It’s minutes after midnight, and I can still see the glow under the door, accompanied by the steady drone of what sounds like yet another Rick and Morty episode. That makes the fourth since the deed was complete. It wasn’t my best performance, but my best under the circumstances. John usually opens on Sunday mornings, so I’m a little confused as to why he’s still up. Probably fell asleep with the TV on again. I look around my room; it's looking more and more like I'll have to make a break for it. If I wait any longer, the nightcap will turn into a sleepover, and I have no desire to see what it looks like in the morning.
In the corner, I spot my trusty stack of Trader Joe’s paper bags (they always come in handy). After a few quick modifications, two eyes and a mouth hole, I toss it on the bed.
"What’s this for?" It says, not sounding offended but sounding super offended.
"That?" I say as if I‘ve never seen the paper bag with two perfectly cut eye holes and one for the mouth, "Oh, it’s nothing." I try playing it off, "Just fookin’ around."
I have no choice. I walk over to the door, open it a crack, and peer into the living room, one eye up to the opening. The glowing TV light strobes against John’s face and reminds me of the Fourth and the bursting fireworks lighting up the upturned faces.
I think he's asleep.
I hope he's asleep.
Leading the way, I put one finger to my lips, "Shh. My roommate is asleep," I whisper. My heart’s beating so loudly as we pass the couch that I swear it’s trying to give me away. Just steps from the front door, I hear a voice from behind...
"Aren’t you gonna introduce us?"
I turn around. John’s head is periscoping over the top of the couch, his eyes suddenly wide and alert. The okie doke. I walked right into it. Payback for when he brought home the waitress from Golden Corral.
I’m giving him the isksnay-on-the-uglycardsnay look as I focus on keeping my voice sounding normal, "Uh, it’s in a hurry. Maybe next time." I give it a tug and continue to the door.
"We’re having a shindig next Saturday; you should come through," John says, ignoring me.
I panic and swing open the door...
... and run right into my other roomie, Todd; I see the Uber pulling away.
"Heeeyaaaah! Who’s this?" He sounds faded, and my only hope is that he won’t remember the encounter in the morning. I tear off down the driveway, ugly card in tow, and try to flag down the Uber.
Should have used the bag.
Always use the bag.
Brendan Allen vs. Paul Craig
The three guarantees in life: Death, taxes, and the Weekly KO will never lie to kick it. This card is ugly. You might have to put a bag over it and wait until the homies are asleep before you call the Uber. And if the homies insist they heard fight noises coming from your room: Deny! Deny! Deny! We have the Ben Askren/Roma Kopylov Burning Man love child, Chase Hooper, just one fight away from the co-main slot, two guys I’ve never heard of rounding out the main card, a fifth-degree Rex Kwon Do black belt, and a professional twerker-turned MMA fighter all on one card. Only time will tell if this is the ugliest card of all time. Yes, Li Jingliang ugly.
I say all that to say this: The main event is actually an undercover banger. Brendan "Don’t call him Brandon" Allen is an enigma wrapped in a mirage, wrapped in an illusion, a guy who, when you turn your head at the perfect angle, looks like a real title contender and one of the best fighters in the division. And Paul Craig is a William-Wallace-going-commando-beneath-his-Celtic-skirt-savage who has never won a fight by decision. In fact, in twenty-three career fights, you’ll only see the word "decision" written in the results column on his professional record once. Craig is one of the best submission Dosbrak’s in the game who has submitted your favorite fighter’s favorite fighter in the light heavyweight division and now looks to do the same among the middleweights.
Brendan Allen is a quiet 10-2 in the UFC and reminds me of those reflective stickers that you turn this way and that, and the image changes depending on the angle. He’s like a Betty in the club going from a ten to a Taylor Swift mid when the lights come on. Brendan Allen’s style is like an Instagram filter that makes you look better than you are. You record yourself shadowboxing in your living room and it makes you look like Jonathan Haggerty. "Did you get that new Brendan Allen filter, homie?"
