Jon Jones is back! After a laundry list of legal issues which caused him to get stripped of his Light Heavyweight belt almost a year ago, MMA’s pound-for – pound #1 fighter is returning to the octagon, as part of a stacked main card.
The prelims, as expected, are not as stacked. However, that doesn’t mean they won’t be entertaining. The slate is a mix of prospects and veterans, including a former champion. The Fight Pass bouts will be electric. The tv prelims though? The bookend fights will likely be fun, but the middle two, especially Esparza/Lima, Without further ado, here are my prelims picks for the card.
Fight Pass prelims (6:30/5:30c, UFC Fight Pass)
Efrain Escudero (24-10) vs. Kevin Lee (11-2)
First up is a bout that guarantees two things- it will be somewhat entertaining, and it will go the distance. Escudero, a former TUF winner, has been in and out of the promotion over the past eight years. He may have 13 submission wins, but half of his fights have gone the distance. Lee is a former collegiate wrestler, and he has gone the distance in seven of his 12 fights. I see him taking a decision here as well. Prediction: Lee via unanimous decision.
Clint Hester (11-5) vs. Marco Rogerio de Lima (13-3-1)
The next fight should be an entertainer. Lima has 10 knockout wins, and is looking to go 3-1 inside the octagon. Meanwhile, Hester is a thrilling fighter and former contestant on TUF 17, one of the best three seasons of the show ever. He has eight finishes to his credit. He needs a win to avoid potentially getting cut, so I see him somehow pulling off a tko win. At least, I hope he does. Prediction: Hester via tko, round 2.
Cody East (12-1) vs. Walt Harris (7-4)
The final Fight Pass bout should be an absolute slobber – knocker. Both men are Heavyweight knockout artists, so the fans will with this matchup. It’s also the UFC debut of Cody East. He may have a hellacious criminal record which includes rape, child abuse, etc, but the UFC brought him in anyway. He’s got eight knockout (seven in the first round) and three submission wins, had his only loss come against legendary journeyman Tony Lopez over four years ago, and has won nine straight.
Meanwhile, Walt Harris is 7-1 outside the octagon, but 0-3 inside it. He got cut after losing a pair of UFC bouts in early 2014, was brought back later in the uear, and then got starched late in the 2nd round by Soa Palelei. Now, he faces a debutant, and while I don’t think someone of East’s background should be in the UFC, the fact is, the UFC brought him in, and nothing can be done now. I’ll have to go with East here. Prediction: East via tko, round 1.
Televised prelims (8/7c, FS1)
Glaico Franca (13-3) vs. James Vick (8-0)
Kicking off the TV prelims is a pretty solid Lightweight scrap. Franca has finished 12 of his victories, six apiece via knockout and submission. He has eight first round finishes, won ten of his last eleven, and looks to go 2-0 inside the octagon.
Standing in his way is James Vick. A former TUF contestant, Vick may be a nuisance on social media, but he’s still a terrific fighter. Although injuries derailed his UFC debut for a while, he’s been terrific since returning. It would be awesome to see Franca pull it off, but I see Vick finishing the fight late. Prediction: Vick via submission, round 3
Carla Esparza (10-3) vs. Juliana Lima (8-2)
Carla Esparza is back! What? No one cares? Well, they should. She may not be very entertaining, and the same can be said about Lima, but Esparza was the first ever Invicta and UFC Strawweight champion. She’s back after the hellacious beating she took from Joanna Jedrzeczyk last March, and I see her winning a decision tonight. Prediction: Esparza via decision.
Danny Roberts (12-1) vs. Dominique Steele (14-6)
Roberts is a solid English prospect with five knockout and submission wins apiece, five straight wins, and won his UFC debut via triangle choke last December against Nathan Coy. Steele is a solid fighter, but he’s a bit of a blanket. Quite frankly, that’s his way to win tonight. If he can take Roberts down and smother him, he’ll win. He may have won his UFC debut via slam ko, and he can smother Roberts, but I think he’s going down tonight. Prediction: Roberts via tko, round 2.
Chris Kelades (9-2) vs. Sergio Pettis (13-2)
Congratulations to Chris Kelades for getting a top prelims spot. Of course, it’s because of the younger Pettis brother. Still, this should be a fun fight, and I think Kelades can avoid getting finished for 15 minutes. I’ll say Sergio Pettis, the former RFA Champion who is 4-2 inside the octagon and has seven decision wins to his credit, will likely prevail in that manner tonight. It should still be a fun fight though. Prediction: Pettis via decision.