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Guide to UFC On ESPN 22: Whittaker vs. Gastelum

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 22.

Date: April 17, 2021
Location: UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada

Main Card
Start Time: 10:00 p.m. ET, 7:00 p.m. PT
Where To Watch: ESPN & ESPN+

Middleweights: Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum

Overall Records: Whittaker 22-5, Gastelum 16-6 1 NC
UFC Records: Whittaker 13-3, Gastelum 11-6 1 NC
Last Fight: Whittaker def. Cannonier, UDec, UFC 254 (10/24/20), Gastelum def. Heinisch, UDec, UFC 258 (2/13/21)
Last Five Fights: Whittaker 4-1, Gastelum 2-3
Rankings: Whittaker #1, Gastelum #8
Betting Odds: Whittaker -265, Gastelum +210
Preview: The main event of the show sees a fight that was supposed to take place 26 months ago finally go down when Whittaker and Gastelum square off inside the Octagon. This is actually a short-notice fight for Gastelum as he replaced Paulo Costa in this fight, as Costa is suffering from lingering effects from having COVID-19. He’s been waiting for over two years to get his crack at Whittaker after their scheduled fight at UFC 234 in February 2019 was cancelled the day of the show when Whittaker had to have emergency surgery for a hernia. That was supposed to be a title fight, as Whittaker held the UFC Middleweight Championship at the time. Gastelum would go on to fight Israel Adesanya for an interim title two months later, but was on the losing end in a classic fight. Subsequent losses to Darren Till and Jack Hermansson left Gastelum’s title hopes bleak, but he got back into the win column with a win over Ian Heinisch in February. When Whittaker was able to return, he lost the middleweight title to Adesanya in a unification bout. He then took a little time off, but a pair of wins in 2020 over Till and Jared Cannonier have him likely one win away from getting a chance to rematch Adesanya and regain the title.

While it’s a shame we didn’t get to see these two fight for a title, it’s still a great thing they’ll be able to go five rounds, because this is a fantastic match-up. Gastelum should come into this with some confidence after snapping his losing skid, but he’ll still be standing across from the most well-rounded middleweight in the world. Luckily for Gastelum, he’s also very well-rounded. There was a time when Whittaker, even as a dominant champion, was still the most underrated fighter in the sport, but that is no more as he’s finally getting credit for how great he is. Whittaker is a mix of power, pressure, offensive grappling and excellent footwork. Whittaker is going to have some size on Gastelum. Gastelum does mix his striking and grappling well, but he will likely have trouble taking Whittaker down, as Whittaker has outstanding takedown defense. Gastelum should be looking for leg kicks to try and slow down the footwork of Whittaker, but Whittaker also has some great leg kicks. Whittaker also has tremendous conditioning and is used to going 25 minutes, while Gastelum tends to get tired, especially when it gets to the fourth and fifth rounds, and he is taking this on short-notice.

Whittaker is 3-0 in fights that go 25 minutes, while Gastelum is 0-2 in 25-minute fights. Whittaker is extremely tough and durable, and his footwork and volume will be the key to getting by Gastelum in this one. This is an absolutely fantastic main event, and this fight could end up being among the best of the year. A Gastelum win will shake up things in the middleweight division in a big way, while a Whittaker win will mean he has to be next for Adesanya. I like Whittaker to get the win in a hard-fought and grueling bout that goes the distance.

Lightweights: Jeremy Stephens vs. Drakkar Klose

Overall Records: Stephens 28-18 1 NC, Klose 11-2-1
UFC Records: Stephens 15-17 1 NC, Klose 5-2
Last Fight: Kattar def. Stephens, R2 TKO, UFC 249 (5/9/20), Dariush def. Klose, R2 KO, UFC 248 (3/7/20)
Last Five Fights: Stephens 0-4 1 NC, Klose 3-2
Rankings: Stephens #10 FW
Betting Odds: Stephens -125, Klose +105
Preview: Stephens and Klose meet in a co-main event that represents a pivotal fight in the careers of both men. Stephens is moving back up to 155 lbs. after spending nearly eight years in the featherweight division. He makes the switch after having issues making weight in his last fight at 145, and also at a time where he is in a must-win situation as he hasn’t scored a win in his last five fights, with his last win coming back in February 2018. Stephens holds the rare distinction of being the only fighter to have 30-or-more UFC fights but under a .500 record, but he’s always been in contention due to his ability to put some solid win streaks together and his exciting fighting style. He’s fought some of the biggest and best fighters UFC has had to offer, and he’s got 19 knockouts under his belt in his career. Klose steps inside the Octagon for the first time in over a year, as he’s looking to rebound from a knockout loss to Beneil Dariush in March 2020 in one of the craziest fights in 2020. That ended Klose’s three-fight win streak, as he was making his move up the lightweight rankings. He’s still searching for his first finish in UFC, as his five wins have all been by decision, but he’s shown improvement in each fight.

