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Guide to UFC 271: Adesanya vs. Whittaker 2

Getting prepared for UFC action this Saturday? Here’s everything you need to know in our Guide to UFC 271: Adesanya vs. Whittaker 2.

UFC 271
Date: February 12, 2022
Location: Toyota Center in Houston, Texas

Main Card
Start Time: 10:00 p.m. ET, 7:00 p.m. PT
Where to watch: ESPN+ PPV

UFC Middleweight Championship: Israel Adesanya (c) vs. #1 Robert Whittaker

Overall Records: Adesanya 21-1, Whittaker 23-5
UFC Records: Adesanya 10-1, Whittaker 14-3
Last Fight: Adesanya def. Vettori (title fight)–UDec–UFC 263 (6/12/21), Whittaker def. Gastelum–UDec–UFC On ESPN 22 (4/17/21)
Last Five Fights: Adesanya 4-1, Whittaker 4-1
Betting Odds: Adesanya -300, Whittaker +240
Background: The main event is a highly-anticipated rematch for the UFC Middleweight Championship as Adesanya makes his fourth title defense against the man he defeated to take the crown at the top of the division in Whittaker. The two fought at UFC 243 in October 2019, where it felt like a real passing of the torch at 185 lbs. as Adesanya thrashed Whittaker, knocking him down twice en route to scoring the knockout in the second round. Adesanya’s star has soared from there as he’s since had successful title defenses over Yoel Romero, Paulo Costa and Marvin Vettori. He attempted to become a two-division champion in 2021, but came up short against Jan Blachowicz for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship, ending his undefeated record, but he’s still eager to show he’s the top middleweight in the world. Whittaker has bounced back strongly since that loss to Adesanya as he’s won his three appearances inside the Octagon since then. He took some time off following that loss, but has since scored decisions over Darren Till, Jared Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum to make it clear that a rematch is needed between these two. While the pandemic kept it from happening on a grander scale such as a stadium show in either Australia or New Zealand, it doesn’t make this bout any less interesting or any less anticipated.

How they match up: It’s really hard to envision this fight going much differently than the last time they fought. Whittaker has shown improvement since the first time they fought, but he still has trouble against fighters that have the style of Adesanya. Adesanya is the best striker in the sport and knows how to mix everything well, and he’s also incredibly patient when the time calls for it, and incredibly aggressive and explosive when the time calls for that. Whittaker’s biggest shown improvement in his recent wins have come with the wrestling, which is the one area that Adesanya had trouble with against Jan Blachowicz. However, Blachowicz was way bigger than Whittaker is, and Adesanya shouldn’t have the same kinds of issues. Whittaker is going to have to pressure Adesanya and keep this in boxing range, as any fight on the outside with Adesanya is going to lead to trouble. Whittaker’s improvement will not go unnoticed, but I still see Adesanya just being a bad match-up for him, and really for the entire division. I don’t see this going differently than the first fight as I still see Adesanya winning it inside the first two rounds.

What’s at stake: It goes without saying, but the big prize at stake is the UFC Middleweight Championship. What happens after is really dependent on the outcome. If Whittaker wins, it wouldn’t surprise me if they went to an immediate rematch and a trilogy bout between the two, especially if they were able to get clearance to run a stadium in Australia or New Zealand. If Whittaker loses, it could be the last time he gets a shot at the title at middleweight, at least as long as Adesanya is the champion, barring a circumstance where he again beats a lot of other viable contenders. Adesanya wants that top spot on the pound-for-pound list and a win here would move him closer. His next contender will likely be known after this card as well should he win, and there’s plenty of potential future challengers coming up. A win just cements that his first win over Whittaker was the torch passing and this was the solidifying of that.

Pick: Adesanya

Heavyweights: #3 Derrick Lewis vs. #11 Tai Tuivasa

Overall Records: Lewis 26-8 1 NC, Tuivasa 14-3
UFC Records: Lewis 17-6, Tuivasa 7-3
Last Fight: Lewis def. Daukaus–R1 KO–UFC On ESPN+ 57 (12/18/21), Tuivasa def. Sakai–R2 KO–UFC 269 (12/11/21)
Last Five Fights: Lewis 4-1, Tuivasa 4-1
Betting Odds: Lewis -200, Tuivasa +165
Background: A fight that came together rather quickly between two heavyweights making quick turnarounds takes place in the co-main event spot as Houston’s own Lewis battles Tuivasa in what should be an entertaining affair all around, from the lead up to the fight, in the fight itself, and even after it is over. Both men fought in December, with Tuivasa up first as he scored a second-round knockout of Augusto Sakai at UFC 269 on 12/11 to run his win streak to four straight overall, with all four coming by knockout. Lewis was up a week later, scoring a first-round knockout of Chris Daukaus on 12/18, which was his fifth win in his last six fights. Many people, myself included, were suggesting this was a perfect fight to make for both next as they had yet to fight one another. They were both interviewed shortly after and the fight intrigued both of them, and just a day later it was announced. Tuivasa even has admitted that he was drunk when they called him offering him the fight, but he wasn’t going to say no. It also goes against what Lewis was saying, as he had said that he didn’t want to fight in Houston again, but it’s also a three-round fight, which is all Lewis wants when he fights now. This one should have fans salivating the entire time.

