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X-Factor! Some UFC Fight Island 7 main card predictions

UFC Fight Night: Magny v Ponzinibbio Photo by Alexandre Schneider/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

This weekend (Sat., Jan. 16, 2021), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will return to “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, for UFC Fight Island 7, the first event of the New Year. Given the more strict COVID-19 testing to even arrive in Abu Dhabi (details), as well as the tighter bubble in place, there’s a better chance the card holds together, and it’s looking to be a fun night of combat.

Let’s take a closer look at some main card fights:

Welterweight: Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Li Jingliang

Best Win for Ponzinibbio? Neil Magny For Jingliang? Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos
Current Streak: Ponzinibbio has won seven straight, but it’s been just over two years since his most recent fight. Meanwhile, Jingliang came up short last time out.
X-Factor: Ponzinibbio’s layoff and related injuries
How these two match up: Violence!

It’s easy to forget just how good Ponzinibbio looked prior to his layoff. The Argentinian has largely been dominating his opposition, better able to implement his powerful kickboxing attack now that his defensive grappling has solidified.

Jingliang is a man who’s gone on some hot streaks as well. He’s yet to break into the top ranks of competition, but “The Leech” is a well-rounded, physical and aggressive talent happy to throw leather.

This reads like a truly terrible match up for Jingliang. He’s a capable slugger, sure, but if Ponzinibbio remains in prime form — an admittedly unknowable “if” — “Gente Boa” can crack. This is not the man to test one’s toughness and physicality opposite, yet that’s really what Jingliang brings to the table.

Twice in his UFC career, Ponzinibbio has been out-slicked by his opponents, who were simply sharper than the Argentinian. The most recent of those losses is in 2015. No one who has tried to trade power shots with Ponzinibbio has lasted long, and it’s hard to see what separates “The Leech” from that pack.

Prediction: Ponzinibbio via knockout

Middleweight: Joaquin Buckley vs. Alessio Di Chirico

Best Win for Buckley? Impa Kasanganay For Di Chirico? Julian Marquez
Current Streak: Buckley has won two straight, while Di Chirico lost three in a row
X-Factor: Di Chirico’s wrestling
How these two match up: This is clearly another fight designed to build hype for Buckley. He scored the clear-cut knockout of the year (century?) in Oct. 2020, and UFC has since been focused on building the knockout artist, who’s a dangerous mix of explosive athleticism and smart combinations.

Di Chirico is a much more middle-of-the-road Middleweight. He’s well-rounded enough without excelling in any one area. Perhaps more than anything, Di Chirico’s issue is that he struggles to push his advantage once he finds it, leading to close fights.

On the feet, Buckley is the sharper and more dangerous man even when facing a height/reach disadvantage. His punches are going to land with a greater impact that sways the judges even when Di Chirico finds his own shots. Really, the only question here is whether or not Di Chirico is able to implement his underrated wrestling, which did allow him to score takedowns opposite men like Kevin Holland and Julian Marquez.

Even if he does land a takedown or two, he’s the type of fighter who tends to fight how his opponent desires, and that won’t work against a puncher like “New Mansa.”

Prediction: Buckley via decision

Middleweight: Punahele Soriano vs. Dusko Todorovic

Best Win for Soriano? Oskar Piechota For Todorovic? Dequan Townsend
Current Streak: Both men recently won their Middleweight debuts
X-Factor: the relative inexperience of each athlete
How these two match up: Two talented “Contender Series” products will go head-to-head.

It’s been more than one year since Soriano debuted with a first-round knockout opposite Piechota, stalking the grappler with heavy punches and ending him quickly. The Hawaiian has also demonstrated strong wrestling and grappling in his previous bouts, though it remains to be seen how well his ground work will hold up in the Octagon.

Serbia’s Todorovic has been fighting tough competition pretty much since the beginning of his career, and he already looks the part of a battle-hardened veteran. Unlike most “Contender Series” veterans, “Thunder” is happy to fight an ugly battle against the cage, though if he does gain good position, he’ll get aggressive quickly.

Two young, undefeated fighters who hit hard and have seemingly well-rounded games — this fight should be informative to say the least! Soriano appears to be the more dedicated striker of the two, but again, we’re so early into the pair fighting UFC-level competition that it’s hard to be too confident in early reads.

Still, I like what I’ve seen of Todorovic so far. He seems like a smart fighter who knows how to play to his strengths and frustrate opponents. That’s a great skill set to have, and in a match up where both men seem promising, it may prove the decider.

Prediction: Todorovic via decision

Remember that 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.

Final ‘X-Factor’ Picks for 2020: 58-27