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Imavov vs. Strickland Main Card Breakdown

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I pulled into the parking lot; it was at this moment that I knew I f**ked up. At first, I thought I had turned too soon and pulled into Costco, but then I remembered what day it was. Every space was taken, and I was forced to park across the street and huff it. By the time I walked through the doors, I had already worked up a rich lather.

At the front desk, Tiffany scanned my membership card and said, "Good luck," with a touch of sarcasm. Like the parking lot, every cardio machine was taken, and I had to wait fifteen minutes for a treadmill to open up. As I waited, I recognized Alexander Romanov in the corner riding the Tony Little Gazelle Glider with a moat of sweat encircling him.

Starting with a brisk walk, I worked my way up to cruising speed and realized Herbert Burns was on the treadmill next to me. His speed was set at four mph, and he had been running for just three minutes, but he was already laboring, looking like he was about to get thrown off the back.

I noticed Zabit Magomedsharipov bottomed out on the stair stepper in front of me with the machine beeping repeatedly, urging him to pick up the pace. I had heard Zabit was planning a comeback this year, but it looks like he may have a ways to go before that happens.

Had it been a real boat, Jorge Masvidal would have been swept out to sea at the pace he was paddling the rowing machine at the end of the aisle. Three strokes per minute…well, that’ll never work. Maybe Michel Pereira could save him; he was swimming laps in the pool as I cruised by. But after one lap, he had to emergency float on his back until I tossed him the life preserver and hauled him in.

Without any weights left on the racks, I continued to wander aimlessly, trying to decide my next move. Walking past the Zumba room, I peeped Shane Carwin at the front of the class doing the Salsa. In the front row, blocking everyone’s view, Derrick Lewis and Francis Ngannou danced out of sync to the beats of their own Bad Bunny songs. Clear across the room, Rodolfo Vieira stood hunched over with his hands on his knees and his head hanging between his legs, his back heaving up and down. Next to him, Amanda Nunes was already lying prone, tapping the hardwood floor.

My last option was the basketball courts, but I had just missed out on picking teams, so I called next game and watched from the sidelines. After a trip down the floor and taking a single jumper, Edmen Shahbazyan called for a sub, and I hopped in and took his place. I f**ked around and got a triple-double, then decided to call it a day.

Welcome back, homies. It’s fight season once again. Here’s to another year of failed New Year resolutions and January 1st cardio in the middle of July.

Main Card

Nassourdine Imavov vs. Sean Strickland

1999 was the year, Rome, New York was the place, and Creed was the band on stage when Gegard Mousasi and Ciryl Gane, caught up in the moment, conceived Nassourdine Imavov. On the feet, Imavov has a flow and cadence similar to Ciryl Gane, and on the mat, he has a sneaky top game and submission prowess with dark horse potential like the perennially underrated middleweight Gegard Mousasi had during his stint with the UFC. History will be made during the first card of 2023 when, for the first time, a fighter will compete in back-to-back main events as Sean Strickland steps in for Kelvin Gastelum on short notice. In many ways, this is a more dangerous matchup for Imavov, which will now take place at light heavyweight instead of middleweight.

Nassourdine Imavov has sneaky slick striking on the feet. He uses a bladed hybrid karate stance and uses range and staying outside of the opponent’s strikes to defend. Imavov is especially good at drifting backward and drawing opponents into counter 1-2s. He maintains a perpetual in/out bounce and uses stabbing up the middle snap kicks to set up his hand combinations. Although he’s an intricate striker, Imavov’s path to victory will be on the mat, using top control to salt away the clock and hunt for chokes. On the feet, this will be a battle of range. Imavov’s weakness is in the pocket; his strikes are long, and he tends to get beat in 50/50 exchanges which is Sean Strickland’s bread and butter. Strickland lives to dawn the turnout gear and engage in firefights, but it will be in Imavov's best interests to avoid getting drawn into extended exchanges in the pocket.

Imavov was ten seconds away from being 5-0 in the UFC. His one loss came to Phil Hawes, who he had stumbling around the Octagon like a backup dancer in the Thriller video in the closing seconds. For his career, Imavov is 12-3 with five TKO/KO’s and four subs, and the question is, can he keep pace with the high output and heavy pressure of Sean Strickland, who landed over one hundred fifty significant strikes in his last bout? Without a finish, Imavov will put up average Fantasy numbers; he averages four significant strikes landed per minute, with a high of sixty-eight in a three-round bout. A major red flag for Imavov was the third round in his most recent bout against Joaquin Buckley. Up two rounds heading into the third, Imavov appeared to fade late and had to survive several scary moments to make it to the final bell. Buckley’s pace is a granny using a walker with tennis balls on the legs compared to Sean Strickland’s.

