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Guide to UFC on ESPN 38: Tsarukyan vs. Gamrot

Getting prepared for UFC this coming Saturday? Here is everything you need to know with our Guide to UFC on ESPN 38: Tsarukyan vs. Gamrot.

UFC on ESPN 38
Date: June 25, 2022
Location: UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada

Main Card
Start Time: 10 p.m. ET, 7 p.m. PT
Where To Watch: ESPN & ESPN+

Lightweights- #11 Arman Tsarukyan vs. #12 Mateusz Gamrot

Overall Records: Tsarukyan 18-2, Gamrot 20-1 1 NC
UFC Records: Tsarukyan 5-1, Gamrot 3-1
Last Fight: Tsarukyan def. Alvarez–R2 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 60 (2/26/22), Gamrot def. Ferreira–R2 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 57 (12/18/21)
Last Five Fights: Tsarukyan 5-0, Gamrot 4-1
Betting Odds: Tsarukyan -285, Gamrot +240
Background: The main event is a super interesting lightweight battle between two men who sit just outside of the top ten of the lightweight rankings as Tsarukyan takes on Gamrot. Both men are in their first UFC main event slot, and while there was some talk about it being one of the weakest main events in UFC history on name value, when it comes to quality of fighters, these two are among the best in arguably the toughest division in the sport. Tsarukyan comes into this fight riding a five-fight win streak. He made his UFC debut back in April 2019 and didn’t have it easy as he fought Islam Makhachev in his debut, giving him a tough test but ultimately coming up short for only the second loss in his career. He hasn’t looked back since, surging up the lightweight rankings and knocking on the door of the top ten after finishes of Christos Giagos and Joel Alvarez in his last two fights. Gamrot was a long-time star of the KSW promotion, where he held both the lightweight and featherweight titles and was regarded as one of the best fighters in the world who had yet to step inside the Octagon. He finally signed a UFC deal in 2020, coming in with a 17-0 record with a no contest. His debut didn’t go as planned as he dropped a split decision to Guram Kutateladze, which is the lone loss on his record. He’s since recovered to score three straight wins, getting finishes of Scott Holtzman, Jeremy Stephens and Diego Ferreira to move him close to the top ten of the division.

How they match up: Gamrot might be the more polished fighter of the two, but these are two tremendous talents. Tsarukyan started off as a pressure-based wrestler, but his last two outings has shown he’s improved his striking to become a violent finisher. Gamrot has always been well-rounded and dangerous. He can strike with you, he can grappler with you, and he can wrestle with you. The draw back with Gamrot is he can struggle when being pressured, while Tsarukyan sometimes has lapses in his defensive judgment, though that has improved. Gamrot does land slightly more on the feet, and while he has slightly better defense on the feet, he does get hit more often than Tsarukyan does. History would say that Tsarukyan is likely the better wrestler, as he’s the only one of the two to have ten or more takedowns in a fight, but that might not be the case here. If Tsarukyan is the better wrestler, then Gamrot has to be known as the better grappler. Gamrot does average more takedowns over time than Tsarukyan does, and Gamrot has defended all takedowns attempted on him, while Tsarukyan has been taken down before in his UFC career. Gamrot does have a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, while Tsarukyan is a Master of Sport in MMA and freestyle wrestling. Gamrot should have the edge on the mat, but Tsarukyan is really strong from the top. Another key in this fight will be the conditioning as this is the first time Tsarukyan is in a 25-minute fight, while Gamrot has been in plenty of them as champion with KSW. Gamrot has no issues going that long and it’ll be interesting to see Tsarukyan past the 15-minute mark. I feel like this is a close fight that could go either way, but I’m leaning towards Gamrot using his big fight experience to edge out a close decision.

What’s at stake: Both men are right outside of the top ten of the lightweight rankings, and I’m not sure a win will break them inside of that top ten, but the winner definitely has to fight a top-ten opponent next. Both of these guys have the chance to fight for UFC gold some day and they’re both relatively young as Gamrot is just 31 and Tsarukyan is only 25. They’re going to be stars of the division for the next few years and this is a big showcase fight for both.

