England’s next great Heavyweight hope meets one of the division’s elite this Saturday (July 23, 2022) when Tom Aspinall attempts to delight the London faithful inside O2 Arena at Curtis Blaydes’ expense. Also on tap are a pivotal Middleweight clash between Jack Hermansson and Chris Curtis, as well as Molly McCann’s battle with Hannah Goldy and a sneaky-good Light Heavyweight tussle pitting Paul Craig against Volkan Oezdemir.
Before that, though, there’s one more batch of “Prelims” undercard bouts to sift through (check out the initial offering here). So, grab your gloves and let’s get to it ...
155 lbs.: Marc Diakiese vs. Damir Hadzovic
After starting his UFC career 3-0, Mark Diakiese (15-5) bounced back from a three-fight skid with consecutive decisions over Joe Duffy and Lando Vannata. Though he proceeded to drop back-to-back bouts to Rafael Fiziev and Rafael Alves, he returned to the win column in March 2022, grinding out Contender Series graduate, Viacheslav Borshchev.
“Bonecrusher” boasts a one-inch height advantage and a three-inch reach advantage.
Damir Hadzovic (14-6) has assembled a 4-4 UFC record over six years in the promotion, highlighted by his brutal come-from-behind knockout of Marcin Held. “The Bosnian Bomber” has fought just once in the last two years, a decision over Yancy Medeiros in June 2021.
His 10 professional finishes include seven knockouts.
As underwhelming as Diakiese can be when compared to his early flashes of potential, he’s got all the tools to win this fairly easily. His height, reach and long-range kickboxing give him the edge in a stand up battle, one exacerbated by the fact that he’s far too durable for Hadzovic to turn things around with one big shot.
And that’s if he wants to make things difficult for himself. As he reminded us against Borshchev, Diakiese is willing and able to grind people into oblivion if the option’s available. Going by Hadzovic’s 37 percent takedown defense, which allowed Christos Giagos to run roughshod over him three fights back, it’s definitely available here. In the end, Diakiese fails to crush any bones, but does walk away with a comfortable decision.
Prediction: Diakiese via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Nathaniel Wood vs. Charles Rosa
Nathanial Wood (17-5) lived up to his “The Prospect” nickname with stoppage wins in each of his first three UFC bouts, one of which earned him “Performance of the Night.” He’s 1-2 since, a decision over John Castaneda sandwiched between losses to John Dodson and Casey Kenney.
This marks both his first appearance in nearly two years and his first Featherweight bout since 2016.
Boston’s Charles Rosa (14-7) alternated wins and losses for 11 consecutive UFC appearances, a stretch that lasted more than seven years. The run finally came to an end in Jan. 2022 when he followed a loss to Damon Jackson with another one to T.J. Brown.
He has scored eight submission wins as a professional.
Despite closing in on a decade in the Octagon, Rosa has yet to address the gaping hole in his game that lost him his debut against Dennis Siver. He’s decent on the feet and can do some really nice work from the top, but his complete inability to stop a takedown means that anyone with half-decent wrestling can take those skills out of the equation.
Unfortunately for him, Wood has half-decent wrestling.
Honestly, though, he probably won’t need it. Wood’s the better overall striker of the two and lands more than twice as many significant strikes per minute. And since Rosa’s offensive wrestling isn’t sufficient to down a man who held Casey Kenney to two of six completed takedowns, Wood essentially gets to choose where he wins this. Barring a freak submission from Rosa’s guard like the one he landed on Manny Bermudez, Wood out-strikes, out-wrestles and flat-out out-works Rosa to a one-sided decision.
Prediction: Wood via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Makwan Amirkhani vs. Jonathan Pearce
Makwan Amirkhani’s (17-7) 6-2 UFC start gave way to three straight losses, capped off by a brutal knockout courtesy of Lerone Murphy. “Mr. Finland” proved he was still a threat in March 2022, however, choking out Mike Grundy in just 57 seconds to earn his third “Performance of the Night” bonus.
Twelve of his 13 professional stoppages have come via submission.
Jonathan Pearce (12-4) graduated from Contender Series with a dominant finish of Jacob Rosales, only to fall to Joe Lauzon 93 seconds into his UFC debut. Subsequent efforts proved more fruitful, and he enters the cage this Saturday in the midst of a three-fight win streak.
“JSP” stands two inches taller than Amirkhani but gives up an inch of reach.
This goes one of two ways: either Amirkhani drags Pearce down and taps him in the first few minutes or Pearce snowballs to victory in the later rounds. Both seem plenty feasible. Amirkhani has a history of quick finishes, including that one over Grundy, while Pearce got overwhelmed by Lauzon right off the bat. On the other side, Amirkhani’s career is littered with late collapses.
I’m leaning toward “JSP.”
Even if Amirkhani does find early grappling success, he does so little from the top that Pearce should have little issue recapturing the momentum through sheer activity. As long as he doesn’t give Amirkhani his neck, expect Pearce to wear him down for a late finish.
Prediction: Pearce via third round technical knockout
125 lbs.: Muhammad Mokaev vs. Charles Johnson
Muhammad Mokaev (7-0) followed his perfect (23-0) amateur career with a 5-0 (1 NC) professional start, three of those wins coming inside the distance. His UFC debut pitted him against Cody Durden, whom Mokaey dispatched via club-and-sub 58 seconds into the first round.
He is the shorter man by two inches.
Following a brief stint in professional boxing, Charles Johnson (11-2) returned to the cage in 2021 and claimed LFA’s interim Flyweight title soon after. He defended the belt with a knockout of Joao Camilo, then celebrated his upgrade to full champion by defeating Carlos Mota in an absolute war.
He’s ended eight professional fights inside the distance, five via strikes.
Johnson is a genuinely tough test for Mokaev, not just because of his experience and credentials, but due to his skillset. “InnerG” moves, strikes and scrambles well; he’s not someone Mokaev can just take down once before calling it a day. The 21-year-old will have to work for it.
I do think he’s up to the task, though. Johnson’s bad habits, like getting backed to the fence and throwing naked low kicks from punching range, offer a whole lot of opportunities for a wrestler as relentless as Mokaev. Even if Johnson can avoid Mokaev’s submissions and get back to his feet, he’s not going to get much done before Mokaev sits him right back down. If this were a five-rounder, Johnson’s got the cardio to potentially take over late. Alas, all he gets is three ... and Mokaev’s proven he can go that distance. In short, he wrestles Johnson to death for the full 15 minutes.
Prediction: Mokaev via unanimous decision
Whatever your thoughts on Paddy Pimblett, the showdowns between Blaydes vs. Aspinall, Hermansson vs. Curtis and Craig vs. Oezdemir make this a show worth watching. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Prediction Record for 2022: 102-51
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 12 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 3 p.m. ET.
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