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Guide to UFC on ESPN+ 62: Volkov vs. Aspinall

Getting prepared for UFC action this Saturday? Here’s everything you need to know in our Guide to UFC on ESPN+ 62: Volkov vs. Aspinall.

UFC on ESPN+ 62
Date: March 19, 2022
Location: The O2 Arena in London, England

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

Heavyweights: #6 Alexander Volkov vs. #11 Tom Aspinall

Overall Records: Volkov 34-9, Aspinall 11-2
UFC Records: Volkov 8-3, Aspinall 4-0
Last Fight: Volkov def. Tybura–UDec–UFC 267 (10/30/21), Aspinall def. Spivac–R1 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 49 (9/4/21)
Last Five Fights: Volkov 3-2, Aspinall 5-0
Betting Odds: Volkov +105, Aspinall -125
Background: You’d want a big fight to headline a return to London, and heavyweights fit the big portion and this is actually a pivotal fight for the division as Volkov tries to shake off the gatekeeper status and become a legitimate title contender, but he has a test in front of him in young prospect Aspinall. Volkov is looking to score his second straight win after scoring a decision win over Marcin Tybura at UFC 267 in October. He has a solid 8–3 record inside the Octagon, and his losses have come to the top of the division in Ciryl Gane, Derrick Lewis and Curtis Blaydes, all keeping him away from getting a title shot. He’ll be going for his 35th career win in his sixth UFC main event, while also gunning for his 26th win by finish. Aspinall has gotten his UFC run off to a fantastic start, winning his first four fights with the promotion, all of them coming by stoppage. He has seven straight wins overall, and all eleven of his wins have come via stoppage, with nine by knockout and two by submission. Ten of those wins have come inside the first round. He’s quickly moved almost into the top ten at heavyweight, and a win here would put him near the top five and into title contention.

How they match up: Both of these guys are big heavyweight as Volkov stands six-foot-seven and Aspinall six-foot-five. Aspinall is a very well-rounded fighter as he has really solid grappling and spent time as a professional boxer. He has fast hands and tends to come out aggressive, which often makes him a tough puzzle to figure out for opponents. Volkov is a very durable fighter who does use his length well, but he struggles against opponents who pressure him. He prefers to walk down his foes, but he’s not overly aggressive with his own pressure. He does tend to land a solid amount of strikes per minute and is good at avoiding being hit, and he has solid takedown defense. Aspinall does land a lot of strikes per minute, is very accurate on his feet and has strong wrestling. He’s completed every takedown attempt he’s made, and he’s defended every takedown attempt made on him. This does feel like a sort of passing of the torch kind of fight as Aspinall’s speed and pressure is going to drain the durability of Volkov, and Aspinall will score the finish to cap off the night at the O2 Arena.

What’s at stake: This is a big fight for both men. Volkov is essentially a title shot gatekeeper. If you beat him, you’re very likely to fight for a title within two more fights. Volkov wants to shake that image and get himself a title shot, so a win would put him right in that mix with what is now a crowded title picture in the heavyweight division. A loss, however, and his aspirations of becoming a UFC champion may be over. A win for Aspinall shoots him up near the top five and puts him right into that mix that Volkov is looking to get into. A loss wouldn’t hurt him as much, but would end his perfect UFC record and push him out of the title picture for just a little bit. Aspinall has all of the potential in the world, but this is a bigger fight for Volkov overall.

