was the fight that made the most sense regardless of any outside circumstances, and boy are we glad that it’s actually happening.

Featherweight | Alexander Volkanovski [C] vs. Max Holloway [1]

A sense of deja vu may sweep over UFC fans should Volkanovski successfully complete his featherweight changing of the guard, but his co-main event adversary is a difficult one to put away. There are shades of the two-fight Holloway-Aldo rivalry in this matchup, as the incoming champion is being made to prove his initial salute was no fluke by taking out one of the division’s greats for a second time.

Volkanovski has gone on record saying that he believes ‘Blessed’ is salty about the result of their first bout, and bookies would have noticed a bizarre rise in the Australian’s stocks on the betting market after his Hawaiian opponent suggested he had been training with his coaches via video call for the upcoming bout.

Mind games and quirks aside, Holloway has a hell of a job on his hands to turn around the loss he suffered against Volkanovski in December, 2019, even if he thinks he won last time out. The new champion, who executed a brilliant gameplan to clinch the title, is hungry to keep his crown for a long time, and take over from where the former great champions left off.

Holloway will have to check the leg kicks which will inevitably come his way in order to properly execute his high-volume striking style, with movement a key part of that kind of game. On the other hand, Volkanovski will again face the incredible durability and high pace Holloway brings to the table, with his own movement and grappling prowess important factors.

But it seems Volkanovski wants to utilise his striking accuracy and heavy hands to finish Holloway and leave no doubt about his status at the top of the division, but the Hawaiian has only ever been finished once – via submission. The stakes are high and anticipation, even higher for this fight, with Australia’s sole remaining UFC champion backed by his nation once again.

Bantamweight | Petr Yan [3] vs. Jose Aldo [11]

The 135-pound title is set to finally find a home after the outgoing Henry Cejudo set it free earlier in the year, as Yan and Aldo square-off in Abu Dhabi. ‘Triple C’ has taken somewhat of an onus for Aldo’s consideration for this opportunity given he has lost consecutive bouts, but the Brazilian’s resume at 145-pounds as one of the all-time greats justifies his position alone.

Aldo’s most recent loss came in his bantamweight debut, but was a controversial split decision which he conceded to Marlon Moraes, helping him to remain in the conversation. On the other hand, there is no denying Yan’s credentials to this point, with the 14-1 Russian leaving a wake of destruction en route to his maiden UFC title shot.

Having most recently accounted for Urijah Faber in brutal fashion, Yan was a shoo-in to fight next for the strap regardless of who lined up on the other side of the cage. His ‘No Mercy’ moniker and style have brought pain to each opponent he has faced, often for each round of the fight. Yan possesses finishing power though, with his fast hands and severe power spelling danger for even the most durable adversaries.

Aldo is no stranger to finishing fights either, and is just as well-rounded as the Russian – if not, more so. His punishing leg kicks will be key to slowing Yan’s relentless pace, and it will be interesting to see whether the Brazilian can hold up once again under the heavy weight cut and inevitable Yas Island heat.

There are plenty of worthy contenders waiting in line at 135-pounds, so all eyes will be on this result. Yan’s reign could prove a long one if he gets up, while a victory for Aldo would see his legendary status only further cemented.

W. Strawweight | Jessica Andrade [1] vs. Rose Namajunas [2]

A second rematch for the night, and one of the most anticipated grudge matches for 2020 is finally set to take place in a deserving main card slot, with both Andrade and Namajunas returning to the octagon for the first time this year. Both women are coming in off devastating losses in title fights, with Andrade losing her crown to current queen, Zhang Weili, while Namajunas famously lost hers to Andrade via a slam KO.

In their May 2019 meeting, Namajunas looked exceptionally good across the first round and a half, before being emphatically thrown into the mat on her head in a freak moment which handed Andrade a maiden world championship. That kind of power, both in her hands and grappling make Andrade a dangerous opponent, but Namajunas has the smarts, movement, and skill to combat each threat.

The American looks to have regained her hunger and has already proven she can piece Andrade up on the feet, credit to her length and speed, but the fight could be ended at any moment at the hands of the Brazilian. It is a tough one to call, but will provide a terrific story of redemption either way for two former champions.

W. Flyweight | Amanda Ribas [14] vs. Paige VanZant

Another long-awaited, rescheduled women’s bout pits a Brazilian against her American opponent, as Ribas looks to continue her climb up the flyweight rankings. Once touted as a future title contender, VanZant’s career progress as slowed drastically in the face of recurring injuries and opportunities outside of fighting, and she has made no secret of the fact that this, the last fight on her UFC contract, may be the final time we see her in the octagon.

The American snapped a two-fight losing skid in January, 2019 and looked well on her way to regaining a number in the promotion, but has spent a heap of time out. On the other hand, Ribas has taken full advantage of her short time in the promotion, going 3-0 with three wins in just over a year. She is no stranger to halting a hype train either, having handed Mackenzie Dern her first professional loss.

VanZant has proven her toughness and ability to last under duress, but her time away may prove costly against the red-hot Brazilian. Ribas has the striking skills to match her opponent, and will also fancy herself in the grappling exchanges as a jiu jitsu and judo black belt.

PRELIMINARY CARD

Light Heavyweight | Volkan Oezdemir [7] vs. Jiri Prochazka

Welterweight | Elizeu dos Santos vs. Muslim Salikhov

Featherweight | Makwan Amirkhani vs. Danny Henry

Lightweight | Leonardo Santos vs. Roman Bogatov

EARLY PRELIMINARY CARD

Heavyweight | Marcin Tybura vs. Alexander Romanov

Flyweight | Raulian Paiva [14] vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov

W/ Bantamweight | Karol Rosa vs. Vanessa Melo

Bantamweight | Martin Day vs. Davey Grant

PREDICTIONS

FOTN: Volkanovski vs. Holloway
POTN: Yan, Namajunas, dos Santos
Sleeper: dos Santos vs. Salikhov

Main Card:
Usman
Volkanovski
Yan
Namajunas
Ribas

Prelims:
Oezdemir
dos Santos
Amirkhani
Bogatov

Early Prelims:
Romanov
Paiva
Rosa
Grant

Card preview – UFC 249: Ferguson vs. Gaethje

FROM Brooklyn New York, to a short-lived secret fight island, and its eventual home in Jacksonville Florida, UFC 249 is finally set to go down this weekend – albeit with an improvised starring cast. The long-awaited Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson fight may have been scrapped for a fifth time, but fans are set to be treated to a barn-burning headliner as Justin Gaethje steps in for a shot at the interim lightweight title, capping off what is set to be the most stacked UFC event in some time. Combat will once again carry the sporting world on its shoulders with this 11-fight showcase, despite one of the scheduled athletes, Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza testing positive for COVID-19. The show must go on.

