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Guide to UFC on ESPN+ 50: Smith vs. Spann

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+ 50.


UFC on ESPN+ 50
Date: September 18, 2021
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+

Light Heavyweights- Anthony Smith vs. Ryan Spann

Overall Records: Smith 34-16, Spann 19-6
UFC Records: Smith 10-6, Spann 5-1
Last Fight: Smith def. Crute–R1 TKO–UFC 261 (4/24/21), Spann def. Cirkunov–R1 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 45 (3/13/21)
Last Five Fights: Smith 3-2, Spann 4-1
Rankings: Smith #6, Spann #11
Betting Odds: Smith -165, Spann +135
Preview: The main event is a light heavyweight bout featuring a former title challenger looking to get back to a title fight against a prospect trying to break into the title picture as Smith takes on Spann in the five-round headliner. After a rough start to 2020, Smith turned it around in November 2020, when he submitted Devin Clark to get back in the win column. He started off 2021 with a first-round win over Jimmy Crute at UFC 261 in April, while, even though the finish was due to Crute being injured, Smith was winning that fight before the injury took place. The two wins have moved Smith back up to sixth in the 205-pound rankings, and he’s back in the title picture should he score another win in this, his eighth main event in his last nine fights. Spann is in the midst of the best run of his professional career. He was always a solid prospect on the regional scene, but after starting his career 10-5, there were questions as to whether he’d ever live up to his potential. Since that start, he’s gone 9-1 over his last ten. He’s won five of six inside the octagon, but is looking for his second straight win after scoring a 71-second knockout of Misha Cirkunov in March. Spann comes into this fight with an 84% finish rate, with eleven submission wins and five knockout wins.

This is going to be an interesting bout for both men. It’s the biggest test to date for Spann, by far, but it’s also going to be a test for Smith to see where he stands in the division. There are often times where I don’t think Smith gets the credit for being as good of a fighter as he is. Perhaps people look at his record, but he’s really turned into a very well-rounded fighter over the past few years during his resurgence. Spann is probably the toughest test for Smith out of his last three opponents, a dangerous fighter with knockout power. Spann will have a three-inch reach advantage in this one, but Smith knows how to overcome that, as he is very persistent with leg kicks to get inside the range. Smith does have an underrated grappling game, as he has a black belt in jiu-jitsu, but Spann may be better at the takedowns.

However, playing on the ground with Smith should be something Spann looks to avoid. Spann does land more on his feet and Smith tends to get hit more than he lands, but you can never question the toughness of Smith after he refused to quit despite the beatings from Glover Teixeira and Aleksandar Rakic. Smith will look to drag this fight into deep waters, as he has plenty of experience going past the three-round mark, somewhere Spann has never been. I think this is a real toss-up fight, but the experience of Smith, coupled with his resurgence, combined with his veteran savvy, it will be enough to get past Spann.

PICK: SMITH

Light Heavyweights- Ion Cutelaba vs. Devin Clark

Overall Records: Cutelaba 15-6-1 1 NC, Clark 12-5
UFC Records: Cutelaba 4-5-1, Clark 6-5
Last Fight: Cutelaba DRAW Jacoby–UFC On ESPN 23 (5/1/21), Smith def. Clark–R1 SUB–UFC On ESPN 18 (11/28/20)
Last Five Fights: Cutelaba 1-3-1, Clark 3-2
Betting Odds: Cutelaba -150, Clark +125
Preview: A light heavyweight battle that could be pretty explosive is put into the co-main event slot as both Cutelaba and Clark will be looking to get back into the win column in this one. Cutelaba is coming into this bout winless in his last three after fighting to a draw with Dustin Jacoby in his last fight in May. Overall, he’s won just once in his last five fights, but he tends to have entertaining bouts and moments, leading him to have some security on the UFC roster. This is a must-win fight for him, though. Clark enters the octagon for the first time since November as he looks to get back into the win column as well. He was submitted by Anthony Smith in that fight in his first-ever UFC main event appearance, which ended a two-fight win streak. He’s in kind of a must-win fight as well, as a loss will drop him to a .500 record in the UFC. These two were originally slated to fight in May, but Clark had to pull out due to injury.

