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UFC on ESPN 2 preview, predictions: Breaking down ‘Barboza vs Gaethje’ in Philadelphia

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is roughly 24 hours away from its UFC on ESPN 2 mixed martial arts (MMA) event, going down this Sat. night (March 30, 2019) from inside Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with select “Prelims” bouts on ESPN+.

The action-packed main event will feature lightweight strikers Edson Barboza and Justin Gaethje. Barboza will be headlining just his second UFC event in nine years while this marks the fourth time in five fights “The Highlight” is serving as the main attraction.

In addition, longtime middleweight veteran, David Branch, gets back to work against Swedish “Joker,” Jack Hermansson, who is coming off back-to-back finishes over Gerald Meerschaert and Thales Leites. Why this bout took the co-main event slot over Michelle Waterson vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz is a mystery to me, but we’ll have to make due.

Before we break down those two bouts, have a look at the rest of the UFC on ESPN 2 main card here and here, then deconstruct the ESPN+ “Prelims” here and here. All the odds and betting lines for this weekend’s action can be found here.

Let’s get to it.

155 lbs.: Edson Barboza vs. Justin Gaethje

Edson Barboza

Record: 20-6 | Age: 33 | Betting line: -130
Wins: 12 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 7 DEC | Losses: 2 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 2 DEC
Height: 5’11“ | Reach: 75” | Stance: Orthodox
Striking accuracy: 909 of 2125 (43%) | Takedown attempts: 7 of 15 (47%)
Current Ranking: No. 6 | Last fight: Knockout win over Dan Hooker

Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje

Record: 19-2 | Age: 30 | Betting line: +110
Wins: 16 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 2 DEC | Losses: 2 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 0 DEC
Height: 5’11“ | Reach: 70” | Stance: Orthodox
Striking accuracy: 348 of 638 (55%) | Takedown attempts: 0 of 1 (0%)
Current Ranking: No. 8 | Last fight: Knockout win over James Vick

I know this bout is being billed as something akin to that back-alley brawl between Nada and Frank in They Live, but I have my reservations. Not because the potential for violence isn’t there — it is — but Justin Gaethje is precisely the sort of fighter to cause problems for Edson Barboza, a flashy and powerful striker who needs something “The Highlight” won’t give.


The Brazilian is at his best when he’s got time to find his feet and let something fly. As we saw against Kevin Lee and Khabib Nurmagomedov, constant pressure will keep him on his heels and looking for open real estate. Unlike “Motown Phenom” and “The Eagle,” Gaethje won’t be content to leave Barboza covered and smothered like a Denny’s hashbrown.

He’s there to treat Barboza like Goodfellas treated Billy Batts on the barroom floor.

If this was a kickboxing fight, Barboza would get my vote all day. But locked inside the cage with an animal like Gaethje, he’s going to need more than spinning shit to close the show. Yes, “The Highlight” has now been finished twice inside the Octagon, but those came in the later rounds, a place Barboza will not survive long enough to see.

Final prediction: Gaethje def. Barboza by knockout

185 lbs.: David Branch vs. Jack Hermansson

David Branch

Record: 22-5 | Age: 37 | Betting line: +105
Wins: 6 KO/TKO, 7 SUB, 9 DEC | Losses: 3 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 1 DEC
Height: 6’1“ | Reach: 78” | Stance: Orthodox
Striking accuracy: 136 of 338 (40%) | Takedown attempts: 11 of 43 (33%)
Current Ranking: No. 11 | Last fight: TKO loss to Jaren Cannonier

Jack “The Joker” Hermansson

Record: 18-4 | Age: 30 | Betting line: -125
Wins: 11 KO/TKO, 4 SUB, 3 DEC | Losses: 1 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 1 DEC
Height: 6’1“ | Reach: 77” | Stance: Orthodox
Striking accuracy: 244 of 431 (57%) | Takedown attempts: 6 of 15 (47%)
Current Ranking: Unranked | Last fight: Submission win over Gerald Meerschaert

I loathe this fight on many levels. David Branch is just 2-2 since returning to the Octogan, following a stellar run for World Series of Fighting (WSOF). That includes a sensational knockout win over Thiago Santos, who will now be fighting Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title. But we also shouldn’t overlook how easily he was handled by Luke Rockhold and Jared Cannonier and let’s face it, his Krzysztof Jotko “win” also ended in knockout — because it put the fans to sleep.

I was going to complain about Branch being in the co-main event over Michelle Waterson, who has a legitimate shot at competing for the 115-pound title, but if UFC will give Greg Hardy a co-headlining spot with a 0-1 record in UFC — along with his domestic violence baggage — then clearly it gives zero fucks what any of us think.

There’s always the possibility that UFC is trying to build something around Jack Hermansson before it returns to Sweden in June, and “The Joker” has quietly put together a 5-2 record inside the Octagon with consecutive finishes over Gerald Meerschaert and Thales Leites. I wish that was enough to get me excited about his future but watching him get worked by Cezar Ferreira and Thiago Santos has me feeling less than optimistic.

Expect three rounds of mediocre striking while Branch tries to avoid the power shots and work for a submission. He may not get it, but his control should be enough to grind out another decision win.

Final prediction: Branch def. Hermansson by decision

There you have it. will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on ESPN 2 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the ESPN+ “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 see who else is fighting at UFC on ESPN 2 click here.

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