Pick: Gamrot

Welterweights- #10 Neil Magny vs. #15 Shavkat Rakhmonov

Overall Records: Magny 26-8, Rakhmonov 15-0
UFC Records: Magny 19-7, Rakhmonov 3-0
Last Fight: Magny def. Griffin–SpDec–UFC On ESPN 33 (3/26/22), Rakhmonov def. Harris–R1 KO–UFC On ESPN+ 58 (2/5/22)
Last Five Fights: Magny 4-1, Rakhmonov 5-0
Betting Odds: Magny +370, Rakhmonov -460
Background: A welterweight battle between a long-time veteran looking to set a UFC record and a rising prospect with an undefeated record fills the co-main event slot as Magny battles Rakhmonov. Magny comes into this fight with 19 wins in the welterweight division, which is tied with Georges St. Pierre for the most all-time in UFC welterweight division history, so a win here puts him alone in first with 20. He’s looking to extend a two-fight win streak that has seen him score back-to-back decisions over Geoff Neal and Max Griffin. He’s won five of his last six overall and remains just on the cusp of title contention, but just right above gatekeeper status. He’s in search of his first finish in four years. Rakhmonov comes into this fight with a perfect 15-0 record, with his last three wins coming since signing his UFC contract. Not only has he won all 15 of his professional fights, he’s won them all via a finish, with eight knockouts and seven submissions, with nine of those wins coming inside the first round. He’s scored submissions over Alex Oliveira and Michel Prazeres, and a knockout of Carlston Harris in his last fight, during his UFC tenure, but stepping up to Magny is a huge leap in competition. It’s also a fight he called for, so he feels more than ready.

How they match up: This is going to be an interesting clash of styles that could lead to a very intriguing fight. Rakhmonov is a big welterweight in size, but he’s going to be giving up some reach to Magny. Rakhmonov is also a Master of Sport in Sambo and MMA, and he’s got great striking and great wrestling. Magny has taken approaches of high levels of volume in the past, but he does his best work in the clinch with sharp elbows, knees and pressure. He does have solid wrestling, but he can be out-wrestled by better foes. Rakhmonov should look to utilize the calf kicks to keep Magny at a distance, and Rakhmonov has the power in his hands to end this with one punch. However, Rakhmonov does like to play in the clinch, which is something Magny would love to do, and Rakhmonov can be picked apart in the clinch. If they do clinch, Magny will turn this into a typical Magny fight, and he can win it if that’s the case. However, Rakhmonov may use the clinch to wrestle and he can take Magny down, and his submission game is very strong. This is a really close match-up, and when you look at the betting odds, Magny is a real live underdog. It could go either way, but I see Rakhmonov edging out a decision as he goes the distance for the first time.

What’s at stake: It will be super impressive if Magny can hand Rakhmonov his first career loss and also take sole possession of the UFC welterweight wins record. Rakhmonov has serious potential to be challenging for UFC gold one day, and a win here would vault him quickly up the ladder. A loss wouldn’t hurt him, especially since he’s 27, and it would be against a high-level veteran in Magny. If Magny is going to make a run at challenging for UFC gold, he has to win this. A loss would likely end any hopes. He’s been in similar positions before and has always ended up on the losing end, so this is his big chance to reverse all of that bad luck.

