The most accomplished Heavyweight champion in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) history looks to reclaim his title inside Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., this Saturday (Aug. 17, 2019) when Stipe Miocic rematches double champ Daniel Cormier in UFC 241’s pay-per-view (PPV) main event. Down at Welterweight, Anthony Pettis welcomes Nate Diaz back to the Octagon after three years away, while Yoel Romero slugs it out with Paulo Costa at 185 pounds.
ESPN hosts four of the seven “Prelims” undercard bouts (check out the Fight Pass portion here), which are broken down below for your perusing.
155 lbs.: Devonte Smith vs. Khama Worthy
Devonte Smith (10-1) scored his fourth consecutive stoppage win on “Contender Series” last August, pummeling Joseph Lowry to claim a UFC contract. His Octagon career has seen him knockout Julian Erosa and Dong Hyun Ma in just 4:49 combined, the latter of which earned him “Performance of the Night.”
Six of his nine knockout wins have come in the first round.
Worthy (12-6) saw a six fight winning streak give way to a 2-4 skid, but has since bounced back to win three straight. The current run includes two of just four career trips to the judges, with six of his other victories coming by (T)KO.
“The Deathstar” replaces Clay Collard, who himself replaced
I couldn’t find any footage of Worthy from the last four years that wasn’t behind a paywall, but there’s not a lot going for him here. Three of his five knockout losses came in a combined 3:19 and he showed zero striking defense against Matt Bessette in his most recent defeat. Unless he’s made a 100% overhaul of his game and somehow reinforced his chin, Smith’s going to knock his block off.
Worthy’s potential improvement and willingness to throw leather could make this interesting, but odds are that Smith poleaxes him inside three minutes.
Prediction: Smith via first-round knockout
135 lbs.: Raphael Assuncao vs. Cory Sandhagen
After suffering a knockout loss to Erik Koch in his Octagon debut, Raphael Assuncao (27-6) put together an 11-1 streak from 2011 to 2019, beating the likes of T.J. Dillashaw, Aljamain Sterling and Marlon Moraes, among others, along the way. His efforts earned him a No. 1 title contender eliminator rematch against Moraes, who dropped him in the early going and put him away with a guillotine choke midway through the first round.
He faces a six-inch height disadvantage and a 3.5-inch reach disadvantage.
Cory Sandhagen (11-1) survived a gruesome armbar to pound out Iuri Alcantara in his second UFC effort, then inflicted an armbar of his own on Mario Bautista five months later for his third finish in the Octagon. This led to a clash with all-action slugger John Lineker, whom Sandhagen controlled with distance strikes en route to a decision victory.
He had not gone the distance in victory since 2016.
For my money, this is the most stylistically intriguing fight on the undercard, pitting Assuncao’s patient, potent counters against Sandhagen’s brutal, devil-may-care offense. It’s the best kind of pick-‘em, close enough to keep things interesting, but not so close that they’re liable to get gun-shy and stink out the joint.
I’ll admit to flip-flopping a bit on this one — Assuncao presents a stiff test for Sandhagen’s offense, but getting cracked by Moraes last time out is worrying, especially considering Sandhagen’s considerable reach advantage. Even with the X-factor of Assuncao’s wrestling, I say Sandhagen outworks Assuncao and powers through enough counters to claim a narrow win.
Prediction: Sandhagen via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Manny Bermudez vs. Casey Kenney
Manny Bermudez (14-0) racked up nine first-round finishes on his way to the Octagon, six of them in less than two minutes apiece. “The Bermudez Triangle” has enjoyed similar success in UFC itself, scoring a trio of submissions and walking away with a post-fight bonus for his 59-second triangle finish of Davey Grant.
He’s submitted 11 professional opponents and knocked out one other.
Casey Kenney (12-1-1) went 1-1 on “Contender Series,” fighting twice in the span of two months, before returning to LFA, where he claimed the interim Bantamweight title with a knockout of Vince Cachero. Eight days after that victory, he stepped up on short notice to defeat Ray Borg by split decision.
He is three inches shorter than Bermudez and will give up 3.5 inches of reach.
Win or lose, Kenney looks to be Bermudez’s biggest headache to date. He’s the stronger wrestler of the two and ostensibly has the submission defense to avoid Bermudez’s quick-kill finishes. This fight will give us a good idea of whether Bermudez’s style can win him a decision in the Octagon.
I don’t think so, at least not against Kenney.
Kenney’s skilled enough to scramble with Ray Borg and looks to have fixed the cardio issues that led to his defeat on the Contender Series. The last time Bermudez went the distance, he had to be saved by the judges via robbery against Saul Almeida. Kenney’s takedowns, scrambling and clinch skills carry him to victory.
Prediction: Kenney via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Drakkar Klose vs. Christos Giagos
The upset decision win for Drakkar Klose (10-1) over Marc Diakiese in his second UFC bout cemented his status as one to watch, only for the surging David Teymur to hand him his first professional loss five months later.
He returned with another upset of Lando Vannata, then narrowly edged Bobby Green in Milwaukee in Dec. 2018.
He’ll give up one inch of height and 1.5 inches of reach to “The Spartan.”
Christos Giagos (17-7) initially washed out of UFC on a 1-3 skid, but answered the call to face Charles Oliveira after winning four of five on the regional and Russian circuits. Though he fell victim to “Do Bronx’s” infamous submission game, he enters the cage on the heels of consecutive victories over Mizuto Hirota and Damir Hadzovic.
Seven of his 10 stoppage wins have come by form of knockout.
Klose is a strange sort — it’s like he alternates between being forgettable and being a quality prospect from fight to fight. He absolutely did not deserve the decision against Green, but absolutely dominated Lando Vannata in the previous fight. Though he can’t seem to blend his striking and wrestling, his aggression and raw power make him a problem for everyone.
Giagos’ takedown defense has proven insufficient in the past, and even if Klose isn’t the most adept wrestler, he’s physically strong enough to grind it out in the clinch. Between that and his thudding leg kicks limiting Giagos’ explosiveness, I say Klose muscles his way to a close victory.
Prediction: Klose via unanimous decision
After a few weeks of substandard fare, it’s good to have a trio of five-star tussles to look forward to this weekend. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 241 fight card this weekend, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the pay-per-view (PPV) main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
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