The UFC is back in action, as they come to the tail end of the month long fight cards at Fight Island. Headlining the event, is the former Middleweight Champion Robert Whittaker taking on the former Welterweight title challenger Darren Till. Both men are among the best strikers in the UFC, and thus making it possible we are in for a good one.
UFC On ESPN 14 Main Card On ESPN/ESPN+ (8 p.m. ET):
185 lbs.: Robert Whittaker vs. Darren Till – This is an intriguing main event. Till is a tall task for anyone. He’s a patient striker whom looks to stay on the outside and pick apart opponents. He’s physically strong too, which has aided his takedown defense. I feel like he’d be a more dangerous fighter if he used that strength and learned a bit of wrestling to go with his striking. Regardless, he’s of Championship quality as is.
As for the former Middleweight Champion Whittaker, what’s there more to say. He’s a polished striker, with sneaky good grappling and excellent takedown defense. He’s a willing brawler, but at the same time can effectively stay at range and pick a foe apart. He’s extremely durable, regardless of getting finished in his last fight. You have to remember, this man spent 50 minutes in the cage with Yoel Romero and ate everything and the kitchen sink.
As for a prediction, I’ve got Whittaker. While I’m wary that Whittaker likes to leap in to strike and could get countered, I’m positive he’s going to be smarter in this fight. It’s his first fight since losing the title and he’s still only 29, and hungry to reclaim UFC gold. Till is a little too upright and hesitant to throw volume for me to see him winning here. Whittaker is going to throw volume and it’s up to Till to counter him with a big shot to keep up with that. I don’t see it though. In the end, I believe Whittaker is going land something late in the fight and win via TKO.
205 lbs.: Mauricio Rua vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira – This fight is a tough one. Two Legends, whom are clearly fighting on borrowed time. Well, maybe just Nogueira. I mean, in nearly a nine year span, Nogueira has fought seven times. He’s gone 3-4 over that span, with three of losses coming via knockout. Make it four. While durability is a concern for both, I trust Rua more to take a shot at this point. After all, the man is 4-1-1 in his last six fights. So with that, I have Rua winning via knockout.
265 lbs.: Fabricio Werdum vs. Alexander Gustafsson – Where the hell do you start? Gustafsson retired and now is back as a Heavyweight. Werdum returned from a lengthy layoff a few months ago and got beat by a fellow grappler Alexey Oleinik. Werdum looked out of shape and his usual impressive striking defense was non-existent. Throw in the fact that he’s on his last fight of his UFC contract and said he’s done with them.
Could Werdum spoil Gustafsson’s Heavyweight debut? Yes. Will he? No. Werdum wants out and came back two months after looking like a shell of himself. I’m not expecting any drastic change. Gustafsson uses his speed and movement to stay on the outside and pick apart Werdum over three rounds for a decision nod.
115 lbs.: Carla Esparza vs. Marina Rodriguez – If Esparza fights like she did against Gadelha, I feel like she can edge out Rodriguez. However, her last outing against Michelle Waterson wasn’t particularly her best. In my opinion, Rodriguez is a problem. She’s a relentless striker, whom provides volume and pressures her foes. She’s got some pop too. The only weakness that Rodriguez has been exploited by, is wrestling. Now, Esparza has wrestling for days. I’m sure she can get Rodriguez down, but can she keep her down and avoid getting slowed down by Rodriguez’s strikes? I’m not so sure. In the end, I smell a split decision in the favor of Rodriguez.
205 lbs.: Paul Craig vs. Gadzhimurad Antigulov – This fight either ends very quickly, with most likely Antigulov locking something up. OR, Craig survives early troubles, Antigulov tires and succumbs to Craig via submission. Given Antigoluv is a one round fighter and Craig has shown durability against tougher foes, I’m siding with him to weather the storm and lock up a submission victory.
170 lbs.: Alex Oliveira vs. Peter Sobotta – While Oliveira hasn’t looked himself of late, I believe he’s due for a bounce back here. Sobotta, has made the most of his second stint in the UFC, going 4-2. However, those 6 fights have come over a span of a little more than 6 years. Throw in the fact that he hasn’t fought in over two years and I’m just not feeling the inactivity. Oliveira is a technical striker with pop and if he can get some leg kicks going, I’m foreseeing a TKO stoppage at some point via a body shot.
