After a fun card last weekend that saw Marvin Vettori dominate from bell to bell, the UFC is back on primetime with a fight card filled to the brim with 13 bouts.
The main event this week features a Middleweight match between Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum, a fight that was scrapped due to injury over two years ago. The co-main is sure to produce fireworks as the heavy hitting Jeremy Stephens moves up ten pounds to take on Drakkar Klose.
Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum (MW)
Robert Whittaker (22-5, 13-3 UFC) went on a stellar eight fight unbeaten run at Middleweight before losing his title to Israel Adesanya last October. He got back on the right track with decisions over Darren Till and Jared Cannonier, repositioning himself as the #1 contender. The Reaper has incredible kickboxing with amazing combinations and separation strikes, utilizing his expert footwork and lightning quick lead left hook. He brings fight-changing power with both of his hands and kicks as well as being able to pressure or counter-strike with the best of them when the time is necessary. In the bout with Till, he showed just how calculated and technical his striking is, bringing volume, technique, and power behind his hands. Whittaker rarely has to worry about grappling with his iron-clad takedown defense, but he brings defensive jiu-jitsu and quick scrambling in case should he be grounded.
Kelvin Gastelum (17-6, 11-6 UFC) got a much-needed win over Ian Heinisch in his last bout after three straight defeats. Of those defeats, his Fight of the Year with current champion Israel Adesanya and narrow split decision with Darren Till still showed his abilities well, even though they may not be favorable when looking at his record. Gastelum is primarily a boxer who utilizes his hand speed and footwork to enter the pocket and unleash power spots. His prestigious wrestling background primarily serves to keep the fight on the feet for him, where he has his patience and timing to exact punishment, landing a knockdown in every Middleweight fight he has been in but three.
Just a little over two years ago, this bout fell through the day of due to a Robert Whittaker injury, and now we finally get to see these two former TUF coaches battle it out. I expect an entertaining yet technical striking battle, as Gastelum does not often mix it up with his wrestling and Whittaker has the defense to ward off any wayward takedown attempts. Looking at this bout on paper, Whittaker has the advantage in volume, size, and striking defense, resulting in his hefty favorite status. Gastelum does have the superior boxing, but he will need to bring the fight to Robert, which is a daunting task with the Aussie’s trademark movement and kicks. I see the versatility of Whittaker’s strikes adding up from range, giving him a dominant decision win over the hard-nosed Gastelum.
My Pick: Robert Whittaker via Decision
Drakkar Klose vs. Jeremy Stephens (LW)
Drakkar Klose (11-2-1, 5-2 UFC) was on a nice run prior to running into Beneil Dariush, losing by knockout in the second round. Klose is a judoka with adept striking and mixes up his shots well with nice combinations, along with a great takedown base. Klose does his best work on the feet in a brawl and is often stifled when he is pressured. Klose struggles when unable to bullrush his opponents and let lose with his volume and takedown arsenal, but has the cardio to attack his opponent through every round. This will be his first fight since February of last year due to injury.
After numerous occasions of missing weight and five bouts without victory, Jeremy Stephens (28-18, 15-17 UFC) has made the jump back up to his former stomping grounds of 155 pounds. “Lil Heathen” has amassed a stunning nineteen knockouts in his pro career and has repeatedly shown himself as one of the most feared one-punch knockout artists. Though his main skill is his power, he also brings in stunting leg kicks and an adaptable ground game. That killer blow is often a must for Stephens, as he can be outgunned by more technical strikers, as Calvin Kattar and Yair Rodriguez did in recent efforts. Although his volume and cardio have rarely been concerns, Stephens will need to establish his knockout threat early and often in this bout.
Both of these competitors are coming off of a hefty layoff, with Stephens’ back against the wall after not scoring a win since 2018. Klose has an advantage with his judo, and he will need to be wary of Stephens’ power and ground him early and often. However, Klose’s striking style does play into Stephens’ hand, as both find most success in a brawl. That is not a good sign for Klose, as there is a knockout threat from bell to bell. That combined with a higher strike absorption Tate than his opponent give Stephens ample opportunity to find the kill shot, and the volume to win on the scorecards should it go there.