Stephens knows his back is against the wall, and I fully expect him to fight like it. It does seem like he fights better when he has this kind of pressure on him. He has openly talked about how he’s gotten sober in the lead-up to this fight, and he’s found some motivation that hasn’t been there lately. That could spell trouble for Klose. Klose will likely be looking to utilize his takedown game in this one, as when he’s worked his grappling in, he’s gotten the win. He doesn’t want to get into a fire fight with Stephens. Stephens has ridiculous power in his hands, no matter what division he’s fighting in. 19 knockouts in a career where he’s fought some of the best is no joke, and he’s had plenty of highlight-reel UFC finishes. Klose got some confidence in his striking when he hurt Dariush early, and he decided to try and keep it going, and Dariush made him pay the price. Stephens will make him pay in worse fashion. Klose is an accurate striker, but they have a pretty even statistical record on the feet.

Even though he has a lot of UFC fights, Stephens is tied for second on the all-time list with 18 knockdowns. Klose has to grapple in this one. I do think the smaller Octagon will be a key for Stephens in this one, and I like his chances to get back into the win column in spectacular fashion. This one should be an excellent fight.

Heavyweights: Andrei Arlovski vs. Chase Sherman

Overall Records: Arlovski 30-20 2 NC, Sherman 15-6
UFC Records: Arlovski 19-14 1 NC, Sherman 3-5
Last Fight: Aspinall def. Arlovski, R2 SUB, UFC On ESPN+ 43 (2/20/21), Sherman def. Villanueva, R2 TKO, UFC On ESPN+ 29 (5/13/20)
Last Five Fights: Arlovski 3-2, Sherman 4-1
Betting Odds: Arlovski -125, Sherman +105
Preview: A fight that wasn’t originally scheduled to take place sees Arlovski step up on just over a week’s notice to take on Sherman in what could be a brutal heavyweight fight. Arlovski makes a quick turnaround as he is looking to bounce back from a submission loss to Tom Aspinall in February. His willingness to take a fight on short notice shows that at age 42, with a 22-year career that sees him fighting for the 53rd time, he still has the desire to compete and win. He is in search of his first stoppage win since his crazy brawl with Travis Browne at UFC 187 in May 2015, and if he wants to keep going in UFC, he’ll need a win here. Sherman is in his second UFC stint, returning last year at the start of the pandemic and scoring a knockout win over Ike Villanueva in May. He was then suspended for nine months by USADA due to a positive drug test. He got to keep the win over Villanueva, which ran his win streak to four straight. 14 of his 15 wins have been by knockout, but four of his six losses have also been by knockout.

Arlovski’s big focus in this one should be to slow down the volume attack of Sherman. Sherman isn’t particularly flashy on the feet and he doesn’t have the best footwork, but he does overwhelm with volume, landing over six significant strikes per minute. He also absorbs almost six significant strikes per minute, and he’s not one to try to stand-and-trade and hope he’s the one landing the finishing blow. Arlovski’s chin isn’t the same as it was at his age, but he’s shown he can eat some good shots still. His footwork isn’t what it was, but he’ll still have the edge over Sherman there. Arlovski tends to fight a more patient style these days, and he’s going to not be as patient in this one. It has cost him in other fights, and it will cost him here. I do think this is a close fight that could go either way, but it is also a good chance for Arlovski to turn the clock back for at least one night. This one is tough to pick, but I lean on the veteran getting the job done.

