Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) ends the year this Saturday (Dec. 29, 2018) in the most fitting manner possible: a logistical nightmare made possible, once again, by Jon Jones. He’ll fight Alexander Gustafsson inside The Forum in Los Angeles, Calif., after an “abnormal” drug test scrapped their original planned site of Las Vegas, Nevada.
Elsewhere on UFC 232’s pay-per-view (PPV) main card, women’s Bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes returns to 145 pounds to challenge division queenpin, Cris Cyborg, and Carlos Condit welcomes Michael Chiesa to the Welterweight division.
This cluster-you-know-what has eight “Prelims” undercard matches ready to set the stage. Let’s look at the first four:
135 lbs.: Nathaniel Wood vs. Andre Ewell
Nathaniel Wood (14-3) lived up to his name with a series of impressive victories on the British circuit, winning and twice defending the Cage Warriors Bantamweight title before joining UFC in June. After a tough first round that saw him rocked by Nova Uniao veteran Johnny Eduardo, “The Prospect” capitalized on a failed takedown attempt to submit Eduardo with a bonus-winning d’arce choke.
He has scored nine professional knockouts and three submissions.
Andre Ewell, the CES Bantamweight champion, hopped right into the deep end in his UFC debut against former champion Renan Barao in Sao Paulo. He came up big in hostile territory, taking home a split decision over the one-time Bantamweight great.
He steps in for the injured Tom Duquesnoy on short notice.
Wood vs. Duquesnoy had the better storyline, but this is still a terrific match up between strong prospects. Though Wood has more time to develop, being five years younger, both are worth keeping tabs on as they rise through the ranks at 135 pounds.
In what’s a pick-‘em fight both on paper and the sportsbook, the X-factor could be dimensions. Ewell is six inches taller than Wood and has a seven-inch reach advantage. Wood’s key weakness is that he’s hittable, which had him in trouble against Eduardo until the latter foolishly attempted a takedown. Expect Ewell to outland him at distance, racking up left hands and surviving the heavy blows coming back his way to take a narrow decision.
Prediction: Ewell via split decision
185 lbs.: Uriah Hall vs. Bevon Lewis
Uriah Hall (13-9), who became the first man to knockout Gegard Mousasi in 2015, is just 1-4 since that victory, including three (technical) knockout losses. Following his comeback knockout of Krzysztof Jotko, which snapped a three-fight losing streak, “Primetime” took on the rising Paulo Costa, who battered him into submission midway through the second round.
He has knocked out nine professional foes and submitted another two.
Bevon Lewis (6-0) dispatched Elias Urbina on the first season of “Contender Series,” but didn’t earn a contract in the process. After a decision in LFA, “The Extraordinary Gentleman” returned for Season Two, knocking out Alton Cunningham in the first round.
He will have three inches of height on Hall.
Hall is genetically engineered to piss off mixed martial arts (MMA) pundits — he has the athleticism and power to pull out a win from the depths of defeat alongside the fight IQ to pull out a defeat from the depths of victory. I don’t even know why I bother predicting his fights.
Oh, right. Because they pay me.
Lewis is a young, well-rounded prospect out of an excellent camp in Jackson-Wink. He looks to be durable enough to withstand Hall’s sporadic power punches and force it into the clinch, where his height, knees and elbows should pay dividends. He exploit’s Hall’s legendarily terrible ring craft to pin him against the fence and put him away late in the first.
Prediction: Lewis via first-round technical knockout
170 lbs.: Curtis Millender vs. Siyar Bahadurzada
A pair of highlight-reel head kicks extended Curtis Millender’s (16-3) win streak to six and set up a February UFC debut against veteran Thiago Alves. “Curtious” wound up starching Alves with a knee in the second round, earning “Performance of the Night,” then outclassed Max Griffin five months later.
He is three inches taller than Siyar Bahadurzada (24-6-1) and will have a 3.5-inch reach advantage.
“The Great,” who missed all of 2014 and 2015, is undefeated (3-0) with three finishes since returning to action in March 2016. After choking out Brandon Thatch, he proceeded to knockout Rob Wilkinson and Luan Chagas, earning “Performance of the Night” for his starching of the latter.
Thirteen of his 20 stoppage wins have come by form of knockout.
I’ll readily admit that I consistently underestimate Bahadurzada. He looks like a mediocre slugger, consistently winging straight-armed punches with nary a jab to be found, but he’s so relentless and hits so hard that it often doesn’t matter. I’m still going to pick against him, though, because his lack of set ups mean he’ll struggle to close the distance against the rangy Millender. And the threat of his wrestling is likewise mitigated by range at which he’d have to initiate his takedowns.
The threat of the one-hitter quitter is there, but the likeliest outcome sees Millender patiently take apart Bahadurzada at long range.
Prediction: Millender via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Brian Kelleher vs. Montel Jackson
I’m just going to go ahead and copy-paste what I wrote when these two were booked to fight at UFC 230 as a Christmas present to myself.
Wrestling, aggression and sheer grit carried Brian Kelleher (19-9) past Damian Stasiak and Renan Barao on his way to contendership. Those weren’t enough against John Lineker, who out-brawled Kelleher before knocking him stiff with a left hook.
“Boom” has five wins by guillotine, including one over fellow undercard fighter Julio Arce.
Montel Jackson (6-1) — whose “Contender Series” victory was marred by a series of fouls — got the UFC call anyway when Benito Lopez pulled out of a fight with Ricky Simon. Though he put forth a strong effort, he couldn’t overcome his foe on short notice and suffered his first career loss by decision.
He was supposed to fight Kelleher last month, but the latter withdrew due to illness.
Jackson is still somewhat green and came up short against Simon, but even on short notice, this is a much more winnable fight for him. He’s four inches taller than Kelleher and will have nearly a foot of reach on him. Kelleher gets inside through sheer tenacity, which just isn’t going to work against someone this rangy and hits this hard.
Kelleher’s only real chances of victory lie in Jackson gassing late or going for a takedown and leaving his neck out. Neither seems likely. Jackson plugs him with power shots at range to take a clear decision victory.
Prediction: Jackson via unanimous decision
Four more UFC 232 “Prelims” undercard bouts to preview and predict tomorrow, among them the latest effort from B.J. Penn and another appearance from blue-chip Bantamweight prospect, Petr Yan. Same time as always, Maniacs!
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 232 fight card on fight night, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.
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