"Whoa! I ain’t your homie, buddy."
I can assure you I’ve seen every UFC Brendan Allen fight, and I still don’t know how good he really is. His striking is deadly, but not in the way you think. It’s just good enough to convince him to stand and bang when he shouldn’t, often leading to him taking an Oregon Trail path to victory and losing two oxen in the river and a child to cholera along the way. Even in his last bout, a first-round submission of Bruno Silva, Bruno had Allen stuntin’ like his Daddy almost as soon as the bell rang. "Lookin’ out for ya just Like Daddy, come on." At times, Allen was just standing, covered up, directly in front of Bruno, letting Bruno tee off. And although he was the more technical striker against Punahele Soriano, Puna had Allen in trouble multiple times. And then there was the Chris Curtis fight... I’ll give him a pass for the TKO loss to the current champ, Sean Strickland. Overall, Allen lacks the flow/cadence and defensive instincts of an elite striker; he’s like the highest level of cardio kickboxer that you can achieve.
Where Allen shines is on the mat. Dude is a gifted grappler with serious submission skills. In twenty-two career dubs, Allen has thirteen subs (ten rear-naked chokes) to five TKO/KOs. When Allen uses his striking as a setup for his wrestling/grappling, he is at his best. His grappling style reminds me of the perpetually scrambling Fluffy Hernandez, a guy to whom Allen has a head-to-head loss outside of the UFC. Allen can shoot doubles and work singles, but he’s especially handy in the clinch, working trips. And when he gets you down, Allen is a master at working his way to the back and locking up rear-naked chokes. The question is, does he really want to f**k around in Paul Craig’s guard? Craig’s only path to victory is on the mat. If Allen keeps this standing, his sharp boxing will pick apart Paul Craig. And that’s why Allen will probably choose to grapple.
Paul Craig is wild; he howls at the moon. Expect Paul Craig to come out rocking the William Wallace skirt and go full Kim Bassinger on the stool between rounds. This guy has a first-round sub over the lightweight Champ who never lost his belt, Jamahal Hill, and a last-second triangle choke sub over Magomed Ankalaev, Ankalaev’s only career loss. And when I say last second, I mean the literal last second of the fight after getting mauled like he fell into the tiger exhibit at the zoo. The human finger trap, Venus flytrap, bear trap; name a trap, any trap; Paul Craig is its personified equivalent. Craig has traditional level change takedowns, and he is one of the best guard pullers in the game. His submission repertoire consists of every submission ever invented, and he has heavy ground and pound from the top. This guy throws up submission combinations and sets traps like Kevin McCallister. Watch his overhook from the bottom; he uses it to set up shoulder cranks, armbars, triangles, and as misdirection, for sweeps.
Brendan Allen has only been submitted once, early in his career, but Paul Craig could very well be the first to do it in the UFC. The problem for Craig will be if he can’t relocate the fight. Craig is all kicks and no hands; he will look closer to Mackenzie Dern than Alex Pereira if the fight stays standing. The only path to victory for Craig is on the mat. It doesn't matter how he gets it there; he can win this fight from the top position or from his guard.
Fantasy-wise, Allen is the higher output striker, averaging four SLpM to Craig's two and a half, and Craig averages slightly more takedowns per fifteen minutes at just under two to Allen’s just over one. Allen is 22-5 with five TKO/KOs and thirteen subs, and Craig is 17-6 with four TKO/KOs and thirteen subs. Allen will be the (-300) favorite, and Craig will be the (+240) live dog. Craig can win this fight; he is used to submitting guys much bigger and stronger than Brendan Allen, and Allen lacks just enough fight IQ to mess around too much in Craig’s guard. But if Allen plays it smartly and can make this a kickboxing match, he should be able to dominate on the feet. But I think Craig is the slightly better finishing threat. He has a one hundred percent finishing rate, and he has sub’d some of the best fighters in the world. Allen has finished four of his last five, and I think his best chances to finish will come late after Craig has sustained some damage.
