This past weekend was almost like Christmas for fight fans, with a fantastic card in UFC 259 that I don’t see being beaten out for Event of the Year.
This weekend, we have a Fight Night card that is filled to the brim with thirteen scheduled bouts. Our main event is a Welterweight collision between top contender Leon Edwards and Belal Muhammad, who stepped in for the COVID-reeling Khamzat Chimaev.
The main card is stacked with six bouts (for now, knock out on wood), featuring the likes of Eryk Anders, Manel Kape, and a Light Heavyweight barn burner between Ryan Spann and Misha Cirkunov.
Leon Edwards vs. Belal Muhammad (WW)
British talent Leon Edwards (18-3, 10-2 UFC) is riding an astounding eight-fight win streak since a decision defeat to current champion Kamaru Usman, most recently besting former Lightweight champ Rafael Dos Anjos. Edwards is a technical specimen, boasting masterful distance striking, clinch work, and well-timed takedowns. Edwards has a durable wrestling threat based around control time, but his best foot lies in striking and his skill at drawing a match into his best territory. Though “Rocky” doesn’t have the best power, he does well dictating range and the course of the fight with his high fight IQ and uncanny ability to gage the perfect timing for a strike or takedown. This will be his first fight since June 2019 due to COVID-19 lockdowns and numerous fight cancellations.
Belal Muhammad (18-3, 9-3 UFC) had a four-fight winning streak interrupted by top-notch prospect Geoff Neal, but turned it around with four straight victories, including his first career submission over Japanese powerhouse Takashi Sato. “Remember the Name” comes in with a wrestling background, but is rarely in a boring fight because of his pace. Belal is set apart by his cardio and relentless output, pressuring forward with technical striking to secure the takedown. Though he only sports five career stoppages, his wrestling and aggressive pace are incredibly aggravating against elite striker or even ground-savvy opponents. Though this is by far the largest step up in competition Belal has taken, he has gone against the likes of Neal, Vicente Luque, and Randy Brown.
This is a truly fantastic stylistic clash that should provide a fun matchup. The pure technique and well-rounded game of Edwards will be tightly contested by Muhammad’s all-out onslaught, driving forward the pace when striking with a well-rounded skillset of his own. While Belal does present a style sure to press Leon and force him to engage, he is woefully outgunned in technical striking and clinch work. Edwards’ physical prowess will give him control advantages up against the cage and the technical acumen to succeed on the feet when able to gain separation. On top of that, his aptitude for quickly returning to the feet should make a clear difference opposite Muhammad, who has shown issues holding his opponent on the mat. After a strong start from Muhammad, I see Edwards taking control of the bout through time in top position and quick striking.
Take the Shot: Leon Edwards via Decision
Misha Cirkunov vs. Ryan Spann (LHW)
Misha Cirkunov (15-5, 6-3 UFC) came out the UFC gate hot, quickly embarking on a four-fight win streak. He has not appeared since September 2019, choking out the hyped Jimmy Crute. Cirkunov is a finisher in victory and defeat, only lasting to decision twice in his career. He is a grappler by trade, with nine victories by way of submission, including all but one of his UFC wins. He has a vast arsenal of chokes and can reverse the tide of battle quickly when he drags the fight to the mat, as seen by his win over Crute. Cirkunov keeps distance well on the feet and has some definite power, but is fairly fundamental with his striking, primarily looking to drive the fight to the mat with his constant takedown efforts. He is most susceptible on the feet, however, with all of his UFC losses coming by knockout inside the first round.
After choking out PFL Light Heavyweight champion Emiliano Sordi on the Contender Series, Ryan Spann (18-5, 4-0 UFC) blasted into the UFC rankings with four straight victories, only to be knocked out after a strong start against Johnny Walker. “Superman” has finished all but three of his wins, with eleven submissions on his record. His specialty is certainly his guillotine, which has earned him seven of those submissions and serve as an excellent counter to the wrestling and takedowns. His hulking 6’5″ build is best used when Spann can keep the fight at range and he has proven to have technical boxing, as well as improved power and cardio since his move up to 205 pounds. Spann has been against top competition for a while and his cardio issues have been on the table for a while, plaguing him in his bout against Sam Alvey when he was able to be lulled into pocket exchanges.
