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Guide to UFC on ESPN+ 65: Alexander Volkov vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik

Getting prepared for UFC action this Saturday? Here’s everything you need to know in our Guide to UFC on ESPN+ 65: Volkov vs. Rozenstruik.

UFC on ESPN+ 65
Date: June 4, 2022
Location: UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada

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

Heavyweights: #7 Alexander Volkov vs. #8 Jairzinho Rozenstruik

Overall Records: Volkov 34-10, Rozenstruik 12-3
UFC Records: Volkov 8-4, Rozenstruik 7-3
Last Fight: Aspinall def. Volkov–R1 SUB–UFC On ESPN+ 62 (3/19/22), Blaydes def. Rozenstruik–UDec–UFC 266 (9/25/21)
Last Five Fights: Volkov 3-2, Rozenstruik 2-3
Betting Odds: Volkov -155, Rozenstruik +135
Background: The main event shouldn’t be much of a surprise as UFC often puts two heavyweights together when they’re in need of a headliner and Volkov and Rozenstruik fit the bill of two capable headlining heavyweights as they square off in the five-round headliner. These two have found themselves as title contender gatekeepers, but that is something that can change with the outcome of this contest. Volkov is making a quick turnaround, as he was just in action in March in yet another main event. He was submitted by Tom Aspinall in London in that outing in the first round, which put him back into the loss column. This will be the seventh time Volkov has headlined a UFC card, and he is 3-3 during his six other main event spots. Of his 34 professional wins, Volkov has scored 25 finishes, with 22 of those coming by knockout. Rozenstruik will be entering his fourth UFC main event, and third in his last four fights. He is 2-1 during his three prior main event showings. After starting his career with a perfect 10-0 record, including four straight wins to start his UFC career, which quickly put him in the title picture, he’s lost three of his last five and is trying to avoid official gatekeeper status. Rozenstruik has scored eleven of his 12 professional wins by knockout, including in all six of his UFC wins.

How they match up: I don’t know what to expect of this match-up. It could go quick, or it could be an ugly 25-minute affair. Volkov is a pretty sizeable heavyweight now as he’ll have a five-inch height edge, a two-inch reach advantage, and he might be the larger guy in there as he’s been around the heavyweight limit in most of his recent fights. He has good range as a kickboxer and has been known for his durability. Rozenstruik hits hard, one of the most dangerous punchers in the division, and he is dangerous with his counters that could lead to a brutal finish. However, wars of attrition don’t mix well with him, so Volkov could decide to fight at a low-volume pace dictated on wearing Rozenstruik down. The biggest flaw in that, though, is Volkov has shown to get tired in about the third round in recent fights, and the same could very well happen here. For all of his power, Rozenstruik doesn’t really land all that much in fights, averaging less than three significant strikes landed per minute. Volkov will likely look to rely on his wrestling, which Rozenstruik has had trouble with in the past, to wear him down. It’ll be ugly while it goes on. The problem with that, though, is I fully expect Volkov to get tired in trying to turn it into a grind, and Rozenstruik will be able to find a knockout blow in the latter stages, around the fourth round, to score what is an upset to the oddsmakers.

What’s at stake: The winner of this one might avoid the dreaded gatekeeper role in the heavyweight division, while the loser likely takes on that role. Both men are capable of making runs towards title contention, and the winner is going to find himself back in the picture. Both just need to prove that they can defeat those ranked ahead of them, which has been the issue keeping them both from that coveted title shot. This is a pivotal bout for both men when it comes to their future, simply due to the fact the loser likely never ends up challenging for UFC gold.

Pick: Rozenstruik

Featherweights: #10 Dan Ige vs. #13 Movsar Evloev

Overall Records: Ige 15-5, Evloev 15-0
UFC Records: Ige 7-4, Evloev 5-0
Last Fight: Emmett def. Ige–UDec–UFC 269 (12/11/21), Evloev def. Dawodu–UDec–UFC 263 (6/12/21)
Last Five Fights: Ige 2-3, Evloev 5-0
Betting Odds: Ige +310, Evloev -410
Background: The co-main event is a high stakes affair in the featherweight division as Ige looks to bounce back from a recent skid and become the first man to hand the undefeated Evloev a loss. Ige looked to be on his way towards title contention during a stretch of six straight wins, but he’s lost three of his last four to barely hang on to a spot inside the top ten of the division. However, his three losses have come to Calvin Kattar, Chan Sung Jung and Josh Emmett, all top fighters at 145 lbs., and they’ve all come by decision. He does hold quality wins over the likes of Edson Barboza and Mirsad Bektic, and nine of his 15 career wins have seen Ige score a finish, plus, he’s never been finished in his career. Evloev is perfect in the 15 outings to start his career. He started off with a 10-0 record, becoming the M-1 Global Bantamweight Champion in the process, on his way to signing his UFC contract. He’s started 5-0 inside the Octagon, with his most recent wins being his best, in defeating Nik Lentz and, most recently in June 2021, Hakeem Dawodu. Evloev has scored seven of his wins via a finish, but he is still in search of his first finish since his UFC signing.

