With Leon Edwards and Khamzat Chimaev on the sidelines until March, Michael Chiesa and Neil Magny will take their place atop UFC Fight Island 8, gunning for a spot in Welterweight contention at each others’ expense. Also at 170 pounds, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Brazil” winner Warlley Alves faces rising striking ace Mounir Lazzez, while Light Heavyweights Ike Villanueva and Vinicius Moreira attempt to finally claim their first Octagon victories.
We’ve got eight “Prelims” undercard bouts to preview and predict this time around, all carefully prepared for your perusal below. Let’s dig in ...
135 lbs.: Ricky Simon vs. Gaetano Pirrello
A comeback submission of Merab Dvalishvili and impressive decisions over Montel Jackson and Rani Yahya carried Ricky Simon (16-3) to the brink of the Bantamweight elite, only for losses to Urijah Faber and Rob Font to slow his roll. He got back on track this past March, securing a much-needed split decision over Ray Borg in Jacksonville.
He is the shorter of the two by one inch.
Gaerano Pirrello (15-5-1) — a veteran of more than a decade in the cage — enters the Octagon on the heels of two brutal first-round knockouts. The most recent, a body knee finish of Enzo Maria Iezzi in October of 2019, marked his 11th career (T)KO and 14th finish overall.
He replaces Brian Kelleher on less than two weeks’ notice.
Though a fearsome striker, Pirrello’s in for a rough night. Simon is by far the faster and more agile of the two, limiting “El Tigre’s” chances of landing a game-changing shot, and the former’s relentless pursuit of takedowns won’t allow Pirrello to get comfortable. Plus, even if Pirrello gets the pure striking battle he wants, he’s got enough defensive liabilities to make that a risky proposition.
That’s not to say Pirrello doesn’t have a shot at the upset; he hits plenty hard and Simon is notoriously chinny, so if Simon flubs a takedown and finds himself at the mercy of Pirrello’s clinch onslaught, he might not escape. Still, Simon’s got enough advantages to score an early finish.
Prediction: Simon via first-round submission
125 lbs.: Su Mudaerji vs. Zarrukh Adashev
Though Su Mudaerji (13-4) suffered a submission loss to Louis Smolka in his Octagon debut, he proved he was UFC-worthy by dominating Andre Soukhamthath in his subsequent effort. “The Tibetan Eagle” ended a nearly 15-month layoff in Nov. 2020, knocking out Malcolm Gordon in 44 seconds to earn “Performance of the Night.”
The Soukhamthath fight was his sole trip to the judges, as he’s knocked out 11 foes and submitted one other.
Three years after an unsuccessful mixed martial arts (MMA) debut, Zarrukh Adashev (3-2) signed with Bellator, where he went 3-0 over the span of a year. When Ryan Benoit withdrew from a June 2020 clash with Tyson Nam, Adashev answered the call and was rewarded with a 32-second knockout loss.
He gives up three inches of height and seven inches of reach to Mudaerji.
This is another situation where Adashev’s lack of size will prove his undoing. He’s likely the better striker of the two on a purely technical level, but not by such an extent that it makes up for Mudaerji’s advantages in height and reach. Worse, Mudaerji looks like the bigger hitter of the two, and his much-improved takedown defense is more than Adashev’s surprisingly stout clinch grappling can handle.
Mudaerji, though far from invincible, just has too much going his way for even Adashev’s standout kickboxing to overcome. He takes apart Adashev at long range for either a mid-round stoppage or wide decision.
Prediction: Mudaerji via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Dalcha Lungiambula vs. Markus Perez
Dalcha Lungiambula (10-2) earned his moniker by claiming the EFS Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight titles, then knocked out late replacement Dequan Townsend in his Octagon debut. Then came top prospect Magomed Ankalaev, who knocked the Congolese standout out with a third-round front kick.
This will mark the Middleweight debut and the first fight in 14 months for “Champion Dalcha.”
Markus Perez (12-4) — the former LFA Middleweight champion — started his UFC career 2-2 with submission wins over James Bochnovic and Anthony Hernandez. He’s yet to taste victory since, dropping a decision to Wellington Turman and suffering his first-ever knockout loss at the hands of Dricus Du Plessis last October. He steps in for Isi Fitikefu on just over two weeks’ notice.
As I mentioned in my preview for his doomed clash with Karl Roberson, dropping to 185 was the right move for Lungiambula. He stands a mere 5’8” and regularly weighed in below the Light Heavyweight limit; I expect him to do much better against men closer to his size, especially since he’s got the speed to keep up with them.
Perez, while tricky as hell, figures to be a more favorable introduction to the division than “Baby K.” The Brazilian’s poor wrestling limits the threat of his submission game and his striking relies more on aggression than technical savvy, leaving him vulnerable to Lungiambula’s lethal counters. Unless the Du Plessis loss provoked some serious improvement on Perez’s part, Lungiambula catches him coming in for a dramatic finish.
Prediction: Lungiambula via first-round knockout
125 lbs.: Francisco Figueiredo vs. Jerome Rivera
The elder brother of UFC champion Deiveson, Francisco Figueiredo (11-3-1) has tasted defeat just once since falling to Luis “Betao” Nogueira in 2012. His current three-fight unbeaten streak includes two knockouts and a draw with Eduardo Souza wherein “Sniper” won two rounds but lost a point.
He has submitted seven pro foes and knocked out three others.
Jerome Rivera (10-3) — a former LFA title challenger — narrowly defeated Luis Rodriguez on “Contender Series” to earn himself a UFC contract. He debuted just 1.5 months later, succumbing to Tyson Nam’s power partway through the second round.
