After three unsuccessful bids for Featherweight gold, former Lightweight champion, Frankie Edgar, will try his hand in a third weight class this Saturday (Aug. 22, 2020), taking on hardened finisher Pedro Munhoz inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. UFC on ESPN 15 will also see Ovince Saint Preux return to Light Heavyweight to face prospect Alonzo Menifield and knockout artists Mike Rodriguez and Marcin Prachnio attempt to rebound from recent misfortunes at each others’ expense.
UFC on ESPN 15 features six “Prelims” undercard bouts, split even between the ESPN/ESPN+ broadcasts. The first three are laid bare below ...
205 lbs.: Ike Villanueva vs. Jorge Gonzalez
Ike Villanueva (16-10) — a former Middleweight — knocked out Roger Narvaez for the Fury FC Light Heavyweight title and defended it by stopping another UFC veteran in Rashad Coulter. Moving up to 265 pounds for his debut proved ill-advised, as he suffered a knockout loss to Chase Sherman this past May.
He’s scored 13 professional wins by form of knockout.
Jorge Gonzalez (16-4) enters the cage this Saturday with wins in seven of his last eight, all of them by first-round stoppage and one coming over UFC veteran Kenneth Bergh. He was slated to debut against Kenneth Bergh in July, only for Bergh to fail his weight cut and withdraw one day before fight night.
He’ll have an inch of height and three inches of reach on “Hurricane.”
Gonzalez is nowhere near as screwed as he would have been against Bergh, as Villanueva lacks the wrestling and submission skills “Ymir” could have used to great effect. That said, I still expect the Mexican slugger to start his Octagon career on a loss. Villanueva’s hand speed, combinations, and counter-punching all look well-suited to punishing Gonzalez’s free-swinging offense.
While the UFC newcomer definitely hits hard enough to end Villanueva’s night early, as several others have in the past, there’s such a massive technical gulf between them that the “puncher’s chance” isn’t statistically significant. Now that he’s in his proper weight class, Villanueva quickly overpowers him on the feet.
Prediction: Villanueva via first-round technical knockout
135 lbs.: Timur Valiev vs. Mark Striegl
Timur Valiev (16-2) — whose only loss since his pro debut was a controversial one to Chris Gutierrez — defeated Max Coga and Bekbulat Magomedov to secure a spot in the PFL 2018 playoffs. Though injury kept him from going further, he went on to knock out Giovanni da Silva and take a decision over Taigro Costa last year.
He saw a planned Aug. 1, 2020, debut against Jamall Emmers collapse because of visa issues.
Mark Striegl (18-2) initially made his name in PXC and ONE Championships, becoming a fixture on the SEA scene. The last few years have seen him ply his craft in Filipino promotion URCC, where he won their Featherweight title in 2019 and defended it with a “No Contest” against one-time UFC competitor Shunichi Shimizu.
“Mugen” has tapped 14 professional opponents, eight of them via rear-naked choke.
Striegl’s stand up has improved remarkably since his upset loss to Reece McLaren in 2015; his wrestling is still the star of his game, but he’s no longer lost on the feet. Unfortunately for him, Valiev’s high-octane offense still has him thoroughly outclassed there, and the Dagestani’s terrific balance and scrambling skills make it highly unlikely that Striegl’s top control and submissions will play a part.
It’s also worth noting that as far as I can tell, Striegl hasn’t cut to 135 pounds since that McLaren defeat, which saw him gas partway through the second. Against an extremely active and mobile striker who won’t let him take breaks on top, that’s the nail in an already sunk coffin. Valiev run circles around him to claim an increasingly dominant victory.
Prediction: Valiev via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Matthew Semelsberger vs. Carlton Minus
Matthew Semelsberger (6-2) went 5-2 as an amateur before making his debut in 2017, starting his pro career 3-2. “Semi” has since won three straight, including a split decision in CFFC and a first-round knockout of veteran Rich Patishnok in February.
Four of his professional wins, including three of his last four, have come by form of knockout.
Carlton Minus (10-1) spent nearly the entirety of his pro career in Alaska FC before stepping up on short notice to face Rick Story in PFL’s 2018 season. Though he succumbed to “The Horror’s” wrestling and submission skills, he successfully returned to his usual stomping grounds with a decision win in February.
He steps in for Philip Rowe on just over a week’s notice.
Luckily for Minus, the wrestling issues that Story mercilessly exploited shouldn’t play a factor here because Semelsberger is a willing, aggressive slugger who’ll happily engage Minus on the feet and lose in the process. Though “Semi” has some pop, he’ll have all kinds of trouble getting through Minus’ spear of a jab and his tendency to go all-in when closing the distance leaves him vulnerable to counters.
Minus isn’t the hardest man to hit, so Semelsberger could find the mark with a game-changing blow, but the latter is far more likely to eat potshots all night. “Clutch” leans on his sharper offensive boxing to claim victory in his Octagon debut.
Prediction: Minus via unanimous decision
Three more UFC on ESPN 15 undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including the second summer appearance of Austin Hubbard. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs!
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on ESPN 15 fight card this weekend right here, starting with the ESPN+/ESPN “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+/ESPN at 8:30 p.m. ET.
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