How they match up: This is a very intriguing battle and is your standard striker against grappler kind of fight. Evloev is an aggressive wrestler with some solid striking to back it up, but he prefers to use his striking to set up the takedown attempts. He’s scored 20 takedowns during his five UFC fights, but only scores on 47% of his attempts. He also tends to eat punches while searching for the takedown and Ige has the solid punching game and excellent power to where he can make Evloev pay for making mistakes. Ige can be aggressive on the feet, and he is fairly accurate with his strikes. He also has the grappling skill to be able to keep the fight upright, but Evloev’s offensive wrestling is still better than Ige’s defensive wrestling. It’s going to be up to Ige to essentially be a matador to a bull coming forward for the takedown, and if he is able to land something big while Evloev is rushing in, he could end it. This is a tough fight for Ige to get back on track, and a big test for Evloev, but one I think he will pass.

What’s at stake: This is a pretty pivotal match-up at 145 lbs. and will have some bearings on what comes next inside the division. Ige is holding onto a top-ten ranking, and a win would keep him inside. A win for Evloev would oust Ige from the top ten and move himself into it, and could set up Evloev for a main event slot in his next outing. Bryce Mitchell is currently in search of his next opponent, and the winner of this fight could be a logical next opponent for him. Either way, the winner will be in a pretty important fight that will have title picture ramifications next, while the loser really won’t lose all that much. However, it is a pretty big deal for Ige, who wants to be the man to hand Evloev his first loss.

Pick: Evloev

Featherweights: Michael Trizano vs. Lucas Almeida

Overall Records: Trizano 9-2, Almeida 13-1
UFC Records: Trizano 3-2, Almeida 0-0
Last Fight: Dawodu def. Trizano–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 58 (2/5/22), Almeida def. Trindade–R1 SUB–Jungle Fight 103 (11/28/21)
Last Five Fights: Trizano 3-2, Almeida 4-1
Betting Odds: Trizano -225, Almeida +185
Background: A featherweight match-up featuring a former TUF winner against a Contender Series veteran takes place here as Trizano welcomes Almeida into the Octagon for the first time. Trizano was the lightweight winner of season 27 of The Ultimate Fighter, defeating Joe Giannetti in the finals in July 2018, which moved his record to 7-0 at the time. He followed that up with a win over Luis Pena, but has gone 1-2 since moving back down to 145 lbs., with a win over Ludovit Klein sandwiched between losses to Grant Dawson and Hakeem Dawodu, which came in February. Trizano will be going for his tenth career win and his first finish inside the Octagon. Almeida is making his UFC debut in this one. He started his career with a perfect 12-0 record, leading to a shot at earning a UFC deal on Dana White’s Contender Series in September. He came up short, losing a decision to Daniel Zellhuber, which was his first career loss. He bounced back with a finish of Ilato Trindade in November, which led to him earning a UFC deal. All 13 of his wins have come by stoppage, with eight knockouts and five submissions.

How they match up: Trizano has the Octagon experience, while Almeida might have to shake off some UFC jitters in this one. Trizano is pretty well-rounded, but not necessarily great at one thing, but good at everything. Almeida tends to start off fast and is good at finding quick submissions and he’s a high-volume striker to boot. He also tends to get hit quite often, and Trizano is accurate on the feet, though he lacks the punching power to finish opponents with one shot. Almeida also has shown the tendency to fade in the later stages of fights, and Trizano is very durable and has shown he can go the full 15 minutes without any issues. I see Trizano weathering an early storm from Almeida, avoiding the quick finish and wearing him down en route to a decision.

What’s at stake: There really isn’t much at stake in this one, other than Trizano wanting to hand Almeida a loss for his UFC debut. Neither man is ready to break into contender status, and neither is in danger of being cut with a loss. Trizano gets a little bit of a leash due to being a former TUF winner, and while he showed potential on the show, it remains to be seen whether that’ll translate. This is a just a fight between two solid, young fighters.

