The UFC back in action, as the APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada host an exciting fight card. Headlining the event, we have a Featherweight clash between contenders Edson Barboza and Giga Chikadze. A fight that has the makings to be an instant classic. Barboza enters this fight on a two fight win streak, most recently stopping Shane Burgos in a wild fight. The move down to Featherweight has proved to be a wise one, as Barboza finds himself already inside the division’s top ten. Meanwhile, Chikadze enters into this fight on an eight fight win streak, with six of those coming in the UFC. The first four fights saw the Georgian win via decision. However, in the last two, Chikadze has won by stoppage in the opening round. In my opinion, this is a can’t miss fight. It has the ingredients to be a ‘Fight of the Year’ contender. So I’d advise, not miss this one!

UFC on ESPN 30 Main Card on ESPN/ESPN+:

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145 lbs.: Edson Barboza vs. Giga Chikadze – This fight is one of those style clashes, that as a fan, you just can’t miss. Edson Barboza is one of the very best strikers in mixed martial arts. He features some of the heaviest leg kicks in the sport, which is evident by the two stoppages in the UFC due to said leg kicks. Barboza pumps an excellent jab and is so dynamic on the feet, that he will throw several spinning strikes. Barboza also boasts excellent durability, cardio and takedown defense. The latter of which has been an issue of Giga Chikadze. However, Barboza isn’t one to wrestle. The Georgian comes from a kickboxing background, where he put together a solid 38-6 record. Where Chikadze excels is when he can keep range and counter strike. From there he throws an arsenal of kicks.

As for a prediction, I have Barboza winning. I believe his output is slightly better and his experience in five round fights gives him the nod. I expect Barboza to use low leg kicks to slow down Chikadze, neutralizing the Georgians ability to switch stances and get off powerful leg strikes. While Barboza isn’t a wrestler, he could throw off Chikadze’s rhythm too by presenting the threat of a takedown. That’s not necessarily an aspect I’m counting on, but given Chikadze’s spotty takedown defense, it’s possible. Regardless, Barboza in my opinion is the more aggressive striker, who throws with the volume necessary to edge out rounds in what should be an amazing fight. So with all that said, I predict that Barboza will win via decision.

185 lbs.: Bryan Battle vs. Gilbert Urbina – From the tape I’ve seen, Bryan Battle seems to have a grasp on all aspects of mixed martial arts. I wouldn’t say he is necessarily strong in any one area, but he does a good job of putting it all together. Perhaps the clinch is where he thrives, landing short elbows and knees. He also does a good job of landing strikes at a high output, as well as getting out of grappling exchanges. Gilbert Urbina seems to be comfortable standing, but will latch onto your back should he be given the opportunity.

As for a prediction, I have Battle winning. Before joining the Ultimate Fighter, Urbina fought the majority of his career at Welterweight. He is undersized in this weight class and I believe when he fought Tresean Gore, he was hurt often on the feet. Obviously Gore is powerful, but also generally speaking, power tends to increase the higher the weight class. Now, I’m not not necessarily sure Battle can knock Urbina out, but I do believe he can outwork him every round en route to a decision victory.

135 lbs.: Ricky Turcios vs. Brady Hiestand – From the little tape I’ve seen, Ricky Turcios looks to be a good striker. He likes to keep his distance, and pepper his foes with jabs and leg kicks. While he looks to be competent in grappling, I was a little concerned about his takedown defense. It’s pretty leaky if you ask me. A definite concern, especially when you consider the fact that Hiestand is a wrestler. A good one at that. While his striking needs work, his wrestling pretty much aided him all the way to the finale. Impressively too, as he beat two of the more experienced fighters on the show.

As for a prediction, I’m going with Hiestand. While my read on this fight isn’t great, the combination of Hiestands wrestling and cardio lead me to believe he grinds out a decision victory.

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170 lbs.: Kevin Lee vs. Daniel Rodriguez – This bout is a contender for ‘Fight of the Night’, as clashing styles here could lead to a back-and-forth barnburner. Lee is an excellent wrestler, who evolved his striking into being a strength. Physically strong, Lee often had no issues taking anyone down. Perhaps his biggest issues have been submission defense and cardio. The latter being due to a strenuous weight cut, one in which caused the move up to Welterweight. A division which has sharks like Daniel Rodriguez to worry about. A pure striker through and through, Rodriguez has used pressure and output to systematically outlass opponents. With excellent cardio and stout takedown defense, Rodriguez is a problem for anyone who dares stand with him.