Check out the full card below, as well as our predictions from top to bottom in our UFC 249 card preview.
Spoiler, there are no boring fights on this card.

MAIN CARD:

Lightweight [IT] | Tony Ferguson [1] v. Justin Gaethje [4]

The wait for a Khabib-Ferguson bout continues after the undisputed champ revealed he would not be able to leave his homeland amid the current global pandemic, but we get an absolute belter in the meantime as Gaethje squares off with El Cucuy for his first shot at UFC gold.

Many bouts have had all the promise of fight of the year contendership, but this is one which should truly deliver with the pair in question two of the most entertaining fighters on the roster, period. Ferguson’s endless weapons and unique flow meet Gaethje’s knockout power and perennial forward movement, making for an interesting clash of styles.

The former WSOF champion is most dangerous in the early stages and Ferguson has been known to get hit much more often in the early rounds, meaning the challenger will have to strike while the iron is hot. Ferguson cuts up his opponents as they wilt in the later rounds, which has hardly been the case for Gaethje in his fights, but he’ll want to get it done quickly nonetheless.

While Gaethje is deserving of recognition as one of the world’s best, fans would largely agree that Ferguson should be next in line for a shot at the undisputed throne given his UFC-record 12-fight winning run. It won’t be easy, though, with his submission game pending on Gaethje’s underrated grappling prowess. We still back El Cucuy.

Prediction: Ferguson via submission.

Bantamweight [T] | Henry Cejudo [C] v. Dominick Cruz

Legacy is on the line as Cejudo defends his bantamweight strap against former champion, and the greatest 135’er of all time, Cruz. The bout will stand as Cejudo’s first 135-pound title defence since capturing the vacant belt at UFC 238 against Marlon Moraes, while Cruz steps back into the octagon he once dominated for the first time since losing the belt to Cody Garbrandt in December, 2016.

Those who see this as a one-sided, hand-picked fight are mistaken, as Cruz’s credentials need no introduction, and the lay-off period clearly has not impacted him in the past. His unlikely title victory over TJ Dillashaw in January, 2016 should be all the proof anyone needs, it is just a question of whether the 35-year-old still has what it takes and if his body can hold up.

Cejudo will test every bit of it with his heavy hands and dominant wrestling as he looks to take out another legend of the game. Cruz’s movement makes him almost impossible to hit, though Garbrandt managed to of late, and he is a high-level wrestler himself. That means the champ’s key strengths will be answered to, but he has proven before that he is capable of working through adversity to come out on top, even against the seemingly unbeatable. The new age wins again here.

Prediction: Cejudo via decision.

Heavyweight | Francis Ngannou [2] v. Jairzinho Rozenstruik [6]

A match-up between two hard hitting heavyweights jerks the curtain for the main and co-main events, as Ngannou and Rozenstruik look to push their case for entering the championship frame. Both men have achieved the feat of knocking out legendary striker Alistair Overeem in brutal fashion, and come in off incredible win streaks.

In the red corner, Ngannou has won three-straight bouts via first round KO after suffering the only two consecutive defeats of his professional career, while Rozenstruik has left it a touch later in two of his four promotional finishes. The Surinamese contender sits at a formidable 10-0, a winning run which his opponent had also previously managed – albeit after a loss.

For that extra bit of experience both in the octagon and cage overall, it seems that Ngannou should have the edge in this one. But either man can win at any time with just one blow, it will just be about who lands it first, or better. We doubt there’ll be much grappling, but keep our fingers crossed to avoid a Ngannou-Lewis repeat.

Prediction: Ngannou via T/KO.

Catchweight (150.5) | Jeremy Stephens [7] v. Calvin Kattar [9]

Stephens may have missed weight for this would-be featherweight match-up, but fans should forgive the veteran given the circumstances. This ranked bout between two terrific stand-up combatants should be an instant fan-favourite, and is an underrated choice for fight of the night.

Neither man has been known to take a backwards step, and have earned their notoriety among the world’s best having brought it to some of the greatest contenders of the time. That being said, both men come in off losses, with Stephens’ 0-3-1 run in his last four bouts reading worse than Kattar’s 2-2. With the chance to challenge for top five status and latch onto some winning momentum, this one should bang.

Prediction: Kattar via T/KO.

Heavyweight | Greg Hardy v. Yorgan de Castro

Another highly-anticipated bout between two (massive) heavyweights with serious power opens the main card, as Hardy and de Castro look to crack the rankings. Somewhat still on a quest to fully win fans over, Hardy has nonetheless made waves every time he has fought, not afraid to take on more seasoned opponents. Scary as de Castro may be, the 6-0 fighter lays claim to one-less professional fight than Hardy, and the American also has the edge in terms of dealing with the promotion’s bright lights.

That may not help him when he meets de Castro though, with the Cape Verde native putting away four of his six opponents within the first round. Hardy has tasted defeat within the octagon, and that sometimes puts fighters in better stead should the deep waters arise. It is difficult to split the pair, but their raw talent should deliver a good show in a test of their true credentials.

Prediction: Hardy via T/KO.

PRELIMINARY CARD:

Welterweight | Anthony Pettis [15] v. Donald Cerrone [6 LW]

Two men who are no strangers to headlining shows this time spearhead the undercard, as Cerrone continues his welterweight dabble against Pettis. ‘Cowboy’ is of course coming in off his loss to Conor McGregor and two more before that, but there is no reason to doubt the promotion’s winningest fighter given he has faced the stiffest of competition.

Pettis has also had a difficult time of it of late, losing three of his last four bouts to similarly tough opposition while finding it hard to consistently find his form of old. ‘Showtime’ does boast a win over Cerrone though, back in 2013 via a body kick, so may look to test the veteran in a similar fashion given his susceptibility in that area.

Both men can win the fight in a multitude of ways, with terrific, crisp striking combining with their high-level grappling talent. Given Pettis’ recent loss via submission, Cerrone may look to exploit him on the mat, but every bout begins on the feet. If Cerrone can avoid Pettis’ power and respond in due course, it will be a tough night for the former champ.

Prediction: Cerrone via submission.

Heavyweight | Aleksei Oleinik [12] v. Fabricio Werdum

This bout between two veteran heavyweight grapplers and mixed martial artists is somewhat of a sleeper on the prelims, with former champion Werdum making his long-awaited return to competition against submission extraordinaire Oleinik.

Both men are 42 years old, but Oleinik’s 72-fight career is no mean feat, especially given someone as credentialed as Werdum only lays claim to 32 professional MMA bouts. There is no questioning the talent and experience of these two competitors, and it should prove a good test of just how ready the Brazilian is as Oleinik poses many threats on the ground.

