It’s been a busy fight weekend, with three notable MMA cards as well as a fun boxing match already having taken place so far over the past few days. Tonight, it gets capped off with the UFC’s latest offering; a Fight Night taking place in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
The main card itself is fine, with a mix of some fun bouts and some that, well, aren’t nearly as appealing. The prelim card, however, is very interesting. At least, it is to me, and as a result, for the first time in several cards, I’ll be covering the prelim portion too.
Of the five prelim bouts on deck, four of them have the potential to be really, really fun. That’s what prelim bouts are supposed to be about, along with getting shine on lesser known names as the slate gets the crowd in the arena and audience from home to get amped up for the rest of the show. This one’s full of some great prospects, action fights, a former champion, and more. Here are my predictions for all of tonight’s prelim fights.
Fight Pass prelim bout (6:30/5:30c, UFC Fight Pass)
Gerald Meershaert (25-8) vs. Ryan Janes (9-1)
As a result of Alexander Volkanovski vs. Michel Quinones being scrapped due to the latter sustaining an injury, there will only be one Fight Pass bout tonight. Believe it or not, it’s got Fight of the Night potential.
Gerald Meerschaert trains at Roufusport, has fought 33 times to date, and has only gone the distance three times.Twenty of his fights have ended in the first round. He’s won 18 fights via submission, and five via knockout. He’s also been submitted seven times. Long story short, he’s a “kill or be killed” kind of fighter, despite never having been knocked out. He’s 9-1 with eight finishes in his last ten bouts, with the lone loss coming to notable UFC veteran Sam Alvey via decision back in May 2014. His six-fight winning streak since then has seen all fights end via finish, including his first round submission win in his UFC debut over Joe Gigliotti in December.
Janes doesn’t have anywhere near the experience of Meerschaert, but he’s still very good. The Canadian hasn’t lost since 2009, and has finished eight of his nine wins, including seven via submission. Unlike Meerschaert, most of Janes’ fights go past the first round, and he’s already gone the distance as many times as Meerschaert has, in less than a third of the amount of fights. He’s very skilled and has a lot of potential. He’s also never been finished, while facing someone who’s been submitted seven times. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that Meerschaert will pull off the submission victory, in what should and hopefully will be a fun fight. Prediction: Meerschaert via submission, round 2.
Televised prelims (7/6c, FS1)
Jack Marshman (21-5) vs. Thiago Santos (13-5)
Marshman, the Welshman, has won 13 fights via knockout and five via submission. He’s won nine of his last ten fights, including seven straight. In his UFC debut back in November of last year, he stunned everyone by knocking out Magnus Cedenblad, who was a potential top 10 Middleweight prior to getting finished that night. If Marshman beats Santos, he won’t be far away from possibly vaulting into the UFC Middleweight rankings.
In order to get closer to the ranks though, Marshman needs to defeat Thiago Santos. A black belt in Muai Thai, Santos has eight wins via knockout and is really dangerous on the feet. That said, the former TUF: Brazil 2 competitor has not only lost two straight to follow a four-fight winning streak, but has also been stopped in the first round in both occasions. The first of those losses came against the resurgent Gegard Mousasi, who’s one of the best Middleweights on the planet and has been for a long time. The other was to Eric Spicely, who is a rising finisher.
Go figure, Marshman fits the mold of the latter, albeit being much more of a striker than Spicely is. I hate to say it, since I like Santos, but the story pretty much writes itself here. I hope it’s a great fight, it likely will be a fun one, and while I hope he doesn’t get cut with a loss, he likely will be. I have to go with my gut, and pick Marshman here. Hopefully, Santos can pick himself up if he does indeed lose as predicted. Prediction: Marshman via tko, round 2.
Aiemann Zahabi (6-0) vs. Reginaldo Vieira (13-4)
Up next is another prospect battle that, while it isn’t being talked about much, deserves a lot more respect than it’s getting. Zahabi’s name may sound familiar, and it should. After all, he’s the younger brother and pupil of Tristar Gym’s head coach, Firas Zahabi. Not only does he have top-notch training, he’s also unbeaten with every fight ending via first round finish. Make no mistake, a win for him puts him on the forefront for a major push before long.
For his UFC debut, Zahabi will not have a gimme, as he takes on the tough Brazilian Reginaldo Vieira. Vieira is a submission specialist with nine submission wins, and while he did get submitted in his last fight and has been submitted three times in all, he’s still a tough cat who won’t be easy to crack. That said, I see Zahabi utilizing the home crowd and coaching advantage to the fullest, and while I don’t think he’ll finish this one, a finish won’t shock me. I’ll say he’ll win, and while I’m not strong with my convictions as far as what I say next, I’ll say that Vieira will avoid being stopped, in what should be a good fight regardless of if it gets stopped or not. Prediction: Zahabi via decision.
Carla Esparza (11-3) vs. Randa Markos (6-4)
The next fight actually features a former champion. It’s also the only prelim bout that could wind up being lackluster. That’s because, long story short, former Invicta and UFC Strawweight champion Carla Esparza is one dimensional and usually not fun to watch when fighting. Yes, she has seven finishes including three knockouts, but most of her fights are lay n’ pray smotherfests where she either goes the distance or pulls of a submission to mercifully end fights. She’s gone up against some really good fighters, including arguably the three greatest Strawweights ever in Megumi Fujii, Joanna Jedrzeczyk and Jessica Aguilar, and has lost to all of them, which is nothing to be ashamed about. She’s beaten some known names too, but the only one she’s finished is Rose Namajunas back on the TUF 20 Finale in late 2014, which is how she became the first ever UFC Strawweight champion. Her two fights since then, a loss to Jedrzeczyk and then a decision win over Juliana Lima, were both performance that left much to be desired.
Esparza’s opponent is none other than fellow TUF 20 alum Randa Markos. The two butted heads on the season, with Esparza often being the instigator while Markos answered back and stood her ground. She’s won three fights via submission and decision apiece, and of her four losses, the only one to come via finish was her last bout against a woman who’s wins always come via first round finish, Cortney Casey. Markos is 3-4 since starting her career 3-0, having alternated wins and losses ever since. She’s 2-2 inside the octagon, and a loss likely results in her release. I won’t hide it at all-I want her to win. I want her to finish someone she’s had a grudge against for years, someone who’s not fun to watch, and I want her to keep her job. If I’m being honest with myself though, I don’t see it happening. Heart pick: Markos via shocking submission, round 3. Gut/head pick: Esparza via decision.
Nordine Taleb (12-3) vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio (23-3)
The headlining prelim bout features a pair of fighters who need and deserve more buzz. Taleb, who has six knockout and decision wins apiece, trains out of Tristar and is French. He’ll clearly have the crowd on his side. The former TUF competitor and Bellator veteran has sneakily gone 4-1 inside the octagon, and a win tonight should earn him a potential ranking in the Welterweight division.
As for Ponzinibbio? He’s a bonafide star in the making. He’s a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, likely would’ve won TUF: Brazil 2 had he not gotten injured, and has finished 19 fights-13 of them via knockout. He’s 5-1 since losing his UFC debut against Ryan Laflare back in November 2013, with three of those wins coming via first round knockout. His lone loss in that span came against the always formidable Lorenz Larkin. Honestly, he should be ranked already, and while Taleb is fun, I think this is a fight that will really put Ponzinibbio on the map if he wins. I’ll say that he’ll not only win, but will pull off yet another 1st round finish to get the 15th of his career. Prediction: Ponzinibbio via tko, late round 1.