Pick: Rakhmonov

Heavyweights- Josh Parisian vs. Alan Baudot

Overall Records: Parisian 14-5, Baudot 8-3 1 NC
UFC Records: Parisian 1-2, Baudot 0-2 1 NC
Last Fight: Mayes def. Parisian–R3 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 57 (12/18/21), Porter def. Baudot–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 59 (2/19/22)
Last Five Fights: Parisian 3-2, Baudot 2-2 1 NC
Betting Odds: Parisian -105, Baudot -115
Background: It wouldn’t be a Fight Night event in the small Octagon inside the Apex without a heavyweight main card fight, so here it is as Parisian and Baudot battle to get into the win column. Parisian makes his fourth appearance inside the Octagon as he looks to rebound from a third-round knockout loss to Don’Tale Mayes in December. That followed his lone UFC win over Roque Martinez in June 2021, which followed a loss to Parker Porter in his UFC debut in November 2020. Parisian is a veteran of both The Ultimate Fighter and Dana White’s Contender Series, and he’s scored 12 of his 14 wins by stoppage, including ten wins by knockout. Baudot will also be making his fourth UFC appearance but he’s still in search of his first UFC wins as he’s gone winless in his three appearances. He was finished in his debut by Tom Aspinall in October 2020, then was finished again in his next fight, this time in the second round, by Rodrigo Nascimento in July 2021. However, that fight was changed to a no contest due to a failed drug test from Nascimento. Baudot last fought in February, dropping a decision to Parker Porter. Baudot has scored seven wins by knockout in his career.

How they match up: Both men are high-volume strikers, but also guys who get hit quite often. Baudot is the more technical striker of the two while Parisian has the power advantage in being the bigger guy. Parisian is also far more sloppy on the feet and Baudot mixes things up better, so a prolonged battle on the feet could see Baudot being on the better end of the fight. With Parisian being more straightforward, Baudot is going to be looking for counters when Parisian starts wildly throwing. Neither man is much of a wrestler and I’m not sure it goes to the mat, but if it were to, Baudot struggles when put on his back and tends to get stuck on the bottom with no way to escape. I don’t see it going to the ground, and I see Baudot’s technical striking being the difference as he scores his first UFC win by stoppage.

What’s at stake: I honestly expect the loser to be cut from the roster. I could see a scenario where Baudot is brought back for one more fight in his home on the Paris card, but a win would guarantee he likely gets a spot on that card. A loss would put Parisian at 1-3 during his UFC tenure, and I can’t see him being brought back with a loss. This is a must-win for both men.

Pick: Baudot

Lightweights- Thiago Moises vs. Christos Giagos

Overall Records: Moises 15-6, Giagos 19-9
UFC Records: Moises 4-4, Giagos 5-5
Last Fight: Alvarez def. Moises–R1 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 55 (11/13/21), Tsarukyan def. Giagos–R1 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 50 (9/18/21)
Last Five Fights: Moises 3-2, Giagos 3-2
Betting Odds: Moises -255, Giagos +215
Background: A lightweight battle between two veterans looking to get back into the win column takes place here as Moises and Giagos battle in this 155 lb. affair. Moises was a signing from Dana White’s Contender Series Brazil in August 2018, but his UFC run started off rough, as he lost two of his first three bouts, though the losses came to Beneil Dariush and Damir Ismagulov. He then won three straight fights to put himself in the bottom of the top 15 in the lightweight rankings, and he had his first UFC main event in July. It was a decision loss to Islam Makhachev, and after a first-round knockout loss to Joel Alvarez in November, Moises comes into this fight looking to end a two-fight losing skid. Giagos is in his second UFC stint, and it’s gone better than his first one. It started off with a submission loss to Charles Oliveira, but he then scored wins in four of his next five to get him close to being ranked. However, he was finished in the first round by Arman Tsarukyan in his last fight in September, and he returns nine months later attempting to get back into the win column.

How they match up: When it comes to the striking, Moises is a Muay Thai style fighter who doesn’t land a lot, isn’t particularly accurate, has good defense but still tends to get hit a lot. Giagos is a solid boxer with some good footwork and he tends to land slightly more than Moises does all while getting hit less. Moises does have the better hand speed of the two and likely the more power but Giagos tends to put his combinations together better. When it comes to the grappling, both are good. Giagos is the better wrestler, but Moises is the better submission artist of the two. Giagos is strong enough to hold Moises down on the mat, but he’s going to have to defend submission attempts there. This will probably be a back-and-forth kind of fight, but Moises is the better athlete, younger, and has more ways to win this. I see him being the one getting back into the win column.

