It’s Big Boy Season in Wichita, Kan., this Saturday (March 9, 2019) as Junior dos Santos and Derrick Lewis headline the latest appearance for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) on ESPN+. In addition to a pair of Welterweight bouts between quality strikers, the event will also see the return of Ben Rothwell against former World Series of Fighting (WSOF) champion Blagoy Ivanov.
We’ve got three more UFC Fight Night 146 “Prelims” undercard bouts to preview and predict (check out the first batch here), so let’s not waste time.
170 lbs.: Anthony Rocco Martin vs. Sergio Moraes
Anthony Rocco Martin (15-4) — the man formerly known as Tony Martin — went 4-4 as a UFC Lightweight before debuting at 170 pounds with a decision over Keita Nakamura. The move seems to have been a wise one, as he went on to knockout Ryan LaFlare and submit Jake Matthews in impressive fashion.
Four of his nine submission wins have come by keylock or kimura.
Sergio Moraes (13-3-1) quietly put together a seven-fight unbeaten streak before running into Kamaru Usman in Pittsburgh. He rebounded with a questionable decision over Tim Means, then went back to his world-class grappling against Ben Saunders for his first submission win since 2013.
“The Panther” is seven years Martin’s elder at 36.
Moraes’ UFC career has been, well, bizarre. The man spent four years as almost a pure brawler, somehow doing extremely well for himself in the process, then remembered he’s one of the most decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialists on UFC’s roster against Saunders. There really is no telling what you’ll get from this guy.
Even if he does go back to his grappling, though, he’s in for a long night. Martin is the crisper striker and has the takedown defense to keep is standing all night, plus the chin to withstand Moraes’ blitzes. Moraes’ only real hopes are questionable judging or pulling off a surprise trip takedown. Moraes only needs to land on top once, but Martin won’t give him the opportunity, using crisp boxing and a strong sprawl to sweep the scorecards.
Prediction: Martin via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Yana Kunitskaya vs. Marion Reneau
Yana Kunitskaya (11-4) had the misfortune of debuting against Cris Cyborg, who pummeled her into submission in less than four minutes at UFC 222. She had a bit more luck at her natural weight class of 135 pounds, where she took a decision over fellow Cyborg victim Lina Lansberg at the infamous UFC 229.
“Foxy” has dispatched seven pro opponents by (technical) knockout.
Marion Reneau (9-4-1) came back from a two-fight skid to go unbeaten in her next four fights, including a comeback submission of the favored Sara McMann in Orlando. She had similar issues with takedowns against Cat Zingano five months later, but couldn’t find the finish and ultimately lost a unanimous decision.
“The Belizean Bruiser” has knocked out five opponents and submitted another three.
Reneau has the tools to be a top contender, boasting legitimate power in her hands and some sneaky grappling to fall back on. She just can’t seem to keep her foot on the gas — she dropped both Ashlee Evans-Smith and Bethe Correia, but settled for a loss and a draw because of giving them too much time to operate. Worse, her defensive wrestling remains a massive issue, allowing her last seven opponents to score at least a takedown apiece.
Kunitskaya showed some relentless wrestling against Lansberg and looks fit to do the same here. Reneau’s only real chance is to either snatch something from her back, which she’s done before, or clock Kunitskaya when the latter looks for the clinch. Neither possibility is likelier than Kunitskaya simply staying busy with her takedowns and controlling from the clinch and top position to grind out a win.
Prediction: Kunitskaya via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Grant Dawson vs. Julian Erosa
Grant Dawson (12-1) entered “Contender Series” having never gone past the second round, submitting eight opponents and knocking out three. “The Prophet” kept the streak alive with a dominant stoppage of Adrian Diaz to earn himself a contract.
This will be his first fight since 2017, as a United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) violation was only recently dismissed.
Julian Erosa (22-6) — the only American to make it out of the quarterfinals on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 22 — saw his initial Octagon run come to an end thanks to a knockout loss to Teruto Ishihara. He went on to win seven of his next nine, including a head kick of Jamall Emmers on “Contender Series,” to earn another shot in UFC, only to get knocked out by Devonte Smith in less than one minute.
“Juicy J” will have two inches of height and 2.5 inches of reach on Dawson.
Dawson has some of the most entertaining grappling I’ve seen out of a young prospect, blending his submissions, strikes, and passes into a never-ending tide of offense. That gaudy record isn’t the product of hitting easy submissions on cans; this guy is a beast from the top.
That said, he doesn’t like being on the feet for more than a minute, so the lanky Erosa could definitely catch him coming in with a knee or punch. He’s never been one to use his length to its fullest, though, and Dawson should find his way into the clinch before long. Erosa’s battle-tested submission defense will make it difficult for Dawson, but that won’t stop him from punching away from the top until the ref has to intervene.
Prediction: Dawson via second-round technical knockout
Big, strapping lads with genuine knockout power and some of the most entertaining Welterweights on the planet make for a solid Fight Night. See you Saturday, 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+).