Former Welterweight champion, Tyron Woodley, returns for the first time since being deposed this Saturday (May 30, 2020) when UFC Apex hosts a titanic 170-pound clash between “The Chosen One” and Gilbert Burns. UFC on FOX 9 also features a Heavyweight scrap pitting Blagoy Ivanov against Augusto Sakai and the return of Mackenzie Dern opposite Hannah Cifers.
Three more UFC on FOX 9 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to be examined before that (check out the first batch here), though, so let’s not daly.
125 lbs.: Katlyn Chookagian vs. Antonina Shevchenko
A 4-1 UFC Flyweight run — marred only by a split decision loss to Jessica Eye — led Katlyn Chookagian (13-3) to a title shot against Valentina Shevchenko. “Blonde Fighter” would ultimately come up short like so many others, succumbing to ground-and-pound in the third round.
She’ll have one inch of height and reach on Shevchenko.
Antonina Shevchenko (8-1) mauled Jaimee Nievera on “Contender Series” to secure a contract, then followed that up with a wide decision over Ji Yeon Kim in her debut. A massive upset loss to Roxanne Modafferi spelled the end of her unbeaten record, but she returned to the win column four months later with a “Fight of the Night” submission of Lucie Pudilova.
“La Pantera” has knocked out two opponents alongside that singular tapout.
Don’t go in expecting a repeat of Chookagian’s title fight — chief among the differences that separate Antonina from her sister is the former’s lack of wrestling. Without that threat, Chookagian is free to strike to her heart’s content, though the same can be said of Shevchenko.
This one will boil down to distance. If things stay at kicking range, Chookagian’s volume theoretically gives her the edge. The clinch, on the other hand, is Shevchenko’s world, especially since she won’t have to worry about “Blonde Fighter” changing levels. Looking at their relative prowess in the other’s wheelhouse, Chookagian’s potential edge in outfighting isn’t as significant as Shevchenko’s edge in in-fighting, and we’ve seen shorter fighters than Shevchenko successfully get inside on Chookagian. Shevchenko tunes her up at point blank to make it two straight.
Prediction: Shevchenko via unanimous decision
150 lbs.: Billy Quarantillo vs. Spike Carlyle
Though his The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 22 run didn’t quite pan out, Billy Quarantillo (13-2) ultimately punched his ticket to the Octagon four years later by stopping Kamuela Kirk on “Contender Series.” He was slated to debut against Chris Fishgold, but instead took on Jacob Kilburn, whom he mauled on the mat en route to a second-round submission finish.
He’ll enjoy a three-inch height advantage on fight night.
Spike Carlyle (9-1) entered UFC on a four-fight win streak, two of those coming by first-round knockout. “The Alpha Ginger” made it three straight in his debut, rocking and stopping “Contender Series” veteran Aalon Cruz in just 85 seconds.
His eight stoppage wins include five via (technical) knockout.
I’m not sure if this is just me subconsciously overestimating Carlyle to make up for underestimating him against Cruz, but I really think he’s got this. The concern I had in that fight was that Carlyle, a terrific grappler, wouldn’t be able to close the distance against such a lengthy out-fighter. Quarantillo, meanwhile, is a pressure striker who will happily get all up in Carlyle’s grill and open himself up to takedowns.
Though Quarantillo has the gas tank to work his way back to his feet and melt people with volume, Carlyle only really needs to get on top once to finish things. He either pounds out Quarantillo or snatches a submission in transition.
Prediction: Carlyle via first-round technical knockout
205 lbs.: Jamahal Hill vs. Klidson Abreu
Jamahal Hill (7-0) elbowed his way to a UFC contract on “Contender Series,” only for visa issues to scrap a planned Aug. 2019 debut opposite Da Un Jung. “Sweet Dreams” finally got his shot in the Octagon in January and made the most of it, fighting through six takedowns to take a decision over Darko Stosic.
He’ll enjoy two inches of height and five inches of reach advantage.
Klidson Abreu (15-4) earned the nickname “Russian Terror” for his impressive exploits on the European circuit, though he wasn’t able to repeat the effort against Dagestani’s Magomed Ankalaev in his UFC debut. He secured his first Octagon victory five months later with a decision over Sam Alvey, but fell victim to some questionable judging against Shamil Gamzatov.
Ten of his 14 stoppage wins have come via submission.
It’s easy to underestimate Abreu — beyond being officially 1-2 in the Octagon, he’s been loath to use the top-notch grappling that made him such a menace across the pond, instead relying on his middling striking. If he tries that here, it’ll end poorly, as Hill is significantly rangier and more versatile on the feet. If Abreu actually does fight with a modicum of sense, though, Hill’s underdeveloped wrestling is an incredibly tempting target.
Unless Hill has made major strides since his last fight, Abreu should be able to take him down without too much issue, and getting out from under him is exponentially more difficult than song so against Stosic. So long as Abreu doesn’t try to trade strikes, he wrangles Hill to the mat and chokes him out in a hurry.
Prediction: Abreu via first-round submission
Tyron Woodley vs. Gilbert Burns is a terrific match up and there are some scattered gems throughout, such as Tim Elliott vs. Brandon Royval. Not bad for a quarantine card. See you Saturday, Maniacs!
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on ESPN 9 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then remaining main card portion that will air on ESPN/ESPN+ proper at 9 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC on ESPN 9: “Woodley vs. Burns” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.