The main event-dub streak sits at three after Alex Pereira kicked the shit outta Jiri’s leg last week. The fight to make is Jamahal Hill vs. Pereira. Izzy ain’t ever taking that fight again, Alex. I really wanted to take the dog, Paul Craig, but that Dern/Andrade fight last week gave me some PTSD, and I’m terrified that Craig might not be able to get it to the mat consistently enough. Brendan Allen via TKO, round four. On wax.
Allen: TKO/KO (+120) Sub (+165) Dec (+700)
Craig: TKO/KO (+1000) Sub (+650) Dec (+1600)
Michael Morales vs. Jake Matthews
Michael "Myers" Morales is an up-and-coming serial killer hiding murder material in a cereal box on top of your stereo. In a serial killer draft, Morales would be a top-five pick right behind Patrick Bateman. This Saturday, the eighteen-fight UFC veteran, Jake Matthews, will be stepping into the Octagon to attempt to solve a string of cold cases dating back to Morales’ debut in 2022. Any detective will tell you that at every crime scene, the perpetrator leaves something behind and takes something with them. It will be up to Jake Matthews to go straight Hardy Boys and put the pieces together to solve the puzzle that is Michael Morales.
Morales is an undefeated 15-0 fighter and looks like he played the childhood version of Rumble Johnson (R.I.P.) in Rumble’s NWA bio-drama. He looks like Rumble when Rumble used to try to make welterweight, emphasis on "try." Morales is the showroom muscle car with the hood scoop, racing stripes, and exhaust pipes that exhale like dab hits. Like the great Chuck Liddell, Morales breaks all the rules; a lack of fundamentals is fundamental to his style. One hundred percent adherence to fundamentals will only get you so far, as will a complete disregard for them. The perfect fighter is a combination of both. Morales lacks just enough fundamentals to provide a unique look for opponents inside the cage that they aren’t consistently exposed to. He fights with a squared stance, and his hands chambered at chest level, providing Morales with two power hands, much like Alex Pereira.
Morales won’t dance around you with fancy footwork while pumping his jab, or make you miss with slick footwork and head movement, but he will fire fastballs across the diamond from the seat of his pants like Ken Caminiti. You won’t see crispy combinations from Michale Morales; you will see day-one 1s and 1-2s with occasional flying knees mixed in to wow the crowd. All speed, all power; that’s Michael Morales.
Now let ya’ boy dust off his Chucks like WC; I’m about to get on my petty shit and do this here c-walk across the stage. Start the countdown to Armageddon... I can feel it coming in the air tonight like Phil Collins... Michael Morales will get KO’d soon. I just don’t know if Jake Matthews Band will be the one to do it. But it’s only a matter of time. Morales bats his eyelashes, blows kisses, and straight flirts with disaster inside the cage. He curves defense, friend zones defense, and responds back with one-word texts to project his disinterest in it. Fighting with a low hand position comes with trade-offs; you sacrifice defense for power and unorthodox arm angles. If he’s not careful, Jake Matthews Band will serenade Morales with some crispy combination ballads and catch Morales by the boo-boo. The key for Morales will be stuffing takedowns and not engaging in extended combinations in the pocket.
Unfortunately for Jake Matthews, Diego Sanchez, Emil Meek, and Darius Flowers won’t be walking through that door anytime soon. If you look at Matthew’s record, most of his dubs are highly sus. If he doesn’t commit to his wrestling and try to grind out Morales on the mat, Lizzo will be singing real quick. Jake from State Farm is coming off a dub against an Etsy Jairzinho Rozenstruik, a lap band Rozenstuik, Darius Flowers. There are times when Matthews looks the part of a ranked welterweight on the feet, and other times (when he fought Matthew Semelsberger) that he looks very average. It just so happens that when he looks like a ranked fighter, it comes only against weak competition. But otherwise, Matthews has excellent boxing and crispy combinations. If he commits to combos on the feet to set up takedowns, Jake will have a chance at pulling off the upset. If not, "I didn’t know you like to get wet, Jake..." he will find himself delirious from a sudden release of pre-death DMT.
