Two Strikeforce veterans meet again in decidedly different circumstances this Saturday (Jan. 27, 2018) when “Jacare” Ronaldo Souza throws down with the resurgent Derek Brunson at UFC on FOX 27, which takes place inside Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The FOX Sports-televised card also sees Dennis Bermudez face Andre Fili in a clash of fighters on the rebound and one of the best prospects in the game, Gregor Gillespie, throw down with the durable Jordan Rinaldi.
In addition to the six FOX Sports 1 “Prelims,” this article will also include the second Fight Pass undercard bout that was announced just yesterday (check out a preview here), further supporting my theory that UFC operates solely to make my life difficult.
Anyway, let’s begin:
155 lbs.: Erik Koch vs. Bobby Green
Denied a Featherweight title shot in 2012 because of injuries, Eric Koch (15-5) is just 2-4 since that layoff and has seen four fights fall apart due to further issues staying healthy. After missing two additional years of action, Koch submitted Shane Campbell, only to fall victim to Clay Guida’s patented smothering in Oklahoma City.
“New Breed” has submitted eight professional opponents.
Bobby Green (23-8-1) punched his way unto UFC prominence with four consecutive wins in the Octagon, most notably a split decision over Josh Thomson. He is winless since, however, dropping three straight before holding Lando Vannata to a split draw in Oct. 2017.
“King” will make just his fourth Octagon appearance since 2014.
The combined amount of unrealized potential here is mind-boggling. Koch looked like an absolute stud during his title run, stopping Raphael Assuncao with one punch, while Green held his own against some top-notch lightweights. Now they’re fighting for their UFC lives.
Koch is more exciting thanks to the fact that he actually bothers to punch jaws instead of just running his own, but I’ve got Green. Koch has consistently struggled with capable wrestlers and doesn’t have enough firepower to crack Green’s beard. In addition, Green is arguably the best opponent Koch has faced since 2013, while the inverse isn’t even remotely true. Boxing and takedowns keep Green afloat in UFC’s deepest division.
Prediction: Green via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Mirsad Bektic vs. Godofredo Pepey
Mirsad Bektic’s (11-1) path of destruction — hampered only by persistent injuries — had many labeling him a future champion in the 145-pound division. After four UFC victories and two rounds of rearranging Darren Elkins’ face, however, “The Damage” roared back to knockout Bektic in one of the greatest comebacks in recent memory.
Bektic is an inch taller than Godofredo Pepey (13-5), but will have a three-inch reach disadvantage.
Brazil’s Pepey bounced back from a 1-3 UFC start to earn three consecutive bonus-winning first-round stoppages, including a flying triangle of Andre Fili in Rio de Janeiro. He’s gone 1-2 since, a submission of Mike De La Torre sandwiched between decision losses to Darren Elkins and Shane Burgos.
Eleven of his 12 professional mixed martial arts (MMA) finishes have come in the first round.
By all rights, Bektic should utterly obliterate Pepey. He is by far the sharper, more powerful striker and — if he elects to take it to the mat — Pepey’s guard is nowhere near scary enough to save him from Bektic’s Earth-shattering ground-and-pound.
The real question is where Bektic’s mind is at. That was a rough, rough loss to Elkins and the psychological impact of being knocked out while miles ahead has me worried. Still, he’s young enough to rebound and so outclasses Pepey on paper that I’m comfortable picking him anyway. He comes out looking to make a statement, flattening the Brazilian early and pummeling him until the referee steps in.
Prediction: Bektic via first-round technical knockout
125 lbs.: Katlyn Chookagian vs. Mara Romero Borella
Following a perfect (7-0) amateur career, Katlyn Chookagian (9-1) defeated Isabelly Varella for the CFFC Flyweight title before knocking out Stephanie Bragayrac in her sole defense. Her UFC run has seen her go 2-1 as a Bantamweight, falling to Liz Carmouche, but edging Lauren Murphy and Irene Aldana.
She stands three inches taller than Mara Romero Borella (12-4) at 5’9.”
Undaunted by three consecutive (technical) knockout losses, Romero Borella put together a six-fight unbeaten streak, including a decision over UFC veteran Milana Dudieva in her sole Invicta appearance. Three months after that last victory, she overcame short notice to submit Kalindra Faria in her Octagon debut, needing just 2:54 to do so.
She has stopped four opponents via armbar.
Romero Borella is clearly a major threat on the ground, but it remains to be seen how well she can consistently implement her trips. Chookagian has proven that she can physically hold her own against Bantamweights and mixes up her striking and grappling well enough that the Italian should struggle to bring her down, leaving her at the mercy of Chookagian’s combination striking.
Stopping Faria is legitimately impressive and it’s entirely possible that I’m not giving Romero Borella enough credit, but Chookagian’s superior stand up and proven takedown defense have me leaning her way. Leg kicks and boxing earn Chookagian the judges’ favor.
Prediction: Chookagian via unanimous decision
115 lbs.: Randa Markos vs. Juliana Lima
Though ranked No. 14 at the start of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20, Randa Markos (7-5) upset Tecia Torres and Felice Herrig before running afoul of Rose Namajunas in the semifinals. She’s alternated losses and wins in UFC proper, going 3-4 overall but giving top prospect Alexa Grasso everything she could handle in Aug. 2016.
