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Guide to UFC on ESPN 33: Blaydes vs. Daukaus

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 33: Blaydes vs. Daukaus.

UFC on ESPN 33
Date: March 26, 2022
Location: Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio

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

Heavyweights: #4 Curtis Blaydes vs. #8 Chris Daukaus

Overall Records: Blaydes 15-3 1 NC, Daukaus 12-4
UFC Records: Blaydes 10-3 1 NC, Daukaus 4-1
Last Fight: Blaydes def. Rozenstruik–UDec–UFC 266 (9/25/21), Lewis def. Daukaus–R1 KO–UFC On ESPN+ 57 (12/18/21)
Last Five Fights: Blaydes 4-1, Daukaus 4-1
Betting Odds: Blaydes -425, Daukaus +320
Background: The main event of this card wasn’t the originally planned headline bout, but Blaydes and Daukaus stepped up on six weeks’ notice to take the five-round slot of UFC’s return to Columbus when Jan Blachowicz had to pull out of his fight against Aleksandar Rakic. Blaydes comes into this bout with a fresh, new UFC contract as he looks to notch his second straight win. He’s coming off a unanimous decision over Jairzinho Rozenstruik in September, which got him back into the win column after being knocked out by Derrick Lewis last February. That ended a four-fight win streak Blaydes was on, and he looks to start a new one here. He’s lost to just two fighters during his career- Lewis and current UFC Heavyweight Champion Francis Ngannou. Speaking of fighters who have suffered defeats to Lewis, Daukaus enters this bout looking to rebound from a first-round knockout loss at the hands of Lewis in December. That came in his first main event and was his first loss since signing his UFC contract. He started his UFC run off with four straight wins, all four coming by knockout, and three coming in the first round. Eleven of his twelve career wins have come by knockout. His hope is that turning his attention to MMA full-time will pay off after his disappointing showing in December.

How they match up: Blaydes’ strong suit is his wrestling game, but something that gets overlooked at times with him is how much his boxing has improved. While it has improved, he did go back to his wrestling to get the win over Rozenstruik, opting to not get into a fire fight on the feet with a knockout artist, and he may opt to do the same in this one. Daukaus is someone who likes to press forward often as he has great speed and fast hands for a heavyweight. He does have the one-punch knockout power that gets Blaydes into trouble when he trades, plus Daukaus also has a 100% takedown defense percentage. He hasn’t fought an opponent with the takedown ability of Blaydes, who averages over six takedowns per 15 minutes. The clear path to victory is there for both men. For Blaydes, it’s utilizing the wrestling, scoring the takedowns and dominating from the top. For Daukaus, it’s pressure, using his fast hands to get Blaydes out of sort on the feet to where he can find the knockout. I favor Blaydes to work his gameplan to perfection.

What’s at stake: There is a build-up of contenders in the heavyweight division, and these two would both like to join that log jam with a win here. The status of Ngannou is up in the air, and an interim title could be introduced in the near future. Blaydes is closer to a title shot than Daukaus is, but a win for Daukaus could change that. A loss for Blaydes could knock him out of that title picture for good, and he would be someone that finds himself in the close, but no cigar spot at heavyweight. This is a big fight for both and really a must win for both.

Pick: Blaydes

Women’s Flyweights: #7 Joanne Wood vs. #11 Alexa Grasso

Overall Records: Wood 15-7, Grasso 13-3
UFC Records: Wood 7-7, Grasso 5-3
Last Fight: Santos def. Wood–R1 SUB–UFC On ESPN+ 56 (11/20/21), Grasso def. Barber–UDec–UFC 258 (2/13/21)
Last Five Fights: Wood 2-3, Grasso 3-2
Betting Odds: Wood +205, Grasso -255
Background: A battle of female flyweights looking to make a run towards title contention takes place in the co-main event as Wood looks to end her slump when she takes on Grasso. Wood is looking to end her two-fight losing skid and get herself back into title contention. She had a title shot booked at one point, but champion Valentina Shevchenko had to pull out. Instead of waiting for her to heal, Wood decided to stay active and take a fight, and she suffered a loss to Jennifer Maia. She rebounded with a win, but has since lost two straight to Lauren Murphy and Taila Santos. She was originally scheduled to fight Grasso in November, but Grasso was injured and forced out. Grasso is now fully recovered and gets back to action for the first time since a February 2021 win over Maycee Barber. That moved Grasso to 2-0 since her move up to the flyweight division. She hasn’t been active over recent times, having fought just twice over the last 30 months, but she hopes to start a run to a title shot here.