Middleweights: Abdul Razak Alhassan vs. Jacob Malkoun

Overall Records: Alhassan 10-3, Malkoun 4-1
UFC Records: Alhassan 4-3, Malkoun 0-1
Last Fight: Williams def. Alhassan, R1 KO, UFC On ESPN+ 40 (11/14/20), Hawes def. Malkoun, R1 KO, UFC 254 (10/24/20)
Last Five Fights: Alhassan 3-2, Malkoun 4-1
Betting Odds: Alhassan -300, Malkoun +235
Preview: A middleweight bout between knockout artists takes place here as Alhassan and Malkoun both look to get back into the win column on Saturday. Alhassan is moving up to 185 lbs. after missing weight for his last two fights, which were both losses. He’s coming off the wrong end of a brutal knockout loss at the hands of Khaos Williams in November. Prior to the two losses, Alhassan had won ten of his eleven professional bouts, with all ten wins coming by knockout inside the first round. He’s only been out of the first round twice, both of them decision losses, and the loss to Williams was the only time he’s been finished. Malkoun is entering just his sixth professional fight, and he’s looking to rebound from his first loss. One of the top training partners to Robert Whittaker, Malkoun’s UFC debut in October couldn’t have gone worse, as he was knocked out by Phil Hawes in just 18 seconds. He’s getting the quickest turnaround of his MMA career, and looking to score his fifth career win in this one.

I’m not saying to not blink during this fight, but blinking may make you miss a finish, which will likely come in the first round. You can kind of throw any kind of analysis out of the window on this one, as it likely comes down to who lands the first punch, and I’d be putting my money on Alhassan landing it. Alhassan’s power is just ridiculous, and it will likely translate up to the middleweight division. Malkoun will bring a fight, but his defense against Hawes wasn’t there, and Alhassan has more power. Malkoun should try and weather a storm, because he does have the ability to knock Alhassan out. I will say that if the fight somehow gets out of the first round, I do think the experience of Alhassan will be the key. However, with it likely finishing inside the first five minutes, I fully expect Alhassan to bounce back and get a dynamite finish to get back in the win column.

Lightweights: Luis Pena vs. Alex Munoz

Overall Records: Pena 8-3, Munoz 6-1
UFC Records: Pena 4-3, Munoz 0-1
Last Fight: Worthy def. Pena, R3 SUB, UFC On ESPN 12 (6/27/20), Haqparast def. Munoz, UDec, UFC On ESPN+ 32 (8/8/20)
Last Five Fights: Pena 3-2, Munoz 4-1
Betting Odds: Pena -150, Munoz +125
Preview: ‘Violent Bob Ross’ makes his return here in a battle of lightweights looking to get back into the win column. Pena is looking to rebound from a late submission loss to Khama Worthy in June. He’s been eager to return, and has had at least one fight cancelled due to COVID-19. After starting his career a perfect 5–0, Pena has struggled to gain consistency as a member of UFC’s roster, as he’s just 3–3 since and hasn’t won more than two straight fights. A tall lightweight at six-foot-three, Pena has scored six of his eight wins by stoppage. Munoz is making his second UFC appearance. He’s most well-known as being the man who defeated Nick Newell in Newell’s fight on the Contender Series. Munoz comes from the Team Alpha Male camp and was signed after moving his record to 6–0. He was originally supposed to debut against Pena in February 2020, but he had to pull out on fight week due to injury. He ended up debuting in August, dropping a decision to Nasrat Haqparast.

Pena is going to have some size and reach over Munoz, as he stands six inches taller than Munoz, and Pena will have a three-inch reach advantage. Pena is a mediocre striker. He uses his length well, but he’s not overwhelming. Munoz tends to get hit quite often, eating more than five significant strikes per minute. Both are decent takedown artists. Neither will likely succeed on the majority of their attempts, but they can get opponents down. Pena does have a good submission base if he’s able to get Munoz down. Munoz struggled against a southpaw in Haqparast, and Pena is another southpaw who will likely be able to apply pressure. I feel the overwhelming pressure and constant threats of submission will be the x-factor for Pena in this one, and I like him to get the win.

