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UFC Fight Night 135 predictions, preview, and analysis

Lincoln, Neb., hosts Ultimate Fighting Championships’ (UFC) latest mixed martial arts (MMA) feature this Saturday (Aug. 25, 2018), which is headlined by an extremely intriguing Lightweight showdown between all-action Justin Gaethje and fast-rising James Vick.

Pinnacle Bank Arena will also see Michael Johnson look for a much-needed win against Andre Fili and Cortney Casey step up on short notice against Angela Hill.

We’ve got “Prelims” undercard analysis for UFC Fight Night 135 right here and here, plus our usual look at the odds here. Jesse is currently being hunted for sport by an eccentric billionaire bored by traditional game, so you’ll once again be subjected to me this week.

155 lbs.: Justin Gaethje vs. James Vick

Finally, a Justin Gaethje (18-2) fight in UFC that isn’t the stylistic equivalent of watching two trains approach each other at worrying speeds and trying to figure out which of the two will have more parts left intact. It’s an actual stylistic clash rather than a race to see whether Gaethje’s head or his opponent’s leg will crack first.

That’s not to say James Vick (13-1) can’t punch, as Polo Reyes and Joe Duffy discovered, but next to Dustin Poirier, Michael Johnson, or even Luis Palomino, his shots are going to be a refreshing change of pace. The real danger is in “The Texecutioner’s” ridiculous range and ability to maintain it — he’s four inches taller than Gaethje, has six inches of reach on him, and can use those attributes to their fullest. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him run circles around Gaethje in the early going.

But, for how long?

The science behind Gaethje’s lackadaisical defense is that it leaves him free to fire leg kicks when opponents step in, and it really doesn’t take many to do real damage. Though Vick isn’t as skeletal as the numbers of his frame would suggest, those thighs do not look meaty enough to survive many of Gaethje’s lumberjack kicks.

Worse, Vick isn’t like Poirier or Eddie Alvarez, who are happy to slug in the pocket. Mobility is paramount in his style and, judging by history, he’s not durable enough to survive protracted engagements with a bruiser like Gaethje.

Vick should find plenty of early success, but after half-dozen low kicks, he’ll be in range of Gaethje’s overhand right and murderous clinch. “The Highlight” evens up his Octagon record with a stoppage just before the championship rounds.

Prediction: Gaethje via third-round technical knockout

145 lbs.: Michael Johnson vs. Andre Fili

It absolutely boggles my mind that Michael Johnson (17-13) is 1-5 in his last six fights. It’s not like he’s really worsened or anything — he’s had quality moments in all of those defeats save for the debacle against Khabib Nurmagomedov. Hell, that one win was a savage knockout of Dustin Poirier, the only defeat of Poirier’s last 10 fights.

How is this guy not doing better than this?

Luckily for “The Menace,” Andre Fili (18-5) looks to be his least dangerous opponent in a while. Though “Touchy” has shown promise in spurts, he’d alternated wins and losses in UFC until his current two-fight streak, which features a robbery win over Dennis Bermudez. Johnson’s pressure should jam his kicks and, despite Fili operating out of Team Alpha Male, the latter has never been an overpowering wrestler. Fili will eventually be forced to trade punches with a faster, more powerful boxer.

And that won’t end well for him.

Prediction: Johnson via first-round knockout

115 lbs.: Cortney Casey vs. Angela Hill

The UFC career for Cortney Casey (7-6) has been, in a word, erratic. She began her Octagon tenure with losses to Joanne Calderwood and Seo Hee Ham, the latter in spite of a massive size advantage, then looked like a monster against Cristina Stanciu and Randa Markos. She’s just 1-3 since, and while she deserved the win against Michele Waterson and Felice Herrig, she showed some worrying lapses in fight IQ.

Angela Hill (8-4), meanwhile, has only lost to standout fighters in Jessica Andrade and Nina Ansaroff since her first go-round in the Octagon. She’s got the cleaner Muay Thai of the two despite Casey’s range advantage and Casey has never managed to parlay her size into powerful wrestling.

