A new Flyweight king will be crowned inside Chartway Arena in Norfolk, Va., this Saturday (Feb. 29, 2020) when eternal bridesmaid, Joseph Benavidez, attempts to finally get over the championship hump against the ever-destructive Deiveson Figueiredo. Up at Featherweight, Felicia Spencer takes on Zarah Fairn in UFC Fight Night 169’s co-main event, while Magomed Ankalaev throws down with Ion Cutelaba in a clash of top Light Heavyweight up-and-comers.
The injury bug has done a number on this ESPN+-only card, leaving us with just six “Prelims” undercard bouts at the time of writing. Let’s get to it:
145 lbs.: Jordan Griffin vs. T.J. Brown
Jordan Griffin (17-7) — who scored two consecutive submissions in LFA — made it three straight tapouts by clubbing-and-subbing Maurice Mitchell on “Contender Series.” He has yet to claim his first Octagon victory, dropping decisions to fellow grapplers Dan Ige and Chas Skelly.
“The Native Psycho” will have one inch of height and reach on “Downtown.”
T.J. Brown (14-6) fought back from a 3-4 skid to score three consecutive first-round stoppages and secure a spot in “Contender Series.” There, he survived an early knockdown to choke out Dylan Lockard and secure a UFC contract.
He has just one win by decision, submitting nine.
If I had to predict the most entertaining fight on the “Prelims,” this’d be it. Both men boast aggressive grappling onslaughts, heavy firepower on the feet, and a reticence to go three rounds, combining for five decision victories in more than 40 cumulative fights. The bookies have this almost a dead heat at the time of writing, and though I agree with the narrow spread, I disagree with Brown being the underdog.
Griffin’s persistence and Brown’s shaky chin present an unfortunate combination for the UFC debutant, but “Downtown” appears to have the technical edge everywhere. He’s certainly the cleaner kickboxer, at least, and has demonstrated a more versatile wrestling game and better ability to get off of his back. I think he can walk the tightrope; accordingly, in an absolute barnburner, Griffin comes out looking for blood but loses enough ground and stand up exchanges to suffer his third consecutive defeat.
Prediction: Brown via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Aalon Cruz vs. Spike Carlyle
Aalon Cruz (8-2) brought a three-fight win streak into “Contender Series,” where he faced Steven Nguyen in a competitive striking battle. As the clock wound down in the third round, Cruz unleashed a vicious flying knee, knocking out Nguyen cold and securing himself a UFC contract in the process.
He is the taller man by five inches.
Spike Carlyle (8-1) put a split decision loss to Serob Minasyan behind him to win four straight, three of them by stoppage. His last two fights have seen “The Alpha Ginger” knockout Matthew Colquhoun with a spinning back fist and punch out Jean-Paul Bosnoyan in less than two minutes.
His seven stoppage wins are split 4/3 between knockouts and submissions.
Distance is the name of the game for these two. Though some of his kicks leave him open to counters, Cruz generally does an excellent job of using his 6’0” frame to pick apart opponents. Carlyle, though he showed some issues closing the gap against the towering Colquhoun, is such a menace on the ground that he really only needs one or two tie-ups to take over the fight.
Cruz strikes me as far more likely to get the fight he prefers. He avoids a lot of traditional tall guy pitfalls, primarily with some quality footwork that keeps him off the fence, and he’s shown some wrestling chops of his own. As a result, Carlyle’s clinch/shot opportunities will be few and far between, and he’s nowhere near guaranteed to get Cruz to the mat each time. In sum, Cruz takes him apart with an endless diet of long-range strikes.
Prediction: Cruz via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Sean Brady vs. Ismail Naurdiev
Sean Brady — who went undefeated (4-0) as an amateur before joining the professional ranks in 2014 — spent the majority of his pre-UFC career tearing through the CFFC promotion, winning and twice defending its Welterweight title. His efforts culminated in an Oct. 2019 Octagon debut, which saw him out-strike Court McGee en route to a decision victory.
He’ll give up two inches of reach to “The Austrian Wonderboy.”
Three fights removed from a loss to The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) veteran Ismael “Marmota” Naurdiev (19-3) defied serious odds to defeat powerhouse grinder Michael Prazeres in his late-notice UFC debut. He wound up on the other end of a major upset against Chance Rencountre, but soon got back on track with a decision over Siyar Bahadurzada in Copenhagen.
He has knocked out 11 professional opponents and submitted another five.
It’s a bit of an odd choice by UFC to bury two of its more promising young Welterweights at the bottom of the card, but the promotion has never been particularly adept at marketing new faces, so I’m not surprised. Brady is a rock-solid all-rounder, while Naurdiev is a high-octane kickboxer with a strong wrestling pedigree to back it up. I can very easily see both of them winding up with numbers next to their names in the coming years.
Naurdiev sooner than Brady, however. The Austrian looks to be the heavier hitter and more versatile striker; Rencountre managed to put him on his back, but that was through a near-suicidal disregard for getting punched in the face that I can’t see Brady mimicking. In the end, good footwork, heavy kicks and a stout sprawl will carry Naurdiev to a competitive victory.
Prediction: Naurdiev via unanimous decision
Two more UFC Fight Night 169 “Prelims” undercard bouts to preview and predict tomorrow, including a Heavyweight tussle and the long-awaited return of Tom Breese. 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 169 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 169: “Benavidez vs. Figueiredo” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.