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Guide to UFC on ESPN+ 41: Thompson vs. Neal

Getting prepared for UFC action this coming Saturday? Here is everything you need to know about the event with our Guide to UFC on ESPN+ 41.

Date: December 19, 2020
Location: UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada

Main Card
Start Time: 7:00 p.m. ET, 4:00 p.m. PT
Where To Watch: ESPN+

Welterweights: Stephen Thompson vs. Geoff Neal

Overall Records: Thompson 15-4-1, Neal 13-2
UFC Records: Thompson 10-4-1, Neal 5-0
Last Fight: Thompson def. Luque, UDEC, UFC 244 (11/2/19), Neal def. Perry, R1 TKO, UFC 245 (12/14/19)
Last Five Fights: Thompson 2-3, Neal 5-0
Rankings: Thompson #5, Neal #11
Betting Odds: Thompson -125, Neal +105
Preview: It wasn’t expected to be the main event, but Thompson vs. Neal is getting the bump up to five rounds in what is a very interesting welterweight match-up. Both men are returning from yearlong layoffs. Thompson had time for some injuries to heal and underwent surgery, while Neal has been the UFC’s most-avoided man at 170 lbs. He was scheduled to fight Neil Magny in August but developed a serious case of sepsis and was hospitalized, and at times, many feared the worst. He has recovered, though, and now finally gets his chance against a big-name opponent like Thompson, who is a former title-challenger and a perennial top-five fighter.

On the surface, it looks like a dangerous fight for Thompson to take, as he has wins in just two of his last six fights. He’s fought a who’s-who of opponents, including Jorge Masvidal, Tyron Woodley, Robert Whittaker, Rory MacDonald, and Darren Till. Neal is now on quite a run, winning eleven of his last twelve fights, with his only loss coming to fellow UFC prospect Kevin Holland when both fought for regional promotions.

This will most likely be a battle on the feet as both are predominantly strikers. Thompson has the rangy karate stance and can bring all different kinds of unique attacks to opponents. Neal is your traditional southpaw stance fighter who can end an opponent with either his hands or his feet. He has eight wins by knockout and two by submission, while Thompson is either going to knock you out or drag out the fight, even though he is underrated on the ground.

This feels like it could be a torch-passing fight since many think of Neal as a future title challenger, and Thompson is the type of opponent a potential challenger needs to beat. Thompson could get himself back into the title picture if he wins, but it may be hard to get another title shot after two failed challenges, albeit against Tyron Woodley, who no longer holds the title. This is a very strong main event, and I have a feeling we will see an exciting finish.

Bantamweights: Jose Aldo vs. Marlon Vera

Overall Records: Aldo 28-7, Vera 16-6-1
UFC Records: Aldo 10-6, Vera 10-5
Last Fight: Yan def. Aldo (title fight), R5 TKO, UFC 251 (7/11/20), Vera def. O’Malley, R1 TKO, UFC 252 (8/15/20)
Last Five Fights: Aldo 2-3, Vera 4-1
Rankings: Aldo #7, Vera #15
Betting Odds: Aldo -165, Vera +145
Preview: Speaking of torch-passing, former featherweight kingpin Aldo is still looking for his first win at 135 lbs. when he battles the streaking Vera. Aldo is coming off of his title fight loss to Petr Yan in July, a fight where he looked good early on, but Yan’s pace, pressure and attacks overwhelmed him. Vera is coming off arguably the biggest win of his career, a first-round TKO win over Sean O’Malley in August, which put him back into the bantamweight rankings.

Aldo will always be regarded as one of the greatest fighters in the sport’s history, but despite his recent record, he hasn’t faded as badly as a lot of fighters who’ve been around for as long as him. He is still only 34, and the skills are still there, but he hasn’t fought as intelligently as he has in the past. He used to be about tearing up opponents’ legs with kicks, but has seemingly abandoned that as his main strategy. Vera is a lengthy opponent with some underrated power, plus a very good ground game. Vera has won six of his last seven fights, with all six of those wins coming by stoppage. He has also never been finished in his career.