How they match up: There’s a lot of similarities between these two, and those make this such an intriguing and potentially exciting brawl. Both can end an opponent’s night with a single right hand, and both are very tough. Tuivasa has improved leaps and bounds since his stretch of three straight losses to where he is more patient and technically better. In the past, he would land a shot that hurt an opponent and rush in and throw wildly, and sometimes it would work and sometimes it would backfire. He doesn’t rush in as much when hurting his opponent now, instead making sure he can make his follow-up shots count. His biggest issue in this one might be his chin, though it hasn’t been tested in recent outings. You know what you’re going to get from Lewis. He’ll throw in some weird and crazy kicks at time, but it is all about landing that right hand that can end anyone. Lewis could decide to work in close range and in the clinch where he’ll have a clear edge over Tuivasa. There will be no wrestling in this one, but in the unlikely chance there might be, it’ll likely be initiated by Lewis. I don’t expect it. What I do expect is someone’s lights to go out in the first round. It’s just a matter of who is the one that land the perfect right hand. I lean Lewis for that as he’s been in this position plenty of times, and the motivation is very much there.

What’s at stake: Whether he really wants to admit it or not, Lewis does have some desire to become the heavyweight champion though he would prefer title fights to be three rounds. With the situation with Francis Ngannou being up in the air, a win could put him back in the mix for whatever comes next. However, a loss would firmly establish him in this gatekeeper role for the heavyweight division. Tuivasa has a chance to break into the top five of the heavyweight division and put himself in title contention with a win. That would be a far cry from where he was just over two years ago when he was on a three-fight losing skid and his UFC future was in serious question. These two know how to entertain the fans, and this should be an entertaining showcase all around.

Pick: Lewis

Middleweights: #3 Jared Cannonier vs. #5 Derek Brunson

Overall Records: Cannonier 14-5, Brunson 23-7
UFC Records: Cannonier 7-5, Brunson 14-5
Last Fight: Cannonier def. Gastelum–UDec–UFC On ESPN 29 (8/21/21), Brunson def. Till–R3 SUB–UFC On ESPN+ 49 (9/4/21)
Last Five Fights: Cannonier 4-1, Brunson 5-0
Betting Odds: Cannonier -175, Brunson +145
Background: Arguably the second-most important bout on the card takes place here with a middleweight bout that could be a title eliminator taking place between Cannonier and Brunson. These two were scheduled to fight last month, but the fight was pushed back to this card so they could serve as potential back-ups in case anything happens to the main event and one of them could slide in as a replacement. Cannonier comes into this fight looking to score his second straight win after a unanimous decision win over Kelvin Gastelum in a main event bout in August. Cannonier is 4-1 since moving down to middleweight, with the lone loss coming to Robert Whittaker, and comes into this fight under a new six-fight contract. Brunson comes into this bout on quite the hot streak as he’s won his last five fights. He’s been in the main event spot in his last three fights, which have been successive wins over Edmen Shahbazyan, Kevin Holland and Darren Till. Two of those wins came via a finish, and Brunson comes into this fight looking to secure a long-awaited shot at the middleweight title.

How they match up: Brunson’s run of five straight wins has seen him show lots of improvement, as he’s gone from primarily being a wrestler to mixing on some really good and effective striking in with it. He’s also become more patient and not always looking for the knockout blow. Cannonier is strong on his feet and has great wrestling defense, which makes this a favorable match-up for him. He also has the power edge and Brunson does have a knack for getting stunned and falling backwards. Brunson could get Cannonier down, but Cannonier fights well off his back when it comes to getting back to his feet as he’s extremely hard to control. If you couple that with the fact that Brunson’s most impressive showings have actually come against weak defensive wrestlers, it shows that this fight should easily be in Cannonier’s favor. That’s not to discredit Brunson with his clear improvement since working with Henry Hooft. There’s just more ways for Cannonier to win and he should be the favorite. This may not end up being the most exciting fight and people shouldn’t expect an instant classic, but it’ll be an interesting chess match for Cannonier in how he finds a way to winning. This is his fight to lose.

What’s at stake: Depending on the outcome of the main event, the winner here is pretty much assured to be the next contender for the UFC Middleweight Championship, as long as Israel Adesanya ends the night still the champion. The only thing preventing that would be a win for Robert Whittaker. An interesting twist thrown in this week was Brunson’s comments that he only wants to fight two more times- this fight and, ideally, a title fight against Adesanya, then call it quits on a career. Should he win, with that plan apparent, he could’ve possibly set up a situation where he gets passed over as the matchmakers won’t want to give a title shot to someone who could become champion and then immediately retire. Cannonier, with his new deal, gets the shot with a win as he’d be someone Adesanya has yet to face. This is a big fight for both men with a title shot looming.