Both of these guys have lots of flaws to them, and if both would just shore up some of them, either one of them could be a legitimate contender. As it stands, both are fighting for survival in the division. Cutelaba is an aggressive fighter with a strong wrestling game and fight-ending power in his hands. He doesn’t always fight up to his ability, and his fight IQ can be questioned at times, which has held him down from breaking into the elite-level of the light heavyweight division. Clark has lost to elite-level fighters, but he’s shown to be able to consistently beat opponents on his level, which is likely where Cutelaba falls. Clark is going to need to avoid the early blitz from Cutelaba, and his takedown defense is going to need to be strong early. Cutelaba got eight takedowns in the first round in his last fight, but then gassed out, and, had it not been for that strong first, he might’ve lost the decision.

If Cutelaba gets the takedown, he is very powerful from the top in bringing down vicious ground strikes. Clark is a solid submission fighter, and he is more proven in winning wrestling-based grinding fights. One of Clark’s flaws is he tends to fight with his back near the fence, and you can’t do that against a powerful wrestler with knockout power like Cutelaba. If this fight ends early, it is likely due to Cutelaba knocking Clark out. The longer the fight goes, the more it goes in the favor of Clark. Both are in a must-win situation, but I like Cutelaba in this one as long as he doesn’t do anything dumb early, which is possible.

PICK: CUTELABA

Women’s Flyweights- Ariane Lipski vs. Mandy Bohm

Overall Records: Lipski 13-7, Bohm 7-0 1 NC
UFC Records: Lipski 2-4, Bohm 0-0
Last Fight: De La Rosa def. Lipski–R2 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 47 (6/5/21), Bohm def. Eeckhout–UDec–Bellator 247 (10/1/20)
Last Five Fights: Lipski 2-3, Bohm 5-0
Betting Odds: Lipski -120, Bohm +100
Preview: A women’s flyweight fight that was pushed back a couple of weeks goes down here as Lipski welcomes Bohm to the octagon for the very first time. This was supposed to take place on the 9/4 card, but COVID protocols pushed it back, which was good news for Lipski as she is taking this fight on short notice, so the date change gave her a little extra time to prepare. That is likely welcomed news for her, as she’s looking to end a two-fight losing skid after being finished by Montana De La Rosa in June. Lipski came into the UFC with a good amount of hype, but she’s gone just 2-4 in her six appearances, and might find herself in a must-win situation here. Bohm is making her UFC debut as an undefeated fighter, as she has seven wins and a no contest in her eight professional bouts. She’s scored four wins by stoppage, two each by knockout and submission, and is highly-touted as a dangerous fighter.

Bohm is a very talented prospect, and she’ll have a four-inch reach advantage in this one, which will play well into her strengths and her ability to keep Lipski at a distance. Lipski is at her best when she is able to strike at a good range. Bohm will likely be looking to take the fight to the mat, where she will have the advantage. Lipski hasn’t shown the best defensive wrestling ability, as she’s been taken down in five of her six UFC bouts. Lipski has definitely faced the better competition, and her losses in the UFC have been to quality fighters. Bohm has the talent, but it will be interesting to see if she has any octagon jitters. I think this fight is much closer than others think it is, but I still see the young prospect showing off her potential in this one.