Vera is going to have to mix things up on his feet and attack the body of Aldo if he expects to get the win, as Aldo has had trouble when opponents have attacked the body. Aldo needs to put on the pressure and get Vera out of his comfort zone inside the Octagon. This is another veteran against rising contender fight, and is a must-win for Aldo if he has any aspirations for getting another shot at winning UFC gold yet again.

Welterweights: Michel Pereira vs. Khaos Williams

Overall Records: Pereira 24-11 2 NC, Williams 11-1
UFC Records: Pereira 2-2, Williams 2-0
Last Fight: Pereira def. Imadaev, R3 SUB, UFC On ESPN+ 34 (9/5/20), Williams def. Alhassan, R1 KO, UFC On ESPN+ 40 (11/14/20)
Last Five Fights: Pereira 3-2, Williams 5-0
Betting Odds: Pereira -125, Williams +105
Preview: If you want excitement, this match-up between Pereira and Williams is the perfect encapsulation of the word excitement. Pereira got back into the win column in his last fight, submitting Zelim Imadaev in September. He showcased his flashy striking, attacking Imadaev from every angle imaginable, then showed off a submission game we had yet to see from him. Pereira has garnered a reputation for his unorthodox attitude inside the Octagon and his crazy actions, but he has also quickly become a fighter who is must-watch television.

Williams, whose first name is actually Kalinn, is the definition of his nickname ‘Khaos.’ He is coming off of one of the best knockouts of the year when he sent Abdul Razak Alhassan into another dimension with a right hand. That fight lasted all of 30 seconds. It was Williams’ second fight in the UFC, and his first ended even quicker, a 27-second knockout of Alex Morono. He has less than a minute of in-ring action over two fights. Both men are dangerous on their feet. Pereira is going to come at you from every which way possible, even using the fence to fly. He is the type of guy who would try to hop on top of the cage to find a way to attack if he could. Williams has absolute dynamite in his hands and can end it with one punch. We have yet to see him tested, though he has gone the distance in regional action.

Pereira does have a lot of losses on his record while Williams has only one, but Pereira has gotten better recently. If he can avoid the mental lapses he sometimes has and can keep away from the power of Williams, the better chance he has of winning. Williams does have the reach advantage, though Pereira keeps himself from getting hit. I don’t really know what is going to happen, but this fight should be absolutely bananas. This is tremendous matchmaking, and it could produce a late contender for some year-end awards.

Bantamweights: Marlon Moraes vs. Rob Font

Overall Records: Moraes 23-7-1, Font 17-4
UFC Records: Moraes 5-3, Font 7-3
Last Fight: Sandhagen def. Moraes, R2 TKO, UFC On ESPN+ 37 (10/10/20), Font def. Simon, UDEC, UFC On ESPN 7 (12/7/19)
Last Five Fights: Moraes 3-2, Font 3-2
Rankings: Moraes #3, Font #11
Betting Odds: Moraes -155, Font +135
Preview: Moraes is making a quick turnaround and looking to get back into the win column as Font returns from a year-long layoff to get the biggest fight of his career. Moraes was looking to get a title shot when he last stepped foot inside the Octagon in October, but he was on the wrong end of a second-round finish at the hands of Cory Sandhagen. While he did get finished, Moraes didn’t take a ton of damage, which allows him to fight just over two months later. Font hasn’t fought since December 7 of 2019, as a combination of an injury and inability to get a fight booked kept him out of action.

Font has been climbing the ladder at 135 pounds, and this will be the test for him to see if he can break into that elite of a tough bantamweight division, as Moraes is a perennial top-five fighter and a former title challenger who will always been in the picture as long as he wins. Both men have power in their hands and like to throw a lot of punches. Both also have good ground games, as Moraes is a black belt and Font a brown belt in jiu-jitsu. Both also come from great camps, as Moraes has found a new home with American Top Team, and Font trains alongside Calvin Kattar, who is on the same kind of incline up the division that Font is on.

This is a big test for Font, who has been finished just once in his career. Moraes, meanwhile, is more a finish or be finished fighter. This is another exciting match-up on a card full of exciting match-ups. I like Moraes in this fight, though Font winning wouldn’t be considered an upset. This one should be good.

