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Guide to UFC on ESPN+ 58: Hermansson vs. Strickland

Getting prepared for UFC action this Saturday? Here’s everything you need to know in our Guide to UFC on ESPN+ 58: Hermansson vs. Strickland.

UFC on ESPN+ 58
Date: February 5, 2022
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+

Middleweights: #6 Jack Hermansson vs. #7 Sean Strickland

Overall Records: Hermansson 22-6, Strickland 24-3
UFC Records: Hermansson 9-4, Strickland 11-3
Last Fight: Hermansson def. Shahbazyan–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 46 (5/22/21), Strickland def. Hall–UDec–UFC On ESPN 28 (7/31/21)
Last Five Fights: Hermansson 3-2, Strickland 5-0
Betting Odds: Hermansson +195, Strickland -250
Background: The main event of this card, which features plenty of fights in this division on the card, is an interesting middleweight headliner between Hermansson and Strickland. Both are ranked inside the top seven at 185 lbs., as Hermansson is ranked sixth and Strickland seventh, and a push towards a title shot will be awaiting the winner. Hermansson comes into this bout looking for his second straight win after scoring a decision win over Edmen Shahbazyan in May. He was on the cusp of breaking into the title picture with a four-fight win streak, capped off by a dominant win over Ronaldo Souza in his first main event, but losses in two of his next three sent Hermansson back down the ladder a little bit. Strickland comes into this bout riding a five-fight win streak. This will be the second main event for Strickland, who is coming off his first main event win over Uriah Hall in July. He was scheduled to fight Luke Rockhold in November, but that fight got called off, so he’s been eager to get back to action. Both men like to finish fights, as Hermansson has 17 wins by stoppage and Strickland has 14.

How they match up: This will be an interesting styles clash as both men are well-rounded fighters who bring a lot to the table. Hermansson may be the more well-rounded of the two, but that isn’t a knock on Strickland at all. Strickland does land slightly more on the feet but isn’t quite as accurate with his striking as Hermansson is. Both have solid defense though Strickland tends to allow himself to get hit just a little more. Both men have power in their fists, and Hermansson seems to have the higher fight IQ of the two. Strickland does like to talk a lot in the cage as he attempts to get into the heads of his opponents, so Hermansson is going to need to be aware of that. Hermansson likes to utilize pressure and really excels in getting his opponents down to the mat and controlling on the ground. Strickland is a solid grappler with a black belt in jiu-jitsu with solid takedown defense, but he hasn’t fought an opponent with the caliber of a ground game that Hermansson does. This is really a close fight on paper and everywhere, but Hermansson has been here before and got the job done while Strickland still leaves a lot to be desired. I could see Hermansson winning by submission, but I suspect it’ll go the distance.

What’s at stake: A spot inside the top five of the middleweight rankings could be awaiting the winner, as could a possible title shot, or, at the very least, a position where the winner would definitely be just one fight away from a shot. With the UFC Middleweight Championship bout and presumed number one contender bout both taking place next weekend at UFC 271, the winner here will be keeping an eye on both of those fights. Hermansson is in the position of probably needing the win more, as he’s been on the cusp of the title picture for years only to falter, and this could be his last shot. Strickland has a lot of upside, but also a lot of red flags against him due to his personality, interviews and the way he acts, and a loss for him wouldn’t be a bad thing for a lot of people. This is the only fight on the card with ranked fighters, and the only one that is truly pivotal to a division’s future, so this is a big fight.