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

Women’s Flyweights: Tracy Cortez vs. Justine Kish

Overall Records: Cortez 8-1, Kish 7-3
UFC Records: Cortez 2-0, Kish 3-3
Last Fight: Cortez def. Egger, UDec, UFC On ESPN+ 37 (10/10/20), Mazo def. Kish, R3 SUB, UFC On ESPN+ 35 (9/12/20)
Last Five Fights: Cortez 5-0, Kish 2-3
Betting Odds: Cortez -275, Kish +220
Preview: A women’s flyweight bout pitting a prospect UFC is trying to build against a veteran in desperate need of a win sees Cortez looking to extend her win streak against Kish. Cortez made her professional debut just under four years ago, and she started her career off on the wrong note, losing a decision. She has since won eight straight fights, including back-to-back wins over Vanessa Melo and Stephanie Egger to start her UFC career. Those two fights took place at 135 lbs., and now Cortez moves back down to her natural weight class of flyweight. Kish is looking to end an ugly run that has seen her drop three of her last four fights after starting her career with a 6–0 record. She’s been in UFC since before Cortez even made her pro debut, but injuries have limited her to just six fights since joining the roster in 2015. She does hold previous wins over the likes of Nina Nunes, Ashley Yoder and Randa Markos.

This is your standard grappler-versus-striker battle as the wrestling of Cortez will be looking to get ahead of the striking of Kish. Kish is more of a volume striker with not a lot of power, but she also tends to get hit as much as she lands. Cortez is good at avoiding strikes, and she really utilizes her wrestling to keep strikers at bay. Cortez averages three takedowns per fight between her two UFC bouts and one Contender Series bout, and has spent just under 18 minutes out of a possible 30 minutes in control during her two UFC fights. This one likely comes down to how often Cortez is able to take Kish down, and I don’t see Kish being able to avoid getting taken down. I like Cortez to grind out a decision in this one.

Heavyweights: Alexandr Romanov vs. Juan Espino

Overall Records: Romanov 13-0, Espino 10-1
UFC Records: Romanov 2-0, Espino 2-0
Last Fight: Romanov def. Rogerio de Lima, R1 SUB, UFC On ESPN 17 (11/7/20), Espino def. Hughes, R1 SUB, UFC 253 (9/26/20)
Last Five Fights: Romanov 5-0, Espino 5-0
Betting Odds: Romanov -145, Espino +120
Preview: A big-time heavyweight bout between rising prospects sees undefeated freestyle wrestler Romanov looking to keep the zero in the loss column as he battles former TUF winner Espino in a nice match-up. Romanov has started his career an impressive 13-0, with all thirteen wins coming by knockout or submission. He’s only been out of the first round twice in his career. His first two UFC fights have seen him submit Roque Martinez and Marcos Rogerio de Lima. Espino, the heavyweight winner in the most recent season of TUF, comes into this fight having won eight straight fights. He missed almost two years of action following his TUF win, but he came back strong with a submission win over Jeff Hughes in September. Of Espino’s ten wins, eight have been via a stoppage, with all eight of those coming inside the first round. One thing that many fans might not know about Romanov is that he’s a former sumo wrestler. I’m not sure how much that really translates to MMA, except for the fact he’s plenty capable of dealing with opponents that have some size. Espino is going to have a five-inch reach edge, but that likely won’t be much of a factor.

Both men are going to be looking for the takedown, as Espino has seven takedowns in seven minutes of UFC action, while Romanov has six takedowns in his two UFC fights. Espino has shown himself to be a very accurate striker, but Romanov is better on his feet than he gets credit for, and has lots of power. One thing that hasn’t been tested on Romanov is his takedown defense, and Espino is the guy who will test it. This one likely goes to the mat, where both are tremendous submission fighters. This one is a very interesting fight, and has the potential to be one of the better fights on the show. Romanov has shown he has a solid gas tank, while Espino hasn’t been out of the first round inside the Octagon. Romanov is also younger and more athletic, which likely makes up the difference. It’s a close fight on the betting odds, but I like Romanov to remain undefeated here.

Women’s Strawweights: Jessica Penne vs. Lupita Godinez

Overall Records: Penne 12-5, Godinez 5-0
UFC Records: Penne 1-3, Godinez 0-0
Last Fight: Taylor def. Penne, UDec, UFC Fight Night 108 (4/22/17), Godinez def. Demopoulos, LFA 94 (10/30/20)
Last Five Fights: Penne 2-3, Godinez 5-0
Betting Odds: Penne +225, Godinez -285
Preview: It looks like Penne will finally make her long-awaited return to action following a false start a couple of weeks ago, as this time she’ll be welcoming newcomer Godinez to UFC. Penne is returning from a four-year layoff that has been marred by USADA suspensions, injuries and COVID-19 cancellations. She was supposed to fight Hannah Goldy on March 27, but that was pushed back due to COVID-19. Goldy was unable to stay in the fight, so she pulled out and Godinez signed with UFC to take her place. Penne is looking to end a three-fight losing skid, and at age 38, this is a must-win fight for her. Godinez enters the Octagon with a perfect 5–0 record following a win in October. She is one of the best female prospects in the sport, but she will be giving up a lot of experience to Penne in this one. The big question in this one will be how much will the layoff affect Penne.

