The UFC rounds out a stacked month of July with the second PPV card of the month. The Octagon travels to the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas for a twelve-bout fight card.
In the main event, Julianna Peña looks to defend her belt against the WMMA GOAT Amanda Nunes in an immediate rematch. Brandon Moreno and Kai Kara-France will bang it out for the interim Flyweight belt in the co-main.
Julianna Peña vs. Amanda Nunes 2 (BW Title)
After winning TUF 18, Julianna Peña (11-4, 7-2 UFC) went 5-1 in the UFC over six years before running into Germaine de Randamie, who submitted her in the third round in 2019. Undaunted, she picked up a third-round submission of her own over Sara McMann to earn a shot at the belt. Despite entering as a +700 underdog opposite Amanda Nunes, she rocked the champion in the second round before submitting her to claim the title. Peña mixes her skills up well, with combination striking and technical grappling. She is a BJJ purple belt with solid wrestling, though her takedown defense is sub-par. She keeps a good volume and diversifies her strikes well, mixing in leg kicks with her boxing combinations. “The Venezuelen Vixen” has ten finishes, with seven by way of submission.
Amanda Nunes (21-5, 14-2 UFC) achieved double champ status in December 2018, brutally knocking out Cris Cyborg. Nunes already held three defenses at Bantamweight to her name, including her sub-minute demolition of Ronda Rousey. She defended both her belts after the Cyborg win, scoring three defenses and two stoppages before running into Julianna Peña, who submitted her in the second round. The WMMA GOAT is a terrifying finisher in every sense of the word. She has one-shot power on the feet, with hard-nosed aggression and long combinations. On the mat, Nunes can dominate from top position or attack a variety of chokes. While Nunes is imposing from all angles, her defense can be exploited since she keeps her hands low. “The Lioness” has stopped seventeen of her pro victories, with thirteen by knockout.
Their first meeting last December was a wild affair, in which Nunes clearly gassed chasing the finish. I expect a more measured approach from Nunes in this bout, while Peña will seek to utilize her grappling to similar success. I see a more technical approach from Nunes working wonders compared to last time, as she knocked Peña down before getting overeager. Peña’s toughness and pace were deadly weapons in the first bout, and Julianna will be trying to drag the former champ into deep waters, particularly on the mat and in the clinch. If Nunes’ takedown defense and gas tank can hold up, I see her outworking Peña on the feet for a decision or late knockout.
My Pick: Amanda Nunes via Knockout
Brandon Moreno vs. Kai Kara-France 2 (FLW Title)
Rejoining the UFC in 2019, Brandon Moreno (19-6-2, 7-3-2 UFC) went to a back-and-forth draw with Askar Askarov in his return. He picked up three straight wins, including an injury TKO over Brandon Royval, to earn himself a crack at the belt. A Fight of the Year draw opposite Deiveson Figuieredo saw “The Assassin Baby” earn an immediate rematch, where he tapped out Figueiredo in the third round. Their trilogy fight saw another close fight, where Figueiredo earned the decision victory. Moreno is a scrapper, holding a diverse skillset. He has quick boxing combinations and snapping kicks, along with knockout power. He is a versatile submission threat, and can scramble with the best of them, earning eleven career submissions.
Kai Kara-France (24-9, 7-2 UFC) burst into the Octagon with three straight victories before suffering a decision loss to Brandon Moreno. He rebounded with a decision over Tyson Nam, but was submitted by Brandon Royval in their September 2020 Fight of the Night. He is currently on a three-fight streak, off the heels of first-round knockouts over Rogerio Bontorin and Cody Garbrandt. Training out of City Kickboxing, KKF is a dynamic striker. He mixes his attack up well, with crisp leg kicks and heavy hands. “Don’t Blink” holds twelve knockouts on his resume, with nine coming inside the first round. While he holds strong takedown defense, Kai isn’t much of an offensive grappler, preferring to trade on the feet.
Seeing as their first meeting was a closely contested affair through three rounds, we are shaping up for a firecracker of a co-main here, although the interim belt attached is unnecessary. This is an incredibly close battle on the feet, with high volume strikers who excel under different disciplines. Moreno’s quick boxing is devastating in the pocket, while KKF’s heavy hands and versatility make him a great to watch when trading leather. Moreno has a significant advantage on the mat, with superior grappling and scrambling skills. However, Kai’s takedown defense is superb, and I expect this to primarily play out on the feet. I am expecting a close contest that goes all five rounds, with Moreno getting the judges’ nod due to volume and sporadic control time.
My Pick: Brandon Moreno via Decision
Derrick Lewis vs. Sergei Pavlovich (HW)
Derrick Lewis (26-9, 17-7 UFC) brutally knocked out Curtis Blaydes to score the record for most knockouts in the UFC. This set up an August clash with Ciryl Gane for the interim title, though Gane dominated the fight en route to a third-round knockout. He rebounded with a first-round knockout of Chris Daukaus before losing to Tai Tuivasa by KO. Lewis is one of the few fighters on the UFC roster who cuts to the 266-pound limit and is shown through his style. He hits incredibly hard and while he is a slower fighter without much of a ground game, he can end the fight with one good shot. “The Black Beast” loves to swing on the feet, though his defense and output can be lackluster at times.