Pick: Hermansson

Middleweights: Punahele Soriano vs. Nick Maximov

Overall Records: Soriano 8-1, Maximov 7-0
UFC Records: Soriano 2-1, Maximov 1-0
Last Fight: Allen def. Soriano–UDec–UFC On ESPN 27 (7/24/21), Maximov def. Brundage–UDec–UFC 266 (9/25/21)
Last Five Fights: Soriano 4-1, Maximov 5-0
Betting Odds: Soriano -200, Maximov +165
Background: A pair of middleweight prospects square off in the co-main event as Soriano looks to get back into the win column against the undefeated Maximov. Soriano is coming off of his first professional loss, which was a decision loss to Brendan Allen in July. Prior to that setback, he had won all eight of his professional bouts, including a 2-0 start to his UFC career. He has scored seven of his eight wins by finish, and his two UFC wins have both come in the first round. Maximov is a protégé of the Diaz brothers and comes into this fight with a perfect 7-0 record. He had a successful UFC debut in September, scoring a win over Cody Brundage. He has an extensive background competing in grappling tournaments, and five of his seven wins are by stoppage. Both men come from Dana White’s Contender Series, though Maximov wasn’t immediately signed from the show.

How they match up: This is your classic bout between a striker and a grappler as these two young prospects both look to show improvements in this one. Soriano is the striker of the two as he has some great power and likes to get into boxing range and tee off on opponents with combinations. Maximov lands under two significant strikes per minute during his fights, which shows he’s still developing on the feet. Soriano needs to turn this into a slugfest and not leave himself open to being taken down, as Maximov has good takedowns and a very strong ground game. Soriano has defended every takedown attempted on him, but Maximov is relentless in trying to get his opponents to the mat, and he will dominate Soriano on the ground if it goes there. I don’t think it will as I see Soriano’s power and hands getting off to a quick start, and Maximov is just inexperienced enough that adjustments will be hard to make in short order.

What’s at stake: Both are young prospects with bright futures ahead of them and will be part of the roster for years to come. Maximov, of course, doesn’t want to see his undefeated record end. Soriano knows how that feels and now would love to be the one to take someone’s undefeated mark away from them after it happened to them. The winner will continue their slow climb through the middleweight rankings, while the loser will likely battle another prospect in the future. There’s much to gain for the winner and not really all that much to lose for the loser.

Pick: Soriano

Welterweights: Shavkat Rakhmonov vs. Carlston Harris

Overall Records: Rakhmonov 14-0, Harris 17-4
UFC Records: Rakhmonov 2-0, Harris 2-0
Last Fight: Rakhmonov def. Prazeres–R2 SUB–UFC On ESPN+ 48 (6/26/21), Harris def. Kasanganay–R1 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 50 (9/18/21)
Last Five Fights: Rakhmonov 5-0, Harris 5-0
Betting Odds: Rakhmonov -225, Harris +185
Background: A pair of welterweight finishers clash here as the undefeated Rakhmonov and Harris both seek their third win inside the Octagon. Rakhmonov comes into this fight with a perfect 14-0 record after a submission win over Michel Prazeres in June, his second triumph since signing his UFC deal. All 14 of his wins have come via a finish, with seven each by knockout and submission, and he’s been listed on many lists when it comes to UFC fighters to watch in the future. Harris comes into this fight riding a five-fight win streak, and wins in nine of his last ten fights. He scored a first-round TKO of Impa Kasanganay in his last fight in September, and both of his UFC wins have come in the first round, both under three minutes. He has ten wins by finish overall, and holds pre-UFC wins over current UFC fighters Michel Pereira and Wellington Turman.

How they match up: Rakhmonov has tons of hype and potential and Harris is the perfect person who could play spoiler. Rakhmonov is an excellent mixture of striking, wrestling and submissions and a well-touted finisher. Harris also mixes his striking, wrestling and submissions well, but not at the level as Rakhmonov and he’s not quite as naturally talented. Harris does have some solid defense on the feet when it comes to the striking, but Rakhmonov isn’t going to wear opponents down with power punches. He’s going to be precise with his shots and land them meaningfully, and generally will use his punching to set up his grappling. Harris has the experience and skill to make it tough for Rakhmonov, but Rakhmonov could actually challenge for a title right now- he’s that talented. I expect this to be a big and solid win for Rakhmonov.

What’s at stake: Both of these are solid mid-pack welterweights at the moment, but the winner will get themselves a much bigger fight after this. There is more upside to Rakhmonov due to his age, but Harris has shown to be a very serviceable veteran. Rakhmonov does look like he could contend for the title one day, but a loss here would make that very hard in the future. This is a big fight for both to establish themselves as threats in the welterweight division.

