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 23.
UFC on ESPN 23
Date: May 1, 2021
Location: UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada
Start Time: 10:00 p.m. ET, 7:00 p.m. PT
Where To Watch: ESPN2 & ESPN+
Light Heavyweights: Dominick Reyes vs. Jiri Prochazka
Overall Records: Reyes 12-2, Prochazka 27-3-1
UFC Records: Reyes 6-2, Prochazka 1-0
Last Fight: Blachowicz def. Reyes (title fight), R2 TKO, UFC 253 (9/25/20), Prochazka def. Oezdemir, R2 KO, UFC 251 (7/11/20)
Last Five Fights: Reyes 3-2, Prochazka 5-0
Rankings: Reyes #3, Prochazka #5
Betting Odds: Reyes +110, Prochazka -130
Preview: The main event is an interesting light heavyweight bout as Reyes looks to end a two-fight losing skid and get himself back into the title picture, but he’s against an opponent that many see as a future champion in Prochazka. Reyes is coming into this one in need of a win, as he’s dropped back-to-back fights, both of them with the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship on the line. He lost a close decision to Jon Jones, then was knocked out by Jan Blachowicz in a vacant title fight in September, the first time he’s ever been finished. Reyes had won his first twelve career fights, with seven wins by knockout and two by submission. He doesn’t get an easy fight to bounce back to, as Prochazka comes into this one riding an eleven-fight win streak. He put together an impressive 26 wins in 30 fights to start his career before UFC finally came calling. He debuted in July on Fight Island, showing off his funky style that fans of his for years knew about, but unique to those who had never seen him before. His debut was a great showing, as he knocked out former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir in the second round for his 27th career win. In those 27 wins, 24 have been by knockout, and two by submission. He’s only been out of the first round in five of his 31 career fights, which is insane. He’s a proven finisher and an exciting fighter, and arguably one of the top three signings UFC has made over the past couple of years.
These are two big light heavyweights with lots of power, which will make for an interesting fight. Reyes stands at six-foot-four with a 77-inch reach, and Prochazka stands six-foot-three with an 80-inch reach. Prochazka has a funky striking style where he utilizes tons of footwork, angles and feints, and you really don’t know what is coming at you. He can land all sorts of kicks, all sorts of punches, and mixes everything well, backing it all with tons of power. Reyes fights as a southpaw, which may make Prochazka’s movement harder to navigate. Prochazka does tend to leave his hands low and his head out there, and he does tend to get quite often. Oezdemir didn’t have the power to put him away, though he did tag him. Reyes might have the power to get it done if he connects as he is a much more technical boxer. It is unlikely this fight goes to the mat as Reyes has just one takedown in his UFC career, though he has been taken down several times. Prochazka has tremendous takedown defense and will prefer to keep this on the feet.
Whoever wins, it will be a huge win for either. It would put both one fight or less away from fighting for the title. Prochazka could easily get the next shot with a win, while Reyes would need another win for sure. It is really a tough fight to call and really a shame someone is going to lose, but Prochazka has so much upside and has all of the tools to be a champion. I like him to get the job done in this one.
Featherweights: Giga Chikadze vs. Cub Swanson
Overall Records: Chikadze 12-2, Swanson 26-11
UFC Records: Chikadze 5-0, Swanson 11-7
Last Fight: Chikadze def. Simmons, R1 TKO, UFC On ESPN 17 (11/7/20), Swanson def. Pineda, R2 KO, UFC 256 (12/12/20)
Last Five Fights: Chikadze 5-0, Swanson 2-3
Rankings: Chikadze #14, Swanson #15
Betting Odds: Chikadze -165, Swanson +135
Preview: The co-main event here is an interesting fight as Chikadze gets his wish to face a big-name veteran in Swanson. Chikadze comes into this fight riding a seven-fight win streak, including the last five while a member of ufc’s roster. He has yet to fight anyone who has truly tested him, and most of his opponents have been late replacements or fights put together late. He’s been eager to fight a veteran while having a full training camp, and Swanson fits that bill. Swanson comes into this fight riding a two-fight win streak, putting talk of his career being near the end on the backburner. Prior to that, he had lost four straight, albeit all to ranked competition, and many thought his best days were behind him. However, an impressive win over a young Kron Gracie got him confidence back, despite tearing his ACL in that fight. He missed over a year of action, but came back in December with a knockout win over Daniel Pineda in an exciting fight. He wanted to fight an up-and-comer to show he still has what it takes to be a contender.
