Despite some late-notice injury issues, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heads to CSKA Arena in Moscow, Russia, this Saturday (Nov. 9, 2019) with a pair of rising Featherweight prospects-turned-contenders in the lead. Once the co-feature, Zabit Magomedsharipov and Calvin Kattar headline in a battle that could have title implications in the near future, while former headliner Alexander Volkov takes on Greg Hardy in the co-feature. There’s also a Welterweight battle between heavy hitters Zelim Imadaev and Danny Roberts on the ESPN+ menu.
UFC Fight Night 163 features seven “Prelims” undercard bouts before all that, though, all of them joining the main card on ESPN+. Let’s get to it ...
170 lbs.: Abubakar Nurmagomedov vs. David Zawada
Abubakar Nurmagomedov — (15-2-1) cousin of Welterweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov — claimed five consecutive victories in World Series of Fighting (WSOF) before suffering an upset submission loss to +820 underdog Pavel Kusch in his first PFL tournament appearance. A decision win over Jonatan Westin followed, though a hand injury forced him out of the playoffs after his subsequent two-round draw with UFC veteran Bojan Velickovic.
His only prior defeat came via cut stoppage against current rising Lightweight Magomed Mustafaev.
David Zawada (16-5) brought a five-fight win streak into his late-notice Octagon debut, which saw him fight Danny Roberts to a “Fight of the Night” split decision in Hamburg. He returned to action four months later against Li Jingliang, dropping “The Leech” early but ultimately succumbing to a body kick in the final minute.
Eleven of his 14 stoppage wins have come via (technical) knockout.
Abubakar is not Khabib. He’s a more polished striker and has the lovely takedowns you’d expect, but lacks the inexorable pressure, freakish chain wrestling, or earth-shaking ground-and-pound that plant “The Eagle” among the greatest fighters in UFC history. He’s still a very solid and well-rounded contender with the skills to sneak into the Top 15 — just don’t watch him with over-high expectations.
Zawada — while extremely entertaining and the superior finisher of the two — doesn’t have enough power or takedown defense to keep Nurmagomedov from riding out a win from top position. Nurmagomedov has been dropped and tapped before, so there’s enough intrigue to make it worth watching, but odds are that the younger Nurmagomedov grinds his way to a comfortable victory.
Prediction: Nurmagomedov via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Alexander Yakovlev vs. Roosevelt Roberts
Alexander vs. Yakovlev (25-9-1) wasn’t especially thunderous in his first Octagon appearances, dropping four of six to the likes of Demian Maia and Kamaru Usman before sitting out all of 2017 and 2018. This past April, “Thunder of the North” returned to Lightweight — where he’d beaten Gray Maynard — to choke out late replacement Alex da Silva in St. Petersburg.
He has knocked out and submitted nine professional foes apiece.
Roosevelt Roberts (8-1) choked out Garrett Gross on “Contender Series” to secure a UFC contract, then followed that up with a bonus-winning guillotine of Darrell Horcher and a decision over Thomas Gifford. A step-up bout with Vinc Pichel didn’t quite work out, as the heavy underdog survived a tough first round to out-wrestle Roberts en route to a decision.
He steps in for the aforementioned Pichel on around three weeks’ notice.
Full disclosure: I generally can’t pick a Yakovlev fight to save me life. Sometimes he’s a suffocating grappling powerhouse with sneaky punching power, sometimes he’s getting manhandled by guys who really shouldn’t be able to manhandle him. I expect more of the former down at Lightweight, which is what makes this interesting — Roberts is a good prospect, but had serious issues with the physically imposing Pichel, surrendering takedowns as the fight progressed.
If Yakovlev comes in looking like he did against a hotshot in da Silva, he’s got a legit shot at the upset, especially since Roberts won’t have his customary height advantage. Then again, Yakovlev does have some issues with his offensive wrestling and Roberts’ guillotine is absolutely lethal. It’s a coin flip and the universe will conspire to make me look stupid no matter my pick, but I say Roberts finds Yakovlev’s neck late in the first.
Prediction: Roberts via first-round submission
135 lbs.: Jessica-Rose Clark vs. Pannie Kianzad
Despite being just two bouts removed from a two-fight skid, Jessica-Rose Clark (9-5) kicked off her UFC career with consecutive wins over notable figures in Bec Rawlings and Paige VanZant. Jessica Eye proved too much for her in her third Octagon effort, though, beating the Aussie by decision in Singapore.
A failed weight cut and a foot injury make this her first fight in more than 16 months.
Pannie Kianzad (11-5) — whose initial undefeated (8-0) run included a win over Clark in Invicta — hit a three-fight skid afterward, but eventually found herself in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 28. She tapped to a Macy Chiasson rear-naked choke in said finals, then lost a decision to Julia Avila after picking up a win on the Swedish circuit.
“Banzai” is two inches taller than Clark and will have a three-inch reach advantage.
Bit of an “overachiever vs. underachiever” match up we’ve got here. Clark’s been doing far better than her record would suggest, while Kianzad has long failed to recapture the success she found during her unbeaten run. What complicates the narrative is that Clark was “doing better than her record would suggest” against Flyweights, while Kianzad’s big enough to do alright for herself at 145 pounds.
Both the striking and the wrestling look to be a dead heat skill-wise, meaning Kianzad’s physical edges will likely be the deciding factor. “Banzai” uses her height, length and strength to edge out what’s primarily a striking battle but could feature a bit of ground work.
Prediction: Kianzad via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Grigorii Popov vs. Davey Grant
A 10-fight win streak led Tiger Muay Thai’s Grigorii Popov (14-3) to an Octagon debut against former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) champion Eddie Wineland at UFC 238. The two wound up putting on a war, with Wineland ultimately putting away the Russian with punches late in the second round.
He’ll give up one inch each of height and reach to Davey Grant (10-4).
A long string of misfortune has held Grant to just three fights since his loss to Chris Holdsworth at TUF 18 Finale in Nov. 2013. He enters the cage for the first time since July 2018 on the heels of submission losses to Damian Stasiak and Manny Bermudez.
His eight professional submissions have all come by choke.
If these two both come in in peak condition, this is Grant’s fight by a landslide. Popov is a terrible wrestler who’s been controlled on the mat by exponentially inferior grapplers than “Dangerous” Davey. That’s not a good assumption to make, though; between Grant’s injury-induced inactivity and fellow finalist Holdsworth’s concussion-induced retirement, I’m pretty sure that season was just cursed somehow.
Luckily for the 33-year-old Brit, even a shell of his former self should be too much. He’s never been stopped by strikes and his greatest struggles have come against stronger grapplers, which Popov decidedly is not. Grant drags him to the mat in the opening minutes and gets right to the chokin.’
Prediction: Grant via first-round submission
Three more UFC Fight Night 163 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict tomorrow, including an undefeated Middleweight prospect and a clash of rising Light Heavyweights. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 163 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. ET, then the main card portion that will also stream on ESPN+ at 2 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Fight Night 163: “Zabit vs. Kattar” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.