Women’s Flyweights: Gillian Robertson vs. Taila Santos

Overall Records: Robertson 9-4, Santos 16-1
UFC Records: Robertson 6-2, Santos 1-1
Last Fight: Robertson def. Botelho, UDEC, UFC On ESPN+ 38 (10/17/20), Santos def. McCann, UDEC, UFC On ESPN 13 (7/15/20)
Last Five Fights: Robertson 4-1, Santos 4-1
Rankings: Robertson #13
Betting Odds: Robertson -115, Santos -105
Preview: Injuries and COVID led to a re-booking of a fight that was originally scheduled to take place earlier this year. Robertson was supposed to fight on the UFC 256 card this past weekend, but her opponent, Andrea Lee, pulled out due to a broken nose. Santos was supposed to fight Montana De La Rosa on the 12/5 card, but that was cancelled on fight day due to COVID. These two were going to fight in June, but Santos tested positive for COVID, and with both looking to get their last appearance of 2020 in, opportunity arose for the re-scheduling.

Robertson is 2-0 this year and coming off an impressive decision win over Poliana Botelho in October. Robertson holds the women’s flyweight records for both most wins by a finish and most wins by submission, and she is a very excellent ground fighter. Santos got back into the win column in her last fight after suffering her first loss in her UFC debut. Santos is primarily a striker as she lands at 46% accuracy on the feet, and she lands more strikes per minute than Robertson does. Robertson is a better takedown artist and has the black belt on the ground, though Santos has yet to be finished.

A win by Robertson would give her seven wins at 125 pounds in the UFC, which would also extend her record, and put her in line for a top-five opponent. She shouldn’t take Santos lightly, though I like Robertson in this fight.

Heavyweights: Marcin Tybura vs. Greg Hardy

Overall Records: Tybura 20-6, Hardy 7-2 1 NC
UFC Records: Tybura 7-5, Hardy 4-2 1 NC
Last Fight: Tybura def. Rothwell, UDEC, UFC On ESPN+ 37 (10/10/20), Hardy def. Greene, R2 TKO, UFC On ESPN+ 39 (10/31/20)
Last Five Fights: Tybura 3-2, Hardy 3-1 1 NC
Betting Odds: Tybura -110, Hardy -110
Preview: After a slump that saw him go 1-4 over the course of five fights and on the brink of potentially being cut, Tybura has bounced back with three straight wins and looks to end 2020 a perfect 4-0. Hardy is also looking to end 2020 with a perfect record as he goes for his third win on the year. Both men are returning quickly from their last fights as Tybura had nine weeks to prepare while Hardy had six weeks to prepare. Tybura has gone the distance in his last three fights, but his most recent win, over Ben Rothwell, saw him win impressively against a big opponent.

Hardy is a similar size compared to Rothwell, but he does hold more power. Hardy’s last win, over Maurice Greene, was his best performance overall inside the Octagon. After looking like he had already peaked in terms of his potential, a change in camps and coaches and training partners looks to have added to his potential. He still isn’t well-liked because of all of the domestic violence stuff, and he will never be a fan favorite as people will want to see him fail, but it is hard to not admit that he is getting better. Tybura is the second-toughest opponent he’s had in his career, and he has tons of experience. Tybura is also a sneaky finisher, as while he hasn’t won by stoppage since March 2017, he does have power and is a black belt in jiu-jitsu.

Hardy has tons of power and can end it if he connects, so Tybura will need to get inside the pocket. Tybura is no small man, either. Tybura would be best served getting the fight to the mat, where Hardy is still a novice. This is a tough test for Hardy, but one that will also see if he’s going to make it to a high level, or one that will show that he may never make it to the heavyweight rankings.

Preliminary Card
Start Time: 4:00 p.m. ET, 1:00 p.m. PT
Where To Watch: ESPN+

Welterweights: Anthony Pettis vs. Alex Morono

Overall Records: Pettis 23-10, Morono 18-6 1 NC
UFC Records: Pettis 10-9, Morono 7-3 1 NC
Last Fight: Pettis def. Cerrone, UDEC, UFC 249 (5/9/20), Morono def. McKee, UDEC, UFC On ESPN+ 40 (11/14/20)
Last Five Fights: Pettis 2-3, Morono 4-1
Rankings: Pettis #12
Betting Odds: Pettis -200, Morono +170
Preview: A fight that was put together just a couple of weeks ago sees Pettis looking to put together his first win streak in six years as he takes on Morono, who has been looking impressive as of late. Pettis has been itching to fight for several months, even at one point being linked to a potential fight against Khamzat Chimaev, and he finally gets back to action. He is coming off a decision win over Donald Cerrone in May, and has not won consecutive fights since he was the UFC Lightweight Champion.