This will be a test for both men. Chikadze has the kickboxing background and will have a four-inch reach advantage, but Swanson is a hard-nosed veteran who is a massive step up from anyone Chikadze has fought. Swanson can’t ever be counted out, and he finds ways to win when people aren’t expecting him to. He does land more significant strikes per minute than Chikadze does. Chikadze is someone who likes to be patient, but Swanson will be bringing the heat to him. Swanson is also more accurate on his feet, and their defense is pretty even. Swanson could turn this into a grappling battle, and Chikadze’s biggest weakness is his defensive wrestling. Calf kicks may be the key in this fight, as both like to utilize them. Chikadze has been on a roll, but it is tough to count Swanson out as he’s still capable of getting the job done at 37-years-old. This is closer than it might seem, but I still think Chikadze pulls out a close decision.
Light Heavyweights: Ion Cutelaba vs. Dustin Jacoby
Overall Records: Cutelaba 15-6 1 NC, Jacoby 14-5
UFC Records: Cutelaba 4-5, Jacoby 2-2
Last Fight: Ankalaev def. Cutelaba, R1 KO, UFC 254 (10/24/20), Jacoby def. Grishin, UDec, UFC On ESPN+ 44 (2/27/21)
Last Five Fights: Cutelaba 2-3, Jacoby 4-1
Betting Odds: Cutelaba -140, Jacoby +115
Preview: This fight came together late. It’s being pushed as a light heavyweight bout between sluggers Cutelaba and Jacoby, who look to tear each other apart. Jacoby is taking this fight on just over a week’s notice as a replacement for Devin Clark, who pulled out due to injury. Cutelaba is looking for a fresh start in 2021 after spending almost all of 2020 having to worry about Magomed Ankalaev. They fought in February 2020, and Ankalaev won in a controversial stoppage. They were re-scheduled to fight several times during the year, but things kept happening to push it back. They finally fought in October, and Ankalaev finished Cutelaba in the first round to put everything behind them. Cutelaba has lost three of his last four, but he’s still only 27, so there’s plenty of time to turn things around. Jacoby knows about turning things around. He was having an up-and-down MMA career, amassing a 10–5 record before taking time away to focus on kickboxing. He ended up returning to MMA in 2019 and has rattled off four straight wins, including the last two in his second UFC stint. Jacoby fighting on short notice shouldn’t be an issue for him, as it’s something he grew accustomed to during his kickboxing time.
You know when Cutelaba is involved, we’re bound to witness some sort of craziness. He’s actually a wrestler, though you wouldn’t know it seeing that he prefers to brawl with his opponents. He has tremendous power in his hands, and he’s very intense, which also leads to him emptying his gas tank early. Jacoby knows how to be patient in fights and pick apart opponents from the outside. With the kickboxing experience that Jacoby has, Cutelaba would be best-served relying on his wrestling here. The problem, though, is his fights are hard to predict and he doesn’t always fight the way he should. If Jacoby can weather a first-round blitz, it opens the fight up more for him to take over in the second round. He just has to survive the opening onslaught. Jacoby is taking this fight on short notice, and that will play a factor. I tend to lean towards Cutelaba taking this one after a huge opening blitz, finishing Jacoby in the first round.
Middleweights: Sean Strickland vs. Krzysztof Jotko
Overall Records: Strickland 22-3, Jotko 22-4
UFC Records: Strickland 9-3, Jotko 9-4
Last Fight: Strickland def. Allen, R2 TKO, UFC On ESPN+ 40 (11/14/20), Jotko def. Anders, UDec, UFC On ESPN 8 (5/16/20)
Last Five Fights: Strickland 4-1, Jotko 3-2
Rankings: Strickland #15
Betting Odds: Strickland -265, Jotko +210
Preview: This is a middleweight bout between two men looking to work their way up the rankings as Strickland does battle with Jotko here. Strickland comes into this bout off a successful 2020, where he returned from the sport after injuries from a motorcycle accident kept him out for two years. He won two fights over the span of 14 days, running his win streak to three straight, and that put him into the middleweight rankings coming into this fight. Strickland has won 22 of his 25 career fights, including 14 wins by stoppage. Jotko knows a thing-or-two about being ranked, as he spent some time inside the top-15 until three straight losses and a year of inactivity sent him down the ladder. He has since bounced back with three straight wins, including a decision in his last appearance against Eryk Anders in May. A win here would likely put him back into the top-15, a position he is eager to return to.
