After a return to action this past weekend that saw a Fight Night card highlighted by numerous finishes, we will return to the UFC Apex for the final Fight Night event of the month.
We have a massive show on deck, with the two finale bouts for the Ultimate Fighter’s 29th season going down, along with a striker’s delight in the main event as Edson Barboza attempts to turn back the surging Giga Chikadze. Elsewhere on the card, Kevin Lee will return to Middleweight against up-and-comer Daniel Rodriguez.
Edson Barboza vs. Giga Chikadze (FTW)
If you want to know why Edson Barboza (22-9, 17-9 UFC) is so terrifying, just watch his famous wheel kick knockout over Terry Etim. Barboza is a brutal kickboxer. And he is really a KICKboxer, with quite possibly the best kicking game in the UFC currently. Every single leg kick, body kick, or god forbid head kick, cracks off his opponent and you can see the pain in their eyes. He HURTS people with the violent power in his legs. However, Edson’s failures have always been known. Though sporting solid takedown defense, he quite frankly fails when trapped on his back. Even when Hooker was entirely gassed and destroyed, he was all over Barboza on the ground. Barboza’s other problems present themself in his gas tank and weakness to pressure. As soon as after the first round, his movements get more telegraphed and his hands go down, while he lacks the room to get his kicks off when pressured. After a split decision loss in his first bout at Featherweight, Edson has won two straight, including a knockout of Shane Burgos in his last outing.
An appearance on the Contender Series was not enough to earn Giga Chikadze (13-2, 6-0 UFC) a UFC contract, but he made his way there nonetheless through a short notice opportunity. He has surged his way into the Featherweight rankings by racked up five straight wins, including four in 2020, capped off with a knockout over Jamey Simmons. He needed just over a minute in his last outing against Cub Swanson, before flattening him with his patented “Giga kick”. Chikadze is an elite-level striker who has competed in GLORY Kickboxing, and brings the technique, maturity, and patience of years of elite striking in with him. He is extremely precise and keeps up a high volume, mixing it up to the body and offering a wide variety of shots. “Ninja” has nine stoppages to his name, with eight coming in by knockout. His weakness lies within his grappling, as he can be taken down and controlled by a persistent takedown attack.
There is no better way to describe this matchup than the term “striker’s delight”. Both fighters have extraordinary striking accolades, along with fantastic kicking. They both hold the same striking accuracy (44%) and roughly the same defense as well, though the stats will tell you that Edson typically works at a higher rate. This is a close fight no matter which way you look at it, but I find myself leaning to Edson. Not only does he hold the superior stopping power, but his speed and size will give Giga new challenges in avenues he typically finds an advantage. I like a tense striking battle before Barboza closes the show.
My Pick: Edson Barboza via Knockout
Bryan Battle vs. Gilbert Urbina (MW)
Bryan Battle, (5-1), is a well-rounded threat with a slick submission offense and developed top control. His striking is aggressive, with powerful kicks and nice utilization of range. His work ethic and range are his key advantages in this bout, with an advantage on paper on the mat. His first win on the show was a unanimous decision over Kemran Lachinov where he used his long frame and kicks to score the win. His second performance was even more impressive, as he picked apart Andre Petroski on the feet with his long straights and teep kicks before submitting him with a guillotine in the second frame to move himself into the finale. Battle has finished all but one of his pro wins, with three of those finishes coming by submission.
Gilbert Urbina (6-1) is the third Urbina brother to compete on The Ultimate Fighter. He has competed under the Combat and LFA banners, with his lone defeat coming to top prospect Sean Brady. Urbina is a threat from everywhere, but is at his best on the mat. He has three stoppages, with two coming by submission. His striking primarily revolves around his range, though he brings a diversity of weapons. He bulldozed through Micheal Gillmore in the first round of the tournament, earning a first round submission. Tresean Gore proved too much in the semi-finals, as Gilbert was knocked out in the second round. Following an injury form Gore, Urbina has stepped in as a replacement.