Morono got back into the win column just over a month ago when he won a decision over Rhys McKee. Morono has won four of his last five and is one of the more underrated fighters at 170 pounds, and he fights like he has something to prove. Pettis knows he has a lot to prove after struggles over the recent years, and he is still young at just 33-years-old. Both men like to exchange on the feet, but both are excellent on the ground as well as each holds a black belt in jiu-jitsu. Pettis has always looked better when he’s fought at 170 pounds, but he is on the smaller end for the weight class.

Morono isn’t the most physically imposing welterweight. Morono does land more strikes per minute, but Pettis is a more accurate striker and mixes it up much better. This is an interesting fight as it will test whether Pettis has a lot left in the gas tank, and will test whether Morono can break into that next level.

Women’s Bantamweights: Sijara Eubanks vs. Pannie Kianzad

Overall Records: Eubanks 6-5, Kianzad 13-5
UFC Records: Eubanks 4-3, Kianzad 2-2
Last Fight: Vieira def. Eubanks, UDEC, UFC 253 (9/26/20), Kianzad def. Correia, UDEC, UFC On ESPN 14 (7/25/20)
Last Five Fights: Eubanks 2-3, Kianzad 3-2
Rankings: Eubanks #13, Kianzad #14
Betting Odds: Eubanks -135, Kianzad +115
Preview: Eubanks is looking to get back into the win column as she looks to halt the momentum of Kianzad, who has won two straight fights coming into this event. Eubanks dropped her last fight, a decision loss to Ketlen Vieira in September, in a fight she took on very short notice, fighting twice over the span of two weeks. She had won two in a row prior to that and was moving up the rankings, but the loss put her a step back and may have been an ill-advised fight to take.

Kianzad fights for the first time since scoring a decision win over former title challenger Bethe Correia in July, and she enters the fight having won three of her last four overall. Both of these ladies are high-volume strikers who have a lot of output, but neither are going to overwhelm with a lot of power. Eubanks has gone the distance in all seven of her UFC bouts, while Kianzad has gone the distance in three of her four UFC bouts. Eubanks’ last finish came in 2016, while Kianzad’s last finish came in 2014.

This fight is more than likely going the full fifteen minutes, so it will come down to pressure on the feet. Eubanks likes the takedown but Kianzad is real strong at defending takedowns. I don’t expect this to be the most entertaining fight in the world, especially on a card like this, but the winner could find themselves right on the brink of the top ten in the division, so it is a pivotal fight for both.

Middleweights: Karl Robertson vs. Dalcha Lungiambula

Overall Records: Roberson 9-3, Lungiambula 10-2
UFC Records: Roberson 4-3, Lungiambula 1-1
Last Fight: Vettori def. Roberson, R1 SUB, UFC On ESPN 10 (6/13/20), Ankalaev def. Lungiambula, R3 KO, UFC On ESPN+ 21 (11/9/19)
Last Five Fights: Roberson 3-2, Lungiambula 4-1
Betting Odds: Roberson -260, Lungiambula +220
Preview: Roberson and Lungiambula fight a week later than anticipated after COVID issues for Roberson, but this middleweight bout has explosiveness written all over it. Lungiambula is making the drop to 185 pounds for the first time, and while he looked muscular and imposing at 205 pounds, he is only 5’8”, so he was undersized there, and it showed in his last fight in November 2019 when he was dominated and finished by Magomed Ankalaev.

Roberson has had some weight issues recently, missing weight on two separate occasions for a fight against Marvin Vettori. The first time, the fight ended up being cancelled the day of the show when he got sick while rehydrating. The second time he missed by more than the first time but was still able to fight, though Vettori submitted him in the first round. These are both guys who could be fighting for their roster spots in this one.

Roberson has shown himself to be a capable striker and a capable ground fighter, with nearly half of his wins by submission. Lungiambula certainly has power so Roberson will be needing to avoid being hit. Lungiambula is good at takedowns but he doesn’t do too much with them. It’s two hungry fighters and on paper, it seems to favor Roberson. This is another solid fight.