Strickland has really shown something since moving up to 185 lbs. as his speed advantage has come out in his two fights in the division. He lands over five significant strikes per minute, two more than Jotko does. Jotko has shown more of his wrestling in recent fights, but he did show against Anders that his kickboxing skills are still there. Jotko has that good mix of wrestling and striking, and he would be wise to use his striking more as Strickland tends to struggle against strong strikers. Jotko will be unlikely to take Strickland down, and if he does, Strickland can work his way up easily. Strickland isn’t much of a fan of submissions, so he will want it on the feet so he can show off his crisp boxing. There are clear paths to victory for both men, but I see Strickland finding his path better than Jotko. If Jotko wins, it likely goes the distance. However, I think Strickland finishes him, working the jab perfectly to keep Jotko at a distance and finishing it with technical striking.
Bantamweights: Merab Dvalishvili vs. Cody Stamann
Overall Records: Dvalishvili 12-4, Stamann 19-3-1
UFC Records: Dvalishvili 5-2, Stamann 5-2-1
Last Fight: Dvalishvili def. Dodson, UDec, UFC 252 (8/15/20), Rivera def. Stamann, UDec, UFC On ESPN 13 (7/15/20)
Last Five Fights: Dvalishvili 5-0, Stamann 2-2-1
Rankings: Dvalishvili #12, Stamann #13
Betting Odds: Dvalishvili -265, Stamann +210
Preview: This bantamweight bout between Dvalishvili and Stamann has been in the works for quite some time. They were supposed to fight in December, but Stamann had to pull out. They were re-booked to fight in February, but then Dvalishvili was forced out due to COVID-19. Stamann ended up having two other fights that were lined up for that February slot that fell apart, including the day of the fight. With both being free, the decision was made to try it a third time, and, like they say, third times a charm. Dvalishvili comes into this one looking to extend a five-fight win streak, which have all come by decision. Stamann comes into this fight off a loss in his last fight, but he’s had an underrated UFC career, with his only losses have come to Aljamain Sterling and Jimmie Rivera.
This should be an interesting battle between two men looking to move into the top-ten in a very tough bantamweight division. Dvalishvili is one of the best takedown artists in the sport today, and he backs that up with what appears to be a gas tank that never reaches empty. He is unorthodox on his feet, which he uses to set up his wrestling, but he doesn’t hold his opponents down. Stamann is a good wrestler himself, actually one of the best at bantamweight, and he could scramble if taken down. He also is better at using his striking as a way to set up takedowns, plus he really is good at landing counters and turning them into takedowns. Both have 80% takedown defense, but Dvalishvili scores almost eight takedowns per fifteen minutes as compared to three for Stamann. Stamann needs serious conditioning to keep up with Dvalishvili’s endless, which will be the x-factor in the fight.
This will likely go the distance, as both are decision-machines, and Dvalishvili tends to do so much that he wins rounds based on always being active. Dvalishvili has the chance to contend for a title, and even if he isn’t a finisher, he is generally exciting to watch. This one should be a good and interesting battle, but I see Dvalishvili scoring the decision win.
Women’s Flyweights: Poliana Botelho vs. Luana Carolina
Overall Records: Botelho 8-3, Carolina 6-2
UFC Records: Botelho 3-2, Carolina 1-1
Last Fight: Robertson def. Botelho, UDec, UFC On ESPN+ 38 (10/17/20), Lipski def. Carolina, R1 SUB, UFC On ESPN+ 30 (7/18/20)
Last Five Fights: Botelho 3-2, Carolina 4-1
Betting Odds: Botelho -250, Carolina +200
Preview: A women’s flyweight bout opens the main card, as Botelho finds herself on her third different opponent for this one, and Carolina steps up on short notice. Botelho was originally scheduled to fight Ji Yeon Kim, who pulled out due to injury, and then was scheduled to fight Mayra Bueno Silva, who also pulled out due to injury, but Carolina stepped in to keep Botelho on the card. Botehlo is looking to get back into the win column after dropping a decision to Gillian Robertson on Fight Island in October. She’s had mixed UFC success, going 3–2 in her five-fight UFC career. Carolina is also looking to rebound from a loss on Fight Island, as she was submitted by Ariane Lipski in the first round in July. She had won six straight prior to that loss, and hopes to start a fresh win streak here.
