Sheer Lightweight violence hits Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Canada, this Saturday (Sept. 14, 2019) when Justin Gaethje and Donald Cerrone lock horns in the main event of UFC Fight Night 158. Up at 205 pounds, Glover Teixeira will look to continue his unexpected resurgence against Ukrainian finisher Nikita Krylov, and Todd Duffee will return after four years away for a Heavyweight battle with Jeff Hughes.
UFC Fight Night 158 features seven “Prelims” undercard bouts this time around, all of which join the main card on ESPN+. Let’s check out the first four, shall we?
135 lbs.: Hunter Azure vs. Brad Katona
Hunter Azure (7-0) — the latest prospect out of the MMA Lab in Glendale, Ariz. — enjoyed an impressive 8-1 amateur career before joining the pros in 2017. Four finishes in six wins got him a spot on the Contender Series, where he dominated Chris Ocon to earn a UFC contract.
He has knocked out four professional foes and submitted one other.
Brad Katona (8-1) — Daniel Cormier’s penultimate Featherweight pick on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Undefeated” — defeated Miocic No. 1 pick Kyler Phillips and teammate Bryce Mitchell before taking a decision over Jay Cucciniello in the finals. “Superman” made it 2-0 in the Octagon with a decision over Matthew Lopez, but couldn’t overcome the madcap wrestling of Merab Dvalishvili back in May.
He’ll give up two inches of height and six inches of reach to the 5’8” Azure.
Hunter Azure has yet to develop his mixed martial arts (MMA) MMA game beyond his A+ wrestling and some gnarly kicks. Thing is, that wrestling is exactly what Katona struggles with — “Superman” has given up nine takedowns in his last two fights. Admittedly, he dominated Lopez on the ground and Dvalishvili is an absolute freak whose cardio Azure can’t hope to match, but it still means the unseasoned newcomer has the means to beat an ostensibly “better” fighter.
The question here is whether Katona’s striking and Brazilian jiu-jitsu edges are enough to overcome the top control Azure will inevitably rack up. I keep going back-and-forth in my head, but I think Katona’s experience wins out. He ekes out a back-and-forth decision.
Prediction: Katona via split decision
145 lbs.: Jordan Griffin vs. Chas Skelly
Jordan Griffin (17-6) lived up to his “Native Savage” nickname in his “Contender Series” appearance, which saw him drop and choke out Maurice Mitchell for his fourth consecutive submission victory. He couldn’t do the same to fellow “Contender Series” alum Dan Ige, who used strong wrestling to grind out a decision victory.
He’ll have one inch of height and reach on “The Scrapper.”
Chas Skelly (17-4) dropped a decision to top prospect Mirsad Bektic in their shared Octagon debut, but bounced back to win six of his next seven, five of them by stoppage. He has since suffered a technical knockout loss to Jason Knight and been on the wrong end of an early submission stoppage against Bobby Moffett.
He has submitted 10 professional foes, five in the first round.
Griffin’s fight with Ige showed what happens when a more adept wrestler can keep his cool in the face of Griffin’s aggression, and despite his recent issues, Skelly has the arsenal to repeat “Dynamite’s” successful efforts. Beyond his takedown edge, Skelly is also a fearsome submission artist who won’t need much top control time to put Griffin away.
Griffin has considerable potential and still has time to develop at 29 years old. I don’t think nine months is enough for him to make the necessary technical improvements, though. Skelly catches a front choke in transition before too long.
Prediction: Skelly via first-round submission
135 lbs.: Ryan MacDonald vs. Louis Smolka
Ryan MacDonald (10-1) — a Midwest Championship Fighting double champ — claimed victory in his LFA debut before joining UFC as a late-notice replacement in March. “Main Event” found himself quickly hobbled by Chris Gutierrez’s leg kicks, ultimately suffering his first professional loss via unanimous decision.
He will have two inches of height and over four inches of reach on “Da Last Samurai.”
A four-fight skid ended Louis Smolka’s (15-6) original UFC run, which started at 5-1 and included both a headlining appearance and two post-fight bonuses. Three wins on the regional circuit led to a successful Octagon return against Sumudaerji, but Matt Schnell slowed his roll with a triangle choke less than four months later.
He has ended 13 of his 15 wins inside the distance, seven of them by submission.
Smolka is as mercurial a fighter as you’ll find in the sport, but the one constant is that he’s tough as nails. He’s more than durable enough to withstand MacDonald’s shots, and his recent efforts suggest that he’s finally shoring up his leaky wrestling. Though MacDonald can certainly hold his own on the feet, Smolka’s submission prowess is enough for him to end things after a single takedown.
While the upright, easy-to-hit MacDonald is a very beatable opponent, I wouldn’t be surprised by Smolka imploding once again. The skill gap is still enough for me to pick the Hawaiian, though. Smolka hits an early takedown and doesn’t take long to find MacDonald’s neck.
Prediction: Smolka via first-round submission
155 lbs.: Austin Hubbard vs. Kyle Prepolec
Austin Hubbard (10-3) defeated LFA standout Harvey Park in his promotional debut, then took a decision over Killys Mota to claim the promotion’s Lightweight title. He went on to meet ADCC champ Davi Ramos in his Octagon debut, losing a unanimous decision in Rochester.
“Thud” will have a two-inch reach advantage on Kyle Prepolec (12-6).
Windsor, Ontario’s Prepolec knocked out Scott Hudson for the BTC Lightweight title before defeating his first UFC veteran in Cody Pfister last March. He stepped up in weight to fight Nordine Taleb in his last-minute UFC debut, struggling with the far larger man’s length en route to a decision loss.
Seven of his professional wins, including three of his last four, have come by form of knockout.
Not going to lie, both of these men turned in such forgettable debuts that it’s hard to have faith in my assessment of their abilities. I actually had to go back and read what I wrote about them to jog my memory. Based on that and their respective records, I like Hubbard here. Beyond having the stronger strength of schedule, he can hold his own on the feet and sports some wrestling chops in his back pocket to throw off Prepolec’s striking.
The takedowns might be the key — Prepolec is a remarkably poor defensive wrestler, allowing Hubbard to shift gears whenever things start going south. Hubbard blends punches and takedowns to claim a wide decision win.
Prediction: Hubbard via unanimous decision
Three more UFC Fight Night 158 “Prelims” bouts to preview and predict tomorrow, among them a clash of undefeated Bantamweight prospects. Same time as always, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 158 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.
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