Pick: Cannonier

Bantamweights- Kyler Phillips vs. Marcelo Rojo

Overall Records: Phillips 9-2, Rojo 16-7
UFC Records: Phillips 3-1, Rojo 0-1
Last Fight: Paiva def. Phillips–MajDec–UFC On ESPN 27 (7/24/21), Jourdain def. Rojo–R3 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 45 (3/13/21)
Last Five Fights: Phillips 4-1, Rojo 3-2
Betting Odds: Phillips -350, Rojo +260
Background: A bantamweight bout featuring a highly-touted prospect against a veteran goes down here as Phillips and Rojo both look to get back into the win column. Phillips was on a quick rise since his UFC signing, winning his first three fights inside the Octagon to move inside the top-15 of the bantamweight division. However, he suffered a setback in his last bout, dropping a majority decision to Raulian Paiva in July. Six of his nine wins have come via a finish. Rojo will be making his second walk to the Octagon. He debuted in March of last year, where he was finished in the third round by Charles Jourdain. He’s since had three fights fall apart due to various reasons having nothing to do with him, and has been eager to get back to action and back in the win column. He has scored 14 of his 16 career wins via stoppage.

How they match up: Phillips is a raw athlete who has some good striking with speed in his hands and feet, and some really solid wrestling skills to back it up. He’s a high-volume striker with solid accuracy in the feet as well and good defensively. Rojo is an exciting fighter who has some solid skills on the feet, but he isn’t at the level of athlete that Phillips is. He does land a lot of strikes, but he also eats a lot of them as well. He does have good wrestling and good takedown defense, but hasn’t fought someone as strong and powerful as Phillips. Rojo seems to just be in a spot where he’s being used to rebuild a great prospect, but Phillips shouldn’t take him lightly. Rojo does have the power to end fights, though Phillips has shown to be tough and durable. In the end, it will be the raw dill and talent that leads Phillips to a finish and to getting back on path in a tough division.

What’s at stake: Phillips has all of the tools to be a future title contender, even with how crowded the bantamweight division is at the moment. He’s young at 26-years-old and has been impressive, even with the setback against Paiva in his last fight. This feels like a bounce back for him and a fight designed to get him back into the win column. Rojo is a big underdog in this one, but the veteran is plenty capable of pulling the upset and stopping the momentum of a surging prospect. This is also likely a must-win for Rojo, as cut are happening to the roster, and he could be on the chopping block with a loss.

Pick: Phillips

Lightweights- Bobby Green vs. Nasrat Haqparast

Overall Records: Green 28-12-1, Haqparast 13-4
UFC Records: Green 9-7-1, Haqparast 5-3
Last Fight: Green def. Iaquinta–R1 TKO–UFC 268 (11/6/21), Hooker def. Haqparast–UDec–UFC 266 (9/25/21)
Last Five Fights: Green 3-2, Haqparast 3-2
Betting Odds: Green -165, Haqparast +140
Background: A lightweight bout kicks off the main card as the always tough veteran Green battles the young Haqparast in what should be a pretty fun opener to the main card. Green comes into this bout looking to score his second straight win after scoring a first-round TKO win over Al Iaquinta inside Madison Square Garden in November. Green has been one of the busiest fighters on the roster since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, fighting six times and compiling a 4-2 record. He fought the last time there was a UFC event in Houston, where he got a huge response from the crowd, so it’s fitting he gets a fight on this card following that. Haqparast is looking to get back into the win column in this one after dropping a decision to Dan Hooker at UFC 266 in September. That fight was marred with a lot of adversity, as Haqparast first attended his mother’s funeral before fight week and then had visa issues that could’ve potentially kept him from fighting, only to get to Las Vegas the day before weigh-ins for that show, yet he still made weight. The preparation for this fight has been back to normal, to say the very least.

How they match up: This one should play out on the feet and could turn into quite the striking battle. Green always comes forward, constantly switches his stances, fluidly mixes in his kicks with his punches and combinations, but does tend to keep his hands low. He does have good head movement and is great at avoiding being hit. Haqparast fights out of the southpaw stance and lands a good amount of significant strikes per minute and he has good speed in his hands. However, Green is very elusive and isn’t going to make himself an easy target, which might mean Haqparast is unable to get himself into any kind of groove. It’s not the best stylistic match-up for him. Both men have strong striking defense, but the durability and toughness edge clearly goes to Green. One of the big flaws with Green is, if he is unable to finish his opponents, he has a style that tends to keep fights close in the eyes of the judges. It’s a strategy that has cost him fights he should’ve won, and one that has led to him having to fight from behind a lot. He needs to pressure Haqparast in this one and not let him get into his speed groove. The counters of Green will come into play here, and, ultimately, Green will do plenty to justify winning a clear decision.