Pick: Trizano

Women’s Flyweights: Karine Silva vs. Poliana Botelho

Overall Records: Silva 14-4, Botelho 8-4
UFC Records: Silva 0-0, Botelho 3-3
Last Fight: Silva def. Yan–R2 SUB–Dana White’s Contender Series 45 (10/26/21), Carolina def. Botelho–SpDec–UFC On ESPN 23 (5/1/21)
Last Five Fights: Silva 5-0, Botelho 2-3
Betting Odds: Silva -125, Botelho +105
Background: A pair of Brazilian flyweights, one of whom is making their UFC debut, takes place as the debuting Silva battles the slumping Botelho. Silva is making her debut following an impressive performance on Dana White’s Contender Series in October as she submitted Qihui Yan in the second round with a guillotine choke. She was awarded with a contract, and it was the fifth straight win for Silva. She has 14 career wins overall, with all of them coming via a finish, as she’s scored eight wins by knockout and six wins by submission. Botelho is looking to end a rough skid as she fights for the first time in over a year and for just the third time in the past three years. Botelho had a solid start to her UFC career, winning three of her first four outings, but has dropped back-to-back fights to Gillian Robertson and Luana Carolina heading into this fight. She has just eight professional wins, but six have come via knockout.

How they match up: This does have the makings of being a potentially exciting fight. Botelho brings it from the get-go and has finished fights early, but has also been the victim of fading quickly and losing in the latter stages. She does have power in her hands and likes to use body kicks to wear opponents down. Her biggest flaw has been her grappling defense, and, unfortunately for her, Silva is a very strong grappler. Silva is a quick finisher, but during her bout on the Contender Series, she did fade badly in the second despite scoring the win. Both are aggressive and that could lead to a quick finish. Botelho tends to leave her neck open and Silva is dangerous with guillotine chokes, and she is also the stronger fighter. Outside of a liver kick from Botelho that does early damage, this fight is all set up for Silva to get an impressive finish.

What’s at stake: It is Silva’s debut and she has plenty of potential, so she’ll get some more future outings, especially if she scores a win. This looks to be a must-win fight for Botelho, as she’s lost two straight and three of her last four. If she falls to 1-4 over her past five fights, they could easily cut her from the roster. This is a pivotal bout for Botelho.

Pick: Silva

Flyweights: Ode Osbourne vs. Zarrukh Adashev

Overall Records: Osbourne 10-4, Adashev 4-3
UFC Records: Osbourne 2-2, Adashev 1-2
Last Fight: Osbourne def. Vergara–UDec–UFC 268 (11/6/21), Adashev def. Benoit–UDec–UFC On ESPN 28 (7/31/21)
Last Five Fights: Osbourne 3-2, Adashev 3-2
Betting Odds: Osbourne -190, Adashev +160
Background: A flyweight fight between two men trying to break into the rankings occupies a main card slot as Osbourne and Adashev both look to start a win streak. Osbourne will enter the Octagon for the fifth time looking to score his second consecutive win. He is coming off a decision win over CJ Vergara at UFC 268 in November. After earning a UFC contract on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2019, Osbourne has split his first four outings, rotating losses-and-wins, so history says he’s due for a loss, so he wants to break that pattern. Adashev will be making his fourth appearance inside the Octagon as he also looks to score his second straight win. While he has plenty of kickboxing experience, Adashev had just four career mixed martial arts fights before his UFC signing, and he started his UFC run off with two straight losses to Tyson Nam and Su Mudaerji. He bounced back with a decision win over Ryan Benoit in July, and this will be his first fight since then.

How they match up: Osbourne is going to have a very big reach advantage in this fight as he’ll enjoy eight inches in reach over Adashev. That will help him greatly on the feet as he tends to land more often than Adashev does, and he’s more accurate. Adashev does have good defense on the feet and is adept on his feet with his kickboxing experience. It hasn’t really worked out that well in his move to MMA, and his reach disadvantages are often a reason why. He’s going to have to use footwork to get inside of Osbourne, but Osbourne could use that to wrestle and score the takedown. Adashev has yet to be taken down inside the Octagon, but even attempts from Osbourne will take Adashev out of rhythm on the feet. If Osbourne’s gas tank holds up, he looks to have a lot of advantages in this one. I don’t see him finishing Adashev, but a decision favors Osbourne.

What’s at stake: This is a must-win fight for Adashev. He might be on the final fight of his original UFC deal, and a loss would put him at 1-3 with the promotion, which could lead to him not being re-signed. A win would likely net him a new deal. Osbourne wants to get a win streak going for the first time since his days on the regional scene, so he’ll need a win to accomplish that. Both also want to start knocking on the door of the flyweight rankings.