Both of these fighters are at their most comfortable fighting at a high pace and looking for early finishes, with some cardio concerns on both sides of the table. Though both fighters have the majority of their victories by submission, Cirkunov is the much more offensive grappler. His powerful top control and wrestling pedigree allow him to reliably take the fight to the floor, and while Spann has a tight guillotine and some defensive submissions, Cirkunov will hold a clear grappling advantage. On the feet, Cirkunov has crisper striking but has shown defensive lapses when his opponent is able to engage in the pocket. The size of Spann will prove some issue, but Cirkunov has all the tools to take home the victory through striking volume and a persistent ground attack.
Take the Shot: Misha Cirkunov via Submission
Dan Ige vs. Gavin Tucker (FTW)
Last seen dropping a decision to Calvin Kattar, Dan Ige (14-3, 6-2 UFC) will be looking to get back on track and get his name higher in the rankings with a dominant performance. He steadily climbed the competition ladder, riding a six-fight win streak prior to the Kattar loss. “50K” has eight career finishes with five fights by way of submission. He has proven his aggressive striking ability and likes to surge in to land strikes, as well as having some clean and very dangerous hooks. Ige brings a high-paced pressure style when striking and when on the mat, landing a takedown in every one of his UFC fights.
Gavin Tucker (13-1, 4-1 UFC) came back from a decision loss to Rick Glenn to win three straight, including submissions over Justin Jaynes and Seung Woo Choi. Tucker is a highly venerated prospect for his high paced style and well-rounded game, able to succeed in any avenue. “Guv’nor” has scored ten career stoppage victories, with six coming in by way of submission. He has very impressive speed and the power to back it up, utilizing his Muay Thai-striking well from both his front and back foot. Tucker has persistent takedown entries with an active submission threat on the mat, though he prioritizes position. Furthermore, he has addressed the cardio issues that plagued him in his loss to Glenn, with a violent decision win opposite Billy Quarantillo in his last outing where the Canadian landed a stunning 107 significant strikes and seven takedowns.
There is not a single doubt in my mind that this will be a fantastic scrap, likely Fight of the Night. Both fighters have well-versed skillsets and compete at a high pace. Ige has proved incredibly durable and aggressive on the feet, with Tucker being a consummate finisher and holding the more technical game. I think that the technique and persistent takedown entries will be the key, even to simply stop Ige from dictating the pace. Tucker outpoints the Hawaiian on the feet for an entertaining decision.
Take the Shot: Gavin Tucker via Decision
Jonathan Martinez vs. Davey Grant (BW)
Though Jonathan Martinez’s (13-3, 4-2 UFC) dropped his Octagon debut in a decision to Andre Soukhamthath, he made it up by going 4-1 in his next five bouts, most recently outclassing Thomas Almeida. He really impressed me in his fight prior to that against Frankie Saenz, using his counter-wrestling and growing jiu-jitsu ability masterfully against the superior wrestler before teeing off on his opponent for the late finish. His striking is very unorthodox, throwing high amplitude kicks and knees in addition to his punches. Yet his scrambling ability is what sets him apart in my opinion, being able to reverse a position when it seems nearly impossible.
Since joining the UFC roster in 2013 after being a finalist on the Ultimate Fighter, Davey Grant (10-4, 3-3 UFC) has spent an unfortunate amount of time on the sidelines due to injury. Appearances in 2019 and 2020 proved more fruitful, riding a two-fight winning streak capped off with a third round KO over Martin Day. “Dangerous” is a talented grappler with a Jiu-Jitsu black belt and six of his ight finishes coming in by way of submission. He is a threat when striking as well, pushing forward with aggression and a hard-nosed approach, with a 63% striking defense rate.
Oooooh, this is a fun one. Neither fighter is one to take their foot off the gas pedal, especially when striking. Martinez seems to hold the upper hand on the feet, both in striking variety and finishing power, but Grant is no slouch there. However, Grant’s best course of action is to make the fight a grappling exchange and exploit Martinez’ takedown defense. I predict the superior technique of Martinez to take the advantage, especially considering that Grant has shown issues dealing with Southpaws and Martinez maximizes his range quite nicely, which worked wonders in his last bout against the similarly aggressive Almeida. Martinez picks Grant apart on the feet before finding a late finish.