After losing a close split decision to Jared Cannonier, it’s time to bring back the shit-talking Sean Strickland. It’s like he’s been muzzled in his last few bouts, wheeled into the Octagon on a dolly like Hannibal Lecter wearing a spit mask. It’s time to take the muzzle off and let Strickland spit some bars while he puts in that work. There’s a psychological edge to narrating the ass-whooping you’re delivering, and maybe that’s what he’s been missing in his last two fights, both L’s.

Strickland is almost exclusively a boxer who peppers opponents with varying degrees of punches. He focuses on volume and constantly touching his opponents with short quick combinations with intermittent power shots mixed in. One reason why Cannonier walked away with the victory over Strickland is because Cannonier implemented the more diverse attacks. Cannonier attacked with kicks and elbows and went to the body, while Strickland headhunted with fists for twenty-five minutes. Strickland rarely attacks the body or throws kicks. The top of the division is loaded with strikers, and if he wants to compete with the elite, he has to add to his arsenal.

The keys for Strickland against Imavov will be pace and pressure and eliminating space. For his career, Strickland has an excellent eighty-five percent takedown defense, which he can rely on in order to stay in the pocket and pressure Imavov. Stickland has fought five rounds three times and never showed any signs of slowing down. The championship rounds should heavily favor Strickland if the fight goes that long.

This one’s a (-110) Vegas toss-up, and both have paths to a finish, although I like Strickland’s more. Imavov has slick chokes and can finish the fight on the mat or on the feet, but Strickland has never been finished by submission, and Imavov will be working within a time window in which he can secure a finish. Strickland, on the other hand will be working with a full twenty-five minutes. Time to put it on wax for the first time in 2023. Sean Strickland via TKO, round four.

Dan Ige vs. Damon Jackson

This is a classic grappler vs. striker matchup. Although he’s fallen on hard times recently, Dan Ige is still a sleeper with heavy power in his hands. Check out Ige’s last five opponents: Movsar Evloev, Josh Emmett, The Korean Zombie, Gavin Tucker, and Calvin Kattar. That’s a murder’s row if I’ve ever seen one, the equivalent of zig-zagging your way through an open field while crazy savages launch arrows at you. Who needs enemies when you have managers like Ige's. Ige’s opponent, Damon Jackson, will be a needed step down in competition, but that’s not to say Jackson is an easy out. Jackson is a savvy grappler who suffers from elephantiasis of the heart; he’s a Ruth Langmore first-team representative who you're gonna have to kill to earn the dub.

50k is one of the best fighters you’ll see at fighting defensively inside the pocket. Ige gets into technical firefights and lives to make documentaries about them. When exchanging in the pocket, Ige’s right hand never leaves his face, and he shortens his punches like a batter shortens his swing to get around on the inside pitch. Defensively, Ige is fundamentally sound and leaves few opportunities for opponents to land big shots.

I would liken Ige’s striking to wrestler striking without the wrestling. He covers distance with his piston right hand, the trademark of most wrestler strikers, and uses basic two-punch combinations. The cross-hook combination (known as the 2-3) is a crafty way to sneak the lead hand around the guard because it deceptively brings the lead hand closer to the opponent than when you lead with it. Ige also attacks the body with combinations and mixes up head and body strikes mid-combination. When Dan dawns the yellow jersey and stays on his bike, constantly moving laterally, he’s at his best. He finds angles to attack instead of repeatedly up the middle.

The key for Ige will be dominating the center of the Octagon and making Jackson earn takedowns without the aid of the fence. Ige’s Achilles heel has been a lack of takedown defense and an inability to get back to his feet. Damon Jackson’s specialty is taking the back immediately off takedowns, similar to Aljamain Stirling. Ige will have to defend while avoiding exposing his back; if he gives up his back to Jackson, he’s gonna have a bad time.

Damon Jackson is coming off a massive dub against world-class grappler Pat Sabatini. Jackson administered a severe beating, like when channel 99 used to come in clearly for fifteen seconds. When the Octagon gets to rockin’, don’t come a-knockin’. He dropped Sabatini in the opening seconds and swarmed with a barrage of punches from the mount. Jackson ran over the previously unbeaten in the UFC Sabatini and turned Sabatini’s Bill Withers Lovely Day into a Suge (k)night real quick.

Jackson is a fearless grappler who will walk through a field of mines to get the fight to the mat. For his career, he is 22-4 with four TKO/KO’s and fifteen submissions. He’s a kill-or-be-killed finisher with a massive Fantasy upside. Where Jackson runs into trouble is on his feet. His striking is more suited for the Walmart self-checkout circuit than it is for the UFC, but he throws everything heavy and protects himself with aggression. The danger against Ige will come when attempting to close the distance to initiate the clinch or level changes. He’ll have to cut the Octagon and use his heavy kicks to trap Ige against the cage where he can get hold of him and drag him to the mat.