What’s at stake: Regardless of what happens in this fight, neither guy has anything to worry about when it comes to their future with the promotion. Green is going to be around for as long as he fights as he’s a guy they love because he has that attitude of fighting anyone at any time on any notice. He also tends to have exciting fights, even if they’re too close to call sometimes. Haqparast is a young and solid prospect who is still only 26-years-old, and he’s been there since he was 22. He has plenty of skills and potential still, and he’s shown to be a quality fighter and will do whatever it takes to make it to his fights. A win is beneficial to both, that goes without saying, but they both have solid futures.

Pick: Green

Preliminary Card
Start Time: 8:00 p.m. ET, 5:00 p.m. PT
Where to watch: ESPN & ESPN+

Heavyweights- Andrei Arlovski vs. Jared Vanderaa

Overall Records: Arlovski 32-20 2 NC, Vanderaa 12-6
UFC Records: Arlovski 21-14 1 NC, Vanderaa 1-2
Last Fight: Arlovski def. Felipe–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 53 (10/16/21), Romanov def. Vanderaa–R2 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 52 (10/9/21)
Last Five Fights: Arlovski 4-1, Vanderaa 3-2
Betting Odds: Arlovski -185, Vanderaa +150
Background: A heavyweight bout caps off the prelims for UFC 271 with a former UFC Heavyweight Champion still battling and contending years after being the champion against an opponent with not quite the same experience level. At 43-years-old and coming into his 55th career bout as a professional in a career that began in April 1999, Arlovski has seen a recent turnaround that has netted him two straight wins and wins in four of his last five bouts. It’s been almost 16 years since Arlovski was a UFC champion, but he’s still chugging along, though he’s looking for his first finish since May 2015. Vanderaa came into the promotion after being signed to a contract following a first-round TKO of Harry Hunsucker on Dana White’s Contender Series in November 2020. He’s won just one of his three UFC bouts since the show and is coming off a second-round TKO loss to Alexandr Romanov in October. Ten of Vanderaa’s 12 wins have come via a finish.

How they match up: Arlovski is still effective at his age and has become a more balanced striker over the years. He hasn’t knocked anyone out in years but still has some power behind his punches. His chin is still a question mark, but he’s shown the ability to take some solid shots and recover from them. It does help that he doesn’t get hit as much as he used to due to being more patient and measured on the feet. Vanderaa is going to have some size on Arlovski and he does like to throw with lots of volume, but he lacks the actual skill on the feet to keep up with Arlovski. His best path to winning will be to hopefully catch Arlovski with a shot with his slight reach advantage, or to be able to take Arlovski down and smother him from the top. Nothing that Vanderaa has shown inside the Octagon thus far shows that he has the ability to get past the workmanlike technique of Arlovski these days. Arlovski should take this by decision.

What’s at stake: Vanderaa needs a win in this one if he’s going to have a UFC future. Fighters who come off of the Contender Series tend to only get four-fight contracts, so this would be the last fight of his deal unless he signed a new one. A loss would move him to 1-3, which likely means no renewal, while a win would likely mean a renewal. Arlovski seems to be a guy who will be around for as long as he wants. He is still competitive with the mid-level opposition in the heavyweight division, and is a former champion who could be used to put over some up-and-coming contenders as he has recently. Everything boils down to how many fights he has left on his contract, but a win here should see him back for at least one more fight.

Pick: Arlovski

Women’s Flyweights- #12 Roxanne Modafferi vs. #15 Casey O’Neill

Overall Records: Modafferi 25-19, O’Neill 8-0
UFC Records: Modafferi 4-7, O’Neill 3-0
Last Fight: Santos def. Modafferi–UDec–UFC 266 (9/25/21), O’Neill def. Shevchenko–R2 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 51 (10/2/21)
Last Five Fights: Modafferi 2-3, O’Neill 5-0
Betting Odds: Modafferi +300, O’Neill -400
Background: A pioneer in women’s mixed martial arts will step foot inside the Octagon for the final time in this bout as Modafferi competes in the 45th and final bout of her long career against a hot, young prospect in O’Neill. Modafferi, who started her career in November 2003, is looking to cap off an illustrious career by ending a two-fight losing skid. Her 2021 schedule was a tough one as she dropped decisions to Viviane Araujo and Taila Santos during the year. The former title challenger is just 4-6 in the ten fights of her second UFC stint. O’Neill comes into this fight undefeated in her career as she’s started out with eight straight wins. 2021 was a big year for her as she debuted with the promotion and went 3-0, scoring finishes over Shana Dobson, Lara Procopio and Antonina Shevchenko. The 24-year-old has scored five of her eight wins via a finish.

How they match up: The retirement fight for Modafferi gives her a shot at pulling the upset, but it’s going to be a tough task for her. She’s far from the athlete that O’Neill is and her striking isn’t going to be able to match as Modafferi throws a lot, but doesn’t connect a lot. O’Neill connects a lot but doesn’t have the best defense on the feet. This will probably be a clinch and grappling battle, which is something that Modafferi will like. She’s always been a strong grappler, but she doesn’t have the strength that O’Neill does. Modafferi also has weak takedown defense while O’Neill has great takedowns and is relentless on the mat with ground-and-pound and submission attempts. Modafferi is going to make this a tough fight for O’Neill, but the young prospect has more avenues to winning. O’Neill should be able to finish Modafferi off on the mat, sending her into retirement on unfortunate terms.

