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Barboza vs Gaethje predictions: UFC on ESPN 2 ‘Prelims’ undercard preview - Pt. 1

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is bringing a bevy of “Prelims” fights to both ESPN and ESPN+ this weekend (Sat., March 30, 2019) when UFC on ESPN 2: “Barboza vs. Gaethje” storms Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. MMAmania.com’s Patrick Stumberg kicks off the UFC on ESPN 2 “Prelims” party with the first installment of a two-part undercard preview series below.

A Lightweight match up with the potential to be the most violent in division history goes down inside Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa., this Saturday (March 30, 2019) when Edson Barboza squares off with Justin Gaethje in UFC on ESPN 2’s main event. Fight fans will also get to enjoy a Middleweight bout between David Branch and Jack Hermansson, as well as a Featherweight slugfest between Josh Emmett and Michael Johnson.

UFC on ESPN 2 features seven “Prelims” undercard bouts this time around, three on ESPN+ and four joining the main card on ESPN proper. Let’s begin!

135 lbs.: Ray Borg vs. Kyler Phillips

Though he lost an entertaining split decision to Dustin Ortiz in his Octagon debut, Ray Borg (11-3) established himself as a top young Flyweight by winning five of his next six bouts. This set up a title shot against Demetrius Johnson, who caught Borg in one of the wildest flying armbars in mixed martial arts (MMA) history (watch highlights).

This will be his first fight since Oct. 2017 because of several issues, one of which was Conor McGregor-induced (details).

Meanwhile, a sub-minute finish on “Contender Series” carried Kyler Phillips to The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 27, where he became Team Miocic’s first pick but lost to Brad Katona in the opening round. He proceeded to lose a split decision to well-traveled veteran Victor Henry, then returned to the win column with a head kick finish of Emeka Ifekandu last month.

He steps in for the injured Pingyuan Liu on short notice.

The odds are currently extremely lopsided, leaving Borg the largest favorite on the card. I’m not sure that’s warranted — “The Tazmexican Devil” does his best work at 125 pounds, while Phillips can hold his own at Featherweight. The latter also has a four-inch height advantage and a 7.5-inch reach advantage, and we’ve seen Borg struggle when he can’t get inside to set up his takedowns.

All that said, Phillips isn’t a particularly fearsome striking technician, preferring to wing power hooks that should allow Borg to close the gap. There, the latter’s wrestling, experience edge, and phenomenal back control should allow him to dominate until he locks up the rear-naked choke.

Prediction: Borg via second-round submission

125 lbs.: Maryna Moroz vs. Sabina Mazo

Maryna Moroz (8-3) erupted out of the Octagon gate with a 90-second armbar finish of Joanne Calderwood, only to fall to Valerie Letourneau her next time out. Victories over Cristina Stanciu and Danielle Taylor put her back in contention, but she enters the cage on the heels of consecutive losses to Carla Esparza and Angela Hill.

This will be her first fight in 13 months because of a broken foot.

Sabina Mazo (6-0) returned from 1.5 years away to score savage head kick knockouts in her first two LFA appearances, earning herself a shot at the promotion’s vacant Flyweight title. She dominated veteran Shannon Sinn for the belt, then defended it against Carol Yariwaki in a headlining appearance.

“The Colombian Queen” is six years younger than Moroz at 21.

Mazo is clearly a phenomenal talent, but there’s still work to be done. The biggest issue right now seems to be that she’s not nearly as potent off the back foot as she is on the attack. When she’s moving forward, she’s a lethal blend of rapid punching combinations and sneaky kicks. When she’s retreating, she’s worryingly passive.

If Legacy would just put more of its fights online, I would be able to see if her recent strong performances were due to that or just getting stronger as the fight goes on.

Moroz has yet to live up to the potential her boxing pedigree and opportunistic submissions offer, and I’d wager that Mazo will get on the front foot early. Moroz takes the first few minutes, only for Mazo to find her groove and piece her up behind her jab for the rest.

Prediction: Mazo via unanimous decision

135 lbs.: Alex Perez vs. Mark De La Rosa

Alex Perez (21-5) emerged as an elite prospect with a submission win on “Contender Series” and three consecutive UFC victories, among them a first-round knockout of red-hot Jose “Shorty” Torres. His subsequent battle with Joe Benavidez didn’t go nearly as well, as “Joe B” pounded him out despite the ref botching an initial attempt at a stoppage.

He had won eight straight before running into Benavidez.

Mark De La Rosa (11-1) went right into the deep end for his short-notice UFC debut, which saw him tap to a Tim Elliott anaconda choke midway through the second round. “The Bumblebee” has done quite a bit better when given time to prepare, choking out Elias Garcia and narrowly edging Joby Sanchez in Nov. 2018.

Five of his six submission wins have come by rear-naked choke.

Perez is still an extremely good fighter — it’s just that Joseph Benavidez has been thrashing quality grapplers since before the former turned professional. After seeing him completely outclass Eric Shelton in the wrestling and turn an extremely capable fighter in Torres inside-out, I have full confidence he can handle another well-rounded grappler in De La Rosa.

Perez looks to have the wrestling edge, can hold his own on the feet, and has more proven cardio. De La Rosa keeps up with the scrambles early, but ultimately falls victim to a late choke.

Prediction: Perez via third-round submission

Four more UFC on ESPN 2 “Prelims” undercard bouts to preview and predict tomorrow, featuring an undefeated Strawweight prospect and what looks to be a guaranteed slobberknocker between Enrique Barzola and Kevin Aguilar. Same time as always, Maniacs.

Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on ESPN 2 fight card on fight night, starting with the ESPN+ (7-day free trial here) “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN at 5 p.m. ET, before the ESPN main card start time at 7 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC on ESPN 2: “Barboza vs. Gaethje” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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