After three weeks away, the UFC returns to the forefront of the MMA schedule with its latest pay-per-view offering. The last two have been far from great, although UFC 209 did have some very fun fights. This card may not have as grand a feel to it as a PPV following a lengthy absence that’s being headlined by a mammoth Light Heavyweight title fight should, but that doesn’t mean there’s a lot of talented fighters and potentially great fights on it!
The same goes for the prelims. To the casual fan, the prelim slate is full of unknown names, and isn’t must-watch by any means. However, the truth is that there are a lot of really good fighters on this prelim card, with some bouts promising to be worth the time spent watching them. To prove just that, here are my picks for all eight of the prelim bouts on deck for tomorrow evening.
Fight Pass Prelims (6:15/5:15c, UFC Fight Pass)
Magomed Bibulatov (13-0) vs. Jenel Lausa (7-2)
It’s not very often that the first bout of a UFC card draws the ire or attention of too many people. However, when said bout features the UFC debut of someone who’s close to a bloodthirsty tyrant, a la Ramzan Khadyrov, that’s exactly what’ll happen.
In this case, that man is Magomend Bibulatov. He’s very skilled, no question about it. Bibulatov is unbeaten with six decision wins, five submission wins and two wins via knockout. Six of his wins have come in the opening round, and he won his only fight in WSOF, a title bout, via decision in 2015. Since then, he’s fought three times for Ramzan Khadyrov’s WFCA promotion, winning all three bouts, and the UFC signing him could result in some very bad PR down the road.
As for Lausa, the unbeaten Filipino Boxer has won five straight MMA bouts, including a decision win over Yao Zhikui in his UFC debut back in November. He’s won twice via knockout and submission apiece, and three times via decision. Truth be told, it would be for the best if he won, for a variety of reasons. That said, I can’t shake the feeling that this is Bibulatov’s fight to lose. I hope I’m wrong, but I fear that I might be right on this one. An upset would be great, but Bibulatov should take this one. Prediction: Bibulatov via decision or late submission.
Katlyn Chookagian (8-1) vs. Irene Aldana (7-3)
There are two female bouts on the card tonight, and while one of them is placed way too high by being on the main card, this one is slated too low. At the very least, it should be a televised bout. It features two women who both lost their last bout, and need a win to get back on deck. They’re also two very different types of fighters, which should make for a very interesting battle.
Aldana may have lost her UFC debut against Leslie Smith, but before that, all eight of her fights had ended via finish, with all of her wins coming via first round finish. Before entering the UFC, her only losses came in title fights, first against Larissa Pacheco in Jungle Fight in 2013, and then against Tonya Evinger in Invicta in 2015. She’s aggressive, and looks to go for the kill early.
Meanwhile, Chookagian is a decision fighter, having gone the distance in six of her nine pro fights, including both her UFC bouts. She began her career by winning eight straight bouts, before losing her most recent fight against the veteran Liz Carmouche via split decision at UFC 205 last November. That said, she’s still a striker, and while she doesn’t finish fights very often, she’s not a grinder by any means. She’s not a power striker, or does she have the ground game of Aldana, but she does have a better gas tank. On paper, this would go as either a quick finish for Aldana, or a decision/late finish for Chookagian. It’s a really tough fight to pick, so I’ll have to take make an unorthodox and wildly unexpeced pick for this one. Prediction: Aldana via decision or late tko.
Josh Emmett (11-0) vs. Des Green (19-5)
The next bout features a pair of talented Lightweights, one of whom is an unbeaten prospect, while the other is a former Titan FC champion and Bellator contender. So surely this fight would get a higher spot on the card, right? Well they would, except both of them are, well, decision machines. Of Emmett’s 11 wins, six have come via decision, while three have come via knockout and two via submission. He’s 2-0 in the UFC, winning decisions against Scott Holtzman and Jon Tuck.
Now, he faces another decision machine in Des Green. Green has defeated a variety of notable names, including Miguel Torres, Rob Font, Mike Richman and Steven Siler. However, of those names, the only one he finished was Miguel Torres. In all, he’s fought 24 times, and 16 of those times, including six of his last eight bouts, he’s gone the distance. Basically, this comes down to who’s going to win the decision. If this was a Featherweight bout, I’d go with Green, since that’s his natural weight class and he tends to win fights by grinding his opponents down. Against a big Lightweight in his UFC debut, that’s probably too much to ask for. Prediction: Emmett via decision.
Andrew Holbrook (12-1) vs. Gregor Gillespie (8-0)
Holbrook entered the UFC with a 10-0 mark, with all ten wins coming via finish, including nine via submission, and nine first round finishes. Since coming to the promotion, both of his wins have come via split decision, bookending a 34-second knockout loss to Joaquim Silva last July. He may be 2-1 with the promotion, but things haven’t gone as well as once projected, and he’s now facing an unbeaten prospect on the Fight Pass portion of a card.
