Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) pulls out all the stops for its second pay-per-view (PPV) of 2021 this Saturday (March 6, 2021), which features three different titles up for grabs.
In UFC 259’s main event, Middleweight king Israel Adesanya moves up to 205 pounds to challenge freshly-crowned Light Heavyweight roost-ruler, Jan Blachowicz, while Amanda Nunes returns to Featherweight to take on fellow knockout artist Megan Anderson. Plus, Petr Yan makes the first defense of his Bantamweight belt in a long-overdue clash with all-action Aljamain Sterling.
We’ve got a heaping 10 “Prelims” undercard this time around to set the PPV table, perhaps a sign that UFC is acknowledging the recent turnover rate. Nevertheless, the first six UFC 259 “Prelims” are on ESPN+/Fight Pass, so that’s where we’ll start ...
125 lbs.: Tim Elliott vs. Jordan Espinosa
After initially leaving UFC on a three-fight skid back in 2015, Tim Elliott (16-11-1) returned with a successful The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) run and a 2-2 start to his Octagon comeback. Though he proceeded to lose his next three, he righted the ship in July 2020 with a narrow decision over Ryan Benoit.
Though the taller of the two by one inch, he gives up two inches of reach.
It took two finishes on “Contender Series,” but Jordan Espinosa (15-8) finally made his UFC debut in 2019 with a decision over TUF veteran Eric Shelton. He’s since lost three of four, most recently dropping a decision to rising prospect David Dvorak in Sept. 2020.
Seven of his nine professional stoppages have come by submission.
While both of these men have the tools to exploit the other’s weaknesses, this definitely looks like Espinosa’s fight to lose. Even after more than a decade in the sport, Elliott’s the same lumbering punching bag he’s always been on the feet, and Espinosa’s mobile striking style looks perfectly suited to taking him apart the way others have before. In addition, Espinosa’s strong takedown defense and ostensible ability to stay out of the pocket severely limit Elliott’s chances of getting his smothering wrestling attack going.
Though painfully adept at shooting himself in the foot, Epinosa’s got the tools to play matador and defuse the aging Elliott with high-volume counters. So long as he doesn’t panic and initiate the wrestling himself, he wins a comfortable decision at long range.
Prediction: Espinosa via unanimous decision
205 lbs.: Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Carlos Ulberg
Though a split decision over Anton Berzin wasn’t enough to get Kennedy Nzechukwu (7-1) a contract on “Contender Series,” an impressive head kick knockout in his second effort did the trick. He’s 1-1 in the Octagon itself, succumbing to one of Paul Craig’s signature comebacks in his debut before beating Darko Stosic by decision his next time out.
This marks his first appearance in 19 months.
City Kickboxing’s Carlos Ulberg (3-0) put together a strong run in that eponymous sport before shifting his focus full-time to mixed martial arts (MMA). “Mr. Marvelous” joined “Contender Series” in Nov. 2020, knocking out Bruno Oliveira with a vicious left hook to secure a UFC contract.
He gives up six inches of reach to “African Savage.”
I’ll be shocked if Ulberg doesn’t brutalize Nzechukwu. The Nigerian’s lack of interest in initiating the grappling gives Ulberg free rein to unleash his striking arsenal, which absolutely eclipses Nzechukwu’s in speed, power, technique, and versatility. To make matters worse for Nzechukwu, Ulberg is extremely adept at fighting southpaws; therefore, unless the bright lights leave Ulberg too tentative to let his offense go, Nzechukwu’s in for a whooping.
Expect Ulberg to exploit the same weakness to low kicks that Stosic did, compromising Nzechukwu’s movement until the reach difference ceases to be a factor. From there, it’s really just a question of how Ulberg elects to finish it. I’m guessing a snap kick to the body, though a head kick isn’t outside the realm of possibility.
Prediction: Ulberg via second-round technical knockout
170 lbs.: Sean Brady vs. Jake Matthews
Sean Brady (13-0) first made his name under the Cage Fury banner, claiming the promotion’s Welterweight title in 2017 and defending it twice before jumping ship to the Octagon. Since arriving, he’s kept his unbeaten record intact with three consecutive victories, including a “Performance of the Night” guillotine finish of Christian Aguilera last time out.
He surrenders one inch each of height and reach to Jake Matthews (17-4).
A controversial decision loss to Andrew Holbrook sent Matthews from Lightweight to Welterweight, where he’s now won six of his last seven. He was last seen handily dominating Diego Sanchez in Sept. 2020 for his third win since a submission loss to Anthony Rocco Martin.
His 11 professional finishes include seven by submission.
I’m trying to think of a thesis statement less reductive than, “Brady does what Matthews does, only better” and failing miserably. Though less of a finisher, especially on the mat, Brady looks like the stronger wrestler and the busier striker of the two, meaning Matthews needs to hurt him and/or tap him to get the win. Neither seem particularly likely, especially since a very dangerous kickboxer in Ismail Naurdiev failed to overpower Brady on the feet and “The Celtic Kid” has scored just one submission in almost five years.
