UFC’s “Fight Island” residency rolls on this Saturday (July 18, 2020) when Deiveson Figueiredo rematches Joseph Benavidez in another bid for the vacant Flyweight title formerly held by Henry Cejudo. UFC Fight Island 2, which takes place inside Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, also features a critical Middleweight clash between Kelvin Gastelum and Jack Hermansson, a showdown between rising Lightweights in Marc Diakiese and Rafael Fiziev, and what could by Flyweight fireworks between Ariane Lipski and Luana Carolina.
We’ve got another seven “Prelims” to look at, all wrapped up in one convenient package. Shall we?
205 lbs.: Roman Dolidze vs. Khadis Ibragimov
Georgia’s Roman Dolidze (6-0) has yet to see the judges as a professional, scoring three finishes in under two minutes apiece. His last two fights saw him score scary one-strike finishes of Eder de Souza and Michael Pasternak to respectively win and defend the WWFC Light Heavyweight title.
Injury scrapped planned 2019 debuts against Gadzhimurad Antigulov and Vinicius Moreira, making this his first fight in 19 months.
Khadis Ibragimov (8-2) joined UFC on the heels of five consecutive stoppage victories, including a successful defense of the M-1 Light Heavyweight championship. His UFC run has not gone quite as smooth, tapping to a Da Un Jung guillotine and dropped a decision to veteran Ed Herman.
Three of his professional wins have come by submission.
Ibragimov is shaping up to be one of the weirder wastes of talent I can remember. The guy has legitimately excellent judo, but you’d be forgiven for not knowing that considering he’s spent his UFC career ineffectually brawling and gassing himself out. Unfortunately, the fact that he apparently learned nothing from the Jung loss also suggests that he’s not going to shape up anytime soon.
That’s more than a slight problem against Dolidze; though the UFC newcomer is nobody’s idea of a striking technician, he’s got lights-out power in his right hand and an easy target in front of him. Plus, even if Ibragimov does finally remember what he’s good at, Dolidze’s no slouch in the grappling. Odds are that Dolidze makes up for lost time by leveling Ibragimov in the first.
Prediction: Dolidze via first-round knockout
150 lbs.: Grant Dawson vs. Nad Narimani
Though Grant Dawson’s (15-1) submission of Adrian Diaz on “Contender Series” earned him a contract, issues with United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) delayed his debut until 2019. He has since made up for lost time with a decision over Julian Erosa and submission victories against Mike Trizano and Darrick Minner, the former of which earned him “Performance of the Night.”
His 11 submission wins include nine via rear-naked choke.
Nad Narimani (12-3) punched his ticket to the Octagon with a dominant decision over Cage Warriors champ Paddy Pimblett and followed that up with UFC wins over Khalid Taha and Anderson dos Santos. He couldn’t do the same to countryman Mike Grundy, though suffering a comeback knockout loss in London.
He’ll give up two inches of height and reach to “The Prophet.”
Though certainly a quality fighter, it’s worth noting that Narimani’s two UFC victories came over natural Bantamweights and he struggled with the skilled-but-one-dimensional Grundy despite an ostensible striking advantage. Dawson, a naturally larger man whose submission skills exceed Grundy’s, figures to be a major headache for “Smiler,” especially after a demoralizing defeat.
Narimani had best hope that the weight cut proves an issue; Dawson came in at 149.5 pounds for his last bout and Fight Island can’t possibly be a more forgiving environment in which to shed pounds. The Brit has never been finished on the mat, so if Dawson isn’t at his best, he could find success surviving the early ground attack to pummel him late. Surviving on the ground with Dawson is quite the task, though, and not one I see Narimani accomplishing. Dawson finds his neck late in the first or partway through the second.
Prediction: Dawson via second-round submission
155 lbs.: Joe Duffy vs. Joel Alvarez
Joe Duffy (16-4) — the last man to defeat Conor McGregor before “The Notorious’” UFC run — started his own Octagon career strong with wins in four of his first five appearances. He’ll enter the cage this Saturday on a two-fight skid, however, suffering a technical knockout loss to James Vick and dropping a decision to Marc Diakiese.
This will be his first fight in 16 months.
Spain’s Joel Alvarez (16-2) brought a 10-fight win streak into the Octagon, only for former M-1 champ Damir Ismagulov to hand him his first defeat since 2015. “El Fenomeno” returned to his winning ways less than four months later, pounding out Danilo Belluardo in Stockholm.
All of his professional wins have come inside the distance, 14 of them by submission.
Duffy’s definitely in the midst of a rough patch, but Alvarez is the most beatable opponent he’ll have faced in some time. “El Fenomeno’s” lethality on the mat is badly hamstrung by his lack of wrestling skills, which Ismagulov mercilessly exploited in their meeting. Plus, while the Spaniard’s 6’3” frame could give Duffy some uncomfortable memories of his battle with Vick, Alvarez has never been particularly great at using his frame to its fullest.
Frankly, Duffy should tear Alvarez to pieces on the feet and have little issue keeping it there. Alvarez’s durability is all he has going for him here; so long as the Vick and Diakiese losses didn’t permanently crush Duffy’s confidence, he boxes the taller man up en route to a late stoppage or wide decision victory.
Prediction: Duffy via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Brett Johns vs. Montel Jackson
Brett Johns (16-2) secured titles in both Cage Warriors and Titan FC before starting his UFC career with three straight wins, among them a 30-second calf slicer finish of Joe Soto. Consecutive losses to Aljamain Sterling and Pedro Munhoz knocked him out of contention, though he got back on track in February with a “Fight of the Night” submission over Tony Gravely.