Pick: Osbourne

Light Heavyweights: Alonzo Menifield vs. Askar Mozharov

Overall Records: Menifield 11-3, Mozharov 19-12
UFC Records: Menifield 4-3, Mozharov 0-0
Last Fight: Knight def. Menifield–UDec–UFC On ESPN 31 (12/4/21), Mozharov def. Golub–R1 TKO–PPC Kratos Cup 12 (11/25/20)
Last Five Fights: Menifield 2-3, Mozharov 3-2
Betting Odds: Menifield -250, Mozharov +200
Background: An interesting light heavyweight match-up gets the main card going as Menifield takes on the debuting Mozharov. Mozharov is taking this fight on short notice as he replaced Nicolae Negumereanu in this fight to make his debut. Menifield fights for the first time in 2022 after fighting three times in 2021, in which he won two of those fights. He is coming off a decision loss to William Knight in December, which ended a two-fight win streak. He is physically impressive, and has scored finishes in ten of his eleven career wins. Mozharov is making his long-awaited debut after having several fights that were scheduled in 2021 called off. He was originally going to make his PFL debut in April 2021, but he pulled out due to injury, and then turned around and signed a UFC deal to make a short-notice debut. However, visa issues kept him from fighting in May and August, but those have been taken care off. His record has undergone some weird changes, as he was originally listed at having 25 wins, but it’s been adjusted to 19 career wins, with 17 coming via a finish. He’s also been finished in all 12 of his losses.

How they match up: Both men have knockout power, and this is a fight that could last a very short time. I feel like there’s a lot of questions surrounding Mozharov, and the fact his record has changed three times over the past week leaves even more questions. He doesn’t appear to be as good as his original record shows. However, he is still tall and muscular and aggressive, and most of his fights don’t go far past the first round. Menifield is the toughest opponent he’s fought thus far and he has the durability to withstand an early onslaught from Mozharov. Mozharov can be finished just as easily as he finishes his opponents, so he needs to be on the lookout for the power of Menifield. Menifield could also decide to grapple with Mozharov and wear him down that way, which appears might be an easy task. There’s a chance Mozharov could overwhelm Menifield, but I like Menifield to be able to find some power shots and finish Mozharov off early.

What’s at stake: Menifield would love to get back into the win column in this one and continue to show the improvement he was making prior to the loss to Knight. He’s got potential, but is 34-years-old, so the time to make a run is now. Mozharov is an interesting case, and he might not be who UFC thought he was. With the change in his record this week making it out to be worse, they might just give up on him if he loses easily. He also could easily be impressive and throw all of those negatives out of the window here.

Pick: Menifield

Preliminary Card
Start Time: 1:00 p.m. ET, 10:00 a.m. PT
Where to watch: ESPN+

Women’s Strawweights: Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz

Overall Records: Herrig 14-9, Kowalkiewicz 12-7
UFC Records: Herrig 5-4, Kowalkiewicz 5-7
Last Fight: Jandiroba def. Herrig–R1 SUB–UFC 252 (8/15/20), Penne def. Kowalkiewicz–R1 SUB–UFC 265 (8/7/21)
Last Five Fights: Herrig 2-3, Kowalkiewicz 0-5
Betting Odds: Herrig -120, Kowalkiewicz +100
Background: The prelims are headlined by two of the more well-known names on the card as strawweights Herrig and Kowalkiewicz both look to end long losing skids and get back into the win column. This is actually a rematch of a fight that took place in April 2018 at UFC 223 in Brooklyn, a fight that ended up being a split decision victory for Kowalkiewicz. Both of these womens’ careers have been in a tail spin since. That loss started Herring’s current run that has seen her lose three straight fights. She lost her subsequent fight to Michelle Waterson in October 2018, then missed a long time due to a torn ACL. She returned in August 2020, but was submitted by Virna Jandiroba. She’s been battling complications with her repaired knee over the last two years, but is finally ready to return. The win over Herrig in April 2018 was actually the last time Kowalkiewicz had her hand raised as she comes into this fight on a five-fight losing skid. She’s lost to quality opponents, but losses to Jessica Andrade, Michelle Waterson, Alexa Grasso and Yan Xioanan made her question whether she wanted to keep fighting. She returned from a long layoff, but was submitted by Jessica Penne in her last fight in August. She decided she still wants to fight and is determined to get back into the win column here.

How they match up: Both have regressed since their first fight four years ago and this doesn’t seem like a fight that will be as good as the first time. Herrig’s major knee issues over the last few years are a big question mark and will play a key factor in this. Kowalkiewicz has looked slower and more tentative in her fights since the first fight, but she can afford to fight like that in this one as Herrig isn’t a powerful striker. Another key factor is the mental focus for both women. Kowalkiewicz hasn’t looked mentally ready to fight for a while, and you do have to wonder if all of the knee issues have hurt the mental ability of Herrig. Both women are clearly in a sharp decline, but it’ll be all about who has declined quicker. I think the answer to that is Kowalkiewicz, but, I think Kowalkiewicz having won the first outing gives her the edge and I see her scoring a close decision win in an uneventful fight.