Pick: Aspinall

Featherweights: #7 Arnold Allen vs. #8 (LW) Dan Hooker

Overall Records: Allen 17-1, Hooker 21-11
UFC Records: Allen 8-0, Hooker 11-7
Last Fight: Allen def. Yusuff–UDec–UFC On ABC 2 (4/10/21), Makhachev def. Hooker–R1 SUB–UFC 267 (10/30/21)
Last Five Fights: Allen 5-0, Hooker 2-3
Betting Odds: Allen -115, Hooker -105
Background: A featherweight match-up that could easily serve as a main event takes place in the co-main event slot as Allen looks to keep his perfect UFC record as he welcomes Hooker back down to the featherweight division. Allen comes into this fight with a perfect 8-0 record inside the Octagon, with ten straight wins overall and wins in 17 of his 18 career fights. He hasn’t fought since April, where he scored a decision win over Sodiq Yusuff, and he’s looking for his first finish win since May 2018. He’s only fought once in each of the last two years, so he’s looking to be more active, especially as there are more events being run around the world coming soon. Hooker returns to 145 lbs. in this fight, the division he started his UFC career in. He went 3-3 there before moving to lightweight, where he went on to win seven of his first eight fights in that division. That included wins over the likes of Jim Miller, Gilbert Burns, Al Iaquinta and Paul Felder, which got him into title contention. However, he’s lost three of his last four, though to top-level competition in Dustin Poirier, Michael Chandler and Islam Makhachev. He’s hoping that experience translates well in his featherweight return as he looks to quickly get into the title picture.

How they match up: Hooker is going to have a distinct height and reach advantage, as he’s four inches taller than Allen and will have a five-inch reach advantage. Hooker does tend to land on the feet more than Allen does, but Allen has solid striking defense. Allen does have a strong wrestling game but Hooker’s frame is better suited for featherweight, and he’s going to be big inside the Octagon and he does have strong takedown defense. Hooker is going to have to take a high-volume approach with his striking and constantly pressure Allen as Allen is unlikely to be able to fully hang with him on the feet. Even with Allen’s strong wrestling, he is unlikely to dominate and control Hooker on the mat like Islam Makhachev did. Hooker has been in many more high-profile fights and with the move down a division, he really doesn’t have much to lose. I see the striking of Hooker being the difference and he wears Allen down with volume to win a decision.

What’s at stake: Hooker is trying to quickly get himself in the title picture, and a win over Allen would do just that. He’d likely need at least two or three wins if he were to get by Allen, but it would immediately set him up with a top five opponent next. A win for Allen would move him to 9-0 in the featherweight division, which is one of the toughest divisions in the promotion, and it would firmly establish himself as a title contender. This is a big fight for both and is going to have title picture implications riding on it.

Pick: Hooker

Lightweights: Paddy Pimblett vs. Kazula Vargas

Overall Records: Pimblett 17-3, Vargas 12-4
UFC Records: Pimblett 1-0, Vargas 1-2
Last Fight: Pimblett def. Vendramini–R1 KO–UFC On ESPN+ 49 (9/4/21), Vargas def. Zhu–UDec–UFC 261 (4/24/21)
Last Five Fights: Pimblett 3-2, Vargas 3-2
Betting Odds: Pimblett -575, Vargas +410
Background: One of the more recent high-profile UFC signings makes his second appearance inside the Octagon, this time in his home country where he’ll likely get a tremendous reaction, as Pimblett looks to make it 2-0 in his UFC run as he battles Vargas. Pimblett signed a UFC deal last year and made his debut in Las Vegas in September, where he weathered an early storm from Luigi Vendramini before finishing him in the first round. It was the third straight win for Pimblett, and the 13th finish win of his career. Vargas fights for the first time since April as he looks to score his second straight win. After starting his UFC career with back-to-back losses to Alex da Silva and Brok Weaver, Vargas scored his first triumph in winning a decision over Rong Zhu at UFC 261 last year. Vargas has 12 career wins, with ten coming via a finish, but he wants to be more active after having only one fight in each of the last four calendar years.

How they match up: This is a match-up tailor made for Pimblett, as long as he doesn’t look too far past Vargas. Vargas does have some power in his hands, but not the kind of knockout power that Vendramini has as Vargas is slower on his feet. Pimblett should not willingly let Vargas hit him as he needs to be the aggressor as Vargas could surprise him if he gets comfortable. Pimblett may decide to utilize his grappling in this one, where he will have the strong edge in the wrestling game. Pimblett just needs to avoid letting himself get hit and control the pace and pressure of this one. His best path to winning is taking it down and dominating from the top, which he should be able to do. It will be a major upset if Vargas pulls this off, but Pimblett should get the finish inside the first round.

