After racking up four finishes in five Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) victories, Ilia Topuria looks to prove himself a top contender this Saturday (June 24, 2023) when he meets lethal knockout artist, Josh Emmett, inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. The hybrid ABC/ESPN+ broadcast also sees Amanda Ribas square off with Maycee Barber and David Onama battle Gabriel Santos in a potentially explosive Featherweight showdown.
UFC Jacksonville has four “Prelims” that remain to be examined (check out the first batch here). Let’s get cracking ...
170 lbs.: Neil Magny vs. Phil Rowe
Now more than a decade into his Octagon career, Neil Magny (27-11) sits at 20-10 in the world’s largest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion. He’s alternated losses and wins in his last seven bouts, most recently succumbing to a Gilbert Burns arm triangle in Jan. 2013.
In an exceedingly rare occurrence, he faces a half-inch reach disadvantage against “The Fresh Prince.”
Phil Rowe (10-3) punched his ticket to the Octagon by knocking out Leon Shahbazyan, only to spend the next 18 months on the sidelines and fall to Gabe Green in his UFC debut. He’s since won three straight, including a third-round finish of Niko Price last time out.
All 10 of his professional wins have come by stoppage, six of them via knockout.
Even with three UFC knockouts under his belt and a genuinely solid performance against Niko Price last time out, I’m not sold on Rowe. His height, reach, and durability make up for significant shortcomings that often leave him in need of dramatic comebacks. Without his customary edge in stature, he doesn’t have a lot of answers for the more seasoned and technically sound Magny.
Magny has the striking skills to avoid Rowe’s trademark million-punch death flurry, the wrestling to exploit Rowe’s historically poor takedown defense, and the cardio to maintain his pressure and output from bell to bell. He outclasses Rowe on the mat for a dominant victory.
Prediction: Magny via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Zhalgas Zhumagulov vs. Joshua Van
Zhalgas Zhumagulov (14-8) finally earned his first UFC victory in his third Octagon appearance, choking out Jerome Rivera just two minutes into their bout. The success wasn’t to last, and he enters the cage this Saturday on the heels of three consecutive defeats (and a short-lived retirement).
This marks his third new opponent in the last two months, as scheduled bouts with Rafael Estevam and Felipe Bunes fell apart at the last-minute.
The 21-year-old Joshua Van (7-1) has yet to see the third round as a professional, scoring all of his victories inside of two rounds. His current five-fight win streak includes a submission of Cleveland McLean that earned “The Fearless” Fury FC’s Flyweight title.
He takes this bout on 10 days’ notice, having previously been scheduled to face Kevin Borjas on Contender Series in August.
Van is an incredibly promising young fighter, a deceptively vicious striker with rapidly improving grappling. He does, however, still have some maturing to do in terms of filling out his frame and not sacrificing position in pursuit of low-percentage submissions. Zhumagulov’s aggressive, high-output style can be a lot to handle if you can’t keep your head, which I’m not fully convinced Van can do at this point in his career.
While Van is sharp enough to potentially win a striking battle, he leaves too many openings to beat someone this seasoned and well-rounded. In the end, Zhumagulov out-works Van on the feet and hits the occasional takedown to secure a competitive victory.
Prediction: Zhumagulov via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Randy Brown vs. Wellington Turman
Randy Brown (16-5) — the first-ever Lookin’ for a Fight product to join UFC — put a 3-3 slump behind him to win six of his next seven bouts. This set up a clash with fast-rising Jack Della Maddalena, who clubbed-and-subbed Brown two minutes into their Feb. 2023 clash.
He stands three inches taller than Wellington Turman (18-6) and boasts a six-inch reach advantage.
Three months after choking out The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): Brazil finalist Marcio Alexandre Jr., Turman stepped up on short notice to face Karl Roberson in his UFC debut, ultimately dropping a split decision that snapped a four-fight win streak. He currently sits at 3-4 in the Octagon and was last seen struggling with Andre Petroski’s wrestling en route to a decision defeat in Nov. 2022.
This will be his first Welterweight appearance since 2017.
Generally speaking, Turman fights are decided by whether he can reliably hold down his opponents. If he can do it safely, dropping to Welterweight may not be the worst idea, as having a strength advantage makes muscling people to the mat easier. That said, even a flawless transition to 170 pounds won’t save him here. Dealing with Brown’s height and reach requires a level of striking technique that “The Prodigy” just hasn’t developed during his Octagon tenure.
Though Brown isn’t the best defensive wrestler in the world, Turman will have all sorts of trouble getting close enough to actually threaten takedowns, leaving him at the mercy of “Rude Boy’s” long-range offense. In short, Brown shuts down Turman’s wrestling and puts him away around the midpoint.
Prediction: Brown via second round technical knockout
155 lbs.: Mateusz Rebecki vs. Loik Radzhabov
Mateusz Rebecki (17-1) opened his professional career with three straight first-round heel hooks before falling to then-unbeaten Pawel Kielek. His current 14-fight win streak includes an FEN title run, a first-round submission of Rodrigo Lidio on Contender Series, and a decision over Nick Fiore in his Octagon debut.
His professional finishes are split 8:6 between knockouts and submissions.
Loik Radzhabov (17-4-1) entered his second PFL tournament final as a sizable favorite over Raush Manfio, only to fall apart down the stretch and once again come up short. After bouncing back with a submission of Zach Zane in Eagle FC, he stepped up on short notice to defeat Esteban Ribovics in his March 2023 UFC debut.
“Jaguar Paw” will enjoy four inches of height and three inches of reach on Rebecki.
Mirror matches are always fun. Rebecki is a better finisher and Radzhabov a more seasoned veteran against quality opposition, but they’re both sluggers with quality grappling games. They’ll either butt heads in a gritty, competitive affair or cancel each other out in a slog.
I slightly favor Rebecki. He has enough power to hurt Radzhabov the way Ribovics did and his Brazilian jiu-jitsu should be sharp enough to keep Radzhabov from grinding him out. It’ll be close and could come down to whose gas tank gives out first, but I say Rebecki does enough damage on the feet to eke out a decision.
Prediction: Rebecki via split decision
Two monstrously powerful punchers should make for a heck of a main event. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Current Prediction Record for 2023: 78-52-1 (2 NC)
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.
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