UFC 267 Main Card on ESPN+ (2 p.m. ET):

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205 lbs.: UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jan Blachowicz vs. Glover Teixeira – It’s funny how things work sometimes, as both men have had wild journey’s to get to this point. Jan Blachowicz was once on the UFC chopping block, having lost four of five fights at one point. Even worse, three of the losses were due to his inability to stuff a takedown. Then, Blachowicz evolved and went on an unbelievable streak that led him to become a UFC Champion and the first person to defeat Israel Adesanya in mixed martial arts. Then there is Glover Teixeira, who lost to Jon Jones in a title fight seven years ago. Determination and an ability to get past several hurdles along the way, Teixeira worked his way back up against the division’s best to get his second crack at UFC gold. As for the fight, both men are fairly well rounded. Teixeira is an excellent boxer who has excellent grappling and submission abilities. Blachowicz is a technical striker who has power in both his hands and his legs. The Pole is also an underrated wrestler and grappler, having turned in from a weakness to a strength during his Championship run.

As for a prediction, on a whim, I’m going with Teixeira. In what should be a good fight, Teixeira most likely is outmatched on the feet. However, his wrestling and grappling is where I see an avenue to victory. Despite Blachowicz’s improvements in that department, he is yet to truly be tested due to his uncanny ability to flatline opponents. Given Teixeira has shown at times to have potential chin issues, I do have some concern. However, Teixeira has been knocked out only three times in thirty nine fines and not since a little over four years ago. So with all that said, I’m predicting that Teixeira pulls out one more upset, defeating Blachowicz via submission.

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135 lbs.: Cory Sandhagen vs. Petr Yan for Interim Bantamweight Championship – This is going to be an absolute banger, as both men are as exciting as it gets in the UFC. Petr Yan is a buzzsaw. With a well rounded game, Yan has shown a multitude of ways of dominating opponents. Profiling mainly though as a striker, Yan has excellent footwork, is accurate and throws with volume. The same could be said about Sandhagen on the feet, as he too fits all those qualities. With excellent size for the division, the lanky Sandhagen is a high output striker who can break opponents with his cardio and pace. The one lacking aspect of Sandhagen’s game though is wrestling. Not only is he not a threat to bring the fight to the mat, but his takedown defense is something that has often been exploited. However, against T.J. Dillashaw, Sandhagen shrugged off seventeen of nineteen attempts to improve his takedown accuracy to 65% in the UFC.

As for a prediction, I’m going with Yan. While I expect this to be an absolute war on the feet, Yan has shown that he isn’t afraid to mix his wrestling. With a 66.7% takedown accuracy, Yan checks in at second all-time in the Bantamweight division. The seven takedowns landed against Aljamain Sterling were not only shocking, but telling that Sandhagen may be in for a long night should Yan elect to exploit his weakness. Regardless, I believe Yan will get it done, let’s say via a late TKO stoppage due to lacerations.

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155 lbs.: Dan Hooker vs. Islam Makhachev – This is an excellent fight and one that will really test Islam Makhachev, as Dan Hooker is one the best fighters in the division. The one thing that keeps racing in my head is if Makhachev is going to succeed in taking Hooker down. While many people are quick to think yes, I’m not entirely sure it will be as easy as we believe. For one, Hooker is third all-time in the Lightweight division regarding takedown defense, checking in at 90.5%. Two, Hooker hasn’t been taken down more than once in his last eleven fights. While those are impressive marks, I could see the other side of the argument. Makhachev is not only a whole different animal, but he is the best wrestler that Hooker has ever faced.

As for a prediction, I have Makhachev. While I do think Hooker will have his moments, the Russian is too well rounded and too cerebral. Makhachev not only can hold his own on the feet, but his wrestling abilities are head and shoulders above anyone in the division. With a 65.7% takedown accuracy, Makhachev already is second all-time in the Lightweight division. While I can see that number fall a bit due to Hooker’s stout takedown defense, as the fight wanes, the grind of Makhachev will wear on Hooker. From there, Makhachev will take over and defeat Hooker via decision.