PICK: BOHM

Lightweights- Arman Tsarukyan vs. Christos Giagos

Overall Records: Tsarukyan 16-2, Giagos 19-8
UFC Records: Tsarukyan 3-1, Giagos 5-4
Last Fight: Tsarukyan def. Frevola–UDec–UFC 257 (1/23/21), Giagos def. Soriano–R2 SUB–UFC 262 (5/15/21)
Last Five Fights: Tsarukyan 4-1, Giagos 4-1
Rankings: Tsarukyan #14
Betting Odds: Tsarukyan -800, Giagos +550
Preview: A lightweight bout featuring a fighter many in the division are trying to avoid fighting takes place here as Tsarukyan battles the tough veteran Giagos in what could be one of the best fights on the card. Tsarukyan comes into this fight with an impressive 16-2 record, as he’s gone 15-1 since splitting his first two career bouts. He’s won three straight and has garnered a reputation as a fighter the top guys don’t want to fight, much like Islam Makhachev. Coincidentally, Makhachev is the only fighter to beat Tsarukyan in his last 16 fights, which came in Tsarukyan’s UFC debut in the “Fight Of The Night”, showing Tsarukyan isn’t afraid to fight the tough competition. Giagos is in his second stint with the UFC, but also in the midst of his best run inside the octagon. He lost two of three in his first run, and his second run started with a submission loss to Charles Oliveira, but he’s since won four of his last five. He’s coming off a submission win over Sean Soriano in May, and he was asking for a ranked opponent after, and he got one here.

This is a very interesting bout as Tsarukyan is an outstanding grappler and Giagos is a very well-rounded fighter. Tsarukyan feels like a complete package, as to go with his outstanding grappling, he has great striking and excellent conditioning. He’s also only 24-years-old, so he’ll likely be a contender for the next ten-plus years. Giagos will be a great test for Tsarukyan. Giagos has some excellent submissions and a very good ground game, capable of holding his own with the best-of-the-best in the grappling department. However, this feels like a fight for Tsarukyan to get a win over an experienced and polished opponent, and Giagos will be a good test to see if he’s really ready to take on ranked opposition. Giagos will give it his all, but he just isn’t as explosive on the feet as Tsarukyan is, and the grappling should be overwhelmingly in the favor of Tsarukyan. I like Tsarukyan to get a decision and come out of this as a fighter to really keep an eye on.

PICK: TSARUKYAN

Bantamweights- Nate Maness vs. Tony Gravely

Overall Records: Maness 13-1, Gravely 21-6
UFC Records: Maness 2-0, Gravely 2-1
Last Fight: Maness def. Sanders–R2 SUB–UFC On ESPN 18 (11/28/20), Gravely def. Birchak–R2 TKO–UFC On ESPN 22 (4/17/21)
Last Five Fights: Maness 4-1, Gravely 4-1
Betting Odds: Maness +180, Gravely -225
Preview: A late bump to the main card gives these two bantamweight prospects a chance to shine as Maness and Gravely both look to keep their win streaks going. Maness comes into this fight having won three straight, and 13 of his 14 professional fights. He’s won both of his UFC appearances, scoring a decision win over Johnny Munoz in his debut, and submitting Luke Sanders in his last fight, which took place back in November. Of his 13 career wins, Maness has scored seven finishes. Gravely enters this fight riding a two-fight win streak, and he’s won nine of his last ten overall. He lost to Brett Johns in his UFC debut, but has scored back-to-back victories over Geraldo de Freitas and Anthony Birchak. He has 21 career wins, and has a 57% career finish rate.

I don’t think there’s any question that Gravely is going to be going for the takedown in this one. He’s scored 16 takedowns in his three UFC bouts. He also has some solid power in his hands, as he scored two knockdowns in his win over Birchak. He is accurate on his feet, but his conditioning is a question mark. He’s going to be giving up five inches in height and three inches in reach to Maness. Maness is the better fighter on the feet, with more power in his hands, but he tends to get hit more than he lands. For Maness, this fight might go similar to his fight with Munoz. In that one, Munoz won early with his grappling before fading, which allowed Maness to come back and get the win. Maness does have good takedown defense, defending 88% of takedowns attempted on him in the UFC, but Gravely’s wrestling game is unlike that of Munoz or Sanders.

