Sensible or not, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) hits VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., this Saturday evening (May9, 2020) for its first event since March. The ESPN+-streamed pay-per-view (PPV) main event pits Tony Ferguson against fellow human highlight reel Justin Gaethje, while Dominick Cruz returns from 3.5 years away to challenge Henry Cejudo for the Bantamweight title in the co-feature. The evening will also see Francis Ngannou face fellow knockout machine Jairzinho Rozenstuik and Jeremy Stephens duke it out with Calvin Kattar in a Featherweight banger.
UFC 249 features seven “Prelims” undercard bouts this time around, three on ESPN+/Fight Pass and four on ESPN. Let’s have a look at the first batch:
170 lbs.: Vicente Luque vs. Niko Price
Despite falling to Mike Graves in his Octagon debut, Vicente Luque (17-7-1) cut a violent swath through the Welterweight division, winning 10 of his next 11 and scoring nine finishes along the way. A six-fight streak set up a November clash with “Wonderboy” Thompson, who outdueled “The Silent Assassin” in UFC 244’s “Fight of the Night.”
He faces slight height and reach disadvantages against “The Hybrid.”
Niko Price (14-3) is 4-2 since losing his unbeaten record to Luque, and none of those fights went past the second round. In his most recent effort, he bounced back from a loss to Geoff Neal by wiping out James Vick with the first UFC upkick knockout since 2008.
He has gone the distance just once as a professional, knocking out 10.
Luque has long been one of the Welterweight division’s premier dark horses, and falling to a firing-on-all-cylinders Thompson doesn’t change that. Though Price remains one of the most freakishly heavy-handed bruisers at 170, his recent efforts don’t suggest that he’s made the necessary adjustments to do better in the rematch. Neal was tearing him apart on the feet before getting brawl-happy and Abdul Razak Alhassan found his chin with far cruder punches than Luque offers.
Price needs a one-shot finish to even the series, and considering the murderous blows Luque shrugged off from Thompson and Mike Perry, that’s a longshot. Second verse, same as the first; Luque floors him standing for either a TKO or club-and-sub finish.
Prediction: Luque via first-round submission
145 lbs.: Bryce Mitchell vs. Charles Rosa
Representing Team Daniel Cormier as their second overall pick on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 27, Bryce Mitchell (12-0) dispatched Jay Cucciniello in the opening round before succumbing to eventual winner Brad Katona’s submission game. He has since established himself as a top prospect with three Octagon victories, the most recent coming by way of twister (watch it).
He has submitted eight opponents in the first round and nine overall.
Charles Rosa (12-3) made his Octagon debut way back in 2014, amassing a 2-3 record over the next three years and picking up a trio of “Fight of the Night” bonuses along the way. He ended a 2.5-year layoff in Oct. 2019 with a “Performance of the Night”-winning armbar finish of Manny Bermudez (watch it).
He’ll give up one inch each of height and reach to “Thug Nasty.”
Rosa’s durability and tenacity are impressive, and tapping a Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace like Bermudez off of his back shows that his ground game is legitimate. Thing is, Mitchell overpowered Bobby Moffett two fights back, and I’d rate Moffett’s submission skills at around the same level as Rosa’s and his wrestling chops a level above. Mitchell will be the one dictating the fight, and I’m not convinced Rosa can finish him from a disadvantageous position.
“Thug Nasty” isn’t as fearsome a puncher as Shane Burgos and will struggle to find a submission despite his edge in physicality, so Rosa will have 15 minutes to find a miracle. Unfortunately, that’s just not long enough. Mitchell’s strength and aggression keep things close on the feet while he takes over with takedowns and top control.
Prediction: Mitchell by unanimous decision
205 lbs.: Ryan Spann vs. Sam Alvey
After losing his “Contender Series” debut in 15 seconds, Ryan Spann (17-5) won three straight in LFA before scoring a 26-second submission win in his series return. The win earned him a spot in the Octagon, where he’s beaten Luis Henrique, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Devin Clark in succession.
His 15 finishes include 13 in the first round.
Sam Alvey (33-13) began his Light Heavyweight run with a knockout of Marcin Prachnio and a split decision over Gian Villante, raising him to 7-2 in his last nine. He has not tasted victory since, suffering knockout losses to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Jimmy Crute before dropping a decision to Klidson Abreu.
He faces a three-inch height disadvantage and a 3.5-inch reach disadvantage.
Overused as the term “puncher’s chance” is, that’s all Alvey has here — Spann is younger, faster, taller, rangier and more versatile. If Spann still had the cardio issues that plagued him during his pre-Octagon career, I could see Alvey potentially catching him with a counter as he got sloppy, but the current incarnation of “Superman” is far less likely to present the opening Alvey needs to turn the tables.
That’s the key, really. Alvey exclusively waits for opportunities instead of making them, and considering that Spann’s reach lets him do damage from well outside the range of Alvey’s counter hooks, that’s not going to fly here. Depending on how much damage the Nogueira and Crute KO’s did to Alvey’s usually ironclad chin, Spann either picks him apart or crumples him by the end of the second round.
Prediction: Spann by unanimous decision
Four more UFC 249 “Prelims” undercard bouts to preview and tomorrow, including a rematch between Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis and the return of Fabricio Werdum. Same time as always, Maniacs.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 249 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+/Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN+/ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
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