Almost one year to the day after suffering a gnarly knee injury, top Heavyweight prospect, Tom Aspinall, returns to action this Saturday (July 22, 2023) when he battles veteran Marcin Tybura inside The O2 in London, England. Local favorite, Molly McCann, locks horns with Julija Stoliarenko in UFC London’s co-feature, while Featherweight Nathaniel Wood makes his own return from weird injury opposite the always-dangerous Andre Fili.
UFC London features nine “Prelims” undercard bouts this time, which we’ve split 5:4 for your convenience. Here’s the first batch ...
185 lbs.: Makhmud Muradov vs. Bryan Barberena
Though dogged by inactivity, Makhmud Muradov (25-8) fought his way to three straight UFC wins, two of which earned him Performance of the Night. Then came a come-from-behind submission loss to Gerald Meerschaert, followed by a decision defeat to Contender Series grad Caio Borralho.
He stands two inches taller than Bryan Barberena (18-10) and enjoys a two-inch reach advantage.
Barberena — fighting for his UFC life after a 3-5 skid — put together three straight wins over Darian Weeks, Matt Brown, and Robbie Lawler. The success wasn’t to last, and he enters the cage this Saturday on the heels of submission losses to Rafael dos Anjos and Gunnar Nelson.
His 13 professional finishes include 11 by knockout.
This just seems like a downright nightmarish matchup for Barberena. If “Bam Bam’s” recent efforts are anything to go by, Muradov can take him down whenever he wants, especially since Barberena will be extremely undersized at 185. Even if Barberena did somehow channel the spirit of Jose Aldo to keep it standing, Muradov is too fast and elusive for Barberena to hunt down.
Barberena’s only chance lies in Muradov gassing, but it’s hard to get any real attrition going when Barberena can’t corner Muradov or stop him from taking it to the mat. In the end, Muradov dominates on top to sweep him on the scorecards.
Prediction: Muradov via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Ketlen Vieira vs. Pannie Kianzad
Ketlen Vieira (13-3) defeated Miesha Tate and edged out Holly Holm in back-to-back UFC main events. Fortune did not stay on her side, as she dropped an equally controversial split decision to Raquel Pennington her next time out.
She’s submitted four opponents and knocked out another two.
Pannie Kianzad (17-6) — a The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 28 finalist — struggled to an 0-2 UFC start. She’s since found her footing with a 5-1 run, which most recently saw her bounce back from a loss to Pennington by beating Lina Lansberg.
“Banzai” faces a one-inch height disadvantage and a two-inch reach disadvantage.
I’m honestly a fan of Kianzad’s; mental health issues derailed her after an 8-0 pro start, but she refused to fade away. I like seeing her hard work rewarded, but I just don’t think it’ll happen here. She struggled mightily to stay out of the clinch against Pennington and Lansberg, putting her square in Vieira’s wheelhouse. Vieira has also developed her striking to the point where I’m not sure Kianzad has a clear edge on the feet, especially if she neglects lateral movement like she did for the first two rounds of the Lansberg fight.
Kianzad has defied the odds before, but there’s just not enough going her way in this matchup. In other words, Vieira holds her own at a distance and controls the clinch en route to a decision victory.
Prediction: Vieira via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Chris Duncan vs. Yanal Ashmouz
Chris Duncan (10-1) lost his undefeated record to Viacheslav Borshchev in his first Contender Series bid, only to win a contract 10 months later by smashing Charlie Campbell in his return. He then battled Omar Morales in his Octagon proper debut, leaning on his wrestling to win a split decision.
He’s one inch taller than Yanal Ashmouz (7-0) at 5’10” and will enjoy a 3.5-inch reach advantage.
Despite beating Dennis Hughes in PFL’s Challenger Series, “Red Fox” failed to secure a tournament berth. Exactly one year later, he joined UFC instead and promptly upset Sam Patterson by 75-second knockout.
The win marked his fourth knockout and sixth professional finish overall.
On paper, this is a very winnable fight for Duncan. Ashmouz is a powerhouse, but he’s not the sort of technician who could deal with a properly utilized reach advantage. Thing is, Duncan is both extremely slow and extremely hittable; he gets rocked with worrying regularity despite boasting genuinely decent kickboxing technique. Ashmouz showed against Patterson that he can turn a single slip-up into a fight-ending barrage, and he’ll have no shortage of opportunities against Duncan.
Duncan has a shot if he can keep it at a distance and shut down Ashmouz’s wrestling, but that’s a lot to ask from someone so prone to getting clipped. In short, Ashmouz blasts him with a counter and piles on the hurt until the ref intervenes.
Prediction: Ashmouz via first round technical knockout
115 lbs.: Shauna Bannon vs. Bruna Brasil
Shauna Bannon (5-0) ended her amateur career on a perfect run (5-0) before turning professional in 2022. She’s split her time in the paid ranks between Invicta and Cage Legacy, most recently beating Minna Grusander in March 2023.
“Mama B” will enjoy a 3.5-inch reach advantage alongside her one-inch height advantage.
Bruna Brasil (8-3-1) capped off a pristine run (7-0) by flattening Marnic Mann with a head kick on Contender Series. This led to an April 2023 UFC debut against Denise Gomes, who stopped Brasil with a flurry of punches midway through the second.
She’s knocked out three pro foes and submitted another two.
To be fair, Brasil’s loss to Gomes has aged quite well thanks to Gomes’ mauling of Yazmin Jauregui, but “The Special One’s” red flags were hard to ignore. She seemed totally unable to manage distance, slowly retreating with her hands down no matter how many times Gomes stepped in and plugged her with combinations. Though Brasil can occasionally compensate with sharp counters, they were nowhere to be seen.
That looks like a death sentence against Bannon, who’s fast and technically savvy enough to punish those defensive lapses from bell to bell. Bannon also boasts a strong top game that Brasil seemingly has few answers for, so “Mama B” has no shortage of backup plans. In the end, Bannon controls on both the feet and the mat to keep her undefeated record intact.
Prediction: Bannon via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Jafel Filho vs. Daniel Barez
Jafel Filho (14-3) extended his win streak to five by battering Roybert Echeverria on Contender Series, earning a UFC contract in the process. He then took on top prospect, Muhammad Mokaev, and despite badly damaging “The Punisher’s” leg with a third round kneebar, he ultimately succumbed to a rear-naked choke.
“Pastor” hasn’t seen the judges since 2014 and sports eight submission wins on his record.
Daniel Barez (16-5) — winner of his previous six bouts — started strong against Carlos Hernandez on Contender Series, but failed to match his pace en route to a split decision loss. He soon returned to the Latin American circuit, where he racked up four straight first-round finishes.
He’s the shorter of the two by one inch and faces a 2.5-inch reach disadvantage.
The deciding factor here is Barez’s gas tank. For my money, he’s got the faster and heavier hands of the two, plus enough wrestling skills to take Filho’s killer submission game off the table. At the same time, he slowed down considerably against Hernandez, and a string of quick finishes over hapless opponents don’t convince me that he’s fixed the issue.
I’m still just barely leaning Barez’s way, largely because of how damaging his low kicks are and how poorly Filho reacts to them. I say he does enough damage to Filho in the first two rounds to edge out a decision despite “Pastor’s” late surge.
Prediction: Barez via split decision
Four more UFC London “Prelims” bouts remain to preview and predict, including the long-awaited return of Joel Alvarez. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC London fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 3 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC London news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.