The odds are much closer than I thought they would be. Ige is the (-125) favorite, and Jackson is the slight dog at (+105). Without a submission, Jackson won’t provide much value Fantasy-wise. He averages less than three significant strikes landed per minute and usually hovers around the thirty to forty strikes range per three-round fight. It's sub or bust for Jackson. Ige averages just under four significant strikes landed per minute, and his power will translate late through the duration of the scrap. The odds (-165) favor the fight going the distance, but I think each fighter has a legit patch to a finish; Ige on the feet and Jackson on the mat. An Ige TKO/KO will return (+275) odds, and a Jackson submission will return (+650) and is likely his only path to victory. Dan Ige via TKO, round three.

Punahele Soriano vs. Roman Kopylov

Roman Kopylov, clear your browser history, homie. Punahele Soriano is a bomb thrower, and Roman Kopylov, aka the Bad Ass Chase Hooper, has deceptive hand speed and technical kickboxing skills. This will be a standup war with little chance of the fight hitting the mat unless one of them is unconscious.

Punahele Soriano is a nasty southpaw with a civil war cannon for a left hand. His left hand leaves bodies mangled all over the battlefield. MF’ers die from gangrene weeks later after getting blasted with a Soriano left hand. Everything Soriano throws is meant to decapitate, and he sets his left hand on repeat with the ten-second anti-skip button activated and watches the bodies hit the floor. He’s the definition of a Gus Fring striker, missing half his body and attacking with repetitive power-side strikes. Puna is the guy in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan running around holding his blown-off right arm, looking for a medic to Super Glue it back on. His right hand is useless. But that’s okay because even if you know his left hand is coming, you can’t stop it.

Soriano’s game plan against Roman Kopylov will be simple, throw left hands until the cops rush the Octagon and throw him in cuffs. The underrated part of Soriano’s game is his bodywork; he attacks the body early and often, and when the opponent drops their hands to defend, he drops the whammy on them over the top. Soriano is 9-2 for his career with six TKO/KO’s and two subs, and each of his last three wins inside the Octagon has come via TKO/KO. Punahele isn’t a high-output striker, but he doesn’t need to be; his Fantasy value is and always will be a finish on the feet.

After starting his UFC career 0-2, Kopylov finally found success in his last bout against Alessio Di Chirico, scoring a third-round TKO. His major malfunction in the UFC has been his inconsistent output. He has excellent hand speed and tight technical boxing with sneaky good round kicks, but he rarely opens up. Against Di Chirico, he finally let go with a blistering Killer Instinct extended combination out of nowhere and put Di Chirico away. He’ll have a speed and technical advantage against Soriano, but if he comes out half-stepping, he’ll be making an early exit like the Cowboys in the playoffs this week.

Against Soriano, Kopylov will have to put all his doobies in one sock drawer and hope his mammy doesn’t find them. Throw the shit-stained chonies to the wind and let the chips fall where they may. Be first and be often. He has to protect himself with offense, or Punahele will work up a head of steam that Kopylov won’t be able to slow down. There’s very little chance Kopylov will be able to outwork Soriano for three rounds and earn a decision, so his only hope will be overwhelming Soriano with speed and output and finding a finish.

Honestly, I’m surprised Punahele is only a (-165) favorite. His aggressive style will be a lot for the passive Kopylov to handle, and his power advantage will be tenfold. Is there any value in Kopylov? If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing. A Soriano TKO/KO will return (+200) odds and a Kopylov TKO/KO will return (+300). Punahele Soriano via TKO, round two.

Ketlen Vieira vs. Raquel Pennington

Trigger warning. This one right here might induce Rose Namajunas vs. Carla Esparza flashbacks. Ketlen Vieira and Raquel Pennington are getting the Demian Maia treatment. Back in the day, Dana White and the UFC brass did everything they could to not give Demian Maia a title shot even though he kept winning. His style wasn’t exactly fan friendly and the last thing they wanted was for him to end up with the belt. That’s pretty much true for both these ladies here. Both can win fights, but their styles are like dying in my sleep, I don’t feel them. The list of title challengers in the bantamweight division is a short one, and the last thing the UFC wants is for one of these ladies in a title scrap. But another dub for Vieira or Pennington will make it difficult to justify not giving them the title shot.

Raquel Pennington has won four in a row and five of six, and Ketlen Vieira has won two in a row against former champs, Miesha Tate and Holly Holm. Many (meaning me) considered the Holm win a De Niro in Heat robbery, but a dub is a dub and in the game of life, you never apologize for those. Neither one of these ladies will wow you with technical skills or physical abilities, but they’re solid all around fighters that make fights ugly.