Pick: Rakhmonov

Light Heavyweights: Sam Alvey vs. Brendan Allen

Overall Records: Alvey 33-16-1 1 NC, Allen 17-5
UFC Records: Alvey 10-11-1, Allen 5-2
Last Fight: Turman def. Alvey–SpDec–UFC On ESPN 30 (8/28/21), Curtis def. Allen–R2 TKO–UFC On ESPN 31 (12/4/21)
Last Five Fights: Alvey 0-4-1, Allen 3-2
Betting Odds: Alvey +310, Allen -400
Background: A fight that came together on Tuesday takes place now in the light heavyweight division as Alvey tries to shake off his recent slide against late replacement Allen. Alvey was originally slated to fight Ian Heinisch, but he was forced out due to injury. In stepped Hawes, but he was forced out on Monday of fight week due to injury, which led to Allen stepping in on just a few days’ notice.. Alvey is somehow still a UFC roster member as he looks to get back into the win column for the first time since June 2018. He’s winless in his last seven fights, with six losses and a draw, and has lost two straight since moving back down to the middleweight division. Hawes comes into this fight looking to bounce back from a third-round knockout loss to Chris Curtis at in December. That ended his two-fight win streak he had put together following a loss to Sean Strickland. 14 of Allen’s 17 wins have come via a finish.

How they match up: The late change in opponents definitely isn’t benefitting Alvey, but, lucky for him, Allen is pretty similar to Hawes in terms of fighting style. However, Allen is the better fighter of the two who is going to make Alvey have to work hard if he wants to win. Allen’s chin is now a question mark after being finished by Curtis, and with this fight coming on short notice, he may not be fully ready for competition. Alvey fights as a southpaw and is now for his patented right hook that has put his opponents’ lights out before. That is a key shot Allen needs to be prepared for. Other than that, Alvey tends to fight at a slow pace and does very little to actually be on offense, which often leads to him either giving away fights or having close fights that don’t go his way that he later complains about. Allen tends to land more with his strikes and likely has the power edge, and it’ll just be a matter of how in shape he is coming into this. He shouldn’t take Alvey lightly even with Alvey’s winless skid, but it’s hard to pick Alvey until he actually shows something.

What’s at stake: I was thinking this would be the end of Alvey with the promotion if he suffered another loss, but with the last-minute change in opponents, I’m not so sure he’d be done even with a loss. A win would certainly get him another shot unless it’s the last fight on his deal and he doesn’t get renewed, but, regardless, this is a must-win fight for him being that he’s winless in his last seven. Allen is taking a chance here, and a second straight loss wouldn’t be good for his record, so this is also really a must-win fight for him.

Pick: Allen

Middleweights: Tresean Gore vs. Bryan Battle

Overall Records: Gore 3-0, Battle 6-1
UFC Records: Gore 0-0, Battle 1-0
Last Fight: Gore def. Echols–R1 SUB–AFC 5 (10/3/20), Battle def. Urbina–R2 SUB–UFC On ESPN 30 (8/28/21)
Last Five Fights: Gore 3-0, Battle 5-0
Betting Odds: Gore -175, Battle +145
Background: What was originally scheduled to be the middleweight finals for the most recent season of The Ultimate Fighter takes place here as Gore returns from injury to take on the TUF 29 middleweight winner Battle. Gore made it to the finals, but a knee injury knocked him out of the fight, and Battle would go on to submit Gilbert Urbina in the second round to win the six-figure UFC contract. Gore was the favorite to win that fight before the injury, and he gets a UFC shot anyways as he looks to remain undefeated in his fourth professional bout. He hasn’t had an official fight since October 2020, when he submitted Christian Echols. Battle will be looking to extend his five-fight win streak here, and five of his six career wins have come by stoppage.