What’s at stake: This is definitely a must-win fight for both women and the loser could easily see themselves released from the roster. It is rare to see a fighter remain on the roster will five straight losses, but a six straight loss would likely do it for Kowalkiewicz. Herrig could get another shot should she lose her fourth straight, but she could also be the victim of roster trimming with another loss. It is also possible retirement could loom for the loser, so it’s possible this could be the final fight for one of these women. It is definitely a must-win, though.

Pick: Kowalkiewicz

Lightweights: Joe Solecki vs. Alex da Silva

Overall Records: Solecki 11-3, da Silva 21-3
UFC Records: Solecki 3-1, da Silva 1-2
Last Fight: Gordon def. Solecki–SpDec–UFC On ESPN+ 51 (10/2/21), Riddell def. da Silva–UDec–UFC 253 (9/26/20)
Last Five Fights: Solecki 4-1, da Silva 3-2
Betting Odds: Solecki -165, da Silva +145
Background: A lightweight fight between two young prospects takes place here as Solecki and da Silva both look to rebound from losses in this one. Solecki looked well on his way to joining the elite of the lightweight division after starting his UFC career with three straight wins, scoring wins over Matt Wiman, Austin Hubbard and Jim Miller. However, he suffered his first loss inside the Octagon in his last fight in October, dropping a decision to Jared Gordon, which also ended a six-fight win streak. He looks to rebound here as he also looks to score his tenth finish. da Silva returns to action following a lengthy layoff as he fights for the first time since September 2020. He started his career with 18 straight wins and a 20-1 record to earn a UFC contract, but he’s lost two of his three UFC outings. He’s coming off a decision loss to Brad Riddell in his last fight at UFC 253 in September 2020 in Abu Dhabi. He has scored 20 of his 21 wins via a finish.

How they match up: This is going to be another striker against grappler type of fight. da Silva has the edge on the feet and Solecki has the edge with his wrestling and ground game. Solecki tends to start strong and is pretty good at maintaining a solid pace, but he did struggle late in his last fight against Gordon. da Silva has been out of action for nearly two years, so it is a question mark as to how much he’s improved in that time off. That’s not to say da Silva is bad on the ground as he’s actually quite good, but not as good on the mat as Solecki. da Silva also has faded late in fights, and while Solecki did have late struggles in his last fight, his gas tank is not an issue. This is going to be a fight that will be decided in the second and third rounds. da Silva is strong enough early that he’ll likely win the first before Solecki takes over early in the second and controls from there. Solecki will exploit da Silva’s holes on the mat and will win the last two rounds to take the fight in the judges’ eyes.

What’s at stake: Solecki has lots of potential, but he had a rough night against Gordon. He wants to prove he’s a future contender and this looks to be a bounce back fight for him. He shouldn’t take da Silva lightly, but if he loses, he could be on the bubble of being cut with another loss. da Silva is likely in his final fight of a rookie UFC deal, so he needs a win to earn a second contract. A loss would put him at 1–3 under UFC’s banner, and would likely signal his time coming to an end for now.

Pick: Solecki

Featherweights: Damon Jackson vs. Daniel Argueta

Overall Records: Jackson 20-4-1 1 NC, Argueta 8-0
UFC Records: Jackson 3-2-1 1 NC, Argueta 0-0
Last Fight: Jackson def. Kirk–R2 SUB–UFC On ESPN+ 61 (3/12/22), Argueta def. Silva–SpDec–LFA 131 (5/6/22)
Last Five Fights: Jackson 4-1, Argueta 5-0
Betting Odds: Jackson -675, Argueta +475
Background: A fight that just came together very recently takes place at 145 lbs. as battle-tested Jackson welcomes Argueta to the Octagon for the first time. Jackson was originally scheduled to fight Darrick Minner in this fight, but a concussion knocked Minner out, and Argueta signed a UFC deal as a replacement. Jackson is in his second UFC stint, but it has gone well as he’s scored wins in three of his four fights since re-joining the roster. He’s won two straight and is coming off an impressive submission win over Kamuela Kirk in March. He’s 9-2 over his last eleven overall, and he has scored finishes in 18 of his 20 wins, including an impressive 15 submission wins. Argueta was a cast member of season 29 of The Ultimate Fighter and was a top pick, but was eliminated in the opening round. He’s fought three times under the LFA banner since the show, scoring wins in all of those fights, and running his official record to a perfect 8-0, leading to his late-notice signing. Six of his eight wins have come by stoppage.

