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X-Factor! Some UFC on ESPN 7 main card predictions

MMA: UFC 239-Perez vs Yadong Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

This Saturday (Dec. 7, 2019), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) travels to Washington, D.C., for UFC on ESPN 7. Is UFC “DC” the best event to air on ESPN? Probably not, yet after a rare two weeks of silent Saturdays without UFC fights, it’s easy to be excited anyway! There’s some Heavyweight action promised, as well as some talented prospects too, so let’s analyze some main card fights!

Remember: Later in the week, Jesse Holland will be back to preview and predict the biggest fights of the night.

Heavyweight: Stefan Struve vs. Ben Rothwell

Best Win for Struve? Stipe Miocic For Rothwell? Josh Barnett
Current Streak: Struve won his last fight, Rothwell has lost his previous three
X-Factor: Where is Struve’s mind at after his brief retirement?
How these two match up: Neither of these men seem to be in their prime anymore, but they can still bring the violence.

Struve has never exactly figured out how to fight tall, but there are still some things he does quite well. Struve can land pretty thudding kicks from the outside, and his Brazilian jiu-jitsu is underrated, accounting for 18 of his career victories.

Meanwhile, Rothwell was nearly a contender back in 2016, but a two-year suspension from USADA stole the wind from his sails. Since his return, Rothwell has proven tough as ever, but he’s also looked a bit rusty — it’s hard to say whether that rust can be shaken off, or if this is simply the new reality for the 38-year-old veteran.

Rothwell does not create consistent offense, and for all his kickboxing faults, Struve does. There’s a real chance that Rothwell lumbers around the outside and falls behind on points, hoping that the one-punch kill eventually saves him. The problem with that approach, however, is that Struve hasn’t been getting clipped with singular big punches very often, and it’s been five years since Rothwell’s latest knockout win.

There is another path that worries me, however. Struve does not really defend takedowns. He lets them happen and then attempts to throw up triangle chokes. There’s a real chance Rothwell can recommit to the takedown and trap his opponent on the mat for three rounds, resulting in an ultra ugly victory.

That sounds very possible to me, but wrestling is exhausting. Ultimately, my true deciding factor will be what type of shape Rothwell looks to be in on weigh-in day. Is there a hint of abs for “Big Ben?” Bet on the IFL veteran. If there’s a considerable belly, Struve is the better pick.

Until then, I’ll go with ...

Prediction: Struve via decision

Women’s Bantamweight: Aspen Ladd vs. Yana Kunitskaya

Best Win for Ladd? Sijara Eubanks For Kunitskaya? Marion Reneau
Current Streak: Ladd lost her last fight quickly, whereas Kunitskaya has won two straight
X-Factor: Ladd’s physical strength
How these two match up: This should prove to be quite the scrap.

Ladd entered her first main event slot opposite Germaine de Randamie with an undefeated record and plenty of hype behind her, but the Dutch kickboxer put her on her butt almost immediately. When given a bit more time to work, Ladd is an excellent top control fighter with great transitions.

Meanwhile, Kunitskaya was sacrificed to Cris Cyborg in her UFC debut, but “Foxy” has since proven her skill in consecutive wins. Despite being known for her kickboxing, Kunitskaya has landed plenty of takedowns in those victories, showcasing a well-rounded game overall.

It’s my belief that Kunitskaya has improved her wrestling and grappling a great deal since her Invicta FC loss to Tonya Evinger. However, it’s still worrying that Evinger was able to grind Kunitskaya down and submit her, as Ladd is a more powerful grinder than “Triple Threat.” In fact, when the two wrestled, Ladd positively manhandled Evinger.

There is still a clear path to victory for Kunitskaya: she’s the much better striker, and she’s more consistent across 15 minutes than Ladd, who cuts a great deal of weight. Perhaps if Kunitskaya can survive some dangerous positions early, those advantages will come into play, but it seems likely that Ladd ends this one early from back mount.

Prediction: Ladd via submission

Bantamweight: Cody Stamann vs. Song Yadong

Best Win for Stamann? Bryan Caraway For Yadong? Alejandro Perez
Current Streak: Stamann returned to the win column last time out, whereas Yadong has won each of his four UFC bouts
X-Factor: Song’s knockout power
How these two match up: This is a great match up of experience vs. athleticism.

Stamann carries a 4-1 UFC record into this bout, and the Michigan-native has demonstrated a very well put-together game. Combining classic wrestle-boxer tactics with some traditional martial arts/side kicking flair, Stamann is very good at forcing the type of fight he desires.

Yadong is a special fighter. The Chinese athlete is supposedly just 21 years old — it’s hard to say for sure, the details are shaky — but either way, he’s quite young and damn talented. Yadong has shown skill everywhere, but it’s really his speed and timing that have set him apart from the pack.

Recently, Yadong has proven himself a pretty ferocious counter puncher, which makes Stamann’s usual pressure style quite risky. It’s imperative for Stamann that he moves forward and gets Yadong swinging — that’s how he sets up his double leg takedown, and he probably needs to get on top to win this one.

However, that’s going to be very difficult to do without getting cracked in the process.

Prediction: Yadong via decision

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on ESPN 7 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then remaining undercard portion that will air on ESPN proper at 7 p.m. ET (main card begins at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN).

To check out the latest and greatest UFC on ESPN 7: “Overeem vs. Rozenstruik” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

‘X-Factor’ Picks for 2019: 55-25-1 (2)

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