Impeccable technique meets destructive force this Saturday when Israel Adesanya defends his UFC Middleweight title against undefeated wrecking machine Paulo Costa on Fight Island. UFC 253 also pits Dominick Reyes against Jan Blachowicz in a bid for the vacant Light Heavyweight title and Flyweight bruiser Kai Kara-France against submission ace Brandon Royval.
155 lbs.: Brad Riddell vs. Alex da Silva
Brad Riddell (8-1) — a former kickboxing standout — produced one of the more memorable UFC debuts in recent memory in an absolute war against Jamie Mullarkey in Oct. 2019. Next came destructive striker Magomed Mustafaev, whom Riddell forced to rely on his wrestling before the Aussie took a split decision.
“Quake” gives up one inch of height and two inches of reach to “Leko.”
Brazil’s Alex da Silva (21-2) entered the Octagon with 20 stoppages in 20 victories, but fell victim to a Schultz Headlock from veteran Alexander Yakovlev in his promotional debut. He returned to action four months later, taking a decision over Rodrigo Vargas to enter the UFC win column.
This will be his first fight in 13 months thanks to the coronavirus canceling an April bout with Tristan Connelly.
da Silva is a very promising young fighter at just 24, which makes it all the more tragic that he’s going to get thumped here. He’s markedly out-gunned on the feet even with his height and length, and while he’s impressively well-rounded and capable on the mat, I’m not convinced his wrestling chops are sufficient to take the fast-improving “Quake” out of his comfort zone.
That said, Riddell is far from untouchable in the standup, and da Silva’s got some pop and technical striking chops of his own. Are they enough to get “Leko” the win? No, but it should keep things plenty entertaining while they last. Riddell overpowers him in a brutal kickboxing match.
Prediction: Riddell via third round technical knockout
170 lbs.: Diego Sanchez vs. Jake Matthews
A decision over Craig White and a ground-and-pound stoppage of Mickey Gall resulted in the first Diego Sanchez (30-12) win streak since 2011. He’s struggled to maintain that momentum, dropping a wide decision to Michael Chiesa and taking a disqualification win against Michel Pereira in a fight he was losing madly.
He is the shorter man by one inch.
Jake Matthews (16-4) won four of his first five bouts as a UFC Lightweight before consecutive losses to Kevin Lee and Andrew Holbrook sent him back to 170 pounds. He presently rides a 5-1 run that includes a “Fight of the Night” upset of Li Jingliang at UFC 221.
He has tapped seven professional foes and knocked out another four.
The White fight showed that Sanchez can still do good work against incompetent wrestlers, while his wins over Marcin Held and Mickey Gall showed that his pace can be exhausting for the unprepared. Unfortunately for him, he’s terribly unlikely to have that sort of success against Matthews, who can physically overpower him and hold his own wherever the fight ends up. Sanchez won’t be able to wear him down or find any success on the feet, leaving him at the mercy of a bigger, younger, stronger, fresher fighter.
I’m not sure if Matthews has the firepower to put Sanchez down, but he’s got all the tools he needs to dominate for three rounds. In the end, dominant striking, strong takedown defense and the occasional bout of top control carry Matthews to a one-sided decision.
Prediction: Matthews via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Shane Young vs. Ludovit Klein
Shane Young (13-4) had the misfortune of meeting Alexander Volkanovski in his Octagon debut, and though he lasted the distance against the future champ, the loss snapped a five-fight win streak. He’s won two straight since, earning “Fight of the Night” in his second-round knockout of Rolando Dy.
He makes his first appearance since Feb. 2019.
After starting his pro career undefeated (5-0), Ludovit Klein (16-2) hit a 3-2 patch in 2017 that saw him choked out by Aiden Lee under the Cage Warriors banner. Undeterred, he went on to win seven straight, six of them by knockout and three of those coming via head kick.
He steps in for Nate Landwehr — who tested positive for COVID-19 — on less than two weeks’ notice.
I’d never heard of Klein before this weekend, but I came away extremely impressed. He’s a truly lethal southpaw striker whose blending of the straight left and left high kick remind me of Mirko Cro Cop. While Young is definitely an adept kickboxer in his own right, Klein looks to have the edge in speed and stopping power, setting the stage for a triumphant debut.
Though this could just be a case of me being enamored by something new and shiny, I genuinely believe Klein is a special talent. Between his potency on the feet and his excellent balance precluding any attempts by Young to turn it into a ground fight, expect him to drop the hammer somewhere around the midway point.
Prediction: Klein via second round technical knockout
205 lbs.: William Knight vs. Aleksa Camur
Despite four knockout wins in four professional fights, William Knight (8-1) entered “Contender Series” as an underdog, only to outlast and pound out Herdem Alacabek to earn a developmental contract. Though he lost to future UFC signee Tafon Nchukwi two fights later, he secured a full contract earlier this month by knocking out Cody Brundage midway through the first round.
Five of his eight professional knockouts have come in the first round.
Aleksa Camur (6-0) — a training partner of Stipe Miocic — made the most of his “Contender Series” opportunity by knocking out Fabio Cherant in the second round. This set up a January debut against Justin Ledet, whom Camur outworked to claim a narrow decision.
He stands three inches taller than Knight at 6’1.”
Honestly, I’m still not convinced that Knight is UFC-ready. Sure, he’s a physical specimen who’s visibly improving between fights, but his striking and offensive wrestling remain underdeveloped. It seems like his only consistent strategy is “get taken down, either sweep or wait it out, then pound them out from top position” like a poor man’s Derrick Lewis.
Based on that fight with Nchukwi, where he went all-in on takedowns and failed to complete a single one before getting bashed into submission, Knight is highly unlikely to get Camur to the mat. That leaves him to deal with a far superior boxer in the standup; considering Knight’s yet to show much in that area besides some solid low kicks and a passable one-two combination, it’ll end poorly for him. In short, Camur smashes him quick.
Prediction: Camur via first round technical knockout
UFC 253 features two top-notch title fights and plenty of potential action in the supporting cast make for a strong pay-per-view (PPV) offering. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 253 fight card this weekend, starting with the early ESPN 2/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance (also on ESPN 2/ESPN+) at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
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