Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) kicks off its 2018 campaign in St. Louis, Mo., this Sunday evening (Jan. 14, 2018) with a heaping dose of pure violence in FOX Sports 1’s main event.
Doo Ho Choi — a “Fight of the Year” recipient in 2016 — headlines UFC Fight Night 124 against veteran slugger Jeremy Stephens in what will almost certainly be must-see TV. One fight prior, hyper-dynamic knockout artists Uriah Hall and Vitor Belfort will duke it out in a Middleweight showdown.
UFC Fight Night 124’s main card will also see the return of Paige VanZant against Jessica Rose-Clark and Kamaru Usman taking on Emil Meek.
We’ve a hefty nine “Prelims” undercard bouts to preview and predict this time around. So let’s first check out the five matches that are set to grace Fight Pass this weekend:
125 lbs.: Kalindra Faria vs. Jessica Eye
Kalindra Faria (18-6-1) put losses to Jessica Aguilar and Karolina Kowalkiewicz behind her with three consecutive wins, including a rubber match victory over Carina Damm for the Titan FC Bantamweight title. This earned her a spot in UFC, where she suffered an upset submission loss to late replacement Mara Romero Borella in her Octagon debut.
She owns seven professional wins by form of knockout and another five via submission.
The good news for Jessica Eye (11-6) is that she’s finally in her proper division. The bad news is that “Evil” re-enters it on a four-fight losing streak, although she deserved the win over Bethe Correia last time out.
She has not fought since Sept. 2016 due to both Aspen Ladd and Paige VanZant pulling out of planned bouts.
I feel like I say this every time I predict one of her fights, but Eye is legitimately better than her 1-5 UFC record would suggest. The decisions against Alexis Davis and Bethe Correia could have easily gone her way and the three women she lost clearly to were Miesha Tate, Sara McMann and Julianna Pena, all powerhouse grapplers and considerably larger than Eye.
At 125 pounds, she’ll do much better. Faria is a dangerous, powerful slugger, but Eye’s boxing is significantly sharper. She picks apart Faria to finally get back on track.
Prediction: Eye via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Talita Bernardo vs. Irene Aldana
Talita Bernardo (5-2) — riding a four-fight win streak — stepped up on less than a week’s notice to face Marion Reneau in Rotterdam last September. While she started strong, Reneau eventually overpowered her with ground-and-pound en route to a stoppage with just six seconds to go.
She is a full six inches shorter than Mexico’s Irene Aldana (7-4).
Aldana entered UFC with some hype following a pair of impressive knockouts in Invicta. She’s since struggled to regain that form, losing decisions to Leslie Smith and Katlyn Chookagian but earning “Fight of the Night” against the former.
She owns five professional wins by (technical) knockout and another two by submission.
I won’t deny that I’ve been disappointed with Aldana’s UFC run, but she’s still way too much for Bernardo. In addition to the massive height discrepancy, Bernardo looks like a complete novice on the feet, wholly unequipped to handle Aldana’s power and aggression.
She’s solid on the ground, of course, but her takedowns are inconsistent and Aldana shut down Chookagian’s wrestling in their fight. “Robles” sprawls-and-brawls to her first UFC victory.
Prediction: Aldana via second-round technical knockout
115 lbs.: Danielle Taylor vs. J.J. Aldrich
Danielle Taylor (9-2) won the King of the Cage Strawweight title twice before joining UFC, where she lost a snoozer to Maryna Moroz in her debut. She has since picked up controversial victories over Seo Hee Ham and Jessica Penne, which the majority of the mixed martial arts (MMA) media scored for her opponents.
She stands five inches shorter than J.J. Aldrich (5-2) at 5’0” and will give up seven inches of reach.
Aldrich impressed Joanna Jedrzejczyk enough to be her first pick on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 23, only to fall in a clash with Team Claudia top pick Tatiana Suarez. Things didn’t go much better in her UFC debut against Juliana Lima, but she did manage to defeat Chan Mi Jeon at UFC Fight Night 110.
Two of her five professional wins have come by form of knockout.
I firmly believe Taylor has not won a single fight in UFC. She deserved to lose against Ham and certainly did not get the better of Jessica Penne. She has zero urgency or volume — it’s like judges look at her build and decide that any strike she lands must be a fight-changer.
Unfortunately for her, Aldrich is a skilled and active striker who defused a decent slugger in Jeon last time out and will have an unreasonably amount of range on her. She picks apart Taylor at range so thoroughly that even Taylor’s hypnosis fails to win enough judges over.
Prediction: Aldrich via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Mads Burnell vs. Mike Santiago
Mads Burnell (8-2) — riding a three-fight win streak — stepped up on short notice to face the human bulldozer that is Michel Prazeres in Rotterdam. His submission defense held up for two rounds, but the Brazilian — who came in overweight — caught him in a north-south choke early in the third.
His five submission wins include two by Japanese necktie.
The good news for Mike Santiago (21-10) was that his knockout victory on Dana White’s “Tuesday Night Contender Series” earned him a spot in UFC. The bad news was that he had to welcome Zabit Magomedsharipov to the Octagon, suffering a submission loss in the process.
He has just one decision win since May 2011.
Burnell had basically the worst possible stylistic match up in his UFC debut. I expect him to do much better at his proper weight class against someone who isn’t as wide as Burnell is tall. Santiago is aggressive and well-rounded, but those 10 losses include eight by submission and Burnell has some nasty chokes.
The jury’s out on whether Burnell has the wrestling to be a real threat, but he’s fighting out of a decent camp and has lots of time to improve at age 23. Santiago’s onslaught opens him up to a takedown, after which Burnell locks up something unpleasant as they scramble.
Prediction: Burnell via first-round submission
135 lbs.: Kyung Ho Kang vs. Guido Cannetti
Kyung Ho Kang (13-7) got off to a shaky UFC start, losing close decisions to Alex Caceres and Chico Camus, before finally picking up a win over Shunichi Shimizu in Singapore. He went on to scrape past Michinori Tanaka in hostile territory, winning “Fight of the Night” in the process.
This will be his first fight in more than three years because of South Korea’s mandatory military service.
Guido Cannetti (7-2) got a second chance on TUF: “Latin America” when teammate Marlon Vera suffered a skin infection, only to get demolished by eventual winner Alejandro Perez in the semifinals. He has since split his UFC bouts, falling to Enrique Briones in his promotional debut before upsetting Hugo Viana his next time out.
He has not fought in more than two years because of a failed drug test.
Three years is a long-ass time, but not long enough to keep this from being a one-sided wipeout. Cannetti is a limited, chinny brawler who cannot match Kang’s size, wrestling ability or submission skills. Though Kang has had issues with maintaining position, Cannetti isn’t anywhere near the caliber of scrambler Caceres or Tanaka is and his wild rushes are perfect double-leg fodder.
The only question in this fight is whether Kang is too rusty to get the finish. I say no. He taps Cannetti in the first round.
Prediction: Kang via first-round submission
Four more UFC Fight Night 124 “Prelims” bouts to preview and predict, capped off by Michael Johnson’s Featherweight debut. Don’t miss it, Maniacs.
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 124 card this weekend, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET before the FOX Sports 1 main card action kicks off at 10 p.m. ET.