Brady looks like he has all the tools to make a real run, while Matthews’ inability to get over the hump against top competition seems chronic at this point. Superior output and occasional bursts of top control carry Brady to an increasingly one-sided victory.
Prediction: Brady via unanimous decision
115 lbs.: Livinha Souza vs. Amanda Lemos
Livinha Souza (14-2) — the former Invicta Strawweight champion — started her Octagon run with an 81-second submission of Alex Chambers and a subsequent split decision over Sarah Frota. Brianna Van Buren stepped up on short notice to hand Souza her first loss in three years five months later, though she bounced back in Aug. 2020, beating Ashley Yoder at UFC 252.
Seven of her 10 professional stoppages have come in the first round.
Amanda Lemos’ (8-1-1) Octagon debut went about as poorly as humanly possible, as she suffered a technical knockout loss to Leslie smith and was subsequently slapped with a lengthy suspension due to failing a drug test. She’s done better for herself since her return, tapping Miranda Granger and taking a decision over Mizuki Inoue.
She’ll have one inch of height and two inches of reach on Souza.
It seems like a weird thing to say about someone who’s 3-1 in UFC, but Souza has really underwhelmed in my eyes. Someone with her skills should not be barely scraping by the likes of Frota and Yoder. Indeed, despite her power and grappling pedigree, Souza’s been reluctant to actually let her hands go and has struggled to get any real top control going since the Chambers win.
That’s not going to cut it against a bigger, more powerful, more technically savvy, and above all more active striker in Lemos. Souza’s best chance lies in smothering “Amandinha” against the fence like Inoue did, but despite her judo prowess, she’s not shown much inclination to do so during her Octagon tenure. In the end, Lemos beats her up at range to make it 3-0 since her suspension.
Prediction: Lemos via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Aalon Cruz vs. Uros Medic
Aalon Cruz (8-3) entered “Contender Series” with a three-fight win streak under his belt, and after landing a monster flying knee on Steven Nguyen, he left with a four-fight streak and a UFC contract. His Octagon debut didn’t go as planned, as Spike Carlyle battered him into submission just 85 seconds into the first round.
He’ll have a seven-inch reach advantage over the slightly taller Uros Medic (6-0).
Medic tore through Alaska FC en route to “Contender Series,” where he squared off against fellow striking specialist Mikey Gonzalez. “The Doctor” wound up doing harm, smashing Gonzalez in under half a round to secure a contract.
None of his professional fights have gone past the first minute of the second round.
This one’s a toughie. On one hand, Medic’s pre-”Contender Series” competition was absolute garbage, making Cruz the more proven fighter by a huge margin. On the other hand, Medic is both significantly larger and the bigger hitter of the two, while Cruz’s response to getting clipped by Carlyle got him destroyed in short order.
Whatever outcome results, it’ll be illuminating.
I favor Medic by a hair — the edge in physicality looks significant, and my concerns about Medic’s rawness are alleviated somewhat by the fact that he trains under Rafael Cordeiro. In short, he blitzes Cruz for an early finish.
Prediction: Medic via first-round technical knockout
135 lbs.: Mario Bautista vs. Trevin Jones
Mario Bautista (8-1) stepped up on short notice to face Cory Sandhagen in his Octagon debut in 2019, which saw him tap to an armbar late in the first. Subsequent bouts proved more successful, as he earned “Fight of the Night” for his successful war with Jin Soo Son and “Performance of the Night” for his flying knee finish of Miles Johns.
He replaces the injured Randy Costa.
Trevin Jones (12-6) — whose only losses since 2013 came via split decision — likewise served as a late replacement against hot prospect Timur Valiev. Though he nearly succumbed to a body shot in the first round, Jones roared back to level the heavy favorite two minutes into the second, though a failed drug test for marijuana turned the victory into a “No Contest.”
He is the shorter man by two inches, but will have a slight reach advantage.
There are more unknowns here than I, an analyst, would like. That’s because Jones only really got the chance to demonstrate his toughness and power against Valiev, leaving it unclear whether the rest of his game can hold up on the world stage. Based on that tussle and his last pre-UFC win, a nice submission over Japanese MMA veteran Takafumi Otsuka, Bautista at least looks to be a step too far. The MMA Lab-trained product looks to be the more versatile and active striker, and his steady improvement in takedown defense figures to take Jones’ ground game out of the equation.
While I do think Jones is probably better than his record would suggest, Bautista’s the more proven of the two and looks sufficiently durable to avoid Valiev’s fate. Superior stand up wins the day.
Prediction: Bautista via unanimous decision
Five more UFC 259 “Prelims:” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including two dynamite Flyweight fights and the return of Dominick Cruz. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 259 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 ESPN/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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