Two Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) titles are on the line inside American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, this Saturday (Sept. 8, 2018) as champions Tyron Woodley and Nico Montano look to turn aside Darren Till and Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 228.
Earlier in the evening, Brandon Davis steps up on short notice to face top prospect Zabit Magomedsharipov and Jessica Andrade pleads her case for another title shot at Karolina Kowalkiewicz’s expense on UFC 228’s pay-per-view (PPV) main card.
Before all that, though, UFC 228 features nine “Prelims” undercard bouts, five on Fight Pass and four on FX. So let’s start from the bottom-up:
170 lbs.: Diego Sanchez vs. Craig White
Diego Sanchez (27-11) has had a, well, self-descriptive go of things lately, suffering crushing knockout losses in three of his last four fights. The last one was perhaps the most brutal yet, a savage elbow from Matt Brown that knocked the legendarily durable Sanchez into another dimension.
“The Nightmare” will surrender four inches of height and reach to “The Thundercat.”
Craig White (14-8) answered the call when Gunnar Nelson withdrew from UFC Fight Night 130, stepping up to fight Neil Magny on short notice. Things didn’t exactly go swimmingly for him, as Magny dropped him with a knee before pounding him out.
He has never gone pat the second round as a professional or amateur.
This is about the most winnable fight in UFC’s Welterweight division for Sanchez and it’s still a toss-up. White is a below-average wrestler who relies on submissions off of his back, which is one of the few things Sanchez can still deal with. That said, White’s a fair bit larger than Sanchez and “The Nightmare” can’t take a shot anymore
It’s really going to come down to whether White can catch him coming in with a knee or one of the winging punches he enjoys, because otherwise Sanchez still has what it takes to sit in someone’s guard for three rounds. I say he pulls it off, using his size to offset the wrestling issues and clipping his fading foe with something gnarly on the way in.
Prediction: White via first-round technical knockout
155 lbs.: Jim Miller vs. Alex White
Jim Miller (28-12) — closing in on his tenth year on the Octagon — enters the cage this weekend on a four-fight losing streak, the longest of his career. His last fight saw him face fast-rising Kiwi Daniel Hooker and survive three minutes before eating a nasty knee to the face.
He stands four inches shorter than Alex White (12-3), though their reach is the same.
White has struggled to find consistency in the UFC since debuting with an 88-second smashing of Estevan Payan, losing four of his next six. He’s currently 1-2 since moving to Lightweight, a stoppage of Mitch Clarke sandwiched between losses to Tony Martin and James Krause. He has knocked out and submitted five opponents apiece.
Miller’s a strange case in that he hasn’t shown any super obvious physical decline, but his game just doesn’t work anymore. His only wins since 2015 were a knockout of a completely shot Takanori Gomi, a bogus decision over Joe Lauzon, and a win over Thiago Alves wherein “The Pitbull” came in seven pounds overweight.
On the other side is White, a generalist with solid punching power, but nothing particularly outstanding in his game. I’d pick the Miller of 2014 to smoke him, but that’s not who he’s facing here. White’s punching power and Miller’s iffy takedowns allow the former to rack up the damage on the feet and earn the win.
Prediction: White via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Irene Aldana vs. Lucie Pudilova
Irene Aldana (8-4) took home “Fight of the Night” in her Octagon debut against Leslie Smith, but couldn’t pull out the win against either her or Katlyn Chookagian her next time out. She finally managed to enter the UFC win column in January with a decision over Talita Bernardo in St. Louis.
Five of her seven stoppage wins have come by first-round knockout.
Lucia Pudilova (8-2) got the chance to avenge her sole career defeat in her Octagon debut, but couldn’t quite topple Lina Lansberg despite inflicting some horrendous swelling. She’s since righted the ship with decisions over Ji Yeon Kim and Sarah Moras, extending her current run to 5-1.
She has scored two wins each by (technical) knockout and submission.
Pudilova isn’t anywhere near as much of a gimme win as Bethe Correia would have been, but she’s still someone Aldana should dominate. The Mexican bruiser has shown difficulties with strong wrestling and extreme pressure, neither of which Pudilova is likely to offer, and she’s the harder puncher by a fair margin.
Though I’m still not sure Aldana will ever become more than a fun action fighter, that’s all she really needs to be to come out on top. So long as she stays at her preferred range, she boxes up her foe on her way to a mid-round stoppage.
Prediction: Aldana via second-round technical knockout
125 lbs.: Ryan Benoit vs. Roberto Sanchez
Ryan Benoit (10-5) made waves in 2015 when, after scoring “Fight of the Night” in a losing effort against Josh Sampo, he defied +500 odds to knock out Sergio Pettis at UFC 185. He’s alternated losses and wins since, most recently knocking out local favorite Ashkan Mokhtarian in Sydney.
He has knocked out eight professional foes and submitted one other.
Roberto Sanchez (8-1) took on fellow unbeaten prospect Joseph Morales in his Octagon debut, ultimately getting dropped and choked out late in the first round. “Little Fury” came back strong against Joby Sanchez, whom he submitted in less than two minutes.
All but one of his wins have come by either rear-naked choke or armbar.
Though Benoit packs some of the heaviest hands in the division, both his striking technique and his takedown defense have continued to lag behind. Fredy Serrano and Brandon Moreno dragged him to the mat a combined 10 times and he struggled with Mokhtarian’s movements in the early going.
Not a good sign against a quick, dangerous takedown and submission artist.
Benoit throws bombs and Sanchez got his clock cleaned by Morales, but I don’t believe Benoit can land a game-changing punch before Sanchez gets in on his hips, moves to the back, and chokes him out.
Prediction: Sanchez via first-round submission
As an aside, as I was finishing up this article, Jarred Brooks announced on his Instagram that Benoit was out and that he had taken his place. At the time of submission, however, I could not find confirmation from UFC, and since I’d already written up this particular fight, I’m going to leave it up. If Brooks does wind up subbing in, I’ve got him beating Sanchez by unanimous decision.
170 lbs.: Frank Camacho vs. Geoffrey Neal
Frank Camacho (21-6) has been nothing if not entertaining during his Octagon tenure, winning “Fight of the Night” against Li Jingliang, Damien Brown and Drew Dober. The former The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) hopeful is just 1-2 in that stretch, but fought his way to a controversial decision loss against Dober his last time out.
Despite his grappling base, “The Crank” has knocked out 15 professional opponents.
Geoffrey Neal (9-2) earned a spot on “Contender Series” just 11 days after his previous win, showing no ill effects from the quick turnaround en route to stopping Chase Waldon in 116 seconds. His Octagon debut was equally successful, a first-round submission of Brian Camozzi.
“Handz of Steel” stands two inches taller than Camacho and will have as many inches of reach.
Camacho is a badass and I’m always happy to see him on my screen, but I just don’t think that free-swinging style of his can work against larger, stronger men like Neal. “Handz of Steel” is more than happy to trade leather and has the length, durability and power to come out on top.
There’s a difference between going life-and-death with natural Lightweights and duking it out with a guy who can compete at Middleweight. Unless Camacho can get his wrestling going and bring those Brazilian jiu-jitsu chops of his to bear, Neal outslugs him in a terrific opener for the evening.
Prediction: Neal via unanimous decision
Four more UFC 228 “Prelims” undercard bouts to preview and predict tomorrow, including top-ranked Bantamweight contenders Aljamain Sterling, Cody Stamann, Jimmie Rivera and John Dodson. Same time as always, Maniacs.
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 228 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FX at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.