There is an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) title shot on the line this Saturday (Jan. 28, 2017) when top-ranked women's Bantamweight contenders Valentina Shevchenko (No. 1) takes on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 18 winner Julianna Pena (No. 2) for a future crack at reigning 135-pound champion, Amanda Nunes.
The four-fight UFC on FOX 23 main card will also feature Donald Cerrone locking horns with Jorge Masvidal, Francis Ngannou attempting to continue his Heavyweight rise at Andrei Arlovski's expense, and Alex Caceres facing Jason Knight in a clash of submission stylists.
We've got a six-fight FOX Sports 1 "Prelims" undercard line up to set the stage beforehand (check out the Fight Pass portion here), though, so let's get to it:
*Note: Two of the undercard matches that will broadcast on FOX Sports 1 -- Marcos Rogerio de Lima vs. Jeremy Kimball and Alessio Di Chirico vs. Eric Spicely -- were previewed yesterday right here.
185 lbs.: Sam Alvey vs. Nate Marquardt
Sam Alvey (29-8) -- whose three consecutive first-round knockouts left him poised for a crack at the division elites -- hit a stumbling block with losses to Derek Brunson and Elias Theodorou. He has since rebounded with another three wins, including a decision over fellow slugger Alex Nicholson in Nov. 2016.
Eighteen of his professional mixed martial arts (MMA) wins, including eight of his last 11, have come by knockout.
With six losses in his previous eight fights, including four by knockout, Nate Marquardt (35-16-2) entered his Oct. 2016 battle with Tamdan McCrory as the underdog. The nearly 18-year veteran managed to briefly turn back the clock with an impressive head kick knockout that earned him his third UFC post-fight bonus.
"Nate the Great" is two inches shorter than the 6’2" Alvey.
Alvey may have technical holes you could drive a truck through, but ferocious power and a chin that could shrug off said truck may be all he needs against the current Marquardt. "The Great" simply can’t withstand the sort of punishment his aggressive style demands he take anymore. I expect Marquardt to look great early, bouncing a wide array of strikes off Alvey’s iron dome. Eventually, though, Alvey’s going to land the one punch he needs to turn things all the way around.
Prediction: Alvey via first-round knockout
135 lbs.: Raphael Assuncao vs. Aljamain Sterling
From 2011 to 2014, Raphael Assuncao (23-5) put together a seven-fight win streak that put him on the verge of a title shot. A slew of injuries led to a 21-month layoff, after which he lost a decision to former foe T.J. Dillashaw at UFC 200.
He owns 10 wins by submission and another three by knockout.
Submissions of Takeya Mizugaki and Johnny Eduardo -- the former of which earned him "Performance of the Night" -- put Aljamain Sterling (12-1) in the division’s Top 5. He couldn’t quite complete the run, suffering an upset decision loss to Bryan Caraway in May 2016.
"The Funkmaster" stands an inch taller than Assuncao and has submitted six professional opponents.
My biggest takeaway from Sterling’s loss to Caraway was how ineffective and awkward "The Funkmaster" was on the feet. When the takedown wasn’t there, he looked like he barely knew what a punch was. Unfortunately for him, the takedown likely won’t be there against Assuncao, who easily outwrestled Caraway and held his own in the grappling with Dillashaw. The style match up is just all wrong for Sterling, who is sorely outgunned on the feet and at least matched on the mat. Assuncao chews him up on the feet for a dominant decision win.
Prediction: Assuncao via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Jingliang Li vs. Bobby Nash
China’s Jingliang Li (11-4) has alternated wins and losses in UFC since joining in 2014 with a decision over David Michaud. "Leech" last fought in Sept. 2015, earning a first-round knockout of Anton Zafir, and was subsequently flagged and exonerated by United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
He owns four wins via guillotine.
Since losing a decision in his third professional fight, Bobby Nash (8-1) has stopped all but one opponent, all within two rounds. Most recently, he flattened World Series of Fighting (WSOF) and UFC veteran Lewis Gonzalez to earn a "Knockout of the Night" bonus.
He replaces the injured Yancy Medeiros on short notice.
Nash looks like a pretty solid prospect from what I’ve seen -- he’s got sharp, powerful hands with some deceptive speed behind them. He has, however, had mixed success stopping takedowns, which is a serious red flag against a powerhouse like Li. If Nash can’t get the early finish, things are going to shift rapidly out of his favor. Li’s punching power and sheer strength can drain a man, especially one with less than a month to prepare. Li uses steady takedowns and ground-and-pound to take an increasingly dominant decision.
Prediction: Li via unanimous decision
205 lbs.: Luis Henrique da Silva vs. Jordan Johnson
The grit of Luis Henrique da Silva (12-1) carried him to victory in his first two UFC appearances, which saw him come back from knockdowns to pound out Jonathan Wilson and submit Joachim Christensen. In his fourth fight of 2016, "Frankenstein" took on Scottish prospect Paul Craig and fell victim to "The Bearjew’s" submission prowess early in the second.
Eleven of his 12 wins have come by form of knockout.
Jordan Johnson (6-0) thrashed his first four opponents with ease, stopping all of them inside the first round and three of them within 62 seconds. He then proved his cardio with a third-round submission of Shaun Asher and five-round decision over Lemarcus Tucker, the latter of which earned him the RFA Light Heavyweight title.
"Big Swingin’" Johnson (yes, really) is three inches shorter than the 6’1" Henrique.
Despite the nickname that so tickled Mike Schiavello, Johnson is primarily a grappler, using a bevy of solid trips to compensate for wooden striking. da Silva’s issues with Paul Craig have me a bit concerned, but the experience gap and the Brazilian’s striking edge have me leaning in his favor.
Johnson’s head doesn’t move when he punches and he lacks the acumen to blend his takedown attempts with his striking. Assuming he shows the grappling prowess he did against Christensen, expect Silva to sprawl-and-brawl his way to an early finish.
Prediction: Henrique da Silva via first-round technical knockout
UFC on FOX 23 features a title eliminator, some solid prospects and good match ups all around. Not bad for a free show! See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Remember, too, that MAmania.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 4 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.