The best young Featherweights on the planet will try once again to duke it out this Saturday (Dec. 8, 2018) when Brian Ortega challenges Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight kingpin, Max Holloway, inside Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Canada. Twenty pounds south, former Muay Thai rivals Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Valentina Shevchenko duke it out for the vacant women’s Flyweight title, while Jimi Manuwa slugs it out with Thiago Santos at Light Heavyweight.
Four “Prelims” apiece on Fight Pass and FOX Sports 1 will set the table for UFC 231’s pay-per-view (PPV) main card. Let’s start from the bottom, shall we?
205 lbs.: Devin Clark vs. Aleksandar Rakic
Devin Clark (9-2) — one of the first products of Dana White’s “Lookin’ for a Fight” — opened his Octagon career 2-2, decisions over Josh Stansbury and Jake Collier sandwiched between stoppage losses to Alex Nicholson and Jan Blachowicz. His sole 2018 appearance saw him get back on track with a decision over “Contender Series” alum Mike Rodriguez.
He will give up four inches of height and three inches of reach to Aleksandar Rakic (10-1).
Rakic’s Octagon debut saw him go the distance for the first time in his career in a one-sided victory over Francimar Barroso. He had to settle for another decision his next time out, but was so dominant against Justin Ledet that he produced one of the most numerically lopsided decisions in the history of the sport.
He has knocked out seven and submitted one as a professional.
Rakic looks like the goods. We already knew he was dangerous on the feet, but with the addition of strong wrestling and ground-and-pound, he becomes an immediate threat in a top-heavy division. Though Clark is a strong athlete, Rakic appears to have his number, as the latter’s kickboxing far outstrips Clark’s janky boxing and their respective wrestling should cancel out.
Clark showed against Jan Blachowicz that he doesn’t really know how to get inside a lengthier opponent, and that’s not a flaw he can have against a finisher like Rakic. The Austrian slugger clips Clark coming in and pounds him out in the first round.
Prediction: Rakic via first-round technical knockout
135 lbs.: Brad Katona vs. Matthew Lopez
Brad Katona (7-0) entered The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 27 with an undefeated (6-0) record, but wound up as Daniel Cormier’s penultimate Featherweight pick. He went on to exceed expectations, running the table and ultimately defeating Jay Cucciniello at the Finale.
He faces a 4.5” reach disadvantage come fight night.
Matthew Lopez (10-3) suffered his first career defeat in his Octagon debut, getting out-scrambled and eventually submitted by Rani Yahya, but came back to defeat Mitch Gagnon and Johnny Eduardo in entertaining fashion. He currently finds himself in a two-fight skid after stoppage losses to Raphael Assuncao and Alejandro Perez.
His eight stoppage victories are split evenly between knockouts and submissions.
It’s rough to see a genuinely exciting fighter like Lopez struggle so badly. He’s got power, strong takedowns, and great scrambling ability, but his durability and cardio issues continue to hold him back. The Perez fight was especially egregious, as Lopez controlled the first round before gassing out early in the second. Katona, who packs a decent punch, good gas tank, and enough wrestling to hold his own against Featherweights, looks to be another tough out.
Lopez’s aggression should carry him to an early lead on the scorecards. Once fatigue starts setting in from Katona’s own scrambling, though, this TUF winner will increasingly control the stand up and bank enough top control to pick up the win.
Prediction: Katona via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Chad Laprise vs. Dhiego Lima
Chad Laprise (13-3) made his Welterweight return last year after a 3-2 run in UFC’s Lightweight division, knocking out Brian Camozzi and Galore Bofando in 2017. This past May, Vicente Luque halted his momentum with a powerful left hook that ended “The Disciple’s” three-fight win streak.
He has knocked out seven professional opponents, including three of his last four.
Dhiego Lima (12-7) came back from his unsuccessful first UFC tenure to win the Titan FC Welterweight title, only to lose it in his next fight. He proceeded to reach the finals of TUF 25 before tapping to a Jesse Taylor choke, then lost a decision to veteran grinder Yushin Okami.
He is four inches taller than Laprise and will have as many inches of reach.
Douglas Lima is the most terrifying Welterweight outside of UFC. Dhiego Lima is just barely UFC-caliber. Strange how things work.
Dhiego simply doesn’t have the durability or wrestling to excel at the highest level. Four knockout losses have demonstrated that any protracted punching exchanges are tempting fate and his legitimately solid grappling game isn’t worth much if he can’t get on top to use it. Laprise has the boxing to slip past Lima’s guard, the power to crack his chin, and the takedown defense to keep it standing long enough to do it. He drops Lima’s Octagon record to 1-6 with a first-round starching.
Prediction: Laprise via first-round knockout
155 lbs.: Jesse Ronson vs. Carlos Diego Ferreira
Jesse Ronson (20-8) washed out of UFC after three consecutive split decision losses, then embarked on a three-fight losing streak soon after. He has since won five straight, four of them by stoppage.
“The Body Snatcher” steps in for John Makdessi on a week’s notice.
Carlos Diego Ferreira (13-2) followed a pair of Octagon victories with a pair of losses, then upset Olivier Aubin-Mercier in his biggest victory to date. A failed drug test kept him out of action for the next two years, after which he pounded out Jared Gordon in less than two minutes. He has scored six wins by submission and two by (technical) knockout, earning “Performance of the Night” for his submission of Colton Smith and “Fight of the Night” for his knockout of Ramsey Nijem.
Ronson did well in defeat against Michel Prazeres, Francisco Trinaldo and Kevin Lee during his first UFC run, all of whom have done extraordinarily well since. It’s good to see him get another shot, even if it is against an extremely tough customer. Now that Dustin Poirier knocked his brawling habit out of him, Ferreira is a lethal submission artist with surprising power in his hands, and he’s shown newfound wrestling prowess.
If he could manhandle Aubin-Mercier, he can handle a late-notice striker. Unless Ronson can live up to his moniker and punish the Brazilian’s midsection early, Ferreira drags him to the mat and chokes him out in short order.
Prediction: Ferreira via first-round submission
Four more UFC 231 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including a pair of ranked battles at Strawweight and Flyweight. Same time as always, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 231 card on fight night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 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.