But Werdum may look to gain the ascendancy on the feet despite his BJJ prowess, with an underrated striking game and some solid power behind him. This kind of step-up in competition has often proven one too far for Oleinik, and he will need to get the fight to the mat as quickly as possible to stand any chance. The two may cancel each other out on the ground, however.

Prediction: Werdum via decision.

W. Strawweight | Carla Esparza [7] v. Michelle Waterson [8]

The sole female fight on the card poises two strawweight contenders against each other in inaugural champion, Esparza, and women’s MMA staple, Waterson. The ‘Karate Hottie’ is a fan favourite, but fell short in her run to the 115-pound strap after going down to Joanna Jedrzejczyk last October.

Of course, it means both women have a loss to Joanna on their records, but can still lay claim to sharing the octagon with some fantastic fellow contenders. A revamped Esparza looks to be on the right track having lost her belt in 2015 and since embarked on a patchy run. Now an experienced member of the rankings, she will have to be at her best against an absolute OG of the game. Wrestling seems her most viable avenue, but Waterson is crafty on the ground and maintains distance well with her kicks.

Prediction: Waterson via decision.

Welterweight | Vicente Luque [13] v. Niko Price

This absolute gem of a fight, hidden at the bottom of the prelims is set to kick off a stacked card in style. Two of the most dynamic welterweights in Luque and Price face-off as they look to secure their status as ranked fighters, with the Brazilian currently locked in among the top 15. Price is not far off, especially after his vicious upkick victory over James Vick.

The enigmatic American has had just one of his 18 fights go to decision, and he has shown he can win the fight from just about anywhere. But Luque has already beaten his next opponent, in 2017, and possesses a slightly more consistent UFC record. His six-fight losing run was brought to an end by Stephen Thompson, and the top 10 kind of opponent has often tested him.

There are nine ‘of the night’ bonuses between the pair, and neither man will take a backwards step here. it should be another fun fight, and an interesting clash of unique styles. It could end in absolutely any way, so do not count out the fighter who may seem to be losing at any point.

Prediction: Luque via submission.

EARLY PRELIMINARY CARD:

Featherweight | Bryce Mitchell v. Charles Rosa

One of the most highly-touted promotional up-and-comers in Mitchell faces one of the toughest tasks of his young career as he looks to take out an experienced foe on the early prelims. Rosa, a six-fight UFC veteran has competed against some solid names while returning three fight of the night performances. Mitchell has been similarly entertaining in his three-fight UFC career having pulled off a twister, and boasts an undefeated professional record at 12-0. It’s tough to split them, but it’s always great to see the new age shine.

Prediction: Mitchell via decision.

Light Heavyweight | Ryan Spann v. Sam Alvey

A fun light heavyweight bout is set to open the show altogether, as the unranked Spann and Alvey go toe-to-toe at the bottom of the card. Spann is undefeated since earning a UFC contract via the Contender Series, showing a great all-round game along the way. ‘Smiling Sam’ has long been a promotional staple, but comes in having lost his last three bouts despite his notable experience.

Prediction: Spann via T/KO.

Card preview – UFC 248: Adesanya vs. Romero

TWO UFC belts are one the line for the second time in 2020 at UFC 248, as Israel Adesanya and Weili Zhang take to the octagon for their first respective title defences. The enigmatic Nigerian gets his wish in facing middleweight boogeyman Yoel Romero, while Chinese star Zhang faces her toughest challenge yet in legendary strawweight Joanna Jedrzejczyk. The two title fights hold up a card bereft of ranked fighters, but featuring a fun mix of promotional staples and prospects to keep an eye on, making it a card not to be missed.

MAIN CARD:

Middleweight | Israel Adesanya [C] vs. Yoel Romero [3]

Ask and you shall receive – that is exactly the case for UFC middleweight champion Adesanya as he readies for his maiden title defence against the ‘Solider of God’, Romero in the UFC 248 headliner. Obsessed by cementing his legacy in the sport and proving naysayers wrong, the Nigerian hand-picked arguably the worst stylistic match-up possible – not to mention the man almost every other middleweight would be keen to avoid – in Romero, with the Cuban’s freakishly explosive athleticism and Olympic level wrestling pedigree making him a scary proposition.

Despite his fabled nature the 42-year-old is still human, highlighted by three losses in his last four bouts and failure to make weight for two previous title bouts. Given his 198lbs figure a week out from the fight, that factor could well come into play once again. But the veteran’s ability to lull his opponents into a false sense of security has been one of his craftiest tricks over the years, exploding at the unlikeliest of times to come up trumps on the big stage. Romero’s second official shot at UFC gold should bring the best out of him after consecutive losses, with time running out on his championship window.

That is something which has only recently opened for Adesanya who, like Romero, has expanded on his expertise in one discipline (kickboxing) to become a world class mixed martial artist in quick time. Much of ‘Stylebender’s’ justification for this bout has come from a desire to prove his quality as an all-round martial artist rather than a pure striker, with the greatest grappler at 185lbs no greater opponent to test those skills against. As cognitively dynamic as they come, Adesanya will have to be weary of Romero’s tricks and ready for that next-level athleticism, as it could spring at any moment.

While some would pitch this fight as somewhat of a foregone conclusion given Romero’s downfalls at the final hurdle, the Cuban is the perfect embodiment of the old saying that anything can happen in this sport, and that’s the beauty of this match-up. The purity of each man’s skill in opposing disciplines also makes it intriguing, and it will be a matter of whether Romero can successfully impose his grappling game on Adesanya, and whether the champion can withstand the varying threats to counter with his own game. Adesanya wants a finish, and it would take something special to become the first man to do so in Romero’s UFC career.

Prediction: Adesanya via decision.

Women’s Strawweight | Zhang Weili [C] vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk [4]

Asian superstar Weili Zhang makes her own maiden title defence against former strawweight queen, Joanna Jedrzejczyk in Sunday’s co-main event, with the Polish challenger looking to reclaim her belt at the second time of asking. The greatest strawweight of all time needs no introduction, and is poised to hand the current champion her toughest challenge yet.

Since being dethroned by ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas in 2017 and falling short in the rematch five months later, Jedrzejczyk has earned her way back to the challenger spot on the back of two impressive wins at 115lbs – albeit against opponents further down the pecking order. A loss to Valentina Shevchenko for the flyweight strap spilt the defeats, but the Pole’s status as the winningest strawweight in UFC history to go with five title defences counts for a lot as she edges ahead of three other worthy contenders for another shot at UFC gold.