How they match up: This is another classic battle of striker against grappler with Gore being the striker and Battle being the grappler. Gore showed the most potential out of any cast member on the most recent TUF season, and he has a fantastic story to back it up. He’s also a great physical talent with some hard punches and quick movement on his feet. Battle likes to turn fights into grinds, wearing down his opponents in the clinch against the fence before taking them down. When it’s on the mat, he likes to attack the neck and is very good at finding submissions. He just doesn’t have the physical tools that Gore has and is going to be unable to match him on the feet. This should be a solid fight but I like Gore to score the win.

What’s at stake: This past season of TUF was one of the weaker campaigns in the show’s history, so both men are going to have to be carefully booked if they want to have solid UFC futures. Both are young and with the promotion probably sooner than they would’ve been ready for otherwise, but that’s just a sign of the times. I think Gore has more potential and would be interested in seeing what he does, so he needs a win to get another guaranteed UFC fight. Battle has his contract and will get a few more fights, but he’d like to keep winning and moving up the ladder. These are two to keep an eye on in the future.

Pick: Gore

Featherweights: Julian Erosa vs. Steven Peterson

Overall Records: Erosa 26-9, Peterson 19-9
UFC Records: Erosa 4-5, Peterson 3-3
Last Fight: Erosa def. Jourdain–R3 SUB–UFC On ESPN+ 49 (9/4/21), Peterson def. Hooper–UDec–UFC 263 (6/12/21)
Last Five Fights: Erosa 4-1, Peterson 3-2
Betting Odds: Erosa -350, Peterson +260
Background: A featherweight fight that could bring tons of fun to the event opens the main card as Erosa and Peterson both looking to continue their winning ways. Erosa, a veteran of 35 career fights, is in his third UFC stint, and it’s been his best run with the promotion thus far. He’s 3-1 since he returned in June 2020, with all three wins being a finish. He’s coming off a third-round submission of Charles Jourdain in September, which was his 23rd career win by finish. Peterson will be fighting for the 29th time in his career as he goes for his 20th career win. He’s looking to make it three straight wins after scoring a unanimous decision win over Chase Hooper at UFC 263 in June. Those wins have turned his UFC career around after a 1-3 start as he looks to add to his 13 career finishes in this bout.

How they match up: This could be your sleeper pick for ‘Fight Of The Night’ as it’s two action-packed featherweights who like to trade on the feet. Both are high-volume strikers who tend to get hit more than they land. Erosa lands just over five-and-a-half significant strikes per minute, but eats just under six per minute. Peterson is very similar in that aspect, but has better defense on the feet. While they have all of those stats on the feet, both are equally skilled in their jiu-jitsu games. Erosa has a slick jiu-jitsu game while Peterson is a black belt in jiu-jitsu. Erosa has the better takedown game, and while Peterson may be the actual better grappler, he doesn’t come off as dangerous on the mat as Erosa does. Erosa is going to have the advantage on the feet, and it appears he will have the advantage on the mat as well. This is going to be a tough fight that either can win, but I do like Erosa to take this one.

What’s at stake: Both look to have steady futures with the promotion, and a win by both would move them up the ladder in the tough featherweight division. Erosa has been one of the more active fighters during the pandemic, with this being his fifth fight since June 2020. In contrast, this is only Peterson’s second fight since September 2019, so he would like to stay more active and show he’s fully recovered from the injuries he suffered. Neither man will likely be cut with a loss, but neither wants to lose, so this should be fun while it lasts.

Pick: Erosa

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

Bantamweights: Miles Johns vs. John Castaneda

Overall Records: Johns 12-1, Castaneda 18-5
UFC Records: Johns 3-1, Castaneda 1-1
Last Fight: Johns def. Dos Santos–R2 KO–UFC 265 (8/7/21), Castaneda def. Wineland–R1 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 43 (2/20/21)
Last Five Fights: Johns 4-1, Castaneda 2-3
Betting Odds: Johns -250, Castaneda +200
Background: A bantamweight battle featuring a very solid prospect at 135 lbs. going against a tough veteran caps off the prelims as Johns and Castaneda both look to remain in the win column. Johns is coming into this bout riding a two-fight win streak after scoring back-to-back third-round knockout wins over Kevin Natividad and Anderson Dos Santos. Both of those wins got Johns a bonus for Performance Of The Night, and his UFC record stands at 3-1, and he’s one of the under-the-radar fighters to keep an eye on at bantamweight. Castaneda comes into this bout looking for his second straight win as he fights for the first time in nearly a year. He was last in action in late February 2021, scoring a first-round finish of Eddie Wineland. He’s attempting to get his first win streak going since before his UFC signing as he’d won eleven straight at one point, but has won just two of his last five.

