A rematch seven years in the making helms the latest Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) pay-per-view (PPV) offering this Saturday (April 13, 2019) inside State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Ga., as Featherweight champ Max Holloway dukes it out with Dustin Poirier for the interim Lightweight title. Thirty pounds north, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) winner Kelvin Gastelum faces unbeaten phenom Israel Adesanya for the interim Middleweight strap, while knockout artists Eryk Anders and Khalil Rountree Jr. duke it out at Light Heavyweight.
UFC 236 features eight “Prelims” undercard bouts this weekend, half on Fight Pass and half on ESPN. Let’s have a look!
170 lbs.: Belal Muhammad vs. Curtis Millender
A 1-2 UFC start gave way to a four-fight win streak for Belal Muhammad (14-3), including an upset of Tim Means that saw Muhammad out-strike the vaunted Muay Thai artist. His run came to an end in January against Geoff Neal, whose power striking proved too much for “Remember the Name.”
He faces a three-inch height and four-inch reach discrepancy.
Curtis Millender (17-4) took home a “Performance of the Night” bonus for his knee knockout of Thiago Alves in his Octagon debut (watch highlights), which he followed up with decisions over Max Griffin and Siyar Bahadurzada to extend his win streak to nine. In his biggest fight to date, he took on the surging Elizeu Zaleski last month, tapping to a rear-naked choke midway through the first round.
His six knockout wins include two by head kick.
This is going to sound harsher than is warranted for someone who’s 3-1 in the Octagon, but I think this might be Millender’s ceiling. His takedown defense just hasn’t caught up with his striking — he’s been taken down at least once in all of his UFC fights, surrendering three to the compact Bahadurzada and one to Zaleski, who has a takedown accuracy of 15 percent.
Muhammad is tough as hell, isn’t lost against rangier strikers, and can wrestle. That seems like just the formula to handle “Curtious.”
Millender’s knees and head kicks will be a persistent threat, but as soon as Muhammad gets inside those limbs, he should be able to drag Millender to the mat with relative ease. Expect him to grind away for 15 one-sided minutes.
Prediction: Muhammad via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Montel Jackson vs. Andre Soukhamthath
A series of fouls in his “Contender Series” victory kept Montel Jackson (7-1) from getting an immediate contract, but he got the chance to step up on short notice against Ricky Simon less than two months later. Though he struggled with Simon’s grappling in defeat, he showed what he could do with a full training camp in Dec. 2018, dropping and choking out Brian Kelleher in 100 seconds.
He has knocked out five opponents as a professional and several more as an amateur.
Andre Soukhamthath (13-6) made UFC history in the worst way possible when he insisted on taking down Sean O’Malley despite the latter being unable to stand because of a foot injury, resulting in him losing a decision. He returned to action seven months later against late replacement Jonathan Martinez, winning a unanimous decision to raise his UFC record to 2-3.
He is one inch shorter than Jackson and will give up nearly a half-foot of reach.
I’m impressed Soukhamthath’s foot still works considering how many times he’s shot it, and his insistence on throwing away winnable fights is made only more frustrating by the fact that he’s legitimately powerful and dangerous when he wants to be. He’s the better striker on paper, but it’s impossible to have faith in his ability to execute an effective gameplan.
To make matters worse, Soukhamthath can’t fall back on his wresting against a superior takedown artist, and the reach disparity means that Soukhamthath will have to put himself in clinch danger if he wants to rip his customary body shots. Jackson mixes his long-range striking with regular takedowns, never letting Soukhamthath find a rhythm on his way to a dominant decision victory.
Prediction: Jackson via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Poliana Botelho vs. Lauren Mueller
The UFC debut for Poliana Botelho (7-2) was one of the stranger in recent memory, taking place almost entirely on the fence as Pearl Gonzalez failed to take her down, but Botelho gave a glimpse of her action potential with a 33-second body kick knockout of Syuri Kondo her next time out. She entered her next bout with Cynthia Calvillo as the favorite, only to tap to a rear-naked choke late in the first round.
All but one of her professional victories have come by knockout.
Lauren Mueller (5-1) put on a strong performance on “Contender Series,” then followed that up with a decision over TUF veteran Shana Dobson in her Octagon debut. She was doing well with her wrestling against Wu Yanan in her sophomore appearance, but got caught in an armbar four minutes into the first round.
She steps in for the injured Paige VanZant on six weeks’ notice.
This fight should tell us whether Botelho is a legitimate contender or just a fun action fighter. Mueller is a strong infighter with some wrestling she can fall back on, two areas that Botelho needs to prove she can hold her own in. It’s a competitive match up that looks fit to deliver plenty of entertainment in a division that, let’s face it, has been a disappointment since its inception.
Botelho’s the bigger hitter, sports a three-inch height advantage, and has more experience in insane brawls, so unless her takedown defense is a bigger Achilles’ heel than I thought, expect her to bomb Mueller out late in the first.
Prediction: Botelho via first-round technical knockout
135 lbs.: Randy Costa vs. Brandon Davis
Randy Costa (4-0) went undefeated (3-0) as an amateur in 2014, but several issues delayed his professional debut until 2018. “The Zohan” has made up for lost time, knocking out all four of his professional opponents in less than 80 seconds apiece.
One of his knockout victories came via head kick in 11 seconds.
Brandon Davis (9-6) put on one of the best fights against Austin Arnett on “Contender Series,” earning a UFC spot despite the lack of finish. He’s just 1-3 in the Octagon itself, though, most recently tapping to a kneebar from Zabit Magomedsharipov.
He will be making his Bantamweight debut.
Costa’s one of the stranger UFC signings in recent memory in terms of both the circumstances and the way he fights. As far as the former, his opponents’ records when he fought them were 0-4, 0-0, 5-9, and 0-1. As far as the latter, he mixes fast, dexterous and powerful head kicks with wound-up punches as heavy as they are telegraphed. It’s an inefficient style, and if nothing else, Davis is stupid durable and doesn’t get tired.
This one won’t be ending in one minute and 20 seconds.
I have concerns about Davis cutting to 135 pounds, since his issues appeared to stem more from technical limitations than being outsized. If the weight management puts a dent in his durability or gas tank, he’s defensively porous enough to get drilled early. Assuming he’s still at or near peak capacity, though, I say he weathers Costa’s early onslaught and settles down to win a war of attrition.
Prediction: Davis via third-round technical knockout
We’ve got four more UFC 236 “Prelims” undercard bouts to preview and predict tomorrow, including an undefeated Chechen Welterweight with eight knockouts in eight wins and the long-awaited debut of Boston Salmon. Same time as always, Maniacs!
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 236 fight card on fight night, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:15 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
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