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265 lbs.: Marcin Tybura vs. Alexander Volkov – This is a great fight, as Marcin Tybura has an excellent chance to crack the Heavyweight division’s top five. At one point, Tybura was nearly cut. He lost four of five fights, and had been stopped in three of them. To bounce back like this and be on the precipice of being a contender is nothing short of resilience and belief. Tybura will most likely need to work-in his wrestling in this fight, as Alexander Volkov is one of the toughest strikers to stand across. Standing at 6’7 and with an 81’ reach, Volkov does an excellent job at keeping range and picking apart opponents. Landing nearly five strikes a minute, Volkov is one of the more high output strikers in the division.

As for a prediction, I have Volkov winning. The Russian is one of the best fighters in the Heavyweight division, and has only lost three times in ten UFC fights. Given those three losses have come against the #1 ranked Heavyweight Cyril Gane, #3 ranked Heavyweight Derrick Lewis and the #4 ranked Heavyweight Curtis Blaydes, I’d say Volkov truly has only been defeated by several of the division’s best. In a fight in which I expect Tybura to wrestle, expect some success early. However, as the fight wanes, Volkov will get the timing down and batter Tybura on the feet. In the end, Volkov will grab a decision victory.

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170 lbs.: Khamzat Chimaev vs. Li Jingliang – Given the ugly battle Khamzat Chimaev had with the coronavirus, one has to wonder if he is back to normal or if he is compromised coming into this fight. Knowing what we know, and given he almost retired, you’d have to think that Chimaev is physically and mentally in a good place to be returning to the octagon. Having a well rounded skill set, Chimaev has built a rapport of being a cardio and pace machine. When in a dominant position, Chimaev delivers non-stop ground-and-pound with the intention of ending the fight sooner rather than later. An approach Li Jingliang normally doesn’t go for, as he is far more keen on flatlining opponents on the feet. With exceptional power, Jingliang has nine knockdowns in his last twelve fights.

As for a prediction, I’m siding with Chimaev. If there is any weakness Jingliang has shown in the past, it’s his takedown defense. Checking in at a decent 59% takedown accuracy, Jingliang has notably had his toughest fights come against wrestlers. In fact, before Jingliang’s last fight against Santiago Ponzinibbio, he fought Neil Magny who shut him down with four takedowns. I don’t see anything different happening here, as Chimaev will easily get this fight to the mat and ground-and-pound his way to yet another TKO victory.

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205 lbs.: Magomed Ankalaev vs. Volkan Oezdemir – I don’t want to label this necessary as a crossroads fight, only because Volkan Oezdemir isn’t quite free falling down the rankings. However, it’s clearly a fight that the UFC is using Oezdemir as a gage to see if Magomed Ankalaev is ready for the top five of the division. It’s not an easy fight though for the Russian, as Oezdemir has proven to be a perennial top ten Light Heavyweight for the last four years. And despite the knockout defeat in his last go around, it was the first time in nine fights that Oezdemir was knocked down. Given he has fought some of the best Light Heavyweights, I’d say the Swissman has a solid chin.

As for a prediction, I’m going with Ankalaev. Despite being a solid striker, Ankalaev also has wrestling abilities in his back pocket. While Oezdemir has improved in his takedown defense since fighting Daniel Cormier, he still has been vulnerable to being taken down or controlled against the cage. Both of which I believe will be the difference in the fight, as Ankolaev takes home a decision victory.

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UFC 267 Prelims Card on ESPN+ (10:30 a.m. ET):

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115 lbs.: Virna Jandiroba vs. Amanda Ribas – This is a toss-up, as I expect this fight to be back-and-forth regardless of whether one has an advantage over the other. Amanda Ribas is a well rounded fighter, who is exceptionally strong and has taken down her opponent at least once in each of her five UFC fights. While Ribas may have faltered in her last go around, it was mostly due to a failed gameplan that saw the Brazilian stand with a dangerous striker in Marina Rodriguez. The good news however for Ribas, is that Virna Jandiroba has only one knockout victory to her name. The bad news is, Jandiroba’s striking is coming along and her grappling may give Ribas fits.

As for a prediction, I’m going Jandiroba. I know that Ribas has fought and defeated a better grappler in Mackenzie Dern. However, Dern doesn’t do a great job at setting up takedowns, which is backed up by a mere 10% takedown accuracy. On the other hand, Jandiroba is much more effective, taking down her opponents at a 53% accuracy. Given Ribas has yet to face anyone who’s willing to constantly work for a takedown and grind on you, I’d say I’m willing to bet she might struggle. So with all that said, give me Jandiroba to mix in her striking and takedowns in a decision victory.

