Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) kicks off 2021 with three events in the span of a week, the first of which goes down this Saturday afternoon (Jan. 16, 2021) on ABC and ESPN from inside Ethiad Arena in Abu Dhabu, United Arab Emirates. UFC Fight Island 7’s main event sees former Featherweight champion Max Holloway face fellow striker Calvin Kattar atop a card that also features the long-awaited return of Welterweight contender Santiago Ponzinibbio against all-action Li Jingliang.
We’ve got three UFC Fight Island 7 “Prelims” left to preview and predict (check out the first batch here). Let’s have ourselves a look ...
185 lbs.: Phil Hawes vs. Nassourdine Imavov
After several early-career struggles — including a knockout loss to Julian Marquez on “Contender Series” — Phil Hawes (9-2)finally punched his ticket to the Octagon with a 78-second wipeout of Khazhimurat Bestaev. His debut proved even more dominant, as “Megatron” flattened Aussie prospect Jacob Malkoun in just 18 seconds.
All of his professional wins have come inside the distance, seven of them by form of knockout.
A knockout of UFC veteran Jonathan Meunier sent Nassourdine Imavov (9-2) to “Contender Series,” but when that fell through, he instead signed on to debut in UFC against Jordan Williams in Oct. 2020. Despite Williams’ persistence, Imavov turned in a dominant striking performance to secure his sixth consecutive victory.
He’ll have two inches of height and five inches of reach on Hawes.
Imavov seriously impressed me against Williams, whom I’d tabbed as a potential headache due to his incredible resilience and relentless approach. Even acknowledging that I underestimated him, however, he looks like he’s in for some trouble against Hawes. Imavov can’t slow things down with takedown attempts when “Megatron” is the better wrestler and his defensive lapses looked poised to sink him against a counter-puncher of this caliber.
If Hawes is what he’s supposed to be, he should dispose of Imavov without too much hassle. Though Imavov’s length and scrambling skills could give Hawes issues if some of the latter’s bad habit crop up, expect Hawes to land a vicious counter right for another early finish.
Prediction: Hawes via first-round knockout
135 lbs.: Wu Yanan vs. Joselyne Edwards
Wu Yanan (11-3) bounced back from a debut loss to Gina Mazany, submitting Lauren Mueller a year later, defying considerable odds in the process. Then came the dangerous Mizuki Inoue, who narrowly edged out “Mulan” via split decision.
This will be her first fight in almost 17 months.
Joselyne Edwards (9-2) brought a seven-fight win streak into her LFA title fight against Sarah Alpar, only to wind up on the wrong end of a split decision. After 20 months on the shelf, she returned to action last July with a 28-second knockout victory.
She steps in for Bethe Correia, who required an emergency appendectomy, on little more than one week’s notice.
This could un-ironically turn out to be one of the better fights on this undercard, as both women are aggressive bruisers who won’t have to worry about the wrestling issues that have plagued them in the past. In other words, expect plenty of output over 15 minutes of action, culminating in a narrow Wu victory.
Wu just figures to be more a seasoned and slightly crisper with her punches, which should give her an edge in the protracted exchanges this fight promises to offer. Plus, while Edwards has some nifty throws in the clinch, her poor positional skills on the ground mean she isn’t likely to secure much top control time from any successful takedowns. In the end, Wu out-slugs her to even up her Octagon record.
Prediction: Wu via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Omari Akhmedov vs. Tom Breese
Two consecutive knockout losses gave way to a six-fight unbeaten streak for Omari Akhmedov (20-5-1), including a majority draw with Marvin Vettori and a decision over Ian Heinisch. His efforts earned him a spot in the rankings and a clash with former champion Chris Weidman, who out-lasted Akhmedov to end his streak in Aug. 2020.
He stands three inches shorter than Tom Breese (12-2) at 6’0.”
A litany of issues kept Breese out of action from May 2018 to Feb. 2020, when Brendan Allen beat him into submission in Norfolk, Virginia. Seven months later, he squared off against unbeaten prospect K.B. Bhullar, stopping him in 102 seconds to earn his third UFC “Performance of the Night” bonus.
He has tapped seven professional foes and knocked out another four.
Akhmedov genuinely fascinates me in an odd sort of way. Rather than fix the cardio issues that have plagued him for more than a half-decade, he’s turned the art of winning the first two rounds and surviving the inevitable comeback into an art form. Still, I’m not sure that’ll work out in his favor this time. That’s because Breese has him badly out-classed on the feet and boasts the grappling chops to survive on the ground until Akhmedov’s gas tank fails him.
Though Breese isn’t always the most reliable fighter, he’s too sharp and too powerful a striker for Akhmedov’s free-swinging offense to deal with once the latter tires too much to keep the grind going. In the end, Breese drops the first two rounds before pummeling a fading Akhmedov for the late finish.
Prediction: Breese via third-round technical knockout
UFC Fight Island 7 features afternoon action between two of the best Featherweights on the planet on free television? Sign me up! See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Island 7 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance at 3 p.m. ET on ABC (also on ESPN+).
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Fight Island 7: “Holloway vs. Kattar” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.