The greatest modern-era mixed martial arts (MMA) Heavyweight once again meets its most fearsome puncher this Saturday (March 27, 2021) when Stipe Miocic’s rematch with Francis Ngannou headlines UFC 260. The evening will also see former Welterweight champion Tyron Woodley attempt to end his freefall against Brazilian wrecker Vicente Luque and former blue chip prospect Thomas Almeida meet the returning Sean O’Malley.
205 lbs.: Modestas Bukauskas vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk
Modestas Bukauskas (11-3) won and defended the Cage Warriors Light Heavyweight title en route to the Octagon, where he debuted with a first-round finish of late replacement Andreas Michailidis. Jimmy Crute proved tougher to crack, however, flattening the Lithuanian three months later with a bonus-winning knockout.
All but one of the wins for “The Baltic Gladiator” have come by stoppage, eight of them by form of knockout.
Though a failed drug test erased his debut Octagon victory over Khalil Rountree, Michal Oleksiejczuk (14-4) made inroads into the UFC Light Heavyweight division with brutal finishes of Gian Villante and Gadzhimurad Antigulov. He’s since struggled to maintain that momentum, tapping to successive submissions from Ovince St. Preux and the aforementioned Crute.
He stands three inches shorter than Bukauskas and gives up four inches of reach.
This fight will be decided by Bukauskas’ ability to stretch things out. He’s got a legitimately excellent gas tank that’s practically single-handedly carried him to victory in the past, and his edge in speed and striking variety should allow him to take over as the fight progresses and Oleksiejczuk’s single-minded advance begins to slow.
Unfortunately, actually surviving long enough to get that snowball rolling looks like too tall a task. Bukauskas is easy to hit even at the best of times and struggles to keep his back off the fence, both lethal flaws against a pressure-fighting slugger like Oleksiejczuk. Without the fear of takedowns to keep him honest, expect Oleksiejczuk to march forward and slam left hands into Bukauskas’ face and body until he crumples.
Prediction: Oleksiejczuk via first-round technical knockout
145 lbs.: Shane Young vs. Omar Morales
Shane Young (13-5) rebounded from a UFC debut loss to Alexander Volkanovski with consecutive victories over Rolando Dy and Austin Arnett, the former of which earned him “Fight of the Night.” Then came late replacement Ludovit Klein, who stopped the City Kickboxing-trained product with strikes in Sept. 2020.
He has knocked out six professional foes and submitted another four.
An upset knockout of Harvey Park sent Omar Morales (10-1) from “Contender Series” to the Octagon, where he defeated Dong Hyun Ma and Gabriel Benitez. His third bout saw him drop to Featherweight to face Giga Chikadze and ultimately fall short in an entertaining striking bout.
He’ll have three inches of height and 1.5 inches of reach on Young.
Now here’s an interesting clash of styles. Young’s the smoother and more combination-savvy of the two, while Morales appears to have more firepower. This fight comes down to whether Young can get his high-volume offense flowing without falling victim to Morales’ from-the-hip bombs.
It’s a toughie, but I say he doesn’t. Young is nowhere near as elusive as Benitez or Chikadze — he’ll be there for Morales to hit, and his volume isn’t sufficient to make up for the power disparity. While Young is tough enough to last the distance, expect Morales’ eye-catching shots to seal the decision.
Prediction: Morales via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Abu Azaitar vs. Marc-Andre Barriault
Abu Azaitar (14-2-1) — originally slated to make his UFC debut against Siyar Bahadurzada in Sept. 2017 — saw injury troubles delay his arrival to the Octagon by another year. He successfully made up for lost time with a unanimous decision over TUF: “Brazil” veteran Vitor Miranda, extending his unbeaten streak to 10 in the process.
He fights for the first time since July 2018, having withdrawn from planned 2020 clashes against Alessio Di Chirico and Joaquin Buckley while failing a drug test along the way.
Canada’s Marc-Andre Barriault (11-4) claimed the TKO Middleweight title in 2017 and subsequently punched his ticket to UFC with two successful defenses. He’s yet to taste victory in the Octagon, however, losing three straight and seeing a knockout win over Oskar Piechota overturned due to a failed drug test.
His 11 professional wins include eight by form of knockout.
“Gladiator” was mediocre even at his best, an uninspiring brawler with just enough wrestling to bail himself out of rough spots. He’s now 35 years old and hasn’t seen action in more than 30 months, turning what was already a rough assignment into a nightmare. Barriault is by far the more impressive striker and Azaitar lacks the technical wrestling necessary to exploit “Power Bar’s” takedown defense the way other have before.
Unless Azaitar has made some truly spectacular adjustments during his time away, Barriault is too tough and too powerful for the German’s “swing big and hope for the best” approach. Barriault punishes him with increasing frequency before closing the show around the midway point.
Prediction: Barriault via second-round technical knockout
Three more UFC 260 “Prelims” bouts remain to preview and predict, including a clash of devastating Light Heavyweight finishers. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 260 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN/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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