Two downright terrifying Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight sluggers duke it out in Glendale, Ariz., this Saturday (April 14, 2018) when Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje headline UFC on FOX 29. Welterweight brawlers Carlos Condit and Alex Oliveira trade hands one fight prior, while Israel Adesanya vs. Marvin Vettori and Michelle Waterson vs. Cortney Casey round out the main card.
Four “Prelims” undercard matches join the main card on FOX (check out the Fight Pass portion here), so let’s dig in:
185 lbs.: Tim Boetsch vs. Antonio Carlos Junior
Tim Boetsch (21-11) — once floundering in a 2-6 stretch that included three consecutive stoppage losses — currently finds himself on a 3-1 run with three knockouts. After tapping to Ronaldo Souza at UFC 208, Boetsch handed Johny Hendricks the second stoppage loss of his career in Nov. 2017 with a vicious head kick and follow-up punches.
“The Barbarian” will give up two inches of height and five inches of reach to the Brazilian.
Antonio Carlos Junior (9-2) stumbled out of the UFC gate, starting his Octagon career 2-2 (1 NC), but has since found his stride with four straight wins. Said victories include a decision over the fast-rising Marvin Vettori and a submission of Brazilian jiu-jitsu standout Eric Spicely.
The seven submission victories for “Cara de Sapato” include four by rear-naked choke.
Everyone loves Boetsch and for good reason, but the guy’s takedown defense and defensive jiu-jitsu just aren’t up to snuff. This is a flat-out toxic matchup for him; Carlos is big and durable enough to hold his own on the feet until the takedown opens up, at which point it’s just a matter of time.
I’d be less confident about this pick if Carlos’ cardio was still a liability, but his endurance looked solid against Vettori and Spicely, limiting the chance of a classic Boetsch comeback. Carlos hands “The Barbarian” yet another quick submission loss.
Prediction: Carlos by first-round submission
170 lbs.: Muslim Salikhov vs. Ricky Rainey
Muslim Salikhov’s (13-2) Kung-Fu pedigree and lengthy highlight reel made him a sizable favorite over veteran Alex Garcia in the Russian’s UFC debut. “The King of Kung Fu’s” ground game wasn’t quite up to snuff, however, and he wound up tapping midway through the second round.
All 12 of his stoppage victories have come in the first round, 10 via (technical) knockout and two by submission.
After dropping a split decision to Dhiego Lima in XFC, Ricky Rainey (13-4) made the move to Bellator, where he’s gone 5-2 with three knockouts. His only losses came against Michael Page and Chidi Njokuani, the latter of whom he almost certainly deserved to get the nod against.
He steps in for the injured Abdul Razak Alhassan on short notice.
Rainey is a skilled, powerful striker with a solid clinch game and about 10 inches of reach on Salikhov. He should be undefeated in his last five fights. Nevertheless, he’s going to get wrecked.
There are maybe two or three Welterweight fighters who can handle Salikhov standing. Rainey is not one of them. “The King of Kung Fu” is too fast, too powerful and has too big an arsenal for Rainey to survive on the feet. Rainey could find success by controlling Salikhov in the clinch and fishing for trips as he did Njokuani, but that requires getting into the Dagestani’s firing range, which is a one-way trip. Salikhov scores an eye-catching knockout.
Prediction: Salikhov via first-round knockout
125 lbs.: Wilson Reis vs. John Moraga
A 5-1 run carried Wilson Reis (22-8) to a title fight against Demetrious Johnson, who handed the Brazilian the first submission loss of his mixed martial arts (MMA) career via armbar. Things didn’t go much better for Reis against Henry Cejudo, falling victim to the Olympian’s boxing en route to a technical knockout loss.
All 10 of his submission victories have come via rear-naked choke (eight) or arm triangle.
John Moraga (18-6) rebounded from a three-fight skid with a one-sided decision over Ashkan Mokhtarian, but entered his fight with top prospect Magomed Bibulatov as the largest underdog on the card by a fair margin. Undaunted, Moraga destroyed the vaunted Dagestani with a left hook in just 98 seconds to earn “Performance of the Night.”
He is two inches taller than Reis and will have a one-inch of reach.
This fight comes down to whether Reis can stay awake. He’s got the wrestling to exploit Moraga’s shaky takedown defense and the submission prowess to end it there. That said, he also gets dropped approximately once a fight, even by lesser punchers like Jussier Formiga. When Moraga’s on, he’s an iron-tough ball of aggression with enough scrambling prowess to stay out of trouble on the ground.
“Chicano John” has had some bad performances in the not-too-distant past, but I just can’t trust Reis’ durability after that thrashing from Cejudo. Moraga finds the mark with a hook after a few minutes of scrappy, back-and-forth action.
Prediction: Moraga via first-round technical knockout
185 lbs.: Krzysztof Jotko vs. Brad Tavares
Krzysztof Jotko (19-3) dispatched five consecutive opponents before a split decision loss to Dave Branch unceremoniously halted his run in its tracks. He looked poised to regain his momentum after spending a round thrashing the mercurial Uriah Hall at UFC Fight Night 116, but fell victim to a surprise come-from-behind knockout.
He will have two inches of reach on Hawaii’s Brad Tavares (16-4).
Tavares quietly put together a five-fight win streak from 2012 to 2014 before hitting a three-fight skid that included knockout losses to Tim Boetsch and Robert Whittaker, the latter in just 44 seconds. He has since won three straight over Caio Magalhaes, Elias Theodorou and Thales Leites.
He has four professional wins via (technical) knockout, though none in his last 13 fights.
It’s honestly kind of impressive that Tavares has not had a single entertaining victory in, what, a half-decade? Clinching, low kicks and punches with negligible stopping power behind them do not must-watch TV make. Jotko was in a similar boat until recently, but appears to have picked up a decent killer instinct.
Right around the time he started losing. Bad luck, that.
Neither man has the takedown prowess to consistently drag the other to the mat, so expect a lot of stand up exchanges and prolonged slogs against the cage. It’ll come down to the wire, but Tavares’ superior kicks should earn him the win.
Prediction: Tavares via unanimous decision
Dustin Poirier vs. Justin Gaethje, on its own, is must-watch television, but Carlo Condit vs. Charles Oliveira and the return of Israel Adesanya are icing on the cake. 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 29 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX at 6 p.m. ET, before the FOX main card start time at 8 p.m. ET.