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145 lbs.: Ricardo Ramos vs. Zubaira Tukhugov – Zubaira Tukhugov has been one of the more disappointing fighters since joining the UFC. With a well rounded skill set that boasts solid wrestling, to see Tukhugov struggle of late is a little concerning. Obviously the competition has been better, but Tukhugov has seen his cardio and gameplan wane as the fight prolongs. Something that Ricardo Ramos knows all too well, as he has faded in nearly every round three. However, Ramos is a fast starter who isn’t afraid to commit to either a heavy kickboxing or grappling approach depending on the opponent.

As for a prediction, I’m going with Tukhugov. Despite his recent skid, I still believe he is a talent and in this particular fight, the better fighter. While Ramos could find success on the feet, I don’t foresee his grappling coming much into play. Tukhugov has stout takedown defense and solid wrestling to neutralize that. If anyone is getting taken down in my opinion, it’s Ramos. So with all that said, in a close one, I predict that Tukhugov will win via decision.

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185 lbs.: Albert Duraev vs. Roman Kopylov – This is an under the radar fight, as it all but promises to result in an exciting finish. Albert Duraev is a well rounded fighter that boasts excellent grappling and submission abilities. While he can be a little wild on the feet, at times, he has shown the ability to get in and out when striking. Using leg kicks and power in his hands, Duraev has set up several submissions by knocking down opponents on the feet. Roman Kopylov knocks down opponents as well, but the difference is, they usually aren’t conscious at that point. With all eight wins coming via knockout, Kopylov is a dangerous striker. He has quick hands, throws excellent combinations and can explode on a dime with a flurry.

As for a prediction, while tough, I’m going to side with Duraev. With seventeen fights and big wins on the resume, Duraev is more than UFC ready. The fact that he fought one month ago, whereas Kopylov is nearing two years of inactivity gives me belief that Duraev will need little time to be adjusted in his debut. Another reason I like Duraev in this fight is his ability to grapple and hunt for submissions. As long as he doesn’t mess around too much on the feet with Kopylov, I do believe he will find a way to get this fight to the mat. From there, Duraev will lock in his tenth submission victory.

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170 lbs.: Benoit Saint-Denis vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos – This is a fun fight between two contrasting fighters. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos is a dynamic striker, who isn’t afraid to brawl. Often pressuring opponents, dos Santos will often throw power shot combinations with the intent of finishing his opponent. More often than not, dos Santos has succeeded, as he’s won fourteen of his twenty two wins via knockout. Then there is Benoit Saint-Denis, a grappling specialist with excellent submission abilities. While his striking has been lacking, it’s been good enough to set up the grappling.

As for a prediction, I have dos Santos winning. In twenty-nine fights, the Brazilian has only been submitted two times, with the last time coming sixteen fights ago. Having evolved, dos Santos has done a great job at not being kept down despite having questionable takedown defense. In my opinion, if Saint-Denis can’t find a way to finish dos Santos quickly, there is going to be too much time spent on the feet not to believe the Frenchman doesn’t get put down. So with that said, I predict that dos Santos takes Saint-Denis’ O, winning this fight via TKO.

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205 lbs.: Shamil Gamzatov vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk – This is one of the tougher fights to pick on the card, as neither man exactly stands out from the other. Shamil Gamzatov is a decent striker who makes up for a lack of footwork with legitimate power. With ten finishes in fourteen fights, Gamzatov has proven to be a shark when he smells blood. The same could be said about Michal Oleksiejczuk. The Pole has won eleven of his fifteen wins via stoppage, with ten of them coming by knockout. Using pressure, Oleksiejczuk likes to walk down opponents. While accurate, Oleksiejczuk isn’t afraid to load up shots, often winging punches from the hip.

As for a prediction, I’m going with Oleksiejczuk by the slightest of margins. Gamzatov is undefeated for a reason, but between the layoff and how his debut went, I see Oleksiejczuk’s pressure being problematic. Another issue for Gamzatov is if he gasses out, as Oleksiejczuk has solid cardio and has shown an ability to turn it on late into fights. So with that said, I predict that Oleksiejczuk wins via decision.