There could be a lot of scrambles on the ground, and whomever wins those could be the one ending the night with a win. Gravely is the favorite in this fight, but there is upset potential in this one. I actually like Maness to get the decision in this one, as he’s just been more impressive so far.

PICK: MANESS

Middleweights- Joaquin Buckley vs. Antonio Arroyo

Overall Records: Buckley 12-4, Arroyo 9-4
UFC Records: Buckley 2-2, Arroyo 0-2
Last Fight: Di Chirico def. Buckley–R1 KO–UFC On ABC 1 (1/16/21), Winn def. Arroyo–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 41 (12/19/20)
Last Five Fights: Buckley 3-2, Arroyo 3-2
Betting Odds: Buckley -200, Arroyo +165
Preview: A middleweight bout kicks off the main card as two 185-pounders look to get back in the win column when viral sensation Buckley takes on Arroyo. Buckley fights for the first time since January, and it was probably some much-needed time off as he fought his first four UFC fights in less than five months overall, so he was constantly in action. He started his UFC career off with a loss on short-notice to Kevin Holland, but bounced back with the 2020 Knockout Of The Year of Impa Kasanganay, and followed it up with another knockout of Jordan Wright, before being on the wrong end of a knockout from Alessio Di Chirico. Buckley has scored nine of his twelve wins by knockout. Arroyo makes his third UFC appearance, and he’s still in search of his first win after losing decisions to Andre Muniz and Deron Winn in his first two bouts. He’s had a pretty impressive career before joining the world’s premiere MMA promotion, as he scored eight of his nine career wins via a finish.

On the surface, this may look to most as the matchmakers trying to rehab Buckley and get him back in the win column. After all, he had a lot of momentum before the disappointing loss to Di Chirico, and he’s matched up against an 0-2 fighter. However, this is a good match-up for Arroyo, as he’s fought grapplers in his first two UFC bouts, and he struggles against grapplers. He was taken down 15 times over both of those fights. Arroyo is very accurate on his feet, landing 70% of his strikes between his two UFC bouts and two Contender Series bouts. Buckley is going to have the athletic advantage, but his defense on his feet leaves a lot to be desired. He can be knocked out, and Arroyo is a good enough striker to exploit holes on the feet. Buckley is the better fighter on the feet and has the power edge, and he will use his reach effectively in this one. I like Buckley to get back on track and score a finish in this one.

PICK: BUCKLEY


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

Light Heavyweights- Mike Rodriguez vs. Tafon Nchukwi

Overall Records: Rodriguez 11-6 1 NC, Nchukwi 5-1
UFC Records: Rodriguez 2-4 1 NC, Nchukwi 1-1
Last Fight: Marques def. Rodriguez–R2 SUB–UFC On ESPN+ 42 (2/6/21), Park def. Nchukwi–MajDec–UFC On ESPN 24 (5/8/21)
Last Five Fights: Rodriguez 1-3 1 NC, Nchukwi 4-1
Betting Odds: Rodriguez +105, Nchukwi -125
Preview: A light heavyweight bout that could produce an explosive finish is in the featured prelim spot as both Rodriguez and Nchukwi look to get back into the win column. Rodriguez is in a must-win situation, as he comes in having lost two straight, and he has just two wins in his seven UFC appearances. He does have a perfect 100% finish rate in his eleven wins, with nine coming by knockout. Nchukwi will be fighting for the seventh time in his career as he moves back up to 205 pounds after fighting his first two UFC bouts at 185 pounds. He is coming off the only setback of his career, as he dropped a majority decision to Jun Yong Park in May. That came after winning the first five fights of his career, which saw him score four finishes, all coming by knockout. He is still less than three years into his career, and Rodriguez has been in the UFC longer than Nchukwi has been fighting as a professional.