What’s at stake: This feels like a fight designed to get Pimblett a win in his home country, but he also can’t overlook Vargas. Regardless, this should be a win for Pimblett, so Vargas is looking to score the huge upset and show he deserves to have his UFC contract extended. Pimblett is quickly making himself into a big name, both for good and bad reasons, but he’s got to win this one if he wants to back up all of his talk and become a serious threat in a tough lightweight division. This is a big fight for both, but potentially more pivotal for Pimblett.

Pick: Pimblett

Welterweights: Gunnar Nelson vs. Takashi Sato

Overall Records: Nelson 17-5-1, Sato 16-4
UFC Records: Nelson 8-5, Sato 2-2
Last Fight: Burns def. Nelson–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 18 (9/28/19), Baeza def. Sato–R2 SUB–UFC On ESPN 18 (11/28/20)
Last Five Fights: Nelson 2-3, Sato 3-2
Betting Odds: Nelson -550, Sato +400
Background: Two welterweights who haven’t fought in a while square off here in a fight that just came together recently as Nelson returns from nearly three years off to battle late replacement Sato. Nelson was originally slated to fight Claudio Silva in this bout, but Silva was forced out due to a knee injury, and Sato steps in on just under two weeks’ notice. Nelson comes into this bout with a new UFC contract looking to end a two-fight losing skid. He fought twice in 2019, the last time he was in action, but lost to Leon Edwards and Gilbert Burns, which, with the benefit of hindsight, aren’t bad losses by any means now. Nelson started his UFC career with a 5-1 record, but is just 3-4 over his last seven. Sato returns to action for the first time since November 2020, where he was submitted in the second round by Miguel Baeza. This will be his fifth Octagon appearance, and he’s split his first four fights going 2-2. He has yet to go the distance during his UFC stint, and history dictates that he should win this fight based on rotating wins-and-losses during his four outings.

How they match up: The short notice does benefit Nelson more, and Sato is also an opponent that will play into his strengths. Nelson likes to fight at a slow, patient and methodical pace, and Sato is willing to fight at a slow pace as well. Nelson does have outstanding takedowns and a fantastic submission game. Sato does come from a judo background and has unique takedowns of his own, but his grappling won’t be near the level of Nelson’s grappling. Sato does hit hard but Nelson’s karate style on his feet is going to make him hard to hit. I see Nelson baiting Sato into striking and using it to take him down, where Nelson will dominate on the mat en route to scoring a submission in getting the comeback victory.

What’s at stake: Nelson has been inside the welterweight rankings before and is eager to get back there and to get his UFC career back going after the long layoff. He’s really in a must-win situation having lost three of his last four, though he’s not going considering his new contract. Sato should also be under a new deal ahead of this fight, but this is also a must-win for him as he doesn’t want to fall to 2-3 in his first five UFC fights. It’s a pivotal fight for both, though I feel more is riding on the line for Nelson.

Pick: Nelson

Women’s Flyweights: Molly McCann vs. Luana Carolina

Overall Records: McCann 11-4, Carolina 8-2
UFC Records: McCann 4-3, Carolina 3-1
Last Fight: McCann def. Kim–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 49 (9/4/21), Carolina def. Godinez–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 53 (10/16/21)
Last Five Fights: McCann 3-2, Carolina 4-1
Betting Odds: McCann -140, Carolina +120
Background: A women’s flyweight bout featuring a popular English fighter graces the main card as McCann takes on Carolina in this one. McCann is looking to score her second straight win after scoring a unanimous decision over Ji Yeon Kim in September. That ended her two-fight losing skid, which had followed a three-fight win streak. She’s looking for her first UFC stoppage as she fights in her home country for the first time since March 2019. Carolina comes into this match-up riding a two-fight win streak, and she’s won three of her four UFC bouts since being signed off of Dana White’s Contender Series Brazil in 2018. She is coming off a decision win over Lupita Godinez in October, which followed a decision over Poliana Botelho to give her a perfect 2021. Like McCann, she’s in search of her first UFC stoppage.