Both fighters have a similar arsenal, with solid jiu-jitsu and long striking. I give Urbina an advantage in terms of wrestling, though Battle’s defensive chokes are not something to be taken lightly. On the feet, Battle brings home the advantage, with a higher output and the superior strike variety. His leg kicks in particular will be an issue for Urbina, who struggled with defending those attacks from Gore. I expect the defensive wrestling and calculated striking of Battle to win a decision and the title of the Ultimate Fighter.
My Pick: Bryan Battle via Decision
Ricky Turcios vs. Brady Hiestand (BW)
Ricky Turcios (10-2) is one of the most experienced fighters on this season’s roster, spending most of his career in the Fury FC promotion. Ricky has a fast paced style and he definitely uses his conditioning as a weapon. He succeeds well in a brawl or on the mat, where Turcios favors position. Ricky’s advantages come from his unorthodox style and adaptability, able to succeed wherever the fight goes. He advanced to the second round of the tournament by defeating Dan Argueta in a crazy back-and-forth decision before beating Liudvik Sholinian in another three rounder.
Brady Hiestand (5-1) has not fought much experienced competition prior to his entry into TUF. However, he has looked exceptional, scoring four finishes evenly split between knockouts and submissions. Brady is the youngest fighter on this season at just twenty two years old, but has trained since a child. “Bam-Bam” is also a volunteer firefighter and lives at a fire station. He is a heavy grappler, but has technical boxing in his back pocket. In his first TUF fight, he claimed a narrow decision over Josh Rettinghouse in the season’s best fight. His semi-final bout against Vince Murdock was complete domination, as he immediately secured a takedown and dominated top position before finishing the fight in the first round with ground and pound.
I am immensely excited for this matchup, as both fighters are well-rounded and bring the action on the feet and the mat. Hiestand undoubtedly takes home the edge in both stopping power and submission threats, along with his high level wrestling ability. Turcios has the wherewithal on the mat to avoid getting his neck snatched up, but not the defensive wrestling to avoid getting put on his back. The conditioning and experience advantages of Turcios are not to be taken lightly either, as he will push the pace through all three rounds. I expect a wild affair on the feet with Hiestand taking the edge on the scorecards with top control.
My Pick: Brady Hiestand via Decision
Kevin Lee vs. Daniel Rodriguez (WW)
When Kevin Lee (18-6, 11-6 UFC) last tried a move up to Welterweight, he was submitted late in the fight by RDA. He made that up with an absolutely stunning knockout of Gregor Gillespie, proving that his move to TriStar has worked wonders for his game. However, he could not expand upon that success, being submitted in the third round by current Lightweight champion Charles Oliveira. Lee has technical boxing but his main area of expertise lies in his ground game. “The Motown Phenom” is a collegiate wrestler with a variety of submissions and incredible ground and pound within his repertoire. When he is on his game, Lee is a certified killer who is a tough test for anyone at 155 or 170 pounds.
Daniel Rodriguez (15-2, 5-1 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. He has gotten back on the right track since with two victories, capped off by a knockout of Preston Parsons in his last contest. Rodriguez has finished twelve of his professional victories, including eight 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.
This is a massive step up in competition for Rodriguez, who is more of a prospect and has fought significantly inferior competition to Lee. With that said, Lee has his own statements to make, as he is yet to score a UFC win at 170 pounds. Lee takes home the wrestling advantage, as per usual; however, Rodriguez boasts a takedown defense rate of 83%, though he is yet to face a wrestler of this caliber. Lee is definitely outgunned on the feet, as Rodriguez has the striking output and aggression to give Lee serious issues. This fight comes down to how well Rodriguez is able to stay off of his back and work his boxing skills. With his high takedown defense and crafty submissions off his back, Rodriguez can fight off the wrestling attack with his own offense for a decision victory.
My Pick: Daniel Rodriguez via Decision
Andre Petroski vs. Micheal Gillmore (MW)
My Pick: Andre Petroski via Submission
Gerald Meerschaert vs. Makhmud Muradov (MW)
My Pick: Makhmud Muradov. via Knockout
The main card is set to go down at 10 PM EST, with six preliminary bouts leading up to the stacked card. Tune in Saturday for the play-by-play results, covered by Nathan Phillips!
Categories: UFC Predictions