How they match up: This should be a high-volume affair on the feet. Wood lands nearly seven significant strikes per minute while Grasso lands around five per minute. Wood is slightly more accurate on her feet but gets hit more and doesn’t have the striking defense of Grasso. Wood is going to have to be the one pushing the pace in this one as she doesn’t quite have the physicality of Grasso, and Grasso is the better ground fighter. Wood likes to use leg and front kicks and has a good muay Thai approach, and she’s also good in the clinch with knees and elbows. This is a real big test for both women. Grasso has all of the tools to be a title contender, but she needs another complete fight like she had against Barber. Wood is going to press forward and make it tough for her and Grasso is going to need to avoid the clinch as much as possible. I think it’ll be a close fight that goes to the judges, but Grasso will do just enough to squeak out a close win.

What’s at stake: Title aspirations are on the line for both women here. Wood needs to win if she’s ever going to fight for a title. She had the shot, but gave it up, and has gone just 1-3 since that moment, and a fourth loss likely kills any chance. A loss also puts her in that official gatekeeper role, if she isn’t already there. For Grasso, a win would be three straight at 125 lbs., which would put her inside the top ten of the division and likely one fight away from getting a title shot. She’s been a top female prospect for years, and at age 28, now is the time to capitalize on those expectations and get that title shot she’s been chasing.

Pick: Grasso

Welterweights: Matt Brown vs. Bryan Barberena

Overall Records: Brown 23-18, Barberena 16-8
UFC Records: Brown 16-12, Barberena 7-6
Last Fight: Brown def. Lima–R2 KO–UFC On ESPN 25 (6/19/21), Barberena def. Weeks–UDec–UFC On ESPN 31 (12/4/21)
Last Five Fights: Brown 3-2, Barberena 2-3
Betting Odds: Brown -105, Barberena -115
Background: A welterweight match-up that should provide tons of fireworks takes place here as the hometown hero, Brown, returns to action to take on Barberena in an explosive bout. These two were slated to fight in December, but Brown was forced out after testing positive for COVID-19. Barberena stayed on the card in December, scoring a decision win over Darian Weeks. Brown, who lives and trains in Columbus and lives about ten minutes from the Nationwide Arena, fights in Ohio for the first time since May 2014, and in Columbus for the first time since UFC’s last visit there in March 2009. He scored a knockout win over Pete Sell on that night, which was just his fourth UFC bout. 25 fights later, Brown remains a UFC fighter and is looking for his second straight win after a knockout win over Dhiego Lima in June. Barberena is trying to get some consistency after having gone just 4-5 over his last nine fights after starting his UFC career with a 3-1 record. He’s been in lots of entertaining brawls, and he might not ever fight for a title, but you can always count on him to deliver inside the Octagon.

How they match up: This should be a violent affair on the feet and a fight that could turn into a slugfest. Both men have knockout power, but Brown has shown more ways to win fights, especially when he finds openings to land vicious elbows. Brown isn’t as fast on his feet as he once was, but he still has the power to end things, and Barberena does tend to get hit a lot. Barberena does land with lots of volume, but he’s not as fast on his feet as he once was either. Barberena will do his best in this one if he can get it past the first round. Brown hasn’t shown the conditioning lately that he had in the past, when he could easily go 25 minutes. However, while the technical skill is still there for Barberena, he just doesn’t have enough power to match Brown on the feet. The motivation of fighting in his home town will also give Brown that extra push and I see him finishing Barberena inside the first round.

What’s at stake: This is a fight where both men are just looking to notch up a post-fight bonus. Neither are close to the rankings or title contention, but both have been in lots of entertaining fights inside the Octagon, and this is a fight for the fans in attendance and viewing audience to enjoy. Brown wants to win in his home town, and Barberena wants to play the spoiler. No matter what, this should be fun.