195-pound Catchweights: Deron Winn vs. Antonio Arroyo

Overall Records: Winn 6-2, Arroyo 9-3
UFC Records: Winn 1-2, Arroyo 0-1
Last Fight: Meerschaert def. Winn, R3 SUB, UFC 248 (3/7/20), Muniz def. Arroyo, UDEC, UFC On ESPN+ 22 (11/16/19)
Last Five Fights: Winn 3-2, Arroyo 4-1
Betting Odds: Winn +120, Arroyo -140
Preview: Winn and Arroyo are both looking to get back into the win column when they meet in a catchweight bout. Winn is looking to bounce back from two straight losses, which were the first two of his career. Arroyo hasn’t stepped foot inside the Octagon in over a year and has been the victim of a couple of cancelled fights due to weight cutting issues- one was concerning him and the other was concerning his opponent. After having a fight cancelled on fight day last month, he agreed to step in on short notice for this one, but at 195 pounds.

Winn is a strong wrestler who is a protege of Daniel Cormier, and he does come from that American Kickboxing Academy camp. He is undersized at 5’6″, and he will be giving up nine inches in height to Arroyo, but only three inches in reach. Winn fights a lot like Cormier, preferring to box and use his outstanding wrestling as a strong fallback. He lands a lot of strikes per minute, but he also absorbs a lot of strikes as well. Arroyo isn’t an overwhelming striker, but he can finish both on the feet and on the ground. Winn’s last loss came by submission, so he will need to show better submission defense in this fight.

Winn is another guy who could be looking at not being re-signed with a loss, so this is a pivotal fight for him. Arroyo has some losses on his record, but he is a tough fighter to finish. I feel like this fight is going to be a grinding battle to the distance, and it will come down to pressure and takedowns, which leans the fight towards Winn.

Bantamweights: Aiemann Zahabi vs. Drako Rodriguez

Overall Records: Zahabi 7-2, Rodriguez 7-1
UFC Records: Zahabi 1-2, Rodriguez UFC Debut
Last Fight: Morales def. Zahabi, UDEC, UFC On ESPN+ 9 (5/4/19), Rodriguez def. Martinez, R1 SUB, Dana White’s Contender Series 32 (9/8/20)
Last Five Fights: Zahabi 3-2, Rodriguez 4-1
Betting Odds: Zahabi +165, Rodriguez -190
Preview: Zahabi is another guy with his back on the wall, entering this event on a two-fight losing streak on the potential last fight of his contract, so he is in a must-win situation as he welcomes newcomer Rodriguez to the UFC. Zahabi hasn’t fought since May of last year, which was a decision loss to Vince Morales to give him back-to-back losses. Zahabi came into the UFC with a lot of hype, scoring six first-round finishes in six fights, and he did have a successful Octagon debut, but this will be just his second fight in the last three years.

Rodriguez was signed off the Contender Series in September, where he scored a submission win over Mana Martinez, submitting him with a triangle choke from the bottom. He’s still young in his career, as this is just his ninth career fight, but he has proven to be a finisher in his early fights. Zahabi is a black belt in jiu-jitsu and likes to take the fight to the mat, but he’s had trouble getting opponents down in the UFC.

Neither man is an overwhelming striker, but they can both finish a fight with their striking. This is an interesting fight between a couple of prospects, but Zahabi, despite being the underdog, should be the favorite as long as he comes in hungry to win.

Middleweights: Tafon Nchukwi vs. Jamie Pickett

Overall Records: Nchukwi 4-0, Pickett 11-4
UFC Records: Nchukwi UFC Debut, Pickett UFC Debut
Last Fight: Nchukwi def. Matavao, R2 KO, Dana White’s Contender Series 32 (9/8/20), Pickett def. Pati, R2 TKO, Dana White’s Contender Series 30 (8/25/20)
Last Five Fights: Nchukwi 4-0, Pickett 4-1
Betting Odds: Nchukwi -320, Pickett +260
Preview: Two fighters who earned contracts during this year’s Contender Series run of events make their UFC debuts against each other, which is something we don’t normally see when it comes to Contender Series fighters debuting. Nchukwi had one of the more memorable finishes during the show’s 2020 run, finishing Al Matavao with a nasty head kick. That fight was contested at 205 pounds, but he’ll be dropping to 185 for this one.

