After establishing herself as one of the most consistent finishers in women’s mixed martial arts (MMA), Irene Aldana faces her biggest challenge to date this Saturday (June 10, 2023) when she battles two-division champion, Amanda Nunes, inside Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. UFC 289 will also feature the return of former Lightweight champion, Charles Oliveira, opposite the indefatigable Beneil Dariush and a clash of Featherweight bruisers between Dan Ige and Nate Landwehr.
185 lbs.: Nassourdine Imavov vs. Chris Curtis
Nassourdine Imavov (12-4) put together a 4-1 UFC start to earn his first-ever main event slot in Jan. 2023. When Kelvin Gastelum withdrew due to injury, Sean Strickland took his place, resulting in “Russian Sniper’s” second Octagon defeat.
He stands five inches taller than Curtis but faces a slight reach disadvantage.
Chris Curtis (30-10) roared onto the UFC scene with consecutive wins over Phil Hawes, Brendan Allen, and Rodolfo Vieira. He now sits at 1-2 in his last three, including a “Fight of the Night” decision loss to Chris Curtis in April 2023.
“The Action Man” has knocked out 15 professional opponents and submitted three others.
What struck me about Imavov’s fight with Strickland was how quickly he ran out of ideas. He looked decently sharp early, but spent most of the last four rounds fruitlessly headhunting. It’s not like there’s any particular depth to Strickland’s one-two combinations, so while Curtis has been out-maneuvered in the past, it’s easy to see him bullying Imavov into the kind of close-quarters slugfest he thrives in.
Curtis’ slow start could potentially doom him once again, but he should be tough enough to weather the early storm and take over once Imavov’s technique begins to devolve. In short, he punishes “Russian Sniper’s” midsection to return to the win column.
Prediction: Curtis via third round technical knockout
125 lbs.: Miranda Maverick vs. Jasmine Jasudavicius
A bogus decision loss to Maycee Barber and an indisputable one to Erin Blanchfield left Miranda Maverick (13-4) with an even split (2-2) in the world’s largest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion going into 2022. Her efforts that year proved more fruitful, resulting in one-sided victories over Sabina Mazo and Shanna Young.
Her seven professional finishes include six by submission.
After grinding her way past Kay Hansen in her UFC debut, Jasmine Jasudavicius (8-2) fell short in a clash of Contender Series graduates against Natalia Silva. Next came Brazilian striker Gabriella Fernandes, whom Jasudavicius out-wrestled to earn her second Octagon decision victory.
She’ll enjoy four inches of height and 2.5 inches of reach on Maverick.
This just seems like a god-awful style matchup for Jasudavicius. She’s too slow and lumbering to keep up with Maverick on the feet and is woefully out-classed on the mat. Though Maverick has struggled with persistent takedown artists in the past, Jasudavicius’ wrestling is a step below the likes of Gillian Robertson and Erin Blanchfield.
Jasudavicius is heavily reliant on being able to control her opponents from the top, which she lacks the skills to do against a wrestler of Maverick’s caliber. In the end, expect “Fear The” to run circles around her taller foe, pot-shotting in the standup and racking up takedowns to secure a one-sided victory.
Prediction: Maverick via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Aiemann Zahabi vs. Aoriqileng
Six consecutive first round finishes earned Aiemann Zahabi (9-2) a spot in the Octagon in 2017. He’s fought just five times in the last seven years, though he does make the walk this Saturday in the midst of a two-fight win streak that saw him upset Drako Rodriguez and Ricky Turcios.
Five of his seven stoppages came via knockout, three of those in less than a half-round.
Qileng Aori (20-9) struggled his way to a winless (0-2) UFC start highlighted by his bonus-winning debut war with Jeff Molina. A subsequent move to 135 pounds paid quick dividends, resulting in back-to-back wins over Cameron Else and Jay Perrin.
“The Mongolian Murderer” will enjoy a one-inch reach advantage despite being the shorter of the two.
I’m fond of Aoriqileng, but I like to think I’m realistic about his abilities. Neither Else nor Perrin managed to secure a victory during their respective UFC tenures; beating them says very little about Aoriqileng’s abilities. Still, this looks like a doable task. Zahabi lacks the wrestling to exploit Aoriqileng’s most prominent weakness and isn’t likely to overwhelm him with technique on the feet. Aoriqileng’s berserker style may be one-note, but it’s damn effective when you can’t reliably take him down or out-maneuver him.
While Zahabi did manage to completely shut down another come-forward aggressor in Ricky Turcios, Aoriqileng figures to be far more determined in his pursuit. In short, Aoriqileng walks down Zahabi and overwhelms him with volume en route to a decision win.
Prediction: Aoriqileng via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Kyle Nelson vs. Blake Bilder
Kyle Nelson (13-5-1) made his way to the Octagon in the midst of a six-fight win streak, stepping up on short notice to battle the surging Diego Ferreira at UFC 231. “The Monster” currently finds himself 1-4-1 in UFC, most recently battling Doo Ho Choi to a majority draw in Feb. 2023 thanks to a bizarre point deduction.
His professional finishes are split 5:4 between knockouts and submissions.
Four months after knocking out Regivaldo Carvalho for CFFC gold, Blake Bilder (8-0-1) choked out Alex Morgan on Contender Series to earn a UFC contract. His promotional debut pitted him against Shane Young, whom Bilder out-worked to a decision victory.
He is the shorter man by three inches and faces a 2.5-inch reach disadvantage.
This one boils down to whether Bilder can escape the first round. Nelson packs enough of a punch to crack Bilder’s questionable chin and is a strong wrestler to boot, but tends to slow down dramatically as fights progress. So long as Bilder doesn’t get clipped by an overhand right, he’s golden. Indeed, he’s too sharp on the ground for Nelson to finish him there, and even if Nelson does have a takedown advantage early, that should even up once Nelson’s gas tank starts to flag.
Again, it would not be shocking at all to see Nelson lamp Bilder before the latter can get any momentum going. Considering his complete inability to fix his cardio no matter how many times it fails him, though, odds are that he once again flamed out and allows Bilder to grapple and potshot his way to victory in the latter two rounds.
Prediction: Bilder via unanimous decision
UFC 289’s main- and co-main events should be interesting enough to make up for the fact that Eryk Anders is on a PPV main card in 2023. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Current Prediction Record for 2023: 73-47-1
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 289 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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