Pick: Brown

Flyweights: #2 Askar Askarov vs. #6 Kai Kara-France

Overall Records: Askarov 14-0-1, Kara-France 23-9 1 NC
UFC Records: Askarov 3-0-1, Kara-France 6-2
Last Fight: Askarov def. Benavidez–UDec–UFC 259 (3/6/21), Kara-France def. Garbrandt–R1 TKO–UFC 269 (12/11/21)
Last Five Fights: Askarov 4-0-1, Kara-France 3-2
Betting Odds: Askarov -410, Kara-France +310
Background: In what might be the most important fight on the card when it comes to title pictures, Askarov and Kara-France do battle in a flyweight bout. Both are ranked inside the top six of the division as Askarov is ranked second and Kara-France ranked sixth. Askarov has yet to taste defeat in his career, though he doesn’t have a perfect record. He’s won 14 of his 15 fights, with the lone blemish being a draw with Brandon Moreno in his UFC debut. He’s won three straight since, including a decision over Joseph Benavidez in his last outing over a year ago at UFC 259 in March 2021. Askarov did miss weight for that bout, so he’ll need to show that he can make weight properly if he’s going to get a title shot. Kara-France comes into this fight off the biggest win of his career, a first-round knockout of Cody Garbrandt at UFC 269 in December. That was his second straight win, and his second straight knockout, and he’s won six of his eight fights since signing his UFC deal. 14 of his 23 wins have come via a finish.

How they match up: Askarov is going to have to worry about the power of Kara-France, as he hits harder than anyone Askarov has fought so far. Kara-France is going to have to worry about the grappling of Askarov, which is very high-level and might be the best of the flyweight division. Kara-France is a fighter who has never really been held down during his career, and he’s defended 87% of takedowns attempted on him inside the Octagon. Askarov is going to always go for the takedown, but he’s only scored on 28% of his takedown attempts during his UFC tenure, and he’s also been taken down himself. Askarov has yet to show that finishing ability inside the Octagon, opting for a more conservative approach. If he does that here, Kara-France is going to make him pay with his hands. The year-long layoff also will hurt Askarov. I think the momentum that Kara-France is bringing into this fight will pay dividends and I see him cracking Askarov with a power shot and knocking him out.

What’s at stake: A title shot in the flyweight division might be what is at stake in this one, but even that is hard to say at the moment. Current UFC Flyweight Champion Deiveson Figueiredo and former champion Brandon Moreno are going to fight for the fourth time in the summer, but who knows what could happen in that fight and afterwards. There’s been craziness in the division over the last two years. Regardless, the winner of this fight should be the top contender. Askarov has to prove he can make the weight if he wants a title shot. Kara-France is the underdog, and an upset win would not only see him vault up the rankings and into a title fight, but it would also hand Askarov his first career loss. This is a high stakes fight here.

Pick: Kara-France

Heavyweights: Ilir Latifi vs. Aleksei Oleinik

Overall Records: Latifi 15-8 1 NC, Oleinik 59-16-1
UFC Records: Latifi 8-6, Oleinik 8-7
Last Fight: Latifi def. Boser–SpDec–UFC On ESPN+ 47 (6/5/21), Spivac def. Oleinik–UDec–UFC On ESPN 25 (6/19/21)
Last Five Fights: Latifi 2-3, Oleinik 2-3
Betting Odds: Latifi -200, Oleinik +170
Background: A battle of heavyweight warriors with lots of experience in the sport takes place here as Latifi and Oleinik square off in this one. Latifi will be fighting for the 25th time in his career as he looks for his second straight win. He last fought in June, scoring a split decision win over Tanner Boser in a fight that many had expected him to lose. That ended a three-fight losing skid that Latifi was on and was his first win since February 2018. He’ll be looking for his eleventh win by stoppage. Oleinik has had a long career but is still going strong at 44-years-old. His career began in November 1996 and Saturday will mark the 77th fight in his professional career. He is still chasing that 60th career win. He got number 59 in May 2020 with a win over Fabricio Werdum, but the quest for 60 has seen him lose his last three fights to Derrick Lewis, Chris Daukaus and Serghei Spivac. He gets another shot to score his 60th win here, and it may be his last chance.