How they match up: Castaneda is going to have a five-inch reach advantage on Johns, and he’s going to need to use it to his advantage in this one. When Johns gets momentum going, he works behind a snapping jab, so Castaneda using his length to keep Johns away from being able to land it is key. Castaneda does tend to get hit slightly more, eating over five significant strikes per minute, and Johns has very good defense on the feet. Johns has the more power of the two, especially if he can get the jab working and use it to find his power shots. Castaneda is effective on the feet when he gets the lead, so Johns needs to avoid being passive and, perhaps, mix in his wrestling in this one. Johns is better in the wrestling and on the mat and he could wear down the cardio of Castaneda on the mat. Johns has enough tools and enough potential that he should pass the test of the tough veteran.

What’s at stake: Johns has a lot of potential as a prospect who could eventually be inside of the bantamweight rankings and possibly in title contention. He’s been very impressive and is just 27-years-old, and a win here would show he’s possibly ready to fight some top twenty competition. Castaneda has shown to be a quality veteran, but he doesn’t strike many as someone who will ever be in title contention. His role is perfect in this one- the tough veteran expected to lose, but always someone who can pull an upset. This should be a solid fight.

Pick: Johns

Featherweights: Hakeem Dawodu vs. Michael Trizano

Overall Records: Dawodu 12-2-1, Trizano 9-1
UFC Records: Dawodu 5-2, Trizano 3-1
Last Fight: Evloev def. Dawodu–UDec–UFC 263 (6/12/21), Trizano def. Klein–UDec–UFC On ESPN 24 (5/8/21)
Last Five Fights: Dawodu 4-1, Trizano 4-1
Betting Odds: Dawodu -200, Trizano +165
Background: An interesting featherweight bout takes place here featuring a formerly ranked individual looking to get back into the top 15 going against a former winner of The Ultimate Fighter as Dawodu battles Trizano. Dawodu is looking to get back into the win column after suffering a tough decision loss to Movsar Evloev at UFC 263 in June. That ended a five-fight win streak that Dawodu had put together after he lost his UFC debut, a win streak that found him inside the featherweight rankings. Dawodu has seven knockouts in his career. Trizano, the TUF 27 winner in the lightweight division, looks to score his second straight win in this one. He returned from a near two-year layoff to win a decision over Ludovit Klein in May. He has just one loss in his ten career bouts, a submission loss to Grant Dawson in May 2019. He has four wins via stoppage, but is looking for his first UFC finish here.

How they match up: Dawodu is going to enjoy a slight reach advantage, which will play a big factor into this one. I see this fight playing out primarily on the feet, where Dawodu has the clear edge. He lands more strikes, has better defense, mixes things up better and has knockout power. Trizano likes to pressure and come straight forward, but he doesn’t have the versatility on the feet that Dawodu does, and he lacks the power of Dawodu. He could try and take Dawodu down, but Dawodu does have strong takedown defense. Trizano won’t have to worry about Dawodu looking for a takedown as he has attempted just two takedowns in his seven fight UFC run. With Trizano’s pressure style, I can see Dawodu landing a solid counter, which he is great at landing, leading to him finishing Trizano inside the first round. Either way, this should be a win for Dawodu.

What’s at stake: Dawodu wants to get back inside the featherweight rankings and back into high-profile fights, and a win here would lead to that possibility. He showed a lot of upside before running into that wrestling wall that is Evloev, so he’ll need to show improvements here. Trizano needs a win to avoid a dreaded 2-2 start to his UFC run, which is something that hasn’t boded well for former TUF winners. He’ll get some more fights and leeway as a former show winner, but he’s got to get more active and rack up more wins.

