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X-Factor! Some UFC Fight Night 159 main card predictions

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Moreno vs Pantoja Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

This Saturday (Sept. 21, 2019), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) travels to Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Mexico, for UFC Fight Night 159. Let’s be clear right away: almost all of the intrigue on this card is provided by the main event, while the rest of the bouts are pretty uninspired. In addition, this event carries with it a MASSIVE overall X-Factor: the effects of the crazy elevation and poor air quality of the venue will surely ruin performances and have fighters vomiting backstage. It might end up a rough night, but let’s roll with the punches and analyze some main card fights!

Remember: Later in the week, Jesse Holland will be back to preview and predict the biggest fights of the night.

Women’s Strawweight: Carla Esparza vs. Alexa Grasso

Best Win for Esparza? Rose Namajunas For Grasso? Karolina Kowalkiewicz
Current Streak: Both women enter this bout following a single victory
X-Factor: Grasso’s youth and improvement
How these two match up: Both of these women have come a long way in improving upon their weaknesses, but this remains a striker vs. grappler match up.

Were it not for a controversial decision loss to Claudia Gadelha, Esparza could easily have won four of her last five bouts. Her recent success is a testament to the improvement of her kickboxing, as Esparza’s combinations have grown quicker and more threatening, allowing her to better set up her double leg shot. Meanwhile, Grasso enters off the biggest win of her career, a decisive win in which her punches and kicks simply could not miss. At 26 years of age, Grasso is coming into her own as a contender, but this will be a big step up for the boxer.

I do not like predicting this match up. It’s really a question of just how much Grasso’s takedown defense has improved, something which was largely untested in her last bout. If Grasso has shored up that issue, she’s likely to pick Esparza apart even despite “Cookie Monster’s” own improvements.

Wrestling is tricky, though. The fundamentals are easy to learn, but it’s hard to make up time against a foe that has so much more experience driving opponents into the fence and head-fighting for good posture. Thus far, Esparza has pretty consistently out-wrestled foes outside of the top five, so I’ll hesitantly side with the former champion.

Prediction: Esparza via decision

Flyweight: Brandon Moreno vs. Askar Askarov

Best Win for Moreno? Dustin Ortiz For Askarov? Jose Maria Tome
Current Streak: Moreno enters on a win, Askarov makes his UFC debut following 10 pro victories
X-Factor: Moreno’s higher level of competition
How these two match up: Expect some classic Flyweight scrambles in this one.

It’s good to have Moreno back on the roster, as the entertaining “Baby Assassin” was released in the 2018 Flyweight purge after a couple tough losses. The Mexican athlete is at his best when able to secure top position, where his submission game is quite tricky, but he’s an underrated threat on the feet as well.

Askarov is no hometown softball. The Russian prospect is a damn good wrestler, and he tends to really abuse opponents from top position. He’s finished all 10 of his past opponents, including a win via twister.

Moreno is a great scrambler and scrappy wrestler, but this seems like an awful match up for him. Moreno does not want to be put on his back — that’s how a majority of his losses have occurred. Yet that’s exactly what Askarov intends to do, and based on the Russian’s win streak, Moreno will have a hell of a time stopping him.

Moreno is always dangerous, but he needs a finish to avoid defeat.

Prediction: Askarov via submission

Heavyweight: Martin Bravo vs. Steven Peterson

Best Win for Duffee? Claudio Puelles For Peterson? Matt Bessette
Current Streak: Both have lost two straight
X-Factor: Given Peterson’s exhausting style, the air quality and elevation is especially relevant here
How these two match up: I expect some sloppiness in this one.

Bravo won season three on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Latin America,” but he has yet to win another fight in the Octagon despite two attempts. He’s something of a brawler, utilizing a lot of aggression and combinations in pursuit of a wild fight.

Peterson is quite likely to oblige him. “Ocho” is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and seems quite dangerous on the mat, but his wrestling routinely fails to get opponents down. As a result, Peterson just walks his foes down and trades leather. He doesn’t usually win those exchanges, but he’s damn tough.

To be fully honest, I don’t think either man is particularly great or likely to find long-term success in the Octagon. For whatever it’s worth, Bravo is a bit more athletic, while Peterson has the experience edge. It’s almost certain to be a brawl, and while Bravo is likely to score the better strikes early, I guess I’ll side with Peterson’s toughness to edge out a victory over the latter half of the fight.

Plus, there’s always a chance he finally gets to use that Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which would be quite helpful.

Prediction: Peterson via decision

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 159 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the main card portion that will stream on ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Fight Night 159: “Stephens vs. Rodriguez” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

‘X-Factor’ Picks for 2019: 41-17 (1)