Ain’t no rest for the wicked ...
Fresh off his knockout of “The Korean Superboy,” Jeremy “Lil’ Heathen” Stephens returns to action this Saturday evening (Feb. 24, 2018) at Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., taking on newfound contender Josh Emmett in UFC on FOX 28’s main event of the evening.
The four-fight main card also features a potential women’s Strawweight title eliminator between Jessica Andrade and Tecia Torres, plus Ovince Saint Preux vs. Ilir Latifi and a guaranteed slugfest that pits Mike Perry against Max Griffin.
With just four main card bouts that means a lot of “Prelims” undercard bouts, specifically nine this time around. It’s a 5:4 split between Fight Pass and FOX. So let’s take it from the bottom-up:
155 lbs.: Gilbert Burns vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier
Gilbert Burns’ (12-2) world-class Brazilian jiu-jitsu and developing striking carried him to victory in his first three UFC appearances, but weren’t enough to save him from losses to Rashid Magomedov and Michel Prazeres in Brazil. His sole 2017 performance was perhaps his most impressive yet, however, as he destroyed Canada’s Jason Saggo with one punch in Pittsburgh.
“Durinho” owns seven wins by submission and another four via (technical) knockout.
Though he came up short against Chad Laprise in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Nations,” Olivier Aubin-Mercier (10-2) emerged as a standout contender with wins in six of his next seven fights. His current three-fight streak includes submissions of Thibault Gouti and Drew Dober, plus a split decision over Tony Martin.
Seven of the eight submission wins that “The Quebec Kid” has secured have come by rear-naked choke.
Now this is an interesting fight, pitting top-tier jiu-jitsu against top-tier Judo. Despite Burns’ struggles against the human-shaped bulldozer that is Michel Prazeres, I’m leaning his way, as he looks like the more complete and dangerous striker. It’s also worth remembering that Aubin-Mercier’s last defeat came against an excellent jiu-jitsu artist in Carlos Diego Ferreira, who has not shown Burns’ takedown skills or punching power.
Aubin-Mercier can play backpack against the majority of the division, but not against someone this skilled on the mat. Unable to engage in his ideal style of fight, he’ll be forced to trade strikes with a faster and more powerful kickboxer, ultimately losing the decision.
Prediction: Burns via unanimous decision
205 lbs.: Marcin Prachnio vs. Sam Alvey
A world-class Kyokushin karate standout, Marcin Prachnio (13-2) enters the Octagon on an eight-fight win streak, including six first-round knockouts. The streak includes a split decision over jiu-jitsu standout Leandro Ataides and an 83-second finish of 36-fight veteran Gilberto Galvao.
All of his 11 stoppage wins have come in the first round
Consecutive losses to Derek Brunson and Elias Theodorou didn’t discourage Sam Alvey (31-10), as he went on to win five of his next six bouts. He stumbled a bit last time, though, losing a snoozer to the debuting Ramazan Emeev.
“Smilin’” steps in for the injured Jake Collier on less than two months’ notice.
Prachnio’s Kyokushin base is extremely visible ... and not always in a good way. While he’s lethal at short range, mixing up tight punches and surprisingly compact high kicks, his footwork is all over the place and he tends to wing his punches when launched from anywhere outside the pocket. If Alvey had any sort of consistency, I’d pick him to win here, as Prachnio leaves countering opportunities you could drive a truck through.
Unfortunately, Alvey is Alvey, cripplingly boring and painfully reticent to actually unleash the crazy power in his hands. Prachnio, if nothing else, is extremely busy, which ought to carry him past the ever-gunshy Alvey. Though an Alvey haymaker out of nowhere is always in the cards, Prachnio’s volume and aggression should win the day.
Prediction: Prachnio via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Rani Yahya vs. Russell Doane
More than 15 years after his professional mixed martial arts (MMA) debut, Rani Yahya (24-9) remains a standout Bantamweight, losing just once in his last seven fights. In his most recent bout, he put a loss to Joe Soto behind him with a rapid submission of Enrique Briones in the latter’s native Mexico.
He owns 18 professional victories via submission.