Los numeros: Morales is the higher output striker, averaging over five SLpM to Matthews’ just under three and a half. The takedown numbers are very similar: Jake averages slightly more takedowns per fifteen minutes at 1.7 to Morales’ 1.6. If Matthews gets lazy in the clinch or doesn’t finish his takedowns, he could end up on his back. Of Morales’ fifteen career dubs, eleven came via TKO/KO and one by sub. Matthews is 19-6 with five TKO/KOs and eight subs. Morales will be the (-260) favorite, and Matthews will be the (+215) dog. I think there is value for Matthews; he can cause Morales problems on the feet with his slick combinations. But in the end, Morales is more violent than track two on the MMLP. Michael Morales via TKO, round three. I’m sorry, Jake; you know I love you.
Morales: TKO/KO (+120) Sub (+900) Dec (+215)
Matthews: TKO/KO (+900) Sub (+1100) Dec (+500)
Chase Hooper vs. Jordan Leavitt
Bust out the Trader Joe's bags, homies. Make sure the roommates are asleep before you walk this one to the door. Woof woof. Hanging with Mr. Hooper is back. Everybody’s favorite dweeb, MMA’s Urkel, Chase Hooper is back. Chase Hooper made his UFC debut at just noineteen years old on the first Colby vs. Usman card back in 2019. In that time, Hooper has gone 4-3 and has made nerds from all over the world proud. Wu-Tang is for the babies, and Chase Hooper is for the dweebs. Not to be out-dweebed, Jordan Leavitt will be rocking his own pair of Birkenstocks with grubby foot stains on the soles like a shadow is standing. Leavitt looks like the kid you tried to sit next to on test day, but don’t let that fool you; his wrestling/grappling is highly underrated, and if this one goes to the mat, it could look like some high-level larping in the park.
Chase is on the Case Hooper is Roman Kopylov, the generic version. If you gave Kopylov Hooper’s grappling or gave Hooper Kopylov’s striking, you’d have yourself a champion. This kid is an adrenaline junky on the mat, diving for ankle locks, rolling for knee bars, gator-rolling D’arce chokes; you name it, this guy chases it; he’s a subby chaser. Mr. Hooper is long as fook, son, and can tie you up in Boy Scout knots before you stop laughing at this Poindexter trying to fight you. Chase is a tumbleweed caught in a hurricane on the mat, never letting his shoulders touch the mat when he’s on his back and never ceasing to advance position on the top. I’ve seen Chase let opponents mount him so he could bridge and attack an ankle lock. He sets traps on the mat and is one hundred percent submission over position.
You already know Chase’s major malfunction is his Mackenzie Dern striking. Although, I have to say this: muhf**kin’ Chase Hooper looked like Arturo Gotti on the feet in his last bout. He was digging the body and landing heavy left hands and all but finished Nick Fiore on the feet several times. But don't go around talkin’ bout Chase’s striking has improved. No, he was fighting Nick Fiore. Hoop’s hands still make little dinging sounds when they land, like that little bell you tap for service at a front desk. He still has al dente noodle arm punches and not even an iota of defensive prowess. Like none. Zero. Nil. BUT (big but), Chase has that Lady and the Tramp dog in him. He can take a Wild Things released on VHS beating without rage quitting and resetting the NES. When the ship is going down, he ain’t going out like Jack Dawson; no, Chase is going down swinging all the way to the bottom.