How they match up: McCann loves to turn fights into scraps and this should be no different. Carolina is going to have a seven-inch reach advantage, and she’s going to have to use it against the aggressive McCann. McCann does land nearly six significant strikes per minute, and her striking defense is very good. Carolina also does tend to let her opponents get inside of her reach, and a clinch battle with some dirty boxing benefits McCann more in this one. Carolina will likely have a size and physicality edge in this bout, but her low output style doesn’t mix well with McCann’s high-volume attacks, and Carolina’s defense on her feet isn’t the greatest. McCann is also one of the toughest and most durable female fighters on the roster, regardless of weight class. It’s going to come down to output and aggression, both of which favor McCann. I see McCann getting the decision win.

What’s at stake: Neither are close to title contention, but a win would move the winner closer to being ranked in the flyweight division. There’s no danger of the loser being cut from the roster, so this one will be all about trying to get a performance bonus. There will be lots of reactions from the crowd due to McCann, so this could turn into an exciting bout.

Pick: McCann

Lightweights: Jai Herbert vs. Ilia Topuria

Overall Records: Herbert 11-3, Topuria 11-0
UFC Records: Herbert 1-2, Topuria 3-0
Last Fight: Herbert def. Worthy–R1 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 54 (10/23/21), Topuria def. Hall–R1 KO–UFC 264 (7/10/21)
Last Five Fights: Herbert 3-2, Topuria 5-0
Betting Odds: Herbert +425, Topuria -590
Background: A lightweight bout opens the main card and it isn’t getting easier for Herbert during his UFC career as he welcomes the undefeated Topuria up to the lightweight division here. Herbert was originally slated to fight Mike Davis in this fight, but Davis pulled out and Topuria stepped in after having a fight in January cancelled prior to the weigh-ins. Topuria had issues with his weight cut then at featherweight, so he’s moving to lightweight for this one. Herbert comes into this fight riding the momentum of his first UFC win after scoring a first-round knockout of Khama Worthy in October. He started his UFC run 0-2, but lost to Francisco Trinaldo and Renato Moicano, so he hasn’t had the easiest of fights to start his UFC career. He has eleven career wins, with ten coming via a finish. Topuria comes into this fight with a perfect 11-0 and is regarded as one of the best overall prospects in the sport. He’s 3-0 in his UFC run as he comes in off a first-round knockout of Ryan Hall at UFC 264 in July. Like Herbert, Topuria has eleven career wins with ten coming via a finish.

How they match up: Topuria is quite the talent, and that talent alone should be able to get him the win. However, this fight is really going to come down to how he sizes up as a lightweight. Herbert has a big frame for 155 lbs., and he’ll tower over Topuria by six inches and have an eight-inch reach advantage. Topuria’s power at featherweight also might not translate as well, though he should have the speed advantage. Luckily for him, Topuria’s strong suit is the ground game, and if he adjusts to the size well and can take Herbert down, the path to victory becomes much smoother for him. Herbert was taken down multiple times by both Trinaldo and Moicano, so his defense on the feet needs to be better in this one. Herbert should look to use his range and long distance striking to keep Topuria from pressuring, but Topuria’s speed on the feet looks to be enough to get Herbert pushed against the fence, where he’ll be able to get the takedown and submit Herbert on the mat.

