Two former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight title challengers continue the promotion’s two-week residency in Jacksonville, Fla., this Wednesday (May 13, 2020) as Anthony Smith faces Glover Texeira in a clash of finishers. The co-feature sees Ovince St. Preux try his hand at Heavyweight against Ben Rothwell, while Drew Dober collides with fellow fast-rising Lightweight Alexander Hernandez one fight prior.
All six “Prelims” undercard bouts join the main card on ESPN and ESPN+. Let’s dig into the full batch:
265 lbs.: Andrei Arlovski vs. Philipe Lins
Andrei Arlovski (28-19) snapped a four-fight winless streak last July with an upset of Ben Rothwell in their rematch, securing his third professional victory since 2015 in the process. His other streak — that of not being knocked out since Jan. 2017 — ended four months later at the hands of Jairzinho Rozenstruik.
He is one inch taller than “Monstro” and will have nearly one foot of reach advantage.
After scoring dominant first-round finishes in his first two Bellator appearances, Philipe Lins (14-3) suffered a gnarly knee injury against Kelly Anundson and eventually left the organization on a two-fight losing streak. He moved up from Light Heavyweight to Heavyweight to take part in the PFL’s 2018 tournament, in which he ran the table with four stoppage wins to claim the million-dollar prize.
He has not gone the distance since 2013 and owns eight wins by form of knockout.
Despite Arlovski’s newfound ability to turn what should be two-minute firefights into agonizing three-round slogs, he’s in for yet another rough evening against “Monstro.” Lins boasts impressive handspeed, enough power to put Arlovski to sleep for the dozenth time, and sufficient takedown defense to shut down the wrestling that’s become Arlovski’s standard Plan B.
Arlovski needs Lins to fall into the same sort of gunshy lull that Walt Harris and Augusto Sakai did if he wants to win this, and Lins’ performance in the PFL tournament suggests that’s not going to happen. A counter right ends Arlovski’s night in the early going.
Prediction: Lins via first-round knockout
155 lbs.: Michael Johnson vs. Thiago Moises
Consecutive losses to Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje sent Michael Johnson (19-15) down to Featherweight, where he amassed a 2-1 record before getting crumpled by Josh Emmett. His return to 155 saw him face Stevie Ray in Singapore, where he lost a majority decision.
“The Menace” will have a three-inch reach advantage.
Thiago Moises (12-4) — the former RFA Lightweight champion — smashed Gleidson Cutis on “Contender Series: Brazil” to earn a spot in the Octagon. He’s presently 1-2 in the world’s largest fight promotion, a win over Kurt Holobaugh sandwiched between losses to Beneil Dariush and Damir Ismagulov.
His eight stoppage wins include five by submission.
I cannot for the life of me diagnose what ails Johnson. By all accounts, the speed and power are still there, and he showed against Artem Lobov that he can still rack up some ridiculous significant strike numbers. There just seems to be something missing. Indeed, the “Menace” who bullied Edson Barboza would torch the pressure-averse Moises, but it’s hard to have faith in the current incarnation, which has the tools to sink Moises but may or may not be able to use them to their fullest.
As of this writing, the oddsmakers have this the closest fight on the card, with each man sitting on -110 odds. I’m inclined to agree with their assessment. I have to pick someone, though, and I suppose that’s Moises. Johnson doesn’t have the offensive wrestling prowess that Dariush and Ismagulov used to neutralize Moises and regularly falls apart when taken down himself. In sum, Moises survives early trouble to get the tap.
Prediction: Moises via second-round submission
135 lbs.: Sijara Eubanks vs. Sarah Moras
Entering the season as the No. 13 seed, Sijara Eubanks (4-4) dominated all comers on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 26 before weight-cut difficulties forced her out of the Finale. “Sarj” went on to beat Lauren Murphy and Roxanne Modafferi in the Octagon, but another blown weight cut sent her to 135 pounds, where she’s dropped two straight.
She stands two inches shorter than “Cheesecake,” though their reaches are identical.
Sarah Moras (6-5) is a TUF veteran in her own right, having reached the TUF 18 semifinals as part of Team Miesha Tate. Her most recent fight saw her snap a three-fight losing streak with a one-sided mauling of Liana Jojua.
She has knocked out and submitted three opponents apiece.
By all rights, Eubanks should demolish Moras. “Cheesecake’s” paltry 37 percent takedown defense is nowhere near stout enough to keep “Sarj” from dumping her on her back at will, and Eubanks’ jiu-jitsu pedigree far outstrips Moras.’ Then again, Eubanks should have crushed Correia, but instead underwhelmed after a good first round.