Pick: Dawodu

Middleweights: Chidi Njokuani vs. Marc-Andre Barriault

Overall Records: Njokuani 20-7 1 NC, Barriault 13-4 1 NC
UFC Records: Njokuani 0-0, Barriault 2-3 1 NC
Last Fight: Njokuani def. Sousa–R3 TKO–Dana White’s Contender Series 38 (9/7/21), Barriault def. Lungiambula–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 49 (9/4/21)
Last Five Fights: Njokuani 3-2, Barriault 2-2 1 NC
Betting Odds: Njokuani -110, Barriault -110
Background: A battle of veterans, one of whom is making his UFC debut after nearly 15 years as a professional, finds a quality match-up on the prelims as the debuting Njokuani takes on Barriault. Njokuani is making his long-awaited UFC debut after starting his career in late 2007 and with 28 professional bouts in the books. He earned his UFC deal after scoring a third-round finish of Mario Sousa on Dana White’s Contender Series, his 12th career win by knockout. He’s the younger brother of UFC veteran Anthony, and he holds regional scene wins over UFC veterans Alan Jouban, Max Griffin, Andre Fialho and Melvin Guillard. Barriault comes into this fight technically on a three-fight win streak, but officially on a two-fight win streak. He had a perfect 2021, scoring a third-round finish of Abu Azaitar in March and a decision win over Dalcha Lungiambula in September. Nine of his 13 career wins have come by knockout.

How they match up: Njokuani wants to show that he’s belonged with UFC for years and this is a big opportunity for him to do so. He is the more technical striker of the two, but Barriault will have the power edge in this one. Barriault is also extremely durable and very tough to finish. Njokuani will need to use his kicks, both front kicks and leg kicks, to keep Barriault from pressuring and getting into the clinch. If Barriault is able to get the clinch, he does deliver some damaging short shots, but Njokuani tends to be much stronger in the clinch as he mixes knees and elbows effectively. Njokuani also has the cardio edge as we’ve seen Barriault fade. There will likely be very little to no wrestling in this one as both like to keep it on the feet. The wait should end up being worth it as I see Njokuani getting a clear decision.

What’s at stake: Neither man has to worry about being cut with a loss, but they both have something to fight for. Njokuani wants to prove that he should’ve been a UFC roster member many years ago, and show that at 33-years-old that he still has plenty to give and that he’s a welcomed addition to the middleweight roster. Barriault wants to keep his win streak going, as it has kept him from being released after his UFC career started with three straight losses. He’d also love to get his birthday month off to a great start with a win.

Pick: Njokuani

Women’s Bantamweights: Alexis Davis vs. Julija Stoliarenko

Overall Records: Davis 20-11, Stoliarenko 9-5-2
UFC Records: Davis 7-6, Stoliarenko 0-3
Last Fight: Kianzad def. Davis–UDec–UFC 263 (6/12/21), Avila def. Stoliarenko–R3 SUB–UFC On ESPN+ 48 (6/26/21)
Last Five Fights: Davis 1-4, Stoliarenko 3-2
Betting Odds: Davis -225, Stoliarenko +185
Background: An important bout in the women’s bantamweight division takes place here as Davis and Stoliarenko square off as both look to get into the win column. Davis is coming into this bout looking to rebound from a decision loss to Pannie Kianzad at UFC 263 in June in a close fight. She’s a former title challenger during Ronda Rousey’s reign, but has struggled in recent years in getting some momentum going, as she’s just 1-4 over her last five fights. Stoliarenko also enters this fight in need of a win as she comes in on a two-fight losing skid. She was last in action in June, suffering a third-round submission loss to Julia Avila. This is her second UFC stint, but she’s gone 0-3 inside the Octagon, but if you take those three losses away, she’s won eight straight.

