The UFC’s hectic Summer continues this weekend, as the promotion makes its Long Island debut tomorrow.
While the main card features eight ranked fighters in the four fights on its slate, the prelims also consist of a pair of ranked fighters. What’s more is there’s a lot of prospects on the prelim slate, and a lot of bouts that are tough to predict. Some seem very predictable at first, but there’s good chances of upsets in every bout. It’s not the most loaded prelim slate by any means, but it is pretty solid and has lots of potential in terms of entertainment.
The most notable bouts on the slate might be Godofredo Pepey vs. Shane Burgos on the Fight Pass portion, which is a low key Fight of the Night candidate, and Ryan LaFlare vs. Alex Oliveira, which is a fringe ranked caliber Lightweight bout that could be very intriguing. There are various other interesting bouts slotted into prelim positions and without further ado, here are my predictions for tomorrow’s nine prelim bouts-five of which will air on Fight Pass, before the final four are broadcast on FOX.
Fight Pass prelims (4/3c, UFC Fight Pass)
Frankie Perez (10-3) vs. Chris Wade (11-3)
The opening contest is a rematch from a May 2014 Ring of Combat Lightweight title contest. On that night, Wade retained his title via split decision, and punched his ticket to the UFC. While Perez earned a UFC roster spot just nine months later, the loss was still his first ever to date. Tomorrow afternoon, he’ll get a chance to avenge that fight.
Perez came into the UFC with a 9-1 record, with the lone loss being that split decision loss to Wade, but is just 1-2 in the UFC. He’s won five fights via submission and has a pair of knockout wins too, so he is a finisher. As for Wade, the former NCAA Division III wrestler came into the UFC with a 7-1 record, before winning his first four UFC bouts, including two via first round submission. He’s lost two straight since though, falling first against Sambo specialist Rustam Khabilov, and then against another Sambo specialist in Islam Makhachev.
While Perez isn’t a Sambo star, he is still pretty solid, and is looking for vengeance. That said, I think Wade is a UFC worthy fighter who can make waves when not facing Sambo guys. He’s never been finished, which is also something to take into account. I think Wade will utilize his wrestling and range to get an advantage, and will defeat Perez yet again via decision. Prediction: Wade via decision.
Shane Burgos (9-0) vs. Godofredo Pepey (13-4)
Up next is the prelim bout I’m most excited for. Pepey was a Featherweight finalist on the first ever Brazilian TUF season, but lost to Rony Jason in the Finale in June 2012. While he won a split decision against Milton Vieira in his next bout, he suffered a pair of first round tko losses in his next two bouts. All of a sudden, the man who had entered the UFC with an 8-0 record with all eight wins coming via finish, including seven in the first round, was 1-3 and on the verge of being cut. Most people in his position probably would have been cut. Luckily for him, he got one more chance.
Not only did the black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Thai Boxing deliver a first round flying knee knockout win, he followed up with a pair of first round submission wins afterwards. The man who had lost three of his first four UFC bouts had suddenly won three straight via epic first round finishes, and secured performance bonuses for each of those three wins! While he lost a decision to Darren Elkins in his next fight, Pepey submitted Mike De La Torre in the first round of his last fight in September 2016. While Pepey was initially scheduled to return in March, injury postponed his return to tomorrow. Nonetheless, it’s always fun to watch Pepey fight, and tomorrow’s bout should be one to tune in to for sure.
As fun and wild as Pepey is, Burgos is a serious threat to climb up the division’s ranks in the near future. Unbeaten with eight finishes, Burgos is 2-0 in the UFC and could be ranked by year’s end at the pace that he’s going. He can take some risks defensively, and that could result in a loss here. However, Pepey is even riskier! That makes for a potential barnburner. The smarter pick is Burgos, but I can’t pick against Pepey most of the time. This is a head vs. heart situation for sure. Head pick: Burgos via second round tko. Heart pick: Pepey via electrifying flying knee or submission.
Timothy Johnson (11-3) vs. Junior Albini (13-2)
Up next is a Heavyweight bout that, honestly, I’m not excited about. As fun as Johnson’s personality is, and as cool as his mustache might be, his fights are an absolute eyesore to sit through. The NCAA Division II wrestler came into the UFC with every fight ending via finish, and won his promotional debut via first round tko with three seconds to go in the stanza back in April 2015. In his four fights since, he’s gone the distance every time, winning twice and losing twice. He either clinches against opponents at the fence, or grinds on them on the ground. Pretty much nothing else happens. In a division that’s expected to feature slugfests, Johnson does the exact opposite.
Albini, who’s making his UFC debut, has finished 11 of his 13 victories. Of those 11 finishes, six came via submission, five came via knockout, and ten of the finishes came in the opening round. His last loss came in August 2012, and he’s won nine straight since. I’d love to see him get a finish in his UFC debut, I really would. Sadly, I think Johnson will do what he always does, grinding his way to a snoozefest of a win. Prediction: Johnson via grinding decision.
Brian Kelleher (17-7) vs. Marlon Vera (9-3-1)
Bantamweights are up next, as Marlon Vera takes on Brian Kelleher. Vera is coming off a third round tko win over Brad Pickett in Pickett’s final bout back in March, and has won three of four since dropping his UFC debut against Marco Beltran. It was his second performance bonus in three wins inside the octagon, and the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt now has seven finishes in nine wins.
