With the FOX deal going the way of Spike TV, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) enters 2019 in the greener pastures of ESPN and ESPN+, hitting Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.., this Saturday (Jan. 19, 2019) with its inaugural card. In the main event, T.J. Dillashaw drops 10 pounds in a bid to become a double champ against newly minted Flyweight king Henry Cejudo, while the controversial Greg Hardy debuts in the co-main against Allen Crowder. Mixed martial arts (MMA) fans will also get to see blue-chip Lightweight prospect Gregor Gillespie take on all-action Yancy Medeiros and the venerable Joseph Benavidez face the resurgent Dustin Ortiz.
Two of the six “Prelims” undercard bouts take place on ESPN+, just like the main card. Let’s begin, shall we?
155 lbs.: Dennis Bermudez vs. Te Edwards
Dennis Bermudez (16-9) enters the cage this Saturday on a four-fight losing streak, though only his knockout loss to Chan Sung Jung was definitive. His subsequent defeats to Darren Elkins, Andre Fili and Rick Glenn all came by split decision, with the majority of MMA media scoring them for “The Menace.” This will be his first Lightweight bout in more than eight years.
Te Edwards (6-2) smashed his way to UFC with a 28-second one-punch knockout of Austin Tweedy on “Contender Series,” his fifth consecutive win by first-round stoppage. The Muay Thai stylings of Don Madge proved too much, however, as the South African put him away with a head kick seconds into the second round. He stands two inches taller than Bermudez and will have a six-inch reach advantage.
Frankly, I expected quite a lot more from Edwards against Madge, but his lack of striking craft and defensive grappling showed themselves. He’s still got plenty of potential and those problems can be chalked up to a lack of experience; unfortunately, they’re not the sort of shortcomings that can be fixed in three months. He’s going to struggle against an experienced wrestler, even one he has two inches of height and six inches of reach on.
Bermudez has a bad habit of getting dropped and Edwards has the power to score an early finish. If Bermudez can survive a rough start, though, expect him to exploit Edwards’ lack of experience in deep waters and ground-and-pound the tiring “T” on his way to some 29-28s.
Prediction: Bermudez via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Belal Muhammad vs. Geoff Neal
Belal Muhammad (14-2) started his UFC career 1-2, but has since assembled a four-fight win streak that includes an upset decision of Tim Means. “Remember the Name” was last seen defeating late replacement Chance Rencountre, and was going to face Brazilian knockout artist Elizeu “Capoeira” in Sept. 2018 before pulling out because of an injury. He will give up three inches of reach to Geoff Neal (10-2).
“Handz of Steel” made the move to 185 pounds for his “Contender Series” bout with Chase Waldon, making short work of the former RFA title challenger to earn a contract. He dispatched Brian Camozzi with a no-hooks rear-naked choke in his UFC debut, then laid an unholy beating on Frank Camacho before leveling him with a head kick in Sept. 2018. Six of his eight stoppage wins have come by form of knockout.
I procrastinated on picking this one — it’s not the closest fight on the card in terms of odds, but it’s tough to get a good read on it. Neal’s superior power has me leaning his way, but Muhammad has come a long way since getting dropped left and right by Alan Jouban and Vicente Luque. Indeed, he’s evolved into a genuine contender despite his lack of stopping power.
This will come down to how much success Muhammad has with his takedowns. Neal’s reach advantage will make it difficult to get inside, though, and he’s shown that he can keep up an impressive pace, making it unlikely that Muhammad can wear him down and take over late. Expect a competitive striking battle until Neal finds the mark with something nasty.
Prediction: Neal via second-round technical knockout
Four more UFC on ESPN+ 1 “Prelims” undercard bouts to preview and predict, including multiple top prospects and the latest from “Cowboy” Cerrone. Same time as always, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 143 fight card on fight night, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.