Pickett made the most of his third appearance on the Contender Series. After losing his first two fights on the show over the past few years, he had to make a showing during his third try if he was ever going to make it to the UFC. He did in a big way, scoring an impressive second-round knockout win, and Dana White had no choice but to give him a contract. This will be an interesting fight for both men. Pickett has lots more experience than Nchukwi does, as this will be Pickett’s 16th pro fight, while it will be only Nchukwi’s fifth pro fight. Nchukwi has won all four of his fights by knockout, so he is dangerous on his feet, but Pickett is as well, as nine of his eleven wins have come by knockout. Pickett has never been knocked out in his career, but he’s not a high-volume striker.

Nchukwi does have a tendency to take a lot of strikes in order to find that finish, but Pickett will need to use his reach to keep Nchukwi out of range. I expect Nchukwi to have a very prosperous career in the UFC, but Pickett can derail the hype early and show that the third time was really the charm. This has the makings of a fun brawl.

Flyweights: Jimmy Flick vs. Cody Durden

Overall Records: Flick 15-5, Durden 11-2-1
UFC Records: Flick UFC Debut, Durden 0-0-1
Last Fight: Flick def. Smith, R3 SUB, Dana White’s Contender Series 31 (9/1/20), Durden DRAW Gutierrez, UFC On ESPN+ 31 (8/1/20)
Last Five Fights: Flick 4-1, Durden 4-0-1
Betting Odds: Flick -150, Durden +130
Preview: After being scheduled to fight on the 12/5 card, only for the fight to be cancelled the day of the show, these two finally get a chance to meet inside the Octagon. Flick makes his UFC debut off an impressive showing on the Contender Series as he battles Durden in what looks to be a fun flyweight bout. Flick scored a submission win on the September 1 episode of the Contender Series and was the talk of the show afterwards as an obvious winner of a UFC contract. He’s got a fun style to match his entertaining personality, and he’s a fantastic submission fighter, with 13 of his 15 professional wins coming by submission.

Durden is making his second UFC appearance, this time with a full training camp and at his more natural weight class. He went to a draw with Chris Gutierrez in his UFC debut, which impressed a lot of people as Gutierrez is thought of as a potential bantamweight contender, and Durden took the fight on just a week’s notice. Durden is also a proven finisher, with ten of his eleven wins coming by stoppage.

The flyweight division is undergoing a renaissance and these two fighters are exciting additions to the division. This very well could end up being the best fight on the card.

Lightweights: Rick Glenn vs. Carlton Minus

Overall Records: Glenn 21-6-1, Minus 10-2 1 NC
UFC Records: Glenn 3-3, Minus 0-1
Last Fight: Aguilar def. Glenn, UDEC, TUF 28 Finale (11/30/18), Semelsberger def. Minus, UDEC, UFC On ESPN 15 (8/22/20)
Last Five Fights: Glenn 3-2, Minus 3-2
Betting Odds: Glenn -330, Minus +270
Preview: Glenn makes his long-awaited return to action, fighting for the first time in over two years. Injuries have kept him out of action since a decision loss to Kevin Aguilar in November 2018. The former WSOF Featherweight Champion has had mixed success in the UFC, going 3–3 over his first six bouts, but after having some difficult cuts to 145 lbs., he is making the full-time move to 155 lbs. with a renewed focus on making a title run.

Minus is making his second Octagon appearance, and he is looking to get his first win after a decision loss to Matthew Semelsberger in August. He is also making the move to lightweight, dropping down from 170 lbs., but he is a more natural lightweight anyways. Glenn is going to be giving up some reach in this fight, but he is a good pressure fighter and has a strong ground game. He does have eleven knockout wins in his career, but all six of his UFC fights have gone the distance.

Minus is used to going late into fights as he’s gone the distance in four of his last five fights. He wasn’t that impressive in his debut, so the onus is on him to prove he is capable of being in the UFC. It is strange seeing a veteran like Glenn in the opening fight, but that speaks to the depth of this card, and this should be a decent way to get a fun night started.

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