Two ferocious title fights helm the Octagon’s return to pay-per-view (PPV) this Saturday (April 9, 2022) when Alexander Volkanovski and Aljamain Sterling put their belts on the line against Chan Sung Jung and Petr Yan, respectively, inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. UFC 273’s PPV main card will also see Gilbert Burns try to halt the meteoric rise of Khamzat Chimaev and Mackenzie Dern look to bounce back from defeat against the resurgent Tecia Torres.
170 lbs.: Mickey Gall vs. Mike Malott
Mickey Gall (7-4) joined the world’s largest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion after just a single professional fight, then showed that the confidence was warranted by submitting his first three Octagon opponents. He has since alternated losses and wins, including a decision defeat to Alex Morono in Dec. 2021.
He’ll enjoy one inch of height and reach on “Proper.”
A loss to Hakeem Dawodu and subsequent draw with Thomas Diagne kicked off a five-year stretch that saw Mike Malott (7-1-1) spend just 36 seconds in the cage. He made up for lost time in his return, however, dispatching unbeaten Solomon Renfro and Shimon Smotritsky in under three minutes combined.
All of his wins have come in two minutes or less.
This fight involves a lot more extrapolation than I’d like. Malott’s spent less than one round in the cage over the last six years. And he’s looked darn good in that brief span, sure, but I’m not exactly drowning in actionable information here.
I’m still going Malott’s way, though. Even with Gall’s wrestling and the fact that he hasn’t ever lost two straight, Malott’s quick hands look poised to control the striking and he’s a highly adept grappler in his own right. I’m going to look pretty stupid if his cardio winds up being garbage and Gall just grinds it out, but I say Malott takes more and more control of a stand up battle as Gall fades.
Prediction: Malott via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Julio Arce vs. Daniel Santos
Julio Arce (17-5) followed up his successful Contender Series appearance with victories in both of his first two Octagon appearances. He has since alternated losses and victories, including a knockout defeat to Song Yadong his last time out.
His 10 professional finishes are split evenly between knockouts and submissions.
Daniel Santos (10-1) defeated his first eight professional foes before losing his first-ever decision to Murad Kalamov under the ACA banner. Future efforts proved more successful, as “Willycat” dispatched his next two opponents in a round each.
He fights for the first time since Dec. 2019.
This is a sleeper if I’ve ever seen one because Santos is pure dynamite in the cage and Arce is no stranger to high-intensity brawls. There are also a lot of uncertainties here, from Arce’s reaction to his first-ever knockout loss to Santos’ potential rust. It’s an amazingly volatile fight, but I have to give Arce the slightest edge.
Santos is just too easy to hit against a kickboxer this skilled, especially since he’s not as technical with his offense as other heavy hitters that have tripped up Arce before. While he could just smash Arce with either a haymaker or spinning technique, I like Arce to pick his shots and edge out a highly entertaining decision.
Prediction: Arce via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Vinc Pichel vs. Mark O. Madsen
The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 15 alum, Vinc Pichel (14-2), had a rather ignominious UFC start courtesy of Rustam Khabilov suplexing him into oblivion in his debut. He’s now won seven of his last eight, the lone loss coming to Gregor GIllespie in 2018.
He’ll have two inches of height on “The Olympian.”
The Octagon debut for Mark Madsen (11-0) was everything the Danish crowd wanted, smashing Danilo Belluardo into submission just 72 seconds into the fight. He wasn’t quite as dominant his next two times out, but nonetheless emerged victorious against both Austin Hubbard and Clay Guida.
He has knocked out and submitted three professional foes apiece.
Though a solid win, Madsen’s fight with Guida showed how limited his game remains at 37 years old. His stand up comprises little more than naked low kicks, big single swings and a decent jab. It’s not enough to make his vaunted wrestling consistently effective at the highest level and it’s not enough to carry him past Pichel. That’s because “From Hell” gets stronger as fights progress, has better hands and offers the same sort of thudding low kicks that Guida used to great effect.
Pichel is admittedly a poor defensive wrestler. Indeed, his takedown defense sits at a deeply uninspiring 25 percent, which should give “The Olympian” hope. He is, however, very good at getting back to his feet, and Madsen’s neither adept from top position nor blessed with the gas tank for extended scrambles. In the end, Pichel drops the first round before overpowering a fading Madsen in the latter half.
Prediction: Pichel via unanimous decision
115 lbs.: Piera Rodriguez vs. Kay Hansen
Piera Rodriguez (7-0) burst onto the world stage by stopping the favored Svetlana Gotsyk in a successful bid for LFA gold. Her success continued on Contender Series, where she out-wrestled Valesca Machado to earn a UFC contract.
Five of her seven professional victories have come via knockout.
Kay Hansen (7-5) extended her win streak to three in her UFC debut, which saw her claim “Performance of the Night” with a triangle armbar finish of Jinh Yu Frey. She’s yet to find her second Octagon victory, dropping a highly questionable decision to Cory McKenna and a much less questionable decision to Jasmine Jasudavicius in successive efforts.
She is the shorter of the two by one inch.
Her record may not be pretty, but I think the 22-year-old Hansen still has plenty of promise. She definitely deserved the win against McKenna, at least, and has the style to give Rodriguez fits. It’ll be far easier for Hansen to get in on the square, flat-footed Rodriguez’s hips than it was against the towering Jasudavicius, meaning it’s practically inevitable that she’ll drag Rodriguez into her wheelhouse at some point.
Rodriguez does have legitimate punching power and will almost certainly win a stand up battle if she can get Hansen to brawl with her, but she’s doomed if Hansen leans on her wrestling. In short, Hansen dominates on the ground en route to wrapping up a submission.
Prediction: Hansen via second round submission
Five more UFC 273 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including a clash of Top 10-ranked Heavyweight contenders. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 273 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:15 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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