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UFC on FOX 28 predictions: ‘Emmett vs Stephens’ FOX ‘Prelims’ undercard preview

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MMA: UFC 218-Olivera vs Felder Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

There will be much swangin’ and, ideally, some bangin’ as well.

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight sluggers Jeremy Stephens and Josh Emmett will attempt to parlay their recent knockout victories into a title shot this Saturday evening (Feb. 24, 2018) when they duke it out inside Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.

UFC on FOX 28 also features a pivotal women’s Strawweight scrap between Jessica Andrade and Tecia Torres, a Light Heavyweight throwdown between Ovince Saint Preux and Ilir Latifi, and a potential “Fight of the Night” between Mike Perry and Max Griffin.

The FOX portion of the card gets four “Prelims” undercard bouts to beef it up (check out the Fight Pass portion here). So, here they are, deboned and butterflied for your consumption.

135 lbs.: Renan Barao vs. Brian Kelleher

We are closing in on four years since Renan Barao (34-5) fell to T.J. Dillashaw in what remains one of the biggest numerical upsets in mixed martial arts (MMA) history. He is just 2-3 since that fateful night, most recently taking an absolute beating from Aljamain Sterling in Anaheim.

Though the two are the same height, he will have four inches of reach on Brian Kelleher (18-8).

“Boom,” sufferer of similar weight cut issues, submitted Iuri Alcantara in his UFC debut in a sizeable upset, only to be upset in return by Marlon Vera less than two months later. Undeterred, he returned to action against Poland’s Damian Stasiak and handed him a whooping in hostile territory, earning “Fight of the Night” in the process.

He has submitted eight professional opponents and knocked out another seven.

Back in the early ‘10s, when Barao could rehydrate with an IV and showed real confidence, this fight would have been a wash. He’d have jabbed and leg-kicked Kelleher to death on his way to 30-27s across the board.

Now? It’s impossible to have any faith in him. His fight IQ has looked utterly woeful in recent fights, leading him to try to slug it out with Jeremy Stephens and neglect his own grappling against Sterling until it was too late to matter. In addition, there’s no telling how his gas tank will hold up after another brutal cut to 135 pounds. Kelleher, on the other hand, has the motor on him to stay in Barao’s face all night and wear him down.

Barao just doesn’t seem to have the mental strength to compete at the highest level anymore. Kelleher outworks him to a narrow decision victory.

Prediction: Kelleher via split decision

135 lbs.: Sara McMann vs. Marion Reneau

Sara McMann (11-4) emerged from her 1-3 skid on the warpath, running over Jessica Eye, Alexis Davis and Gina Mazany with ease. Most expected her to do the same to Ketlen Vieira, but the Brazilian came back to submit her late in the second round in Sept. 2017.

She will give up two inches of reach to Marion Reneau (8-3-1).

“The Belizean Bruiser” is still going strong at age 40, arguably deserving the win in each of her last four fights. The two decisions she did get saw her stop Milana Dudieve and Talita Bernardo in the third round to up her career finish total to seven.

Five of those finishes came via strikes, including one in just 10 seconds.

McMann has the skills to crack the division’s Top 5 and never leave: Heavy hands, a developing submission game, and nigh-unmatched wrestling. I really thought she’d put it all together, only for her to collapse against Vieira and get submitted like old times.

She has to be firing on all cylinders here. If she gets lax in the striking, Reneau has the power to turn her lights out, and the Belizean’s guard is a genuine hazard should McMann get lax on top. Still, despite myself, I’ve got faith in McMann. She may not have enough time left in the cage to fully realize her potential, but even half of that potential is enough to carry her to victory here. Strong top control wins the day.

Prediction: McMann via unanimous decision

115 lbs.: Maryna Moroz vs. Angela Hill

Maryna Moroz (8-2) announced her arrival into UFC with a 90-second armbar of Joanne Calderwood, and though she came up short against Valerie Letourneau her next time out, she bounced back with wins over Cristina Stanciu and Danielle Taylor. She couldn’t quite do the same against Carla Esparza, however, and struggled against the former champion’s takedowns en route to a decision loss.

She was supposed to fight Jamie Moyle last month, but the latter suffered an injury just days before the event.

Angela Hill (7-4) won and defended the Invicta Strawweight title before putting on a Fight of the Night with Jéssica Andrade in her UFC return. After getting back in the win column with a decision over Ashley Yoder, she threw down with American Top Team standout Nina Ansaroff and lost another competitive decision.

She will give up four inches of height and three inches of reach to Moroz.

Moroz’s key issue is that she has two solid aspects of her game, her boxing and her submissions, and zero ways to connect them. Her fights go where her opponents want them to. This time around, that means she’ll be trading with a better Muay Thai stylist despite having the skills to overwhelm her on the mat.

Moroz’s height and length definitely work in her favor, but Hill has the skills to get inside and go to work. Unless Moroz can hit a flying armbar, expect Hill to work her over at close range with punches and kicks for 15 competitive minutes.

Prediction: Hill via unanimous decision

170 lbs.: Alan Jouban vs. Ben Saunders

Alan Jouban (15-6) got off to a strong 6-2 start in his UFC career, including three “Fight of the Night” bonuses and victories over Belal Muhammad and Mike Perry. He has since been on the wrong end of bonus-winning stoppages from Gunnar Nelson and Niko Price, the latter of whom needed just 104 seconds to put away Jouban with strikes.

“Brahma” has earned nine professional wins by (technical) knockout and one by submission to punches.

Despite three consecutive wins and UFC’s first-ever omoplata submission, Ben Saunders’ (21-8-2) second UFC run came to an end after a knockout loss to Patrick Cote. He came right back after submission Jacob Volkmann in 17 seconds, however, and defeated Court McGee before suffering a knockout loss to Peter Sobotta in Sweden.

He stands two inches taller than Jouban and will have four inches of both reach and leg reach on him.

There are two ways this fight could go: Either these two go at each other and turn the lights out in a hurry, or get overly protective after their recent knockout losses and stare at each other for 15 minutes. I’m thinking the latter, as both had been stopped before and came back aggressively.

Which is bad news for Saunders.

“Killa B” is one of the most entertaining grapplers in UFC and has heart for days, but his chin just isn’t there anymore. It seems like he gets rattled by every clean punch he takes and his defense has never been great. Worse, his ability to take it to the mat is limited to pulling guard against a defensive wrestler of Jouban’s caliber. While both are vulnerable enough to make this intriguing, expect Jouban to find a home for his left hand before long.

Prediction: Jouban via first-round knockout

UFC on FOX 28’s main event could be something special and there are a few match ups that just scream “highlight material.” 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 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.

Current UFC “Prelims” Prediction Record for 2018: 34-7