After a rare week off, the UFC is back in action. Live from the APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. Headlining the card is a pair of Middleweight hopefuls, as Jared Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum look to enter the title mix. Cannonier will look to bounce back, after losing to Robert Whittaker. Not only did the defeat halt a three fight winning streak, but also a guaranteed title shot. With an opportunity to put himself back in a good spot, Cannonier will need to get past Gastelum. An extremely durable warrior, who has fought the best and overall done very well. Only recently, has Gastelum stumbled. Entering this fight, Gastelum has won only one of his last five fights. However, with five round experience, durability and cardio – Gastelum has several advantages that could leap frog himself back into the title picture with a win over Cannonier. This could be an instant classic, so enjoy!

UFC on ESPN 29 Main Card On ESPN/ESPN+ (10 p.m. ET):

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185 lbs.: Jared Cannonier vs. Kelvin Gastelum – This is a fun one, that could be an instant classic should it go the full five rounds. Jared Cannonier is a former Heavyweight, who weighed in as heavy as 241 pounds. With a proper diet, Cannonier shed 56 pounds to get himself down to 185 pounds. A truly remarkable feat, one that has directly led to success, as he reeled off three straight stoppage victories before losing to his most recent fight against Robert Whittaker. With excellent striking and legit knockout power, Cannonier can be scary to stand across. Kelvin Gastelum though isn’t someone to back down. Despite his struggles of late, Gastelum is still a tough out for anyone. In fact, of his 23 professional fights, no one has yet to stop him via strikes.

As for a prediction, I have Cannonier winning. I do pause for concern though, as the later this fight goes, the more I believe it favors Gastelum. The reason for that is because Gastelum has been in numerous five round fights, with his most recent being against Robert Whittaker in a ‘Fight of the Night’. Meanwhile, Cannonier hasn’t fought for five rounds since he was a Heavyweight back in 2014. It’s a definite concern, but I believe Cannonier will make the necessary adjustments to be well prepared to go a full twenty five minutes. The main reasons I favor Cannonier is his striking defense, strength, power and accuracy. Gastelum has been hittable, has low striking output and is a reluctant wrestler. His durability and cardio have aided him, and could once again. I’m just not in that boat this time around. So with that, I have Cannonier winning via decision.

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155 lbs.: Clay Guida vs. Mark Madsen – This fight to me is rather simple. Not necessarily in picking the winner, but in predicting more or less what is going to happen. Obviously, Mark Madsen is going to take Clay Guida down. He’s going to repeat this process until he gasses, which will probably happen sometime in round two or in round three. From there, Guida will rally. However, I don’t think Guida will finish Madsen. After all, Guida has finished only one opponent in the last ten years.

What my prediction comes down to is, if I believe Madsen will neutralize the energizer bunny that is Guida for enough time in round two to take the first two rounds of the fight or will Guida have rallied to take the last two rounds. It’s a tough one, but I’m going to side with the undefeated Olympian Madsen. I’m hoping that he addressed the glaring cardio issue that occurred in his last fight against Austin Hubbard, and puts forth an excellent performance. So with all that said, I predict that Madsen remains undefeated, winning via decision.

265 lbs.: Parker Porter vs. Chase Sherman – This card is loaded with fights that are tough to predict due to not having a feel of what fighter is going to show up. This is one of them. As I stated before, Chase Sherman is in his second stint with the UFC. The first saw him go 2-5, losing three of those fights via stoppage. This second stint, he is 1-1. Sherman is a pure striker, who has won fourteen of his fifteen victories via strikes. While Sherman has power, it’s not one-punch power. He’s a high output striker who wears down opponents and eventually finishes them. Porter is in the same boat as Sherman, as he too is a high output striker. The one thing that impresses me the most about the 36-year old is his leg kicks and how good his cardio is for a heavyweight.

As for a prediction, I’m going with the upset and picking Porter. Part of the reason I’m siding with Porter is due to said leg kicks and cardio. Against an upright striker who lacks one-punch knockout power like Sherman, I see those leg kicks slowing him down by round two. From there, Porter’s cardio will allow him to tee off on a stationary target. In the end, I see Porter not only winning via decision, but landing 100 significant strikes in back-to-back fights.