170 lbs.: Khamzat Chimaev vs. Rhys McKee – So…Chimaev looks to be the real deal. Not to get too crazy, but his debut was nothing short of dominant. He rag-dolled John Phillips to the ground and never stopped punching him for a round straight. The next round, more or less the same, but with Chimaev mercifully ending the fight via submission. I’m expecting the same here.
UFC On ESPN 14 Prelims Card On ESPN/ESPN+ (5 p.m. ET):
155 lbs.: Jai Herbert vs. Francisco Trinaldo – I’m not sure what to expect now with Trinaldo missing weight, but the man has showed no signs of slowing down. He’s still an effective striker with pop and a very good grappler. The gas tank is always a concern and you’d have to think father time is going tap him on the shoulder one of these days. I’m going with not today, as I’ve got Trinaldo winning via decision.
170 lbs.: Nicolas Dalby vs. Jesse Ronson – Dalby should roll here relatively easy. That’s not because Ronson isn’t UFC caliber, but more so because he’s simply had very little to no success as a Welterweight. In fact, he’s 1-3 and the one victory came over nine years ago. On the other hand, Dalby is fresh off an impressive return to the UFC by defeating Alex Oliveira. Dalby showcases relentlessness and pressure. He mixes in takedowns and striking well. He’s got good top control to boot. In the end, Dalby takes home a dominant decision victory.
265 lbs.: Tom Aspinall vs. Jake Collier – I’m not familiar with Aspinall, but he’s the favorite in this fight. Those odds probably reflect the fact that Collier hasn’t fought in nearly three years and was fighting at Middleweight four years ago. I’m not sure what to expect, but Collier has had a mixed bag of success and failure in the Octagon. His chin was a concern, but he showed toughness and the will not to give up. His striking is his where he shines, as he provides volume. At Heavyweight, I don’t know what to expect on that front. With little what to expect, I’ll go with Collier winning via TKO.
145 lbs.: Movsar Evloev vs. Mike Grundy – This is a tough fight to call. Evloev looks the part thus far, showing a well rounded game highlighted by excellent wrestling and grappling. The striking comes with volume and the gas tank is there too. Grundy, is a wrestler by trade. However, Grundy has got power in his hands and that was evident in his debut. While I suspect the wrestling to cancel out somewhat, the relentlessness of Evloev could lead to a few. Evloev also has the volume striking to lean on. While Evloev could get cracked by Grundy, I feel he’s the safer option. Evloev’s ability and awareness to win rounds is evident and I see him taking this fight via decision.
265 lbs.: Tanner Boser vs. Raphael Pessoa – The Canadian Heavyweight Boser makes a quick return after an impressive and stunning knockout victory over Philipe Lins. I’m not expecting the same here, but I believe it’s appropriate to see Boser using a heavy dose of leg kicks and strikes to outpoint Pessoa via decision.
135 lbs.: Bethe Correia vs. Pannie Kianzad – On one hand, I feel like Correia overachieve’s in fights I expect her to lose. She’s tough and will throw volume, even if she could be a little erratic at times. Kianzad though looked dam good in her fight back at Bantamweight. She was light on her feet and was pumping her jab over and over. In what I expect to be a close fight, I’m siding with Pianzad on the heel of her last performance to take this via decision.
170 lbs.: Ramazan Emeev vs. Niklas Stolze – While Emeev is certainly a talent, he’s yet to show UFC fans the striking and power he established while fighting for M-1. He’s mainly used his physical strength and wrestling to bully and grind out victories. Perhaps with four UFC fights under Emeev’s belt, we begin to see the evolution. However, for now, I’ll safely say that Emeev takes this bout via decision.
135 lbs.: Nathaniel Wood vs. John Castaneda – While Wood has shown shaky striking defense in his UFC tenure, he’s made it up with good offensive striking, good wrestling and a real submission hunter. In fact, all three of his UFC wins come via that. Make it four.