This Saturday (Jan. 25, 2020), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) travels to PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., for UFC Fight Night 166. Headlined by a classic striker vs. wrestler match up amplified to Heavyweight Heavyweight proportions between Junior dos Santos and Curtis Blaydes. The rest of the ESPN+-streamed card is actually pretty solid, so let’s analyze the first four main card fights!
Remember: Later in the week, Jesse Holland will be back to preview and predict the biggest fights of the night.
Featherweight: Arnold Allen vs. Nik Lentz
Best Win for Allen? Gilbert Melendez For Lentz?
Current Streak: Allen has won six straight, Lentz came up short last time out
X-Factor: Can Lentz impose his wrestling?
How these two match up: There’s equal potential for a blowout and very competitive fight.
Allen has been doing quite well in the Octagon, looking very much like a future contender at just 25 years of age. He was expected to take a big step up in competition opposite Josh Emmett, but an injury nixed that bout, so now he’ll take on a veteran wrestler.
Back in 2015, Lentz was a fairly high-ranking Featherweight, though still unable to truly break into the title mix. He returned to Lightweight, finding less success but still only really tasting defeat against top-notch opponents. At 35 years of age, Lentz will now give 145-pounds another shot.
Lentz at Featherweight was no joke, nor was he an easy task at Lightweight. Despite his age, Lentz can still dig deep and push a hard wrestling pace for the bulk of 15 minutes. He’s definitely the best wrestler that Allen has faced, and Lentz’s guillotine choke is always a threat as well.
However, it’s hard to pick against Allen, particularly since this is a short-notice bout for Lentz. The young Brit is too long and hits too hard, and he’s really quite good everywhere. At some point, the tide is likely to turn as Lentz’s wrestling grows less effective.
Prediction: Allen via decision
Flyweight: Jordan Espinosa vs. Alex Perez
Best Win for Espinosa? Eric Shelton For Perez? Jose Torres
Current Streak: Espinosa came up short last time out, Perez won his most recent bout
X-Factor: Perez’s experience advantage
How these two match up: It should be a fun, scramble-filled fight.
Both Espinosa and Perez are well-rounded enough, but they prefer to wrestle their way into top position and work submissions. They actually share a lot of the same strategies and techniques, as both men really like to hunt for the neck and lock up front chokes like the d’arce and anaconda.
Given that both are good at similar things on the mat, it seems likely that neither will be able to fully control the other on the mat. A decent portion of this fight will take place on the feet, where it also seems either man could pull ahead.
Ultimately, I like the more proven man in Perez. He’s a seriously strong Flyweight, an attribute which will likely come in handy in those aforementioned scrambles. Plus, Perez seems the more proven power puncher, another trait that could again prove a difference maker over 15 minutes.
Prediction: Perez via decision
Women’s Strawweight: Hannah Cifers vs. Angela Hill
Best Win for Cifers? Polyana Viana For Hill? Maryna Moroz
Current Streak: Cifers has picked up a pair of wins, Hill won her last bout
X-Factor: Cifers’ power
How these two match up: This could be a slugfest.
Cifers has finished half of her professional victories via knockout, though she has yet to stop a foe in the Octagon. She definitely likes to pressure and swarm opponents, which should prove entertaining opposite Hill’s outside kickboxing. Hill has an interesting style that revolves around movement and counter strikes, and she throws a lot of variety with her elbows and step knees.
“Overkill” has a problem. Against a certain level of competition, her own style of kickboxing tires her out, and she grows less effective over time. When that happens, her strikes lose their pop, and it becomes much easier to track her down.
Is Cifers on that level?
It doesn’t seem like it, at least not yet. Cifers doesn’t have the speed or power to really overwhelm Hill — she’s more likely to walk into the traps Hill sets than plow directly through them. Expect both women to have their moments, but Hill’s variety and volume should make her the clear winner.
Prediction: Hill via decision
Light Heavyweight: Darko Stosic vs. Jamahal Hill
Best Win for Stosic? Jeremy Kimball For Hill? Dequan Townsend
Current Streak: Stosic has lost two straight, Hill is undefeated at 6-0 and making his UFC debut
X-Factor: Can Stosic avoid landing illegal low blows?
How these two match up: This one might get ... ugly.
Stosic is really best known as Mirko Cro Cop’s protege and training partner, but it would be hard to tell from his fights alone. Stosic is a decent kickboxer, but his primary method of winning fights is to tacke opponents and batter them from top position. Meanwhile, Hill is still very early in his career, but he proved himself athletic and dangerous on “Contender Series.”
Hill can probably out-strike Stosic, and he has picked up a few decision wins in his short career, which is promising considering Stosic has proven durable enough. However, there’s a pretty massive gulf in experience and level of competition between the two, so Hill likely needs something big to stop his foe.
Otherwise, some boring combination of low kicks, cage-grinding, and the occasional takedown is likely enough to Stosic to return to the win column. That said, perhaps if Stosic is able to really secure a takedown, he’ll be able to unleash the ground striking he demonstrated in his debut rather than just control.
Prediction: Stosic via decision
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.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Fight Night 166: “Blaydes vs. dos Santos” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.