What’s at stake: Both are middle-of-the-road lightweights who don’t look like title contenders, but Moises is young enough to make a run. Moises has been ranked before and would love to get back there while Giagos has yet to taste that, and a win here moves either man closer to that. I don’t see the loser going anywhere, but neither wants to be on a losing skid.

Pick: Moises

Bantamweights- Nate Maness vs. Umar Nurmagomedov

Overall Records: Maness 14-1, Nurmagomedov 14-0
UFC Records: Maness 3-0, Nurmagomedov 2-0
Last Fight: Maness def. Gravely–R2 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 50 (9/18/21), Nurmagomedov def. Kelleher–R1 SUB–UFC 272 (3/5/22)
Last Five Fights: Maness 4-1, Nurmagomedov 5-0
Betting Odds: Maness +700, Nurmagomedov -1050
Background: A big bantamweight battle featuring a member of one of MMA’s most famous families goes down here as Maness looks to keep his win streak going against ‘Cousin Umar’ Nurmagomedov as he tries to remain undefeated. Maness comes into this fight looking to extend a win streak of four straight, which has seen him start his UFC career off with a perfect 3-0 record. He debuted with a decision win over Johnny Munoz in August 2020 and has scored back-to-back second-round finishes, a submission of Luke Sanders in November 2020 and a knockout of Tony Gravely in September, which netted him two performance bonuses, during his three UFC outings. He has eight wins by finish overall. Nurmagomedov was signed in early 2020 and was supposed to debut in April of that year, but the pandemic and illness kept him from making his debut until January 2021. He debuted with a second-round submission of Sergey Morozov, then missed another year of action. He returned in March with a first-round submission of Brian Kelleher in a featherweight fight, moving his perfect record to 14-0. He returns to 135 lbs. in this one as he looks for his ninth career stoppage win.

How they match up: You should know exactly what to expect when you’re fighting someone from the Nurmagomedov family, and this should be no different for what Maness should expect. Nurmagomedov is a strong wrestler, but he might be the best striker to come from that family as well. Maness does set a high pace and is an aggressive fighter, but he gets hit a lot, and Nurmagomedov does not. Nurmagomedov pressures just as much as anyone and you know he’s going right for that takedown. Maness has really strong takedown defense, but he hasn’t fought anyone even half as skilled in wrestling as Nurmagomedov is. Nurmagomedov is good at shutting down movement when he gets opponents down, and toughness is for nothing when you’re stuck on the bottom. Maness is really good but he’s basically in the way of a moving train that is going to blow right through him. Unless Maness cracks Nurmagomedov with a big shot early, it’ll be Cousin Umar getting it down and choking Maness out.

What’s at stake: Nurmagomedov has all of the tools to become another Nurmagomedov with a UFC championship, even though bantamweight is a deep division. Another win here makes it 15-0 and it would be hard to deny him a high-profile fight next. I feel bad for Maness because he’s been very solid in his UFC career thus far, but they gave him a match-up that he’s not expected to win. He has every bit of a chance to pull off the upset, but should he not, he won’t be affected that much going forward, because this will be seen as a good loss on his record the way the trajectory is going for Nurmagomedov.

Pick: Nurmagomedov

Middleweights- Chris Curtis vs. Rodolfo Vieira

Overall Records: Curtis 28-8, Vieira 8-1
UFC Records: Curtis 2-0, Vieira 3-1
Last Fight: Curtis def. Allen–R2 TKO–UFC On ESPN 31 (12/4/21), Vieira def. Stoltzfus–R3 SUB–UFC On ESPN 26 (7/17/21)
Last Five Fights: Curtis 5-0, Vieira 4-1
Betting Odds: Curtis -125, Vieira +105
Background: A middleweight bout kicks off the main card and is the continuation of one of the best late stories of 2021 as Curtis looks to continue his winning ways against submission specialist Vieira. After a long career that had spanned 34 fights and looking like a longshot to make it to the top promotion in the world, Curtis finally signed a UFC deal in 2021 to fight on short notice against Phil Hawes. It didn’t happen in October when it was supposed to, but instead happened in the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden, at UFC 268 in November. Curtis pulled the upset there, knocking Hawes out in the first round. He then came back less than a month later and pulled off another upset, knocking Brendan Allen out in the second round in December. It marked his seventh consecutive win and Curtis ended up getting tons of recognition late in 2021, and he makes his first 2022 appearance here. Vieira is fighting for the first time in nearly a year and is lucky to be able to compete. He won by third-round submission over Dustin Stoltzfus in July, and was scheduled to fight Wellington Turman in January. However, he was pulled the day before the fight from that bout due to medical reasons, which turned out to be a malformation on his brain scan that nearly forced him to retire. However, the doctors cleared him and he returns looking for his ninth career win. All eight wins have been via a finish, with seven coming by submission.