Rodriguez tends to live up to his nickname, which is “Slow”, as he’s not the most aggressive fighter on the feet, and his grappling leaves tons to be desired. Luckily, for him, Nchukwi is a striker with not much of a grappling game. Nchukwi should have the speed and power advantage in this one, as both were something that were lacking with his cut to middleweight, which took a lot out of him on fight weeks. His frame is more suited for the 205-pound division. Rodriguez shouldn’t be taken lightly in this one, as, while he tends to be flat-footed on the feet, he is also light enough on his feet to avoid being hit by Nchukwi, even if he reacts slowly. Nchukwi did start to show some wrestling in his last fight, and it is something he may decide to use more here, especially given how bad Rodriguez is at defending takedowns and on the ground. I expect a very strong performance from Nchukwi in this one, as he threatens with the takedowns before knocking out Rodriguez some time within the first two rounds.

PICK: NCHUKWI

Women’s Bantamweights- Pannie Kianzad vs. Raquel Pennington

Overall Records: Kianzad 15-5, Pennington 11-8
UFC Records: Kianzad 4-2, Pennington 8-5
Last Fight: Kianzad def. Davis–UDec–UFC 263 (6/12/21), Pennington def. Reneau–UDec–UFC On ESPN 11 (6/20/20)
Last Five Fights: Kianzad 4-1, Pennington 2-3
Rankings: Kianzad #12
Betting Odds: Kianzad +110, Pennington -130
Preview: A women’s bantamweight bout that is one of the more interesting fights on the card featuring two of the more well-known names on the card is buried here in the prelims as Kianzad battles Pennington. Kianzad comes into this bout riding a four-fight win streak, scoring wins over Jessica-Rose Clark, Bethe Correia, Sijara Eubanks and Alexis Davis during her run. A fifth straight win, in a division that lacks title contenders, could put her in the mix for a title shot, and beating Pennington could launch her near the top-five of the division. Pennington is fighting for the first time in 15 months, as she’s coming off a USADA suspension. She’s fought for a title before, and has won two of her last three, last scoring a decision win over Marion Reneau in June 2020. She’s not ranked right now due to the suspension, but she’d be right around sixth if she were, so this would be a big win for Kianzad if she was able to get it.

This was a fight Kianzad called for after her win over Davis, and this is a good fight for Pennington to take in returning. Kianzad is the better boxer of the two, and she’s shown some improved takedown defense, as well as a better ability of getting up if she’s planted on the bottom. Pennington is a fighter that is always moving forward and always staying active on the feet, and is a very durable fighter who likes to turn fights into dog fights. She has good defense on the feet, though Kianzad tends to land more significant strikes per minute. Kianzad is very hittable, as she tends to leave her hands low and her chin stuck out. Pennington has likely peaked as a fighter, but she is still a quality fighter. She has some good submissions if she is able to get in the grappling, but she’s been predominantly a striker lately.

This one likely goes the distance, and Pennington is more durable. Pennington tends to win fights she’s expected to lose, and this could be one of those. I do think Kianzad is the better fighter right now, and she has the momentum. I’m going with Kianzad to get the decision win.

PICK: KIANZAD

Lightweights- Rong Zhu vs. Brandon Jenkins

Overall Records: Zhu 17-4, Jenkins 15-7
UFC Records: Zhu 0-1, Jenkins 0-0
Last Fight: Vargas def. Zhu–UDec–UFC 261 (4/24/21), Jenkins def. Kilburn–R1 KO–PFL 2021 #9 (8/27/21)
Last Five Fights: Zhu 4-1, Jenkins 4-1
Betting Odds: Zhu -350, Jenkins +260
Preview: A fight that came together just days before the event takes place here as young Chinese prospect Zhu takes on late replacement Jenkins in a lightweight bout. Jenkins signed with the UFC on Wednesday to step in for Dakota Bush, who was removed from the bout after testing positive for COVID. Zhu made his UFC debut in April, dropping a decision to Kazula Vargas at UFC 261. That loss ended his ten-fight win streak, so he’ll be eager to start a new one with a win here. This will be his 22nd career fight, and he’s barely 21-years-old, and 15 of his 17 wins have come via a finish, with eleven wins coming by knockout. It’s a quick turnaround for Jenkins, who fought for the PFL last month, scoring an impressive first-round knockout win over former UFC fighter Jacob Kilburn. That ran his win streak to three straight. He’s scored thirteen of his fifteen career wins by stoppage, with ten wins coming by knockout.

