Two top-ranked Heavyweights attempt to rebound from run-ins with Francis Ngannou inside PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., this Saturday (Jan. 25, 2020) when Curtis Blaydes and Junior dos Santos headline the promotion’s latest ESPN+-streamed event. In another clash of wrestler vs. former champion, Michael Chiesa attempts to continue his Welterweight run against Rafael dos Anjos, while Jordan Espinosa locks horns with Alex Perez in a Flyweight battle.
Three UFC Fight Night 166 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict (check out the first batch here), so let’s not dally.
185 lbs.: Bevon Lewis vs. Dequan Townsend
Though it took two tries, Bevon Lewis’ (6-2) “Contender Series” efforts culminated in a UFC contract in July 2018. He hasn’t been quite as successful in the Octagon itself, falling victim to a come-from-behind knockout from Uriah Hall and turning in a tepid performance against Darren Stewart.
Half of his professional wins have come via (technical) knockout.
Nearly a full decade after his first amateur bout, Dequan Townsend (21-9) finally found himself in UFC when Dalcha Lungiambula needed a new opponent on days’ notice. “The Tarantula’s” height advantage wasn’t enough to save him from a third-round knockout loss, nor from a six-month suspension for cocaine (details).
He replaces Alen Amedovski on just over one month’s notice.
I don’t think less of Lewis for his loss to Hall — “Primetime” just kinda does that to people sometimes. The Stewart loss, however, was worrying. Lewis failed to take him down five times and never seemed to get out of first gear on the feet. He’s clearly extremely talented, but he clearly needs to sort out his mental game.
Well, he needs to sort out his mental game to be quality Middleweights. He’s fine against Townsend, whose skill list comprises entirely “hits pretty hard” and “is large.” He won’t even have the latter advantage here, as Lewis matches his height and reach. Lewis should dominate wherever he wants; Townsend’s tough to finish, so expect a full 15 one-sided minutes.
Prediction: Lewis via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Arnold Allen vs. Nik Lentz
Arnold Allen (15-1) has had to score dramatic comebacks to do it, but currently finds himself undefeated (6-0) in the Octagon with a pair of post-fight bonuses to his name. The last fight for “Almighty” was his most dominant yet, a three-round destruction of former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez at UFC 236.
His stoppage wins are split 5/4 between knockouts and submissions.
Returning to Lightweight after a submission loss to Charles Oliveira, Nik Lentz (30-10-2) won five of his next seven, taking home “Performance of the Night” for his guillotine finish of Will Brooks. The run led to a third battle with Oliveira, who dropped Lentz and pounded him out for the latter’s first (technical) knockout loss since 2012.
Lentz was originally set to face Nad Narimani, while Allen was booked against Josh Emmett; when both opponents suffered injuries, UFC did the logical thing.
Allen-Emmett obviously offered far more fireworks, but I actually really like this impromptu matchmaking. “Almighty’s” most difficult UFC fights came against skilled, durable grapplers in Alan Omer, Makwan Amirkhani, and Mads Burnell, and we recently saw Lentz overcome a physically superior foe in Scott Holtzman. There’s intrigue here — if the 25-year-old Allen hasn’t shored up his takedown defense, this could go sideways in a hurry.
Still, Allen seems to have enough going his way to warrant confidence. He’s taller, rangier and a fair bit faster than Lentz, who’s never been difficult to hit at the best of times. Expect his striking edge to compensate for the handful of times Lentz puts him on his back.
Prediction: Allen via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Justine Kish vs. Lucie Pudilova
Justine Kish (6-2) — bounced from The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20 with a torn ACL — started her Octagon run with controversial decision wins over Nina Ansaroff and Ashley Yoder. A one-sided loss to Felice Herrig followed, after which Kish suffered a controversial defeat of her own against Ji Yeon Kim.
She ends an almost exactly two-year-long hiatus on Saturday.
Despite picking up consecutive wins over Ji Yeon Kim and Sarah Moras, Lucie Pudilova enters the cage having lost three straight. That said, two of those losses were a narrow “Fight of the Night” split decision loss to Irene Aldana and a “Fight of the Night” with Antonina Shevchenko that saw Pudilova deal serious damage to her favored foe before succumbing to a rear-naked choke.
She has knocked out and submitted two professional opponents apiece.
Kish relies heavily on her size and strength to compensate for her poor technique, and while this move to 125 pounds isn’t unexpected considering her historical struggle with the scale, it’s hard to see her being anywhere near as effective against larger opposition. Pudilova, by contrast, has held her own against genuine Bantamweights. Kish isn’t going to bulldoze her, and to make matters even worse for the TUF veteran, Pudilova is comfortable meeting her head on and trading heat.
Kish’s only real path to victory lies in muscling Pudilova to the mat and chilling in top position for as long as possible, a strategy that’s worked against Pudilova in the past. Without a size advantage, though, it’s hard to see that working. Pudilova’s size and technique carry her to victory in a slugfest.
Prediction: Pudilova via unanimous decision
Elite Heavyweight contenders and an excellent Welterweight match up helm a quality card. Hope you’ll join us to watch. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 166 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 also stream on ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET.
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