How they match up: This is your classic striker against grappler battle, but just calling Vieira a grappler might be selling him short. He’s a multi-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion, one of the most accomplished submission fighters to ever fight MMA. However, his lone loss in MMA saw him submitted, so it’s not impossible to submit him, but improbable. It’s likely improbable for Curtis to do so, and Vieira is improving on his feet as his boxing has gotten better. Curtis knows how to mix everything well and is a true veteran of the game, but he might give up some size here. He’s fought in a lot of divisions, but his frame has been best suited for welterweight, though he’s upset two big middleweights in his last two fights. He’ll have the speed advantage on the feet, and as long as he can keep it standing, he has a shot. Vieira does have a bad gas tank and if Curtis can take him into the deep waters, he could knock Vieira out as he gets tired. Curtis has only been submitted once in his career, and only finished twice, so he’s hard to finish. If the fight ends inside the first eight minutes, it’s likely Vieira by submission. After that, anything is possible, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Curtis pulls off the upset and gets a late stoppage. I’m going with him to get it done.

What’s at stake: Both men are fringe contenders at the division, and if you were to predict a year ago that Curtis would be almost ranked as a UFC roster member, you would’ve been crazy. A win doesn’t get him there, but it does set him up for a big fight next. Vieira won’t be as close to being ranked as Curtis would be with a win, but he’d remain a fringe candidate to be ranked and be a contender. He was signed with lots of potential and he needs to show he still has that potential here.

Pick: Curtis

Preliminary Card
Start Time: 7 p.m. ET, 4 p.m. PT
Where to watch: ESPN2 & ESPN+

Light Heavyweights- Carlos Ulberg vs. Tafon Nchukwi

Overall Records: Ulberg 4-1, Nchukwi 6-2
UFC Records: Ulberg 1-1, Nchukwi 2-2
Last Fight: Ulberg def. Cherant–UDec–UFC 271 (2/12/22), Murzakanov def. Nchukwi–R3 KO–UFC On ESPN+ 61 (3/12/22)
Last Five Fights: Ulberg 4-1, Nchukwi 3-2
Betting Odds: Ulberg +105, Nchukwi -125
Background: A battle of raw prospects at light heavyweight is put in the featured prelim spot as Ulberg and Nchukwi look to move from prospect to contender in this one. Ulberg is a product of Dana White’s Contender Series, signing a UFC deal on the heels of a first-round knockout of Bruno Oliveira in November 2020, despite just a 3-0 record. He debuted in March 2021 at UFC 259 in a wild fight against Kennedy Nzechukwu, but was on the losing end of a second-round knockout. He bounced back with a solid performance in February, scoring a decision win over Fabio Cherant. He’s only in the sixth fight of his career here. Like Ulberg, Nchukwi is still young in his career, as this is just his ninth career fight, and like Ulberg, he’s also a product of Dana White’s Contender Series, signing in September 2020 following a second-round knockout of Al Matavao. He’s split his first four UFC bouts, rotating wins-and-losses, and is coming off a third-round knockout loss to Azamat Murzakanov in March. Of his six wins, four of them have come by knockout.

