Bantamweight: Trevin Jones vs. Mario Bautista
Mario Bautista fills in on short notice when he takes on Trevin Jones at 135 pounds. Trevin Jones’ Octagon debut, while a 2nd round stoppage on fight night, was overturned to a No Contest after Jones tested positive for cannabis in a drug screening. He looks to rebound here.
I think this fight comes down the the activity of Bautista. The guy doesn’t stop moving and touching his opponents with quick strikes. Jones has a habit of waiting for the perfect shot, and for a durable opponent like Bautista, that moment might never come. If Bautista can avoid the underrated BJJ of Trevin Jones, he should be able to outwork his opponent.
Pick: Mario Bautista.
Lightweight: Uros Medic vs. Aalon Cruz
A couple Contender Series prospects face off in this lightweight contest. Aalon Cruz made his Octagon debut back in February 2020, losing via first-round TKO. Now, a year later and a weight class up, he takes on undefeated Uros Medic who we last saw on the first week of the 2020 season of the Contender Series.
Expect kicks in this one. Both fighters, especially Cruz, are active and effective with their legs. They are each able to target with a variety of kicks, and both are pretty tall for the weight class. Even though both athletes are normally comfortable from kicking range, I expect the fight to move to boxing range pretty quickly due to the hyper-aggressiveness of Medic. In that kind of fight, I heavily favor Medic who seems to be much more comfortable with his hands. If Cruz can survive the first round, things will get interesting because Medic has never seen a second stanza in his 6-fight career.
Pick: Uros Medic.
Strawweight: Livinha Souza vs. Amanda Lemos
A former Invicta champion faces off with a former Jungle Fight champion in this prelim scrap. Both women are on the winning side of things in the UFC with multiple victories in the organization and only two losses between the two of them. They each spout a well-rounded game, so it should be a fun one.
I think the striking of Lemos will be the difference in this one. She does have a tendency to be a bit too relaxed which sometimes allows her to be pressured against the fence – a usual strategy of Souza. That said, her strikes will be a bit tighter and faster than her dance partner at UFC 259. Souza has powerful overhand strikes and really great leg kicks which she showcased in her decision win over Ashley Yoder, but I don’t think she will be able to stop the quick and accurate strikes of Lemos.
Pick: Amanda Lemos.
Welterweight: Sean Brady vs. Jake Matthews
Wow. Looking back at the history of Jake Matthews, it is crazy to think he is still only 26 years old. Coming into this fight, he will have almost five-times the amount of UFC experience than his opponent Sean Brady. Brady is 28 years old, but he is undefeated at 13-0. Both athletes are riding a three-fight win streak in the UFC. This is an interesting bout, but one that, on paper, seems to favor Brady. At least the oddsmakers have it that way.
On the feet, Brady has been putting in work in order to shore up his technique there. He is a bit straight-forward, but he possesses some good weapons like strong outside leg kicks and an awesome check-hook with his lead hand. He feints well, but does not have the most active footwork or angle-cutting, often allowing himself to be backed up to the cage. However, Jake Matthews doesn’t fight that kind of fight on the feet. Standing, Matthews uses lateral movement and darting strike entries that often lend themselves to timing takedowns when he wants them. He is known to wear down over 15 minutes, and the leg kicks of Brady might slow Matthews’ movement over time.
Brady is ultimately looking for the takedown, and it will be interesting to see if he can get his takedowns going against the movement-based style of Matthews. I would guess that Brady will be looking to time his double leg as Matthews looks to dart in with his big right hand. This won’t be a popular opinion, and the oddsmakers disagree, but I think Matthews is a bad match for Brady and his style of fighting. I very well may be wrong here, but my gut tells me to go with the Aussie.
Pick: Jake Matthews.
Light Heavyweight: Carlos Ulberg vs. Kennedy Nzechukwu
A couple more prospects out of the UFC’s #1 feeder program, DWCS, meet on the prelims, but at light heavyweight. Kennedy Nzechukwu is 1-1 in the promotion and he sat out all of 2020. Carlos Ulberg comes out of the latest season of the Contender Series where he netted a first-round KO as well as a UFC contract. Even though he is only 3-0 in MMA, Ulberg is a veteran kickboxer out of City Kickboxing – the same camp that produced Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.
For all of the size and reach that Nzechukwu possesses, he often seems hesitant to use it. He is a frustrating to watch in that respect. He has an 85′ reach, but seldom is active with his jab and rarely throws in combination. Nzechukwu is good at stifling his opponent’s offense by tying up their lead hand and mixing in front kicks to the midsection. I feel that Nzechukwu will be vulnerable to the leg kicks of Ulberg, and I feel that Ulberg will be able to deal with the striking of Nzechukwu by utilizing his combination punches and use sometimes gritty style that he showed during his kickboxing career.
Given that both fighters look for their wins with striking, expect this one to stay on the feet. I also expect Ulberg to win in a tough contest.
Pick: Carlos Ulberg.
