Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women's Bantamweight champion, Amanda Nunes, will discover her next challenger this Saturday evening (Jan. 28, 2017) as kickboxing standout Valentina Shevchenko takes on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 18 winner, Julianna Pena, in UFC on FOX 23's main event inside Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado.
The co-featured fight of the night pits Donald Cerrone against Jorge Masvidal in a fantastic Welterweight striking match up, while Andrei Arlovski vs. Francis Ngannou and Alex Caceres vs. Jason Knight round out FOX's main card. Before that, however, we've got eight "Prelims" undercard matches to preview and predict, four each on Fight Pass and FOX Sports 1.
185 lbs.: Alessio Di Chirico vs. Eric Spicely
The first Italian to step foot in the Octagon since Alessio Sakara’s exit, Alessio Di Chirico (10-1) saw his unbeaten record slip away against Bojan Velickovic in his Octagon debut. Undaunted, he returned to the cage in Aug. 2016 to take a split decision over Garreth McLellan.
At 6’0," he is two inches shorter than Eric Spicely (9-1).
Team Claudia Gadelha’s second Light Heavyweight pick on TUF 23, Spicely reached the semifinals before running afoul of teammate and eventual winner, Andrew Sanchez. He fell to a Sam Alvey guillotine in his promotional debut, but managed to submit Thiago Santos at a 4.5:1 underdog.
He owns five wins via submission and two via technical knockout.
Both fighters defied my expectations in their last fights, though in decidedly different ways. I expected Di Chirico to dominate McLellan and Spicely to get knocked silly by Santos. After those performances, I’ve got Spicely. Whatever issues Spicely has, he’s a damn good grappler and Di Chirico wound up on his back far too often against "Soldier Boy." Unless Di Chirico can lay hands on him early, expect TUF vet to earn another early finish.
Prediction: Spicely via first-round submission
205 lbs.: Marcos Rogerio de Lima vs. Jeremy Kimball
After falling short in Strikeforce and on TUF: "Brazil," Marcos Rogerio de Lima (14-4-1) joined UFC proper in 2014 and has gone 3-2 with three first-round finishes. Most recently, "Pezao" took on top Russian prospect Gadzhimurad Antigulov and tapped to a guillotine 67 seconds in.
At 6’2", he is three inches taller than Jeremy Kimball (14-5).
Kimball split his two Bellator bouts, knocking out Keith Berry before tapping to a Perry Filkins guillotine. After falling to Chris Camozzi, he rattled off four consecutive wins, including a knockout of Maro Perak for a regional title.
He replaces the injured John Phillips on a week’s notice.
I’ve given up hope that "Pezao" will ever have the defensive grappling to challenge the division elite, but he ought to win big here. Kimball is not a Light Heavyweight -- he weighed in at 201.8 pounds in June 2016 and carries a lot of unnecessary fat. Further, he seems to be undisciplined, missing weight by four pounds in Jan. 2016 while looking extremely soft. He still moves well, but not well enough to overcome this kind of size and strength discrepancy.
"Pezao’s" monster power carries him to a first-round victory.
Prediction: Rogerio de Lima via first-round technical knockout
125 lbs.: Eric Shelton vs. Alexandre Pantoja
Ranked No. 15 and carrying the Caged Aggression Flyweight title, Eric Shelton (10-2) upset Yoni Sherbatov and Ronaldo Cadido on his way to TUF 24's semifinals. There, he faced Tim Elliott and lost a controversial decision to the eventual tournament winner.
Six of his 10 wins have come by submission.
With a nine-fight win streak, including a submission over castmate Damacio Page, Alexandre Pantoja (16-2) earned the No. 1 rank and became TUF 24 coach Henry Cejudo’s first pick. His grappling carried him all the way to the semis, where he fell to the show's No. 5-ranked Hiromasa Ogikubo by decision.
He owns six wins apiece by knockout and submission.
Both fighters looked great on the show, but looking outside reveals a massive discrepancy in high-level experience. Pantoja is far more proven on the world stage, taking on men who -- at least at the time -- were among the best outside UFC. He’s also fighting out of the stronger camp in Nova Uniao and, at least based on what I’ve seen, should have at least a slight edge wherever the fight goes.
Shelton has an extremely high ceiling and Pantoja’s struggles with Ogikubo’s top control have me concerned, but the Brazilian just seems like the stronger overall fighter at this point. Effectvie kicks and well-timed takedowns carry him to victory.
Prediction: Pantoja via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Jason Gonzalez vs. J.C. Cottrell
Jason Gonzalez (10-3) joined Team Urijah Faber on TUF 22, knocking out Tim Welch in the elimination round before dropping a decision to Abner Lloveras. After a win outside UFC, he made his promotional debut on short notice at UFC 203, suffering a first-round knockout at the hands of Drew Dober.
He owns six wins by submission and four by knockout.
J.C. Cottrell (17-4) brought a six-fight win streak into his own Octagon debut, which pitted him against experienced grinder Michel Prazeres. "Superstar" struggled with his foe’s wrestling and ultimately lost for just the second time since 2010.
He will give up five inches of height to the 6’2" Gonzalez.
The stylistic match up seems to favor Cottrell in this bout. In addition to having experience going 15 minutes, his wrestling is generally effective when not fighting tanks like Prazeres. Gonzalez’s takedown defense is generally underwhelming and I’m not convinced he can maintain his customary pace in a grinding battle. The jury’s out on Cottrell’s ceiling, but it looks quite a bit higher than Gonzalez’s. Regular takedowns earn him the decision.
Prediction: Cottrell via unanimous decision
Four more UFC on FOX 23 "Prelims" fights remain to preview and predict, including a clash of Top 10-ranked Bantamweight contenders. Same time as always tomorrow, Maniacs!
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on FOX 23 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. ET, and then the remaining under card balance on FOX Sports 1 at 5 p.m. ET, before the FOX main card start time at 8 p.m. ET.