What’s at stake: Herbert wants to be the one who hands Topuria his first career loss, but that could be a tough task. Topuria is one of the bright young prospects in the sport, and has potential to be a champion at either featherweight or lightweight, depending on which division he sticks to. A win would likely put Topuria into a high-profile bout against a ranked opponent next, and the sky is the limit for the 25-year-old. Herbert wants to score the upset and he has the chance, especially if Topuria’s attention has been spent too much on his fight week run-ins with Paddy Pimblett. A loss likely wouldn’t hurt Herbert considering his level of UFC competition thus far, though a 1-3 start isn’t good. This should be an exciting fight.

Pick: Topuria

Preliminary Card
Start Time: 1:30 p.m. ET, 10:30 a.m. PT
Where to watch: ESPN+

Featherweights: Mike Grundy vs. Makwan Amirkhani

Overall Records: Grundy 12-3, Amirkhani 16-7
UFC Records: Grundy 1-2, Amirkhani 6-5
Last Fight: Vannata def. Grundy–SpDec–UFC 262 (5/15/21), Murphy def. Amirkhani–R2 KO–UFC 267 (10/30/21)
Last Five Fights: Grundy 3-2, Amirkhani 1-4
Betting Odds: Grundy -190, Amirkhani +160
Background: A featherweight bout caps off the prelims in some interesting card placement, but it does have a pair of popular U.K. fighters involved as Grundy and Amirkhani look to bounce back into the win column. Grundy enters his fourth UFC bout looking to end a two-fight losing skid. He debuted with a win over Nad Narimani in March 2019 in the last event in London, which moved his record to 12-1. He’s since lost decisions to Movsar Evloev and Lando Vannata, though he was competitive in those bouts. Out of his twelve wins, nine have been by finish, with eight by submission. Amirkhani is looking to end a three-fight losing skid and end a run that has seen him go 1-4 over his last five. He got his UFC career off to a good start, going 6-1 in his first seven bouts with the lone loss coming to Arnold Allen. His recent skid saw him last compete in October, where he was knocked out by a knee in the opening moments of the second round by Lerone Murphy. Amirkhani has scored twelve career wins by stoppage.

How they match up: Both of these guys are low output strikers who prefer to fight on the mat. Amirkhani can do some crazy stuff on the feet early in rounds and is the more dangerous of the two standing. Grundy has improved on his feet and does boast some knockout power, but he is mainly just a puncher who uses it to set up his takedowns. Amirkhani is more unique in that he utilizes kicks and knees, even if it is also to set up the takedowns. Amirkhani also appears to be better at the takedowns as he averages more, has better takedown percentages, and better takedown defense. Amirkhani also hunts for submissions more on the mat. There will likely be lots of scrambles and Grundy does have a good gas tank, even if he tends to fade late in fights. Amirkhani gets tired more easily, but I do see him being able to find a submission on the mat early and there not being a need for the gas tanks to come into play.

What’s at stake: This is a must-win fight for both as the loser will likely see their UFC run end. A loss would be three straight for Grundy and four straight for Amirkhani, and the featherweight division is a tough one. I was surprised Amirkhani got another fight, but he’s got a great bit of popularity and can be a star if he wins. Grundy is going to be emotional in this one as he’ll have his father, who was diagnosed recently with terminal cancer, in his corner, and he wants to win one more time in front of him. This is a big fight for both.

