We had a barn burner of a PPV card two weeks ago, with Francis Ngannou capturing the coveted Heavyweight title with a violent KO finish.
This week, the UFC will return to the ABC network following an immensely successful first appearance in January.
We have a stellar card lined up with fifteen fights set to go down at time of writing. The main event is a Middleweight clash in the top 5 as the rising Marvin Vettori collides with Kevin Holland after Darren Till was forced out of the contest. Our co-main event will feature two Featherweight prospects each looking to make a name for themself when Arnold Allen takes on the always dangerous Sodiq Yusuff.
Marvin Vettori vs. Kevin Holland (MW)
We last saw Marvin Vettori victorious in a five-round decision over Jack Hermansson, stepping in as a late replacement. Before that, “The Italian Dream” picked up a first-round submission back in June over Karl Roberson, putting a quick end to their bitter rivalry. Vettori is a talented grappler with nine submissions to his name, as well as nasty top control. His striking has improved leaps and bounds since his debut, as he only narrowly lost a decision to Israel Adesanya, one of the most technical strikers in all of combat sports. Those striking improvements showed through against Hermansson, as Vettori scored a knockdown and landing over 160 significant strikes to earn a Fight of the Night bonus. Even so, his raw athleticism remains his key strength, as he can manhandle his opponent in clinch or surge in with power hooks.
Kevin Holland (21-6, 8-3 UFC) is getting his second main event showing after a main event showing just three weeks ago against Derek Brunson. Though Holland dropped a decision to Brunson in his last outing, his 2020 campaign consisted of five straight wins with four finishes. “Trailblazer” has slick Kung Fu based striking, using tight combinations as well as accuracy and power to finish eleven of his opponents by knockout, while also using defensive submissions to finish the fight or keep it standing. He proved his skill as a BJJ artist in his bout with Gerald Meerschaert by going toe-to-toe with the black belt all the way to a victorious decision, although his mediocre defensive wrestling and ability to be controlled remain a clear weakness.
It is insane just how quickly Holland is turning around after a twenty-five minute contest, and as a short notice replacement no less. I expect him to bring his full arsenal to the cage after a disappointing outing in his last bout. Holland’s unorthodox and powerful striking will contend nicely with Vettori’s aggression and toughness. That said, there is no easy path to victory for Holland here. On the feet, Vettori boasts the highest striking defense in the UFC right now, and has the chin to weather the big shots of Holland and return with his own striking. On the mat is where this fight becomes somewhat lopsided. The clear weakness in Holland’s game remains his takedown defense, which Vettori will undoubtedly take advantage of. The powerful top control and dangerous submission game of Vettori are more than enough to close the show on the mat, as he is anything but a “lay and pray” grappler. Expect a competitive start on the feet before Vettori batters Holland on the mat for a late stoppage.
My Pick: Marvin Vettori via Submission
Sodiq Yusuff vs. Arnold Allen (FTW)
Sodiq Yusuff (11-1, 4-0 UFC) made his way to the Octagon through the Contender Series, putting on a war with Mike Davis to earn himself a contract. Since coming to the Octagon, Yusuff has torn through everyone put in front of him, taking home four wins. Two of those wins came by knockout, raising his career total to six. “Super” Sodiq has expert striking and a high volume in addition to ruthless power. He does not have much of a groud game offensively, but is incredibly difficult to take down, a skill that will likely be tested here. Yusuff separates himself from other strikers with his aggressive output and quick movement, cutting angles expertly.
Quickly making a name for himself in the Featherweight division, Arnold Allen (16-1, 7-0 UFC) has been on a tear since arriving in the UFC. “Almighty” has an extremely technical fighting style and can find success in any avenue the fight takes itself. On the feet, Allen fights behind his jab with a high fight IQ, using strikes and long kicks to keep his range, holding an impressive rate of 67% striking defense inside the Octagon. Allen can also mix it up with his wrestling and usually gets the takedown when he decides to go for it, using skilled catch wrestling and well-timed transitions. Allen has finished nine professional bouts with five by knockout, including two submissions in the UFC.