As for Kelleher, the Selden, New York native has won seven straight bouts, including his short notice UFC debut against another submission specialist in Iuri Alcantara last month. After getting in trouble early, Kelleher pulled off a submission less than two minutes into the fight, shocking the masses. He’s won eight fights via submission as well as six via knockout, and is someone to look out for. I can see it going either way, and a finish for either man wouldn’t be shocking at all. In the end, since Kelleher is more well-rounded than Vera and will likely keep it from going to the ground, I see the fight going the distance, with Kelleher getting the nod. Prediction: Kelleher via decision.
Kyle Bochniak (7-1) vs. Jeremy Kennedy (10-0)
The final Fight Pass bout of the card features a pair of Featherweight prospects. Bochniak came into the UFC with a 6-0 record before losing a decision to Charles Rosa in his UFC debut. While he did win a decision in his next bout against Enrique Barzola, it was a split decision almost 11 months ago, in a bout many felt Bochniak had lost. If he loses this bout, he could theoretically be 0-3 inside the octagon.
As for Kennedy, the Canadian won his pro debut via decision, before finishing his next five bouts. Since then, he’s gone the distance in all four of his latest bouts, including his two UFC fights. Kennedy is a very aggressive and powerful wrestler, so if he can take Bochniak down, he’ll get the win for sure. If he can’t the fight might become a tossup. I believe Kennedy is powerful enough to take Bochniak down, and will win another decision as a result. Prediction: Kennedy via decision.
Televised prelims (6/5c, FOX)
Damian Grabowski (20-4) vs. Chase Sherman (10-3)
Grabowski is a former M-1 Heavyweight champion who had never been knocked out before coming to the UFC, but has been knocked out in the first round of both of his UFC bouts. Meanwhile, 12 of Sherman’s 13 career bouts have ended via knockout. If Grabowski can take him down, he might be able to secure his 12th career submission win. If he can’t, then someone’s getting knocked out, and I think Sherman will be the one to land the killshot first. Prediction: Sherman via tko, round 1.
(14) Ryan LaFlare (13-1) vs. Alex Oliveira (17-3-1, 2 NC)
Up next is a Welterweight bout in what is undoubtedly the most notable bout on the televised prelim slate. LaFlare is 6-1 in the UFC, and his only loss came against Demian Maia. He’s a grinder who had finished all of his fights before coming to the UFC, but has gone the distance in every fight since coming to the UFC. Meanwhile, Oliveira is 6-2 with a no contest in the UFC, having fought four times apiece in the UFC in both 2015 and 2016. His only losses with the promotion came via submission, first against Gilbert Burns in his UFC debut, and most recently against Donald Cerrone in February 2016. He’s finished 14 of his 17 wins including ten via knockout, and has never been knocked out himself. This bout is a tossup, since neither fighter has never gotten knocked out, both have good gas tanks, and will likely try to grind their way to victory. LaFlare is the better ground guy, so I’ll lean his way here. It should be a very interesting fight. Prediction: LaFlare via decision.
Rafael Natal (21-8-1) vs. Eryk Anders (7-0)
It’s hard to believe that Rafael Natal has been in the UFC for nearly seven years. He’s 9-6-1 with the promotion, but has lost two straight. He’s a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but seven of his last ten have gone the distance, and his only submission win since 2009 came in early 2013. He’s also lost two straight, and a loss here could result in his release. Initially, he was supposed to face Alessio di Chirico, but will now take on LFA Middleweight champion Eryk Anders on short notice.
Anders is a former Alabama linebacker who had the game of his life in the 2009 BCS National Championship Game. After being a journeyman for a bit following college, Anders decided to pursue MMA. He made his pro debut in August 2015, and went 5-0 before making his LFA debut in March of this year. He won that fight via first round tko, before becoming the inaugural LFA Middleweight Champion last month. Now, he’s making his UFC debut on just a few week’s notice. He’s unbeaten with five finishes to his credit, including four in the first round. He likes to take folks to the ground, but that won’t be wise against a black belt like Natal. Honestly, Natal should win this one. However, it’s fair to wonder how much the 30-fight veteran has left in the tank. My head says Natal takes it, but my gut and heart beg to differ. It’ll be interesting to see how things pan out. Head pick: Natal via decision. Heart/gut pick: Anders via tko.
Lyman Good (19-3, 1 NC) vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos (16-5)
In the headlining prelim bout, Harlem’s Lyman Good will return to the octagon for the first time in two years. The former Bellator title challenger went 8-3 with the promotion, before leaving the company to compete on TUF. He lost his entry fight, and went to CFFC thereafter. He went 3-0 with a no contest there, winning the promotion’s interim and then unified Welterweight title before making his UFC debut in July 2015. He knocked out Andrew Craig in that fight and was scheduled to have his next fight that December, but had to pull out. He was then scheduled to fight at UFC 205, but failed an out-of-competition test and was suspended six months. Now he’s finally back, and hoping to show that he’s not rusty after a couple years away.
Standing in Good’s way of a successful homecoming is Brazilian knockout artist Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos. The former Jungle Fight Welterweight champion has won six of his last seven, with his lone loss in that span coming in his UFC debut against Nicholas Dalby via split decision. He’s 2-1 in the UFC, and has knocked out 12 of his 16 victims. He also has a good gas tank just like Good, which needs to be noted, and has never been knocked out. Honestly, him winning this fight shouldn’t shock anybody. I’m still inclined to pick Good, but a finish for Zaleski won’t surprise me one bit. Prediction: Good via decision.