Take the Shot: Jonathan Martinez via Knockout
Manel Kape vs. Matheus Nicolau (FLW)
The long-awaited UFC debut of Manel Kape (15-5) didn’t go as planned, dropping a decision to Alexandre Pantoja. “Starboy” came into the UFC following his time in RIZIN, claiming notable victories over the likes of Kai Asakura and Ian McCall. Kape is a finisher of the highest regard, ending all but one of his victories before the final bell. His tremendous knockout power is most noteworthy, claiming nine (T)KO wins. He has incredibly explosive striking, judging timing with a well-timed jab and feints before opening up with power combos. However, Kape is somewhat reliant on the finish as he can be worn down by top control and persistent volume. This was especially shown in the Pantoja fight, as Kape spent his time hunting one big power shot.
Matheus Nicolau (15-2-1, 3-1 UFC) will be returning to the Octagon after being cut in the Great Flyweight Purge of 2018. The TUF Brazil contestant scored two straight victories to earn his way back and has been given a tough out in his return. Nicolau is a diverse and well-rounded fighter who can succeed anywhere the fight goes with ten finishes to his name. He has a technical Mauy Thai base striking, punctuated by snapping leg kicks and expert distance management. Nicolau is a killer on the mat, sporting a BJJ black belt and six submission wins. He has a 100% takedown defense rate in the UFC and quickly moves through guard while staying active from top position.
I still cannot believe there were talks of getting rid of this division with the high level of competition and technique shown in the weight class, and this bout is no different. Both fighters have the tools to succeed on the feet or the ground and finish the fight whichever avenue it goes. While Kape holds a higher finishing threat, Nicolau’s technique and range management give me confidence in his ability to avoid the winging power strikes of Kape. Furthermore, while Kape brings in powerful takedown entries, he doesn’t;t do too much with them, and Nicolau is a much more active fighter on the mat. I see an back-and-forth fight on the feet before Nicolau drags it to the mat and finds a finish to get back in the UFC win column.
Take the Shot: Matheus Nicolau via Submission
Eryk Anders vs. Darren Stewart (MW)
Eryk Anders (13-5, 5-5 UFC) is coming off a loss to Krzysztof Jotko, interrupting a two-fight win streak include a performance bonus winning knockout of Vinicius Moreira. Anders is a supremely athletic fighter with a college football background, which he has transferred into explosive power and skilled pacing. “Ya Boy” has solid power striking and he obviously has good cardio, as well as wrestling offense he can mix in if needed. Anders’ footwork and speed are very impressive for his size as well. This will be his first showing since last May after a scheduled bout with Antonio Arroyo was scrapped.
Darren Stewart (12-6, 5-6 UFC) has made his reputation inside the Octagon with crisp Muay Thai and violent power. With 7 wins on his record by knockout, “The Dentist” has proved himself a violent force in the cage, last dropping a controversial split decision to breakout fighter of the year Kevin Holland. He has fairly good head movement and a lot of feinting but makes most of his money as a counterpuncher. He can put anyone to sleep with one shot, but also has decent wrestling and will shoot a takedown if things aren’t working out on the feet, scoring the first submission win of his career over Maki Pitolo last year. With that said, elite grapplers have little issue going through his takedown defense, but he has underrated submission ability.
I expect we will get a striking battle in this one, as both fighters prefer to stand and bang but also both hold some wrestling in their back pocket if needed. I imagine Anders as the one more likely to drag the fight to the mat, but he isn’t exactly a persistent takedown threat, particularly in recent fights. While Anders has certainly proven his power and explosive tendencies, he has been outstruck in volume in seven of his ten UFC bouts and is on the wrong side of the technical matchup here. I expect Stewart to use his accurate striking and aggressive clinch game to score a clear decision.
Take the Shot: Darren Stewart via Decision
The other eight bouts are set to go down on the prelims, also airing on ESPN+, so be sure to check in on Coby McKinley’s predictions!
Categories: UFC Predictions