Two dangerous champions with scores to settle show their stuff inside Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y., this Saturday (Nov. 6, 2021) when Kamaru Usman and Rose Namajunas defend their respective titles against Colby Covington and Zhang Weili atop UFC 268. The ESPN+-streamed pay-per-view (PPV) non-title action is every bit as compelling, as Justin Gaethje meets Michael Chandler, Shane Burgos takes on Billy Quarantillo, and Marlon Vera opens the show against Frankie Edgar.
We’ve still got five “Prelims” undercard bouts to examine (check out the first batch here) before all that, though, so let’s get to it ...
185 lbs.: Alex Pereira vs. Andreas Michailidis
The illustrious kickboxing career of Alex Pereira (3-1) included two wins over Israel Adesanya and a lengthy reign as Glory Middleweight champion, which ended in Sept. 2021 with a narrow decision loss to Artem Vakhitov. “Poatan” has found similar success in the cage, most recently returning after four years away to wipe out Thomas Powell with a one-punch knockout.
He’s three inches taller than Andreas Michailidis (13-4) and sports a five-inch reach advantage.
Michailidis rode a 7-1 run into his UFC debut against Modestas Bukauskas, only to succumb to elbows in the final moments of the first round. He found more success his second time out, out-working K.B. Bhullar to a unanimous decision victory.
His 11 professional finishes are split 6/5 between knockouts and submissions.
Not to cast aspersions on Michailidis’ skills, but there’s a reason he got tabbed to welcome Pereira to the Octagon. He’s by far the lesser striker, isn’t much of a wrestler, and regularly gasses as fights progress. Though Pereira’s all-important takedown defense hasn’t been tested in the cage, Michailidis is so thoroughly out-classed standing that he’s unlikely to serve as a crucible before getting knocked silly.
Hell, the guy failed to impress against a mobile punching bag in Bhullar.
Even if Michailidis does manage to drag Pereira to the mat, it’s only a matter of time before he starts to flag and becomes a stationary target for Pereira to destroy. Either way, Pereira’s death touch left hook earns him another violent finish.
Prediction: Pereira via first round knockout
155 lbs.: Al Iaquinta vs. Bobby Green
Al Iaquinta (14-6-1) put a UFC debut loss to Michael Chiesa behind him by winning eight of his next nine, setting up a last-minute title fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov. He now finds himself in a 1-3 hole, including one-sided losses to Donald Cerrone and Dan Hooker in recent efforts.
He fights for the first time in 25 months.
Bobby Green (27-12-1) launched himself back into contention with three consecutive wins, among them a “Fight of the Night” victory over Lando Vannata in their rematch. He has since dropped two straight — both by controversial decision — to Thiago Moises and Rafael Fiziev.
“King” has scored eight knockouts and nine submissions as a professional.
Here’s a fun factoid: if the media scores had final say, Green would have entered his most recent bout on a six-fight win streak, and there’s a tentative argument to be made that he won that one as well. He’s better than a lot of people, myself included, gave him credit for even if he’s not getting credit from the right places.
Iaquinta’s a great fighter, of course, but he consistently struggles with rangy opponents. Though he’s stronger than Green in the pocket, “King’s” boxing and improved wrestling figure to pay dividends, especially considering the rust Iaquinta’s facing. Green will earn the win, though it’s anyone’s guess whether they’ll actually give it to him.
Prediction: Green via split decision
185 lbs.: Phil Hawes vs. Chris Curtis
Phil Hawes (11-2) went from suffering two straight stoppage losses to winning seven in a row, three of them inside the Octagon. He was last seen battling his way past Kyle Daukaus in May 2021 for just his second decision win since 2017.
Seven of his nine finishes have come in the first round.
“Contender Series” veteran Chris Curtis (26-8) has won 13 of his last 16, the lone losses coming to PFL champions Magomed Magomedkerimov and Ray Cooper III. His present five-fight streak features three knockouts and a decision over UFC veteran Kenny Robertson.
