Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) hits O2 Arena in Prague, Czech Republic, this Saturday (Feb. 23, 2019) with a pair of top-ranked Light Heavyweight contenders on tap as Thiago Santos squares off with fellow striking specialist Jan Blachowicz. UFC Fight Night 145’s main card, which will stream exclusively on ESPN+, will also feature veteran Stefan Struve against Brazilian knockout artist Marcos Rogerio Lima and John Dodson against surging prospect Petr Yan.
UFC Fight Night 145 will feature seven “Prelims” undercard matches this time, all of which will stream online via ESPN+ along with the main card bouts. Let’s check out the first four on the docket:
170 lbs.: Michel Prazeres vs. Ismail Naurdiev
Michel Prazeres (26-2) assembled a six-fight win streak in UFC’s Lightweight division, but his repeated inability to make the weight forced him to move back to 170 pounds. He narrowly defeated Zak Cummings in his return, then demolished Bartosz Fabinski in 62 seconds last November.
“Trator” is six inches shorter and 15 years older than “The Austrian Wonderboy.”
Ismail Naurdiev (18-2) scored 11 consecutive finishes in under two rounds after his first professional defeat, only to lose a hard-fought decision to The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Brazil” veteran Ismael “Marmota” de Jesus in 2017. He rebounded with a pair of first-round knockouts, one a wheel kick knockout and the other a 36-second stomping.
He steps in for Ramazan Emeev on short notice.
Naurdiev is a terrific young talent, a 22-year-old boasting a terrific wrestling pedigree to go along with his high-flying striking offense. That said, his issues with “Marmota” are worrying. The Brazilian exposed Naurdiev’s issues fighting off the back foot and also managed to drain his gas tank with fairly rudimentary pressure. Prazeres isn’t as big as de Jesus, but he offers a similar blend of aggression and physicality.
Prazeres’ wrestling and pressure nullify the threat of Naurdiev’s kicks, forcing him to rely on his unspectacular hands. Said hands aren’t enough to get Prazeres’ respect or slow down his takedowns, so expect “Trator” to recreate “Marmota’s” efforts with power hooks and brutal grappling.
Prediction: Prazeres via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Daniel Teymur vs. Chris Fishgold
Daniel Teymur (6-2) — brother of David Teymur — racked up six first-round victories to earn a contract in 2017. He’s yet to taste victory in the Octagon, however, gassing out in his debut against Danny Henry and tapping to Julio Arce 11 months later.
He’s got three wins apiece by knockout and submission.
Chris Fishgold (17-2-1) choked out Adam Boussif for the Cage Warriors Lightweight title in 2016 and successfully defended it three times, including two successful defenses in the span of two months. This led to a debut against Calvin Kattar, who put Fishgold away with punches late in the first.
He stands three inches taller than Teymur at 5’8.”
I’m on the fence on whether to write Teymur off as a bust yet; Henry went on to squash one of my top prospects in Hakeem Dawodu and Arce is a damn good fighter in his own right. Still, it’s hard to have faith in a guy with cardio problems against someone in Fishgold who both pushes a furious pace and has the wrestling skill to drag him out of his comfort zone.
Teymur needs the early knockout to win this fight, which is certainly feasible considering Fishgold’s loss to Kattar. It’s unlikely that he lands it before the Brit scores at least one takedown, though, and Teymur doesn’t have the gas tank to survive the grappling wringer Fishgold can put him through. Teymur starts strong, but fades from pressure down the stretch and ultimately taps to a choke.
Prediction: Fishgold via third-round submission
155 lbs.: Rustam Khabilov vs. Diego Ferreira
Rustam Khabilov (23-3) won his first three Octagon bouts, including a “Fight of the Night” decision over Jorge Masvidal, before tapping to Benson Henderson in his first main event. An upset decision loss to Adriano Martins followed, since which he’s won six in a row.
“The Tiger” will give up one inch each of height and reach to Ferreira.
Diego Ferreira (14-2) ran roughshod over Olivier Aubin-Mercier and looked poised to make a legitimate run, only to fail a drug test and miss two years of action. He returned last February with a 118-second beating of Jared Gordon and followed it up by pounding out late replacement Kyle Nelson at UFC 231.
He has submitted six and knocked out three.
Man, remember when Khabilov was exciting? From suplexing Vinc Pichel into the dirt to dropping Masvidal with a wheel kick to the neck, he was must-watch TV before the Henderson loss. I don’t know if gassing against “Bendo” shot his confidence or what, but Khabilov has turned into a gunshy grinder unwilling to even throw real ground-and-pound.
Fortunately for him, that might be enough. He’s a stronger wrestler than Ferreira and is at least competent enough with his hands to survive on the feet until the next double-leg opportunity pops up. As good as Ferreira’s jiu-jitsu is, Khabilov has the top control to steer clear of any danger from the Brazilian’s guard. Ferreira will almost certainly do more damage and make a greater effort to secure the finish, but Khabilov will score enough takedowns and ride out the clock enough to eke out the decision.
Prediction: Khabilov via split decision
155 lbs.: Damir Ismagulov vs. Joel Alvarez
Kazakhstan’s Damir Ismagulov (17-2) rattled off 11 consecutive wins on his way to the Octagon, winning and defending the M-1 Lightweight title along the way. He leaned on his wrestling for his UFC debut, an easy if unspectacular decision over Alex Gorgees in Adelaide.
He will give up two inches of height to “El Fenomeno.”
Joel Alvarez (15-1) started his career undefeated (5-0) before an appearance in M-1, where he suffered a wheel kick KO to Ali Abdulkhalikov. His current 10-fight winning streak includes a triangle finish of Radu Maxim for the AFL Lightweight title in his most recent effort.
Fourteen of his 15 submission wins have come by form of choke.
I haven’t found as much tape of Alvarez as I’d like, but the impression I get is of a marching-style striker with terrific submission skills and iffy wrestling. Unfortunately for him, Ismagulov is perfectly equipped to tear him up. The Kazakh has the kicking prowess to hold his own at range and Alvarez’s striking style opens him up to Ismagulov’s clinch game.
This fight will hit the mat at Ismagulov’s discretion, and though I have issues with his unwillingness to extend himself for the finish, his quality top control is more than enough to keep him safe from “El Fenomeno’s” bottom game. Ismagulov grinds him down in the clinch and from the top to win a clear decision.
Prediction: Ismagulov via unanimous decision
Three more UFC Fight Night 145 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including what looks to be a terrific brawl between Damir Hadzovic and Polo Reyes. 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 145 fight card on fight night, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. ET, before the main card start time at 2 p.m. ET (also on ESPN+).