This could be a wild fight as both like to strike on the feet. Jenkins tends to be a wild striker, and he has a lot of different attacks on the feet he likes to utilize. He won his last fight with a flying knee. Zhu was gun-shy in his UFC debut, and he’s going to have to come out blitzing early in this one. Jenkins is a hard hitter, but he likes to be more of a counter fighter. Zhu is the better grappler of the two, and he moved his camp to American Top Team, so the coaching should be better. He’s also been preparing for weeks for this fight, while Jenkins just fought three weeks ago and is taking this one on just a few days’ notice. Zhu is going to be ready to fight, and I see that as being the main difference in this one. Zhu has lots of potential, is still only 21, and his ceiling is very high.

PICK: ZHU

Bantamweights- Montel Jackson vs. JP Buys

Overall Records: Jackson 10-2, Buys 9-3
UFC Records: Jackson 4-2, Buys 0-1
Last Fight: Jackson def. Strader–R1 TKO–UFC On ESPN 21 (3/20/21), Silva def. Buys–R2 TKO–UFC On ESPN 21 (3/20/21)
Last Five Fights: Jackson 4-1, Buys 4-1
Betting Odds: Jackson -650, Buys +475
Preview: A bantamweight bout that sees a prospect looking to start win streak battle a short-notice replacement moving up a weight class as Jackson welcomes Buys to the 135-pound division. Jackson is looking to notch his second consecutive win after a first-round knockout of Jesse Strader in March. That rebounded him from a loss to Brett Johns in July 2020, which ended a three-fight win streak. He’s shown a lot of potential to start his young career, which has seen him notch a 70% finish rate. Buys will be making his second walk to the octagon, in search of his first win, as he looks to bounce back from a knockout loss to Bruno Silva in March. He’s had to pull out of fights over the past few months due to injury, but he’s been eager to return, even if it meant having to move up a weight class on short-notice, which is what he’s doing here. Buys does have a perfect 100% finishing rate in his career.

There is going to be a serious size difference between the two, as Jackson is going to have a five-inch height advantage, and an eight-inch reach advantage in this fight. Buys is a solid wrestler, but, he tends to get into striking battles instead of using his wrestling, and if he does that here, Jackson is going to make him pay. Jackson has very good power in his hands. Jackson does have some solid wrestling, but he’s struggled against opponents who were constantly looking for the takedown. With Buys having such a disadvantage with the reach, he is going to need to use some footwork and quickness to get inside the reach and clinch up against the fence, where he can look for the takedown. Jackson, though, is a good clinch fighter.

Having said all that, I see Jackson using his hands to keep it at a distance, and his ability to land straight down the pipe will be the key here. He’s going to have to show he can defeat a classic wrestler. He’s a big favorite in this fight for a good reason, but Buys could always find a punch to end it. I don’t see that happening, and I see Jackson scoring a finish in this one.

