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UFC on FOX 23 predictions, preview, and analysis

MMA: UFC 200-Zingano vs Pena Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to the hurt business tomorrow night (Sat., Jan. 28, 2017) for the UFC on FOX 23 mixed martial arts (MMA) event, taking place inside Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado.

Headlining the network telecast is the five-round showdown between Valentina Shevchenko and Julianna Pena, a pair of top-five bantamweights battling for the right to face division champion Amanda Nunes later this year.

In the UFC on FOX 23 co-main event, Donald Cerrone continues his assault on the 170-pound division when he tangles with longtime combat sports veteran Jorge Masvidal. Prior to their welterweight scrap, Andrei Arlovski and Francis Ngannou collide in heavyweight action.

Prior to the “Shevchenko vs. Pena” main card, the promotion will host a handful of preliminary fights on FOX Sports 1. To get a closer look at those bouts, courtesy of “Prelims” professor Patrick Stumberg, click here and here. Latest odds and betting lines for UFC on FOX 23 can be located here.

With that out of the way, let's take a closer look at the main card line up.

135 lbs.: Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko (13-2) vs. Julianna “Venezuelan Vixen” Pena (8-2)

Nostradumbass predicts: Julianna Pena doesn’t get recognized as one of the elite women’s bantamweights, which is a shame, because she’s done exactly what she needed to do to earn her spot in the UFC on FOX main event.

You can even argue for a title shot.

“The Venezuelan Vixen” ran through The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 18 — pissing off Ronda Rousey in the process — then captured four straight wins inside the Octagon, including last summer’s upset over Cat Zingano.

Two finishes, a TUF crown, a win over a former No. 1 contender, perfect record in UFC ... what more does she have to prove?

A win over Valentina Shevchenko, according to UFC matchmakers. “Bullet” has a less impressive resume, compiling a 2-1 record inside the Octagon with zero finishes. She hasn’t stopped a fight since her days of can crushing on the International circuit.

Her loss to Amanda Nunes rough one year ago was telling, at least in terms of this match up.

Shevchenko earned a signature win by outstriking Holly Holm, but it also helped that “Preacher’s Daughter” — a counterpuncher — struggled to make the necessary adjustments when she was unable to impose her will.

This boils down to cardio.

Pena has a tough chin and a relentless pace, and I don’t think Shevchenko will be able to land the knockout punch before the “Vixen” can get her down to the floor. From there, it’s going to be a ruthless mugging.

The only question is whether or not Pena can maintain that aggressive pace for all five rounds.

Final prediction: Pena def. Shevchenko by unanimous decision

170 lbs.: Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (32-7, 1 NC) vs Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal (31-11)

Nostradumbass predicts: I don’t know what the heck has gotten into Donald Cerrone after moving up to 170 pounds, but the former lightweight has been terrorizing the welterweight division over the past year, beating — and finishing — four tough opponents in his new weight class.

Then again, he was killing it at 155 pounds, too, and his record is 12-1 dating back to summer 2013.

“Cowboy” has a perfect blend of kickboxing and jiu-jitsu but he does his best work when he’s aggressive and controlling the tempo. A frustrated or rattled Cerrone has been known to come up lame.

His questionable win over Ben Henderson in Jan. 2015 comes to mind.

Fortunately he’ll get a fighter who will be more than willing to play his game. And why not? Jorge Masvidal is equally potent on the ground, as well as on the feet. Like his FOX counterpart, “Gamebred” is most dangerous when he’s steering the ship.

This will be a close fight.

With just three rounds to make something happen, the first frame could be the deciding factor. Masvidal is far more inconsistent — 3-3 since 2014 —and typically gets the finish only when it’s presented on a silver platter, whereas Cerrone is a little more bloodthirsty.

All things being equal, it’s hard to bet against a fighter with as much momentum as “Cowboy.”

Final prediction: Cerrone def. Masvidal by unanimous decision

265 lbs.: Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski (25-13, 1 NC) vs. Francis Ngannou (9-1)

Nostradumbass predicts: Andrei Arlovski is ranked three spots ahead of Francis Ngannou in the official UFC heavyweight rankings, and yet he enters this 265-pound showdown a -350 underdog. How, or why, that line has sent the Frenchman to a bloated -450 favorite is a bit puzzling.

As tough as he is, Ngannou has been recycling cans during his UFC tenure and while Arlovski becomes increasingly fragile with age, we cannot discount the breadth of his experience, nor his ability to land a solid punch with blistering speed.

In short, “The Pitbull” still has some bite.

That said, I’m still leaning toward Ngannou. His level of competition has been mediocre, at best, but he performed like you would expect someone elite to perform: four UFC fights, four violent finishes.

Arlovski, despite his mechanics, can’t seem to help himself when the fists start to fly. It’s usually only a matter of time before he barters discipline for action, which means phone booth fighting and punches in bunches.

“The Pitbull” will test the Parisian’s chin, but is likely to have his tested as well. After losing nine fights by way of knockout/technical knockout, coupled with the Belarusian’s 37 years of age, I have to go with the sure thing.

Final prediction: Ngannou def. Arlovski by knockout

145 lbs.: Alex “Bruce Leeroy” Caceres (12-9, 1 NC) vs. Jason “The Kid” Knight (15-2)

Nostradumbass predicts: It’s hard to believe that Alex Caceres, a slick and creative striker, already has 15 fights inside the Octagon since graduating The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 12 back in 2010. The model of inconsistency, “Bruce Leeroy” looks like a world beater in one fight, then comes up lame in another.

That explains his nine losses.

He looked competitive in his most recent outing, a losing effort to featherweight wunderkind Yair Rodriguez. But we also need to recognize that “Pantera” was playing to his opponent’s strengths, so it devolved into a glorified sparring match.

That’s what makes this bout so compelling.

Jason Knight came up as a grappler, which is why he only has two knockouts in 15 wins, but you can say that and not be embarrassed when you score an inverted triangle choke, shoulder choke, and gogoplata in consecutive fights.

What happened to that guy?

“The Kid” has yet to score a submission in three appearances for UFC and has just one across his past six fights. That’s probably a result of his penchant for striking because let him bang, bro or whatever it is the fans are calling it these days.

Standing and banging is fun, but not as much fun as winning. Caceres has faced much tougher competition, but he’s also been subbed a whopping five times in his career. That spells doom against a grappler as dangerous as Knight — assuming he stops aping the Diaz brothers and goes back to his bread and butter because he won’t outstrike “Bruce Leeroy.”

Final prediction: Knight def. Caceres by submission

There you have it. will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on FOX 23 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the UFC Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 5 p.m. ET, before the FOX main card start time at 8 p.m. ET.

For much more on this weekend’s big shebang click here.

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