Zhang is one top-end strawweight who Jedrzejczyk is yet to share the octagon with, and thus throws up a completely fresh challenge for the 32-year-old Muay Thai practitioner. The UFC’s first-ever Chinese champion may have less UFC outings that her opponent has title bouts, but a 20-fight win streak points toward all the experience she needs to match it with a future hall of famer like Jedrzejczyk. Zhang’s clinical finish of Jessica Andrade to win claim the title was indicative of her power on the feet, but her dominant grappling means she will bring a well-rounded game to the octagon.

Both fighters are able to push the pace in different ways, with Jedrzejczyk’s technical volume striking wilting the will of many an opponent, while Zhang’s swarming pressure in the transitions adds to her undeniable knockout power. Given both women have only been finished once each in their careers, it may take something special to end the bout on either side, so expect more of a war of attrition whether the fight plays out up top or on the mat. Jedrzejczyk will back herself to find Zhang’s chin, it is just whether she can do so continually with the Chinese star coming the other way.

Prediction: Zhang via decision.

Lightweight | Beneil Dariush vs. Drakkar Klose

The three-fight win streaks of Beneil Dariush and Drakkar Klose run parallel no longer as the two prime to do battle in the third-last fight of the night. The two were set to meet in June, 2019 at UFC Fight Night 155, but the bout was scrapped due to injury on Dariush’s part.

A formerly ranked prospect, 30-year-old Dariush has gotten back on track over the last 18 months with three impressive wins over dangerous lightweight opponents. Consecutive performance of the night bonuses on the back of nifty submissions have the Iranian poised to make a run back into the numbers, and his black belts in both Brazilian jiu jitsu and muay thai bode well for more success wherever the fight goes.

But Klose is also dangerous on many levels, able to end the fight on the feet but also hailing from a solid grappling background. With both men being forced to overcome slight speed-bumps on their way to the top of a stacked division, this looms as a crucial fight in the long-term journey of their careers. Dariush has the high-end experience despite being a year Klose’s junior, so should fancy himself to capitalise on key moments at every level.

Prediction: Dariush via submission.

Welterweight | Neil Magny vs. Li Jingliang

Journeyman and promotional mainstay Neil Magny makes his awaited return to the octagon against Chinese stud, Li Jingliang, with the latter looking to set the tone for compatriot and good friend, Weili Zhang in this main card slot.

While a reminder of Magny’s experience against some of the greatest welterweights of this generation would be superfluous, he may have to lean on it now more than ever given his extended period away from the cage. The American’s awkward style as a tall and long fighter makes him tough for any challenger, and he will undoubtedly be looking to get right back to his typically active ways to make a run into the rankings once again.

Jingliang’s seven wins in his last eight fights present an ominous proposition however, with his exploits well-known to the southern-hemispheric crowd. The 31-year-old is set for his first fight in the US since 2017, expecting to make good on having two of his three UFC losses away from Asian soil. A dangerous finisher on the feet, many would back Jingliang to make an impact if he can win the range battle, with Magny’s reach troubling for most.

Prediction: Jingliang via T/KO.

Welterweight | Alex Oliveira vs. Max Griffin

Alex ‘Cowboy’ Oliveira will be out to rectify a three-fight losing skid when he faces Max Griffin to open the main card. But the fight looms as a key fight in the careers of both men given Griffin comes in with a 3-5 promotional record having failed to string together consecutive wins overall since 2016.

Nonetheless, this fight should be a fun one to jerk the curtain on the main card as both men are renowned for putting it all on the line with their all-action styles, which earns them considerable points from the promotion’s high-ups (see Griffin’s five-fight contract) and fans alike. Expect both fighters to bang on the feet, with durability no issue and an entertaining bout set to ensue. A tough one to pick.

Prediction: Griffin by T/KO.

PRELIMINARY CARD:

Bantamweight | Sean O’Malley vs. Jose Alberto Quinonez

Key points:

– Popular Contender Series alum, ‘Suga’ Sean returns after over two years out.
– This bout was originally scrapped due to an O’Malley doping violation, re-booked for UFC 247 and then moved to this event.
– Quinonez is 1-1 since the original booking of this fight.
– Quinonez entered TUF at just 3-1, and made it all the way to the final.
– The undefeated O’Malley has a 70 per cent finishing rate.

Prediction: O’Malley via T/KO.

Lightweight | Mark Madsen vs. Austin Hubbard

Key points:

– Madsen is an Olympic and World Championship silver medalist in Greco Roman Wrestling.
– The 35-year-old Dane is 9-0 so far in MMA with three KO’s, submissions, and decisions.
– Both men hold one win each in the UFC
– Hubbard was hospitalised with a rare condition post his maiden UFC win, requiring surgery.

Prediction: Madsen via decision.

Middleweight | Rodolfo Vieira vs. Saparbek Safarov

Key points:

– Vieira is a multiple-time Brazilian jiu jitsu world champion
– This will be the 6-0 Brazilian’s second UFC bout.
– Dagestani wrestler Safarov is 1-2 in the UFC, but coming off his maiden win almost a year ago.
– The fight marks Safarov’s return down to middleweight.

Prediction: Vieira via submission.

Middleweight | Gerald Meerschaert vs. Deron Winn

Key points:

– Winn has been likened to AKA teammate, Daniel Cormier for his wrestling pedigree and size.
– Winn suffered his first loss in MMA last time out, but won his first four MMA bouts via TKO.
– Meerschaert has almost six times the amount of professional fights as Winn (41)
– Both men have fought as high as light heavyweight.

Prediction: Meerschaert via submission.

EARLY PRELIMINARY CARD:

Middleweight | Emily Whitmire vs. Polyana Viana

In 25 or less: Both women will be desperate to turn things around, and can win the fight wherever it goes.

Prediction: Viana via decision.

Bantamweight | Danaa Batgerel vs. Guido Cannetti

In 25 or less: Batgerel boasts a win over Kai Kara-France, but Cannetti comes in the older and stronger man. Tough one.

Prediction: Batgerel via decision.

Card preview – UFC 247: Jones vs. Reyes

THE first two UFC championship bouts of 2020 take place this weekend at UFC 247, with Jon Jones putting his light heavyweight strap on the line against undefeated contender Dominick Reyes in Houston, Texas. Holding up the co-main event slot is a bout between women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko and number one contender, Katlyn Chookagian, with only two more ranked fights filling out the card, but plenty of opportunities for fighters on the precipice to break through.