138.5 lbs.: Trevin Jones vs. Saidyokub Kakhramonov – Anytime someone steps in on short notice, you have to imagine how hard it must be to cut weight in such little time. While I assume they are in the gym training, I also assume they aren’t preparing for a three round fight. With a tough weight cut and that in mind, it’s hard to believe that other than a first round spurt, that the cardio will hold after that. I guess what I’m implying is that while I believe Saidyokub Kakharamonov is a great addition, the odds are stacked up against him. Other than an early knockout, which is totally possible given his power, every minute after round one is of survival in my opinion.

This leads me to my prediction, which is obviously Trevin Jones. The man is durable, having never been stopped due to strikes. He is clearly powerful, showing one punch knockout power in his first two UFC fights. He also is a BJJ blackbelt and seven time no-gi Champion. In other words, you don’t want to be on the ground with him. So with all that said, I have Trevin Jones winning via TKO.

155 lbs.: Austin Hubbard vs. Vinc Pichel – This is a fun fight, but one that I see Vinc Pichel winning. If this man were younger and more active, I’d even claim he’d be a top contender in the division within the next few years. Unfortunately he’s not either, but he’s a good fighter and a handful for most lightweights. With legit knockout power, excellent strength and evolving wrestling abilities, Pichel has made a habit of winning as we’ve seen.

While I don’t want to discredit Austin Hubbard in this fight, as his gas tank and scrappiness are intangibles most don’t have – I just don’t see him overcoming the strength of Pichel. I envision Pichel having his way on the feet early and then using his wrestling throughout the later rounds to neutralize Hubbard. The one worry I have is that Hubbard might be the fresher man in round three, but out of his thirteen wins, only one has come in round three. So with that, I have Pichel winning this fight via decision.

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125 lbs.: Alexandre Pantoja vs. Brandon Royval – In what is personally one of my favorite fights on the card, I envision a frantic fight early – with plenty of chaos and entertainment. If anything is certain, both men are very exciting to watch. Alexandre Pantoja is one of the best Flyweights on the planet, as he boasts well rounded abilities and excellent durability. Anytime you step inside the octagon with him, expect three hard rounds. As for Brandon Royval, his excitement comes with his wildness and pursuit of finishing his foes. Thus far in his three UFC fights, Royval has lit up the octagon with crazy finishes.

As for a prediction, I have Pantoja winning. Other than a flash knockdown that aides Royval to an advantageous position to lock in a submission, I don’t see a scenario where Pantoja loses this fight. For one, the Brazilian is a better striker, wrestler and grappler. Wherever this fight goes, he will be comfortable. Second, Royval is a bundle of energy that starts to fade the later the fight goes. Pantoja has solid cardio and thrives in fifteen minutes of action. Lastly, Royval is a submission hunter. In twenty eight professional fights, Pantoja has never been finished. So with all that said, and despite Royval being durable as well, I have Pantoja winning via submission.

UFC on ESPN 29 ‘Prelims’ Card On ESPN2/ESPN+ (7 p.m. ET):

145 lbs.: Austin Lingo vs. Luis Saldana – This is a tough call. Austin Lingo looked as good as ever in the first round of his last fight. While he would go on to win via decision, rounds two and three showed Lingo slow down as he tired. Perhaps defending eighteen takedown attempts had something to do with that. However, we’ll have a better idea on his cardio in what should be a three round striking contest. One in which Luis Saldana welcomes. Using range, Saldana throws flashy strikes and does a good job in chopping opponents down with leg kicks. He’s especially at his best when there is no threat of grappling.

As for a prediction, I’m siding with Luis Saldana. I know this fight is going to be close, but I believe that Saldana is going to land the more meaningful shots and chip away at Lingo’s legs. As the fight wanes, the pressure of Lingo will slow due to the kicks, thus opening up Saldana to land his flashy strikes. While I don’t envision a finish, I do believe that Saldana will take rounds two and three to win the fight via decision.

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135 lbs.: Brian Kelleher vs. Domingo Pilarte – It’s been 18 months since Domingo Pilarte last stepped inside the octagon. It’s been even longer since his last win, which came over three years ago. The sheer amount of mental toughness it takes to endure that brewing over you for that long is pretty impressive. However, I’m often one to lean towards active fighters. Since the start of 2020, Brian Kelleher has fought five times. He has won three of those fights, all via stoppage.

