The red-hot Middleweight division produces another top-notch match up this Saturday (July 25, 2020) at UFC on ESPN 14 when former champion Robert Whittaker looks to bounce back from defeat against dangerous striker Darren Till. Up at 205 pounds, Pride FC legends “Shogun” Mauricio Rua and “Minotouro” Antonio Rogerio Nogueira continue their rivalry, while former Strawweight champion Carla Esparza attempts to halt the rise of striking standout Marina Rodriguez.
We’ve got four “Prelims” left to examine before then (check out the first batch here), though, so let’s not tarry.
155 lbs.: Francisco Trinaldo vs. Jai Herbert
Francisco Trinaldo’s (25-7) seven-fight win streak gave way to a 2-3 skid, though his decision loss to Alexander Hernandez was more than a little questionable. The Brazilian has since proven that he’s still dangerous in his 40s with decisions over Bobby Green and John Makdessi.
“Massaranduba” stands four inches shorter than Herbert at 5’9.”
Three straight wins in the Cage Warriors cage earned Jai Herbert (10-1) a crack at the promotion’s vacant Lightweight title, which he claimed with a third-round finish of Jack Grant. Then came a clash with UFC veteran Cain Carrizosa, whom “The Black Country Banger” dispatched with a highlight-reel knee in the first.
Eight of his nine professional stoppage wins have come by form of knockout.
Though Herbert’s height and reach look problematic for the stout Trinaldo, who notably struggled to close the distance against James Vick, the Brit’s got some bad habits that make Trinaldo a deserved favorite. Notably, he both steps in too deep with his punches is vulnerable to getting backed against the fence, where his unspectacular takedown defense shows its greatest flaws. Trinaldo’s suffocating pressure and solid ground game seem perfectly suited to exploiting these issues and making Herbert’s debut a rough one.
That said, Herbert has a notably impressive gas tank, and though Trinaldo has learned how to properly pace himself, it’s unclear how long his body can hold up at the age of 41. Still, between the stylistic edge and the experience, I favor Trinaldo to consistently force Herbert into the sides of the Octagon and rack up top control for a wide decision win.
Prediction: Trinaldo via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Nicolas Dalby vs. Jesse Ronson
Nicolas Dalby’s (18-3-1) initial Octagon run saw him edge out Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos in a “Fight of the Night” contender, draw with Darren Till in a “Fight of the Night” winner, and then leave the promotion following losses to Zak Cummings and Peter Sobotta. He ultimately returned to UFC in dramatic fashion 17 months later, surviving heavy adversity to take a decision over “Cowboy” Oliveira in Copenhagen. H
e’ll have just under three inches of reach on the returning Jesse Ronson (21-10).
“The Body Snatcher” had one of the least fortunate Octagon runs in recent memory, losing three consecutive split decisions to Michel Prazeres, Francisco Trinaldo, and Kevin Lee. Though his recent PFL run also proved unsuccessful, he returns to the UFC cage on the heels of a submission victory.
He replaces the injured Danny Roberts on short notice for his first UFC bout in almost exactly six years.
This fight will be determined by how impactful the size difference ends up being. The two are fairly evenly matched technically, with Ronson sporting a potential edge in stopping power. Were these two naturally in the same weight class, I’d comfortably favor Ronson, as Dalby has long been plagued by his inability to generate fight-ending force.
As is, though, Dalby will be the bigger man and I don’t think Ronson hits hard enough to make up for that. Though I’d be more confident if this were five rounds, as Dalby generally starts slow and is prone to getting dropped early, he should be able to kickbox his way past “The Body Snatcher,” taking advantage of the latter’s short notice to build momentum and take the last two rounds.
Prediction: Dalby via unanimous decision
265 lbs.: Tom Aspinall vs. Jake Collier
These two were actually booked to fight in March, right as the coronavirus pandemic got into full swing, and I’d already written the preview by the time the card got axed. Figured I might as well use it ...
Following a 76-second knockout of Kamil Bazelak in 2016, Tom Aspinall (7-2) left the sport to try his hand at boxing, where he won his sole bout by first-round finish. The detour, combined with injury, kept him out of the cage until 2019, where he dispatched two opponents in a combined 2:17.
Four of his seven finishes have come in less than one minute.
Jake Collier (11-4) began his UFC career as a Middleweight, going 2-2 with upsets of Ricardo Abreu and Alberto Uda. He moved to 205 pounds for his loss to Devin Clark, then got back on the upset train with a decision over Marcel Fortuna.
He competes for the first time since 2017 due to injury.
I’ll grant that Collier has over-performed in the past, but this is a mighty tall ask. Ending a three-year layoff against a guy 20-30 pounds bigger than anyone he’s ever fought is rough on its own, made worse by the fact that Aspinall has legitimate skills. I’d favor the Team Kaobon product even if they were the same size just because of his hand speed and power; however, against a naturally smaller man coming off a huge hiatus, it goes from “tricky but doable” to “showcase.”
It is worth nothing that Aspinall’s non-disqualification defeat came about partially because of his weak takedown defense, giving Collier an avenue of victory. Between the size difference and Aspinall’s surprisingly stout submission game off of his back, though, that route’s as plagued with peril as the standup. Aspinall plugs him with a right hand for another quick finish.
Prediction: Aspinall via first-round knockout
145 lbs.: Movsar Evloev vs. Mike Grundy
Movsar Evloev (12-0) capped his career-long run in M-1 with three successful Bantamweight title defenses. He’s since done his Octagon work at Featherweight, claiming decision wins over Seung Woo Choi and Enrique Barzola.
He has stopped seven professional opponents, four of them via rear-naked choke.
Unbeaten since 2015, Mike Grundy (12-1) entered UFC as the most highly credentialed English wrestler in promotional history, having taken gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. He made good on his promise by knocking out Nad Narimani in London last March.
This will be his first fight in 16 months thanks to injury scrapping an Aug. 2019 meeting with Evloev and the coronavirus axing a March battle with Makwan Amirkhani.
Though I’ve long been high on Evloev for some time, this might end up closer than the odds would suggest. While he has the more proven MMA grappling, Grundy’s got the superior wrestling pedigree and the faster hands; the two look fairly evenly matched wherever the fight goes, and their recent efforts suggest that they’re rapidly shoring up what deficiencies remain in their games.
I lean toward Evloev, at least if he doesn’t fade late the way he did against the exhausting Barzola. The Russian’s stiff jab looks like an effective counter to Grundy’s stand up, which still relies on leading with power shots, and he’s the better scrambler and submission artist. Grundy keeps it close, but Evloev edges out their ground and striking exchanges to claim the decision.
Prediction: Evloev via unanimous decision
UFC on ESPN 14 features a top-notch main event and a bevy of strong up-and-comers make for a solid “Fight Island” finale. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on ESPN 14 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+/ESPN “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+/ESPN at 8 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC on ESPN 14: “Whittaker vs. Till” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.