Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) continues its vacation from its APEX facility this Saturday (March 26, 2022) when Curtis Blaydes and Chris Daukaus attempt to re-enter Heavyweight contention at each others’ expense inside Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. UFC Columbus will also see Joanne Wood face Alexa Grasso in a women’s Flyweight crossroads match and Askar Askarov take on Kai Kara-France in a fight that could determine Deiveson Figueiredo’s next title challenger.
Eight “Prelims” undercard bouts set the stage before that, though. We’ve split ‘em down the middle and prepared the first batch below ...
135 lbs.: Chris Gutierrez vs. Danaa Batgerel
Chris Gutierrez (17-3-2) had the misfortune of debuting against Raoni Barcelos on less than a two-month turnaround, resulting in his first-ever submission defeat. He enters the cage this Saturday unbeaten in his last six, the lone blemish a unanimous draw against Cody Durden.
He stands two inches taller than Danaa Batgerel (10-2), but gives up three inches of reach.
Danaa came up short in his UFC debut against Alatengheili, but walked away with a “Performance of the Night” bonus after three hard-fought rounds. Later efforts proved far more efficient, knocking out his last three opponents in less than one round apiece.
His eight finishes are split 6/2 between knockouts and submissions.
Despite their success in the Octagon, both men have a lot to prove. Virtually all of their victories have come over very limited opposition; this is easily each man’s toughest assignment to date. It’s also a great clash of styles, pitting Gutierrez’s sharpshooting against Danaa’s bulldozing power.
It’s every bit the coin flip the odds suggest, but I’ve got Gutierrez by a hair. While Danaa could just bully him to the fence and tee off, Gutierrez’s low kicks look like a game changer, and Danaa’s reluctance to use his wrestling may prove pivotal. In short, Gutierrez tears up Danaa’s lead leg for a mid-round finish.
Prediction: Gutierrez via second round technical knockout
125 lbs.: Matheus Nicolau vs. David Dvorak
Despite claiming victory in his first three UFC appearances, Matheus Nicolau (17-3-1) was removed from the roster after a head kick loss to Dustin Ortiz. He proceeded to score a pair of wins on the international circuit, then returned to the Octagon to edge out Manel Kape and Tim Elliott.
He faces a two-inch reach disadvantage, but stands one inch taller than David Dvorak (20-3).
The Czech Republic’s “Undertaker” rode a 13-fight win streak into the Octagon, all of them inside the distance. He went the full 15 minutes in UFC bouts with Bruno Silva and Jordan Espinosa, then returned to his finishing ways by choking out late replacement Juancamilo Ronderos.
He has knocked out and submitted eight professional foes apiece.
It’s honestly bonkers that this fight is so far down the “Prelims” line up. Not only are they both Top 10-ranked fighters in a red-hot division, but they consistently put on entertaining fights. They should not have lower billing than multiple fighters on losing streaks.
In terms of actual analysis, all signs point to a technical slugfest. Dvorak has the sharper hands, while Nicolau is gritty as hell and has some strong wrestling in his back pocket. I’m leaning Dvorak’s way because he’s shown quality takedown defense thus far in the Octagon and, critically, looks to be much more defensively sound on the feet. Expect a fast-paced, back-and-forth affair that Dvorak edges out with cleaner connections.
Prediction: Dvorak via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Aliaskhab Khizriev vs. Denis Tiuliulin
Aliaskhab Khizriev (13-0) put together a dominant run under the Fight Nights Global banner, including a 58-second knockout of UFC veteran, Rousimar Palhares. “The Black Wolf” needed even less time to claim a contract on Contender Series, choking out Henrique Shiguemoto in just 50 seconds.
This marks his first appearance in 1.5 years and just his second in the last four, as assorted issues scrapped three prior scheduled UFC debuts.
Denis Tiuliulin (9-5) started his professional career 4-1 before falling into a 1-3 (1 NC) slump. He now sits at 4-1 in his last five, including a first-round knockout his last time out.
He steps in for Abusipyan Magomedov on less than three weeks’ notice.
For Tiuliulin’s sake, Khizriev had better be rusty. The former has long struggled with takedown defense due to the way he charges in and easily gives up his back once he hits the ground, making it seemingly inevitable that “The Black Wolf” will drag him to the mat and score another quick finish. It’s not like Tiuliulin has much of an edge on the feet, either.
Even if Khizriev does start slow, his grappling is so dominant and Tiuliulin so vulnerable to it that it won’t even matter. In the end, an early takedown will set up either a ground-and-pound or rear-naked choke finish.
Prediction: Khizriev via first round submission
145 lbs.: Luis Saldana vs. Bruno Souza
A front kick finish of Vince Murdock on Contender Series earned Luis Saldana (15-7) both his fourth consecutive finish and a UFC contract. He narrowly defeated Jordan Griffin in his Octagon debut and started strong against Austin Lingo his next time out, but faded down the stretch for his first loss since 2017.
His 14 professional finishes include eight via submission.
Bruno Silva (10-2) — who hadn’t tasted defeat since his professional debut — defeated Javier Garcia to claim the LFA Featherweight title in Aug. 2021. Three months later, he stepped up on short notice to fight Melsik Baghdasaryan, who claimed the first two rounds and turned aside a late surge to secure a decision.
“The Tiger” gives up three inches of reach to Saldana.
For as much grief as I give UFC matchmakers, I do try to give credit where and when it’s due. This is a really nice “put up or shut up” fight between skilled (but flawed) strikers who’ve struggled to find their footing inside the Octagon.
Even though he should probably be 0-2 in the world’s largest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion, this looks like Saldana’s fight. More reach, more stopping power, better range management. The only area where Souza has a definitive edge is cardio, but he doesn’t push a hard enough pace to drain Saldana’s limited gas tank. Considering the way Souza let Baghdasaryan tee off on his legs with impunity, expect Saldana to make the most of his length, pile on the low kicks, and potentially fend off a third-round comeback en route to victory.
Prediction: Saldana via unanimous decision
Four more UFC Columbus “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including the latest from hot prospects Manon Fiorot and Viacheslav Borshchev. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Columbus fight card right here, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN/ESPN+) at 7 p.m. ET.
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