This one should play out on the feet as both like to stand-and-trade. If anyone is going to be looking for a takedown, it will be Botelho, and she is three-for-three in her UFC career on takedowns. Carolina has never been taken down in UFC, though she has a small sample size with just two fights in the promotion. Carolina is very fluid on her feet, but Botelho is one of the most accurate strikers in the flyweight division. Botelho is a black belt in Muay Thai and has six knockout wins in her career. Carolina hasn’t scored a finish in almost five years, and she hasn’t shown the same improvement that Botelho has. Botelho is more polished, more experienced, more physical and hits harder. She is the favorite in this one, as she should be, and I see her finishing Carolina after grinding her down on the feet.
Start Time: 7:00 p.m. ET, 4:00 p.m. PT
Where To Watch: ESPN2 & ESPN+
Women’s Strawweights: Randa Markos vs. Luana Pinheiro
Overall Records: Markos 10-10-1, Pinheiro 8-1
UFC Records: Markos 6-9-1, Pinheiro 0-0
Last Fight: Murata def. Markos, UDec, UFC On ESPN+ 40 (11/14/20), Pinheiro def. Frausto, R1 TKO, Dana White’s Contender Series 35 (11/10/20)
Last Five Fights: Markos 1-4, Pinheiro 5-0
Betting Odds: Markos +140, Pinheiro -170
Preview: A strawweight bout that was pushed back finds a slot on this card as the featured prelim as Markos welcomes newcomer Pinheiro to UFC in this one. These two were originally scheduled to fight in March at UFC 260, but the fight was pulled from the card after Markos tested positive for COVID-19. They wanted to keep this match-up, so this was the first card that had an available slot, so it was moved here. Markos comes into this fight in a must-win situation, as another loss could spell the end of her run. She comes in on a three-fight losing skid, and she has won just two of her last eight fights. She has a great personality and is talented, but has been unable to back it up inside the Octagon, and hopes a change in training camps pays off here. Pinheiro makes her debut off an impressive win on the Contender Series in November. She enters UFC riding a six-fight win streak, and has won eight of her nine career fights. Even more impressive, after winning her debut by decision, she has gone seven-for-seven in finishes in her wins, scoring all seven wins in the first round.
She definitely has the makings of a future star, and Markos will be a tough test for her debut. Markos needs to fight like her job is on the line, which is very likely is. She’s not a bad fighter, she’s just been matched up against very good fighters and hasn’t really had a match-up that could be considered a bounce-back for her. I’m not sure this is a bounce back fight for her, as Pinheiro has a lot of natural talent. Pinheiro has power in her hands, so look for Markos to close the distance early and try and turn this fight into a grind against the fence, something she is good at. Markos will likely get Pinheiro to the mat, but Pinheiro is very good on the ground as well. Pinheiro is very talented, but Markos has the tools to defeat her. If Markos can avoid being submitted on the ground and work effectively from the top, it opens the fight up more for her. This one is much closer than it seems, but Pinheiro’s upside is too high to make it seem like Markos will be a real threat to her. I think Pinheiro takes this on.
Featherweights: Gabriel Benitez vs. Jonathan Pearce
Overall Records: Benitez 22-8, Pearce 10-4
UFC Records: Benitez 6-4, Pearce 1-1
Last Fight: Benitez def. Jaynes, R1 TKO, UFC On ESPN 19 (12/5/20), Pearce def. Kamaka, R2 TKO, UFC On ESPN 18 (11/28/20)
Last Five Fights: Benitez 3-2, Pearce 4-1
Betting Odds: Benitez -200, Pearce +160
Preview: After two fights in the lightweight division, Benitez moves back down to 145 lbs. to battle Pearce in this one. Benitez is looking to score his second straight win after a first-round TKO win over Justin Jaynes in December. He’s never won more than two straight inside the Octagon as he still searches for consistency despite having been a roster member since 2014. Pearce will also be looking to score his second straight win as he’s coming off a second-round finish of Kai Kamaka in November. He lost his UFC debut to Joe Lauzon, which is his only loss in his previous seven fights. Both men have high finishing rates, as Benitez has an 82% finish rate and Pearce a 90% finish rate.