Both fighters will be making their first appearance back in the Octagon since January 2020, making this their first fight since the pandemic hitting. These are two immensely talented prospects, both of whom have a high ceiling in the sport. Yusuff always brings a high paced firefight into all his bouts, and it will be no different here. Allen has the technical striking and cardio to fight right alongside Sodiq’s pace, and landed over a hundred strikes in his recent bout with Gilbert Melendez. This is an extremely close contest on the feet, and I give Yusuff the edge based upon his sheer output, almost doubling that of Allen. Allen does have the wrestling to give Sodiq concern and boasts a high takedown accuracy to pierce the rock solid defense of Sodiq. I have been going back and forth on my prediction for this bout all week, and I think it ultimately comes down to how well Allen can keep up with Yusuff’s pace. Despite his wrestling threat and skilled counter striking, I see the volume and aggression of Yusuff making the difference on the judges’ scorecards.
My Pick: Sodiq Yusuff via Decision
Note: This fight has been postponed due to COVID-19 protocols. Read more by clicking here.
Kyle Daukaus vs. Aliaskhab Khizriev (MW)
Kyle Daukaus (10-1, 1-1 UFC) made his UFC debut through a late replacement showing, and though he dropped a decision to Brendan Allen, he got on the right track over Dustin Stolzfus. He is a grappler by trade, with heavy top control and a penchant for quick submissions. Daukaus has surprisingly crisp striking for a grappler, using a lot of Muay Thai kicks and pressure, as he has no fear of the takedown. He’s a straight killer on the mat, throwing D’Arce chokes and very uncommon submissions out of nowhere. His striking defense is his biggest hole right now, but his 6’3 height helps him gain some range on most of his opposition to fire off his kicks.
Aliaskhab Khizriev (13-0) burst onto the scene with a 50-second submission on the Contender Series, earning himself a UFC contract. Fighting out of Eagles MMA, “The Black Wolf” has a versatile skillset with fundamental striking and an powerful wrestling approach. On the mat, he favors position over submission but sports heavy ground and pound and a relentless top control. All eight of his stoppage wins have come inside the first round, including six in under a minute. Khizriev is an aggressive fighter on all fronts, most dangerous when on the mat, but bullies his opponent with pressure and powerful hooks. My chief criticism of Khizriev comes from his level of opposition prior to joining the big leagues, not encountering an opponent with more than five wins before his ninth pro fight.
On paper, this seems like Khizriev’s fight to lose. While Daukaus is one hell of a prospect in his own right, his lackluster wrestling will be the tell in this fight. Khizriev completely mauls people once he is able to establish top control, and Daukaus is not exactly reluctant to go to the mat. The ground and pound assault of the Russian combined with his submission knowledge will keep him out of the way of Daukaus’ iron-tight chokes once on the mat, and it is hard to escape from Khizriev’s punishing top control. While I do believe Daukaus has the advantage on the feet between his composure and reach, the pure aggression of Khizriev will subdue him on his back while he fruitlessly searches for submissions.
My Pick: Aliaskhab Khizriev via Decision
Sam Alvey vs. Julian Marquez (MW)
Veteran Middleweight Sam Alvey (33-14-1, 10-9-1 UFC) stepped up to LHW in 2017 to put on a 3-3 record but has not found a win in his last five bouts, with his UFC contract likely on the line here. “Smilin” Sam has serious power, winning an astonishing 19 fights by KO. Alvey has amazing takedown defense and furious striking power, but has struggled to find those big shots when being pressured. The way to win for Alvey is to keep the fight standing and use his volume and power to punch his win into the pocket. Unfortunately, Alvey’s defense has shown severe holes and a faltering chin as of late.
Julian Marquez (8-2, 2-1 UFC) will be returning to the cage after over two years off following a split decision defeat to Alessio di Chirico. “The Cuban Missile Crisis” made his way to the UFC with a head kick knockout of recent standout Phil Hawes on the Contender Series. Marquez is a technical and well-paced counterstriker who can also find success in a brawl, utilizing a variety of shots to pick apart his opponent. Though his wrestling leaves something to be desired, he has dangerous submissions as well, securing his first UFC win by choking out Darren Stewart. All of his wins have come by finish with five by knockout. His most recent showing against Maki Pitolo saw him struggle in the opening, but he returned with a submission finish to extend his win streak to five.
Oh boy, I was surprised to see this as a main card booking. While on a rough patch of late, Alvey is still a powerful and competent striker. Marquez will mostly be looking to trade on his feet using his length and crisp jab, and Alvey will be happy to oblige. Though Marquez has a stout submission offense, his nonexistent wrestling doesn’t really make that a factor in this bout, as Alvey can easily shuck off any wayward takedown attempts. That would usually have me pick Alvey, but with his downhill trajectory and increasing age, I am not confident in his ability to find success in the pocket, especially after deciding to start cutting weight again. In short, expect Marquez to fight behind his jab and use his more diverse striking arsenal to cut through Alvey’s guard for a late knockout or decision win.