There’s one goal when fighting Jordan Leavitt: Don’t let this guy twerk on you. When Leavitt finishes someone, he makes it clap, and I ain’t talking a round of applause. He breaks you off like Ice Spice. Chael Sonnen once said, "I can’t let you get close!" and shot a double on Wanderlei Silva. When it comes to Jordan Leavitt, Chael P. says, "I can’t let you twerk!" Jordan Leavitt steps into the Octagon wearing the same shit he had on at the press conference. He looks like a member of Prince’s crew. But even in Purple Rain boots, Jordan Leavitt can wrestle. He has better takedowns and top control than Hooper, and I think he will be the one to get the fight to the mat. The problem for Leavitt is that he is too much position over everything else. There’s no striking from the top, and without creating damage, I don’t think he can submit Hooper. Leavitt will have to control the top position for the better part of fifteen minutes. Also, Leavitt tends to get stuck in a lot of guillotines, and even though he escapes, he plays with fire too much with his head position.
If this one remains on the feet, it’s gonna look like two kids fighting over the X-Box demo at Walmart. Leavitt has some nasty up-the-middle snap kicks and knees in the clinch, but that’s about it. His hands aren’t plural; he has just a loopy left overhand. And overall, I would have to give Hooper the stand-up edge just based on Hooper's last bout. Leavitt needs to get the top position and work his way to the back. For his career, Leavitt is 11-2 with two TKO/KOs and six subs and averages just over two and a half SLpM to Hooper’s five. Hooper may have technically deficient striking, but it doesn’t stop him from throwing Willy Nilly.
Hooper will be the (-235) favorite, and Leavitt will be the (+185) live dog. Even against Paddy Pimblett, Leavitt scored takedowns in the first round and possibly won it. Hooper’s takedown defense is only fifty percent; he tends to over-pursue on the feet and runs into takedowns. Leavitt is no joke from the top position and can eke out close rounds with control time. But I think this will come down to some stand-up exchanges, and Hooper is just a little better. Chase Hooper via decision. On wax.
Hooper: TKO/KO (+450) Sub (+350) Dec (+150)
Leavitt: TKO/KO (+1000) Sub (+650) Dec (+400)
Payton Talbott vs. Nick Aguirre
Who the fook are these guys!? This kid, Payton Talbott, is out here looking like a student driver. Sideshow Mel is finally stepping out of Bob’s shadow. He looks like Dustin from Stranger Things grew up and got his seventh-grade revenge body. But judging from his fight on the Contender Series, Talbott has some serious stand-up skills, and with a couple sessions in the Thunderdome (the world-class training facility in my one-car garage), this kid could have some serious potential. Talbott will be making his official debut against Nick Aguirre, who appears from near or afar, this angle or that, as a JUD, just a dude. This should be a solid developmental fight for Talbott, as I have to think this fight is on the main card because of Talbott more so than Aguirre.
Payton Talbott reminds me of when the T-1000 falls in the vat of molten lava, and all his forms come writhing out of him as he melts. Talbott’s style has the form of several different fighters in it. At times, I see some O’Malley rangey striking, and sometimes I see some Max Holloway volume striking. It’s like he wants to be Max soooo badly how he marches opponents down with the low hand position and darts punches as he escapes out the back door. Also, like Max, Talbott is a volume striker; he set the Contender Series bantamweight record with one hundred forty-five significant strikes and averaged nearly ten SLpM. His major malfunction is that, unlike Max, he has no defense, a running theme on this card. Talbott has classic Ned Stark head movement, none. He tends to play chicken with punches and relies too much on his chin. But overall, this kid has some serious potential and will be a future Fantasy monster if he keeps the same high-volume style.
Nick Aguirre is the guy you fight in your first smoker on career mode on UFC 5. This is the guy your trainer tests you against on your first day in the gym on story mode. Aguirre is 7-1 for his career with three TKO/KOs and four subs, a one hundred percent finishing rate. Two problems: 1) He is 0-1 in the UFC, and 2) most of his experience is in the Colosseum Combat promotion, which is like the Roman gladiator's version of Medieval Times. In his debut against Dan Arguetta, Aguirre spent most of his time in the Koala guard on his back and never really had much opportunity to mount any offense. Judging from the list of Boxcar Willies on his professional record, Talbott might be the best competition Aguirre has fought, and this has the feeling of the UFC trying to build up Talbott.
