One of the most promising Heavyweights in the game faces his stiffest test to date this Saturday (March 19, 2022) when Tom Aspinall meets Alexander Volkov inside O2 Arena in London, England. The ESPN+-streamed card will also see Dan Hooker return to Featherweight to face once-beaten Arnold Allen, while Paddy Pimblett makes his sophomore UFC appearance against Kazula Vargas.
Seven “Prelims” bouts set the UFC “London” main card state stage, four of which we’ve broken down below. Let’s begin ...
125 lbs.: Molly McCann vs. Luana Carolina
A three-fight UFC win streak for Molly McCann (11-4) gave way to consecutive losses to Taila Santos and Lara Procopio, dropping her Octagon record to .500. Undaunted, she warred her way past Ji Yeon Kim to claim both a unanimous decision and “Fight of the Night” in Sept. 2021.
“Meatball” has ended four professional fights via knockout.
Luana Carolina (8-2) defeated Mabelly Lima on Contender Series and Priscila Cachoeira in the Octagon before suffering a gruesome kneebar loss to Ariane Lipski. After almost 10 months on the shelf, she returned to the win column by upsetting both Poliana Botelho and Lupita Godinez in sequence.
“Dread” is the taller of the two by two inches and sports a seven-inch reach advantage.
What sank Godinez in that fight was her insistence on chasing takedowns even when Carolina caught onto her tricks. “Loopy” actually does possess some strong boxing, but seemed reluctant to use it against her larger foe. That won’t be a problem for McCann, who landed more than 100 significant strikes in each of her four UFC victories. Her blend of high-volume boxing and developing wrestling should give Carolina all sorts of issues considering how often Godinez managed to get inside of the Brazilian’s reach.
Carolina is unquestionably a stronger fighter than she’s given credit for, but the McCann who warred her way past Kim can find tons of success with that same approach. In the end, output, the occasional level change and raw aggression should carry “Meatball” to victory.
Prediction: McCann via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Jack Shore vs. Timur Valiev
Wales’ Jack Shore (15-0) established himself as one of the UK’s best with a destructive run in Cage Warriors, where he won and defended the Bantamweight title before making the jump to the Octagon. “Tank” has been similarly effective there, claiming victory in all four of his UFC appearances.
His 12 professional finishes are split 8/4 between submissions and knockouts.
The disastrous knockout loss to Trevin Jones in the Octagon debut of Timur Valiev (18-2) became a “No Contest” after Jones failed a drug test, keeping “Lucky’s” unbeaten streak intact. He has since extended it to nine with decision wins over Martin Day and Raoni Barcelos, the latter of which earned him a “Performance of the Night” bonus.
He gives up two inches of height and four inches of reach to Shore.
Speed looks like the deciding factor here. Valiev’s footwork and rapid-fire combinations look like more than Shore’s technically sound kickboxing can handle, and though “Lucky” has proven concerningly fragile during his Octagon tenure, Shore ostensibly doesn’t have the one-shot power to put him away.
Shore’s best weapon is his top game, which Valiev’s own excellent wrestling figures to take off the table even if the Dagestani can’t land takedowns of his own. In the end, expect a high-paced striking battle in which Valiev’s output, movement and general quickness win the day.
Prediction: Valiev via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Cory McKenna vs. Elise Reed
Cory McKenna (6-1) went 4-1 under the Cage Warriors banner before out-grappling the dangerous Vanessa Demopoulos to claim a contract on Contender Series. Three months later, “Poppins” successfully debuted in the Octagon with a narrow decision over fellow young gun Kay Hansen.
This will be her first fight in 16 months, as she withdrew from a planned Sept. 2021 clash with Emily Whitmire.
Elise Reed (4-1) edged out future Contender Series graduate Jasmine Jasudavicius to claim Cage Fury gold in her second pro fight, then defeated Jillian DeCoursey and Hilarie Rose in a pair of title defenses. This set up a late-notice clash with the much larger Sijara Eubanks, who pounded out Reed late in the first round.
She has scored two knockouts as a professional.
It’s worth stating that Reed was a former Atomweight taking on a natural Bantamweight in her UFC debut. She’s very capable when fighting women her size, and I expect a much stronger performance from her this time around.
I still don’t think she’ll win, though. Though less adept with her kicks, McKenna has a clear edge in hand speed and on the ground. So long as McKenna stays on the front foot, smothers Reed’s kicks, and threatens takedowns, she’s got the tools to win this. I say she does, blending striking and wrestling to take a clear decision.
Prediction: McKenna via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Nathaniel Wood vs. Vince Morales
Nathanial Wood (17-5) lived up to his “Prospect” moniker with three consecutive submission wins in the Octagon, one of which earned him “Performance of the Night.” He now sits at 1-2 in his last three, a decision over John Castaneda sandwiched between losses to John Lineker and Casey Kenney.
This marks his first appearance in nearly 17 months.
Vince Morales (11-5) stumbled out of the UFC gate with losses in three of his first four appearances, among them a leg kick technical knockout courtesy of Chris Gutierrez. Then came consecutive victories over Drako Rodriguez and Louis Smolka, the latter of which marked his first knockout win since 2018.
“Vandetta” steps in for Liudvik Sholinian on two weeks’ notice.
The one-note Sholinian would have likely been easy pickings for Wood, and though Morales presents a very different sort of challenge, it’s still “the Prospect’s” fight. Wood regularly shows off the powerful ground work and thudding low kicks that have given Morales so much trouble in the past, giving him multiple avenues to victory. The only real threat is Morales’ sledgehammer right hand, which “Vandetta” has struggled to land with any consistency in the Octagon.
Even if Wood peaks below the Top 10, he’s more than proven his ability to handle Morales-level fighters. In short, he tears up the latter’s legs and dominates him on the mat for either a wide decision or late stoppage.
Prediction: Wood via second round submission
Three more UFC London “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including the Octagon debut of 21-year-old phenom, Muhammad Mokaev. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC London fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 4 p.m. ET.
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