How they match up: You have to give credit to Argueta for taking this fight on short notice, but it is a very quick turnaround for him. He just fought on May 6 in a fight that went five rounds and was a war. Jackson has looked his best in his most recent outings as he’s become and aggressive grappler with a solid takedown game and dangerous submissions. Argueta will be fighting up a weight class and he’ll be giving up a good amount of size to Jackson. Argueta generally fights as a bantamweight and he’ll be giving up four inches in height and three inches in reach to Jackson. With him giving up that size, the short-notice of the fight, and the styles clash of the two, this highly favors Jackson. Jackson has the range on the feet to pick apart Argueta, but I suspect the grappling will be the key as Jackson is so good on the mat, as evidenced by the amount of submission wins he has. I see him dominating Argueta on the mat and finding a submission win.

What’s at stake: Jackson has been very impressive recently and was calling for high-profile fights. While this isn’t that because of the late replacement, it’s still a chance for him to score a third straight win and continue his rise up the featherweight ladder. Argueta would love to remain undefeated and score a win over a veteran the caliber of Jackson in his debut, which would quickly move him up the featherweight ladder himself. However, a loss won’t hurt him much and he’ll be able to better show himself on a full training camp next time.

Pick: Jackson

Welterweights: Niklas Stolze vs. Benoit Saint-Denis

Overall Records: Stolze 12-5, Saint-Denis 8-1 1 NC
UFC Records: Stolze 0-2, Saint-Denis 0-1
Last Fight: Gooden def. Stolze–R1 KO–UFC On ESPN 28 (7/31/21), Zaleski dos Santos def. Saint-Denis–UDec–UFC 267 (10/30/21)
Last Five Fights: Stolze 3-2, Saint-Denis 4-1
Betting Odds: Stolze +135, Saint-Denis -155
Background: A pair of former welterweights who are both dropping to 155 lbs. for this one square off as Stolze and Saint-Denis both look to notch their first UFC win. Stolze is fighting for the first time in 2022 as he looks to be more active after fighting just once in each of the last two years. He’s started his UFC run off 0-2, with losses to Ramazan Emeev and Jared Gooden. He’s looking to show he’s better than he’s been able to showcase, and eight of his eleven career wins have seen him score a finish. Saint-Denis is fighting for the second time as a member of the roster, but this is also the first time he’ll get a complete training camp. He suffered a decision loss to Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos at UFC 267 in October in his debut, but he did have flashes of looking good in that fight. It was his first-and-only loss in his career, as he was unbeaten in his previous nine bouts. He has scored all eight of his wins by stoppage, with one knockout win and seven wins by submission.

How they match up: Saint-Denis took a lot of damage in his UFC debut, but I don’t see this playing out in the same fashion. Stolze has a large frame that will likely suit better at lightweight, but he’s still shown himself to be a low-volume striker despite being well-rounded. He will have a speed and technique advantage over Saint-Denis, and it feels like another bad style match-up for Saint-Denis. Even with the beating he took, you have to appreciate the durability of Saint-Denis, and we know he can take those beatings. He won’t have to worry about that as much here, but Stolze can definitely make him pay on the feet. Saint-Denis’ key to win is being aggressive and getting his shots off first. I do think his durability will last here and Stolze, despite being better on the feet, just doesn’t have enough to get past him. I sense it going the distance with Saint-Denis winning a close fight.

What’s at stake: Both men are in need of a win as they don’t want to keep a zero in the win column for their UFC careers. They’re both early in their UFC runs, but a loss would be three straight for Stolze and two straight for Saint-Denis. They’ve been cutting some fighters early lately due to the need to make room for upcoming signings, so a win secures the future for either, but a loss leaves the future questionable.

Pick: Saint-Denis

Bantamweights: Johnny Munoz vs. Tony Gravely

Overall Records: Munoz 11-1, Gravely 22-7
UFC Records: Munoz 1-1, Gravely 3-2
Last Fight: Munoz def. Simmons–R2 SUB–UFC 265 (8/7/21), Gravely def. Oliveira–UDec–UFC 270 (1/22/22)
Last Five Fights: Munoz 4-1, Gravely 3-2
Betting Odds: Munoz +120, Gravely -140
Background: A bantamweight battle between two men looking to climb the ladder and notch their second straight win takes place as Munoz and Gravely do battle. These two were originally slated to fight each other on the regional scene back in 2019, though it fell apart, but they get the chance to square off in the biggest promotion in the world. Munoz will be in his third UFC outing and is coming off a second-round submission of Jamey Simmons at UFC 265 in August. That got him back in the win column following the lone loss of his career, which came to Nate Maness in his UFC debut in August 2020. Munoz has scored nine of his eleven wins by stoppage. Gravely is a graduate of Dana White’s Contender Series, earning a contract on the show in August 2019. He’s fought inside the Octagon five times since then, compiling a 3-2 record. He debuted with a submission loss to Brett Johns. He then won two straight before suffering another loss, but then rebounded in January, scoring a decision win over Saimon Oliveira at UFC 270. Gravely has scored 12 of his 22 professional wins via a finish.