How they match up: Both still have room for lots of improvement and this is a chance for both of them to show it. I think it may be too quick of a return for Nchukwi after that knockout loss, as it’s been just over three months since then. While impressive, Ulberg’s win in February left a lot to be desired, mainly because he fought an opponent who barely engaged. Nchukwi should be looking to pressure and dictate the pace in this one. Ulberg is taller and quicker than Nchukwi, and Nchukwi is pretty slow on his feet but has tons of power. Ulberg is going to need to utilize his foot work and avoid Nchukwi clinching up and pressing the fight against the fence. Nchukwi is going to be a big man to have hold onto you, so Ulberg has to avoid the clinch and be the one pushing the pace. Ulberg doesn’t have the best gas tank, so Nchukwi holding him against the fence and taking it down will wear Ulberg out. I see Nchukwi getting a stoppage as he wears Ulberg down enough to land a shot that finishes it.

What’s at stake: Both are prospects looking to show something in this one. I don’t see bait being cut with either with a loss, but a loss puts both in worrisome territory. A win would continue to see the matchmakers bringing them along slowly, but they would be right in the middle of the pack at light heavyweight. Both are young enough that they’ll be mainstays at 205 lbs. for a few years.

Pick: Nchukwi

Featherweights- Shayilan Nuerdanbieke vs. TJ Brown

Overall Records: Nuerdanbieke 36-10, Brown 16-8
UFC Records: Nuerdanbieke 1-1, Brown 2-2
Last Fight: Nuerdanbieke def. Soriano–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 56 (11/20/21), Brown def. Rosa–UDec–UFC On ESPN 32 (1/15/22)
Last Five Fights: Nuerdanbieke 3-2, Brown 3-2
Betting Odds: Nuerdanbieke +170, Brown -200
Background: A featherweight bout takes place here as Nuerdanbieke fights for the 47th time in his professional career against Brown in his 25th career fight. Nuerdanbieke will be stepping inside the Octagon for the third time and he’ll be in search of his second straight win after a decision over Sean Soriano in November. That bounced him back from a debut loss to Josh Culibao in May 2021. Nuerdanbieke has 36 career wins and is 8-2 over his last ten, and he’s scored 27 wins via a finish. Brown is a graduate from Dana White’s Contender Series, earning a contract in August 2019. He lost his first two UFC bouts to Jordan Griffin and Danny Chavez, but he’s since bounced back in scoring back-to-back decision wins over Kai Kamaka and Charles Rosa. Brown has scored 13 of his 16 wins by stoppage, with four knockout wins and nine submission wins.

How they match up: Nuerdanbieke is primarily a wrestler as he isn’t super-skilled on the feet and it’s a gameplan that is going to fall in Brown’s favor. Brown is the better fighter on the feet, but he does have a lack of durability. If Nuerdanbieke can pressure it against the fence looking for constant takedowns, he can wear on the gas tank of Brown. Brown does have good takedown defense and is good at creating scrambles from the bottom. He also has an underrated submission game if Nuerdanbieke just lays on the top. I don’t think Nuerdanbieke is going to be able to keep him down for long periods of time. I do think Nuerdanbieke will get Brown down, and he does have power in his hands, but it feels like Brown will likely catch him with a submission on the mat.

What’s at stake: I doubt the loser gets cut from the roster, but both men battled so hard to get back into that win column and neither wants to have their back against the wall in their next fight. Brown has more upside and talent of the two, and a win would be three straight and set him on a good path at featherweight. This should be an interesting fight.

Pick: Brown

Bantamweights- Raulian Paiva vs. Sergey Morozov

Overall Records: Paiva 21-4, Morozov 17-5
UFC Records: Paiva 3-3, Morozov 1-2
Last Fight: O’Malley def. Paiva–R1 TKO–UFC 269 (12/11/21), Silva de Andrade def. Morozov–R2 SUB–UFC 271 (2/12/22)
Last Five Fights: Paiva 3-2, Morozov 3-2
Betting Odds: Paiva +125, Morozov -145
Background: A pair of bantamweights looking to get back into the win column battle here as Paiva takes on Morozov. Paiva is looking to start a fresh run that gets him back into the rankings after suffering a first-round knockout to Sean O’Malley in a high-profile fight at UFC 269 in December. That ended a three-fight win streak that came following Paiva losing his first two UFC outings. He’s seemed to settle himself in the bantamweight division and will be looking for his eighth stoppage win. Morozov enters the Octagon for the fourth time looking to get back into the win column. He signed a contract in 2020 on the heels of five straight wins, but he’s dropped two of his first three UFC outings. He has a decision win over Khalid Taha sandwiched between stoppage losses to Umar Nurmagomedov and Douglas Silva de Andrade. He has eleven wins by stoppage.