The odds also suggest that. Talbott is the massive (-600) favorite, and Aguirre is the (+445) mangy-ass dog. Fantasy-wise, I’m not sure a Talbott finish is a guarantee. I think his value will be in striking stats as long as he can fend off Aguirre’s takedowns. If I were Aguirre, I’d be trying to get Talbott to the mat. Payton Talbott via decision. On wax.
Talbott: TKO/KO (+100) Sub (+1000) Dec (+130)
Aguirre: TKO/KO (+2000) Sub (+1400) Dec (+1200)
Luana Pinheiro vs. Amanda Ribas
Strawweight Amanda Ribas is a thing again. After going 1-2 at featherweight and getting her ass cracked by Maycee Barber, who hadn’t cracked an ass in years, Amanda Ribas is back in the weight class where she went 5-1. Luana Pinheiro looks like she’ll key your 2001 Honda Civic; she has those Hall & Oates "Crazy Eyes" and is the classic mass-produced Brazilian power striker coming off the assembly line. Pinheiro reminds me of a Family Dollar Amanda Lemos without the cardio. I know what you’re thinking: Is this a trip-out-to-the-garage-to-politic-with-Mary Jay fight? I’m gonna go out on a limb and say no. This should be a crunchy little banger. Mostly because Amanda Ribas's fights almost always end with her looking like Carrie in a Prom dress.
In her last bout, Ribas woke up a sleeping Maycee Barber. Ribas can have that effect on you; she brings out that dog in you. She isn’t a great striker, but that won’t stop her from standing and banging. Ribas has the classic Brazilian Muay Thain rounded-shoulder style and the classic Brazilian Muay Thai lack of defense. Ribas takes damage like a demolition derby car in every fight; she’s all aggression and no tact. There’s a very distracted feel to Ribas’s stand-up, some ADHD tendencies and wasted energy in her movement. Where Ribas shines is on the mat. Chances are, Ribas out grappled your favorite grappler. When she commits to takedowns and top control, it's hard to beat her at this weight class. But Ribas has remedial fight IQ and tends to get lost along her path to victory and decides to stand and bang with everyone. She can't afford to do that against Pinheiro.
Luana Pinheiro, at least for a round or two, is a sports car running on nointey-one octane. But after the clock strikes seven and a half minutes, she turns into a Ford Escort with one spare tire and zero hubcaps. In the opening minutes, Pinheiro has light switch power and great white killer instincts when there is blood in the water. When she hurts you, she doesn’t blitz, she marauds. Pinheiro fires fastballs from the chest with both hands with filthy hand speed and overwhelms opponents with intermittent fits of aggression. But, she fades like Great Clips. She has no speed governor and travels at 100 mph everywhere she goes. The test for Pinheiro will be surviving a grinding fight if Ribas decides to fight in a phone booth and work trips from the clinch. I thought she lost her last bout against the Karate Hottie Michelle Waterson, even after scoring a knockdown in the first round. If Pinheiro ends up on her back against Ribas, it’s a wrap. Wrap it up, B.
Ribas is the (-250) favorite, and Pinheiro is the (+200) dog. The play for Ribas is a submission finish, and the play for Pinheiro is a TKO/KO finish. A decision favors Ribas using her grappling to control stretches of the bout. Pinheiro has to look to short play this fight and try to draw Ribas into some dangerous 50/50 exchanges. And that shouldn’t be hard to do. When Ribas gets hit, she immediately tries to get it back, and everything else goes out the window. I like Pinheiro as a potential Fantasy flipper if she can keep this standing early. But I’m going to put my faith in Ribas one last time. Amanda Ribas via rear-naked choke, round three.
Pinheiro: TKO/KO (+700) Sub (+1100) Dec (+450)
Ribas: TKO/KO (+1000) Sub (+400) Dec (-115)