After a terrific calendar year in 2022, the UFC looks to kick off 2023 with a bang with a twelve-bout fight night card from the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
The main event sees the rising Nassourdine Imavov take on late replacement Sean Strickland, who is competing in back-to-back events. Dan Ige faces off against the ever-dangerous Damon Jackson in a co-main event sure to bring the action.
Sean Strickland vs. Nassourdine Imavov (LHW)
Sean Strickland (25-5, 12-5 UFC) is making a quick turnaround after closing on 2022 on the UFC’s final card of the year, where he lost a controversial split decision to Jared Cannonier. On the first losing streak of his career after a highlight reel KO loss courtesy of Alex Pereira, Strickland is looking to get back in the win column in a big way. Strickland primarily works using his boxing, often fighting behind a consistent and well-timed jab. While Strickland is a threat on the mat, he does not often choose to utilize it, though he does boast a takedown defense rate of 85%. He has fourteen finishes on his record with ten coming by knockout.
Nassourdine Imavov (12-3, 4-1 UFC) established himself as a blue-chip prospect in his UFC debut, capturing a decision over Jordan Williams before dropping a majority decision to Phil Hawes in his next contest. The “Russian Sniper” has rattled off three straight victories since, including knockouts of Ian Heinisch and Edmen Shahbazyan. Imavov has incredibly technical striking, utilizing clean kickboxing fundamentals to control range and pick apart his opponent. He has stout defensive wrestling and nine finishes to his name with nine by way of knockout.
I expect we should primarily get a striking battle here, though I think Strickland could mix this fight up on the mat. Imavov is the more diverse striker by a fair margin, constantly mixing it up with kicks and knees, though his boxing is composed of a tight jab and quick straight punches. Strickland is much more of a boxer by trade, not often using his legs much to attack. However, he does keep a higher volume than Imavov by a fair margin, landing over 1.5 more significant strikes per minute. I expect a close contest in the early going before Strickland’s gas tank takes over down the stretch for a close decision nod.
My Pick: Sean Strickland via Decision
Dan Ige vs. Damon Jackson (FTW)
My Pick: Dan Ige via Decision
Punahele Soriano vs. Roman Kopylov (MW)
My Pick: Punahele Soriano via Submission
Ketlen Vieira vs. Raquel Pennington (BW)
My Pick: Ketlen Vieira via Decision
Umar Nurmagomedov vs. Raoni Barcelos (BW)
My Pick: Umar Nurmagomedov via Decision
The card kicks off at 4 PM EST on ESPN+ this Saturday!