The big boys cap off UFC’s third event in seven days tomorrow night (Sat., May 16, 2020), pitting knockout machines Alistair Overeem and Walt Harris against each other in yet another Jacksonville main event, both on ESPN+ and big ESPN.
See the entire UFC on ESPN 8 line up here.
Earlier in the evening, Angela Hill looks for her fourth straight victory against Strawweight bruiser Claudia Gadelha, while surging “Contender Series” veteran Dan Ige welcomes Edson Barboza to the featherweight division.
Just like Wednesday’s show from inside Florida’s VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, we’ve got a half-dozen “Prelims” undercard bouts sharing broadcast networks with the main card.
In we go!
170 lbs.: Matt Brown vs. Miguel Baeza
Matt Brown (22-16) initially announced his retirement in 2017 after flatlining Diego Sanchez, but soon had a fight booked against Carlos Condit. When a torn ACL scrapped that, “The Immortal” took on Ben Saunders in Nov. 2019, knocking out his fellow The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) veteran with ground-and-pound late in the second (watch highlights).
Twenty of Brown’s victories, and all of them since 2012, have come inside the distance.
Miguel Baeza (8-0) — part of a “Contender Series” show that saw all five fights go the distance — walked away with a UFC contract for his decision over the overweight Victor Reyna. Four months later, he took on Hector Aldana in Tampa, battering the Mexican slugger with low kicks before putting him away in the second.
Though two inches taller than Brown, he faces a reach disadvantage.
It’s worth remembering that, aside from Jake Ellenberger, Brown only lost to former or future title challengers during his 1-5 skid. While he probably should have stayed retired, being a 39-year-old with an inadvisable number of slugfests under his belt, an inability to keep up with the elite doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s shot. I favor him against the still-developing Baeza, who has some bad habits that the deceptively savvy “Immortal” can exploit.
Brown just looks to be more seasoned and more versatile with his striking. Unless Baeza can hobble him early with low kicks or land clean on Brown’s infamously fragile midsection, Brown overpowers him in a Fight of the Night brawl.
Prediction: Brown via second-round technical knockout
185 lbs.: Anthony Hernandez vs. Kevin Holland
Anthony Hernandez (7-1) demolished Jordan Wright on “Contender Series” to earn a UFC contract, only to test positive for marijuana and see his win overturned to a “No Contest.” He ultimately made his UFC debut in Feb. 2019, and though “Fluffy” fell to Markus Perez, he got on the scoreboard with an anaconda finish of Jun Yong Park six months later.
Four of his six stoppage wins have come by first-round guillotine.
Kevin Holland (16-5) didn’t dazzle quite as much in his own Contender Series appearance, but still made it to the UFC as a late replacement against Thiago Santos. He followed up that loss with three consecutive wins before running afoul of Brendan Allen in October. He’ll enjoy a three-inch height advantage and a six-inch reach advantage.
The phrase “his fight to lose” is a bit of a tautology, but damned if it doesn’t apply to Holland. “Trail Blazer” is towering, unfairly rangy, and is capable of doing some real damage when his head’s on straight. Unfortunately, all those gifts are weighed down by a truly baffling lack of fight IQ. Going by the media scores, he should be on a three-fight losing streak; the only person he’s definitely beaten in the Octagon is John Philips, the most one-note fighter in the entire Middleweight division.
While Hernandez remains a work-in-progress, Holland just leaves way too many openings. Inconsistent takedown defense means Holland will struggle to get his kickboxing going without leaving himself open to Hernandez’s wrestling attack, and Holland’s willingness to hunt sweeps and submissions rather than stand is a bad trait to have against an opportunistic submission specialist. “Fluffy” catches Holland’s neck in transition.
Prediction: Hernandez via first-round submission
145 lbs.: Giga Chikadze vs. Mike Davis *
After losing to Sodiq Yusuff in his “Contender Series” headliner, Mike Davis (8-2) picked up a pair of stoppages in Island fights, then answered the call to face Gilbert Burns on short notice. Six months after that defeat, he handed Thomas Gifford one of the most one-sided beatings in recent memories en route to a crushing knockout win.
“Beast Boy” has never gone the distance in victory, knocking out seven.
Giga Chikadze’s (9-2) upset loss to Austin Springer on “Contender Series” delayed his Octagon debut until last September, when he took a decision over fellow alumnus Brandon Davis. He was slated to face Davis earlier this year, but instead took on Jamall Emmers in March and claimed a narrow split decision.
The Georgian Glory Kickboxing veteran will have a 1.5-inch reach advantage.
I’ll admit that this is probably just sour grapes, but Chikadze’s victory over Emmers was less a product of Chikadze successfully adapting his striking game to mixed martial arts (MMA) and more a product of Emmers taking too long to actually put the pressure on and get his wrestling going. Though Chikadze showed a nice sweep and improving takedown defense, he visibly faded once Emmers began to push the pace, and Davis has the toolset to put Chikadze through the grinder in similar fashion.