Vieira is a Jiu-Jitsu specialist with respectable kickboxing, and the biggest knock against her is her lack of killer instinct. Her fight against Yana Kunitskaya was a perfect example of this when she recorded one of the most dubious stat lines I’ve ever seen. She recorded three takedowns and over eight and a half minutes of top control but only landed seven significant strikes in the entire fight. Dana White landed more significant strikes… never mind.

Pennington is a Cujo junkyard dog that operates exclusively in the gray areas, in the clinch, on the breaks, and up against the cage. She’s a throwback to the old-school Randy Couture dirty boxing days. Her style is perfect for nullifying opponents with better attributes than her, making it hard for them to find the space needed to operate. Her major malfunction? She has a finishing rate equivalent to too many shots of whiskey and date that looks like Li Jingliang. In twenty-two career scraps, she has only five finishes, one TKO/KO, and four subs. Her 2021 sub of Macy Chiasson was her first since 2015.

Expect Fantasy points to be heavily rationed in this one. Both fighters have reached over one hundred significant strikes in their careers, but their styles pitted against each other will negate most of their offense. You already know where I’ll be during this fight, in the Thunderdome (my one-car garage), politicking with Mary Jane. Raquel Pennington via decision.

Raoni Barcelos vs. Umar Nurmagomedov

This is a USDA-certified banger and likely fight of the night. Umar Nurmagomedov is a distant Peter-in-law to Khabib, and my bold prediction for 2023 is that Umar will be vying for a title shot by the end of the year, barring any setbacks. I think Umar is a future Champ in the bantamweight division, and he has one of the most unique styles of any fighter in the promotion.

You’ve never seen a striker like Umar; he almost exclusively throws kicks, predominantly his right leg from either stance. Umar uses the question mark kick like a jab, and it’s lightning quick. The question mark kick is a low kick feint turned into a high kick in one smooth motion, and the fighter on the other end has no idea if it's going low or high. The only option is to defend high every time because getting kicked in the leg or body is better than getting kicked in the head. Tradeoffs.

Urban legend says if Umar Nurmagomedov throws hands in a fight, winter will be four weeks longer. It’s a rare occasion that Umar lets his hands go, but it’s incredible watching this guy completely dominate a fight, almost exclusively using kicks. His leg dexterity is stupid; he can turn up-the-middle teeps into round kicks mid-motion and vice versa. Everything he throws is on some David Blaine smoke and mirrors type shit. Umar uses his lead leg predominantly and works everything off it, contrary to most fighters who rely heavily on their power-side kicks.

Of course, Umar can wrestle, too. Umar can change levels in a blink and implement his namesake’s trademark wrestling with heavy ground and pound. If he shoots and can lock his hands, you’re gonna have a bad time. Against Umar, you have to pick your poison, decide how you want to lose. You either stand out in space and get picked apart with feets to your face or try to stay in his chest and make him exchange in the pocket where he can level change and put you on your back.

Raoni Barcelos will be Umar’s toughest test to date inside the Octagon, and it wasn’t long ago that he looked like a future title challenger himself. To me, Barcelos is a swap meet Jose Aldo. He falls apart after just a couple of wears. He still has the magnetic ink tags fastened to him from the Kohls he was stolen from. Barcelos sets off the merchandise antennas every time he walks into a store. His resemblance to The King Of Rio is uncanny, especially his leg kicks. Barcelos has the nasty prime Aldo leg kicks that Aldo forgot how to use during the second half of his career. He also throws short hooks, overhands, and liver shots, just like Aldo, with a similar posture and stance.

Against Umar, Barcelos will be looking for his second win against a Nurmagomedov. I don’t think anybody in the world can boast of such a feat. In 2019, Barcelos out-grappled Said Nurmagomedov on his way to a decision victory. He has the Jitz to survive on the mat with Umar and could also pose some problems for Umar if he ends up in the top position. On the feet, Barcelos will have to attack Umar’s best weapon, his lead leg, early and often and try to take away some of its effectiveness.

Whoa! I just checked the odds. Umar is the massive (-900) favorite, and Barcelos is the disrespectful (+550) dog. In eight career UFC bouts, Barcelos has yet to be finished, and Umar has yet to taste defeat with a 15-0 record. Umar is the bigger finishing threat, but I think he’ll have a hard time putting Barcelos away. An Umar TKO/KO will return (+700), and a sub (+275). Umar Nurmagomedov via decision.

Thanks for reading, homies! If you need more reading material, check out my Wordpress. You’ll find every card for the past three years on there. Peace!

P.S. Sorry for the formatting; it gets all messed up when I copy and paste from Word.

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