Pick: Amirkhani

Heavyweights: #10 Shamil Abdurakhimov vs. Sergei Pavlovich

Overall Records: Abdurakhimov 20-6, Pavlovich 14-1
UFC Records: Abdurakhimov 5-4, Pavlovich 2-1
Last Fight: Daukaus def. Abdurakhimov–R2 TKO–UFC 266 (9/25/21), Pavlovich def. Greene–R1 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 20 (10/26/19)
Last Five Fights: Abdurakhimov 3-2, Pavlovich 4-1
Betting Odds: Abdurakhimov +230, Pavlovich -290
Background: A battle of heavyweights takes place on the prelims as ranked heavyweight Abdurakhimov looks to get back into the win column against Pavlovich. Abdurakhimov comes into the bout ranked tenth at heavyweight, but he’s on a two-fight losing skid. The losses have come to Curtis Blaydes and Chris Daukaus, so he’s lost to solid competition, but he was finished in the second round by both. Those two losses ended what was a 5-2 run to start his UFC career. 13 of his 20 career wins have come by finish. Pavlovich returns to action for the first time since October 2019 as injuries, visa issues and travel issues have kept him from fighting during the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s on a two-fight win streak after scoring first-round knockouts of Marcelo Golm and Maurice Green. He’s won 14 of his 15 career fights, with his lone loss coming to Alistair Overeem in his UFC debut, and he has eleven wins by knockout.

How they match up: Pavlovich is going to have a big physical edge over Abdurakhimov, as he’ll hold an eight-inch reach advantage. The big key could be ring rust since Pavlovich hasn’t fought in over two years, but Abdurakhimov has only fought once in the time since Pavlovich last graced the Octagon. Abdurakhimov is crafty on the feet but doesn’t have the power that Pavlovich does, nor does he have the chin to withstand some power punches being thrown his way. If Pavlovich has improved during his time away, not only is he good enough to walk through Abdurakhimov, he’s good enough to be a top five fighter at heavyweight. Pavlovich also has a good wrestling base and good grappling, while Abdurakhimov has poor takedown defense. Pavlovich will use his reach to land some power shots and potentially take it down, but it’s going to be the volume and power that is going to see him finishing Abdurakhimov inside the first half of the fight.

What’s at stake: Pavlovich likely would be ranked if not for inactivity over the years, so a win would get him into the rankings, especially if he beats a ranked opponent. Abdurakhimov is hanging on to the top ten, and a win would keep him there. A loss could signal the end to his UFC run as it would be three straight losses, and he’s only fought once in the last three years, so he’s not the most active fighter. This isn’t the biggest fight on the card, but both will find themselves in decently high-profile match-ups with a win.

Pick: Pavlovich

Light Heavyweights: #9 Nikita Krylov vs. #11 Paul Craig

Overall Records: Krylov 27-8, Craig 15-4-1
UFC Records: Krylov 8-6, Craig 7-4-1
Last Fight: Ankalaev def. Krylov–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 44 (2/27/21), Craig def. Hill–R1 SUB–UFC 263 (6/12/21)
Last Five Fights: Krylov 2-3, Craig 4-0-1
Betting Odds: Krylov -195, Craig +165
Background: A battle of ranked light heavyweights is in the middle of the prelims for some reason, but this is a pretty high-profile bout as Krylov battles Craig in a pretty important 205 lb. bout. Krylov returns to action for the first time since February 2021 as he looks to bounce back from a decision loss to Magomed Ankalaev. He’s in his second UFC stint, and he’s gone just 2-3 since his return, rotating losses-and-wins. His losses have come to Jan Blachowicz, Glover Teixeira and Ankalaev, so he’s losing to the top of the division and is still competitive and a top ten fighter. Craig comes into this fight riding a three-fight win streak, and he’s unbeaten in his last five, with four wins and a draw. He’s coming off a first-round finish of Jamahal Hill at UFC 263 in June, which kept him at a perfect 100% finish rate. He also has six post-fight bonuses, and does hold a win over the aforementioned Ankalaev.

How they match up: Craig is a guy we’ve seen improve with every outing inside the Octagon as he’s become a very viable contender at light heavyweight. Krylov tends to find himself wrestling more in fights despite the fact that he is very solid on his feet. They are both equally aggressive as Craig has learned that aggression leads to better utilization of his skills. He isn’t going to be the better wrestler of the two, but I think that suits him better as he is super crafty on the mat and will be able to catch Krylov on the mat if Krylov gets sloppy. Krylov should be the better fighter on the feet, but he could just fight Craig’s type of fight and that would be a bad idea. I see Craig actually getting the better of the action on the feet, but it will be on the mat where Craig pulls a submission out of nowhere to keep his win streak alive and put him into title contention.