MAIN CARD:

Light Heavyweight | Jon Jones [C] vs. Dominick Reyes [4]

Jon Jones will look to make his eleventh successful light heavyweight title defence when he meets 12-0 compatriot, Dominick Reyes in the octagon for Sunday’s main event. Once arguably the strongest division across the promotion, there has been somewhat of a lull at 205lbs with perennial champion Jones running out of viable contenders to take out. But Reyes is just that, coming into his maiden title shot on the back of six impressive promotional victories, including four by finish and a most recent one against former middleweight champ, Chris Weidman. The back-and-forth between the two has been largely led by Jones, who is exuding motivation as he battles to strengthen his legacy, while Reyes seems composed in the face of the biggest challenge of his young career. A technical striker with undeniable knockout power and athleticism, the challenger will look to get it done early given his lack of five-round experience – going no further than three thus far and with only one main event under his belt. Jones, on the other hand has entered the championship rounds on nine of a possible 14 occasions, with this his 14th-consecutive main event and title bout. His unparalleled all-round skillset should test Reyes, able to win the fight wherever it goes, but many claim that the long-time champion has slowed of late having gone the distance with a heavily-depleted Thiago Santos last time out. But count Jones out at your own peril, with super fights in his sights should he etch out a win here. Grappling could be the avenue to victory for Jones as Reyes looks to close the distance, but watch for the challenger’s hands both on the way in and at distance.

Prediction: Jones by decision.

W. Flyweight | Valentina Shevchenko [C] vs. Katlyn Chookagian [1]

Valentina Shevchenko makes her fourth flyweight championship defence in a bout which sees the title holder face a true number one contender. The fighter with the deserving number one next to her name is Katlyn Chookagian, a brown belt under Renzo Gracie who has ground her way to a title shot on the back of a 4-1 record in the UFC’s flyweight division. The 31-year-old dubbed ‘Blonde Fighter’ has only lost to former title challenger Jessica Eye via split decision in her run at 125lbs, with none of her fights in the promotion stopped before a decision. While it is largely a product of her point style, that is an element which sets Chookagian apart from Shevchenko, with the champion’s finishing credentials clear in her 12 career finishes. She also boasts a lethal head kick KO over Eye, with her avenues to victory seemingly much more diverse both on paper and in practice. But Chookagian is the longer fighter which will suit her karate background, with both women likely to look to frustrate the other into coming forward first given their counter-striking style. The fighter who can manage the distance better and land heavier on the way in should come up trumps, with Shevchenko’s strong grappling also likely to test the American. Much as is the case in the main event, it is hard to look past the champion given her near-unmatched skillset. But Chookagian is the latest contender to believe she has what it takes to dethrone the current Queen, and that Shevchenko has not yet faced anyone like her.

Prediction: Shevchenko by decision.

Heavyweight | Juan Adams vs. Justin Tafa

Two massive heavyweights are set to rumble in their main card slot, both looking to return to the winners list after respectively experiencing maiden career losses. Adams, a Contender Series standout, earned his way into the UFC via the gateway promotion with an impressive TKO victory, later backing it up via the same method on debut. But consecutive losses to fellow rising heavyweights Arjan Bhullar and Greg Hardy momentarily thwarted the American’s run to the rankings, with his next opponent posing just as much of a threat. Aussie bigman, Tafa fared poorly in his promotional debut on home soil, but is also young in his MMA career with just four fights under his belt (3-1). A heavy hitter who only needs one shot to end a fight, the Australian will look to pick his shot and keep the fight on the feet given Adams’ wrestling credentials and background in American football. The longer it goes, the more likely Adams will be the winner, but if it is over quickly we may well see Tafa’s hand raised.

Prediction: Tafa by T/KO.

Featherweight | Mirsad Bektic vs. Dan Ige

Competition for ranking spots at the back end of the featherweight division is set to heat up when Mirsad Bektic takes on Contender Series alum, Dan Ige. Having recently been overtaken in the numbers, 28-year-old Bektic remains one of the more promising 145lb prospects despite a slight stall in his run with two losses in his last four bouts. For Ige, who has hit the ground running since entering the promotion, Bektic poses the biggest test of his talents yet. The Hawaiian is a competent grappler who has looked ultra-impressive in each of his four UFC wins, and he will look to push the pace in this bout. Bektic, on the other hand will look to pick his opponent apart on the feet, able to manage the distance well but land heavy shots when he picks them. The 145’ers are set to light up 2020, and a chance to make a big statement is up for grabs for these two future stars. A true fight of the night contender.

Prediction: Ige by submission.

Heavyweight | Derrick Lewis [6] vs. Illir Latifi [12 LHW]

Illir Latifi makes the step up to heavyweight in the main card curtain jerker, set to take on fan-favourite, Derrick ‘The Black Beast’ Lewis. It looks an odd match-up on face value considering the size of Lewis, who used to cut down to 265lbs but has since sured up his conditioning, while Latifi is four inches shorter and a former light heavyweight. But having started his career at heavyweight and competed in submission wrestling at 218lbs, the Swede should hold his own in that department. Lewis’ avenue to victory hardly needs covering, with his knockout power almost unmatched across the promotion, but he will have to thwart a few different looks from Latifi. The former 205’er, who is coming off consecutive losses, presents a wrestling threat but has also fallen in love with his ability to finish on the feet. Holding Lewis down will be tough if he can get him there, and the American has shown competency in getting up through pure strength against much bigger heavyweights. It is hard to look past the proven commodity, although adding fresh blood to the rankings is always welcome.

Prediction: Lewis by T/KO.

PRELIMINARY CARD:

Middleweight | Trevin Giles vs. Antonio Arroyo

In 25 or less: Two men on losing streaks, who are relatively similar in a lot of respects and can win in many ways. Flip a coin.

Prediction: Giles by T/KO.

Welterweight | Alex Morono vs. Kalinn Williams

In 25 or less: Williams will look to bring the ‘Khaos’ on debut, but Morono has taken on some legit talent and has 12 more fights of experience.

Prediction: Morono by decision.

W. Flyweight | Lauren Murphy [7] vs. Andrea Lee [8]

In 25 or less: A sleeper of a fight on the prelims between two ranked flyweights. Experience meets youth, could be a massive step-up for Lee.

Prediction: Lee by T/KO.

EARLY PRELIMINARY CARD:

Bantamweight | Miles Johns vs. Mario Bautista

Prediction: Johns by decision.

Bantamweight | Journey Newson vs. Domingo Pilarte

Prediction: Pilarte by submission.

Bantamweight | Andre Ewell vs. Jonathan Martinez

Prediction: Ewell by decision.

Card preview – UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs. dos Santos

TWO of the top UFC heavyweights are set to rumble in Raleigh, as Curtis Blaydes and Junior dos Santos look to fight their way back into the title picture with a win in their headline bout. In the co-main event, former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos will hope to prove he is more than a gatekeeper at 170lbs when he faces fellow former 155’er Michael Chiesa, while the remaining card provides a chance for fans to catch a glimpse of some rising talent and a scattering of staple MMA veterans.