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145 lbs.: Makwan Amirkhani vs. Lerone Murphy – Once upon a time, Makwan Amirkhani was that new exciting toy. However, his inability to evolve and correct his flaws have seen him become an afterthought in the Featherweight division. The problem therein lies in his cardio and near one dimensional style. While Amirkhani has taken down everyone but Andy Ogle (who he knocked out in eight seconds), his striking just isn’t a complementary tool to aid him should he run into a better grappler. In fact, the most significant strikes Amirkhani has landed in a fight is thirty two. While Lerone Murphy isn’t that active of a striker himself, he is a very cerebral one. With legit power, Murphy does a good job at picking his shots and avoiding being hit.

As for a prediction, I have Murphy. While his takedown defense can be worrisome at times, Murphy has done a better job at keeping the fight upright since his debut against Zubaira Tukhugov. Even if Amirkhani finds success early in getting the fight down, I’m confident Murphy will find a way back up and get the better of the Finn on the feet. By round three, a tired Amirkhani will get dominated and lose via decision.

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185 lbs.: Andre Petroski vs. Yaozong Hu – If I were to dissect this fight, it begins with the notion if Yaozong Hu is truly UFC caliber. I think not. For one, Yaozong was signed after winning his first three fights against cans on the regional scene. With the UFC looking to expand in China, local talent was sought to fill out their card in Shanghai. Yaozong was fortunate to get the call, but clearly, it was too soon for the young fighter. Given the UFC has five hundred fighters or so on the roster, it’s really surprising that Hu remained on the roster after two consecutive losses and nearly three years of inactivity. Regardless, he will get his chance against Andre Petroski. A wrestler who looks to get the fight to the ground where he can implement his powerful ground-and-pound.

As for a prediction, I have Petroski. There are too many red flags surrounding Hu in his return to the octagon. While he may have size at Middleweight, that won’t aid him past the obvious skill gap. In Hu’s first UFC fight, he was taken down on all four takedown attempts and eventually submitted. Petroski’s path to victory will be no different, except he wins this fight via TKO.

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155 lbs.: Damir Ismagulov vs. Magomed Mustafaev – Since joining the UFC in 2015, Magomed Mustafaev has been fed to the wolves. In five UFC fights, Mustafaev has already fought the likes of Kevin Lee, Rafael Fiziev and Brad Riddell. Now, after a twenty month layoff, Mustafaev fights another wolf in Damir Ismagulov. The Kazakh is a well rounded fighter, who mainly profiles as a striker. A patient and calculated one at that, as Ismagulov does an excellent job at avoiding strikes and picking apart opponents at a range. The one knock about Ismagulov is that he lacks power, having stopped only one opponent in his last seven fights. The same can’t be said about Mustafaev however, as the Russian has won all fourteen of his fights via finish. With ten of the finishes coming via knockout, Mustafaev is not one to stand across from in the octagon.

As for a prediction, I’m going with Mustafaev. While he checks in as a moderate underdog, and rightfully so, Mustafaev is the most dangerous fighter Ismagulov will have faced thus far in the UFC. Mustafaev not only is a knockout artist, but he is physically strong and has some wrestling chops. In fact, in Mustafaev’s last fight, he landed eight takedowns. I could be off on this fight and it’s tough to go against someone with one loss in twenty four fights, but give me Mustafaev to win via decision.

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125 lbs.: Allan Nascimento vs. Tagir Ulanbekov – This should be a fairly competitive fight, as both men have the experience and a winning pedigree. Tagir Ulanbekov is a well rounded fighter, who mainly looks to implement his wrestling abilities. In his UFC debut against Bruno Silva, Ulanbekov landed five takedowns out of his eleven attempts. Surprisingly however, Ulanbekov was taken down four times by Silva. Something that Allan Nascimento may be eyeballing, as the grappling specialist has won thirteen of his eighteen fights via submission.

As for a prediction, I’m going with Ulanbekov. While I believe this fight ultimately is going to be close, I foresee Ulanbekov’s well roundedness carrying him. The grappling exchanges could be back-and-forth, but on the feet, Ulanbekov does a good job at keeping distance and picking opponents apart from the outside. So with all that said, I predict that Ulanbekov wins via decision.

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