A highly entertaining card last weekend culminated in a dominant performance by Cyril Gane that will undoubtedly shoot him towards contention, and the UFC will continue at the Apex facility this weekend for the most stacked Pay-Per-View card 2021 is yet to offer!
In our main event, Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya will head up to 205 pounds and throw down with champion Jan Blachowicz in a bid for double champ status. We have two other titles on the line as Amanda Nunes is set to defend her Featherweight title opposite Megan Anderson while Bantamweight champ Petr Yan dukes it out with Aljamain Sterling.
We have nothing but fun matchups to break down on this card, so let’s get right into it!
Israel Adesanya vs. Jan Blachowicz (LHW)
Israel Adesanya (19-0, 8-0 UFC) has cemented himself as one of the greatest strikers to ever enter the Octagon, now seeking to cement his legacy by moving up a weight class and becoming a double champion. His last performance was a complete shutdown of Paulo Costa, knocking the Brazilian out in the second round. His record holds fifteen knockouts on it brought on by his unorthodox and impressive striking, polished after a storied career in GLORY Kickboxing. His massive 6’4 frame grants him a heavy range advantage, but will not be as apparent here in his move up to Light Heavyweight. Adesanya uses amazing kickboxing to dominate his opponents from range and up close, delivering elbows and knees, along with punches down the middle. “The Last Stylebender” has been absolutely thrilling to watch with his high pace and his cardio has held up, winning five-rounders against Brad Tavares, Kelvin Gastelum, and Romero (though that’s not the best example of his cardio). Adesanya has impeccable takedown defense and uses it to keep the fight exactly where he wants it and his striking can give him one punch (or knee/kick/elbow) knockouts with his precision or he can decimate his opponent with a thousand strikes.
Often overlooked in his 7-1 run preceding his victory over Dominick Reyes, Jan Blachowicz (27-8, 10-5 UFC) finally earned some respect with vicious knockouts of Luke Rockhold, Corey Anderson, and the aforementioned Reyes. His lone defeat in his past nine fights came to Thiago Santos over two years ago, and he has since gone on a four fight tear. Jan does most of his work in striking as an excellent counterpuncher, as well as a quick jab and vicious body and low kicks. On top of that, Blachowicz is a talented grappler with underrated submission skills. He has seventeen finishes, split eight to nine between KOs and submissions. Blachowicz has previously shown gas tank issues, but has shored up those concerns, lasting the distance several times.
This fighters both competed in September at UFC 253 and now Izzy will be seeking the coveted double champ status. Both fighters do most of their best work striking, with Jan being the one more likely to drag the fight to the mat. However, I find that unlikely against the iron-clad takedown defense of Adesanya. On the feet, Izzy has the clear advantage. While an adept counterpuncher, Jan opens up way too much for counter shots on his power hooks and combos, especially when trying to close the distance. Adesanya’s range and footwork will keep him at kicking range where he can pick apart Blachowicz to an entertaining decision or late finish.
Take the Shot: Israel Adesanya via Decision
Amanda Nunes vs. Megan Anderson (FTW)
Amanda Nunes (20-4, 13-1 UFC) has cemented her legacy as the female GOAT and is inching towards that same status, regardless of gender. Not to mention that she’s the best (in my opinion) double champ, as she is the first one to defend both titles after claiming the coveted “double champ” status. “The Lioness” is as violent of a striker as they come, as shown by her brutal knockouts of Ronda Rousey, Holly Holm, and Cris Cyborg, finishing every previous Bantamweight titleholder. Although Nunes began her MMA career training in karate and boxing at only 4 years old, she has an underrated submission game that is well-respected in the jiu-jitsu world. Nunes is incredible on the feet and has shown almost no holes in her game, fighting well off her front and back foot, as well as impeccable striking defense and movement, extending her length to strike from range.