He stands three inches shorter than Montel Jackson (9-1) and gives up more than four inches of reach.
A foul-marred victory on the Contender Series didn’t earn Jackson a contract, but he made his Octagon walk two months later in a short-notice battle with Ricky Simon. Though “Quik” ultimately fell short, three consecutive wins have put him back on the Bantamweight map. He’s knocked out five pro opponents and submitted one other.
I’ll freely admit to underestimating Johns ahead of the Gravely fight; despite “The Pikey’s” struggles with genuinely elite fighters in Sterling and Munhoz, his wrestling and durability make him a threat to most of the division. That said, this looks like a terribly rough matchup for him. In addition to his massive advantages in height and reach, Jackson is by far the harder puncher and boasts some impressive grappling chops of his own. Johns, though tough enough to survive Jackson’s best shots, will have all kinds of trouble getting into the pocket to land strikes or execute takedowns.
Johns’ best chances lie in dragging Jackson into deep waters. “Quik” got out-hustled by Simon in that aforementioned debut and punched himself out trying to finis Colares. Without the finishing skills to put Jackson away once he starts to tire, though, Johns should find himself too deep in the hole by the time the momentum shifts. Jackson locks up at least the first two rounds to claim the decision.
Prediction: Jackson via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Malcolm Gordon vs. Amir Albazi
Two fights after falling to Dimitri Waardenburg in a Catchweight bout, Malcolm Gordon (12-3) claimed the TKO Flyweight title with a first-round kimura finish of Jordan Graham. His reign saw him tap James Mancini with an armbar, then take just 92 seconds to choke out TUF veteran Yoni Sherbatov.
This will be his first fight in 15 months.
Amir Albazi (12-1) picked up two dominant wins in the Bellator cage before challenging UFC veteran Jose “Shorty” Torres in Brave CF, where he lost a competitive decision in April of last year. He returned to the Brave cage seven months later with a first-round submission of Ryan Curtis for his eleventh career finish.
He steps in for Aleksander Doskalchuk, who himself was first slated to face Tagir Ulanbekov, on two weeks’ notice.
Gordon looked to be in trouble against Doskalchuk and might face an even rougher matchup against Albazi. The Canadian has historically proven vulnerable to aggressive combination punching and strong offensive wrestling, both of which Albazi offers in spades. “Malcolm X” needs to get the finish if he wants to win, and as dangerous as he is off of his back, he’s not good enough for me to favor him to win from the bottom.
Gordon will likely need to lean on his standup, which isn’t a bad strategy; he’s got some ridiculously fast hands and Albazi’s overly linear attack is just begging for a straight right down the pipe. Still, odds are that Albazi keeps him on the back foot with combinations and takedowns to cruise to victory.
Prediction: Albazi via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Davi Ramos vs. Arman Tsarukyan
Though his short-notice UFC Welterweight debut against Sergio Moraes proved unsuccessful, Davi Ramos (10-3) found immediate success in his natural weight class with four consecutive Lightweight victories. He suffered his first loss at 155 pounds since 2014 last September against Islam Makhachev, who defeated the ADCC champ by unanimous decision at UFC 242.
He’ll give up one inch of height and 2.5” of reach on fight night.
Arman Tsarukyan (14-2) got one of the tougher debut assignments in recent memory when he took on the aforementioned Makhachev, dropping a unanimous decision that snapped a 12-fight winning streak. He found his way into the UFC win column at UFC 240, where he took a decision of his own over Canadian judoka Olivier Aubin-Mercier.
He has knocked out and submitted five professional opponents apiece.
Ramos had better have learned a lot from the Makhachev loss, because Tsarukyan might be an even worse stylistic matchup. The Armenian is most certainly a more versatile and powerful striker than Makhachev, at the very least, and his own wrestling skills mean he’s the final arbiter for if the fight hits the ground at all.
Unable to take Tsarukyan down, Ramos will need to rely on his standup, which still favors aggression over polish. That’s just not good enough here. Tsarukyan’s more complete striking game carries him to his second consecutive Octagon victory.
Prediction: Tsarukyan via unanimous decision
265 lbs.: Carlos Felipe vs. Serghei Spivac
Carlos Felipe (8-0) has scored a (technical) knockout finish in six of his seven pro bouts, all of them in the first round. After taking a decision over Wagner Maia in his Shooto Brazil debut, “Boi” dispatched his next two opponents in under five minutes combined.
USADA and other setbacks make this his first fight since 2017.
Serghei Spivac’s (10-2) debut lasted all of 50 seconds courtesy of a Walt Harris onslaught, but he bounced back five months later with an upset submission of Tai Tuivasa. He couldn’t quite do the same to Marcin Tybura, who leaned on strong wrestling to take a unanimous decision win.
He has never gone past the second round in victory, submitting six.
If Felipe hasn’t used these past three years to massively shore up his technical skills, his UFC tenure will be a short one. He’s essentially a bog-standard brawler, hurling right and left hooks alongside the occasional body kick until he or his opponent falls over. Unless he’s packing Harris-level power in those hands, which the tape suggests he doesn’t, Spivac figures to have the edge most everywhere.
Felipe did show some decent takedown defense against Maia, but Spivac looks to be a step above Maia in both striking and wrestling technique. A lot can change in almost 38 months, but the incarnation of Felipe that last graced the cage gets tapped before the third round. Maybe before the second.
Prediction: Spivac via first-round submission
UFC Fight Island 2 features a solid title match and a whole heap of entertaining finishers in the supporting cast make for a quality night of fights. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Island 2 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the main card portion that will also stream on ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET.
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