MAIN CARD:

HEAVYWEIGHT | Curtis Blaydes [3] vs. Junior dos Santos [4]

Much-loved veteran and perennial heavyweight contender Junior dos Santos will hope to open yet another championship run when he faces fellow top fiver, Curtis Blaydes. The bout looms as 35-year-old dos Santos’ seventh-straight main event, and fifth-consecutive UFC Fight Night headliner since going down to current champ, Stipe Miocic at UFC 211. His near-unrivalled experience and powerful, technical boxing make him a serious threat to any heavyweight, and Blaydes should know plenty about powerful stand-up fighters given both of his career losses have come at the hands of Francis Ngannou. For Blaydes to capture a third-straight win, he’ll need to close the distance fast and get working on his wearing wrestling style, but that also may bring dos Santos’ often overlooked jiu jitsu game to the fore. It makes for an interesting battle on paper, and one which may further blur the heavyweight title picture with the next championship bout still to be announced.

Prediction: dos Santos by T/KO

WELTERWEIGHT | Rafael dos Anjos [5] vs. Michael Chiesa

Jerking the curtain for a huge main event is another headliner-hogger in Rafael dos Anjos, who makes his seventh-straight main or co-main event outing in a bout with fellow former lightweight, Michael Chiesa. The former 155lbs champion has not been able to string together consecutive wins since initially moving up to welterweight in 2017, but has faced a raft of absolute killers of late as somewhat of a measuring stick for the 170lbs division. Up next is Chiesa, the TUF 15 winner who is looking to crack the rankings in his new division having won his last two bouts. But dos Anjos provides a stiff step-up in competition that Chiesa has often fallen short against, so it should prove a real test for the quirky American. Both men have high-level jiu jitsu, but the stylistic advantage lies with dos Anjos on the feet, and he is so hard to put away.

Prediction: dos Anjos by submission

FLYWEIGHT | Jordan Espinosa [11] vs. Alex Perez [12]

A top 10 spot in the flyweight rankings could be up for grabs in this main card bout between Jordan Espinosa and Alex Perez, two Contender Series alumni. In the red corner will be eleventh-ranked contender, Espinosa, who took two Contender Series stoppages to be afforded his UFC contract by the boss. The 30-year-old grappler is finding his feet in the promotion at 1-1, and a win against Perez would really help his standing. But Perez, who earned a contract on his first try, comes in with four promotional wins and experience in the octagon against title challenger, Joseph Benavidez. Perez’s steep rise highlights the faith the UFC has in him, but this will be a good test having not fought for almost a full year.

Prediction: Perez by decision

W. STRAWWEIGHT | Hannah Cifers vs. Angela Hill

A relative promotional veteran meets a relative promotional newcomer as Angela Hill and Hannah Cifers do battle in their women’s strawweight bout, with both fighters looking to crack the divisional rankings. Hill, 5-7 in the UFC over two stints, is the former Invicta strawweight champion, but has not been able to string together a run of wins since defending that crown in 2016. On the other hand, Cifers has accumulated a similar record in various promotions over the same time, going 2-1 since entering the UFC and only losing to Maycee Barber in her last eight bouts. Cifers has shown she can throw hands and hang with some solid opponents, but the high-level experience sits with the active and often overlooked Hill. Either way, it should be an interesting battle.

Prediction: Hill by decision

LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT | Jamahal Hill vs. Darko Stosic

Contender Series graduate Jamahal Hill makes his UFC debut against Serbian judo and kickboxing practitioner, Darko Stosic. The Serb has shown he can bang on the feet despite his grappling background, earning seven T/KO victories, but more recently suffering two of his three career losses to stand 1-2 in the UFC. Hill is a more fresh prospect with a 6-0 professional record, six months off a TKO win in his contract-earning bout. He, too can find a way to win up top with his raw athleticism, and comes in with a decent size advantage at four inches taller than Stosic. In the opening main card slot, this is a good chance for both men to mark their mark on the promotion in a division desperate for exciting new contenders.

Prediction: Stosic by T/KO

PRELIMINARY CARD:

One to watch:

FEATHERWEIGHT | Arnold Allen vs Nik Lentz

Two of the more well known fighters on the undercard are Arnold Allen and Nik Lentz, who make up our fight to watch on the prelims. 15-1, Allen is fresh off being dumped from the featherweight rankings, but may be in for a return with a win against 43-fight veteran Lentz. It will be no mean feat given ‘The Carny”s experience; Lentz had been competing in the UFC for three years before Allen’s first professional bout, making this a classic match-up between youth and experience. It could provide a timely revamp for Englishman Allen, who was expected to face Josh Emmett in this bout while Lentz was booked to fight Nad Narimani, but the American can never be overlooked.

Prediction: Allen by decision

MIDDLEWEIGHT | Bevon Lewis vs. Dequan Townsend

In 25 or less: These two are a combined 0-3 in the UFC, but can throw heat on the feet. Will Lewis be the next Contender Series success?

Prediction: Lewis by T/KO

W. FLYWEIGHT | Justine Kish vs. Lucie Pudilova

In 25 or less: It’s do-or-die for two women on losing streaks, but who’ve faced tough opposition. Pudilova has four fights since Kish’s last, and it could be telling.

Prediction: Pudilova by decision

BANTAMWEIGHT | Montel Jackson vs. Felipe Colares

In 25 or less: A couple of exciting grappling prospects throw down in this one, and we know how much Dana loves a Contender Series product.

Prediction: Jackson by T/KO

W. BANTAMWEIGHT | Sara McMann [10] vs. Lina Lansberg [11]

In 25 or less: McMann’s return bout after almost two years away, but a fellow tough veteran awaits. Hard to look past the Swede’s stand-up.

Prediction: Lansberg by decision

BANTAMWEIGHT | Brett Johns vs. Tony Gravely

In 25 or less: Sick of Contender Series graduates yet? Gravely is another, who faced decent opposition on his way to the UFC. But Johns needs a win.

Prediction: Johns by submission

FEATHERWEIGHT | Herbert Burns vs. Nate Landwehr

In 25 or less: Two UFC debutants, both on solid win streaks and from high-level promotions. Could be a good one to open the night.

Prediction: Burns by decision

Card preview – UFC 246: McGregor vs. Cerrone

THE first UFC card of 2020 will host the long-awaited return of the promotion’s biggest star, Conor McGregor when he faces Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone in the UFC 246 main event. Ranked bouts fill out a fun main card, with the perfect chance for some up and comers down the list to impress those who will inevitably come for ‘The Notorious One’. Check out each match-up, as well as a prediction for every fight from top to bottom.

