Welterweight champion, Leon Edwards, and rival, Kamaru Usman, meet in a rubber match for the ages this Saturday (March 18, 2023) when UFC 286 hits The O2 in London, England. Fifteen pounds south, Justin Gaethje attempts to reignite his career against the red-hot Rafael Fiziev, while Gunnar Nelson battles Bryan Barberena and Marvin Vettori attempts to halt the rise of Roman Dolidze.
The final four UFC 286 “Prelims” air on ESPN2/ESPN+ (check out the first batch here), but before the focus shifts to the pay-per-view (PPV) main card, enjoy our dissections ...
145 lbs.: Jack Shore vs. Makwan Amirkhani
Jack Shore (16-1) followed his successful Cage Warriors run with five consecutive Octagon victories. This set up a pivotal clash with Ricky Simon, who clubbed-and-subbed the Welshman to send him from 135 to 145 pounds.
“Tank” stands two inches shorter than Makwan Amirkhani (17-8) and gives up one inch of reach.
“Mr. Finland” battled his way to a 6-2 UFC start highlighted by post-fight bonuses for his finishes of Andy Ogle and Chris Fishgold. He’s since dropped four of five, most recently suffering a ground-and-pound stoppage loss to Jonathan Pearce in London.
All but one of his 13 professional finishes have come via submission.
Shore has everything he needs to take Amirkhani apart: strong takedown defense, a quality engine, and good hands. All signs point to a repeat of Amirkhani’s loss to Pearce, which saw Amirkhani find early success with his powerful wrestling before crumbling under “JSP’s” pace.
The extra 10 pounds are definitely a concern, especially against someone with such a physical style, but Shore’s grappling fundamentals are stout enough to weather Amirkhani’s early onslaught until “Mr. Finland’s” legendarily poor gas tank gives out. Sprawl-and-brawl turns into sprawl-and-maul as Shore survives a rough start to batter Amirkhani into submission.
Prediction: Shore via third round technical knockout
155 lbs.: Chris Duncan vs. Omar Morales
Chris Duncan’s (9-1) first Contender Series bid ended in disaster thanks to a vicious left hook from Viacheslav Borshchev. His second a year later looked similarly doomed, but “The Problem” came back to knock Charlie Campbell stiff and walk away with a UFC contract.
Seven of his eight professional stoppage wins came via knockout.
Omar Morales (11-3) went from upsetting Harvey Park on Contender Series to defeating Dong Hyun Ma and Gabriel Benitez in his first two Octagon appearances. The momentum wasn’t to last, and he enters the cage this Saturday in the midst of a 1-3 skid.
“Venezuelan Fighter” steps in for Michal Figlak on little more than one month’s notice.
The hits Duncan absorbed against Borshchev and Campbell weren’t flukes; he has some serious defensive liabilities and is just slow in general. Odds are he won’t make too dramatic a rise through the ranks before hitting his ceiling, but he should at least be a bit too much for Morales. “Venezuelan Fighter,” who never quite managed to live up to the potential he showed against Park, figures to give Duncan the sort of gritty kickboxing match where “The Problem’s” power and offensive craft shine.
Duncan’s shown enough vulnerability that a dialed-in Morales has a shot at out-techniquing him for a decision win. More likely, though, Duncan’s aggression and output carry him to either a decision or a late stoppage if Morales’ chin is still feeling the effects of that Uros Medic fight.
Prediction: Duncan via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Sam Patterson vs. Yanal Ashmoz
An almost-perfect (5-0-1) run in Brave CF earned Patterson a Contender Series berth in 2022. Though he suffered an early knockdown against Vinicius Cenci, a second round-rear naked choke earned “The Future” both a win and a UFC contract.
His nine professional finishes include five submissions, three of which came via guillotine.
Yanal Ashmoz (6-0) racked up three quick wins in 2017 before spending nearly four years on the sidelines. He shook off the rust with a pair of (T)KO finishes in 2021, then defeated Dennis Hughes in an unsuccessful bid to join the 2022 PFL season.
He is the shorter man by five inches.
This seems like a case where Ashmoz has the right style to give Patterson issues, but can’t execute it well enough to get the win. Though not quite Stefan Struvian in his inability to maximize his height and reach, Patterson regularly allows shorter men to find striking and wrestling success against him, which plays into Ashmoz’s hands. Ashmoz just isn’t technical enough with his brawling or sufficiently overpowering with his takedowns to make the most of those opportunities, especially when Patterson has the gas tank to consistently get out of tight spots and deliver consistent offense..
Even if Ashmoz can get inside of Patterson’s rangy kickboxing, he has Patterson’s counters to deal with on the feet and his guillotine to deal with on the mat. Odds are that Ashmoz gets a little too eager to drag Patterson to the ground and exposes his neck to those Slenderman arms.
Prediction: Patterson by second-round submission
125 lbs.: Muhammad Mokaev vs. Jafel Filho
After building up hype with a 23-0 amateur career and strong professional start, Muhammad Mokaev (9-0) announced his arrival at the world stage with a 58-second submission of Cody Durden in his UFC debut. His perfect record remained intact courtesy of wins over Charles Johnson and Malcolm Gordon, the latter of which netted “The Punisher” his fourth professional submission win.
He’ll enjoy a 1.5-inch reach advantage.
Jafel Filho entered the Contender Series on the heels of four straight stoppage wins, one of them over future Contender Series graduate, Vinicius Salvador. “Pastor” ultimately made it five with a left hook knockout of Roybert Echeverria that snapped the latter’s unbeaten record and punched Filho’s ticket to UFC.
All of his wins save his second have come inside the distance, eight of them via submission.
No matter what they bring to the table in terms of offense, Mokaev’s opponents all face one simple question: can they stop Mokaev from controlling them for 15 minutes? For Filho, the answer is no; he’s a potent submission artist and chain wrestler with sneaky power in his hands, but I haven’t seen anything to suggest that he can avoid the grinding fate that befell Johnson and Gordon.
Though Filho can finish out of nowhere, Mokaev’s disinclination to take unnecessary risks means that “Pastor’s” opportunities to find his neck or chin will be few and far between. As much as I’d like to see Mokaev make the effort to put on a dominant performance, odds are he neutralizes Filho against the fence for another comfortable decision win.
Prediction: Mokaev via unanimous decision
UFC 286 features some real bangers here, not the least of which is the co-main event firecracker between Justin Gaethje vs. Rafael Fiziev. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Current Prediction Record for 2023: 41-15
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 286 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard on ESPN2/ESPN+ at 3 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC 286: “Edwards vs. Usman 3” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.