How they match up: This battle of old guys is kind of hard to figure out what is going to happen. Latifi has become a point fighter, not taking risks on the feet or going for the knockout. He doesn’t throw or land a lot, landing less than two significant strikes per minute. He’s slow and inaccurate with his punches, and there’s no real danger effect with him at this time. If Latifi would throw punches, he probably would knock Oleinik out. However, he is likely to wrestle with Oleinik, which is just a bad idea. Oleinik excels at pulling guard and luring fighters into his guard, where he likes to set up his patented Ezekiel choke. Latifi is actually hard to take down, as he’s defended every takedown attempted on him, so Oleinik’s only shot is pulling guard. They’re both going to get tired, especially if it goes past the first, and then it will get ugly. An ugly fight between these two could be a lot of fun, but a war of attrition is going to be hard to see who wins. I lean towards Oleinik in this one.

What’s at stake: These are two old dudes who just aren’t ready to hang up their gloves and still have the desire to compete, and what better way to keep that fire going than to fight each other. Oleinik wants to get that 60th win, and if he were to get it here, it honestly wouldn’t surprise me if he decided to hang up the gloves afterwards. There’s no real stakes in this fight other than that, but it still could be a fun bout.

Pick: Oleinik

Lightweights: Marc Diakiese vs. Viacheslav Borshchev

Overall Records: Diakiese 14-5, Borshchev 6-1
UFC Records: Diakiese 5-5, Borshchev 1-0
Last Fight: Alvarez def. Diakiese–R1 SUB–UFC On ESPN+ 55 (11/13/21), Borshchev def. Bush–R1 TKO–UFC On ESPN 32 (1/15/22)
Last Five Fights: Diakiese 2-3, Borshchev 4-1
Betting Odds: Diakiese +125, Borshchev -145
Background: A lightweight battle between knockout artists kicks off the main card as Diakiese looks to get back on track against the tough Borshchev. Diakiese took the sport by storm during the beginning stages of his career, starting off with a 12-0 record, including a 3-0 record to start his UFC career. The struggles then came, as he’s gone just 2-5 over his last seven, and is coming into this bout on a two-fight losing skid. He’s coming off a first-round submission loss to Rafael Alves in November. Diakiese has a 50% finish rate in his career. Borshchev comes into this bout just a few months shy of three years as a professional, and he has less career bouts than Diakiese has UFC bouts. However, Borshchev enters on a four-fight win streak and has won six of his seven career fights. He made his UFC debut in January, scoring a first-round knockout of Dakota Bush. All four of his wins during his streak have seen him score a finish, and five of his six wins have come by knockout.

How they match up: This is a pair of knockout artists who can finish any fight with one right hand. Diakiese is athletic and has a solid wrestling game, but it’s been some time since he’s put everything together. He has seemingly fought below his ability in recent outings after having shown lots of improvement. With Borshchev still early in his career, there are still some unanswered questions surrounding him. We know he has the power, but his wrestling defense still needs some work. We also don’t know about his conditioning, and Diakiese has shown to be a very durable fighter. Diakiese is going to have a slight reach advantage here and I see leg kicks coming into play to set up the takedown. Borshchev has lots of potential, but I sense this might be too quick of a step up for him, and Diakiese is coming in on a mission to win. I see Diakiese taking a decision as he wears Borshchev down over the 15 minutes.

What’s at stake: This is a must-win for Diakiese. A loss would be three straight losses and would be his second three-fight losing skid during his UFC tenure, which has two wins sandwiched in between. He has to win this one, and he should know his back is against the wall. Borshchev is stepping up in competition, but he’s been impressive during his short career. A win would rocket him up the rankings into a more high-profile bout, while a loss actually wouldn’t set him back all that much. The stakes are definitely higher for Diakiese.