As for a prediction, I’m going with Daniel Rodriguez. While I believe Kevin Lee is the better fighter, I am concerned that a combination of Rodriguez’s size and stout takedown defense prove to be the difference in where this fight takes place. For Lee, there’s no doubt that he would like to take Rodriguez down and neutralize the Californian’s striking. However, if Lee can’t take Rodriguez down, I don’t see him beating ‘D-Rod’ on the feet. Lee has never been one to land with volume or accuracy. Rodriguez on the other hand lands more than eight strikes a minute. Throw in his pressure and I see Lee having a tough night. So with that said, I have Rodriguez winning via decision.

185 lbs.: Andre Petroski vs. Micheal Gillmore – I’ll admit, I haven’t watched this season of the Ultimate Fighter. It’s hard enough with the UFC and other promotions seemingly pumping out an event every week. So for this fight and the other TUF fight’s, I’m going based off tape and their resumes. Andre Petroski looks to be a powerful wrestler, who takes his opponents down and from there finishes fights. Petroski has a few decent wins on the resume, nothing spectacular, which is expected given his lack of experience. Gillmore looks to be a striker with good power. He’s aggressive and hunts for the finish. His resume is pretty lackluster, but again normal for someone with no experience.

As for a prediction, I’m going with Petroski. I think Gillmore’s aggressiveness plays right into a wrestler like Petroski’s wheelhouse. On the mat, Gillmore doesn’t seem like he is too adept at fending off submissions. Something which I believe Petroski will exploit. So with that said, I’ll predict that Petroski wins via submission.

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185 lbs.: Makhmud Muradov vs. Gerald Meerschaert – This fight reminds me of a few on the card, where a veteran looks to fend off a young hungry lion. In this instance, I see that being a difficult task. Makhmad Muradov has been problematic during this streak, as his takedown defense, cardio and striking have been on point. Thus far in the UFC, Muradov has shown to be a high output striker, who breaks opponents down with his pace the later the fight goes. The same could be said about Gerald Meerschaert, who welcomes a hard pace due to his ability to outlast his opponents the deeper the fight goes.

As for a prediction, I have Muradov winning. The Tajikistan born has shown no signs of slowing down, and I don’t see Meerschaert really testing him. Outside of Meerschaert pulling off a crazy submission, he does nothing on the feet that threatens Muradov. In the end, I see Muradov landing often on Meerschaert, eventually putting the veteran away via TKO.

UFC on ESPN 30 ‘Prelims’ Card On ESPN+:

185 lbs.: Abdul Razak Alhassan vs. Alessio Di Chirico – This fight comes down to if Abdul Razak Alhassan has made adjustments to his game. Thus far in the UFC, Alhassan has been overly reliant on power. While that recipe worked in four of his first five fights, it’s been an afterthought since. Any opponent with some wrestling and cardio has proven to be problematic for Alhassan. Quite the opposite can be said about Alessio Di Chirico, who could use some disruptive power. However, the problem for Di Chirco more so, has been his hesitancy to throw more strikes. The Italian’s low output has seen him drop countless fights.

As for a prediction, I have Di Chirco. Even with his low output issues, you still have to favor his style against Alhassan. The Italian has excellent durability, having never been stopped via strikes in eighteen professional fights. He has sneaky wrestling, landing eleven takedowns in his first six UFC fights. He has solid cardio and striking defense. In my opinion, this is Di Chirico’s fight to lose. Alhassan has proven that he is incapable of fending off wrestlers or keeping a three round pace. Di Chirco can exploit both. So with that, I have Di Chirico extending his win streak to two, winning this fight via decision.

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185 lbs.: Sam Alvey vs. Wellington Turman – Sam Alvey is a striker, who classifies more on the lines of counter-puncher. He’s got sneaky power, which is almost hard to say, given Alvey hasn’t won nor knocked out anyone in over three years. However, of Alvey’s ten UFC wins, five have come via knockout. Throw in stout takedown defense and it’s hard to believe Alvey has struggled this badly. Wellington Turman knows of those struggles, as his last two fights have shown a lack of striking abilities and durability. The one thing Turman succeeded early in his UFC career was getting opponents down. A split decision loss and victory were all due to his ability to get his foes down. Since those fights though, Turman is 0 for 11 in takedown attempts.