He originally stepped in on a day’s notice to fight Hawes last month when Deron Winn withdrew, but Hawes declined the last-minute opponent switch.
I honestly don’t blame Hawes for turning down the original match up because Curtis is a legit fighter who can test Hawes in ways the struggling Winn couldn’t. With enough time to properly prepare, though, “Megatron” should have this. While Curtis is a dangerous boxer with stout takedown defense, he’s been controlled against the fence by lesser wrestlers than Hawes, and Hawes’ right hand figures to be a solid weapon against Curtis’ Southpaw stylings.
The bookies currently have Curtis at around +250, which I can’t say I agree with. Even if he’s undersized, that nasty body attack of his will definitely pay dividends if Hawes can’t keep him on the ground or against the side of the Octagon. So long as Hawes’ gas tank holds up, though, he’s got the skills to grind him out.
Prediction: Hawes via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Edmen Shahbazyan vs. Nassourdine Imavov
Despite losing a bit of luster after a shaky decision over Darren Stewart in his UFC debut, Edmen Shahbazyan (11-2) got it right back by knocking out his next three opponents in less than a half-round apiece. He now finds himself in the midst of an 0-2 skid, starting strong (but fading late) against both Derek Brunson and Jack Hermansson.
All 10 of his stoppage wins have come in less than one round.
Denied an opportunity on “Contender Series,” Nassourdine Imavov (10-3) settled for out-classing Jordan Williams in his UFC debut, only to lose a close decision to Phil Hawes soon after. While he entered his third bout with Ian Heinisch as an underdog, he wound up scoring his first Octagon finish with a vicious knee in the second round.
He’ll enjoy one-inch advantages in height and reach.
UFC brass are either extremely confident in Shahbazyan’s ability to bounce back or ready to wash their hands of him. Imavov is nobody’s idea of a rebound opponent; in fact, he’s every bit Shahbazyan’s equal on the feet and has proven difficult to keep on his back. If Shahbazyan hasn’t ironed out the flaws that let Brunson and Hermansson wear him down, the “Russian Sniper” can exploit them mercilessly.
I genuinely do want to see Shahbazyan succeed. He’s young, talented, and got thrown to the wolves too early. I’ll be pulling for him, but odds are that Imavov takes over down the stretch for a late finish.
Prediction: Imavov via third round technical knockout
170 lbs.: Ian Garry vs. Jordan Williams
Ireland’s Ian Garry (7-0) went 6-1 as an amateur before turning pro in 2019. “The Future” has fought exclusively under the Cage Warriors banner since, most recently cruising past Jack Grant to claim the Welterweight title.
He’ll have two inches of height on “Bomaye” at 6’3.”
Undaunted by an overturned victory and controversial decision loss in his first two appearances on the program, Jordan Williams (9-5) finally secured a contract on “Contender Series” by flattening Gregory Rodrigues. He’s yet to taste victory in the UFC itself, falling to Nassourdine Imavov and Mickey Gall in two appearances.
He boasts seven professional knockout wins and one submission.
Garry really does look like “The Future” at 23 years old. He’s remarkably seasoned for his age, is a skilled finisher both on the feet and on the ground, and uses his lengthy frame quite well.
And based on what he’s shown so far, I don’t see his rise stopping here.
I didn’t have super high hopes for Williams, seeing him as a remarkably sturdy and hard-hitting brawler with solid wrestling to back it up, but he’s definitely underwhelmed in the Octagon. He struggled mightily against another long-range striker in Imavov and got torn apart on the mat by Gall. Garry has the skills to recreate both men’s successful efforts, plus the gas tank and footwork to not wilt under Williams’ pressure, so expect him to take the latter apart on the outside for a wide victory.
Prediction: Garry via unanimous decision
UFC 268 is a monster of a card from top to bottom ... one you simply can’t afford to miss. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 268 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPNEWS/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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