Two first round finishes were more than enough to solidify Megan Anderson (10-4, 3-2 UFC) as the next contender in the nearly empty Featherweight division. After a scrapped debut against Cris Cyborg, Anderson dropped a decision to Holly Holm before regaining her footing with a controversial stoppage over Cat Zingano. She brings in a kickboxing-heavy style that is reliant upon her 6’0 frame and range utilization, as well as her serious fight-changing power. Anderson has ended all but one of her wins before the final bell, with six of those stoppages coming in by way of knockout. She has shown serious lapses on the mat, particularly off of her back, and does not sport a high takedown defense to keep it from going there, only blocking 53% of the takedowns coming her way. Though her striking is powerful and crisp at range, she can be priced up inside the pocket.
Though I find it odd whenever a fighter reaches the -1000 favorite status due to the bizarre nature and quick consequences of our sport, but I do find it hard to disagree here. Currently sitting at -1150 odds at time of writing, Nunes holds nearly every advantage in this bout. On the feet, she holds a higher volume and MUCH higher defense and has shown the ability to enter range on long opponents, a necessity when facing Anderson. If she chooses to engage on the floor, her takedown entries are more than enough to breach the porous defense of Anderson, while her submission skills and heavy grappling advantage open avenues to finish the bout there as well. Anderson does have genuine one-punch power, but that and her length is about all that she’s got going for her in this fight. I see Nunes piecing her up on the feet and mixing in takedowns for a second or third round stoppage.
Take the Shot: Amanda Nunes via Submission
Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling (BW)
Petr Yan (15-1, 7-0 UFC) has been on fire since his UFC debut less than three years ago, scoring three knockouts over six victories en route to the title. From there, he finished Jose Aldo in the fifth round to capture the belt, and will be making his first defense here. Yan is a Russian master of sport in boxing and does it better than nearly anyone in the UFC right now. He keeps a constant high guard, as well as forward aggression and an adept control of the center. Yan has serious power when he plants his feet, but often takes time to make his reads and is patient when he has his opponent hurt. Luckily because of his aggression, he rarely finds himself on the wrong side of volume. He has demonstrate stellar wrestling skills however, both offensively and defensively, holding an impressive takedown defense rate of 88%.
One of the hottest talents currently at Bantamweight is Aljamain Sterling (19-3, 11-3 UFC), submitting Cory Sandhagen in just over a minute in his last outing to secure the title shot and extend his win streak to five. “Funkmaster” is an exceptionally well-rounded fighter with technical striking and a constant wrestling threat. His striking defense is well put together, highlighted by his movement around the outside and utilization of his range, as well as a dangerous kicking game. Sterling’s greatest area of strength comes from his ground game. He has expert scrambling and wrestling, and holds a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt under Serra BJJ. Aljo has scored ten finishes with eight coming by submission, keeping a well-versed submission threat.
This fight is extremely close and the betting lines reflect that with both fighters at -110. The stand up will be competitive with Petr Yan pressuring while Aljo seeks to evade on the outside and land with his long striking. I do favor Yan with his constant pressure, cemented by his expert footwork and cage cutting, as well as his exceptionally high work rate, landing 6.32 significant strikes per minute inside the Octagon. Aljamain’s submission game is a serious threat, but his lackluster takedown accuracy opposite Yan’s rock-solid takedown defense won’t lend him any favors in wrangling it to the mat. I am expecting a tight matchup that lasts the full twenty-five minutes, with Petr Yan winning the striking exchanges for a clear cut decision.
