I’m a little late with this one, so I won’t keep you at the top here for too long. UFC 257 is a fantastic card from top to bottom, and the prelims are made up of some fantastic matchmaking from the guys at the UFC.
Without further delay, let’s get into it.
Bantamweight: Amir Albazi vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov
Pick: Albazi. Straight up, this one is tough to pick. Albazi and Zhumagulov are both similar in size, and both athletes are skilled in all areas. I went with Albazi based on two factors: He seems to be more of a finisher, and he is younger and thus more likely to have improved since the last tape I have of him. If Zhumagulov wins, it will be through wrestling and by being the stronger man in the Octagon. He does have striking, although I think Albazi edges him out in terms of speed. After watching tape and taking notes, I see that Vegas has this bout as even money for a reason.
Catchweight (150lbs): Nik Lentz vs. Movsar Evloev
Pick: Lentz. I’m not sure how the catchweight agreement came to be in this one, but, either way, this is an intriguing fight with serious implications for both athletes. For Lentz, this bout is to see if he can turn back the next generation. For Evloev, Lentz is a test to see if he can deal with a veteran of the sport who is unlikely to be overwhelmed by the skillset of the young prospect. Lentz has been here before, and he has faced a who’s who of the lightweight and featherweight divisions in his ten-year tenure in the UFC. The 150lbs catchweight is also a factor here. Lentz has been better-sized at 145lbs, but more durable at 155lbs, so 150lbs might be the best of both worlds for the UFC vet. Evloev is the big favorite here – for good reason – and he will have the clear advantage in the striking department, but he has not had the same finishing ability in the UFC as he did in his regional career. I think the wrestling of Lentz will be the biggest factor in this bout, and that’s why I lean the way of the UFC vet. Granted, Enloev has good scrambling ability, but Lentz lives there in the Octagon. Enloev has struggled stuffing takedowns in the past, and that is something he cannot do against Lentz. Call me crazy, but I’m going with the underdog.
Light Heavyweight: Khalil Roundtree vs. Marcin Prachino
Pick: Roundtree. I honestly don’t have a ton to say about this one. If you have a thing for betting underdogs, bet on Prachino, but if you want to keep your money, don’t bet this one at all. Prachino has lost three straight heading into this one – all by first-round KO. Roundtree hits too hard, and he has cleaned up his striking a good amount during his UFC career.
Bantamweight: Sara McMann vs. Juliana Pena
Pick: Pena. While this bout takes place between two talented wrestlers, I do not think that’s where this fight will be won or lost. I think the inbetween moments where striking takes the stage is where the eventual winner will shine. Both women have made improvements to their games over the course of their careers, but I think the talent of Pena will shine through. That said, the money on this fight is pretty even. It is reasonable to think that McMann might come through on this one due to her toughness and competitive drive that Pena sometimes lacks when the going gets tough.
Middleweight: Brad Tavares vs. Antonio Carlos Junior
Pick: Carlos Junior. This will be Tavares first Octagon appearance in a little over a year due to an ACL injury which has kept him out of competition following his KO loss to Edmen Shahbazyan. The Hawaiian mixed martial artist takes on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu phenom Antonio Carlos Junior. Both men have dropped their last two contests and are looking to get back into the win column. They seem to be opposites of one another while also both becoming well-rounded martial artists thorughout their careers. Carlos Junior started as a ground specialist, but has developed a solid striking game to complement his submission skills. Tavares, on the other hand, has added in some great counter-grappling to his fantastic kickboxing game. In bouts as even as this, I tend to side with the ground fighter as they are often able to rack up “control time” even if they aren’t exactly dominating the bout. I think there is a possibility that that happens in this one.
Lightweight: Arman Tsarukyan vs. Matt Frevola
Pick: Tsarukyan. After a late-minute mix-up, we a pretty interesting matchup between two lightweight up-and-comers. Tsarukyan is a well rounded athlete who has really cleaned up his kickboxing throughout his UFC tenure. He also mixes in takedowns and possesses some great ground and pound. Combine all that with top-level positional awareness, and you have a fighter in Tsarukyan who is a serious challenge for anyone at 155 pounds. Frevola is a bit inexperienced at only 8-1, but he makes up for it with forward motion and a hyper-aggressive style. He usually wings powerful overhand punches as he moves in, but it has been a while since we’ve seen him compete, so I expect to see a more refined game at UFC 257. That said, I think the well-rounded approach of Tsrukyan to win him the day.
Reach out in the comments below for comments, questions or concerns!