A perfect (2-0) UFC start, including a submission of jiu-jitsu ace Leandro Issa, gave way to four consecutive losses for Russell Doane (15-7), including first-round submissions against Pedro Munhoz and Mirsad Bektic. Last June, he came up big with his back against the wall by knocking out Korean striker Kwan Ho Kwak in Singapore.
He will have an inch of height and three inches of reach on Yahya.
Predicting a Yahya fight has gotten easier over the years. He’s going to spend the first round on top, then gas out halfway through the second before surviving the third. His opponents just have to survive, wear him out, and then deal as much damage as humanly possible in the final round.
Unless, of course, he manages to submit them. Unfortunately for Doane, he’s going to get submitted.
Doane has just one non-controversial win in his last six fights, got submitted by two of his last three opponents, isn’t a great wrestler, and doesn’t hit hard enough to turn Yahya’s lights out before he gets wrangled to the mat. Yahya locks up submission No. 19 before too terribly long.
Prediction: Yahya by first-round submission
125 lbs.: Alex Perez vs. Eric Shelton
Alex Perez (19-4) — the former Tachi Palace Fights Flyweight champion — put together a four-fight win streak to earn a spot on Dana White’s “Tuesday Night Contender Series,” where he submitted Kevin Gray in less than three minutes. His UFC debut was equally successful, tapping Filipino prospect C.J. de Tomas with a lovely anaconda choke.
His only losses since 2012 came against TUF 24 competitor Adam Antolin and UFC veteran Jared Papazian.
Eric Shelton (11-4) and the judges had a bit of an adversarial relationship in his ZUFFA career, as he fell to Tim Elliott by majority decision on TUF 24 before dropping split decisions to Alexandre Pantoja and Jarred Brooks in his first two UFC appearances. He finally earned his first promotional victory in Nov. 2017 with a decision over former pro boxer Jenel Lausa in Sydney.
His finishes are split 5:2 between submissions and (technical ) knockouts.
An interesting factoid: Shelton actually has a loss to Gray back in 2015. Since then, though, he’s consistently held his own against world-class opposition, which gives him the edge in what looks like a very evenly-matched fight. Perez presents a similar skillset, combining quality combination striking with strong submission grappling.
The key difference, like I said, is that we know Shelton’s game works against the best. We don’t know if Perez’s does. Shelton edges out the striking and takedown battles to win a competitive decision.
Prediction: Shelton via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Manny Bermudez vs. Albert Morales
New England’s top prospect for quite some time, Manny Bermudez (10-0) has not tasted defeat since his second amateur fight back in 2012. All eight of his professional finishes have come in the first round, including seven submissions.
He stands three inches shorter than Albert Morales (7-3-1) at 5’6.”
Morales’ UFC career has been consistently entertaining, but not terribly consistent, as he is just 1-3-1 in five octagon appearances. He enters the cage on the heels of consecutive losses to Brett Johns and Benito Lopez, although most of the media scored the latter fight for Morales.
“The Warrior” has submitted three professional opponents and knocked out another two.
Bermudez’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu is absolutely sick. The man is a straight-up terror on the mat and has a Brian Ortega-esque ability to lock up front chokes in the clinch. The question is whether he has the wrestling to actually apply that jiu-jitsu — his controversial victory against Saul Almeida suggests that’s not necessarily the case. Morales, despite his ugly UFC record, is game as hell and capable of at least holding his own wherever the fight goes, meaning Bermudez is in trouble if he can’t impose his will.
That said, Morales isn’t a standout wrestler and the fight is basically over the moment Bermudez gets him to the mat. There’s also every reason to believe that Bermudez has improved considerably since that Almeida fight, as he is just 23. Though Morales has the skillset to play spoiler, I’m thinking Bermudez grounds him early and twists him into an unpleasant pretzel not long after.
Prediction: Bermudez via first-round submission
Four more UFC on FOX 28 “Prelims” bouts to preview and predict tomorrow, including a pair of showdowns between top-ranked Bantamweight contenders. See you tomorrow, Maniacs!
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on FOX 28 card this weekend, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" match online, which is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX at 6 p.m. ET before the FOX main card action kicks off at 8 p.m. ET.