How they match up: Both of these ladies will likely fight like their futures are on the line, and they very may well be. Stoliarenko is a lot better than her UFC record shows, but she’s still given a tough match-up in this one. She is solid on the feet but doesn’t possess the ability that Davis does as Davis is especially sharp in close range with her Muay Thai skills. Davis does land more significant strikes per minute, has better accuracy and better defense, though she does get hit almost as much as she lands. Stoliarenko, however, is unlikely to scare her on the feet. Stoliarenko does have a lot of armbar finishes in her career so she could look to take the fight down, but Davis has strong takedown defense and Stoliarenko isn’t a good enough wrestler to get Davis on her back. Davis is also a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, so submitting her is tough. There are just far too many ways for Davis to take this one, though I expect it to go the distance.

What’s at stake: This has to be a loser leaves town fight. I can’t imagine them keeping Stoliarenko if she were to lose again, as that would be 0-4 with three straight losses with the promotion. Davis might get a little more leeway due to her status and her past as a former title challenger, but another loss would put her at 1-5 over her last six, making her on very shaky ground. This is an absolute must-win for both.

Pick: Davis

Light Heavyweights: Jailton Almeida vs. Danilo Marques

Overall Records: Almeida 14-2, Marques 11-3
UFC Records: Almeida 0-0, Marques 2-1
Last Fight: Almeida def. Nasrudinov–R2 SUB–Dana White’s Contender Series 39 (9/14/21), Nzechukwu def. Marques–UFC On ESPN+ 48 (6/26/21)
Last Five Fights: Almeida 5-0, Marques 4-1
Betting Odds: Almeida -450, Marques +325
Background: A light heavyweight bout featuring a strong light heavyweight prospect against a tough veteran test takes place here as the debuting Almeida takes on Marques. Almeida had one of the better performances on this past season of Dana White’s Contender Series, scoring a second-round submission of Nasrudin Nasrudinov in September. That ran his win streak to nine straight as he heads into his UFC debut, and all 14 of his professional wins have come by stoppage, with five knockouts and nine submissions. Marques will be looking to bounce back from his first UFC loss as he’s coming off a third-round knockout loss at the hands of Kennedy Nzechukwu in June. That ended his four-fight win streak, the last two coming since his UFC signing. He’s scored nine of his eleven wins by stoppage.

How they match up: These are two big light heavyweights that are physically imposing. The striking of the two is both questionable. There isn’t much tape on Almeida to know where he needs improvement on there, and he didn’t really have to show it off during his Contender Series fight. Marques is accurate when he throws, but he doesn’t throw many strikes. He’s only landed 55 total significant strikes during his three UFC outings, which is eight rounds of action. Marques does have a questionable chin. Where this fight will be interesting is on the ground. Almeida is relentless with going for takedowns and is a terror on the mat. Marques has shown to be a good grappler himself, but he will likely find trouble on the mat against Almeida. Marques can grind out opponents on the mat, but Almeida is the most talented grappler he’s fought. Both have conditioning issues, but it likely won’t matter here. Almeida should be able to get Marques down and it will be fun to watch the battle on the mat.

What’s at stake: Almeida has tons of potential and Marques is a good limitus test to see if he’s going to be able to work his way up the ladder at 205 lbs. and become a contender. Marques has shown to be a serviceable fighter, but one that those who plan on being a contender should beat, as he’s a low-end gatekeeper. Almeida wants to prove that he was the best signing from the Contender Series this past year, and this is his chance as a big betting favorite.