Pearce is a high-volume striker, landing just under nine significant strikes per minute, but he also eats close to seven strikes per minute. Benitez does have excellent striking defense, and he likes to use his kicks more than his punches on the feet. Pearce is very powerful on his feet, as eight of his ten wins have been by knockout. Pearce is also good at takedowns and using some heavy ground-and-pound. If he does take Benitez down and works from the top, he needs to be careful as Benitez has ten wins by submission. Benitez has improved, but he also tends to fight with his back against the fence, and Pearce will make him pay by pressuring with his striking and takedown attempts against the fence. This one is a very solid fight that could be one of the best fights on the night, and I think Pearce wins this on a heavy mix of wrestling and ground-and-pound.
Featherweights: Kai Kamaka vs. TJ Brown
Overall Records: Kamaka 8-3, Brown 14-8
UFC Records: Kamaka 1-1, Brown 0-2
Last Fight: Pearce def. Kamaka, R2 TKO, UFC On ESPN 18 (11/28/20), Chavez def. Brown, UDec, UFC 252 (8/15/20)
Last Five Fights: Kamaka 4-1, Brown 3-2
Betting Odds: Kamaka -155, Brown +130
Preview: A pair of featherweights looking to get back in the win column square off here as young guns Kamaka and Brown look to build momentum in UFC. Kamaka is coming off a second-round TKO loss to Jonathan Pearce in November, which ended his six-fight win streak. It was his third fight of 2020, and his first two came in the span of two weeks, including his UFC debut win over Tony Kelley. Brown comes into this fight having suffered losses in both of his UFC bouts, so this is a pivotal one. He earned a contract on the Contender Series, but had a rough 2020, dropping fights to Jordan Griffin and Danny Chavez, and looks to get back on track here.
On the surface, both seem to be very good wrestlers, with Brown having the slight edge there. Brown tends to get more takedowns, but Kamaka is good at creating scrambles. Unfortunately for Kamaka, his gas tank is always a question mark, and if he is getting taken down consistenly by Brown and having to try and scramble up, that will zap his conditioning. Brown does have durability issues, which has plagued him in his two UFC losses, but he also takes punishment well. Brown will have a four-inch reach advantage over Kamaka, and he will be looking to use that reach more for his wrestling. I think Brown will use an approach that means more takedowns and grinding from the top, and a gameplan to really test Kamaka on the mat. This fight could be fun or it could be uneventful, but both are going to fight like they need a win, which they do. I see Brown fighting just a little bit better and scoring the win, probably via a decision.
Women’s Strawweights: Loma Lookboonmee vs. Sam Hughes
Overall Records: Lookboonmee 5-2, Hughes 5-2
UFC Records: Lookboonmee 2-1, Hughes 0-1
Last Fight: Lookboonmee def. Frey, UDec, UFC On ESPN 16 (10/3/20), Torres def. Hughes, R1 TKO, UFC 256 (12/12/20)
Last Five Fights: Lookboonmee 3-2. Hughes 3-2
Betting Odds: Lookboonmee -400, Hughes +300
Preview: Two strawweights with identical career records square off here as Lookboonmee looks to pick up another win against Hughes. Lookboonmee graces the Octagon for the fourth time, and is looking to score her third UFC win after a decision win over Jinh Yu Frey on Fight Island in October. She is still in search of her first stoppage in UFC.
Hughes fights for the second time in UFC, but the first time with a full training camp. She debuted in December against Tecia Torres, a tough debut for anyone, let alone someone taking the fight on just a few days’ notice. It ended due to an eye injury at the end of the first, but she is eager to show she’s better than that in her second shot.