Pick: Diakiese

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

Welterweights: #9 Neil Magny vs. Max Griffin

Overall Records: Magny 25-8, Griffin 18-8
UFC Records: Magny 18-7, Griffin 6-6
Last Fight: Magny def. Neal–UDec–UFC On ESPN 24 (5/8/21), Griffin def. Condit–UDec–UFC 264 (7/10/21)
Last Five Fights: Magny 4-1, Griffin 3-2
Betting Odds: Magny -255, Griffin +205
Background: One of the most storied welterweights of the last few years, and a top-ten welterweight at that, closes out the prelims against a tough opponent as Magny attempts to tie a welterweight record against the ultra tough Griffin. Magny, currently ranked ninth at 170 lbs., will be going for his 19th UFC win in this one. His 18 wins currently sit second all-time for most UFC welterweight wins, one behind Georges St. Pierre. He’s looking for his second straight win after scoring a decision over Geoff Neal in May. Magny has won four of his last five overall, but will be going for his first stoppage win in nearly three years. Griffin enters this fight having seen a roller coaster UFC career seemingly straighten out. He signed his UFC deal with a 12-2 record, but then went 3-6 in his first nine UFC bouts. His back was against the wall headed into his tenth UFC fight, but he’s since responded with three straight wins. He’s coming off his biggest career win, a decision over former interim UFC champion Carlos Condit in July.

How they match up: Not to knock the ability of Griffin, but this is a step down for Magny compared to recent competition. Magny isn’t going to have some of the length and reach advantages he is used to, though he still has four inches in height and reach over Griffin. Magny holds all of the edges in this one. He has more range on the feet, has superior wrestling, works better in the clinch and is more durable. Griffin does have more power, but Magny is tough to knock out, though he has been finished in the past. Griffin will need to utilize the leg kicks in this game, but unless his cardio is much improved over his past fights, this is going to be Magny wearing him down, likely in the clinch and by putting him on his back on the mat, as Magny works his way to a dominant decision win.

What’s at stake: Magny is looking to tie a pretty major UFC record at welterweight with a win, and a win also keeps him inside the title picture and in the main event picture as well. This might feel like a step down in competition for him, especially considering all of the ranked opposition he’s fought, but he shouldn’t take Griffin lightly. A win for Griffin would likely be his new biggest win of his career. It would also stop Magny from tying St. Pierre’s record, and it could also vault Griffin into the welterweight rankings. This is a solid, mid-level stakes bout for both men.

Pick: Magny

Women’s Bantamweights: #9 Sara McMann vs. #12 Karol Rosa

Overall Records: McMann 12-6, Rosa 15-3
UFC Records: McMann 6-6, Rosa 4-0
Last Fight: Pena def. McMann–R3 SUB–UFC 257 (1/23/21), Rosa def. Correia–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 51 (10/2/21)
Last Five Fights: McMann 2-3, Rosa 5-0
Betting Odds: McMann +170, Rosa -200
Background: A battle in the women’s bantamweight division takes place here as McMann returns after over a year off to battle the streaking Rosa. McMann, the former Olympic Silver Medalist and former UFC title challenger, fights for the first time since January 2021, where she suffered a submission loss to current UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion Julianna Pena. McMann hasn’t been very active since returning from time off to give birth, as she’s fought in only January in each of the last two years. She’s 1-1 since her return, but has lost three of four overall. Rosa enters this fight riding a six-fight win streak as she looks to remain undefeated inside the Octagon. She’s 4-0 since signing her UFC deal and is coming off a decision win over Bethe Correia in October, which sent Correia into retirement. Rosa is still in search of her first UFC win via a stoppage.

How they match up: This is going to be your standard striker against grappler battle. McMann has the wrestling credentials and ability to take anyone down, but Rosa has shown to be tough to get to the mat, defending 91% of takedowns attempted on her. However, she has yet to fight someone with the wrestling chops of McMann, nor will she likely ever. Rosa is a high-volume striker, landing nearly eight significant strikes per minute, and is very accurate on her feet. McMann has always been good at avoiding being hit, but her recent outings have seen her just not being able to put everything together consistently. Rosa is talented and if McMann can’t get her wrestling going, it’s going to be Rosa lighting her up on the feet and getting the win.

What’s at stake: The women’s bantamweight division is pretty weak at the moment and is tied up at the top with a rematch between Pena and Amanda Nunes for the title. Pena winning the title breathed new life into the division, but it would be hard to see McMann as a challenger unless she gets a few wins. There might not be enough time left in her career for her to earn another title shot. A win for Rosa would move her to 5-0 since her UFC signing, and, really, that should be enough for a title shot in this division, though she’d likely need one more win over a top five opponent. I’m not expecting much from this fight.