MAIN CARD:

WELTERWEIGHT | Conor McGregor [#4 LW] vs. Donald Cerrone [#5 LW]

A fight four years in the making headlines UFC 246 as Conor McGregor takes on Donald Cerrone at 170lbs, marking the Irishman’s first fight since tapping to Khabib Nurmagomedov in October, 2018. The fourth and fifth ranked lightweights respectively, these two need no introduction and should produce fireworks to conclude a rivalry which spawned all the way back in 2015 amid a memorable press conference. The shorter man, McGregor will come in with a surprising reach advantage but is naturally the smaller fighter having fought down at featherweight, while Cerrone has jumped between lightweight and welterweight. But the two are game to fight anyone, anywhere, any time, and at any weight, so will do exactly that. Cerrone seems to have more ways to win given his impressive grappling game combined with precise striking combinations, but McGregor has passed similar tests before – with flying colours – and is a phenomenal striker himself. The former double-champ seems to have reconnected with the drive which spurred his promotional come-up, declaring this the start of his 2020 “season”, in which he will be much more active. You love to see it, and deep down hardcore fans will be buzzing for this bout.

Prediction: McGregor by T/KO.

W. BANTAMWEIGHT | Holly Holm [#3] vs. Raquel Pennington [#4]

A former women’s bantamweight champion meets a former challenger when Holly Holm takes on Raquel Pennington in the co-main event slot. The two have have history as well, with Holm getting the better of ‘Rocky’ via decision back in 2015 when ‘The Preacher’s Daughter’ was still undefeated. But since suffering her first defeat, Holm has gone on to lose four of her last six fights across two divisions – including two championship bouts. That often happens when constantly facing the best, and TUF alum Pennington has done just that across a career dating back to 2009. Pennington’s heavy hands and submission game are what Holm will try to avoid with distance management on the feet, leaning on her storied kickboxing career to pick Pennington off. While this rescheduled bout features third and fourth ranked fighters, it seems only a truly special performance will put the winner back in the title picture.

Prediction: Holm by decision.

HEAVYWEIGHT | Aleksei Oleinik [#12] vs. Maurice Greene

43-year-old MMA veteran and submission specialist Aleksei Oleinik gets a main card slot in his bout against Maurice Greene, with the Ultimate Fighter alum looking to earn his way back into the heavyweight rankings. Both fighters come in off losses though, with ‘The Boa Constrictor’ Oleinik suffering consecutive T/KO defeats, while the American was handed his first promotional loss in October, 2019. This match-up poses a polar opposite in experience, with the 71 fights of Oleinik looking quite daunting over Greene’s 11-fight career. Both know their way around on the ground, as ezekiel choke merchant Oleinik a combat sambo practitioner with a deadly grip, while Greene has four triangle choke finishes despite not landing a takedown in the UFC. This bout could go one of two ways; it could be a great stepping stone for Greene on his way to ranking status, or the experience of his opponent could prove too overwhelming on the big stage. Either way, a finish looms.

Prediction: Oleinik by submission.

W. STRAWWEIGHT | Claudia Gadelha [#6] vs. Alexa Grasso [#11]

Claudia Gadelha and Alexa Grasso are two strawweights hoping to break the current win-loss trend on their records, poised to do battle in the main card’s second bout. Returning from a frustrating injury spell, Gadelha has the opportunity to break through for her first pair of consecutive wins since 2017, while the up and coming Grasso will want to get back on the winners list after losses in three of her last five bouts. One of those was a razor-thin decision loss to Carla Esparza, with experienced grapplers seeming to trouble the Mexican boxer. A national BJJ champion, Gadelha should test her opponent should the fight get to the ground, but has the heavy hands to win the fight on the feet if she can steer clear of absorbing too many strikes. Either way, a bill of consistency is needed for these two if they are to push for a title shot, and a win here would be the perfect start.

Prediction: Grasso by decision.

LIGHTWEIGHT | Anthony Pettis [#9 LW] vs. Carlos Diego Ferreira

Anthony Pettis’ divisional yo-yoing continues at UFC 246 as he opens the main card in his lightweight return against Carlos Diego Ferreira. The former 155lbs champ will have his work cut out for him against a crafty grappler in Ferreira, who has flown under the radar to notch five consecutive wins in the UFC. That same consistency has evaded Pettis since his last set of consecutive victories from 2011 to 2014, unable to back up some impressive wins over the last three years. In fairness, ‘Showtime’s’ competition has been stiff during that time given his standing in the sport, and the failure to step up to that calibre of fighter is part of why his opponent remains unranked. Ferreira’s only two career losses have come to Dustin Poirier and Beneil Dariush, so a win here against a name like Pettis would put him on the map. The Brazilian will lean on his BJJ background, but has shown strong capabilities on the feet with three promotional KO’s. Pettis is extremely well rounded though, and will fancy himself in each area against the underrated challenger.

Prediction: Pettis by T/KO.

PRELIMINARY CARD:

W. FLYWEIGHT | Roxanne Modafferi [#7] vs. Maycee Barber [#9]

In 25 or less: Experience meets youth. Barber’s a wrecking ball with finishes in seven of her eight fights. She’s in a hurry, but cannot be too hasty here.

Prediction: Barber by T/KO.

FEATHERWEIGHT | Andre Fili vs. Sodiq Yusuff

In 25 or less: A real step up for ‘Super’ Sodiq, who could be the next big thing out of Nigeria. Another DWTNCS alum, but Fili is no slouch.

Prediction: Yusuff by T/KO.

LIGHTWEIGHT | Drew Dober vs. Nasrat Haqparast

In 25 or less: The mini Kelvin Gastelum, Haqparast is about to make waves. A tough and more experienced opponent, but these kids on the prelims are so good.

Prediction: Haqparast by T/KO.

EARLY PRELIMINARY CARD:

FEATHERWEIGHT | Chas Skelly vs. Grant Dawson

Prediction: Dawson by submission.

LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT | Aleksa Camur vs. Justin Ledet

Prediction: Camur by T/KO.

FLYWEIGHT | Tim Elliott [#7] vs. Askar Askarov [#12]

Prediction: Elliott by decision.

BANTAMWEIGHT | Brian Kelleher vs. Ode Osbourne

Prediction: Kelleher by decision.

W. FLYWEIGHT | Sabina Mazo vs. JJ Aldrich

Prediction: Aldrich by decision.

