Arguably the deepest Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) division sees its belt go up for grabs this Saturday (Aug. 19, 2023) when Bantamweight kingpin, Aljamain Sterling, squares off with knockout machine, Sean O’Malley, inside TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. Meanwhile, 20 pounds south, Brazilian finisher Amanda Lemos attempts to topple Strawweight empress, Zhang Weili, in UFC 292’s pay-per-view (PPV) co headliner, while Marlon Vera battles Pedro Munoz in a clash of two of the most violent and durable sluggers in mixed martial arts (MMA).
There will be four UFC 292 “Prelims” undercard bouts on the ESPN2/ESPN+ portion once Brad Katona’s opponent is finalized (checkout the first batch here), but at time of writing, just three are official. Let’s check them out ...
185 lbs.: Chris Weidman vs. Brad Tavares (19-9)
Once an undefeated, seemingly unimpeachable champion, Chris Weidman (15-6) sits at 2-6 since smashing Vitor Belfort in his third title defense. His most recent effort — a rematch with Uriah Hall more than a decade in the making — saw Weidman break his leg just 17 seconds into the first round (watch highlights ... if you dare).
This marks his first mixed martial arts (MMA) bout in nearly 28 months for “The All-American.”
Tavares followed his 3-1 The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 11 run with a 7-1 UFC start, then bounced back from a 1-3 skid by winning four straight. He enters the cage this Saturday having lost four of his last six, including a knockout loss to Bruno Silva in April 2023.
He gives up one inch of height and four inches of reach to Weidman.
On the bright side, I don’t see Weidman getting spectacularly injured in this match, which has become an increasingly common occurrence. That said, I don’t see him winning, either. Tavares excels at peppering opponents with jabs and leg kicks, while shutting down their takedowns. And while a fully intact Weidman would have been able to outmaneuver him and get his wrestling going anyway, I don’t trust this surgically repaired version to do so.
At this point in Weidman’s career, Tavares is a headache waiting to happen. Weidman doesn’t hit hard enough to crack Tavares’ shaky chin and he’s likely too slow at this point to deal with Tavares’ meat-and-potatoes offense. In the end, Tavares pot-shots his way to another decision victory.
Prediction: Tavares via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Gregory Rodrigues vs. Denis Tiuliulin
Despite falling to Jordan Williams on Contender Series, Gregory Rodrigues (13-5) racked up four wins and three post-fight bonuses in his first five UFC bouts. Then came late replacement Brunno Ferreira, who shocked “Robocop” with a one-punch knockout in Jan. 2023 (watch highlights).
He stands two inches taller than Denis Tiuliulin (11-7), but faces a two-inch reach disadvantage.
Tiuliulin’s 2022 UFC debut saw him step up on short notice to face Aliaskhab Khizriev, who forced him to tap midway through the second round. Though he bounced back with a knockout of Jamie Pickett, his grappling failed him once again when Jun Yong Park finished him via rear-naked choke.
All but one of his wins have come via knockout.
As with the Ferreira fight, Rodrigues has an incredibly easy and obvious way to win this fight. Tiuliulin simply does not have Octagon-worthy wrestling; in fact, if “Robocop” commits any effort toward bringing it to the mat, it’ll pay off. The issue is that Rodrigues just loves to slug it out — and though that works out for him more often than not — Tiuliulin’s got enough pop to turn his lights out.
Even with that risk, it’s hard to pick against Rodrigues here. He outright laps Tiuliulin on the ground and likely wins the standup more often than not thanks to his horrific power. So long as he doesn’t get too sloppy, he should bulldoze Tiuliulin wherever the fight goes.
Prediction: Rodrigues via first round technical knockout
155 lbs.: Austin Hubbard vs. Kurt Holobaugh
A decision loss to Vinc Pichel ended Austin Hubbard’s (15-6) Octagon run at 3-4, leaving him to rebuild with a pair of wins on the regional circuit. His efforts earned him a spot on TUF 31, where he punched his ticket to the finals with decisions over Aaron McKenzie and Roosevelt Roberts.
He faces a one-inch height disadvantage and a two-inch reach disadvantage.
Though he found consistent success in promotions like Titan FC, Kurt Holobaugh (19-7) struggled to secure victory in the Octagon, going winless (0-4) in two separate stints. That didn’t stop him from stealing the show on TUF 31, submitting Lee Hammond and overpowering Jason Knight in the consensus “Fight of the Season.”
His professional finishes are split 9:7 between submissions and knockouts.
Hubbard’s Kryptonite is superior wrestlers. He’s durable, persistent and a solid offensive grappler in his own right, but he’s been overpowered on multiple occasions. Luckily for him, he won’t have to worry about that here — Holobaugh’s best work came at 145 pounds and he’s always struggled with capable takedown artists.
Though Holobaugh is always dangerous and difficult to put away, I don’t see him swarming his way past Hubbard, especially not when Hubbard can neutralize his momentum with wrestling. Hubbard’s not shopworn nor undersized like Jason Knight; therefore, he’ll take Holobaugh’s best shot and power through to grind his way to TUF victory.
Final result: Hubbard via unanimous decision
Even if UFC 292’s lineup had a hatchet taken to it down the stretch, there’s still plenty worth watching. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Current Prediction Record for 2023: 115-71-1 (2 NC)
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 292 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard on ESPN2/ESPN+ 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 292: “Sterling vs. O’Malley” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.