Back to the climb.
Recently-deposed former UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion Holly Holm returns to the cage this Saturday evening, taking on Kyrgyzstan’s Valentina Shevchenko in the main event of UFC on FOX 20, live from Chicago’s United Center.
The co-main event sees Edson Barboza welcome Gilbert Melendez back to the Octagon after more than a year’s absence, while top prospect Francis Ngannou faces Serbia’s Bojan Mihajlovic.
An eight-fight "Prelims" suite complements the four-fight main card; here’s the first four streaming live on UFC Fight Pass at 4 p.m. ET, broken down for your analytic pleasure.
145 lbs.: Darren Elkins (20-5) vs. Godofredo Castro (12-3)
Now training at Team Alpha Male, Elkins has won two straight since a 2014 decision loss to Hacran Dias. He managed to out-grit Robert Whiteford last October, then dominated top-tier prospect Chas Skelly in March. He stands three inches taller than "Pepey" at 5’10".
Castro struggled out of the gate in his UFC career, going 1-3 in his first four appearances with that one win a controversial decision. He’s since rattled off three consecutive first-round finishes, including a stunning flying knee knockout of Noad Lahat and a flying triangle submission of Andre Fili. This will be his first fight in sixteen months.
This fight will go in one of two ways: either Elkins will grind "Pepey" into a fine paste or he’ll get caught in a submission early. In light of Elkins’ great performance against Skelly and the fact that he hasn’t been submitted in nearly six years, I’m leaning towards the former.
The Brazilian will always be a hit-and-miss fighter, dangerous but inconsistent. Elkins might have to work his way out of some tough positions early on, but he’ll establish his wrestling dominance before long. He batters "Pepey" for an authoritative decision win.
Prediction: Elkins by unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Jim Alers (13-2) vs. Jason Knight (14-2)
"The Beast" opened his UFC career with an entertaining split decision over Alan Omer, but soon saw his nine-fight winning streak go up in smoke at the hands of Chas Skelly. He last fought in December, where he was in the midst of a competitive scrap with Cole Miller when he caught "Magrinho" with a finger in the eye. He’s submitted nine professional opponents.
Last September, Knight upset top prospect Musa Khamanaev to extend his winning streak to eight. Three months later, he stepped into the UFC cage on short notice, fighting valiantly in a losing effort against Japanese veteran Tatsuya Kawajiri. He stands two inches taller than Knight at 5’11".
This could turn out to be a terrific fight; both men are aggressive, capable ground artists with quite a few finishes to their credit. It’ll likely boil down to positioning, which favors Alers’ strength and wrestling skills.
"The Beast’s" porous striking defense will likely relegate him to the middle of the division for the foreseeable future, but Knight isn’t the sort of striker to punish that deficiency. Though Knight’s submission skills are top-notch and Alers can’t match Kawajiri’s legendary top pressure, the Englishman is strong enough on the feet and from top position to control the fight. Alers wins a fun three-round battle.
Prediction: Alers by unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Kamaru Usman (7-1) vs. Alexander Yakovlev (23-6-1)
Usman’s two victories on The Ultimate Fighter 21 convinced the Blackzilians top it him against the surging Hayder Hassan on the Finale. He rewarded their confidence with a second-round submission, then overwhelmed Leon Edwards in his next appearance. He’s stopped six professional opponents, five via TKO.
Russia’s Yakovlev entered the UFC on the heels of a win over Paul Daley, but opened his ZUFFA career with consecutive losses to Demian Maia and Nico Musoke. He righted the ship with a decision over Gray Maynard in his lightweight debut, then returned to welterweight to brutally knock out George Sullivan in January. He’ll have a one-inch height advantage on fight night.
Yakovlev was originally set to face Ryan LaFlare and he’s every bit as screwed here. Usman is a physical monster whose wrestling credentials far outstrip Yakovlev’s, a true blue-chip prospect with all the tools to be elite. He should also be the superior striker, meaning Yakovelv’s going to need to find that one-punch magic again if he wants a chance at victory.
Considering the Sullivan finish was Yakovlev’s first since 2011, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
The Russian is durable enough to avoid a ground-and-pound stoppage, but it’s unlikely he accomplishes much beyond surviviing. Usman by domination.
Prediction: Usman by unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Michel Prazeres (19-2) vs. J.C. Cottrell (17-3)
"Trator" fell short against Paulo Thiago in his UFC debut before establishing himself as a real threat with decisions over Jesse Ronson and Mairbek Taisumov. Since then, he’s dropped a decision to Kevin Lee and rebounded with a controversial decision over Valmir Lazaro last November. He will give up four inches of height to the 5’10" Cottrell.
Cottrell last fought on June 24th, extending his winning streak to six with a decision over Cody Walker. Heedless of the quick turnaround, he stepped up on short notice to replace Tony Martin against Prazeres. He’s submitted eleven of his seventeen opponents.
I’m honestly rather disappointed that Martin had to withdraw; two physical marvels with awful cardio could have made for a morbidly-entertaining showdown. As-is, we’ll likely get a standard Prazeres fight in which he looks like a bulldozer from Hell for two rounds before desperately trying to survive the third.
Cottrell showed some decent wrestling in the Walker fight, but Prazeres’ strength and wrestling are something you need more than a few good regional wins and one month’s preparation to deal with. Prazeres banks the early rounds for another decision victory.
Prediction: Prazeres by unanimous decision
The remaining four fights -- airing on FOX -- previewed tomorrow (see the full fight card here), including the debut of an undefeated heavyweight and a cracking welterweight bout between Alex Oliveira and James Moontasri. Same time as always, Maniacs.