What’s at stake: We already know what the future Modafferi holds, and that is outside of the cage and outside of fighting. She doesn’t want to go out on a loss and on a three-fight losing skid, but she also has that old-school pro wrestler mentality of putting over the young prospect in your final fight. O’Neill is a legitimate prospect at flyweight, and the debate is between her and Erin Blanchfield as to whom is the best female flyweight prospect. This is going to be the big test for her, and even with it being Modafferi’s final fight, she can’t take her lightly. Modafferi pulled the upset against Maycee Barber, and she could easily do the same here if O’Neill takes her lightly. This is a big test for O’Neill as she should know Modafferi is going to bring it.

Pick: O’Neill

Flyweights- #4 Alex Perez vs. #9 Matt Schnell

Overall Records: Perez 24-6, Schnell 15-6
UFC Records: Perez 6-2, Schnell 5-4
Last Fight: Figueiredo def. Perez (title fight)–R1 SUB–UFC 255 (11/21/20), Bontorin def. Schnell–UDec–UFC 262 (5/15/21)
Last Five Fights: Perez 3-2, Schnell 3-2
Betting Odds: Perez -400, Schnell +300
Background: A fight that was originally slated to take place on several different occasions looks to finally be taking place here. After having scheduled bouts in May, August and September pushed back, it looked like the two were going to fight in December. However, Perez had issues at the scale, missing weight, but the fight was called off after Schnell suffered medical issues following the weigh-ins. It was since re-booked for this show. Perez will be fighting for the first time in over a year, when he unsuccessfully challenged Deiveson Figueiredo for the UFC Flyweight Championship, being submitted in the first round at UFC 255 in November 2020. That ended a three-fight win streak, so Perez will be looking to start a new one here. Schnell is also looking to rebound from a loss, as he suffered a decision loss to Rogerio Bontorin at UFC 262 in May. After starting his UFC career 0–2, Schnell went on to win four straight, but is just 1–2 over his last three fights, and will be moving back down to 125 lbs. after his last fight took place at bantamweight.

How they match up: Schnell has all of the tools to be an elite flyweight, but he hasn’t quite lived up to that level yet. He has knockout power and a strong wrestling game, but he doesn’t tend to fight with a sense of urgency, and it cost him against Bontorin, and this is another fight where it could cost him. Perez is slow-paced on the feet and doesn’t have much aggression, but it goads his opponents into fighting slow and allowing him to find the takedown, and he does excellent work on the mat. Schnell does have an excellent submission game, but his wrestling still has question marks, and Perez could utilize some hard leg kicks to set up his takedowns. Perez is more accurate on his feet. Schnell should look to land the heavy right hand as much as possible, but I see Perez using his wrestling and a strong top game to either get a submission or ride it out to a decision.

What’s at stake: The division was going to different than the last time Perez fought, had they fought in December when Brandon Moreno was at the top, but with Figueiredo back as champion, Perez will likely need a few wins to get back into contention. Schnell has always been on the cusp of breaking into that upper echelon of the division, and a win here could finally get him there. Neither will be fighting for a title next with a win, but it would be a start to where a few more wins could bring that title shot.

Pick: Perez

Light Heavyweights- William Knight vs. Maxim Grishin

Overall Records: Knight 11-2, Grishin 31-9-2
UFC Records: Knight 3-1, Grishin 1-2
Last Fight: Knight def. Menifield–UDec–UFC On ESPN 31 (12/4/21), Jacoby def. Grishin–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 44 (2/27/21)
Last Five Fights: Knight 4-1, Grishin 2-2-1
Betting Odds: Knight -170, Grishin +145
Background: A light heavyweight bout featuring a fighter taking the fight on short notice takes place here as Knight comes in with limited preparation to take on Grishin. Knight replaced Ed Herman in this bout, who was forced out due to injury, taking the fight on just about two weeks’ notice. Knight comes in looking to extend his two-fight win streak as he’s scored back-to-back wins over Fabio Cherant and Alonzo Menifield. Knight is 3-1 since his official signing coming off of Dana White’s Contender Series, and nine of his eleven career wins have come by knockout. Grishin is fighting for the first time in nearly a year as he looks to bounce back from a decision loss to Dustin Jacoby in February of last year. He’s just 1-2 during his UFC run as he heads into his 43rd professional MMA bout. He’s scored 22 wins by finish during his career.

