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X-Factor! Some UFC Fight Night 168 main card predictions

This Saturday (Feb. 22, 2020), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) travels to Spark Center in Auckland, New Zealand, for UFC Fight Night 168. In the ESPN+-streamed main event, a guaranteed action fight between Dan Hooker and Paul Felder is almost certain to light up the arena. The 10 fights prior are all deceptively solid matches, likely to both showcase some of the local talent and provide really entertaining bouts. They’re tricky to pick and should be fun to watch, so let’s break down some main card fights!

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


Heavyweight: Marcos Rogerio de Lima vs. Ben Sosoli

Best Win for Allen? Igor Pokrajac For Sosoli? Kelvin Fitial
Current Streak: De Lima lost his last bout, while Sosoli enters on the heels of consecutive “No Contests”
X-Factor: Can Sosoli outlast the Brazilian?
How these two match up: We’re getting weird right off the bat, and I’m here for it.

De Lima is a fairly hilarious fighter. The other Brazilian “Bigfoot” wastes almost no time in charging at his opponent and heaving power punches in their general direction. Inside the Octagon, it’s worked at roughly a 50 percent success rate, but “Pezao” seems uninterested in changing at all.

For better or worse, we know what to expect from Marcos Rogerio de Lima.

Diligent readers may remember Sosoli as, “that guy Greg Hardy fought when he took a puff on his inhaler,” and that’s a pretty accurate summary. In that bout, Sosoli showed a decent gas tank for a Heavyweight and some okay offensive skills, but the “Combat Wombat” did not generally look the part of an elite athlete.

In short, de Lima is serving a solid role as gatekeeper to UFC competition. Can Lima’s opponent hack it inside the Octagon for more than a few fights? If so, chances are he’s also one of the fighters in that 50 percent who can avoid the haymaker and beat up de Lima. The big men who wash out of UFC quickly? De Lima obliterates them.

Sosoli potentially has the style to find success late, but it seems far more likely that “Pezao” lands early and sends him packing.

Prediction: De Lima via knockout


Women’s Strawweight: Yan Xiaonon vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz

Best Win for Xiaonon? Angel Hill For Kowalkiewicz? Rose Namajuanas
Current Streak: Xiaonon has won 9 straight (four in the Octagon), while Kowalkiewicz has lost her last three
X-Factor: Kowalkiewicz’s clinch game
How these two match up: There’s equal potential for fun and sadness.

Were it not for Weili Zhang storming up the ladder to suddenly claim the title, Xiaonon would likely have a bit more hype behind her as an excellent Chinese prospect for future champion. “Fury” throws punches in bunches at a remarkable rate and does for three rounds, which is a recipe for success in lighter weight classes.

Kowalkiewicz once defeated Namajunas and contended for the title, but she’s fallen on hard times. A well-rounded talent with a fierce clinch game, Kowalkiewicz has just generally looked flat in her recent losses, unable to get herself out of second-gear.

Without trying to be outright mean, Kowalkiewicz has been fighting like her foot is halfway out the door. I don’t know if it’s a question of injuries or motivation, but “Polish Princess” simply has not been performing to her potential, and it’s left her in a difficult position.

Unfortunately, Xiaonon is no softball opponent. Even if Kowalkiewicz was fighting at her best, this would be a tough match up that would require a well-executed game plan for her to find victory. Either way, Xiaonon’s volume and straight punches down the middle seem like enough to take the decision.

Prediction: Xiaonon via decision


Lightweight: Magomed Mustafaev vs. Brad Riddell

Best Win for Mustafaev? Rafael Fiziev For Riddell? Jamie Mularkey
Current Streak: Mustafaev returned to the win column last time out with a massive spin kick, while Riddell picked up an excellent debut victory
X-Factor: Riddell’s pace
How these two match up: WAR!

Mustafaev is a wild man. The Dagestani athlete is a seriously scary athlete with major power in his kicks and knees, and — shocker — he can wrestle as well. The only black mark against him has been conditioning, as Mustafaev gassed terribly against Kevin Lee when unable to secure the early finish.

Riddell’s absolute pummeling of Mularkey was one of 2019’s best debuts. Representing City Kickboxing, Riddell showed excellent combination striking and counters, alongside some huge power and physicality. It was pretty much everything one could ask for in a debut, which is why he’s received such a huge step up in competition.

Insane spin kicks aside, Riddell is a much more technical kickboxer than Mustafaev. I’d probably say the same about Fiziev too though, and Mustafaev destroyed him in less than 90 seconds. While there is definite potential that Riddell is able to stand up to the wild offense of Mustafaev and find his own success, he’s not proven enough against high-level competition for me to pick it just yet.

It’s asking for trouble to pick against either Dagestani athletes or City Kickboxing fighters right now, so best of luck betting on this one.

Prediction: Mustafaev via knockout


Featherweight: Zubaira Tukhugov vs. Kevin Aguilar

Best Win for Tukhugov? Douglas Silva de Andrade For Aguilar? Rick Glenn
Current Streak: Tukhugov went to a draw last time out, while Aguilar tasted defeat for the first time six years
X-Factor: Can Aguilar survive early?
How these two match up: Once again, we’re in for a blood-and-guts brawl.

Tukhugov is a strange fighter. He’s an incredible physical talent with excellent wrestling, but he fights spastically, and his gas tank suffers for it. On his feet, Tukhugov is just a mix of powerful spin kicks and haymakers thrown together — definitely dangerous, but rarely a method for winning rounds.

Aguilar has proven himself a damn solid Featherweight in three UFC fights, a true bruiser with real power in his hands. Aguilar is a straight up scrapper: comfortable leading and countering with combinations, usually while covered in shared blood between him and his opponent.

Tukhugov’s wrestling might just carry him to a victory, but I don’t trust it. Unlike his team mate Khabib Nurmagomedov, Tukhugov does not excel at controlling opponents after the takedown. He scores a big slam, then his foes tend to pop back up, and he does it again ... the first few times.

Getting tired of Aguilar is not the way. “The Angel of Death” will be forced to overcome a considerable athleticism gulf, but he has precisely the style to exhaust and punish Tukhugov.

Expect Aguilar to be held down early, but the momentum will shift.

Prediction: Aguilar via decision


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 168 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the main card portion that will also stream on ESPN+ at 7 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Fight Night 168: “Felder vs. Hooker” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

‘X-Factor’ Picks for 2020: 5-3

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