That prospect? None other than unbeaten Gregor Gillespie. A former Ring of Combat champion, Gillespie began his career with six straight first round finishes, three apiece by knockout and submission. However, his last two bouts both went the distance, including his UFC debut against Glaico Franca last September. He’s a controlling, disciplined wrestler, as opposed to the wild submission brawler that is Andrew Holbrook. If he can impose his will on Holbrook despite being a bit undersized, he can definitely win. However, this fight reminds me too much of the one when Holbrook saw his undefeated record burn in flames, and I foresee the same fate coming forth for Gillespie’s record. Even if Gillespie can control the fight for a while, I see Holbrook finding his footing sooner or later, and ending the Fight Pass portion of the card with an emphatic submission victory. Prediction: Holbrook via submission.
Televised prelims (8/7c, FS1)
(12) Patrick Cummins (8-4) vs. (12) Jan Blachowicz (19-6)
It’s only fitting that opening up the televised portion of a card that’s headlined by a Light Heavyweight title bout, winds up being a bout between two Light Heavyweights who are desperate for a victory. Cummins began his career with four first round finishes, and earning a bout against current champ Daniel Cormier for his short notice UFC debut back in February 2014. Cummins was predictably dominated in that bout, losing within 80 seconds, but followed up with three straight wins to get to 7-1. Since then, Cummins has lost three of his last four, all via knockout. While he’s finished six of his eight victories, he’s also been knocked out four times.
As for Blachowicz, the former KSW Light Heavyweight champion entered the UFC with an 17-3 record, and shocked the masses when he defeated Ilir Latifi in his UFC debut back in October 2014 in under two minutes. Since then though, Blachowicz has not only lost three of his last four, all four of those fights have been boring fights that went the distance. All in all, eight of his last nine bouts have gone the distance, and while he does have seven submission and five knockout wins, the last time he won a fight via finish aside from his UFC debut was in early 2011. Sure, he looked good against Alexander Gustaffson in his last bout, but it still wasn’t a very good fight.
So, something’s gotta give. Blachowicz has been a boring decision machine for most of the past six years, while Cummins is a finisher who only loses via knockout. Based on that, Cummins should win. However, I think Blachowicz will somehow find a way to pull magic out of his hat, the same way he did against Latifi a couple years back. Sure, he does have lackluster takedown defense, and he is facing a wrestler. However, said wrestler is a guy who always loses via knockout and tonight, so I think Blachowicz will remind people what a great finisher he once used to be. Prediction: Blachowicz via tko, round 2.
Charles Rosa (11-2) vs. Shane Burgos (8-0)
Up next is a Featherweight bout that could be pretty fun. Rosa is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt who’s finished ten of his 11 wins via finish including seven via submission, although three of his last four bouts have all gone the distance. He came into the UFC with a 9-0 record, with all his wins coming via finish and eight of them ending in the first round. In the UFC, he’s 2-2, and only one of those fights got finished.
Meanwhile, Burgos is unbeaten with seven finishes, including five in the first round. He’s got four submission and three knockout wins, so he can get it done both on the feet and on the ground. He’s the more skilled fighter, and he has more potential too. However, I can’t shake the feeling that Burgos will make a mistake somewhere, and that will cost him the fight. It’s a weird hunch, but it is a somewhat logical one, and I’ll use that to justify my pick. Prediction: Rosa via submission, round 3.
(11) Kamaru Usman (9-1) vs. Sean Strickland (18-1)
The next bout is a Welterweight contest between grapplers who have each lost just once in their professional careers. Usman, winner of TUF 21 in Spring 2015, was a championship caliber NCAA Division 2 wrestler who heavily utilizes that very discipline in his MMA career. His wrestling is what got him decision wins in both his TUF bouts, and it’s also the reason why he’s won eight straight bouts since losing his second career pro fight. While each of his first seven bouts ended early, including five via knockout, each of his last three bouts have been decision wins. He’s 4-0 in the UFC, and a win tonight might not elevate him in the rankings, but it will help justify his ranking.
As for Strickland, the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt and former King of the Cage champion is 5-1 in the UFC, with his lone loss coming via decision to Santiago Ponzinibbio. He’s won three straight since that February 2015 loss, and in all, he has eight knockout, four submission and six decision wins.
On paper, this is a bout where Usman clearly needs to try and take Strickland down and grind away to yet another decision win. Honestly, he can probably do just that. However, Strickland is very skilled, and can win in a variety of ways. I think he’ll manage to keep this fight mostly standing, and even if he does get taken down, I think he’ll do enough standing up in order to steal away a victory. Prediction: Strickland via split decision.
Myles Jury (15-2) vs. Mike De La Torre (14-6, 1 NC)
The final prelim bout on deck is one that should be fun, but isn’t very hard to predict. De La Torre is a fun fighter with six knockout and submission wins apiece, but has been finished five times, including four times via submission. He’s 2-3 with a no contest in the UFC, and likely needs a win to stay with the promotion. Meanwhile, Jury is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and while he’s lost two straight and hasn’t fought since December 2015, this fight isn’t near the level of his last two fights. As long as he isn’t too rusty, he should win this one. Seeing how he’s finished 12 of his 15 victories, and the fact that he’s facing a guy who often gets finished in his losses, it’s safe to presume that the same will happen in this one. Prediction: Jury via tko, round 2.