Two of the most lethal punchers on the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) roster collide inside Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kan., this Saturday (March 9, 2019) at UFC Fight Night 146 (a.k.a. UFC on ESPN+ 4) when former Heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos takes on “The Black Beast,” Derrick Lewis. Down at 170 pounds, Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos puts his six-fight UFC win streak on the line against the towering Curtis Millender and Tim Means squares off with fellow knockout artist Niko Price.
UFC Fight Night 146 features seven “Prelims” undercard bouts, all of which join the main card on ESPN+. Let’s start from the bottom ...
265 lbs.: Maurice Greene vs. Jeff Hughes
Maurice Greene (6-2) emerged as the biggest personality on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 28, beating Przemysław Mysiala and falling to Juan Espino among drunken benders and other shenanigans. Despite losing in the second round, he appeared at TUF 28 Finale, where he choked out Michel Batista midway through the first round.
He steps in for the injured Daniel Spitz on short notice.
Jeff Hughes (10-1) defeated Richard Odoms for the LFA Heavyweight belt in 2017, then defended it with a decision over Greene five months later. This set up a “Contender Series” opportunity, which Hughes made the most of with a dominant finish of Josh Appelt.
Hughes went 11-3 as an amateur before making his professional mixed martial arts (MMA) debut in 2014.
I’m not sure enough time has passed since their first meeting for anything to change significantly, but there is a major difference. Last time, Hughes had five rounds to work with and made the most of it by wearing down Greene with his volume. This time, he’s got just 15 minutes, and Greene has the gas tank to at least put in two good rounds.
That said, Hughes still looks to have the edge in most areas and avoided one of his self-admitted slow starts on “Contender Series,” suggesting he won’t fall into an early hole. I favor him to once again use his combination punching and effective top game to sap Greene’s energy and take a comfortable decision.
Prediction: Hughes via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Louis Smolka vs. Matt Schnell
Louis Smolka (15-5) — once on the verge of Flyweight title contention — washed out of UFC after four consecutive losses. “Da Last Samurai” picked up three wins on the regional circuit before successfully returning to the Octagon with an armbar finish of Sumudaerji in Nov. 2018.
Seven of his 13 stoppage wins have come by submission.
Matt Schnell (12-4) entered TUF 24 as the Legacy Flyweight champion and choked out Matthew Rizzo before tapping to eventual winner Tim Elliott. He suffered knockout losses to Rob Font and Hector Sandoval in his first two UFC appearances, but has since gotten back on track with decisions over Marco Antonio Beltran and Naoki Inoue.
“Danger” is one inch shorter than Smolka, but will have a four-inch reach advantage.
Schnell has been one of the more underwhelming TUF 24 alumni, giving up takedowns to most of his Octagon opponents, showing a poor chin, and barely squeaking past a skilled but extremely green Naoki Inoue in his most recent bout. For all of Smolka’s inconsistency, this looks like a winnable fight for him — Schnell doesn’t have the size or takedowns to physically dominate “Da Last Samurai,” nor particularly potent striking.
Against a chinny opponent without overwhelming wrestling, Smolka’s durability and submission prowess should carry the day. Expect him to either clip Schnell standing or drag him down in transition en route to a submission finish.
Prediction: Smolka via second-round submission
170 lbs.: Alex Morono vs. Zak Ottow
Alex Morono (15-5) started his UFC career perfect (2-0), but has alternated losses and wins since a knockout defeat to Niko Price was overturned because of Price testing positive for marijuana. He earned “Fight of the Night” for his most recent effort, an entertaining decision over Song Kenan in Beijing.
Despite his free-swinging style, “The Great White” has earned more wins by submission (six) than knockout (four).
Zak Ottow (17-6) has likewise struggled to put two consecutive wins together in the Octagon, going 4-3 without a single win streak. His last time out, he took on knockout artist Dwight Grant and defied lopsided odds to win a narrow split decision.
He has submitted 10 opponents and knocked out another three.
Ottow is a strange case — three of his four UFC victories were by split decision and, save for brief spurts of violence against Mike Pyle and Sage Northcutt, he never seems to get out of first gear. Morono, by contrast, never stops coming, making up for his technical deficiencies with gusto and a solid chin. In addition, he’s got a surprisingly strong ground game to fall back on should Ottow actually make an effort to take it to the mat.
Ottow just doesn’t do enough to earn a decision against someone as aggressive as Morono and he lacks the finishing ability to take the judges out of the equation. Morono outworks him in a brawl to win a decision.
Prediction: Morono via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Alex White vs. Dan Moret
Alex White (12-5) went 2-2 as a Featherweight in the Octagon, including a win over the inimitable Artem Lobov, before making the move to 155 pounds in 2017. Unlike Martin — whom White faced in his divisional debut — he hasn’t found similar success, going 1-3 and suffering a submission loss to Jim Miller in his last bout.
His 10 stoppages are split evenly between knockouts and submissions.
Dan Moret (13-4) did well for himself in organizations like RFA and LFA, losing only to future UFC competitors Luke Sanders, Bobby Moffett and Raoni Barcelos. He made his Octagon debut against Gilbert Burns last April, but succumbed to “Durinho’s” power early in the second round.
Five of his eight submission wins have come in the first round.
You can’t really fault Moret for getting nuked by Burns — that tends to happen to a lot of people lately. Still, he’s come up short in every attempt to step up so far, and though he’s clearly skilled on the mat, he just seems like he can’t take the next step.
Neither can White, admittedly, so this is an interesting match up in that sense. White’s the better striker, but his takedown defense consistently fails him, making this a toss-up against the grappling-focused Moret. It’s a coin flip, but considering Moret’s lack of size and leaky defense, I say White survives some early grappling trouble to take him out with punches.
Prediction: White via second-round technical knockout
We have three more UFC Fight Night 146 “Prelims” undercard bouts to preview and predict tomorrow, including the delayed debut of “Contender Series” standout Grant Dawson. 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 146 fight card on fight night, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, before the main card start time at 10 p.m. ET (also on ESPN+).