Davis admittedly doesn’t have Emmers’ wrestling pedigree, but he does have some takedowns in his back pocket, and the fact that he’s a much sharper striker than Emmers should allow him to compensate. Davis smothers Chikadze’s long-range attack and mixes in regular takedowns for a wide decision.
Prediction: Davis via unanimous decision
*Davis replaced last night by Irwin Rivera following weight-cutting complications (details)
125 lbs.: Cortney Casey vs. Mara Romero Borella
Cortney Casey (8-7) bounced back from an 0-2 Octagon start to win three of her next four, including an armbar finish of Randa Markos. She presently finds herself in a 1-3 hole, having gone to three consecutive split decisions before losing unanimously to Cynthia Calvillo.
This will be her first fight in 15 months.
A decision over Milana Dudieva in her first and only Invicta appearance sent Mara Romero Borella (12-7) to UFC, where she choked out the favored Kalindra Faria in her 2018 debut. Like Casey, she enters the cage this Saturday on a 1-3 skid, most recently dropping a decision to Montana De La Rosa.
She’ll enjoy a two-inch reach advantage on “Cast Iron.”
Casey’s success in this fight depends entirely upon her ability to keep it standing. Though her issues with range management keep her from being a standout striker, she’s so much busier than Borella on the feet that she can cruise to a decision. Her poor takedown defense is a serious concern, though, especially since she won’t have the size and strength advantages she enjoys at Strawweight. Casey is a capable grappler, certainly, but isn’t good enough on the ground to beat Borella from the bottom.
Ultimately, I favor Casey’s volume striking by the slimmest of margins. She’ll spend some time on her back and it’ll probably wind up a split decision, but I say she ekes it out.
Prediction: Casey via split decision
145 lbs.: Darren Elkins (24-8) vs. Nate Landwehr (13-3)
Darren Elkins (24-8) put together a six-fight win streak to establish himself as a Featherweight contender, beating the likes of Chas Skelly, Mirsad Bektic and Dennis Bermudez along the way. The run was not to last, and he now finds himself in the midst of a three-fight losing streak.
“The Damage” is one inch taller than Landwehr but will give up an inch of reach.
Nate Landwehr (13-3) mauled his way to the M-1 Featherweight title with a knockout of Khamzad Dalgiev, then successfully defended it against Andrey Lezhnev and Viktor Kolesnki to punch his ticket to the Octagon. In his January debut, “The Train” took on fellow debutant Herbert Burns, who caught Landwehr with a gnarly knee midway through the first round.
Eight of his professional wins have come by form of knockout.
The Darren Elkins that Homer Simpson’d his way through the rankings presents a nightmarish stylistic matchup for Landwehr. “The Train’s” raw aggression leaves him wide open to both strikes and takedowns, and Elkins is always happy to spam the latter. The concern is that Elkins has absorbed what could best be described as a horrific amount of damage since his run; after getting blasted to oblivion by Ricardo Lamas and repeatedly rocked by Ryan Hall of all people, his ability to execute his customary game plan against even a limited slugger like Landwehr is in question.
Even with those concerns, though, Elkins is too proven against head-on bruisers for me to expect a loss against someone of Landwehr’s caliber. As always, Elkins tanks his way through the onslaught to rack up loads of top control and secure a decision.
Prediction: Elkins via unanimous decision
265 lbs.: Rodrigo Nascimento vs. Don’Tale Mayes
Visa issues delayed Rodrigo Nascimento’s (7-0) “Contender Series” debut until July 2019, when he met unbeaten Michal Martinek. After countering an early takedown, “Ze Colmeia” locked up an arm triangle choke for his seventh pro stoppage victory.
He has tapped five opponents, all but one in the first round, and knocked out two other opponents in less than one minute apiece.
Don’Tale Mayes (7-3) — the only three-time “Contender Series” veteran — moved past his technical knockout loss to Allen Crowder with stoppages of Mitchell Sipe and Ricardo Prasel en route to a UFC contract. For his trouble, he got to face top prospect Ciryl Gane in his debut, tapping to a heel hook in the waning seconds of the third round.
“King Kong” is the taller man by three inches.
It’s hard to get a bead on Nascimento’s capabilities outside of his legitimately strong top game. Most of his fights came against low-level opposition and ended quickly; all he’s really shown of his striking are the sort of face-first punching flurries Fabricio Werdum enjoys and all we’ve seen of his wrestling is the ability to defend Martinek’s poor shot.
Mayes may be a lumbering bomber, but he’s also the more proven fighter and generally has pretty good takedown defense. Nascimento doesn’t have the striking polish to avoid those haymakers; unless he’s been hiding some solid takedown chops, Mayes clips him in a wild exchange for an early finish.
Prediction: Mayes via first-round technical knockout
There’s nothing quite like two profoundly large and powerful men to take your mind off a global pandemic. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Current UFC “Prelims” Prediction Record for 2020: 31-24-1
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