Pick: Rosa

Bantamweights: Chris Gutierrez vs. Danaa Batgerel

Overall Records: Gutierrez 17-3-2, Batgerel 12-2
UFC Records: Gutierrez 5-1-1, Batgerel 3-1
Last Fight: Gutierrez def. Colares–SpDec–UFC On ESPN+ 52 (10/9/21), Batgerel def. Davis–R1 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 53 (10/16/21)
Last Five Fights: Gutierrez 4-0-1, Batgerel 4-1
Betting Odds: Gutierrez +105, Batgerel -125
Background: An interesting battle at bantamweight takes place here as Gutierrez looks to keep his momentum going against the surging momentum of Batgerel. Batgerel was originally slated to fight Montel Jackson in this bout, but Jackson pulled out in mid-February, and Gutierrez takes the fight on about six weeks’ notice. Gutierrez might be one of the more underrated fighters at 135 lbs., as he’s suffered just one defeat in his seven UFC outings. He started his UFC run off with a submission loss to Raoni Barcelos, but has since reeled off five wins and a draw. He’s won two straight headed into this bout and is coming off a decision win over Felipe Colares in October. Eight of his 17 wins have seen him score a finish. Batgerel is coming into this fight on quite the win streak. He started his UFC career off with a loss to Alatengheili, but has followed it up with three straight wins. Not only has he won three straight, but all three have come via a first-round knockout. Batgerel has scored finishes in ten of his twelve wins as he comes in off a stoppage of Brandon Davis in October.

How they match up: This is probably the toughest fight to date for both men inside the Octagon, plus it’s a solid clash of styles that should make for some solid action. Gutierrez has often been a master of landing the calf kicks, and if he is able to get those going and Batgerel doesn’t check them, Batgerel is going to be in store for a rough night at the office. Batgerel does have a powerful left hook, which would be a great counter strike against the calf kick, but the kicks could keep Batgerel out of range for landing them. Batgerel has solid wrestling chops, but he has yet to display them inside the Octagon as he’s scored zero takedowns during his UFC career. If he doesn’t want to use his wrestling in this one, he’s not going to win. This will be a lot of calf kicks from Gutierrez as he wears Batgerel down either to a finish or a decision.

What’s at stake: The winner of this should find themselves in a big bantamweight fight for their next outings. All these guys have done lately is win, and that has been something tough to consistently do at 135 lbs. at the moment. Both are criminally underrated, and this should be a really fun fight between two guys who like to battle it out standing.

Pick: Gutierrez

Middleweights: Aliaskhab Khizriev vs. Denis Tiuliulin

Overall Records: Khizriev 13-0, Tiuliulin 10-5
UFC Records: Khizriev 0-0, Tiuliulin 0-0
Last Fight: Khizriev def. Shiguemoto–R1 SUB–Dana White’s Contender Series 32 (9/8/20), Tiuliulin def. Ferreira–R1 TKO–UAE Warriors 18 (3/20/21)
Last Five Fights: Khizriev 5-0, Tiuliulin 4-1
Betting Odds: Khizriev -850, Tiuliulin +575
Background: A middleweight match-up between two men making their UFC debuts takes place here as Khizriev finally steps inside the Octagon to take on short-notice replacement Tiuliulin. Khizriev was originally slated to fight Abus Magomedov in this one, but he pulled out, and in stepped Tiuliulin on just over two weeks’ notice. Khizriev has been waiting for some time to debut as he earned his UFC contract on Dana White’s Contender Series in September 2020 with a 50-second submission of Henrique Shiguemoto. That moved him to a perfect 13-0 in his career. He is best known for his brutal 58-second destruction of Rousimar Palhares back in 2018. He’s already had three scheduled UFC bouts fall apart either due to injury, visa issues or the dreaded COVID-19. Tiuliulin debuts and fights for the first time in over a year as he scored a first-round knockout of Juscelino Ferreira in his last fight in the UAE Warriors promotion. He’s won four of his last five overall, and has scored eight of his ten wins by knockout.