Pick: Almeida

Welterweights: Jason Witt vs. Phil Rowe

Overall Records: Witt 19-7, Rowe 8-3
UFC Records: Witt 2-2, Rowe 1-1
Last Fight: Witt def. Barberena–MajDec–UFC On ESPN 28 (7/31/21), Rowe def. Cosce–R2 TKO–UFC On ESPN 28 (7/31/21)
Last Five Fights: Witt 3-2, Rowe 4-1
Betting Odds: Witt +120, Rowe -145
Background: A welterweight bout here between two 170 lb. fighters at the mid-to-lower level of the division, at the moment, takes place here as Witt and Rowe both look to remain in the win column. Witt is looking for his second straight win after scoring a majority decision win over Bryan Barberena in July in an entertaining fight that took home ‘Fight Of The Night’ honors. He’s just 2-2 during his UFC career, but has been in entertaining fights and is someone always willing to fight anyone at any time. Rowe is making his third appearance inside the Octagon as he goes for his second straight win. He is coming off a second-round TKO of Orion Cosce in July. He’s just 1-1 since being signed off of Dana White’s Contender Series in 2019, but missed all of 2020 before debuting in February 2021 with a loss to Gabe Green. All eight of Rowe’s wins have come via a finish.

How they match up: Rowe is going to have a ten-inch reach advantage in this one, which will play a major factor into this. Witt likes to come forward with power punches, but Rowe is going to look to use his reach to keep Witt at a distance with the jab. Rowe has more power in his hands and moves quick on his feet, which is a stark contrast to the slow-moving Witt. Witt has the better wrestling as he scored eight takedowns in his last fight, but Rowe has been working extensively on his grappling and has been competing in a lot of grappling tournaments in recent months. I’m not sure Witt is going to be able to get Rowe down if he’s even able to get inside of takedown range. With all of that, I think Rowe will be able to crack the jaw of Witt with a hard shot as he’s coming in, and with the suspect chin of Witt, it’s going to be a rough night inside the Octagon for him.

What’s at stake: With both looking for their second straight win and both having split their appearances inside the Octagon, this feels like a must-win for both. Witt is under his second UFC deal while Rowe is still under his original contract from the Contender Series, so he’s likely more in need of a win. This is important for both as they each try to move up the tough welterweight ladder.

Pick: Rowe

Flyweights: Malcolm Gordon vs. Denys Bondar

Overall Records: Gordon 13-5, Bondar 16-3
UFC Records: Gordon 1-2, Bondar 0-0
Last Fight: Gordon def. Figueiredo–UDec–UFC on ESPN 26 (7/17/21), Bondar def. Jafarli–R1 SUB–Road To WWFC (8/23/20)
Last Five Fights: Gordon 3-2, Bondar 5-0
Betting Odds: Gordon +190, Bondar -250
Background: The opening fight on the card is a flyweight bout that was delayed a few months, but takes place here featuring a Canadian vying for his second straight win against a debuting Ukrainian. Gordon will be looking to improve on a unanimous decision win he scored over Francisco Figueiredo in July. It was his first UFC triumph after starting his UFC career with losses in his first two bouts, which came following a stretch where he won seven of eight. Ten of his 13 wins have been by stoppage. Bondar makes his long-awaited debut after signing in late 2020, only to see several bout cancellations for various reasons. He enters the Octagon riding a ten-fight win streak, but he’s fought just once in the last two years. All 16 of Bondar’s wins have seen him finish his opponents.

How they match up: Bondar should be after Gordon from the start of the fight as Gordon has difficulty when he’s getting the fight taken to him. Gordon does have some aggression in him, leading to a kill-or-be-killed kind of mentality that gets him in trouble. Gordon is technically good on his feet, but Bondar has a willingness to throw with lots of power and he’s the more durable fighter of the two. Gordon may look for the takedown, but Bondar is going to have the advantage on the mat. Bondar is smooth from the top and is relentless from there, not minding turning a fight into a grind. He also has the bigger gas tank of the two. Gordon did fade late in his last fight despite getting the win, but Bondar is a step up in competition. Gordon was finished early in his first two UFC bouts, and history will likely repeat itself in this one.

What’s at stake: Bondar has the potential to be a title contender very quickly in the flyweight division as he comes in with lots of hype as someone to watch in the division. Gordon has been disappointing during his UFC tenure and a win would certainly save him from potentially being cut. A loss, however, could spell the end of his UFC run. It would be an upset for him to beat Bondar, but Bondar has some ring rust to shake off. This should be a solid opener.

Pick: Bondar

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