As for a prediction, I have Alvey winning. I would even go as far as saying that I’m confident he wins this fight, which is pretty bold given he hasn’t won a fight in 38 months. However, Alvey’s takedown defense is going to keep this fight upright. From there, Alvey will have his way on the feet with Turman, eventually landing the knockout blow.

205 lbs.: Dustin Jacoby vs. Darren Stewart – Due to the inconsistencies of Darren Stewart, this fight is a hard one to predict. Dustin Jacoby is a pure striker, whose takedown defense is problematic. Due to this, Jacoby likes to keep his opponents at a distance. From there, he mixes his striking with leg kicks at a high output. While Jacoby has power, it’s more via accumulation than from a single strike. The one thing I’ve noticed from Jacoby is that his cardio isn’t necessarily that good, but more so the opponents he’s faced thus far lack such. This leads me to Stewart, who I believe has better cardio and the wrestling necessary to cause Jacoby fits. The problem is if Stewart’s strength doesn’t translate over to Light Heavyweight. If he can’t take Jacoby down, he could very well get picked apart on the feet.

As for a prediction, and against my better judgement, I’m going with the underdog in Stewart. Sometimes the ‘Dentist’ surprises you and fights to his abilities. If Stewart goes out there and strikes, most likely he loses that battle. However, if he wrestles and maintains top control, then this is his fight to win. So with that said, I’ll say Stewart wins via decision.

125 lbs.: JJ Aldrich vs. Vanessa Demopoulos – A former Strawweight, JJ Aldrich has yet to replicate her success now at Flyweight. However, in Aldrich’s most recent win over Courtney Casey, she showed off wrestling abilities that she previously lacked. Aldrich landed four takedowns, which boosted her takedown accuracy from 25% to 40%. If Aldrich can add wrestling to her already solid striking abilities, it’s hard not to see more success coming her way. From the tape I’ve seen on Demopolous, she is aggressive and a creative grappler. Not afraid to jump to guard, Demopolous looks for ways to sweep opponents or lock in submissions.

As for a prediction, I’ve got Aldrich winning. Demopolous is at such a disadvantage here. Not only is she entering this fight on short notice and up a weight class, but Aldrich holds a three inch height and eight inch reach advantage. Given Aldrich is a solid striker, I really don’t see how Demopolous will have any success on the feet. In my opinion, other than a hail mary submission from Demopolous, Aldrich should dominate this fight. Let’s say via decision.

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145 lbs.: Jamall Emmers vs. Pat Sabatini – When the odds of this fight opened, it was a near pick’em. However, Jamall Emmers has slowly creeped up to being a slight favorite. Quite frankly, I agree. Emmers is well rounded, has excellent takedown defense, is experienced and has the cardio to push a hard pace. Not only has Emmers won nine of his last eleven fights, but he beat Cory Sandhagen. Currently one of the very best Bantamweights in the world. Styles make fights though and Pat Sabitini is no easy out. His striking continues to improve, which only makes him tougher given his already excellent grappling abilities. Of his fourteen victories, ten have come via submission. In other words, it would be wise to avoid being on the mat with him.

As for a prediction, I have Emmers winning. While he may not use his wrestling abilities to avoid grappling with Sabitini, his striking should be good enough to get the job done. Throw in the fact that Sabitini gassed in the third round of his last fight, and I could see Emmer’s cardio and pace putting Sabitini in a world of trouble the later this fight goes. While I could see a late stoppage, Sabatini has never been finished other than via an injury. So with that, I’ll say Emmers wins via decision.

135 lbs.: Guido Cannetti vs. Mana Martinez – At 41 years old, I think Guido Cannetti’s time in the sun has come and gone. Cannetti has been in the UFC since 2014, yet has only fought six times. Even worse, he’s lost four of those six, all via stoppage. The Argentinian simply lacks durability, and it’s not like father time improves something like that. From the tape I’ve seen on Mana Martinez, he looks the part. Boasting a well rounded skill set and an aptitude for finishing fights, Martinez should have no issues in his UFC debut against Cannetti.

As for a prediction, obviously I have Martinez winning. Outside of Cannetti landing something wild, I see this being a short night for him. With no durability and Martinez being a bonafide finisher, it’s only a matter of time before this fight is over. Given Martinez has won all eight fights via strikes, I’m going to go say a ninth is on it’s way.

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