Where the rising welterweight meets the falling champion.
Three consecutive losses have left former middleweight ruler Chris Weidman with his back against the wall and getting off won’t be easy. This Saturday night, “All American” takes on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) winner Kelvin Gastelum in the main event of UFC on FOX 25.
In the co-main event, Darren Elkins attempts to build on his stunning upset of Mirsad Bektic against Dennis Bermudez, while Patrick Cummins faces Gian Villante and Jimmie Rivera dukes it out with Thomas Almeida in a must-see bantamweight eliminator.
We’ve got nine “Prelims” bouts to complement the four-fight main card. Here’s a closer look at this weekend's Fight Pass lineup.
145 lbs.: Kyle Bochniak (7-1) vs. Jeremy Kennedy (10-0)
Bochniak stepped up on short notice to face Charles Rosa in Boston and, despite a strong start, ultimately lost a competitive unanimous decision to the local favorite. Seven months later, he returned to the cage to win a narrow split decision over Ultimate Fighter: Latin America 2 winner Enrique Barzola in Vancouver. This will be his first fight in almost eleven months.
24-year-old Kennedy first entered the Octagon in August of 2016, where he took a clinch-heavy decision over late replacement Alex Ricci. Returning to featherweight, he took on Ultimate Fighter: Brazil winner Rony “Jason” and used a quality takedown game to win a unanimous decision. He stands four inches taller than Bochniak at 5’11”.
Bochniak should be winless in the UFC. He’s aggressive and has decent power, but appears to have issues with the sort of grappling Kennedy brings to the table. He’s not a big enough hitter to end things on the feet, either, nor the footwork to keep his back off the cage.
In short, he just doesn’t have the tools to make “JBC” uncomfortable. Kennedy utilizes regular takedowns to earn his third UFC victory.
Prediction: Kennedy by unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Brian Kelleher (17-7) vs. Marlon Vera (11-3-1)
Despite a six-fight winning streak and a submission over the previously unbeaten Julio Arce on his résumé, Kelleher stepped into the Octagon last month as a +300 underdog against Iuri Alcântara. He defied the odds with a stunning first-round guillotine, earning Performance of the Night and becoming the first man to stop “Marajó” since 2009. He will give up two inches of height and four inches of reach to the 5’8” “Chito.”
Vera, an early favorite on the inaugural Ultimate Fighter: Latin America, was forced out due to a skin infection and lost a decision to Marco Antonio Beltran at UFC 180. He’s since won three of four, including bonus-winning victories over Roman Salazar (triangle choke) and Brad Pickett (head kick). He owns five pro wins by submission and another two by (T)KO.
Vera is still a collection of solid facets struggling to coalesce. The key to his ongoing issues is the wrestling defense; he’s good off his back, but nowhere near enough to threaten quality wrestlers. His height and length haven’t translated to an overpowering striking attack, either.
Kelleher has never been stopped by strikes and hasn’t been submitted in three years. Strong takedowns and stout submission defense carry him past Vera.
Prediction: Kelleher by unanimous decision
265 lbs.: Timothy Johnson (11-3) vs. Júnior Albini (13-2)
Johnson, who opened his UFC career with an impressive ground-and-pound stoppage of Shamil Abdurakhimov, has alternated wins and losses during his two-year Octagon tenure. His sole fight of 2017 saw him take on Polish striker Daniel Omielanczuk, whose stout takedown defense Johnson struggled to overcome on his way to a split decision victory. All nine of his stoppage wins have come inside of two rounds.
Albini put consecutive submission losses behind him to rattle off nine straight wins, seven of them by stoppage and five in the first round. Though he missed all of 2015, he earned and defended the Aspera FC heavyweight title during his three-fight 2016 campaign. This will be his first fight since last August.
I honestly don’t see the logic here. The UFC has in Albini a young, reasonably entertaining heavyweight prospect, which are worth their weight in gold these days. The first thing they decided to do with this untested acquisition is put him in a fight he’ll likely lose against a man notorious for unwatchable fights.
Beating Johnson requires either using good footwork to stay off the fence or a superior wrestling game to put him on his back. Albini, as far as I can tell, has neither. Unless he can somehow crack that mighty moustache with a right hand or one of the knees he’s fond of, expect Albini to spend most of the fight with his back on either the fence or the mat en route to his first decision loss.
Prediction: Johnson by unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Shane Burgos (9-0) vs. Godofredo Pepey (13-4)
“Hurricane” Shane stepped into his UFC debut with five first-round finishes under his belt, but had to settle for a decision against Tiago dos Santos in his debut slugfest. Undaunted, he returned to his finishing ways in a Fight of the Night-winning brawl against Charles Rosa at UFC 210, the fourth knockout and eighth overall stoppage of his professional career. He will have four inches of height and two inches of reach on Pepey.
Despite a loss to Rony “Jason” in the finals of the inaugural Ultimate Fighter: Brazil, Pepey has carved out a place for himself as one of the featherweight division’s most entertaining submission artists. He currently finds himself on a 4-1 run that includes three “Performance of the Night” awards, one of them a flying knee knockout of Noad Lahat in 2014. He has submitted nine opponents, one via strikes, and knocked out another three.
Generally speaking, Pepey either wins big or loses big. There have been maybe two exceptions since his debut loss to “Jason.” This won’t be the third, but Pepey might wish it was.
Burgos’ power, physical strength, and takedown defense make him a nightmare matchup for Pepey, whose takedowns have always been iffy and whose freeform striking leaves him open to the bone-crunching counters Burgos is so fond of.
The Brazilian is always good for an out-of-nowhere submission, but Burgos won’t give him time to find one. “Hurricane” storms through him in under a round.
Prediction: Burgos by first-round knockout
155 lbs.: Frankie Perez (10-3) vs. Chris Wade (11-3)
Perez, a protégé of grappling great Ricardo Almeida, scored a bonus-winning knockout of Sam Stout before announcing his retirement from the sport. He just couldn’t stay away, however, and returned fifteen months later to lose a decision to Marc Diakiese in Albany. This will be his second fight with Wade, who defeated Perez by split decision in 2014.
Wade joined the world’s largest fighting organization with the Ring of Combat lightweight title around his waist and promptly rattled off four consecutive victories. He currently finds himself on a two-fight losing streak, having fallen to Dagestani wrestling masters Rustam Khabilov and Islam Makhachev in 2016. He will give up an inch of height and three inches of reach to Perez.
Even considering Wade’s recent struggles, I’m leaning his way. Khabilov and Makhachev were always going to be tough style matchups and Perez, though adept on the ground, is nowhere near that caliber of takedown artist. Even if Perez does manage to get the better of him on the feet, it won’t matter much when Wade can drag him down as needed.
Wade may never get past the bruising wrestlers lurking in the lightweight division’s Top 15, but Perez is the sort of fighter against whom he can keep the gate. Wade controls the striking and grappling on his way to a decision win.
Prediction: Wade by unanimous decision
Five fights previewed tomorrow, including the return of a former Bellator MMA titleholder and the debut of a Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA) champ.
See you then!