How they match up: On the feet, Morozov looks like the type that is going to exploit the defensive lapses Paiva shows. Paiva gets hit more than he lands and his striking defense isn’t all that great. Morozov is a solid boxer who tends to want to land with more power than volume. Paiva used to fight at flyweight, so you’d think he might have a speed advantage, but he allows himself to get hit too much to show off any speed. The ground game might be more comfortable for Paiva, but Morozov is very good there as well. Paiva’s best chance to win looks to be dragging the fight into deep waters and wearing Morozov down with a takedown approach. This is a close fight either way and could go either way, but I favor it going the distance and Paiva squeaking out a close win.

What’s at stake: Paiva was ranked once before, both at bantamweight and flyweight, and he would like to get back there. I don’t think a loss signals a cut or anything, but it would put him in a must-win situation next. For Morozov, he’s in that must-win situation as a loss would put him 1-3 during his UFC tenure, and they could just decide not to extend his contract. He needs to score a win in this one.

Pick: Paiva

Flyweights- JP Buys vs. Cody Durden

Overall Records: Buys 9-4, Durden 12-4-1
UFC Records: Buys 0-2, Durden 1-2-1
Last Fight: Jackson def. Buys–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 50 (9/18/21), Mokaev def. Durden–R1 SUB–UFC On ESPN+ 62 (3/19/22)
Last Five Fights: Buys 3-2, Durden 2-2-1
Betting Odds: Buys -115, Durden -105
Background: A flyweight bout between two men who are in search of a win takes place here between Buys and Durden. Buys was signed in November 2020 off an impressive performance on Dana White’s Contender Series, but he’s dropped his first two outings during his UFC tenure. He was knocked out by Bruno Silva in March 2021, and then a short-notice trip to bantamweight saw him drop a decision to Montel Jackson. He’s scored all nine of his wins by stoppage. Durden will be fighting for the fifth time since signing a UFC deal. He’s got just one win in those first four fights, a decision win over Aoriqileng in November. He’s got a draw and two losses in his other three fights and is coming off a 58-second submission loss to Muhammad Mokaev in March. Ten of his 12 wins have seen him score a finish.

How they match up: Both men are solid and scrappy wrestlers but Durden might have the advantage on the feet with his solid boxing. Durden is a little more accurate on the feet but tends to get hit more than Buys does. Buys will look to pressure with takedowns when he’s getting out-landed on the feet. Durden is just as equally potent with his wrestling, and he does a better job of scoring the takedown than Buys does, and Buys doesn’t have the best takedown defense. Durden tends to gas out quickly in fights and Buys is plenty capable of finding submissions on the ground. Durden has lots three times by submission, including in both of his UFC losses. Buys has something to prove and I think he’s got a good shot at getting the submission.

What’s at stake: This is a must-win fight for both men. Buys wants to avoid an 0-3 start to his UFC run. Durden is in his fifth UFC outing, but a loss would put him at a 1-3-1 record and two straight losses. It’s a surprise he’s still around after his xenophobic comments about Aoriqileng in November and then his loss, but I see another loss being the end for his UFC run.