After a debut loss in the UFC to Alistair Overeem, Sergei Pavlovich (15-1, 3-1 UFC) rattled off two straight first-round knockouts over Marcelo Golm and Maurice Greene. A number of fight cancellations saw him spend almost three years on the bench, though he returned in March with another first-round knockout over Shamil Abdurakhimov. Pavlovich brings a boxing-heavy striking style with constant forward pressure, though he does have a background in Greco-Roman wrestling. He keeps a ferocious work rate on the feet, though his gas tank in somewhat untested and he does keep his head on the center line too often. Pavlovich has twelve stoppages to his name, all by knockout.
We are in for an all-out striking war here, as is often the case when Derrick Lewis fights. Neither fighter is much of a takedown artist, and prefer to let their striking (and boxing, in particular) do the talking. Pavlovich is taking a massive step up in competition here, holding only one win over a ranked opponent. Pavlovich is aggressive but leaves his chin open in flurries, something ill advised when facing Lewis. If Lewis wastes time searching for a bomb with low output he will get caught under the volume of Pavlovich, but I expect Lewis to get back on track with a knockout victory after Pavlovich’s volume slows down.
My Pick: Derrick Lewis via Knockout
Alexandre Pantoja vs. Alex Perez (FLW)
Alexandre Pantoja (24-5, 8-3 UFC) has made a name for himself as one of the most entertaining fighters in the Flyweight division with his brawling style and finishing ability. After dropping a decision to Askar Askarov, “The Cannibal” returned to win a decision over the hyped Manel Kape. He followed that up with a submission over Brandon Royval, cementing himself in the top five. Pantoja comes to brawl straight from the start, keeping heavy aggression and a brutal volume, earning eighteen finishes with eight by knockout. His submission skills are nothing to sleep on either, as he has a variety of chokes from top position and off his back, but has difficulty consistently scoring takedowns.
After scoring a contract on the first season of the Contender Series, Alex Perez (24-6, 6-2 UFC) went 6-1 under the UFC banner with four finishes to set up a title fight with Deiveson Figueiredo. However, he was submitted in the first round by the current champion in their November 2020 bout. Perez has not fought since, suffering six fight cancellations in the process. Perez has a credentialed wrestling background and averages nearly three takedowns per 15 minutes in the Octagon, though his submission defense needs work. His striking is constantly improving, with fast combinations and powerful leg kicks.
To me, this is the closest fight on the card and promises to be all-action for however long it lasts. Both fighters are well-rounded and dangerous, capable of stopping the fight at any moment. Perez is defensively sound on the feet, bringing in a defense rate over 60%. He will look to utilize his top game with his wrestling advantage, though he does leave himself open to submissions. Pantoja excels in a brawl, along with bringing heavy hands, and his submission threat makes him dangerous from everywhere. I am expecting a close fight and have found myself going back and forth on my pick all week. This is incredibly close on the feet, though Perez mixes up his attack better, Pantoja has more power. Perez is likely to find success with control time, though Pantoja scrambles well and will take the neck of Perez if exposed. If the fight goes the distance, I see Perez getting his hand raised, though a Pantoja submission would not surprise me. While Pantoja is a tough test for Perez off a long layoff, I am siding with the underdog to pick up a decision.
My Pick: Alex Perez via Decision
Magomed Ankalaev vs. Anthony Smith (LHW)
Russian sensation Magomed Ankalaev (17-1, 8-1 UFC) would almost be undefeated, save a submission loss to Paul Craig in the final second of a bout he was winning. Since then he has rattled off eight straight victories, with four being impressive knockouts. Ankalaev has technical kickboxing, boasting an incredible 61% striking defense rate and a reasonably constant pressure, earning nine finishes including eight by knockout. On top of that, he has well-timed reversals and clinch skills, making it incredibly difficult to take him down to the mat. He has a Sambo background in his back pocket, carrying the tools to mix it up on the mat even if he is not finding success on the feet. Ankalaev was most recently seen taking home a five-round decision over Thiago Santos after going through serious adversity in the bout.
After back-and-forth success at Middleweight, Anthony Smith (36-16, 11-6 UFC) stepped up to 205 pounds, going on a three-fight finishing streak to set up a title shot opposite Jon Jones. He submitted Alexander Gustafsson shortly after, then suffered defeats to Glover Teixeira and Aleksander Rakic. “Lionheart” is on a three-fight win streak, capturing all three victories by first-round stoppage. Smith is a certified finisher, finding a stoppage in all but two of his pro victories, with eighteen coming by knockout. He does not mind a brawl on the feet, holding incredible heart, also bringing in submission potential from the top and bottom.
We have a banger opening up the main card, and Dana White has already confirmed that the winner of this bout will be receiving the next title shot at 205 pounds. Ankalaev has almost ran through everyone in his UFC tenure, showcasing a dominant skillset and high fight IQ. Anthony Smith is certainly his toughest test, with years of experience along with durability and a finishing threat. Ankalaev holds a clear edge on the feet in everything but power. Smith is known to load up on haymakers and overexpose, while Ankalaev is crisp and defensively sound. On the mat, Ankalaev has superior wrestling while Smith has the ability to throw up submissions, the only way we have seen Ankalaev defeated to this point. Although Smith brings a tougher test than anyone to this point in Smith’s career, I see the technical striking of Ankalaev dominating for a unanimous decision and chance to fight for the belt.
My Pick: Magomed Ankalaev via Decision
Both belts will be on the line Saturday, so tune in for our play-by-play results! The main card kicks off at 10 PM EST on ESPN+ Pay-Per-View!
Categories: UFC Predictions