What’s at stake: This is actually one of the more pivotal fights on the card. History says Krylov is due for a win in this one, but Craig is a tough fighter to beat and one who can pull out a win after being on the brink of defeat. Krylov needs a win to stay in the top ten and stay away from gatekeeper status. A win for Craig would put him at four straight and unbeaten in his last six, and it would be time to consider him a title contender at 205 lbs. if that were to happen. This is a big fight for both, with more on the line for Craig. This should be fun as well as Craig typically has exciting fights.

Pick: Craig

Bantamweights: Jack Shore vs. Timur Valiev

Overall Records: Shore 15-0, Valiev 18-2 1 NC
UFC Records: Shore 4-0, Valiev 2-0 1 NC
Last Fight: Shore def. Sholinian–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 49 (9/4/21), Valiev def. Barcelos–MajDec–UFC On ESPN+ 48 (6/26/21)
Last Five Fights: Shore 5-0, Valiev 4-0 1 NC
Betting Odds: Shore -105, Valiev -115
Background: Talk about a fight that should be on the main card, this bantamweight bout is currently scheduled to be the third fight on the card when it could easily be a co-main event as undefeated prospect Shore battles the ultra tough Valiev. Shore, a fantastic 27-year-old prospect at 135 lbs., enters the fight with a perfect 15-0 record, including a 4-0 mark to start his UFC career. He’s coming in off a decision win over Luidvik Sholinian in September. This will be his toughest test to date, but Shore does have 12 stoppage wins under his belt. Valiev enters his fourth UFC appearance looking to extend his two-fight win streak. He debuted with a loss to Trevin Jones in August 2020, but that was overturned to a no contest. With that, he’s technically unbeaten in his last nine fights, and comes in off a majority decision win over Raoni Barcelos in June.

How they match up: Shore is extremely talented and very well-rounded. He has excellent striking with very good accuracy, and he doesn’t get hit that much as his striking defense is strong. He is also very good at using his striking to set up his wrestling, which is among the best in the bantamweight division. Valiev does have good speed in his hands and a strong wrestling game as well. He doesn’t score as many takedowns as Shore does, nor is he better at actually getting his opponents down. Valiev also only defends about half of the takedowns attempted on him, while Shore has yet to be taken down in his career, and that includes his pre-UFC days. It’s going to come down to how quick Valiev is able to land his combinations and if he can land them, as Shore tends to fight slower on his feet even though his striking is good. It just might not be better than Valiev’s striking. Shore needs to find a way to get on top on the mat, where he will be able to control the fight. This is an excellent match-up and a huge test for Shore, but I do feel his talent and skills will be able to withstand Valiev, who has been solid if unspectacular during his UFC tenure.

What’s at stake: Shore has tons of potential to be a future title challenger, and possible champion, in a tough bantamweight division. A win would move him to 16-0, likely close to the rankings and ready for high-profile bouts. A loss wouldn’t hurt him as much, but it would derail all of his hype and momentum. Valiev is a tough test for him and he also has the skills to be a ranked fighter and future title contender. This is a pretty big fight, especially for the prelims, and really should be higher on the card.

Pick: Shore

Women’s Strawweights: Cory McKenna vs. Elise Reed

Overall Records: McKenna 6-1, Reed 4-1
UFC Records: McKenna 1-0, Reed 0-1
Last Fight: McKenna def. Hansen–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 40 (11/14/20), Eubanks def. Reed–R1 TKO–UFC On ESPN 27 (7/24/21)
Last Five Fights: McKenna 4-1, Reed 4-1
Betting Odds: McKenna -260, Reed +210
Background: A pair of strawweights each entering their second UFC bouts takes place here as McKenna returns from a long layoff to take on Reed. McKenna is fighting for the first time since a decision win over Kay Hansen in her UFC debut in November 2020. She got her UFC deal after winning a decision over Vanessa Demopoulos on Dana White’s Contender Series, and the product of Team Alpha Male has four straight wins overall. Reed comes into this bout looking to rebound from her first career loss. She debuted in July, but was stopped in the first round by Sijara Eubanks. She did take that fight on very short notice and fighting up a weight class, so now she gets a full training camp at a fight at her natural weight as she looks to get her first UFC win.