How they match up: One of the most impressive parts of Gravely and his gameplan is his strong wrestling. He has scored 28 takedowns in his five UFC bouts, scoring on 55% of his attempts. He does have solid boxing as well, and his ability to defend submissions on the mat has gotten better. That’s going to pay off here as Munoz has a strong submission game. He doesn’t have quite as good of a striking game as Gravely does even though his striking defense is very good. It feels like Munoz knows he won’t win the battle on the feet, so his gameplan will likely be to give up the takedown to where he can hunt for submissions on the mat. I don’t think it’ll work and I see Gravely dominating with his wrestling and avoiding being submitted as he goes on to win on the scorecards.

What’s at stake: Both men are looking to climb up the bantamweight contender ladder and it is a tough division to navigate at the moment. A second straight win would set up the winner for a solid fight next time out while the loser would be looking at possibly fighting for their job in their next fight. It’s not the most important fight in the world, but some solid stakes are on the line in this one.

Pick: Gravely

Flyweights: Jeff Molina vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov

Overall Records: Molina 10-2, Zhumagulov 14-6
UFC Records: Molina 2-0, Zhumagulov 1-3
Last Fight: Molina def. Da Silva–R2 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 54 (10/23/21), Kape def. Zhumagulov–R1 TKO–UFC On ESPN 31 (12/4/21)
Last Five Fights: Molina 5-0, Zhumagulov 2-3
Betting Odds: Molina -190, Zhumagulov +160
Backstage: Background: An exciting flyweight contest takes place here between two men trying to break into the rankings as Molina looks to keep his win streak going against Zhumagulov, who is trying to break his way back into the win column. Molina is fighting for the third time since earning his UFC contract on Dana White’s Contender Series in August 2020. He had an exciting fight with Aoriqileng in his debut at UFC 261 in April 2021, scoring a decision win, and followed that up with a second-round knockout of Daniel Da Silva in October, running his win streak to nine straight. Eight of Molina’s ten career wins have come by stoppage. Despite starting his UFC career with just a 1-3 record in his four outings, Zhumagulov gets another shot to find a little more success inside the Octagon. He started his run with the promotion with two straight losses, both of which took place in Abu Dhabi. Las Vegas was a nice change of scenery for him as he scored a first-round submission of Jerome Rivera in July, marking his first UFC triumph. However, he lost his last fight in convincing fashion as he was finished inside the first round by Manel Kape. He has scored eight wins via a stoppage.

How they match up: Zhumagulov’s UFC run has been not too kind to him to start. He should’ve gotten the nod over Raulian Paiva in his debut, and his other losses have been to solid prospects. He is fast on the feet, aggressive with his striking and has a solid wrestling game to complete the package. His striking prowess is very good and he has the conditioning to back everything up. However, Molina may be more aggressive on the feet, might have slightly more speed, and he fights at a much faster pace. He also fights well under pressure and is a very high-volume striker. He’s also very accurate with his strikes and both men, while having pretty equal striking defense, they tend to get hit often. I do think Molina will be the one who sets the pace in this and I think him being the younger and more athletic fighter will play the difference here. It’ll likely be fun, but I see Molina winning this one.

What’s at stake: The winner could break into the tier just below the top-15 of the flyweight division, especially if it is Molina. A Zhumagulov win would be solid, but he’d still be just 2-3 since his signing. A loss for him could signal the end of this time under a UFC deal. Molina isn’t going anywhere with a loss, but his upside and potential is far higher than Zhumagulov’s is.

