Two of the Featherweight division’s most terrifying finishers duke it out inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., this Saturday (June 24, 2023) when Ilia Topuria meets Josh Emmett on ABC. The mixed martial arts (MMA) matinee will also see Maycee Barber look for her fifth consecutive win against grappling ace Amanda Ribas and Justin Tafa meet Austen Lane in a clash of Heavyweight knockout artists.
UFC Jacksonville features a beefy nine-fight slate of “Prelims” undercard bouts to get through, so let’s not waste time ...
115 lbs.: Tabatha Ricci vs. Gillian Robertson
A short-notice Flyweight UFC debut against Manon Fiorot resulted in the first professional defeat for Tabatha Ricci (8-1) in 2021. Returning to Strawweight has paid dividends, producing three straight wins over Maria Oliveira, Polyana Viana and Jessica Penne.
“Baby Shark” stands four inches shorter than Gillian Robertson (12-7) and gives up two inches of reach.
Despite going one-and-done on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 26, Roberton amassed a 7-5 Flyweight record in the Octagon. After choking out Mariya Agapova in Dec. 2022, she dropped to Strawweight, where she handed Piera Rodriguez the first defeat of her professional career.
Nine of her 10 professional finishes have come via submission, all by either rear-naked choke or armbar.
This is a fight Robertson should win. Ricci has been reliant on racking up takedowns during her Octagon tenure, so Robertson’s size, strength and wrestling prowess represent a hard counter. That said, Robertson has been out-grappled before, most notably by Taila Santos and Miranda Maverick. If Ricci can put “The Savage” on her back, Robertson hasn’t proven able to threaten from there.
Santos and Maverick were far larger than Ricci, however, and that may be the key here. Robertson’s wrestling is ostensibly a match for Ricci’s judo, and with the added bonus of a size advantage, that’s enough to get the nod. In the end, long stretches of top control should keep Robertson undefeated (2-0) in her new weight class.
Prediction: Robertson via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Trevor Peek (8-0) vs. Jose Mariscal (13-6)
Peek roared back from early trouble to pound out Malik Lewis and secure a contract on the Contender Series. Five months later, he made his UFC debut against late replacement Erick Gonzalez, flattening “The Ghost Pepper” in the last second of the first round to claim his first post-fight bonus.
All of his professional wins have come by knockout, six of them in the first round.
A 6-1 (1 NC) run, highlighted by decisions over Pat Sabatini and Youssef Zalal, gave way to a 1-3 skid that saw Mariscal fall to three future UFC competitors. He’s 3-0 since, including a ground-and-pound finish of Guilherme Faria in his second LFA main event.
“Chepe” steps in for Victor Martinez on 10 days’ notice.
In terms of pure entertainment value, this is the Prelim to beat. While Mariscal has recently shown a willingness to slow things down and cosplay as a technical kickboxer, both men thrive in absolute chaos. I’ll be shocked if this doesn’t devolve into a slugfest within the first two minutes.
It’ll be fun for us, but not for Mariscal. He’s the naturally smaller man, and though he boasts an impressive judo pedigree, Peek has proven impressively adept at getting back to his feet when taken down. “Chepe” is going to have to slug it out with Peek whether he wants to or not, and though his heart is up for it, his power and durability aren’t.
Prediction: Peek via first round technical knockout
145 lbs.: Jamall Emmers vs. Jack Jenkins
Jamall Emmers (19-6) rebounded from his Contender Series defeat to Julian Erosa by winning four straight, among them a knockout of TUF veteran Jay Cuccinello. He’s alternated losses and wins in the Octagon, most recently ending an 18-month layoff by dominating 23-0 Khusein Askhabov in Feb. 2023.
“Pretty Boy” boasts a three-inch height advantage and a six-inch reach advantage.
Jack Jenkins (11-2) enjoyed a lengthy stint as Eternal MMA champ before pounding out Freddy Linares on Contender Series. His efforts set up a UFC debut against Don Shainis, whom Jenkins out-boxed and outwrestled to a decision win.
“Phar” has knocked out five professional foes and submitted three others.
If everything clicks for Emmers, he’s good enough to beat anyone below the Featherweight Top 10. His issue is that that only happens sporadically; for example, even though he comprehensively dominated Askhabov, he’ll just as easily dive into a submission battle with a rocked Pat Sabatini or strike with Giga Chikadze. He’s too erratic to pick against a top technician like Jenkins, who shares Emmers’ well-roundedness if not his physical abilities.
Emmers could very well use his long-range striking and potent wrestling to neutralize Jenkins. More likely, though, Jenkins capitalizes on Emmers’ questionable decision-making to out-box him for his second UFC win.
Prediction: Jenkins via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Tatsuro Taira vs. Kleydson Rodrigues
Tatsuro Taira (13-0) went 9-0 as an amateur and 10-0 as a professional before joining UFC in 2022. He’s been dominant in the Octagon thus far, winning three and taking home “Performance of the Night” for his two submission wins.
His 10 professional finishes are split 7:3 between submissions and knockouts.
Seven months after out-classing Santo Curatolo on Contender Series, Kleydson Rodrigues (8-2) made his UFC debut against C.J. Vergara, seemingly winning the first two rounds but ultimately settling for a split decision loss. Though he missed weight against Shannon Ross next time out, he reclaimed some honor by smashing his fellow Contender Series veteran in 59 seconds.
He faces a two-inch height disadvantage and a three-inch reach disadvantage.
It is straight-up moronic to bury this fight in the early “Prelims.” Taira is a potential star in the making and Rodrigues is absolutely electric in the cage. This figures to be competitive both on the feet and the mat.
For my money, it will come down to how well Taira uses his length and how well Rodrigues manages his cardio. Rodrigues’ more versatile striking offense and superior stopping power pose a huge threat, but if Taira can keep him at a distance and threaten with takedowns, he should be able to come out on top. I say he does in a fight that winds up much closer than the odds suggest.
Prediction: Taira via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Cody Brundage vs. Sedriques Dumas
After falling to Nick Maximov in his UFC debut, Cody Brundage (8-4) rattled off back-to-back finishes of Dalcha Lungiambula and Tresean Gore, the former of which earned him “Performance of the Night.” He’s since dropped two straight, most recently suffering a comeback submission loss at the hands of Rodolfo Vieira.
He replaces Punahele Soriano on 10 days’ notice.
Sedriques Dumas (7-1) kept his 100 percent finish rate intact by choking out Matej Penaz with a bonus-winning guillotine 47 seconds into their Contender Series bout. He wasn’t quite as successful against Josh Fremd, who dominated him on the mat en route to a second-round guillotine finish.
“The Reaper” is two inches taller than Brundage at 6’2” and sports a seven-inch reach advantage.
Brundage may be prone to spectacular flameouts, but Dumas’ loss to Fremd didn’t inspire a lot of confidence. His wrestling looked nonexistent and his striking — so venomous on the regional scene — proved entirely ineffective in the Octagon. If Brundage can get inside without getting plunked by a counter, Dumas doesn’t have the tools to stop him from dominating on the ground.
Brundage’s tendency to fold in the face of adversity gives Dumas a better chance than he would have had against the double-tough Soriano, but it’s still not much of one. In the end, Brundage pressures Dumas to the fence, takes him down, and does terrible things to his neck for a quick submission win.
Prediction: Brundage via first round submission
Four more UFC Jacksonville “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including a battle of dangerous Lightweight grapplers and the debut of 21-year-old Flyweight standout, Joshua Van. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Jacksonville fight card right here, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ABC (also on ESPN+) at 3 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Jacksonville news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.