Two newly-minted champions will look to secure their thrones this Saturday (March 7, 2020) when Israel Adesanya defends his Middleweight belt against Yoel Romero and Zhang Weili puts her Strawweight title on the line against former division empress Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Also on tap for UFC 248’s pay-per-view (PPV) main card is a Lightweight crossroads bout between Beneil Dariush and Drakkar Klose, as well as what figures to be an insane Welterweight slugfest pitting Alex Oliveira against Max Griffin.
135 lbs.: Sean O’Malley vs. Jose Quinonez
Sean O’Malley (10-0) punched his ticket to “Contender Series” with a wheel kick knockout under the LFA banner, then followed that up by sparking Alfred Khashakyan to earn a contract. His Octagon career has seen him cruise past Terrion Ware and slug it out against Andre Soukhmathath, earning “Fight of the Night” against the latter after surviving a late foot injury.
This will be his first fight in almost exactly two years thanks to multiple run-ins with United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
A loss to Alejandro Perez in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Latin America” didn’t stop Jose Quinonez (8-3) from putting together a four-fight win streak in the Octagon, including victories over castmates Leonardo Morales and Diego Rivas. Though he came up short against prospect Nathaniel Wood, “El Teco” returned to the win column with a decision over Carlos Huachin in Mexico City.
He’ll give up three inches of height and reach to “Sugar.”
As someone who’s fond of Quinonez as a fighter, I think it fair to say that limited opposition contributed greatly to his Octagon success. Everyone he’s beaten has a losing record in the world’s largest fight promotion and it’s become clear that, while very well-rounded, he’s not the breakout success that Vera was.
That’s bad news against a taller, rangier, more powerful striker in O’Malley, whose wrestling and scrambling chops look sufficient to deal with the takedowns Quinonez relies on. We’ve seen “El Teco” hit the mat before and a bit of rust isn’t sufficient to convince me that he can survive the “Sugar Show.” Indeed, O’Malley blasts him out with power punches partway through the first round.
Prediction: O’Malley via first-round technical knockout
155 lbs.: Mark Madsen vs. Austin Hubbard
A hugely decorated Greco-Roman wrestler with an Olympic silver medal to his name, Mark Madsen (9-0) enjoyed great success in his native Denmark before joining UFC for its trip to Copenhagen in Sept. 2019. In what was his Lightweight debut, Madsen delighted the hometown crowd with a 72-second mauling of Danilo Belluardo.
His professional wins are split evenly between knockouts, submissions and decisions.
Consecutive wins over LFA standouts Harvey Park and Killys Mota earned Austin Hubbard (11-3) the LFA Lightweight title and a trip to the Octagon, only for Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Davi Ramos to spoil his debut. Undaunted, Hubbard brought his own wrestling to bear in his sophomore effort to score a decision win over Kyle Prepolec in Vancouver.
“Thud” is the taller man by two inches, but surrenders one inch of reach.
Bulldozing a tailor-made foe in Belluardo didn’t tell us much about whether the 35-year-old Madsen has developed skills beyond his wrestling. That said, overpowering wrestling might just be enough to win him this fight — “Thud” struggled to stay on his feet against Ramos, whose grappling prowess does not extend to his takedowns. Madsen’s frantic entries and conservative top game look like a problem for Hubbard, especially since “The Olympian” has proven able to maintain that attack for 15 minutes.
That said, we still don’t know how Madsen holds up in the face of adversity, and there’s every chance that Hubbard’s refusal to fold could throw Madsen’s game off. Between his pedigree and his quality training at Xtreme Couture, though, I feel confident picking Madsen to grind out a win.
Prediction: Madsen via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Rodolfo Vieira vs. Saparbeg Safarov
Rodolfo Vieira (6-0) enjoyed a smooth transition from Brazilian jiu-jitsu to mixed martial arts (MMA), handily dispatching his first five professional foes en route to UFC. He was similarly dominant in his debut, which saw him overpower fellow black belt Oskar Piechota.
He has submitted five opponents and finished one other with ground-and-pound.
Saparbeg Safarov (9-2) brawled his way to a “Fight of the Night” against Gian Villante in his first Octagon appearance, succumbing to the latter’s power in the second round. A submission loss to Tyson Pedro followed, but he came up big with his back against the wall by dominating Nick Negumereanu in London.
This will be both his Middleweight debut and his first fight in nearly a year because of injury.
There are types of fighters that Vieira, for all his legendary submission skills, will struggle with. Wrestle-focused brawlers aren’t one of them, at least not of this caliber. Safarov can’t take it to the ground under any circumstances and he’s not sharp enough on the feet to overpower Vieira without leaving himself open for takedowns in return.
Safarov’s size is something to consider, but Vieira started his MMA career at 205 pounds and is a physical monster.
However the Russian decides to play it, he’s going to end up on his back at some point. From there, it’s academic — Vieira chokes him out early.
Prediction: Vieira via first-round submission
185 lbs.: Deron Winn vs. Gerald Meerschaert
Deron Winn (6-1) — a disciple of Daniel Cormier — defeated Octagon veteran Tom Lawler to earn a UFC opportunity and made the most of it by out-slugging Eric Spicely in his debut. His next fight didn’t go quite as well, fading down the stretch beneath the striking attack of Darren Stewart on his way to a split decision loss.
He is seven inches shorter than “GM3” and faces a 7.5-inch reach disadvantage.
Gerald Meerschaert (30-12) got off to an impressive 4-1 UFC start, taking home two “Performance of the Night” bonuses among his four stoppage victories. He presently finds himself in a 1-3 hole, though, the last two losses were questionable split decisions against Kevin Holland and Eryk Anders.
He has submitted 22 professional opponents and knocked out another six.
Man, UFC must really have some faith in Winn. Meerschaert’s awfully inconsistent, but there’s a strong argument that he should be 5-1 in his last six bouts. He also looks damn problematic for Winn if the latter hasn’t shore up the issues that cost him the Stewart fight. Meerschaert’s reach and volume are a serious issue for Winn on the feet and he can’t afford to slow down against an opportunistic finisher of this caliber.
For all Winn’s potential, I’m not sure five months is enough time for the technical turnaround he needs. Combine that with his weight issues and you’ve got a recipe for an 0-2 skid. In the end, Meerschaert bounces back from a rough first round to outwork Winn en route to victory.
Prediction: Meerschaert via unanimous decision
Whether the title challengers deserve their shots or not, UFC 248 figures to be absolute mayhem. See you Saturday, Maniacs!
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 248 fight card this weekend starting with the Fight Pass/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
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