She will give up two inches of reach to Juliana Lima (9-4).
Lima — who welcomed Joanna Jedrzejczyk to UFC back in 2014 — rebounded from that loss with wins in three of her next four bouts, the sole loss coming to Carla Esparza at UFC 197. This set up a fight with late replacement Tecia Torres, who handed “Ju Thai” the first submission loss of her career.
She owns two wins by (technical) knockout, though none since 2013.
For being ostensibly a Muay Thai specialist, Lima has relied almost entirely on her wrestling during her UFC tenure, being remarkably ineffective when she can’t impose her takedowns. Unfortunately for her, Markos can keep up with her in that department and packs a thudding right hand with which to control the striking.
The X-factor here is Markos’ propensity for lapses in fight IQ, but Lima is straightforward enough that the path to victory should be clear. Markos sprawls-and-brawls, possibly giving up a takedown or two, but keeping that alternating record intact over the course of 15 minutes.
Prediction: Markos via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Justine Kish vs. Ji Yeon Kim
Injury ended Justine Kish’s (6-1) TUF 20 run before it could begin, but she got off to a strong start in UFC proper with wins over Nina Ansaroff and Ashley Yoder. She wasn’t as lucky against Felice Herrig, who used superior grappling to overcome Kish’s sheer strength and take home a unanimous decision.
She has submitted two of her seven professional MMA opponents.
Ji Yeaon Kim (6-1-2) — who went to draws with vastly more experienced opponents in her first two professional fights — rattled off six straight to earn a spot on UFC’s roster. She debuted last June against Lucie Pudilova, landing some solid blows on the striking specialist, but ultimately losing the decision.
This will mark her Flyweight debut.
Kish is by far the bigger name, but I’m honestly leaning toward Kim. Kish’s game is fairly empty outside of decent knees and monstrous physical strength, which should be less of a factor when she doesn’t have her customary size advantage. She’s plodding and easy to hit on the feet, where even the fairly rough Kim should be able to find the mark.
Kish’s one clear avenue of victory is grinding out Kim the way she did Ansaroff. She’s not a great wrestling technician, though, and will struggle to brute-force her way into top position the way she did at 115 pounds. Kim picks her off with power punches, racking up enough damage to overcome the time she spends with her back on the fence.
Prediction: Kim via split decision
155 lbs.: Vinc Pichel vs. Joaquim Silva
Vinc Pichel (10-1) made it all the way to the semifinals of TUF 15: “Live,” only to run into Al Iaquinta and, in his UFC debut, get suplexed into oblivion by Rustam Khabilov. Though he missed all of 2013, 2015 and 2016, he enters the cage on a three-fight win streak, most recently wiping out Damien Brown with one punch in Auckland.
All eight of his (technical) knockout finishes have come inside of two rounds.
Joaquim Silva (10-0) — representing “Team Shogun” — saw his TUF: “Brazil” 4 run come to an end in the semifinals courtesy of teammate Glaico Franca. He has enjoyed considerably more success in UFC proper, however, racking up three consecutive victories.
“Neto BJJ” has finished eight opponents in the first round, five of them via strikes.
Silva has been booked to fight Gregor Gillespie and Mairbek Taisumov during his UFC tenure. Both would have eaten his face. Pichel isn’t on their level, but his wrestling and punching power make this a rough match up for “Netto BJJ,” nonetheless.
So long as Pichel stays busy and doesn’t let Silva outland him the way he did Brown, he should be able to control from top position and keep Silva’s dangerous hands at bay with his height and reach advantages. Steady takedowns secure Pichel’s second win in almost four years.
Prediction: Pichel via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Austin Arnett vs. Cory Sandhagen (7-1)
Austin Arnett (15-3) was a little more pyrite than golden early in his career, starting off 2-2, but put together 13 consecutive wins to earn a spot on “Tuesday Night Contender Series.” Though he ultimately came up short, he put on one of the season’s best fights against Brandon Davis, slugging it out for 15 fun minutes.
He owns six wins each by knockout and submission.
Cory Sandhagen (7-1) won his first five MMA bouts, winning a regional title in the process, before suffering a career-first loss to Jamall Emmers in his LFA debut. The loss appears to have invigorated him, as he has since knocked out his last two opponents in a combined 4:07.
This will be his second fight in nine days.
If Sandhagen isn’t dead on his feet from fighting twice in less than two weeks, I see him taking this. He’s a fluid, dangerous striker with great instincts in his scrambling and takedown defense. While Arnett’s got a beard on him and some solid pop in his hands, his defense isn’t great and he ran out of steam against Davis when he couldn’t put him away early.
Arnett’s experience is an X-factor, but Sandhagen’s strength of schedule looks as good ... if not better. Sandhagen’s fluidity carries him to victory in an entertaining, competitive striking battle.
Prediction: Sandhagen via unanimous decision
The rematch between Jacare vs. Brunson is some tantalizing stuff, and there’s some solid match ups here and there to support it. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on FOX 27 card this weekend, starting with the 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 action kicks off at 8 p.m. ET.