This weekend (Sat., July 22, 2023), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) travels to The O2 in London, England, for UFC London. While the fight card overall cannot compare to some of the previous London shows (see it here), it’s a major step up from last week. Tom Aspinall makes his return in the main event after a disastrous knee injury, so all eyes will be on the talented prospect in seeing how he performs. In addition, fan favorite Molly McCann looks to return to the win column opposite Julija Stoliarenko, and the rest of the card is booked solid mostly with European action fighters.
Let’s dig into the main card match ups leading up to the co-main event:
Featherweight: Andre Fili vs. Nathaniel Wood
Best Win for Fili? Dennis Bermudez For Wood? Charles Jourdain
Current Streak: Fili won his last bout, while Wood has won two straight
X-Factor: Wood is still new to 145 pounds.
How these two match up: I just don’t see how this fight doesn’t end up being a whole lot of fun.
Fili has shared the cage with many of the best Featherweights of the last ten years, and his game has consistently improved as a result. At his best, Fili is using tricky combinations from both stances to set up his powerful kicks, and he’s also quite good at timing takedowns on advancing opponents after pulling them into a striking match. Wood is a slick customer as well. Despite facing a height and reach disadvantage against most Featherweights, his crafty calf kicking and clinch work have allowed him to succeed thus far — and with style points!
Wood’s previous two fights at Featherweight were impressive, but there are some caveats. Namely, in Rosa, he faced a man he outclassed on the feet, and in Jourdain, he was the far superior wrestler. Neither man could fully compete with him in those areas, and thus he was able to really take over.
Credit to him, that’s what a good fighter is supposed to do! Still, Fili feels like a more rounded threat than either man. He’s not going to let himself get easily out-kicked at distance by a far shorter man, nor is he likely to get tossed in the clinch and controlled repeatedly.
This feels like a fight where size will be important. Both men are crafty and well-rounded, but Fili’s size and power should shift the odds firmly in his favor.
Prediction: Fili via decision
Middleweight: Paul Craig vs. Andre Muniz
Best Win for Craig? Jamahal Hill For Muniz? Ronaldo Souza
Current Streak: Craig lost two straight, while Muniz’s excellent win streak was snapped last time out
X-Factor: This will be Craig’s Middleweight debut
How these two match up: Top-tier grappler’s collide!
Craig has won of the weirdest fight styles in the modern UFC, a mix of awkward range kicks, bad double legs, and guard pulls. Fortunately, he’s damn good at pulling off submissions, and his increased confidence over the years did pay off in a very nice win streak. Conversely, it’s now tough to get a full read on Muniz. How does a man submit “Jacare” but then get overwhelmed on the canvas by Brendan Allen? He just didn’t look very sharp in his last appearance, and it remains to be seen if that was a one-off or not.
I’ll be honest: I don’t like or understand this Middleweight move from Craig. Size and strength have never appeared to be his problem. Rather than diet and lose muscle, learning how to properly shoot a double leg without falling over would’ve been a far better solution to his recent struggles.
Maybe Craig overpowers Muniz to the floor then shows off his grappling skill. More likely, he’s surprised by his opponent’s speed on the feet, and his gas tank is shaken by the weight cut. In that case, the odds seem strong that Muniz sprawls and brawls his way to a clear-cut decision win.
Prediction: Muniz via decision
Lightweight: Jai Herbert vs. Fares Ziam
Best Win for Herbert? Kyle Nelson For Ziam? Jaime Mullarkey
Current Streak: Herbert is unbeaten in his last two, whereas Ziam won his last match
X-Factor: Herbert is vulnerable to getting hurt
How these two match up: This should be a full-on kickboxing match.
Herbert doesn’t have the prettiest UFC record, but the “Black Country Banger” has shown some great skills! He’s only lost to really talented names — Francisco Trinaldo, Renato Moicano, and Ilia Topuria — and he had some strong moments in all those losses, usually on the strength of his powerful range striking. Ziam, conversely, has failed to make much of a splash in his five UFC fights so far. He’s a pretty technical striker, but he hasn’t yet shown the level of activity or power necessary to break through the lower end of the Lightweight division.
On paper, Herbert looks like the better fighter. His striking is more fluid and powerful, and the wrestling seems likely to cancel out. The concerning bit, however, is that Herbert is nearly a decade older than his opponent, and he’s been proven a bit chinny in his previous UFC fights.
Both Trinaldo and Topuria can hit real dang hard, of course, but it’s a worrying trend that Herbert does really well until he’s suddenly rocked or unconscious. Against a young striker, that’s a problem.
Is Ziam the man to take advantage? I’m uncertain. He hasn’t really shown the power or killer instinct necessary, but it only takes one connection to change that. All in all, it feels very much like a coin flip.
Prediction: Herbert via decision
Featherweight: Lerone Murphy vs. Joshua Culibao
Best Win for Murphy? Douglas Silva de Andrade For Culibao? Seung Woo Choi
Current Streak: Murphy remains undefeated five fights into his UFC career, while Culibao has won three straight
X-Factor: Will Culibao look to wrestle?
How these two match up: For the final time, this should be an entertaining scrap.
It hasn’t been easy, but Murphy has maintained his perfect record. He’s a mean kickboxer who can do a ton of damage when able to take top position. His strength and power are definitely notable, but Murphy has had some close calls with getting held down by previous opponents. Fortunately, Culibao is a crafty kickboxer himself, a rangy fighter who varies his timing to sneak in good shots. In his last bout, his back was against the wall opposite the power kicks of Melsik Baghdasaryan, but he showed off his opportunistic grappling for the first time in jumping the back and scoring a finish.
He’ll need to pull a similar rabbit out of his hat here. Murphy is tough to deal with on the feet, which is why so many of his opponents spend their timing diving for his legs. That’s not typically Culibao’s game, so odds are, this one remains a kickboxing battle. In a striking match where skill and volume are reasonable even, power tends to make the difference.
Prediction: Murphy via decision
‘X-Factor’ Picks for 2023: 24-21-1 (2)
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.