My Pick: Julian Marquez via Knockout
Nina Ansaroff vs. Mackenzie Dern (SW)
Nina Ansaroff (10-6, 4-3 UFC) was on a four-fight winning streak before running into Tatiana Suarez in June of 2019. This will be her first appearance since then, as she took time off to start a family with her wife Amanda Nunes. Primarily a striker, Ansaroff has crisp Muay Thai, decent power, and solid takedown defense. With six finishes to her name and four knockouts, she can succeed in any avenue of the fight but certainly prefers to keep it standing. “The Strina” is a high-pace fighter and only gets better as the fight goes on, simply refusing to give in to her opponent.
Former IBJJF world champion Mackenzie Dern (10-1, 5-1 UFC) picked up two straight wins under the UFC banner before falling to rising star Amanda Ribas. She got back on the right track with three straight victories, including two first-round submissions. Her striking is constantly evolving, as she has a respectable volume and more power than her knockout-less record would suggest. Her crisp Muay Thai fundamentals and distance management keep her competitive on the feet, but she evidently performs at her best on the mat with her jiu-jitsu. Though not the best wrestler, Dern has no problem pulling guard in an attempt to wrangle the fight to the mat.
This is a particularly close match, reflected by the near even betting lines. While this match is standing, Ansaroff holds an advantage in terms of technique as well as output. Though Dern does have some power and is not lost, her accuracy and inferior movement will leave her open to be pieced up by Nina, particularly once this fight enters the second and third rounds. Dern does sport a massive edge on the mat, but against the durable takedown defense of Ansaroff, her only real chances of getting it there are pulling guard or an ill-advised takedown offering from Ansaroff, neither of which seems particularly likely due to Nina’s high fight IQ. There is some speculation that Nina may not be at her best due to the layoff, but ultimately, Ansaroff boxes Dern up for a dominant decision to get back in the win column.
My Pick: Nina Ansaroff via Decision
Mike Perry vs. Daniel Rodriguez (WW)
You know you’re in for a fun fight whenever “Platinum” Mike Perry (14-7, 7-7 UFC) steps in the cage. He has power in his boxing, a warring style, and one of the best chins in MMA, hanging until decision with power punchers Alan Jouban and Santiago Ponzinibbio. His last fight, a decision defeat to Tim Means, saw him struggle to deal with a longer opponent with slick movement. Despite not having a corner, Perry has shown improvement in recent outings, utilizing a more patient approach and showing more successful takedown defense and even offensive grappling in the Means fight. Though Perry will never be a top contender, you know exactly what you’re going to get and it’s always gonna be fun.
Daniel Rodriguez (13-2, 3-1 UFC) racked up three straight wins in the Octagon following a short notice booking that led to his UFC contract, before suffering a controversial decision defeat to Nicolas Dalby. Rodriguez has finished eleven of his professional victories, including seven knockout wins. “D-Rod” is also a black belt out of 10th Panet Jiu Jitsu, known for their unorthodox techniques and dangerous submissions off the back (Tony Ferguson is also out of 10th Planet). Rodriguez tends to push striking exchanges into a brawl, landing more than seven strikes per minute with ample cardio. On the mat, he has serviceable wrestling with rock-solid takedown defense and a dangerous submission arsenal if he needs it.
I expect nothing short of a fantastic pocket brawl for as long as this fight lasts and consider it a shoe-in for Fight of the Night. Both fighters have a high pace and succeed primarily using their boxing technique. Neither is one to shy away from a pocket brawl, but Perry holds the power advantage and will be looking to close the distance and land home runs. I do give Rodriguez the upper hand in technique, which he will look to maximize with his 3-inch height and reach advantages. Though both will have ample opportunity to land their knockout blows, I favor Rodriguez here. His higher output, length, and technique will help him hold the edge in volume, while he also has a ground game to fall back on if necessary. I see Rodriguez putting in excellent work on the feet before catching Perry in a choke following an ill-fated takedown offering.
My Pick: Daniel Rodriguez via Submission
This card is sure to produce fireworks, so make sure to tune into ABC to catch the main card at an early start time of 3 PM EST!
Categories: UFC Predictions