Take the Shot: Petr Yan via Decision
Islam Makhachev vs. Drew Dober (LW)
Islam Makhachev (18-1, 7-1 UFC), better known as Diet Khabib, trains with the Lightweight champ. They are cousins and have been training partners since children. Islam has a similar wrestling style, but a slightly less aggressive top control more focused upon submissions than ground and pound. Instead, he has more power in his hands and a scary talent for wrapping up the neck. Still, the wrestling is his bread and butter but he is a fiend on the ground, regardless. Makhachev has not graced the Octagon in over a year and a half following a decision win over Davi Ramos, with three scrapped matchups in 2020. He will be looking to make a big statement in his return and surge towards title contention
Drew Dober (23-9, 8-5 UFC) has been on a tear over the past two years, scoring three knockouts in a row. Dober is a well-rounded Southpaw fighter, using a combination of power striking and wrestling as his modus operandi in the cage. Although he is announced as a wrestler, we have not seen Dober use his wrestling much as of late, as his striking has been improving in leaps and bounds with his work at the prestigious Elevation Fight Team camp. He primarily utilizes his boxing on the feet and he has scored seven knockouts over his pro career, with a total of sixteen finishes. Dober sports an excellent chin and some nice submission skills, but has lackluster takedown defense and can be contained when put on his back.
I must say that I find the odds a little disrespectful to Dober, as Makhachev is currently more than a 3-to-1 favorite at time of writing. Dober has shown fantastic standup in recent bouts and more willingness to sit down on his punches in search of the knockout. However, Makhachev has a diverse striking arsenal to compete there, as well as a skilled kicking offense. This fight becomes lopsided when you look at the grappling exchanges. While Dober has several submissions on his resume, he primarily uses his top control and offensive wrestling to get those and his poor takedown defense rate of 58% is a worrisome figure with the domination Makhachev presents on the mat. Expect a close fight on the feet before Makhachev opens up with his wrestling, battering Dober with ground and pound before choking him out in the latter half of the fight.
Take the Shot: Islam Makhachev via Submission
Thiago Santos vs. Aleksander Rakic (LHW)
In the famous words of Joe Rogan, “You don’t get a hammer tattooed on your chest if you’re not serious”. Thiago Santos (21-8, 13-7 UFC) is a psychopath inside the cage. “Marreta”, which means sledgehammer, has power in everything he throws and comes in throwing hot from the very first bell. Santos started MMA with capoeira training, a Brazilian dance-fighting style that is populated by spinning kicks and the like. Very entertaining stuff. Santos uses those exact types of kicks to hammer (heh heh) home ruthless power shots and uses all sorts of kicks just as much as punches in order to get the job done. He holds sixteen finishes, with all but one by knockout, including a third round stoppage of current champ Jan Blachowicz. Santos is currently riding a two fight losing skid, dropping a split decision to Jon Jones before being submitted by Glover Texeira after knocking him down several times.
The issue is that his opponent Aleksander Rakic (12-2, 4-1 UFC) is also a power puncher. Rakic is coming off a decision win over Anthony Smith and has only lost a controversial split decision to Volkan Oezdemir in the UFC. He has ten pro finishes with nine by knockout, with highlights that include stunning head kicks and spinning backfists. Rakic is amazing at finding his range and has quick, explosive timing and technique. “Rocket” has some decent offensive wrestling, but certainly prefers to bang it out on the feet. His striking is set apart through his lanky kickboxing and neat combos, effortlessly tying together kicks and crisp straights.
Another close fight to open up this stellar card between two strikers well-versed in scoring knockouts. Both have explosive power, but Santos’ devastating hooks and heavy kicks take the edge in one-shot KO ability. I expect this bout to take place almost entirely on the feet, with Rakic possibly leaning on his wrestling if needed. Rakic seems suited to take the advantage in volume, holding two inches in height and reach over Santos as well as utilizing his snapping calf kicks. However, I think the relentless pressure and power of Santos will be able to succeed in those exchanges with his long power straight and kicks, while closing the distance to exchange in the pocket. The power advantage against Rakic’s inability to stop fighters from breaching his range will show, and I predict a knockout after an engaging back-and-forth.
Take the Shot: Thiago Santos via Knockout
The main card will kick off at 10 PM EST, with Adesanya and Blachowicz taking center stage around 1 AM.
As always, don’t forget to check out the prelims predictions coming out shortly, as we have ten bouts to set up this iconic event!
Categories: UFC Predictions
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