Pick: Molina

Welterweights: Rinat Fakhretdinov vs. Andreas Michailidis

Overall Records: Fakhretdinov 20-2, Michailidis 13-5
UFC Records: Fakhretdinov 0-0, Michailidis 1-2
Last Fight: Fakhretdinov def. Spicely–R1 KO–UAE Warriors 15 (1/15/21), Pereira def. Michailidis–R2 TKO–UFC 268 (11/6/21)
Last Five Fights: Fakhretdinov 5-0, Michailidis 3-2
Betting Odds: Fakhretdinov -265, Michailidis +185
Background: A debuting fighter with an impressive record battles a UFC veteran in this welterweight bout as Fakhretdinov steps inside the Octagon for the first time against Michailidis. Fakhretdinov is debuting with an impressive 20-2 record and another impressive feat of 14 straight wins. He hasn’t fought since January 2021, when he scored a knockout win over UFC veteran Eric Spicely in just 55 seconds. Of his 20 career wins, 18 have seen him score a finish, with eleven by knockout and seven by submission. Michailidis is fighting for the fourth time inside the Octagon, and for the first time as a welterweight. In fact, the drop to 170 lbs. marks the third different weight class he’s fought in since joining the promotion. He’s gone 1-2 over his first three fights, losing to Modestas Bukauskas by knockout in the first round in his debut, but bouncing back with a decision win over KB Bhullar. He lost his last outing, being dominated and finished early in the second round by Alex Pereira in November at UFC 268. He has scored eleven of his 13 wins by stoppage.

How they match up: A lot can be said as far as Michailidis dropping down to welterweight, but Fakhretdinov has only fought once in his career at 170 lbs. and he’s dropping down in weight as well. Despite his impressive record, Fakhretdinov is far from a dangerous fighter, though he is good. He doesn’t overwhelm his opponents, and he’s made his record beating up a lot of opponents who were in over their heads. Despite Michailidis having a disappointing UFC run thus far and considering he comes from a lesser camp, he still has the potential to pull off what would be an upset. Fakhretdinov may decide to fight at a slow pace, something he is used to, and hope that Michailidis has some bad effects from his weight cut. This really doesn’t feel like it’ll be all that exciting, but Fakhretdinov should get the nod here unless he just doesn’t show up.

What’s at stake: Michailidis is in a must-win fight if he’s going to get a new UFC deal. A win would secure him his future, but a loss likely spells the end of his UFC run if he drops to 1-3. Fakhretdinov will have a future one-way-or-another, but he doesn’t strike me as someone who will ever be a title contender, but more so someone who gives some people some trouble in the division, and someone who gets beaten by the elite at 170 lbs.

Pick: Fakhretdinov

Women’s Flyweights: Erin Blanchfield vs. JJ Aldrich

Overall Records: Blanchfield 8-1, Aldrich 11-4
UFC Records: Blanchfield 2-0, Aldrich 7-3
Last Fight: Blanchfield def. Maverick–UDec–UFC 269 (12/11/21), Aldrich def. Robertson–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 61 (3/12/21)
Last Five Fights: Blanchfield 5-0, Aldrich 4-1
Betting Odds: Blanchfield -490, Aldrich +360
Background: I know it’s an ESPN+ card and bout orders can be meaningless, but this opening fight deserves to be higher on the card as it features potential flyweight title contender Blanchfield taking on the veteran in Aldrich. Blanchfield is one of the youngest fighters on the roster at just 23-years-old, but she’s shown she’s plenty capable of competing at a high level. The only blemish on her record is a close split decision loss to Tracy Cortez in February 2019, though most thought Blanchfield won the fight. She’s won five straight since then, including decisions over Sarah Alpar and Miranda Maverick to start her UFC run. Aldrich has been quietly moving up the rankings in the flyweight division as she’s won three straight and gone 7-2 over her last nine fights. She’s coming into this bout off wins over Cortney Casey, Vanessa Demopoulos and Gillian Robertson in her last fights. She’s not much of a finisher, with just an 18% finish rate inside the Octagon. However, she’s won 7 of her last 9, but is still in search of her first stoppage in UFC.

How they match up: Aldrich is a very underrated fighter, but this one is going to bring out the best version of Blanchfield that there is. Blanchfield has shown a tendency to be aggressive and look for takedowns more often. She is definitely the better athlete over Aldrich, and she doesn’t mind walking through punches in order to get her own offense going. Blanchfield is a high-volume striker and she also has solid takedowns and can pin opponents down to the mat at will. She also hasn’t shown any conditioning issues so far, so going the full 15 minutes should be easy for her. Aldrich was able to keep it standing against Robertson, but Blanchfield isn’t afraid to take some damage to put herself in better positions to win. Aldrich is going to make this tough, but this should be another showcase fight for Blanchfield.

What’s at stake: Absolutely nothing in this fight. Aldrich has surprised a lot of people and is capable of scoring the upset to win her fourth straight fight, but that is easier said than done. Blanchfield has so much potential that I don’t see her losing this barring her just not showing up. The winner could find themselves ranked inside the top-15 and in a much more prominent position on the card. Again, this fight is far too strong to open a show, but it should be a solid opener.

Pick: Blanchfield

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