Two of the three Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Mexican titlists get the spotlight this Saturday (July 8, 2023) when interim Featherweight champion, Yair Rodriguez, battles pound-for-pound great, Alexander Volkanovski, and Flyweight roost-ruler, Brandon Moreno, looks to finally defeat long-time rival, Alexandre Pantoja. UFC 290 also sees Robert Whittaker attempt to halt the rise of Dricus Du Plessis, uber-prospect Bo Nickal return to action against Tresean Gore, and Jalin Turner look to bounce back from defeat at the expense of Dan Hooker.
The nine scheduled UFC 290 “Prelims” bouts are split 5:4 between ESPN+ and ABC/ESPN. Let’s get that first batch out of the way ...
205 lbs.: Vitor Petrino vs. Marcin Prachnio
A knockout of UFC veteran Gadzhimurad Antigulov sent Vitor Petrino (8-0) to Contender Series, where “Pitbull” stopped Rodolfo Bellato to claim a UFC contract. His debut pitted him against fellow Contender Series alum, Anton Turkalj, whom Petrino out-struck en route to a unanimous decision win.
Four of his six knockout wins have come in the first round.
Marcin Prachnio (16-6) went through one of the worst UFC starts in recent memory thanks to three consecutive first round knockout losses. He’s since clawed his way out with wins in three of his last four bouts, the most recent of them a leg kick clinic against an immobile William Knight in Feb. 2023.
He faces a three-inch reach disadvantage.
After that string of destructive defeats, I couldn’t imagine Prachnio even staying conscious through four UFC bouts, much less winning three of them. Unfortunately for him, that run ends here. Petrino hits like a truck and has strong cardio besides, so even if Prachnio survives the first few minutes, he can’t expect Petrino to fall apart down the stretch like Khalil Rountree did.
Petrino has also been hurt before, but I trust his ability to fight through adversity much more than I do Prachnio’s. Even acknowledging Prachnio’s improvements, Petrino is just too fast and too powerful for him — expect a quick finish.
Prediction: Petrino via first round knockout
135 lbs.: Cameron Saaiman vs. Terrence Mitchell
Cameron Saaiman (8-0) went from EFC champ to UFC signee with an upset knockout of Josh Wang-Kim on Contender Series. He’s since racked up a pair of Octagon wins over Steven Koslow and Mana Martinez, both marred by multiple fouls.
“MSP” has knocked out five professional opponents and submitted one other.
Terrance Mitchell (14-2) brought the Alaska FC Flyweight belt into The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 24, where Kai Kara-France stopped him in 30 seconds. He fought just once in nearly six years afterward, returning to regular action in April 2022 and picking up a trio of wins.
He steps in for Christian Rodriguez on less than three weeks’ notice.
To be blunt, Mitchell’s record is smoke and mirrors. Alaska FC is one of the most notorious record-padding leagues in the sport and Alaska Combat Entertainment — where he’s spent his last three fights — might be even sketchier. Nothing in his career has prepared him for Saaiman; beating “MSP” requires keeping a level head in the face of overwhelming offense, and the last time anyone asked that of Mitchell, he fell apart in seconds against Kara-France.
The one thing Mitchell has going for him is a willingness to wrestle, which remains Saaiman’s biggest weakness. That said, it’s hard to see him finishing Saaiman on the ground or even keeping him there for long. In short, Saaiman weathers some early grappling trouble to batter Mitchell into submission.
Prediction: Saaiman via second round technical knockout
125 lbs.: Shannon Ross vs. Jesus Aguilar
Despite suffering a knockout loss to Vinicius Salvador on Contender Series — his second defeat in his previous three fights — Ross made his UFC walk against Kleydson Rodrigues six months later. It wasn’t to be a Cinderella story, as “KR” flattened “The Cannon” in 59 seconds.
He’ll have two inches of height and four inches of reach on Jesus Aguilar (8-2).