My Pick: Jeremy Stephens via Knockout
Andrei Arlovski vs. Chase Sherman (HW)
Former Heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski (30-20, 19-14 UFC) showed strong in 2020 with decision wins over Philipe Lins and Tanner Boser. However, his last appearance did not go his way, as he was choked out by Tom Aspinall in the second round. The 42-year-old also showed up well against the hard hitting Augusto Sakai, making the fight a split decision by landing good shots and showing people why he became the champ in the first place, as well as proving his chin is not shot. Despite dropping a few fights as of late, Arlovski is still a game fighter. He has incredible speed with his hands and can unload a good deal of volume, as well as having a dangerous overhand right that he has favored a lot in his recent matches. He has also shown a wrestling arsenal in recent bouts to mix up his offensive strategy.
A 2-5 UFC record sent Chase Sherman (15-6, 3-5 UFC) packing back in 2018, but three round one knockouts and a Bareknuckle Boxing championship got him back to the Octagon. “The Vanilla Gorilla” made the most of his second chance, knocking out Ike Villanueva in the second round. Sherman is a striker with all but one of his victories coming by knockout. He primarily succeeds with his boxing, and stands out in the Heavyweight division for his speed and work rate, amassing over six strikes per minute. He has stout takedown defense to keep the bout standing, but does live his chin up and absorbs his fair share of punishment.
Arlovski is at a crossroads here, with a 50/50 win rate over the last two years. He has become a much more workman-like fighter in recent efforts, keeping at range and using his experienced striking to overwork in volume. Sherman will be the one more likely to find a finish, as Arlovski has not scored a KO win in his past seventeen bouts. He is still a very real power threat, but Sherman is younger and has shown much more improvement in recent bouts than his counterpart. The difference maker for me here is Sherman’s output. His volume will make it difficult for Arlovski to grind out a decision even if it goes there, and he has the raw power to find Arlovski’s chin. I see Sherman piling up damage en route to a late finish.
My Pick: Chase Sherman via Knockout
Abdul Razak Alhassen vs. Jacob Malkoun (MW)
Abdul Razak Alhassen (10-3, 4-3 UFC) returned to the Octagon in 2020 and suffered two straight defeats, coming out on the wrong side of a Fight of the Night decision to Mounir Lazzez before being brutally knocked out by Khaos Williams. “Judo Thunder” has ferocious knockout power, ending every single one of his victories by first round knockout, last demolishing my personal favorite fighter Niko Price. On top of his one punch ability to end fights, he has fantastic judo credentials and does serious damage when able to establish top control. The downside to his power is a brawling style that leaves him liable to counters when swinging haymakers, as well as gas tank concerns when the fight is extended to even the second round. This will be his first bout at Middleweight, moving up fifteen pounds.
The UFC debut of Jacob Malkoun (4-1, 0-1 UFC) quickly went sour, being knocked out by Phil Hawes in just eighteen seconds. Though his record seems a little paltry, “Mamba” is the main training partner of headliner Robert Whittaker, as well as sporting a 3-0 pro boxing record. His striking is evidently his main prowess where he uses his quick jab and range awareness to set up his power shots. Two of his pro wins have come by knockout, but Malkoun also has the gas tank to go the distance. He is not lost on the ground either, as he possesses aggressive top control and a BJJ purple belt.
Malkoun is not being done any favors with the matchmaking given to him by the UFC brass, but he does have an opportunity to win here. Though on the wrong side of the power advantage, Malkoun has clear edges in both striking technique and cardio. He has a clear path to victory if he can simply avoid the KO power of Alhassen and wear him out over three rounds. However, I fully expect Alhassen to fight with his typical urgency, storming forward with haymakers, and Malkoun’s debut does not quell my concerns about withstanding his raw power. Though the betting lines are a bit lopsided for my taste, I see Alhassen getting back on the winning track in a new division with an early finish.