He is the taller of the two by four inches.
Just to get it out of the way: Figueiredo isn’t the monster his brother is. He’s a very capable and entertaining fighter in his own right, but he’s not going to set the division on fire. Still, he should have enough to carry him past Rivera, being a sufficiently stout wrestler to keep it standing and a sufficiently dangerous striker to control things on the feet.
Figueiredo did show some cardio issues in his most recent fight, however, and Rivera’s got a motor on him. Still, expect the Brazilian to stalk Rivera and tear up his body to claim a competitive decision.
Prediction: Figueiredo via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Mike Davis vs. Mason Jones
Mike Davis (8-2) stumbled out of the UFC gate, dropping a decision to Sodiq Yusuff on “Contender Series” and tapping to a Gilbert Burns rear-naked choke in his late-notice Octagon debut the following year. He finally got on the scoreboard soon afterward, as he brutalized Thomas Gifford en route to a sickening knockout.
This marks his first appearance since Oct. 2019, as he withdrew from two planned bouts with Giga Chikadze last year.
After a nearly career-long stint in Cage Warriors, Mason Jones (10-0) challenged Joe McColgan for the promotion’s Lightweight title in March and secured it with a first-round knockout. Six months later, he moved up to 170, where he knocked out SBG product Adam Proctor for the Welterweight belt.
His seven professional finishes are split 4/3 between knockouts and submissions.
This figures to be one of the more entertaining and competitive matchups on the undercard, as it features two aggressive and well-rounded up-and-comers. Dangerous as Jones is, I favor Davis by a hair; while both have defensive issues, Davis looks to have the greater one-shot power, and Jones’ skill on the ground is offset by his difficulties with maintaining top control.
While Jones wearing him down isn’t out of the question, as Davis is coming off a major layoff, Davis’ edge in firepower looks like too much to overcome. Both men are plenty resilient, so we’re not likely to see a finish, but I see Davis landing the more telling shots to secure a close decision.
Prediction: Davis via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Victoria Leonardo vs. Manon Fiorot
Two months after bouncing back from a knockout loss to Erin Blanchfield with a decision over Liz Tracy, Victoria Leonardo (8-2) squared off with heavily-favored Chelsea Hackett on “Contender Series.” Despite her opponent’s hype and striking prowess, “Fury” used persistent wrestling and heavy ground-and-pound to secure both a second-round stoppage and a UFC contract.
Four of her professional wins have come by submission, three of them armbars.
Unbeaten since a close loss to Leah McCourt in her professional debut, Manon Fiorot (5-1) defeated Amanda Lino to claim the EFC Flyweight title. Then came a three-fight stint in UAE Warriors, which saw her score three consecutive knockouts and pick up their Flyweight title along the way.
She steps in for Natalia Silva, who injured her arm, on less than one month’s notice.
Leonardo is a perfectly serviceable mid-tier Flyweight. Fiorot, meanwhile, is potentially something really special. Leonardo’s mobile striking game pales in comparison to Fiorot’s, as the Frenchwoman boasts superior footwork, crispness, and stopping power. Even the wrestling “Fury” used to beat down another standout striker in Hackett won’t be enough, as Fiorot’s takedown defense is remarkably stout.
Unless I’ve sorely overestimated Fiorot’s ability to maintain distance and keep it on the feet, this looks like a rout. Fiorot unleashes “The Beast,” dancing circles around Leonardo before pouring it on for a late finish.
Prediction: Fiorot via third-round technical knockout
135 lbs.: Umar Nurmagomedov vs. Sergey Morozov
Umar Nurmagomedov (12-0) took a pair of detours from his run on the Asian circuit to try his hand in PFL, where he went 2-0 over Saidyokb Kakharamonov and Sidemar Honorio. His most recent effort took him to Uzbekistan, where he choked out unbeaten Braian Gonzalez late in the first round.
This will be his fourth attempt at a UFC debut after three 2020 dates fell through.
Sergey Morozov (16-3) met unbeaten Aleksandr Osetrov for the vacant M-1 Bantamweight title in 2019, scoring a comeback knockout to claim the belt he’d failed to secure against Movsar Evloev the year prior. His first defense pitted him against Josh Rettinghouse, whom Morozov defeated by decision to avenge a 2016 knockout loss.
He’s ended 11 professional bouts inside the distance, eight of them by form of knockout.
This just looks like a rough stylistic match up for Morozov, who is by no means a showcase opponent for the hyped Nurmagomedov. Though he’s skilled enough on the counter to potentially punish any lazy kicks in decisive fashion, his passivity when pressured bodes ill against a long-range aggressor like Nurmagomedov. Worse, Nurmagomedov’s excellent balance means Morozov can’t rely on his wrestling and ground-and-pound skills to bail him out.
Morozov does hit plenty hard and has a real chance if he can seize the initiative, so it’s not the utter wipeout the odds suggest, but Nurmagomedov’s high-volume kicks should still carry him to a comfortable decision.
Prediction: Nurmagomedov via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Omari Akhmedov vs. Tom Breese
These guys were supposed to fight on Saturday, so I figured I’d just re-use what I had ...
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 outlasted 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 of 2018 to February of 2020, when Brendan Allen beat him into submission in Norfolk. 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 half a 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; Breese has him badly outclassed 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. Breese drops the first two rounds before pummeling a fading Akhmedov for the late finish.
Prediction: Breese via third-round technical knockout
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Island 8 fight card this week, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance at 12 p.m. ET (also on ESPN/ESPN+).
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