Card preview – UFC 245: Usman vs. Covington

ONE of the most anticipated UFC cards of the year comes in the final pay-per-view event, with Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington headlining in front of two other title fights and a card stacked with a raft of ranked fighters. There is plenty to dissect, and so many ways each fight can go.

MAIN CARD:

WELTERWEIGHT | Kamaru Usman [C] vs. Colby Covington [2]

It is finally here, the grudge match between Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington for the welterweight title. Destined to fight each other given their parallel come-ups, Usman and Covington now get to put all the talk aside and settle it in the cage. Covington is as loud as they come out of the octagon, but has backed it up thus far to become an undeniable challenger for the undisputed strap after previously earning the interim title. Usman is yet to be bettered in the UFC, dominating all 10 foes with his smothering wrestling and insane stamina. But if there is anyone who can match both of those facets, it is Covington, and these two cancel each other out stylistically. While these two are elite grapplers, the fight could be won on the feet, with Kamaru’s power coming against Colby’s volume striking. This looms as being one of the tightest title fights to call in recent memory, and should be a cracker.

Prediction: Usman by decision.

FEATHERWEIGHT | Max Holloway [C] vs. Alexander Volkanovski [1]

Max Holloway defends his featherweight belt for the fourth time when he meets number one contender Alexander Volkanovski in the co-main event, with a clash of styles set to take place. A pressure striker, Holloway has made a name from overwhelming his opponents, but comes up against a strong wrestler with accurate and powerful stand-up in Volkanovski. Coming from a rugby background, the Australian challenger has heavy hands and can test Holloway that way, as well as in the grappling department. Holloway is seldom not a heavy favourite, and will be just that coming in, but sleep on the Aussie at your own peril after taking out a couple of UFC featherweight greats.

Prediction: Holloway by decision

W. BANTAMWEIGHT | Amanda Nunes [C] vs. Germaine de Randamie [1]

Amanda Nunes has the opportunity to further cement her status as the women’s MMA GOAT when she defends her bantamweight belt for the fifth time against another former UFC champion. ‘The Iron Lady’ – Germaine de Randamie is the challenger this time around, with the Dutch Muay Thai champion insistent on making it a 135lbs fight despite her history at featherweight. Her length and striking prowess should pose problems for Nunes, but the ‘Lioness’ own power punching will put the champ in good stead. Coming off incredible KO victories over Cris Cyborg and Holly Holm, Nunes should be confident of repeating the feat against another striker who matches her physically.

Prediction: Nunes by T/KO

BANTAMWEIGHT | Marlon Moraes [1] vs. Jose Aldo [3/FW]

Long-time WEC/UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo makes the cut down to 135lbs to face fellow Brazilian powerhouse Marlon Moraes. With the bantamweight division looking good at the top end but being held up by double-champ Henry Cejudo, this bout could prove vital in deciding the likelihood of either fighter getting another shot at UFC gold. While Moraes fell short in his recent shot at the belt, and Aldo is coming in off a loss to Volkanovski, so made the unconventional move down a division for a fresh start. His knockout capabilities are undeniable, but it will be interesting to see if he loses a step, or gains two with the extra weight cut. Moraes is just as ‘Magic’ on the feet with his explosive kicks, but will have to make up for a slight height and reach disadvantage. These two are essentially very similar fighters, which could bode for fireworks on the feet, or a surprise move to the ground.

Prediction: Moraes by T/KO

BANTAMWEIGHT | Petr Yan [4] vs. Urijah Faber [12]

Petr Yan will look to put his name in lights and take out a bantamweight legend in Urijah Faber when the two meet to kick off the main card. Yan has enjoyed an impressive rise in the UFC, remaining unbeaten across five fights and looking very good in each. A win here could put him right up in the number one contender spot, but he will have to do it in style given the following fight. Faber needs no introduction, and could also put himself in the title picture with another highlight reel win here. Both effective pressure fighters but in different disciplines, it could well be a matchup between the future, and the past of the bantamweight division.

Prediction: Yan by decision

PRELIMINARY CARD:

WELTERWEIGHT | Geoff Neal [14] vs. Mike Perry

Tuesday Night Contender Series alum Geoff Neal takes on fan favourite Mike Perry in a bout that is fitting for the main preliminary card slot. Having fought to decision just once in four UFC fights, Neal is on a tear and finds himself ranked in the stacked welterweight division. Perry, a man with equally heavy hands, has been there but comes in having won just two of his last six bouts. Perry is afraid of no one and only needs one strike to land, but Neal is already well equipped in dealing with dangerous opponents.

Prediction: Neal by T/KO

W. BANTAMWEIGHT | Ketlen Vieira [2] vs. Irene Aldana [10]

Undefeated prospect Ketlen Vieira takes on Irene Aldana in a fight which could propel either fighter right into championship calculations. At 10-0 and number two in the rankings, we finally get to catch another glimpse of Vieira after a 20-month layoff. Having beaten a couple of MMA vets and with a rounded game, Vieira would be watching the bantamweight title fight keenly. But Aldana stands in her way, not to be overlooked after looking sharp in her last outing. With either fighter boasting impressive wins both on the feet and ground, expect the unexpected.

Prediction: Vieira by submission

MIDDLEWEIGHT | Ian Heinisch [10] vs. Omari Akhmedov [14]

Omari Akhmedov will be hoping to continue his climb up the middleweight rankings when he faces Ian Heinisch, with a third win for the calendar year up for grabs. Undefeated in his last five fights and sharp upon his return to middleweight, Akhmedov is an accomplished grappler. Tuesday Night Contender Series alum Heinisch was enjoying a similar run before he ran into Derek Brunson, and should look to keep this fight on the feet with his superior boxing skills.

Prediction: Akhmedov by decision

WELTERWEIGHT | Matt Brown vs. Ben Saunders

A fight between two MMA veterans is set to open the prelims, with Matt Brown making his UFC return against Ben Saunders. A former contender and one of the baddest men to ever do it, Brown has not fought since retiring in 2017, but has regained the hunger and will look to hand Saunders a fourth-consecutive defeat. A loss either way could spell the end for either fighter.

Prediction: Brown by decision

EARLY-PRELIMINARY CARD:

FEATHERWEIGHT | Chase Hooper vs. Daniel Teymur

Prediction: Teymur by T/KO

FLYWEIGHT | Brandon Moreno [5] vs. Kai Kara-France [6]

Prediction: Kara-France by decision

W. FLYWEIGHT | Jessica Eye [2] vs. Viviane Araujo[5]

Prediction: Araujo by T/KO

MIDDLEWEIGHT | Punahele Soriano vs. Oskar Piechota

Prediction: Piechota by decision

Firework fight: Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington
Under the radar: Brandon Moreno vs. Kai Kara-France