The one aspect of this fight that concerns me about Kelleher is if he can stuff Pilarte’s takedowns. Before fighting Ricky Simon, the Long Island native boasted a serviceable 72% takedown defense. Simon dropped that percentage down to 59%, as he took Kelleher down six times. Then again, Simon is a solid wrestler and had already notched 32 takedowns in his previous seven fights. Pilarte isn’t at that level, and even if he does shoot in for a takedown, Kelleher has a nasty guillotine to be scared about. In the end, Kelleher is just the better all around fighter and has the power to put away Pilarte. So with that, I have ‘Boom’ winning via TKO.

135 lbs.: Bea Malecki vs. Josiane Nunes – This fight has to be one of the harder one’s to predict. Both women come into this contest with certain abilities they are strong in, and then others that are either lacking or quite frankly, unknown. The one glaring aspect of this fight that stands out to me is that both have resumes chock full of inexperienced or tailor-made opponents. Bea Malecki has two UFC victories, but one came against an opponent who gassed out after dominating the Swede and the other came against a blown up Flyweight. Meanwhile, Josiane Nunes has fought two undefeated fighters in a row. Neither of them however were strikers, thus eventually leading to Nunes swarming her foes via strikes.

As for a prediction, I’m going to side with the underdog Nunes. I know that Malecki is going to tower her and will have a seven inch reach advantage, but her lack of power and technique on the feet give way to Nunes entering the pocket. With power and a knack for throwing combinations, I liken Nunes to land the more meaningful strikes in the fight. In fact, given the lack of wrestling and grappling by both women – I foresee Nunes eventually landing the knockout blow in the later rounds.

205 lbs.: Fabio Cherant vs. William Knight – Despite the odds dropping in this fight, and I understand why, I’m still siding with William Knight. While his striking needs work, his offensive wrestling and smothering top control will be evident in winning this fight. Of course the intangibles of Fabio Cherant’s ground game, in particular, his submissions give pause for concern. However, Knight has yet to be submitted in his twenty combined professional and amateur fights.

Watching tape on Cherant, he is definitely a better striker than Knight. The one problem I see for him in this fight which led me to siding with Knight, is his takedown defense. When engaged in the clinch or being taken down, Cherant looks to lock up a submission. That gives way for Knight to take Cherant down, pop out of the submission and control Cherant for the round. Something I expect to happen for all three rounds, as Knight grinds out a decision victory.

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155 lbs.: Ignacio Bahamondes vs. Roosevelt Roberts – At one point, I was on board with the notion that Roosevelt Roberts was the next big thing at Lightweight. Then came fights against wrestlers and grapplers. Fights that ultimately showed Roberts to have iffy takedown defense, low striking output and a lack thereof submission defense. Aspects of mixed martial arts that need to be fine tuned in order to be successful. Now, luckily for Roberts, Ignacio Bahamondes is not a threat to exploit any of those weaknesses. The Chilean is a striker, who has some pop, but is more known for his high output. He is also massive for the weight class, standing at 6’3.

As for a prediction, I have the underdog Bahamondes winning. I believe a combination of Roberts’ low striking output and Bahamondes sheer size is going to give the ‘Predator’ fits to find success anywhere. As the fight wanes, the more Bahamondes will take over, as he’s shown the ability to strike at a relatively similar pace for three rounds. In the end, Bahamondes outpoints Roberts on the feet to win via decision.

170 lbs.: Ramiz Brahimaj vs. Sasha Palatnikov – This fight for Sasha Palatnikov comes down to durability, takedown defense and cardio. Palatnikov has shown to have better durability than initially thought and sufficient cardio to go hard for a full three rounds. Takedown defense however, is questionable. It’s an aspect of his game that has been targeted often, and I’ll admit that he has for the most part, done well in staying upright inside the octagon. Does that continue against a wrestler like Ramiz Brahimaj? I think no.

Brahimaj’s debut saw him neglect using his strength of wrestling due to fighting Max Griffin, a solid wrestler himself. Stylistically it wasn’t a great fight for Brahimaj as we saw. However, against a kickboxer with questionable takedown defense in Palatnikov, it opens Brahimaj to implement his wrestling. While I don’t think he succeeds in every attempt, it only takes one takedown to get an advantageous position to submit Palatnikov. Something Brahimaj specializes in, as he enters this bout with all eight victories coming via submission.

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