How they match up: Both of these ladies are short strawweights with low reaches, as Reed has a 63-inch reach and McKenna just a 58-inch reach. McKenna doesn’t fight like someone with a small reach as she’s got great speed on the feet, and she uses her hands to set up the wrestling. Reed isn’t an overly impressive fighter as she’s still developing her skills, and her main tool on the feet is her leg kicks. She does get hit a lot and folds under pressure. While McKenna is an opponent more on her level, McKenna is very talented and has more skills and paths to victory. Whether it’s on the feet or on the mat, it will be McKenna getting her hand raised at the end.

What’s at stake: Both of these women are early in their careers so the match-up is right given their experience level. The winner will slowly move up the ladder, though McKenna winning would make it two straight and she could get a pretty big fight next. McKenna is also just 22-years-old, so there’s plenty of time for her to develop. Reed is still getting better, but she wouldn’t want two losses to start her UFC career, so this is pretty much a fight she needs to win.

Pick: McKenna

Flyweights: Muhammad Mokaev vs. Cody Durden

Overall Records: Mokaev 5-0 1 NC, Durden 12-3-1
UFC Records: Mokaev 0-0, Durden 1-1-1
Last Fight: Mokaev def. O’Driscoll–R2 SUB–Brave CF 54 (9/25/21), Durden def. Qileng–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 56 (11/20/21)
Last Five Fights: Mokaev 4-0 1 NC, Durden 3-1-1
Betting Odds: Mokaev -380, Durden +290
Background: A flyweight bout featuring a recent high-profile signing of one of the best prospects in the sport opens the show as Mokaev makes his UFC debut against Durden. Mokaev signed his UFC contract late last year and enters the promotion with a perfect 5-0 record, though there is a no contest in there due to an accidental groin strike. He’s coming in off a second-round submission win over Blaine O’Driscoll in September. The 21-year-old has scored three of his five wins by finish, and he also had a perfect 22-0 record as an amateur. Durden enters his fourth UFC bout with interesting results in his first three. He has a win, a loss and a draw during his first three fights, but he’s coming off a win over Aoriqileng in November. He had some not-so-tasteful remarks about him after the fight, which got Durden a lot of negative attention, rightfully so, after the bout, and Mokaev was quick to say he wanted to fight Durden and make him pay for those comments, so that is how this fight came to be.
How they match up: This will be a nice test for Mokaev in his debut. Durden is a middle-of-the-road flyweight who could give him some trouble, especially if Mokaev’s wrestling isn’t up to par inside the Octagon. Mokaev does have strong wrestling, though, and he’s still growing into his frame being 21-years-old. Durden does have gas tank issues as he got tired after the first round in his last fight, but endured it to win a decision. Mokaev has the pace to fight the full 15 minutes without slowing down, which is going to cause Durden lots of issues. It may take Mokaev a round to adjust to the Octagon and the jump in skill of opponent, but he is way too talented to let this fight slip away from him. He’ll shake off any cobwebs that may plague him early and wear down Durden and finish him in the second round.
What’s at stake: Mokaev is a future champion in waiting at 125 lbs., and this will be a big debut for him. He could find himself quickly in high-profile bouts with a win here, and the sky really is the limit for him. Even if Durden pulls off the upset, Mokaev is still just 21, and he’ll be a UFC staple for the next 10-15 years barring an absolute letdown of his potential. Durden needs a win here or else he could be at the end of this UFC run, but it’s a tall task in front of him. This should be a fun way to kick off the card.

Pick: Mokaev

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