How they match up: As I always state in these previews when he fights, the most noticeable thing about Knight is that he’s an absolute tank. He brings a lot of power in his hands and he’s finally started to put that together in his recent outings. He’s going to need it here to overcome the reach of Grishin and his five-inch advantage here. Grishin does tend to fight slow at times, and Knight does as well, so this could be a real chess match with both looking to land on whatever openings they can find. Knight does have decent takedowns and an improving ground game, and his strength should be good enough to keep Grishin down if they go to the mat. It’ll come down to how they fare on the feet. Grishin is going to have to watch out for the power and Knight needs to apply the pressure, mix in his leg kicks and not let Grishin get out in front of him in the punch stats. Knight taking the fight on short notice might not be beneficial to him, but Grishin might have some ring rust with not fighting in a year. I think the power of Knight makes the difference here.

What’s at stake: This is a must-win fight for Grishin. His 1-2 record puts him on a list of potentially being cut from the roster or not having his contract renewed, and a loss could make that even more likely, especially if it comes against a late-notice opponent. Knight has shown lots of flashes of potential, and he’s going to have a future following this fight, especially since he took it on short notice. A three-fight win streak could give him a ranked opponent for his next fight. He really can’t afford a loss to a lower-level fighter if he wants to make a title run at age 33.

Pick: Knight

Early Preliminary Card
Start Time: 5:30 p.m. ET, 2:30 p.m. PT
Where to watch: ESPN+

Bantamweights- Mana Martinez vs. Ronnie Lawrence

Overall Records: Martinez 9-2, Lawrence 7-1
UFC Records: Martinez 1-0, Lawrence 1-0
Last Fight: Martinez def. Cannetti–SpDec–UFC On ESPN 30 (8/28/21), Lawrence def. Cachero–R3 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 44 (2/27/21)
Last Five Fights: Martinez 4-1, Lawrence 4-1
Betting Odds: Martinez +230, Lawrence -300
Background: A pair of bantamweight prospects entering their second trips to the Octagon battle here as Martinez and Lawrence both look to get their UFC careers off to a 2-0 start. Martinez fights in his hometown of Houston looking to score his fourth straight win. He made his UFC debut in August, scoring a split decision win over Guido Cannetti just days after his head coach passed away due to COVID-19 complications. Lawrence is a product of Dana White’s Contender Series, earning his contract in September 2020, and is looking to extend his four-fight win streak. His UFC debut came nearly a year ago as he finished Vince Cachero in February 2021, his fourth finish win in his career.

How they match up: Lawrence is a wrestler who is going to be looking to take Martinez down early and often. He’s had success with it too- he scored 12 takedowns in his appearance on the Contender Series, and eight takedowns in his UFC debut. Behind all of that wrestling is a high-paced striking game, so he’s not a typical lay-and-pray type of takedown artist. Martinez has a lot of power in his hands but he struggles when he is pressured by his opponents. Lawrence is definitely going to be pressuring him in looking for the takedown and has very good durability, which makes it even tougher for Martinez to finish him with that one power punch. In a battle of young prospects, Lawrence’s wrestling is going to be the difference and he’s going to use it to take a decision.

What’s at stake: This is a solid match-up between two young prospects at 135 lbs. that have loads of potential. This is just the second UFC bout for both men, so we will see them both again after this fight, but a 2-0 record could net the winner a slot on a main card. A loss will hurt the trajectory of both, but they are also young enough in life and in their careers to bounce back from one. This should be a fun fight while it lasts.

Pick: Lawrence

Lightweights- Alexander Hernandez vs. Renato Moicano

Overall Records: Hernandez 13-4, Moicano 15-4-1
UFC Records: Hernandez 5-3, Moicano 7-4
Last Fight: Hernandez def. Breeden–R1 KO–UFC On ESPN+ 51 (10/2/21), Moicano def. Herbert–R2 SUB–UFC On ESPN+ 48 (6/26/21)
Last Five Fights: Hernandez 3-2, Moicano 2-3
Betting Odds: Hernandez +140, Moicano -165
Background: A lightweight bout that really should be higher on the card takes place here as Hernandez and Moicano both look to creep back close to the top-15 of the division in this one. Hernandez is looking to get some consistency going inside the Octagon as he looks for his second straight win after a first-round knockout of Mike Breeden in October. After starting his career with a 10-1 record, including wins in his first two UFC bouts, Hernandez is just 3-3 in his last six fights, rotating losses-and-wins during that frame. Like Hernandez, Moicano is looking to score his second straight win after a second-round submission win over Jai Herbert in June. Moicano was on the cusp of a title shot at featherweight before a pair of losses, and has won two of his three fights since moving up to the lightweight division. Eight of his 15 career wins have come via a submission.

How they match up: This one will be interesting as it’s a case of Moicano is better everywhere, but Hernandez does have the difference maker in that he has the power to end it with one shot. Both men have questionable chins and have been finished, but I think Moicano doesn’t have quite the chin that Hernandez does, nor the power. He is still technically better on the feet and at his best when he can dictate range and control the pace of a fight. Hernandez needs to come out quick very early because the longer the fight goes the more it starts to lean in the favor of Moicano. Moicano has a tremendous ground game, but Hernandez is difficult to take down. If he can get Hernandez down, it might be quick work for Moicano. This one goes back to who wins on the feet. Hernandez is the harder hitter, but it’s going to be the pressure and pace that Moicano puts on Hernandez that will be the key factor in who wins.