Flyweight: Tim Elliot vs. Jordan Espinosa
I don’t have as much to say about this bout, but I do think it will be a high-pace contest, which will heavily favor Tim Elliot. His grappling-heavy style should be an issue for Espinosa as the bout goes on, but Elliot will need to be careful of the power striking of Espinosa. As of late, Elliot’s chin has not been the granite block it used to be, so it is possible he gets clipped in the early going.
Pick: Tim Elliot.
Flyweight: Kai Kara-France vs. Rogerio Bontorin
Despite the age of Kai Kara-France (only 27), he is as legit an MMA veteran as any we have in the UFC flyweight division. He is a veteran of the Ultimate Fighter and is on his second UFC stint. Rogerio Bontorin is a 2018 Contender Series product. Since winning his contract, he is 2-1 in the promotion through the use of his serviceable standup and excellent ground skills.
I think that Bontorin will need to look for the takedown for any sort of success. It’s not that his striking is bad or even ineffective. He has good kicks and decently accurate pot-shots. That said, the striking of Kara-France is just more sophisticated than what Bontorin brings to the table. I expect this to be a fun 15-minute affair.
Pick: Kai Kara-France.
Flyweight: Joseph Benavidez vs. Askar Askarov
This is a huge fight for flyweight. Joseph Benavidez is coming off of two-straight title bout losses, but he is without a doubt still at the top of the 125 division. Looking at his resume, he has fought all of the marquee names of 135lbs and 125lbs and his list of opponents reads like a history of the top-10 at these weight classes. In this bout Benavidez plays gatekeeper to the undefeated, 13-0-1 Askar Askarov, who should be next in line for a shot at the flyweight championship given he wins on Saturday. While relatively new to the promotion, it is clear that the UFC is confident that Askarov is someone to pay attention to in the flyweight division.
Even though it didn’t go Benavidez’ way in either of his bouts with Deiveson Figueiredo, he still has some great skills that could prove problematic for Askarov. Benavidez is great at darting in with strikes and threatening the takedown to further implement his punches and kicks. While his footwork is good, Benavidez often attacks and retreats in straight lines which sometimes gets him in trouble. His attack patterns also sometimes get predictable, which makes him vulnerable at times.
Askarov is representative of the camp he hails from – Eagle Fight Club. He is an excellent wrestler and puts an incredible pace on his opponents. He will need to be on his best behavior when it comes to scrambling against Benavidez. Askarov sometimes throws himself out of position when he aggressively chases dominant position. Benavidez should test him everywhere, but I think he will get it done via decision.
Pick: Askar Askarov.
Bantamweight: Kyler Phillips vs. Song Yadong
A couple young prospects face off at 135lbs when Kyler Phillips takes on Song Yadong. Phillips is an Ultimate Fighter and DWCS veteran, and he is 3-0 in the UFC. Song Yadong has been a force to be reckoned with in the UFC as he is 5-0-1 in the promotion. Song comes out of Team Alpha Male, greatly benefitting from the well-rounded training that that established camp provides.
Song is a power striker, his right hand being his most lethal weapon. Song showcases good movement, but he sometimes stands a bit still as the fight wears on. He also has some fantastic knees and elbows in the clinch. His wrestling is also good, but that is the area he has been tested most. The ground is where Song will have to be cautious of Phillips.
Kyler Phillips is a fantastic ground fighter. He is active with his ground and pound, and he is great at mixing in position advances with his ground striking. On the feet, he isn’t bad either. Phillips has good boxing and unpredictable kicks. He is all around aggressive.
Pick: Song Yadong.
Bantamweight: Dominick Cruz vs. Casey Kenney
Dominick Cruz comes to a career crossroad when he takes on up and coming Casey Kenney. Cruz is winless since 2016 – only fighting twice since then. We last saw him lose a title bid against retired champion Henry Cejudo. Casey Kenney is on a three-fight winning streak and is 5-1 overall in the promotion. He began his career as as primarily a grappler, but he has taken his striking game to the next level.
It is hard to predict what Dominick Cruz we will see on Saturday. Will we see the Cruz that recaptured the UFC title in 2016, or will he look like the Cruz we saw lose in 2020? I think we should see a mix of both. Cruz is older, and for a game that is built upon movement and reflexes, age is not kind to that. To be fair to Cruz, he only had six weeks to prepare for Cejudo after he had been away from competition for three years. I think he will move better and have a well-developed game plan for Kenney at UFC 259.
Kenney gets his first chance to face down a legend of the sport, and he has the skills to possibly make the best of it. He can fight from orthodox or southpaw, and he throws heat with all of his strikes. He has a great left-straight, right-hook combination that really stunned Nathanial Wood in his last bout. I think his tendency to attack in a straight line might leave him vulnerable to the angles of Dominick Cruz. We will just have to see if he will have the speed or awareness to correct the ship if he finds himself out of position.
Call me sentimental, but I think Cruz can get it done here. While Kenney is a solid fighter, he has patterns that Cruz has traditionally been able to capitalize off of.
Pick: Dominick Cruz.
And that’s it! Thanks for reading, and enjoy the fights! Check out the main card predictions by clicking here!
If you’d like to keep up with me outside of the predictions, you can catch me on the Sparring Partners Podcast, either on YouTube or Spotify.
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