How they match up: Khizriev has a plus match-up for him on short-notice as Tiuliulin doesn’t have the skills to measure up to him. Khizriev is very talented and has some excellent grappling and solid power in his hands. Tiuliulin is behind both on the feet and on the mat in this one as his takedown defense is almost non-existent and he doesn’t have the speed or power to match Khizriev on the feet. Tiuliulin doesn’t mind getting into a brawl, but his lack of any sort of wrestling ability is going to be his downfall in this one. Khizriev should be able to get him down with ease, and it will just be a matter of whether he wants to end it with a submission or with some ground-and-pound. This is Khizriev’s fight to lose, and I don’t see that happening.

What’s at stake: These are two debuting fighters so we will be seeing more of them in the future. That being said, Khizriev has a bright future. He’s a solid prospect, undefeated, but he just needs to be more active as he’s only fought once in the last four years. The sport passes you by quickly when you’re inactive, so a win and quick return would be great here. Tiuliulin fills a spot and will likely suffer the loss like expected, so a win would be a stunning upset and would put him on a good track. His overall record isn’t all that impressive, but a solid UFC run could still be in order.

Pick: Khizriev

Women’s Flyweights: #4 Jennifer Maia vs. #13 Manon Fiorot

Overall Records: Maia 19-8-1, Fiorot 8-1
UFC Records: Maia 4-4, Fiorot 3-0
Last Fight: Chookagian def. Maia–UDec–UFC On ESPN 32 (1/15/22), Fiorot def. Silva–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 53 (10/16/21)
Last Five Fights: Maia 2-3, Fiorot 5-0
Betting Odds: Maia +350, Fiorot -475
Background: A women’s flyweight fight that was a late addition to the card takes place all the way down here as former title challenger Maia looks to get back into contention against surging prospect Fiorot. Fiorot was originally scheduled to fight Jessica Eye early in March at UFC 272, but Eye suffered an injury a week before the fight, so Fiorot was re-booked on this show against Maia, who steps in on short notice. This is Maia’s second fight already in 2022 as she’s coming off a January decision loss to Katlyn Chookagian. She’s split her two fights since unsuccessfully challenging Valentina Shevchenko for the title, and is looking to get back and get a second chance. Fiorot has taken the division by storm since her debut as she’s quickly gotten herself inside the rankings. She’s 3-0 since her UFC signing, all of which came in 2021, and she’s won eight straight overall since losing her pro debut to Leah McCourt. She’s also proven to be a finisher, with six wins coming by knockout.

How they match up: This is a gigantic jump in competition for Fiorot, but one that looks like she’ll be able to handle. Fiorot is a high-volume striker who mixes everything well, and she is a very smart fighter. Maia’s best shot at winning this is going to be to utilize her grappling and submissions and get the fight to the mat. Fiorot does have strong takedown defense, though, and it is good enough that Maia is going to have trouble getting her wrestling going. Fiorot should look to avoid clinching, though, as a clinch battle could be something that yields bad results. Fiorot will win this if she keeps it at range and uses her superior footwork to set up her combinations. Maia just gets hit too much, plus she’s the one coming in on short notice. This will be Fiorot’s big break through win, and it should be higher on the card.

What’s at stake: This is the big test to see if Fiorot is going to be a legitimate title challenger right away, or if it’s going to take her some time. Flyweight needs some fresh blood for Shevchenko, and beating the fourth-ranked former title challenger would catapult Fiorot into the mix. A loss wouldn’t hurt too much, but it would just derail her path to contention for a bit. For Maia, this is a must-win if she has any hopes of challenging for the title again, at least while Shevchenko is on top. A loss would put her in that dreaded gatekeeper role. This is really a must-win for both and it’s a pretty big fight to be this low on the card.

