The Featherweight and Bantamweight belts are on the line inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., this Saturday (April 9, 2022) when Alexander Volkanovski and Aljamain Sterling face lethal contenders Chan Sung Jung and Petr Yan, respectively. Up at Welterweight, recent title challenger Gilbert Burns faces the ultra-destructive Khamzat Chimaev, while Mackenzie Dern and Tecia Torres square off down at Strawweight.
Five UFC 273 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to be examined (check out the first batch here). Let’s fix that, shall we?
135 lbs.: Aspen Ladd vs. Raquel Pennington
Aspen Ladd (9-2) put her one-punch knockout loss to Germaine de Randamie behind her by pounding out Yana Kunitskaya for her third Octagon finish. Injuries and failed weight cuts then kept her out of action for nearly two years, after which she dropped a wide decision to Norma Dumont.
Her professional finishes are split 6/1 between knockouts and submissions
Raquel Pennington (13-8) battled her way to a title shot with four consecutive wins, only to fall short in three of her next four bouts. She got back on track with another three-fight streak, including a guillotine finish of Macy Chiasson her last time out.
“Rocky” will have one inch of height and 1.5 inches of reach on Ladd.
We saw the worst version of Ladd and the best version of Pennington in their most recent efforts. Ladd — who ordinarily fights like a bulldozer — was painfully tentative and ineffective against the basic offense of Dumont. Pennington, meanwhile, eschewed her usual approach of sleep-inducing clinchwork in favor of an aggressive, entertaining battle with the much larger Chiasson.
All things being equal, I would favor Ladd, as Pennington has never been a particularly potent defensive wrestler and Ladd can end things very quickly from top position. If the Pennington we saw against Chiasson shows up, though, she’s got all the tools to box up Ladd on the feet and hold her own in the clinch. I like her to match Ladd’s pace and unleash the cleaner offense to secure a clear decision.
Prediction: Pennington via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Ian Garry vs. Darian Weeks
Ian Garry (8-0) capped off his Cage Warriors tenure by beating Jack Grant for the vacant Welterweight title. He struggled early against Jordan Williams in his UFC debut, but closed the show with a vicious knockout in the waning seconds of the first round (watch highlights).
“The Future” stands four inches taller than Weeks and boasts a two-inch reach advantage.
After finishing each of his first five opponents inside of two rounds, Darian Weeks (5-1) signed on to face Josh Quinlan on Contender Series. When that fell through, he stepped up on short notice to face Bryan Barberena, who welcomed Weeks to the Octagon with a decision defeat.
He has knocked out three professional foes and submitted two others.
With all due respect to Barberena — who’s given us banger after banger during his Octagon tenure — failing to out-wrestle him is a huge red flag at this point in “Bam Bam’s” career. Weeks is far too limited to hold his own against Garry on the feet, and if his wrestling pedigree wasn’t sufficient to hold down Barberena, he’s very low on options here.
Garry did have a lot more trouble than I expected against Williams, but his long-range striking offense is far more potent than Weeks’ stand up. Even if Weeks does get in on his hips, Garry’s front chokes and scrambling skills make actually controlling him on the ground a pipe dream. In the end, he either finds Weeks’ neck or plunks him with strikes inside the first five minutes.
Prediction: Garry via first round technical knockout
185 lbs.: Anthony Hernandez vs. Josh Fremd
Anthony Hernandez (8-2) initially struggled to find his footing in the Octagon, sandwiching a submission of Jun Yong Park between stoppage losses to Markus Perez and Kevin Holland. He came up huge with his back against the wall, however, surviving early trouble to choke out the legendary Rodolfo Vieira at UFC 258.
“Fluffy” has submitted six professional foes and knocked out one other.
Josh Fremd’s (9-2) three-fight, three knockout run in LFA came to a crashing halt when Gregory Rodrigues flattened him in a vacant title fight. Undaunted, he bounced back with wins over Renato Valente and Joel Bauman, the latter on Dana White’s Lookin’ for a Fight program.
He steps in for Dricus Du Plessis, who himself stepped in for Albert Duraev, on less than two weeks’ notice.
Though a solid fighter, Fremd is far less daunting an opponent for Hernandez than Duraev or Du Plessis. Hernandez has the power to exploit Fremd’s leaky defense and, judging by how well he fought back from adversity against Vieira, he’s not likely to break from Fremd’s steady pressure. Fremd does have a decent wrestling pedigree, but while Hernandez has struggled against strong grapplers in the past, I’m not convinced Fremd’s overall ground prowess can match that of Hernandez.
At the end of the day, Fremd leaves too many openings and Hernandez is too adept at exploiting those openings. Whether by clipping Fremd or bullying him into a reactive shot, Hernandez locks up a front choke in the early going.
Prediction: Hernandez via first round submission
265 lbs.: Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs. Marcin Tybura
Jairzinho Rozenstruik (12-3) battered his way into Heavyweight contention with knockouts in each of his first four UFC bouts, among them a nine-second finish of Allen Crowder and an almost literally last-second stoppage of Alistair Overeem. “Bigi Boy” now sits at 2-3 in his last five appearances and was last seen dropping an uninspiring decision to Curtis Blaydes.
All but one of his professional victories have come by knockout.
Once stuck in the midst of a 1-4 skid, Marcin Tybura (22-7) returned to the thick of the Heavyweight elite by winning his next five fights. The momentum wasn’t enough to carry him past Alexander Volkov, who shut down his wrestling and out-classed him on the feet to earn a decision victory.
He stands one inch taller than Rozenstruik at 6’3.”
Between Rozenstruik’s ungodly power and Tybura’s history of knockout losses, which once saw him finished with strikes in three of four appearances, the knee-jerk response is to pick another knockout from “Bigi Boy.” Honestly, though, I think I have to go with “Tybur.” His last three victories came over heavy-handed, physically strong knockout artists, and each time he managed to weather their best shots and bring his ground game to bear. He’s not Blaydes, of course, but he’s still a sufficiently stout wrestler to overpower Rozenstruik on the mat like “Razor” and others have before.
While it’s just as likely that Rozenstruik melts him with a counter in the first minute, Tybura’s proven ability to drown heavier hitters with relentless wrestling has me leaning his way. It won’t be pretty, but he’ll grind out the overly-passive Rozenstruik.
Prediction: Tybura via unanimous decision
I can’t imagine UFC 273’s top three fights being anything other than wars. Hope you’ll enjoy them with us — see you Saturday, Maniacs!
Current UFC “Prelims” Prediction Record for 2022: 46-21
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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