Between the two, Casey has the physical edge and more tools at her disposal, but her persistent inability to use them to their fullest mean that Hill’s superiority in the standup may be the only thing that matters. “Overkill” makes it two straight, outstriking the robotic Casey in the pocket for a clear decision win.

Prediction: Hill by unanimous decision

170 lbs.: Jake Ellenberger vs. Bryan Barberena

Jake Ellenberger (31-14) has gone from one of the most terrifying men in a terrifying division to a one-man compendium of Edmond Tarverdyan’s greatest failings. The crushing power that sent Carlos Condit to the mat and felled a man in Jake Shields who had absorbed Dan Henderson’s right hand is nowhere to be found, and had ability to withstand punishment also looks to be on the way out.

If anyone can knock out the iron-tough Bryan Barberena (13-5), it’s Ellenberger, but you’d have to go all the way back to 2013 to find a version of “The Juggernaut” I’d pick to consistently land that shot. “Bam Bam” is just too tough to put away with anything short of a perfect punch.

Ellenberger does have some solid wrestling he can fall back on and Barberena is probably better-suited for 155 pounds, so the former does have an avenue of victory, but he hasn’t shown an ability or willingness to work on the ground in ages. More likely, Barberena’s chin withstands Ellenberger’s best shots and allows him to wear Ellenberger down with pressure en route to a late stoppage.

Prediction: Barberena via second-round technical knockout

125 lbs.: John Moraga vs. Deiveson Figueiredo

“Why aren’t people interested in the Flyweights?” UFC wonders. “Could it be because we condemn 99 percent of the match ups to the “Prelims,” preventing casual fans from getting invested in up-and-coming fighters, and only hype Demetrious Johnson?

“No, it’s the children who are wrong.”

We’re 66 percent through 2018 and this is the first time we’re seeing a non-title Flyweight fight on the main card. Thankfully, they’ve picked one with massive entertainment potential. Both John Moraga (19-6) and Deiveson Figueiredo (14-0) thrive in chaos, willing to throw caution to the wind for the sake of hurting people as efficiently as possible.

This really could go either way — Figueiredo has more weapons on the feet, while Moraga looks to be the more durable of the two. The key might be Moraga’s infamously iffy takedown defense; “Chicano John” has made up for that flaw with quality scrambling in the past, but the Brazilian is both persistent and nasty in the scrambles. He’ll get to decide where the fight takes place, which should make up for any overly nasty shots he takes on the feet.

Expect a “Fight of the Night” contender as these two slug it out for 15 minutes, interspersed with enough takedowns from Figueiredo to seal the deal.

Prediction: Figueiredo via unanimous decision

185 lbs.: Eryk Anders vs. Tim Williams

Here it is, the most lopsided fight on the cards in terms of odds. Eryk Anders (10-1) is more than a -1000 favorite in most places, which is the sort of line you’d expect out of your average boxing mismatch. Not even Valentina Shevchenko was this big of a favorite in what turned out to be the year’s biggest mismatch against Priscilla Cachoeira.

Should this really be considered such a wipeout-in-the-making? Ehhhhh, probably not, but Anders is still going to win.

The former Alabaman standout is the better striker of the two by far and, even in defeat, had the most impressive performance between them in his tactical battle against Lyoto Machida. He’s shown the ability to be patient and adapt rather than rely on his overwhelming athleticism, which is a great sign for a young fighter.

That said, Tim Williams (15-4) is easily the best wrestler he’s thus far faced and has the submission prowess to ruin his day. That alone makes this a significantly closer fight than the odds would suggest. Still, though, Williams’ chin has failed him in the past, most notably in his 114-second wipeout loss to Oskar Piechota in February. Against a rapidly improving and heavy-handed bruiser like Anders, that’s not a weakness he can survive having. A big left hand ends the night before long.

Prediction: Anders via first-round knockout

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 135 fight card this weekend, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” undercard bout at 6:30 p.m. ET, followed by the FOX Sports 1 “Prelims” undercard bouts at 8 p.m. ET, before the main card start time at 10 p.m. ET (also on FOX Sports 1).

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