Pick: Fiorot

Flyweights: #8 Matheus Nicolau vs. #10 David Dvorak

Overall Records: Nicolau 17-2-1, Dvorak 20-3
UFC Records: Nicolau 5-1, Dvorak 3-0
Last Fight: Nicolau def. Elliott–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 52 (10/9/21), Dvorak def. Ronderos–R1 SUB–UFC On ESPN+ 46 (5/22/21)
Last Five Fights: Nicolau 4-1, Dvorak 5-0
Betting Odds: Nicolau +105, Dvorak -125
Background: Another exciting flyweight bout that is going to shape the future title contender picture finds itself buried on the prelims, but it should still be entertaining as Nicolau squares off against Dvorak. Nicolau is in his second UFC stint, as he was a casualty at the time they were considering getting rid of the division, but he’s an impressive 5-1 in his UFC career. He’s won both of his fights since returning, is on a four-fight win streak overall, and has won ten of his last eleven. He’s ranked eighth in the division, while Dvorak is ranked tenth. Dvorak enters his fourth Octagon appearance looking to remain undefeated with the promotion. He’s won his first three, and is coming off his first UFC stoppage, a first-round submission of Juancamilo Ronderos in May. After starting his career just a modest 4-3, Dvorak has won 16 straight fights as he looks to one day wear UFC gold.

How they match up: This appears to be a pretty even match-up. They land about the same on the feet, and get landed on about the same. Nicolau is a little more accurate and has slightly better defense on the feet, plus he has the power edge. Dvorak should look to push the pace and land with more volume as it will keep Nicolau from grappling, where he has a solid advantage over Dvorak. Dvorak has shown some good takedown defense, but, again, this is another fight where someone is fighting the best grappler they’ve fought during their UFC careers. Dvorak does tend to leave himself open to getting hit on the feet, so I see Nicolau rushing in with flurries leading to takedown attempts against the fence. This will likely be fast-paced and one of those fights you wish had two extra rounds. It’s also a really tough match-up to call. I’m going to lean Nicolau in this one, but both guys are capable of pulling off a win in what should be an exciting fight.

What’s at stake: The flyweight division is suddenly becoming flush with contenders, partly due to the current 18-month long debate between Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno as to who the actual champion is. The winner here gets himself right in the mix to be a challenger whenever that rivalry ends. However, the winner is still likely one, perhaps two, wins away, but an impressive showing could change things. Nicolau has looked every bit of a potential champion, but he shouldn’t sleep on Dvorak, who has also looked like a solid threat. This should be a really strong fight.

Pick: Nicolau

Featherweights: Luis Saldana vs. Bruno Souza

Overall Records: Saldana 15-7, Souza 10-2
UFC Records: Saldana 1-1, Souza 0-1
Last Fight: Lingo def. Saldana–UDec–UFC On ESPN 29 (8/21/21), Baghdasaryan def. Souza–UDec–UFC 268 (11/6/21)
Last Five Fights: Saldana 4-1, Souza 4-1
Betting Odds: Saldana +100, Souza -120
Background: The action in Columbus kicks off with two low-level featherweights looking to climb up the tough ladder at 145 lbs. as Saldana and Souza do battle. Saldana is making his third UFC appearance as he looks to rebound from a decision loss to Austin Lingo in August. He won his debut, defeating Jordan Griffin by decision in April. He has 15 career wins, 14 of which came by finish, with six knockouts and eight submissions. Souza makes his second UFC appearance, but he gets a full training camp this time after being a short-notice replacement in his debut. He lost a decision to Melsik Baghdasaryan at UFC 268 in November in his debut, which ended a ten-fight win streak and was his first loss since his pro debut in July 2016. Souza was a top non-major promotion prospect in the featherweight class, so he’s looking to showcase his skills now that he’s had proper time to prepare for a UFC bout.
How they match up: This looks to be an easier match-up for Souza than Baghdasaryan was, but he’s still going to have to deal with Saldana having more reach, better range, and better power. Souza does tend to get hit more than he really should. Souza does have some good conditioning, but he uses it to show he can go 15 minutes and often gives up the early rounds. He can’t afford to give up two rounds to Saldana, who can go for ten minutes but the jury is still out if he can solidly go 15. However, all Saldana needs to do is win the first two rounds convincingly, and his range and kicks should be able to slow Souza trying to push any sort of pace. Saldana should focus on the leg kicks and chop his way towards a decision win.
What’s at stake: These are two prospects looking to move up the ladder, so it’s not a massive fight overall. It is big in the sense that the loser could actually be cut from the roster, as a loss puts Saldana at 1–2 and a loss puts Souza at 0-2 with the promotion. Souza does have more potential, whereas Saldana was a solid signing off of Dana White’s Contender Series, but his record and fight history doesn’t indicate he’s going to be a title challenger unless things drastically improve in his favor.
Pick: Saldana

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