What’s at stake: A potential spot inside the lightweight rankings could be at stake in this one. At the very least, the winner could (or really should) get a ranked opponent for their next bout. Hernandez soared into the UFC scene quickly with his brash personality after his first two wins, but he’s had his struggles of late against some tough veterans. Moicano has found new life since the move to 155 lbs., with his only loss coming to Rafael Fiziev. He’s probably higher up the totem pole than Hernandez is right now, and a win would be a big deal here. This is a very pivotal bout for both men despite Hernandez not being all that excited for it.

Pick: Moicano

Light Heavyweights- Carlos Ulberg vs. Fabio Cherant

Overall Records: Ulberg 3-1, Cherant 7-3
UFC Records: Ulberg 0-1, Cherant 0-2
Last Fight: Nzechukwu def. Ulberg–R2 KO–UFC 259 (3/6/21), Knight def. Cherant–R1 KO–UFC On ESPN 29 (8/21/21)
Last Five Fights: Ulberg 3-1, Cherant 3-2
Betting Odds: Ulberg -200, Cherant +165
Background: A pair of light heavyweights in search of their first UFC wins battle here as Ulberg and Cherant square off in a fight that could end pretty quickly. Ulberg, one of the main training partners of Israel Adesanya, is still early in his career as this will be only his fifth career fight. He started his career with three straight wins, including a first-round knockout on Dana White’s Contender Series to earn his UFC contract, but suffered a setback in his UFC debut, being finished in the second round by Kennedy Nzechukwu. Two of his three wins have come by knockout. Cherant comes into this bout looking to end a two-fight losing skid that has plagued the start of his UFC career. He signed for a short-notice bout to make his debut, which ended up being a first-round submission loss to Alonzo Menifield in March. His next bout didn’t go much better as he was knocked out in the first round by William Knight in August.

How they match up: I’m going to go out and say right away that I don’t see this fight going past the first five minutes. Ulberg is a high-volume striker who lands a lot of strikes, but he also eats a bunch as well. Cherant is not an overtly strong striker as he prefers the grappling and submission game. Cherant would be best served trying to drag this fight past the first round as Ulberg showed in his last fight that he gets tired rather quickly. Cherant isn’t a strong enough wrestler to keep Ulberg down, so he’s going to have to hope he can find a shot that drops Ulberg so he can rush in for a finish. He’s going to be outclassed on the feet by Ulberg, and it’ll come down to whether the conditioning issues affect him in this going. Cherant has had a tough schedule so far since his UFC signing, but this bout doesn’t do him many favors either. Ulberg’s finishing ability is good enough that this will end in the first.

What’s at stake: Both men want to score their first UFC win, so that’s the big thing at stake in this bout. Cherant is more in a need of a win that Ulberg is when it comes to their respective futures. A loss for Cherant would make him 0-3 since his UFC signing, and could result in a cut from the roster. I don’t see anything happening to Ulberg regarding being cut should he lose, and you can call it the Adesanya factor, but he does need a win to show that he truly belongs in that tough light heavyweight division.

Pick: Ulberg

Middleweights- AJ Dobson vs. Jacob Malkoun

Overall Records: Dobson 6-0 1 NC, Malkoun 5-1
UFC Records: Dobson 0-0, Malkoun 1-1
Last Fight: Dobson def. Arkhagha–R1 SUB–Dana White’s Contender Series 40 (9/21/21), Malkoun def. Alhassan–UDec–UFC On ESPN 22 (4/17/21)
Last Five Fights: Dobson 5-0, Malkoun 4-1
Betting Odds: Dobson -160, Malkoun +130
Background: A middleweight bout pitting a debuting fighter against a training partner of a former champion takes place here as Dobson steps inside the Octagon for the first time against Malkoun, a training partner of Robert Whittaker. Dobson was one of the more impressive fighters on the recent season of Dana White’s Contender Series, scoring a first-round submission of Hashem Arkhagha to earn his UFC contract. He has yet to taste defeat in his young career, with six wins and a no contest. Five of his six wins have been finishes, all in the first round, with three in a minute or less. Malkoun fights for the third time since his UFC signing. He’s looking for his second straight win after scoring a decision win over Abdul Razak Alhassan in April. Two of his five professional wins have come via a knockout.

How they match up: Malkoun has professional boxing experience and is a very good jiu-jitsu artist, and he showed off that he has some solid wrestling chops in his last fight. He doesn’t have the pure talent that Dobson does, but he is talented in his own right. Dobson is a lot like Malkoun’s last opponent, Alhassan, in that he is an aggressive and wild striker with a lot of power who looks to end every fight in the first round. After the first round is when the questions about Dobson begin to be asked. There is no doubt that Dobson could end this quick, so Malkoun should be looking to utilize his wrestling game to slow him down. Working in the clinch would be the best path for Malkoun to win, and making it a boring fight would benefit him as well. I don’t see it happening as Dobson has too much talent to not get it done in blitzing fashion inside the first round.

