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UFC 236 predictions: ‘Holloway vs Poirier 2’ ESPN ‘Prelims’ undercard preview

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is bringing a bevy of “Prelims” fights to both UFC Fight Pass and ESPN this weekend (Sat., April 13, 2019) when UFC 236: “Holloway vs. Poirier 2” storms State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. MMAmania.com’s Patrick Stumberg continues the UFC 236 “Prelims” party with the second (and final) installment of a two-part undercard preview series below.

With their respective champions out of commission, the Lightweight and Middleweight divisions get interim title holders when UFC 236 hits State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Ga., this Saturday night (April 13, 2019). At 155 pounds, Max Holloway looks to become a two-division champion and avenge a loss from his fifth professional fight against Dustin Poirier, while Kelvin Gastelum takes on kickboxing great Israel Adesanya atop a pay-per-view (PPV) main card on ESPN+ that is loaded with the potential for violent finishes.

We’ve got four more UFC 236 “Prelims” undercard bouts to preview and predict (check out the Fight Pass batch here), which are chock-full of prospect goodness. Shall we?

155 lbs.: Jalin Turner vs. Matt Frevola

Jalin Turner (8-4) busted up Max Mustaki on “Contender Series,” then stepped up on short notice to face Vicente Luque at Welterweight. Though he suffered a brutal knockout loss, “The Tarantula” returned four months later to stop Callan Potter in just 53 seconds.

He’s knocked out seven opponents and submitted one other, all in the first round.

Matt Frevola (6-1-1) made the most of his headlining spot on “Contender Series,” choking out Jose Flores to earn himself a contract. His UFC debut against Polo Reyes ended with Frevola unconscious after 60 seconds, but “The Steamrolla” rebounded with an entertaining draw against Lando Vannata.

He’ll give up a staggering six inches of height and reach to Turner.

This match up is all kinds of wrong for Frevola. Relying on durability and tenacity instead of good technique to get inside doesn’t work against a guy a half-foot taller than you. Worse, Turner hits like a truck, and as tough as Frevola is, we’ve seen him succumb to punches before.

I just don’t see Frevola getting close enough to land his takedowns and haymakers without taking critical damage from Turner’s switch-hitting boxing. Unless Frevola can get on top early and put some fear into Turner, the taller man tears him up for a knockout midway through the first.

Prediction: Turner via first-round knockout

125 lbs.: Wilson Reis vs. Alexandre Pantoja

A 5-1 run marred only by a loss to Jussier Formiga carried Wilson Reis (23-9) to a title shot, where he tapped for the first time in his professional career to a Demetrius Johnson armbar. Losses to Henry Cejudo and John Moraga followed, after which he salvaged his Octagon career with a decision over Ben Nguyen.

He’s one an inch shorter than Alexandre Pantoja (20-3) and will give up two inches of reach.

“The Cannibal” earned the No. 1 seed on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 24, where he reached the semifinals before dropping a decision to Japanese grinder Hiromasa Ogikubo. He’s won four of five in the Octagon itself, most recently choking out submission specialist Ulka Sasaki in Argentina.

Eight of his 14 stoppages have come by submission, six by rear-naked choke.

It’s honestly something of a tragedy that Reis’ chin is what it is. He gets dropped essentially once a fight, keeping him from building up significant momentum, and Pantoja hits hard enough to exploit that mercilessly. At the same time, though, Reis averages more than five takedowns per fight, and Pantoja has been wrangled and taken down by lesser wrestlers.

This fight boils down to whether Pantoja’s scrambling can keep him on his feet long enough to land the game-changing blow. I don’t believe he’s quite as explosively dangerous as John Moraga, though, and expect Reis to narrowly edge a decision via constant takedown pressure.

Prediction: Pantoja via unanimous decision

170 lbs.: Max Griffin vs. Zelim Imadaev

Max Griffin (14-6) fell short in a “Fight of the Night” war with Elizeu Zaleski, setting him up as a decent-sized underdog to Mike Perry four months later, but “Max Pain” pulled the upset in Orlando. He enters the cage on a two-fight losing streak, one a clear decision against Curtis Millender and the other a robbery against Thiago Alves.

He has finished nine professional opponents, seven via knockout.

Chechnya’s Zelim Imadaev (8-0) has been on the warpath since his 2016 pro debut, knocking out all eight of his professional opponents. Four of those victories have come in under two minutes, including a 13-second knockout in his most recent bout.

This will be his first fight in more than one year because of an injury.

Imadaev is young, aggressive, dangerous and 100 percent unproven. Only three of his opponents had a single win on their records, and they were 2-0, 9-8, and 16-8-1, respectively. One of them was on a three-fight losing streak at the time. If his knockout ability translates to the upper echelons of the sport, he’s one to watch.

The thing is, we’ve seen Griffin hold his own against crazy-aggressive strikers before, and Imadaev’s overindulgence in flying knees suggests that the Chechen has yet to learn temperance. Imadaev — just 24 years young — has had a long time to improve since his most recent bout, so anything can happen, but I say Griffin defuses him with crafty striking to eke out a decision.

Prediction: Griffin via split decision

135 lbs.: Boston Salmon vs. Khalid Taha

Boston Salmon (6-1) made his name with a series of strong performances in RFA, the lone blemish a decision loss to Zac Riley that ringside announcer Mike Schiavello called one of the worst robberies he’d ever seen. The “loss” didn’t stop him from appearing on “Contender Series,” where “Boom Boom” boxed up unbeaten Ricky Turcios on the pilot episode.

This will be his first fight since July 2017 as a result of injuries to himself and others.

Khalid Taha (12-2) beat down Keita Ishibashi in the opening round of Rizin’s Bantamweight Grand Prix before tapping to veteran Takafumi Otsuka in the semifinals. A bounce-back victory led to a UFC debut opposite Nad Narimani, who out-wrestled “The Warrior” to secure a decision.

He was originally slated to face Salmon in Nov. 2018 before tearing his ACL.

This has sleeper “Fight of the Night” potential — both men are dedicated, versatile, powerful strikers who should put on a show without the threat of takedowns to slow them down. Salmon’s slight height and reach advantages may be the deciding factor; Taha has the greater variety in his attack and looks to be more aggressive, but extending to cover the reach disparity puts him in range of Salmon’s lethal counters. Taha would be best served keeping a high pace and not letting Salmon cruise, which is easier said than done considering how hard Salmon can punch.

Salmon’s passivity is the X-factor, as he seems content to wait for his opportunities and can get tagged a bit in the process. I’d say he’s overall sharper than Taha, though, and the latter’s output will drop in a hurry once the counters start piling up. Salmon lets it get closer than it needs to be, but ultimately takes the decision with higher-quality blows.

Prediction: Salmon via unanimous decision

The Lightweight championship situation may be a horrific cluster-you-know-what at the moment, but at least it’s given us this absolute banger. See you Saturday, 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+.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 236: “Holloway vs. Poirier 2” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

Current UFC “Prelims” Prediction Record for 2019: 42-23