PICK: JACKSON

Women’s Flyweights- Erin Blanchfield vs. Sarah Alpar

Overall Records: Blanchfield 6-1, Alpar 9-5
UFC Records: Blanchfield 0-0, Alpar 0-1
Last Fight: Blanchfield def. Walker-Sanchez–UDec–Invicta FC 41 (7/30/20), Clark def. Alpar–R3 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 36 (9/19/20)
Last Five Fights: Blanchfield 4-1, Alpar 3-2
Betting Odds: Blanchfield -375, Alpar +280
Preview: One of the best female prospects in the world makes her long-awaited UFC debut here as Blanchfield debuts against Alpar in a bantamweight bout. Blanchfield was scheduled to debut in April, but her fight was called off after weigh-ins after her opponent badly missed weight, and the fight was cancelled by the commission. She hasn’t fought since July 2020, and has won three straight overall, and six of her seven career fights, with her only loss coming to Tracy Cortez. She also just turned 22-years-old, and has a bright future ahead of her. Alpar will be fighting for the second time in the UFC, and she may be most well-known as the fighter who started a GoFundMe for training camp expenses, and got a large donation from Jake Paul. She’s looking to rebound from a loss to Jessica-Rose Clark in her debut in September 2020, which ended a three-fight win streak.

Blanchfield is a tremendous prospect and Alpar feels like a solid first match-up for her in the UFC. Blanchfield is a very strong ground fighter, and her striking and wrestling are getting better each time out. Alpar is a durable fighter whose strong suit is the wrestling game, but she’s also willing to trade on the feet with no problem there. However, if Alpar decides to try and take the fight down, which she might not even be able to do, Blanchfield is so good on the ground that she’ll likely get Alpar in a submission. Alpar’s best bet to win is to grind the fight against the fence in the clinch, and that would make for a very boring fight. Blanchfield does have a three-inch reach advantage, and she does have a head kick knockout under her belt. Again, she’s only 22-years-old, and the sky is the limit for her. Alpar is decent, but she doesn’t have the skills that Blanchfield does. There are big expectations for Blanchfield, and I see her passing her first test inside the octagon.

PICK: BLANCHFIELD

Welterweights- Impa Kasanganay vs. Carlston Harris

Overall Records: Kasanganay 9-1, Harris 16-4
UFC Records: Kasanganay 2-1, Harris 1-0
Last Fight: Kasanganay def. Palatnikov–R2 SUB–UFC On ABC 2 (4/10/21), Harris def. Aguilera–R1 SUB–UFC On ESPN 24 (5/8/21)
Last Five Fights: Kasanganay 4-1, Harris 4-1
Betting Odds: Kasanganay -120, Harris +100
Preview: A welterweight battle between two 170-pounders looking to move up the ladder in the division takes place here as Kasanganay and Harris enter the octagon for what could be an explosive bout. Kasanganay fights at 170 pounds for the second time, and he’s looking to make it two-for-two after submitting Sasha Palatnikov in April. Prior to that, he had started his career with an 8-1 record, showing he has plenty of potential to be a contender one day. Harris will be making his second UFC appearance. He submitted Christian Aguilera in the first round in his debut in May, running his win streak to four straight. He’s won eight of his last nine overall, and nine of his 16 career wins have come by stoppage. He does hold pre-UFC wins over current roster members Michel Pereira and Wellington Turman.

Kasanganay is a physical specimen, and you wonder how he makes 170 pounds when you look at him. He also has all of the tools to be a contender, but he hasn’t quite put them all together in a fight, even though he’s had some success. He is a very high-volume striker with good wrestling. Harris has been fighting for a long time, and it took him a while to make it to the UFC, but he also has some high output in his striking and is a solid wrestler. Harris should look to take advantage of the fact that Kasanganay tends to start out slow. Kasanganay has also been taken down easily in the past, though he’s improving there. Kasanganay also has a very good gas tank. Harris is very good at finding submissions, so Kasanganay will need to watch his neck.

This is a very good match-up, and is the one that will tell where Kasanganay truly is. Harris is a good addition to the roster who will beat a lot of opponents, but he’s also likely peaked as a fighter at 34-years-old. If Kasanganay can avoid an opening blitz from Harris and not start slow, I see him getting a decision here.

