This weekend (Sat., March 19, 2022), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will travel to O2 Arena in London, England, for UFC London. The first international card since “Fight Island” is a high-quality affair. Packed with European talent as one would expect, quite a few ranked fighters will be making the walk, making for some entertaining and important match ups.
It’s a clear step up from the average night inside the UFC Apex, so let’s take a closer look at these main card donnybrooks:
Lightweight: Paddy Pimblett vs. Rodrigo Vargas
Best Win for Pimblett? Luigi Vendramini For Vargas? Rong Zhu
Current Streak: Pimblett recently won his UFC debut, whereas Vargas picked up his first UFC win last time out
X-Factor: Will Vargas commit a flagrant violation of the rules?
How these two match up: It’s not exactly a step up for Pimblett, but it should be a fun fight.
Pimblett has a ton of hype behind him, but it remains to be seen how much of it is justified. Though he’s got some power in his hands, the English talent is definitely hittable, and he’s generally better off dragging foes to the mat and jumping on their backs.
Vargas seems to be a slightly better fighter than his UFC record (1-2) would indicate. A physical fighter with power in his hands and solid wrestling technique, Vargas seems to struggle more to pace himself and fight in an appropriately measured fashion than anything else.
As such, this is a dangerous fight for Pimblett. If a haymaker connects, it could be lights out, and Vargas might just have the wrestling to replicate Nad Narimani’s success back in Cage Warriors by grinding out “The Baddy.”
Unfortunately for “Kazula,” Pimblett is dangerous. If the two are grappling, Pimblett stands a fair shot at gaining top position at some point and locking up the neck. If at any point Vargas starts slowing down, expect Pimblett to jump on him with power punches.
In short, Vargas starts strong, but eventually plays right into Pimblett’s hands.
Prediction: Pimblett via submission
Heavyweight: Sergei Pavlovich vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov
Best Win for Pimblett? Maurice Greene For Abdurakhimov? Marcin Tybura
Current Streak: Pavlovich has won two straight, whereas Abdurakhimov has lost two in a row
X-Factor: Heavyweight knockout power
How these two match up: This is a good old fashion crossroads fight.
Pavlovich will fulfill the role of up-and-comer. Since stumbling out of the gate versus Alistair Overeem — understandable! — the 29-year-old Russian athlete has smashed his opponents to bits. He’s a skilled Greco-Roman wrestler with some very solid hands, which has resulted in 11 knockout wins. Ranked at No. 10 and more than one decade older, Abdurakhimov is the bonafide veteran. With a background in Sanda and kickboxing, “Abrek” is a dangerous striker in his own right, though he’s equally willing to wrestle when appropriate.
In summary, we have a wrestler with pretty solid kickboxing facing off opposite a kickboxer with rather decent takedown skills.
It’s been well over two years since Pavlovich was last seen in the cage, which definitely casts some questions over this fight. However, there’s a reason the former Fight Nights Global champ had a lot of hype behind him back when he debuted. He’s a serious prospect among the big men, an actual athlete who has the skills to back up that physicality.
Abdurakhimov is crafty, but he’s not overwhelmingly good in any area. Plus, he struggled mightily with Curtis Bladyes’ takedowns and top control, so expect a similar gameplan from Pavlovich.
Prediction: Pavlovich via knockout
Light Heavyweight: Nikita Krylov vs. Paul Craig
Best Win for Krylov? Johnny Walker For Craig? Magomed Ankalaev
Current Streak: Krylov came up short last time out, whereas Craig is unbeaten in his last five fights
X-Factor: Craig is willing to give up position in pursuit of the finish
How these two match up: There’s zero chance this isn’t a hugely fun grappling match.
Krylov has a background in Kyokushin karate, and he’s got the sneaky high kicks to prove it. For whatever reason, the 30-year-old Ukranian more often finds himself wrestling. Fortunately, he’s proven to be quite a good grinder, out-hustling opponents and wrangling the neck if given an opportunity.
Whether submission or knockout, all but one of his 26 victories came before the bell.
Craig, meanwhile, is unexpectedly on the best win streak of his career by a long shot. The submission ace has been fighting with more confidence, and it’s paying dividends. His stand up is looking better, and he remains the most volatile guard player at 205 lbs.
Though it would likely behoove Krylov to keep this one standing, there’s little chance that he can force himself to avoid grappling with Craig. It’s not his style to disengage; he’s going to fight fire with fire. The question, then, is will it work?
Krylov is objectively the better wrestler, but he’s also the sloppier grappler more likely to get swept or leave his neck out there. Typically, it’s safer to bet on the wrestler not getting submitted, but given Krylov’s tendency to make weird decisions paired with Craig’s opportunism, I’ll be going the opposite direction this time.
Prediction: Craig via submission
Welterweight: Gunnar Nelson vs. Takashi Sato
Best Win for Nelson? Albert Tumenov For Sato? Jason Witt
Current Streak: Nelson has lost two in a row, while Sato came up short last time out
X-Factor: Nelson has been sidelined since September 2019
How these two match up: This is a clear-cut striker vs. grappler fight.
At one point, Nelson had a ton of hype behind him as a future contender, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace with slick Karate skill. Such predictions haven’t quite come to pass, but Nelson has only really lost to excellent fighters and top-ranked Welterweights. He remains a calculated and dangerous fighter, as well as one of the more unique stylistic threats on the roster.
Sato may have a black belt in Judo, but the Southpaw is better known for putting his left hand through jaws. The man hits very hard, though he’s struggled a bit with his submission defense from bottom position.
Sato accepted this fight on less than two week’s notice.
Even if there was a full camp behind him, this reads like an awful match up for Sato. Nelson is not a grinding wrestler quite like Belal Muhammad, but “Gunni” does time his shots exceptionally well, and once in top position, his control is elite.
Likely, it takes just a single successful takedown for the second-degree black belt to return to the win column in style.
Prediction: Nelson via submission
‘X-Factor’ Picks for 2022: 14-6
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.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC London: “Volkov vs. Aspinall” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.
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