Pick: Buys

Bantamweights- Brian Kelleher vs. Mario Bautista

Overall Records: Kelleher 24-13, Bautista 9-2
UFC Records: Kelleher 8-6, Bautista 3-2
Last Fight: Nurmagomedov def. Kelleher–R1 SUB–UFC 272 (3/5/22), Bautista def. Perrin–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 59 (2/19/22)
Last Five Fights: Kelleher 3-2, Bautista 3-2
Betting Odds: Kelleher +140, Bautista -165
Background: Bantamweight action takes place on the prelims and features a fun bantamweight in Kelleher looking to rebound against Bautista. Kelleher has spent the pandemic era of UFC events staying active and fighting in multiple divisions. This will be his eighth fight in the last 25 months, back at bantamweight this time and looking to get back into the win column after a first-round submission loss to Umar Nurmagomedov at UFC 272 in March. He’s scored eight knockouts and ten submissions. Bautista is looking to score his second straight win after scoring a decision over Jay Perrin in February. He started his career with a 6-0 record, but lost his UFC debut to Cory Sandhagen. He’s since won three of his last four, picking up two post-fight bonuses in the process. He has three wins both by knockout and submission.

How they match up: Kelleher’s activity has made him a better fighter over the years and he has a solid mixture of striking and grappling. He hits hard on the feet when he connects, but he’s not going to scare people with his volume. Bautista lands more than Kelleher does and lands better when at range. He’s going to look to avoid the power shots Kelleher will throw. Kelleher will look to take it down but Bautista is tough to hold down. Kelleher does have that veteran experience and is plenty capable of finding submissions from any position. He’s way more dangerous than Bautista on the ground and I see that being the difference here. Bautista is a scrapper but it’ll be Kelleher’s experience leading him to a decision win more likely, while a submission win wouldn’t be a surprise.

What’s at stake: Kelleher is in the second fight of his most recent UFC deal and with how often he fights and his willingness to always fight, I don’t think he has to worry about going anywhere unless he has a massive slide. He wins more than he loses and this feels like a solid bounce back fight. Bautista is a solid prospect who has a decent future and a win moves him up the bantamweight ladder quicker. A loss might just keep him at a level that will be hard to get out of.

Pick: Kelleher

Women’s Strawweights- Vanessa Demopoulos vs. Jinh Yu Frey

Overall Records: Demopoulos 7-4, Frey 11-6
UFC Records: Demopoulos 1-1, Frey 2-2
Last Fight: Demopoulos def. Juarez–R1 SUB–UFC 270 (1/22/22), Frey def. Yoder–UDec–UFC On ESPN 28 (7/31/21)
Last Five Fights: Demopoulos 2-3, Frey 3-2
Betting Odds: Demopoulos +195, Frey -230
Background: A strawweight battle between two women looking to start a win streak takes place here as Demopoulos and Frey get the night started. Demopoulos is looking to make it two straight wins after scoring a first-round submission win over Silvana Gomez Juarez at UFC 270 in January. She dropped her UFC debut to JJ Aldrich in August, but with time for full training camps, she’s ready to add to her five stoppage wins. Frey is making her fifth UFC appearance and is looking to extend her two-fight win streak. The long-time Invicta FC Atomweight Champion signed her UFC deal when the pandemic began, but lost her first two outings to Kay Hansen and Loma Lookboonmee. She’s since won two straight decisions over Gloria de Paula and Ashley Yoder. She’s looking for her fourth finish.
How they match up: Both of these women are muscular and athletic and this bodes for an interesting little battle. Frey is going to have a six-inch reach advantage but she’s also more of a low volume striker. She does have solid power, though, and she knows how to use her reach in keeping it an range to where she can mix in leg kicks. Demopoulos is great on the ground, but she’s not a great wrestler, so her ways to get it to the ground are basically pulling guard or letting herself be taken down. Frey is solid enough in her wrestling that if she takes it down, she should be able to keep Demopoulos on the mat. Demopoulos is going to need to have worked on catching something from the bottom, as she’ll spend time there. I see Frey winning on the feet and with the wrestling and getting the decision win.
What’s at stake: Both women are looking to break into the strawweight rankings. Frey has been on the cusp for a few months now as things shake up ahead of her, but a win could put her right inside the top 15. A second straight win for Demopoulos gets her a higher-profile outing next, though she’d need a few wins to be near being ranked. It’s a battle of keeping win streaks going.
Pick: Frey

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