PICK: KASANGANAY

Bantamweights- Gustavo Lopez vs. Alateng Heili

Overall Records: Lopez 12-6, Heili 14-8-1
UFC Records: Lopez 1-2, Heili 2-1
Last Fight: Yanez def. Lopez–R3 TKO–UFC On ESPN 21 (3/20/21), Kenney def. Heili–UDec–UFC On ESPN 16 (10/3/20)
Last Five Fights: Lopez 3-2, Heili 4-1
Betting Odds: Lopez +110, Heili -130
Preview: A bantamweight bout between two fighters who like to give it their all inside the cage goes down here when Lopez and Heili battle to see who will get back into the win column in what could be a must-win fight for both. Lopez is coming off an exciting bout in March, but one where he was on the receiving end of a third-round knockout at the hands of Adrian Yanez. He’s dropped two of his three UFC fights, though his other loss is to Merab Dvalishvili, one of the best in the division. He needs a win here, though, and looks to add to his 92% finishing rate. Heili is a Chinese prospect who is looking to bounce back from his first UFC loss, which came to Casey Kenney via a decision in October. He had scored wins over Danaa Batgerel and Ryan Benoit in his first two UFC bouts, and had just one loss in his last twelve fights prior to the Kenney loss. Half of his wins have come via a finish.

When it comes to the battle on the feet, Heili will have the power edge, but both tend to get hit a lot more than they land. Lopez is an aggressive striker, and he throws hard and has power. Lopez is also a good grappler, but he can be taken down. Heili averages over two takedowns per fifteen minutes, and he has really good takedown defense, defending every takedown attempted on him. On the feet, Heili has a nice, stiff jab and is accurate, but he also can be beaten by speed on the feet. Lopez should look to mix in leg kicks as Heili doesn’t check leg kicks at all. It might come down to the wrestling, and if Heili decides to be the one to mix it up and take the fight down after it’s even on the feet, then he will have the edge. This is pretty much a toss-up fight. I’m going to go with the slight favorite in Heili winning a close fight.

PICK: HEILI

Women’s Strawweights- Emily Whitmire vs. Hannah Goldy

Overall Records: Whitmire 4-4, Goldy 5-2
UFC Records: Whitmire 2-3, Goldy 0-2
Last Fight: Viana def. Whitmire–R1 SUB–UFC On ESPN+ 33 (8/29/20), Belbita def. Goldy–UDec–UFC On ESPN 27 (7/24/21)
Last Five Fights: Whitmire 2-3, Goldy 3-2
Betting Odds: Whitmire -125, Goldy +105
Preview: The opening bout of the card is a strawweight bout that sees Whitmire trying to overcome some recent struggles as she takes on late replacement Goldy, who is also trying to overcome some recent struggles. Goldy replaced Cory McKenna, who had to pull out, taking this fight on just a few weeks’ notice. Whitmire is fighting for the first time in over a year as she looks to end a two-fight losing skid. She was last seen being submitted by Polyana Viana in August 2020. She wants to be more active, as she’s fought just three times over the past three years. Goldy is also looking to end a two-fight losing skid as she tries to bounce back from a decision loss to Diana Belbita in July. That was her first fight in nearly two years, but her UFC career is at 0-2 after starting her pro career 5-0, so she, much like Whitmire, is in need of a win here.

This is your classic battle between a grappler and a striker. Goldy is a powerhouse at 115 pounds, but she tends to throw single strikes. Whitmire likes to wrestle and work on the ground, and she has a very good submission game relative to her experience level. Whitmire tends to try and strike with her opponents instead of taking them down, and it often costs her in her fights. Goldy lands at a high-level, landing six significant strikes per minute during her two UFC bouts. Whitmire doesn’t seem as comfortable on the feet, and she may let Goldy take her down just to get it to the mat. Whitmire does have some good top pressure. They’re probably both fighting for a spot on the roster, which means both may take more risks to try and win. It’s pretty much a toss-up on the betting odds. I do think Whitmire is the more-skilled fighter of the two, and I think she does enough to pull out a decision.

PICK: WHITMIRE

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