Still, Moras has turned in sub-par performances on multiple occasions in the Octagon and has yet to perform a feat more impressive than Eubanks’ win over Roxy Modafferi or strong performance against Aspen Ladd. Eubanks takes her down early and often, racking up ground-and-pound for a wide decision victory.
Prediction: Eubanks via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Gabriel Benitez vs. Omar Morales
Gabriel Benitez (21-7) emerged as one of the top prospects from the inaugural TUF: “Latin America” season, winning five of his first seven Octagon bouts and securing a post-fight bonus for his slam knockout of Humberto Bandenay. In his last appearance, he had blue-chip up-and-comer Sodiq Yusuff badly hurt in the early going, only to fall to a counter right late in the first.
He gives up three inches of reach to Venezuela’s Omar Morales (9-0).
Morales entered “Contender Series” as a decent-sized underdog against LFA champ Harvey Park, but proved the oddsmakers wrong by knocking his man out with a vicious right hand early in the second round. This set up an Octagon debut against Dong Hyun Ma in which Morales hurt “Maestro” with a late wheel kick, only to settle for a unanimous decision.
He has submitted five professional foes and knocked out another two.
As capable a fighter as Benitez is, this looks rough. Morales is both a similarly potent kicker and a natural Lightweight, ostensibly capable of overpowering “Moggly” at the latter’s preferred range. It’s hard to envision Benitez controlling the standup against a taller, rangier, heavier foe with a similar wheelhouse.
Morales’ advantages in weight and reach look like the deciding factor in what’s otherwise a razor-close match. The Venezuelan bruiser lands the flashier, more telling kicks to make up for his struggles in boxing exchanges.
Prediction: Morales via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Hunter Azure vs. Brian Kelleher
Despite failing to finish Chris Ocon on “Contender Series,” Hunter Azure (8-0) walked away with a UFC contract and made his promotional debut two months later. Said debut pitted him against TUF winner Brad Katona, whom Azure narrowly defeated in Vancouver.
He’ll have two inches of height and 4.5 inches of reach on “Boom.”
Brian Kelleher (20-10) started his Octagon career 3-1 before suffering consecutive stoppage losses to John Lineker and Montel Jackson, after which injury kept him out of action for over a year. He returned this past January to choke out prospect Ode Osbourne and secure his third post-fight bonus in the process.
His guillotine accounts for six of his nine submission victories.
UFC must have high hopes for Azure because Katona was a tricky debut opponent and the inordinately tough Kelleher is an even taller ask. “Boom” has the durability and volume to keep up with Azure’s haymaker-heavy striking offense, strong takedown defense, and a signature guillotine that makes any Azure level change a risk.
Azure’s leg kicks do pose a threat to Kelleher and he could easily have made major strides since the Katona fight, but Kelleher looks like he can hold the gate. Expect a fun slugfest until Azure goes for a double-leg and finds his neck in an untenable position.
Prediction: Kelleher via second-round submission
265 lbs.: Chase Sherman vs. Ike Villanueva
Chase Sherman (14-6) rebounded from a pair of early UFC losses to win two straight, only to leave the organization after a three-fight losing streak. He has since won three straight under the Island Fights banner and gone 1-1-1 in bare knuckle boxing.
He’s knocked out 13 professional opponents, all but one in the first round.
Ike Villanueva (16-9) Ike returned from a two-year layoff to knock out Juan Torres in Fury FC, setting up a Light Heavyweight title fight against UFC veteran Roger Narvaez. After smashing Narvaez in just 28 seconds, “Hurricane” took on another UFC vet in Rashad Coulter, whom he finished for his fourth consecutive first-round knockout.
He faces a nearly half-foot reach disadvantage.
On the one hand, Villanueva is a natural Light Heavyweight (at best) who earned most of his wins against weak-to-middling opposition. On the other hand, Sherman’s never been particularly adept at using his length, and he did lose a bare knuckle match to natural Middleweight Joey Beltran last November. It’s a coin-flip slobberknocker, and I fully expect one or the other to hit the deck within the first 10 minutes.
My rum-addled mind says Villanueva. He’s got the faster hands and puts together nicer combinations; though Sherman’s leg kicks are a concern, his defensive liabilities are too much to ignore. Villanueva catches him throwing for a first-round finish.
Prediction: Villanueva via first-round technical knockout
There’s nothing quite like celebrating getting over the mid-week hump than with some violence. See you Wednesday, Maniacs!
Current UFC “Prelims” Prediction Record for 2020: 31-24-1
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire “Smith vs. Teixeira”-led fight card this week, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the main card portion that will also stream on ESPN+ at 9 p.m. ET.
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