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X-Factor! Some UFC Fight Island 5 main card predictions

UFC Fight Night Rothwell v Saint Preux Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

This weekend (Sat., Oct. 10, 2020), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will continue its stay at “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, with UFC Fight Island 5. As has been well-established, quarantine cards can vary wildly in terms of quality, but Saturday’s fights should prove to be among the better nights of action. There’s an incredible kickboxing battle in the main event between Marlon Moraes and Cory Sandhagen that promises to entertain, and there’s also quality action planned throughout the 13-fight event.

Let’s take a closer look at some main card fights:

Heavyweight: Ben Rothwell vs. Marcin Tybura

Best Win for Rothwell? Alistair Overeem For Tybura? Andrei Arlovski
Current Streak: Both men have won two straight
X-Factor: Neither man has been particularly consistent as of late
How these two match up: The likelihood of a great scrap is the same as the odds of a miserable clinch-fest.

Rothwell has been around forever. He’s 50 professional fights into a 21-year career, so by this point, we largely know what to expect from “Big Ben.” He’s deceptively quick and powerful, willing to grind for takedowns, and is really dangerous with his front headlock strangles.

Really, the only question with Rothwell is whether or not he’s in good shape.

Back in 2017, Tybura was on the fast-track toward the title mix, as a solid win streak earned him a showdown with Fabrico Werdum back when that really meant something. At the time, it made sense: Tybura showcased a well-rounded game featuring powerful kicks and solid wrestling. Since then, however, “Tybur” seemingly lost a bit of confidence, resulting in a trio of knockout losses and generally shakier performances.

I do not like picking Rothwell fights previous to the weigh-ins. If he steps on the scale and looks bad, he’s likely to gas after five minutes of clinch wrestling and lose a decision.

If, however, Rothwell looks to be in good shape — by Heavyweight standards at least — this appears to be his fight to lose. Tybura just has not looked comfortable in punching exchanges since his rough patch, and Rothwell has never been an easy man to take down. Tybura’s takedown attempts will lead him into the dirty boxing range, where Rothwell is most dangerous, and at some point, there’s a real chance the veteran locks up the guillotine off a failed shot.

Prediction: Rothwell via submission

Middleweight: Markus Perez vs. Dricus Du Plessis

Best Win for Perez? Ian Heinisch For Du Plessis? Joilton Santos
Current Streak: Perez came up short last time out, while Du Plessis debuts following a pair of victories
X-Factor: Du Plessis makes his UFC debut on short-notice
How these two match up: This is a proven UFC veteran vs. prospect fight.

Perez has alternated wins and losses through five UFC bouts. He’s a difficult fighter to get a full read on, a bit too willing to let rounds slip by in competitive fights. However, he can really explode forward with powerful strikes, and given a small opportunity on the mat, the Brazilian is quick to wrap up submissions.

In general, I’m skeptical of fighters coming from the South African regional scene, which has produced several infamous flops (see Potts, Ruan). However, Du Plessis cut his teeth in KSW as well, winning the Middleweight title before joining the UFC roster.

He’s finished all 14 of his professional victories.

At 26 years of age, Du Plessis is aggressive and athletic with skills on the mat and on the feet. However, he faces a durable veteran who is opportunistic in his own right, and Du Plessis suffers the typical prospect situation of having developed his offense more than his defense.

The recipe for the minor upset is there. However, Perez has yet to perform consistently in the Octagon, and it seems more likely that he is put on his back foot and kept there for the majority of the fight.

Du Plessis sees the judges for the first time, and his hand is raised.

Prediction: Du Plessis via decision

Heavyweight: Tom Aspinall vs. Alan Baudot

Best Win for Aspinall? Jake Collier For Baudot? Todd Stoute
Current Streak: Aspinall recently won his UFC debut, while Baudot will make his own debut following consecutive wins
X-Factor: Heavyweight.
How these two match up: Someone is probably taking an early nap.

Aspinall admittedly debuted against an inflated former Middleweight, but man, the Englishman looked sharp! He was throwing fast, accurate punches, and his opponent could not stand up to the onslaught for a full round. He’s never seen the judges in victory nor defeat, but the same could be said for Baudot! The French prospect has fought all around the world, finishing a majority of his opponents via knockout.

From what I can tell, this will be Baudot’s first bout at Heavyweight, which seems like a bad move. “The Black Samourai” is quick and hits hard at 205 pounds, but his defense has never looked tight. Against even heavier, bigger punchers, being hittable is a seriously fatal flaw.

Given both men’s relative newness, it’s certainly possible that Baudot holds a significant advantage in one area or another. Until he proves it, however, one must follow Occam’s Razor and assume the simplest solution: Aspinall bombs on another smaller fighter in the first round.

Prediction: Aspinall via knockout

Featherweight: Youssef Zalal vs. Ilia Topuria

Best Win for Zalal? Jordan Griffin For Topuria? Brian Bouland
Current Streak: Zalal has scored three UFC wins in 2020, while Topuria is set to debut at 8-0
X-Factor: Will Zalal’s activity catch up to him?
How these two match up: Featherweight prospects will throw down.

Zalal is doing his best to standout as a quarantine star, as he’s searching for his fourth UFC victory in the last eight months. In his trio of trips to the Octagon, Zalal has shown a really developed game for a 24-year-old prospect, controlling range expertly with his kickboxing and shucking off takedowns with relative ease.

Like most European prospects, Topuria earned his stripes in Cage Warriors and Brave FC. He’s a dedicated grappler, having won all but one of his fights via submission. He’s all about the choke, and the 23-year-old German does a really nice job of starting fast and timing his takedowns well.

This is an interesting new challenge for Zalal. For the most part, he’s been picking apart willing strikers. While Topuria is not helpless on his feet, he’s going to engage Zalal for as minimal time as possible, biding his time until he feels the moment is right for a takedown and strangle.

The best comparison available is Zalal’s fight with Griffin, who did attempt a few takedowns to some success. Perhaps Topuria can build on that and wrap up an early submission, but Zalal has yet to be tapped in his professional or amateur career. Plus, he moves and manages distance so well that scoring takedowns is likely to become an increasingly difficult prospect, even if Topuria does find early success.

Prediction: Zalal via decision

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Island 5 fight card this weekend right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance at 8 p.m. ET (also on ESPN+).

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Fight Island 5: “Moraes vs. Sandhagen” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

‘X-Factor’ Picks for 2020: 45-18

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