Two years after choking out Edgar Chairez for UWC’s Flyweight title, Aguilar used the same technique to dispatch Erisson Ferreira on Contender Series. This set up a clash with top prospect Tatsuro Taira, who tapped the +750 underdog late in the first round.
Five of his six submission wins have come by guillotine.
As deeply flawed as Aguilar is, it’s tough to have any faith in Ross. The raw aggression Aguilar brings to the table figures to work a treat, as Ross gets dropped with staggering regularity. Though Ross does have some height and reach advantages, he’s not skilled enough to keep Aguilar at bay or durable enough to survive when Aguilar gets inside.
Really, the only concern I have about Aguilar is his tendency to jump on hopeless guillotines, which could conceivably let Ross grind out some rounds from the top. More likely, though, Aguilar clubs-and-subs his way to his first UFC victory.
Prediction: Aguilar via first round submission
155 lbs.: Kamuela Kirk vs. Esteban Ribovics
Undaunted by consecutive losses to Billy Quarantillo and Bruno Souza, Kamuela Kirk (12-5) mauled his way past Guilherme Santos and Daniel Swain before beating Makwan Amirkhani in the Octagon on a one-month turnaround. The run wasn’t to last, as he succumbed to a Damon Jackson arm-triangle choke nine months later.
He fights for the first time in 16 months.
Esteban Ribovics (11-1) earned a pair of regional titles on the South American scene before stopping Thomas Paull in 90 seconds on Contender Series. The win earned “El Gringo” a UFC contract, which kicked off in March 2023 with a decision loss to late replacement Loik Radzhabov at UFC 285.
All of his professional wins have come inside the distance, six of them in the first round.
I was a true believer in Kirk ahead of his UFC debut, but he’s been deeply underwhelming in the Octagon. His seemingly solid wrestling is nowhere to be found and he got overpowered on the feet by Jackson, ostensibly a far more limited striker. Unless he was killing himself to make 145 pounds, it’s hard to see this going well for him. That’s because Ribovics is by far the more destructive of the two on the feet and even the hulking Radzhabov struggled to control him on the ground.
Kirk only wins this fight if he can consistently take down Ribovics and keep him there, which seems beyond his capabilities. In the end, Ribovics lands the heavier blows and uses his kimura attack to neutralize Kirk’s grappling en route to a wide decision win.
Prediction: Ribovics via unanimous decision
130 lbs.: Edgar Chairez vs. Tatsuro Taira
Edgar Chairez (10-4) started strong in his Contender Series battle with Clayton Carpenter, dropping his favored foe with a counter left hook, but found himself out-worked down the stretch en route to a decision loss. After rebounding with a 63-second submission win in UWC, he took on Gianni Vazquez for Fury FC’s Flyweight title, missing weight but emerging victorious with an armbar finish that went viral as one of the most horrifying late stoppages in recent memory.
“Pitbull” takes this fight on less than two weeks’ notice.
Tatsuro Taira (13-0) went undefeated as an amateur (9-0) and was perfect at a professional (10-0) before leaving the Japanese circuit for the Octagon. There, he picked up three one-sided victories over Carlos Candelario, C.J. Vergara and Jesus Aguilar, the latter two of which earned him “Performance of the Night.”
His 10 professional finishes include seven by submission.
I’m not entirely sure what UFC is doing with Taira. He’s young, entertaining and a consistent finisher — everything about him screams potential star. However, UFC matchmakers insist on burying him on the “Prelims” and feeding him out-matched Contender Series veterans.
That’s not to say Chairez doesn’t have a chance, but Taira is the stronger wrestler and submission artist, and Chairez’s defensive issues and inconsistent output give Taira the edge on the feet as well. In other words, expect Taira to dominate, holding his own on the feet and racking up takedowns before ultimately finding Chairez’s neck.
Prediction: Taira via second round submission
Four more UFC 290 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including the latest from all-action Strawweight prospect, Yazmin Jauregui. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 290 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard on ESPN/ESPN+/ABC at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC 290: “Volkanovski vs. Rodriguez” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.
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