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UFC 223 predictions: ‘Holloway vs Khabib’ Fight Pass ‘Prelims’ undercard preview

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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is bringing a bevy of “Prelims” fights to both UFC Fight Pass and FOX Sports 1 this weekend (Sat., April 7, 2018) when UFC 223: “Holloway vs. Khabib” storms Barclays Arena in Brooklyn, New York. MMAmania.com’s Patrick Stumberg kicks off the UFC 223 “Prelims” party with the first installment of a two-part undercard preview series below.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Gdansk-Lobov vs Fili Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight champion, Max Holloway, faces the challenge of a lifetime this Saturday night (April 7, 2018) when he takes on Khabib Nurmagomedov on a week’s notice, replacing the injured Tony Ferguson in the pay-per-view (PPV) main event of UFC 223.

Down at Strawweight, Rose Namajunas attempts to prove her incredible upset of Joanna Jedrzejczyk was no fluke as she faces the Polish destroyer in her first-ever title defense. Mixed martial arts (MMA) fans will also get to see a clash between Featherweight prospects Calvin Kattar and Renato Moicano, plus Anthony Pettis in a do-or-die Lightweight battle with Michael Chiesa.

UFC 223 features eight “Prelims” undercard matches this time, split evenly between FOX Sports 1 and Fight Pass. Let’s begin with the latter:

145 lbs.: Alex Caceres vs. Artem Lobov

Alex Caceres (13-11) — who at one point rode a five-fight unbeaten streak that included an upset submission of then-undefeated Sergio Pettis — is just 1-3 in his last four bouts and 3-6 in his last nine. Though he stopped Rolando Dy in Singapore, his last fight saw him overpowered by the debuting Wang Guan en route to a split decision loss.

He has scored five professional submission wins, though just once since 2012.

Losses in his first two UFC appearances were not enough to deter Artem Lobov (13-14-1), who defeated the hapless Chris Avila before upsetting Teruto Ishihara in Belfast. This was enough to set up a main event bout with Cub Swanson and subsequent showdown with Andre Fili, both of whom took wide decisions over “The Russian Hammer.”

As is standard for Lobov, he will give up a massive amount of reach; specifically, eight inches this time.

Despite seven years and 18 fights in UFC, Cacares has yet to put together his myriad talents into a cohesive game. He has lovely Brazilian jiu-jitsu that he can’t use because his wrestling is nonexistent and strong kicking that he doesn’t have the boxing to set up. Still, he really should win this fight — Lobov’s stubby arms and lack of speed ought to leave him at the mercy of Caceres’ long-range offense.

Lobov has surprised us before, though, but for all of Caceres’ faults, he can at least deal with someone who only knows how to plod forward and throw bombs. “Bruce Leroy” pieces up Lobov at range throughout the latter’s fruitless 15-minute chase.

Prediction: Caceres via unanimous decision

125 lbs.: Bec Rawlings vs. Ashlee Evans-Smith

Bec Rawlings (7-7) loss to Mizuki Inoue wasn’t enough to keep her off of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), though she wound up going one-and-done thanks to Tecia Torres. She is 2-4 in the organization itself, most recently falling to Jessica-Rose Clark by split decision in Sydney.

She will give up two inches of height and three inches of reach to Ashlee Evans-Smith (5-3).

Evans-Smith has spent the entirety of her five-fight UFC career at Bantamweight, where she has racked up a 2-3 record. Her 2017 campaign saw her lose a decision to Ketlen Vieira and tap to a Sarah Moras armbar despite being favored in both fights.

This will be her Flyweight debut.

These two have a combined 4-7 UFC record with one controversial decision win apiece (Rawlings against Seo Hee Ham and Evans-Smith against Marion Reneau). In other words, we’re not seeing either of these women in the title picture any time soon.

On paper, Evans-Smith’s wrestling chops give her the edge in the style match up, but she’s consistently failed to take down the majority of her opponents and at times seems reticent to even attempt level changes. That said, the cut to 125 pounds should give her a bit more of a strength advantage to work with and Rawlings is a non-factor off of her back.

While Evans-Smith is more than capable of throwing away the fight and trading with the brawl-happy Rawlings, even a slightly committed pursuit of the takedown should get her the win.

Prediction: Evans-Smith via unanimous decision

205 lbs.: Devin Clark vs. Mike Rodriguez

Devin Clark (8-2) — one of the first products of “Lookin’ for a Fight” to enter the Octagon — started his UFC career at Middleweight before a knockout loss to Alex Nicholson sent him back to 205 pounds. There, “Brown Bear” picked up decisions over Josh Stansbury and Jake Collier, only to fall into a bizarre standing choke against Jan Blachowicz in the latter’s native Poland.

He stands three inches shorter than the 6’3” Mike Rodriguez (9-2).

Rather than “Lookin’ for a Fight,” Rodriguez joined UFC via “Tuesday Night Contender Series” after racking up three consecutive first-round knockouts. He made it four with a flying knee finish of Jamelle Jones on episode five.

Of his nine finishes, seven have come in the first round.

Even with Jan Blachowicz’s recent resurgence, Clark’s performance against him was cause for concern. He seemed to have no idea how to set up his strikes or takedowns against a rangy opponent.

Considering he’ll give up eight inches of reach to Rodriguez, that’s an issue.

Rodriguez’s takedown defense looked improved in his win over Jones and his long-distance striking, predicated on a strong southpaw one-two combination, figures to be a cut above Clark’s boxing. Unless Clark has greatly improved his takedown entries and found less-awkward ways to close the distance with strikes, Rodriguez puts him away with a knee sometime in the first round.

Prediction: Rodriguez via first-round knockout

145 lbs.: Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Kyle Bochniak

Zabit Magomedsharipov (14-1) has emerged as perhaps the top prospect in the sport, scoring finishes in his last eight fights. His two UFC appearances saw him choke out Mike Santiago and Sheymon Moraes, earning him a pair of “Performance of the Night” bonuses.

His 12 finishes are split evenly between knockouts and submissions.

Kyle Bochniak (8-2) first joined UFC on short notice, losing a competitive decision to Charles Rosa in the latter’s native Boston. After splitting bouts with Enrique Barzola and Jeremy Kenny, “Crash” scored a mild upset of “Tuesday Night Contender Series” product Brandon Davis in January.

He stands six inches shorter than Magomedsharipov at 5’7.”

This is a step sideways for Magomedsharipov, and as much as I enjoy seeing him in action, the man is ready for someone in the Top 20. Bochniak’s no joke, but there is nothing about his game that will trouble Magomedsharipov. In addition to that absurd height advantage, Magomedsharipov is the better kickboxer, wrestler and submission artist by a serious margin.

The only real speculation to be done is about Magomedsharipov’s exact method of victory. I say we get something like his fight with Santiago, wherein he shows off some fancy moves on the feet before cratering Bochniak’s 66 percent takedown defense and locking up a rear-naked choke.

Prediction: Magomedsharipov via second-round submission

Four more UFC 223 “Prelims” undercard bouts to preview and predict, including Joe Lauzon’s latest appearance and a clash between Top 10-ranked Strawweight contenders. Same time as always, Maniacs.

Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 223 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:15 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.