She’s a lot better than her recent record suggests. In her three losses, two of them came to former champions, one of which was a title fight, and the last loss, to Danielle Taylor by decision, there is a strong argument that could be made that Penne won that one. She’s going to need to use her wrestling in this one, but that will be a tough task. Godinez has solid takedown defense and some really good wrestling on her own, and she’s a tough one on the feet, capable of bringing on some heavy onslaughts. She’s a talented boxer, and Penne does tend to get hit a lot. Going up against a younger and more powerful opponent isn’t what Penne was hoping for her in her comeback, and she’s going to have a tough task ahead of her. It will be interesting to see if her veteran instincts can lead her to a win. I see it not working out, and the hot prospect in Godinez getting her hand raised on Saturday.

Middleweights: Bartosz Fabinski vs. Gerald Meerschaert

Overall Records: Fabinski 15-4, Meerschaert 30-14
UFC Records: Fabinski 3-2, Meerschaert 6-6
Last Fight: Muniz def. Fabinski, R1 SUB, UFC On ESPN+ 34 (9/5/20), Chimaev def. Meerschaert, R1 KO, UFC On ESPN+ 36 (9/19/20)
Last Five Fights: Fabinski 3-2, Meerschaert 2-3
Betting Odds: Fabinski -130, Meerschaert +110
Preview: A pair of middleweight veterans looking to get back in the win column meet here as Fabinski and Meerschaert fight with their backs against the wall needing a win, a common theme on this card. Fabinski comes into this one having lost his last two in UFC, with a win squeezed in between there in a Cage Warriors bout during the pandemic, as both of his losses have seen him submitted. Prior to that, he had a seven-fight win streak going, including three straight UFC wins. Meerschaert is looking to bounce back from an embarassing 17-second knockout loss to Khamzat Chimaev in September. That made it two straight losses for him, and he dropped to 6–6 in UFC. However, those six losses have come to Chimaev, Ian Heinisch, Eryk Anders, Kevin Holland, Jack Hermansson and Thiago Santos, and all six of those fighters have been ranked at one point during their UFC careers. With that being said, this sounds like a fight that Meerschaert should find his hand raised at the end.

Despite being knocked out in his last two fights, Meerschaert likely won’t have to worry about that in this one. Fabinski is an accurate striker, but he rarely lands, averaging just over two significant strikes landed per minute. Fabinski is going to be looking for the takedown, where he’s had his most success. In his three UFC wins, Fabinski has racked up 22 takedowns. However, he has been submitted in his last two fights, and Meerschaert is a black belt in jiu-jitsu with 23 wins by submission in his career, though he has also been submitted eight times. Fabinski doesn’t have a single submission win on his record, so even though he likes the takedown, it is just to grind opponents with punches, not to look for submissions. He may try to avoid playing on the ground with Meerschaert, which opens it up more on the feet, and Meerschaert is better there. This one could end up being uneventful, though both might take more risks since they are in need of a win. I like Meerschaert to be the one to get back into the win column here.

Women’s Bantamweights: Zarah Fairn vs. Josiane Nunes

Overall Records: Fairn 6-4, Nunes 7-1
UFC Records: Fairn 0-2, Nunes 0-0
Last Fight: Spencer def. Fairn, R1 TKO, UFC On ESPN+ 27 (2/29/20), Nunes def. Zbonik, R2 TKO, Forze FC 1 (11/28/20)
Last Five Fights: Fairn 3-2, Nunes 5-0
Betting Odds: Fairn +105, Nunes -125
Preview: A UFC veteran looking to score her first UFC win meets a newcomer in this one as Fairn makes her third Octagon appearance against the debuting Nunes. Fairn will be dropping to 135 lbs. for the first time after dropping her first two UFC fights at 145 lbs. She hasn’t won a fight in over three years, and she’s eager to get back into the win column and keep her spot on the roster. Nunes enters UFC riding a six-fight win streak, and her only career loss came to Taila Santos, who is currently ranked in UFC’s women’s flyweight rankings. After fighting only four times in the span of just over four years to start her career, this will be her fifth fight in two years, and with that has come consistency, as she has five straight wins by knockout, and six overall in her career.

