This weekend (Sat., March 26, 2022), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will travel to Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, for UFC Columbus. One week after a London trip, now a random “Fight Night” card is heading to the Midwest? Times really are a-changin,’ though the bout order itself is fairly standard Apex-quality stuff. A big Heavyweight main event will otherwise carry the usual assortment of action fights, although there’s also a possible title eliminator match up hidden amidst the main card.
Let’s take a closer look at these main card donnybrooks:
Flyweight: Askar Askarov vs. Kai Kara-France
Best Win for Askarov? Joseph Benavidez For Kara-France? Cody Garbrandt
Current Streak: Askarov is undefeated at 14-0-1 (three in a row in UFC), while Kara-France has won two straight
X-Factor: Kara-France’s punching power
How these two match up: This is the aforementioned possible title eliminator, and it’s a classic grappler vs. striker battle.
Askarov — a Combat Sambo and freestyle wrestling specialist — definitely fulfills the role of grappler. The Dagestani “Bullet” is an octopus on the canvas, wrapping up his opponents and keeping them contorted for long periods of time. He actually finished all of his wins prior to UFC, and though it’s not his specialty, Askarov has some pop behind his strikes to boot.
Kara-France fights out of City Kickboxing, arguably the best gym in the world right now for intelligent sprawl-and-brawling. He’s a hard man to take and hold down, and his right hand tends to land with far more venom than the average Flyweight.
Inside the Octagon, Kara-France has never really been held down, and he’s definitely the sharper striker of the two. Given his quickness and footwork, there’s a definite path to victory in frustrating Askarov, stalling out his wrestling, and then landing something painful.
The unfortunate truth here is that Kara-France has also never fought a grinder quite like Askarov. Joe Benavidez — even with one foot halfway out the door — is a legendary scrambler. He spent an entire career out scrambling wrestlers and being impossible to hold down, but Askarov broke the trend by really containing him on the mat.
That’s a bad sign for Kara-France. I wouldn’t fully count out the Kiwi, but it’s hard to predict him shucking takedowns and escaping scrambles opposite a wrestler of Askarov’s caliber until it actually happens.
Prediction: Askarov via decision
Welterweight: Matt Brown vs. Bryan Barberena
Best Win for Matt Brown? Stephen Thompson For Barberena? Jake Ellenberger
Current Streak: Both men won their last bout
X-Factor: Brown is 41 years old
How these two match up: BANGFEST!
To my mind, Matt Brown is a legend. He’s in the hunt for most knockout wins in UFC history, and he’s done so with a style all his own. Brown is a violent, violent man, a Muay Thai fighter who really excels in close distance with beautiful Muay Thai trips and transitions to elbows and knees.
Barberena is a slugger himself, a heavy hitter with a historically rock-solid chin. That said, his Feb. 2019 war with Vicente Luque — while arguably the best performance of his career — seems to have taken a toll on him. He’s 2-2 in the Octagon since that fight, and overall, his performances appear to have suffered.
At this point, it seems fair to say that neither man is at his peak. Respectfully, Brown is old, and Barberena is worn down.
With that in mind, Brown looks to be the bet. “The Immortal” is not as fast nor as well-conditioned as he once was, but otherwise, his game appears to have held up remarkably well. He still hits brutally hard, can take a shot well enough, and his penchant for close range violence remains unaffected.
Barberena’s style basically guarantees that he walks into Brown’s wheelhouse and throws down until someone falls. Brown has the power and technique edge, so the chances are high its Barberena who hits the canvas first.
Prediction: Brown via knockout
Heavyweight: Ilir Latifi vs. Aleksei Oleinik
Best Win for Latifi? Ovince Saint Preux For Oleinik? Fabricio Werdum
Current Streak: Latifi scored a debatable split-decision last time out, whereas Oleinik has lost three in a row
X-Factor: Oleinik is extremely long in the tooth
How these two match up: This bout gives me pause for several reasons ... and none of them are great.
Latifi was pretty well-regarded at Light Heavyweight, which made his move up in weight class a bit of a perplexing decision. In his two fights against the big men — that’s 30 minutes of combat — Latifi has landed just 15 significant strikes. It’s been all wrestling ... and nothing else.
Oleinik, meanwhile, is really starting to show his age. He’s still a submission master with some power in those awkward hooks, but Oleinik fatigues more quickly and is more susceptible to getting hurt by strikes than ever before.
I really don’t have any confidence in either man right now. If I thought that Latifi would throw punches, I’d pick him in a second because he’s quite fast and hits hard enough to end Oleinik’s night early. Instead, he’s going to wrestle, going to get tired, and going to play into Oleinik’s style of fight.
At the same time, Oleinik is not immune to fatigue himself. Latifi is largely impossible to take down. Worse still, he doesn’t really have a neck, so a crazy Ezekiel choke finish seems difficult.
My prediction: Oleinik swings wild hooks, fails on takedowns, and gets tired. Latifi counters by clinching, occasionally taking down his opponent, and generally doing very little offense. After 15 increasingly painful minutes — time spent praying for a sudden knockout or strangle — the judges are involved, and we wind up with a split-decision.
Prediction: Latifi via decision
‘X-Factor’ Picks for 2022: 18-6
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.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Columbus: “Blaydes vs. Daukaus” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.