What’s at stake: Dobson has tons of potential and this is a good first test for him inside the Octagon. Malkoun looks like someone who may never be a title contender, but he’s a tough dude that is going to win some fights and lose some fights. Dobson is the older fighter of the two, but his upside at the moment trends way higher. This will be a fun and interesting tilt for both men.

Pick: Dobson

Bantamweights- Douglas Silva de Andrade vs. Sergey Morozov

Overall Records: Silva de Andrade 27-4 1 NC, Morozov 17-4
UFC Records: Silva de Andrade 5-4, Morozov 1-1
Last Fight: Silva de Andrade def. Pirrello–R1 KO–UFC On ESPN+ 51 (10/2/21), Morozov def. Taha–UDec–UFC On ESPN 26 (7/17/21)
Last Five Fights: Silva de Andrade 3-2, Morozov 4-1
Betting Odds: Silva de Andrade +190, Morozov -225
Background: A bantamweight bout that feels kind of out of place as compared to the rest of the card, but features some high-level fighters takes place here as Andrade and Morozov both look for their second straight wins. Andrade came into the UFC with an undefeated record, but he’s struggled to keep it up as he’s just 5-4 with the promotion. He has fought some tough competition, including Petr Yan, Rob Font, Renan Barao and Marlon Vera, and has traded wins-and-losses in his last seven. He’s coming off a first-round knockout of Gaetano Pirrello, the 20th knockout win of his career. Morozov makes his third UFC appearance as he looks for his second straight win. He is coming off a unanimous decision win over Khalid Taha in July. 11 of his 17 career wins have come by stoppage.

How they match up: This will be a battle between a striker and a wrestler and should be interesting. Andrade likes to hunt for the knockout and does have that one-punch power to end it. Morozov will have constant pressure with the takedowns, something that Andrade has had trouble with in the past. He does defend a decent amount of takedowns attempted against him, but Morozov will also pressure him against the fence and keep him from landing that power shot. Andrade isn’t the most technical fighter there is, and his inability to keep from getting put on the mat will do him no good in this one. This should be all pressure coming from Morozov as he will string together lots of takedowns and dominate the fight on the ground on his way to a submission.

What’s at stake: A spot on the roster could be at stake in this one. History would dictate that Andrade should lose this fight, which would move him to 5-5 and likely fighting somewhere else next. A loss for Morozov would make him 1-2 during his UFC tenure, which could either lead to a cut or one more fight. It’s a big fight for both men as they are fighting for their UFC futures here.

Pick: Morozov

Welterweights- Jeremiah Wells vs. Mike Mathetha

Overall Records: Wells 9-2-1, Mathetha 3-0
UFC Records: Wells 1-0, Mathetha 0-0
Last Fight: Wells def. Alves–R2 KO–UFC On ESPN+ 48 (6/26/21), Mathetha def. Gillies–UDec–Eternal MMA 50 (2/22/20)
Last Five Fights: Wells 4-1, Mathetha 3-0
Betting Odds: Wells -230, Mathetha +190
Background: A welterweight bout that could bring lots of fireworks kicks off the show as Wells welcomes the debuting Mathetha to the Octagon. Both men see late changes in opponents as Mathetha was originally scheduled to fight Orion Cosce in this bout, and Wells was supposed to fight Tim Means last week, but Cosce and Means both pulled out, leading to this booking. Wells is looking to extend his three-fight win streak, which included a second-round knockout of Warlley Alves in June in his UFC debut. Seven of Wells’ nine wins have come via stoppage. Mathetha, best known by his nickname of ‘Blood Diamond’ is still young in his MMA career as this will be only his fourth professional bout. He is a training partner of Israel Adesanya, but hasn’t fought since February 2020 when he scored a decision win over Dimps Gillies. He does have lots of kickboxing experience.
How they match up: Mathetha has all of the tools in the world but is unproven outside of the lower levels of the regional scene in MMA. He’s getting tons of hype, including from his teammates, and he has shown to be a dangerous striker. Wells is a great match-up for him as this fight is going to play out on the feet, but Mathetha has shown he has some good grappling during his short MMA career. Mathetha is going to look to eat up the legs of Wells with kicks so he can avoid any sort of wrestling attack from him. Wells is the more well-rounded fighter of the two in an MMA sense, but Mathetha is so dangerous and powerful on the feet that Wells is going to have to have patience, but not much of it. Even with the relative inexperience, Mathetha has all of the ability and athleticism to finish Wells inside the first five minutes.
What’s at stake: Blood Diamond is getting a fair amount of hype coming into his UFC debut, so expectations seem to be high on him. He has the skills and potential to live up to the hype, so it’ll be interesting in how this one goes. Wells has plenty of skill himself and has shown the ability to score the upset, and he’ll be looking to do the same here. Both men have solid foundations to build on for future UFC success.
Pick: Mathetha

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