My Pick: Abdul Razak Alhassen via Knockout
Luis Pena vs. Alexander Munoz (LW)
Luis Pena (8-3, 4-3 UFC) is coming off a defeat to Khama Worthy, where he was submitted in the third round after two rounds in the bad. “Violent Bob Ross” is talented in any avenue the fight may go, but prefers the fight in a grappling match. His chief advantage in this bout will be his range, where at 6’3″ he holds a six inch height advantage. Pena has four of his wins by submission and uses his long and incredibly flexible frame to secure submissions in some of the weirdest ways you’ll ever see. In terms of striking, Pena has crisp boxing and a fair bit of power, but doesn’t always take full advantage of combinations and kicks, although his striking has shown improvement in every bout.
Alexander Munoz (6-1, 0-1 UFC) found his way top the UFC with a win on both the Contender Series and Dana White’s Looking for a Fight show. However, his Octagon debut went awry as he was pieced up by Nasrat Haqparast to a decision loss. Half of his pro wins have come by stoppage, with two wins coming in by knockout. Munoz is primarily a wrestler by trade, seeking to take down his opponent and inflict damage from top position. Though his striking is powerful, he lacks effective combinations and absorbs a high strike differential. This will be his first bout in eight months.
This fight primarily comes down to how often Munoz is able to establish top position. With a six-inch height disadvantage and three inches lost in reach, he is outgunned by Pena in both technique and range on the feet, leaving him reliant upon the takedown. While Pena is not exactly hard to take down, he is an efficient grappler with a penchant for reversals and unorthodox submissions, both of which pose a threat to Munhoz if he is even able to right himself in Pena’s guard. This figures to be a close bout, but one that Pena has all the tools to win with his striking volume and grappling offense.
My Pick: Luis Pena via Decision
Ricardo Ramos vs. Bill Algeo (FTW)
Ricardo Ramos (14-3, 5-2 UFC) has proven himself an all-action fighter and dark horse in any weight class through his UFC tenure. He has not competed in nine months since a first round knockout loss to Lerone Murphy that somewhat halted his hype train. Ramos is well-rounded and a threat wherever the fight goes. He has skilled Muay Thai striking and pushes a speed with his striking that is hard to deal with, firing spinning strikes, unorthodox leg kicks, and a high pace. On top of that, he has six wins by submission and is at an elite level with his jiu-jitsu. The struggling element in Ramos’ game has been his gas tank and that remains to be the way he could be exploited here.
Bill Algeo (13-5, 0-1 UFC) got the short straw in a decision on the Contender Series, but earned his shot at the big show in a late-notice bout against veteran Ricardo Lamas. He lost in a narrow decision, earning a Fight of the Night bonus for his efforts, and rebounded nicely with a win over Spike Carlyle. “Señor Perfecto” is an entertaining fighter to watch, as he holds nine finishes with six by submission and is always looking for a brawl on the feet. His bouts always compete at a relentless pace, as Algeo is capable of mixing it up with his ground game or relying on his scrapping nature. Though his grappling is top-notch, his wrestling is not on the same level.
This is matchmaking at its finest. These fighters are both extremely well-rounded and both have a grappling background. While Ramos has an advantage on the mat, Algeo’s volume on the feet will be a weapon to use in this bout. Algeo fights at a rarely seen pace on the feet, but leaves his chin open and absorbs a fair amount of blows, something the technically savvy Ramos will find success in. On the mat, both have a penchant for submissions, but Ramos takes the edge through his superior wrestling and quick transitions. Though this is an extremely close bout, I see Ramos getting the nod in a FOTN effort.
My Pick: Ricardo Ramos via Decision
You don’t want to miss this stacked Fight Night card so be sure to tune in at 10 PM EST to catch the main card action, while the prelims get going at 7 PM!
Categories: UFC Predictions