One thing that fans will notice right away in this fight is the size Fairn will have on Nunes. Fairn will have a six-inch height advantage and a five-inch reach advantage, and Nunes is really small for the bantamweight division. However, Fairn has been anything but impressive during her two UFC fights. Granted, she faced talented fighters like Megan Anderson and Felicia Spencer, but she got hit a lot by both of them and was completely lost on the ground. Nunes has some pop in her punches, winning those six fights by knockout. She could easily tag Fairn and get her in trouble early if she can get inside of that reach. I’m not expecting much here, and it is close on the betting odds and is really a fight that could go either way. I think recent success leans this one in Nunes’ favor.

Lightweights: Austin Hubbard vs. Dakota Bush

Overall Records: Hubbard 12-5, Bush 8-2
UFC Records: Hubbard 2-3, Bush 0-0
Last Fight: Solecki def. Hubbard, R1 SUB, UFC On ESPN 15 (8/22/20), Bush def. Clem, R1 TKO, LFA 98 (1/29/21)
Last Five Fights: Hubbard 2-3, Bush 4-1
Betting Odds: Hubbard -185, Bush +150
Preview: A fight put together on less than one week’s notice takes place here as Hubbard gets a short-notice late replacement in the debuting Bush. Bush signed with UFC earlier in the week to replace Natan Levy in this bout, as Levy had to pull out due to injury. Hubbard is looking to get back into the win column after suffering a submission loss to Joe Solecki in his last fight. He’s rotated losses-and-wins in his five UFC fights, so history says he’s due for a win in this one. Bush debuts having won two straight and four of his last five overall. He is coming off a knockout loss in January and was being looked at for a spot on the Contender Series this summer, but an opportunity came open here, and he takes advantage as he looks to add to his six stoppage victories.

This fight should favor Hubbard, and the short-notice will come into play. Bush is primarily a wrestler, and while Hubbard has struggled with takedown-heavy opponents in the past, Bush is nowhere near the level of wrestler that Mark O. Madsen or Joe Solecki are. Bush will also likely have some conditioning issues taking the short-notice call, and I think Hubbard will wear him down as the fight goes on, especially given his own gas tank will be at a high-level since he trains at elevation in Colorado. Hubbard likely keeps it on the feet and wears Bush down there. Hubbard is only a marginal favorite, meaning there is some betting value there. I like Hubbard to get back into the win column here.

Bantamweights: Tony Gravely vs. Anthony Birchak

Overall Records: Gravely 20-6, Birchak 15-7
UFC Records: Gravely 1-1, Birchak 2-3
Last Fight: Gravely def. de Freitas, SpDec, UFC On ESPN+ 40 (11/14/20), Lopez def. Birchak, R1 SUB, UFC On ESPN 17 (11/7/20)
Last Five Fights: Gravely 4-1, Birchak 2-3
Betting Odds: Gravely -325, Birchak +250
Preview: A bantamweight bout between two fighters with a lot of experience takes place here as Gravely and Birchak meet in what could end up being one of the better fights on the show. Gravely is looking for his second straight win after getting a split decision win over Gerald de Freitas in November. He has won eight of his last nine fights overall, with eleven wins overall by stoppage, and his only losses have come to fighters who are currently on either UFC’s or Bellator’s roster. Birchak is in his second UFC stint as he looks to get his first win since returning to the promotion in his second appearance this go-round. He stepped up on short notice in November, and had a disappointing end, submitting to Gustavo Lopez to halt his two-fight win streak. He’s looking for consistency, as he’s gone just 3-6 in his last nine fights since starting his career 11–1.

This one will come down to if Gravely can work his takedown game to a near-flawless level. He’s averaged six takedowns over his two UFC fights, and while Birchak has a 73% takedown defense rate, he still struggles with primarily wrestling-based fighters. Birchak is going to need to use his striking to keep Gravely out of the takedown range, but with the small Octagon, keeping your back away from the fence is a little more difficult. If Birchak can keep it standing, he has the slight edge on the feet, and if he can drag Gravely into deep waters, Gravely’s gas tank becomes a question, as he’s gotten tired in later rounds in the past. This is an interesting battle that could go down to the wire, but I think Gravely and his wrestling get it done.

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