Despite both of them having the same amount of MMA experience, Lookboonmee is far-and-away the better fighter. She is shorter than Hughes and will be giving up three inches in reach, but she will make up for that with how well she mixes her striking. Hughes is the definition of a fighter than needs experience to build up her skills. She is a flat-footed, one-note striker relying mainly on the jab and right cross. She doesn’t match-up well with reknowned strikers like Torres and Lookboonmee. Lookboonmee will want to work in the clinch, where she will badly out-match Hughes. Hughes really still needs more time on the regional circuit to improve, and her striking will be out-gunned by Lookboonmee. Lookboonmee gets the decision in a fight that Hughes will learn from.
Middleweights: Andreas Michailidis vs. KB Bhullar
Overall Records: Michailidis 12-4, Bhullar 8-1
UFC Records: Michailidis 0-1, Bhullar 0-1
Last Fight: Bukauskas def. Michailidis, R1 TKO, UFC On ESPN 13 (7/15/20), Breese def. Bhullar, R1 TKO, UFC On ESPN+ 37 (10/10/20)
Last Five Fights: Michailidis 3-2, Bhullar 4-1
Betting Odds: Michailidis -250, Bhullar +200
Preview: A pair of middleweights both making their second trek inside the Octagon meet as Michailidis and Bhullar battle to see who will score their first UFC win. Both made their debuts on Fight Island last year. Michailidis suffered a defeat at the hands of Modestas Bukauskas in July, ending his three-fight win streak. That fight took place at 205 lbs., so he moves down to 185 for this one. Bhullar was finished in just 1:42 by Tom Breese in October, the first loss of his career after starting with eight straight wins. He was slated to fight on the Contender Series last year, but the fight with Breese was a short-notice opportunity that he couldn’t pass up.
The sample size of both men in UFC is small, but Michailidis had more of a chance to show off his skills than Bhullar did. What Bhullar showed is that he will get hit a lot, but Michailidis isn’t the type of striker who would use that to his advantage overwhelmingly. He has low-level boxing, and his gas tank doesn’t match up Bhullar’s level of cardi. Now, Michailidis does boast enough power to finish this one early, and Bhullar did get knocked out for the first time of his career in his last fight, so it’ll be interesting to see how he bounces back. I’m not expecting much in this fight, and I’m not sure either will ever make it to title contention, but they are solid low-level middleweights. This could go either way, but I think Michailidis makes a statement and finish Bhullar inside the first minute to get back into the win column.
Featherweights: Luke Sanders vs. Felipe Colares
Overall Records: Sanders 13-4, Colares 9-2
UFC Records: Sanders 3-4, Colares 1-2
Last Fight: Maness def. Sanders, R2 SUB, UFC On ESPN 18 (11/28/20), Jackson def. Colares, UDec, UFC On ESPN+ 24 (1/25/20)
Last Five Fights: Sanders 2-3, Colares 3-2
Betting Odds: Sanders -140, Colares +115
Preview: A fight featuring two men who weren’t even supposed to fight each other, but was changed when both lost their opponents, opens the show here as Sanders and Colares meet in a featherweight fight. Both men usually fight at bantamweight, but go up a division here as Sanders was originally a late-notice opponent for Damon Jackson at 145 lbs. Colares was slated to face Journey Newson at 135 lbs.. Both Jackson and Newson had to pull out due to injuries, so Colares took the fight with Sanders without having to worry about cutting the additional ten pounds. Both are looking to rebound from losses, as Sanders was submitted by Nate Maness in November, and Colares dropped a decision to Montel Jackson back in January 2020.
The big thing Sanders needs to do is to follow-up his strong starts and keep the pace and pressure going throughout the three rounds. Sanders has been stopped in multiple fights he was winning, suggesting something isn’t quite there after the first five minutes. He does land over six significant strikes per minute, while Colares tends to land only one significant strike per minute, and Colares has weak striking defense. Neither will be a huge threat with their wrestling, as both land their takedowns with 25% or less accuracy. Sanders is better at defending the takedown of the two, he just needs to avoid getting his back taken. Colares isn’t going to scare anyone on the feet, so if Sanders has strong defensive wrestling and can keep Colares on his back foot, it should be an easy win for Sanders. Credit to both credit for agreeing to change opponents late, but even still, I see this ending with Sanders finishing inside the cage after going the distance, then having his hand raised.