clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

UFC 292 predictions, preview, and analysis

UFC Fight Night: Open Workouts Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Aljamain Sterling’s last stand.

The reigning UFC bantamweight champion will face No. 2-ranked title contender Sean O’Malley with the division crown up for grabs atop the UFC 292 pay-per-view (PPV) card, signed, sealed, and soon to be delivered to MMA fans on Sat. night (Aug. 19, 2023) at TD Garden in Boston, Mass., a five-round headliner that could be the final appearance for “Funk Master” at 135 pounds, assuming this previous prediction comes to pass in the months that follow.

But none of that means jack squat without a victory in “Beantown.”

LIVE! Watch UFC 293 PPV On ESPN+ Here!

MASSIVE MIDDLEWEIGHT MATCH! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) makes its highly anticipated return to Sydney, Australia, for the first time in five years on Sat., Sept. 9, 2023, with a 185-pound world title fight inside Qudos Bank Arena. In the ESPN+-streamed pay-per-view (PPV) main event, Middleweight roost-ruler, Israel Adesanya, plans to silence No. 5-seeded contender, Sean Strickland. In UFC 293’s hard-hitting Heavyweight co-main event, No-6-ranked fan favorite, Tai Tuivasa, locks horns with towering Russian, Alexander Volkov (No. 8).

Don’t miss a single second of EPIC face-punching action!

Also joining the UFC 292 lineup is current strawweight champion Weili Zhang. “Magnum” will look to quell the uprising of battle-tested Brazilian bruiser Amanda Lemos in the 25-minute co-main event. Rounding out the main card, which streams exclusively on ESPN+ PPV (order here), Ian Machado Garry will try to pass through the welterweight gate at the expense of 170-pound keeper Neil Magny, not long after Mario Bautista and Da’Mon Blackshear collide at 135 pounds.

Opening the UFC 292 main card is the bantamweight banger between Marlon Vera and Pedro Munhoz.

Before we break down the five-fight PPV main card, be sure to take a closer look at our comprehensive preview and predictions for this weekend’s preliminary undercard action on ESPN and ESPN+ by clicking here and here. The latest UFC 292 odds and a complete betting guide for the entire “Sterling vs. O’Malley” PPV event can be located here. Remember, you’ll need a subscription to ESPN+ to order this weekend’s fight card (get one here), but it comes with complete access to all the subsequent UFC “Fight Night” events in 2023 and beyond (or until you cancel your subscription).

Let’s talk shop.

135 lbs.: UFC Bantamweight Champion Aljamain “Funk Master” Sterling (23-3) vs. “Suga” Sean O’Malley (16-1, 1 NC)

Aljamain Sterling made his Octagon debut nearly a decade ago, capturing a decision victory over Cody Gibson at UFC 170 back in early 2014. Yes, the same “Renegade” who returns to UFC this weekend after a successful run on TUF 31. In the years following that fight, Sterling has competed 17 times and scored two wins by knockout/technical knockout and one of them came against TJ Dillashaw, who blew out his shoulder in their UFC 280 title fight. That statistic tells you everything you need to know about Sterling’s striking, which has been called “god awful” by some of his peers. “Funk Master” still out-strikes most of his opponents because he’s able to take them down, keep them down, and hammer away at will. It’s not always the most exciting method of attack, but it’s effective.

You can expect the champion to employ a similar offense against the heavy-handed O’Malley and why not? Sterling was an imposing Division III collegiate wrestler who transitioned well to cage fighting, weaving in a formidable submission game that garnered four taps under the UFC banner. That may not sound overly impressive on paper, but no two submission finishes were the same, the mark of a well-rounded grappler. The takedown is never guaranteed and we’ve seen Sterling take a few sloppy, long-distance shots that got him nowhere fast, so his patience in the face of incoming fire could be the determining factor in how often the challenger finds himself on the floor. What I can say for certain is that “Suga” fans can’t be feeling too confident after watching O’Malley get put on his ass six times in three rounds by Petr Yan at UFC 280. Yes, O’Malley won that fight, but is that really the performance you want to use in your argument for dethroning the best bantamweight in the world?

I also don’t think Sterling gets enough credit for his durability. Aside from his knockout loss to Marlon Moraes, thanks to a violent knee that would have felled a heavyweight, “Funk Master” has never been stopped. O’Malley has one-punch knockout power, no question, but he’s also gone to a decision three times in UFC and was losing the first round against Pedro Munhoz (and got out-struck) before that UFC 276 fight was declared a “No Contest.” That’s not an attempt to be dismissive of what “Suga” brings to the table; rather, a reminder that fight-ending knockouts are never a foregone conclusion, no matter how powerful the opponent.

I think most of us have gotten past the “Sterling keeps getting lucky” narrative and have now accepted that he’s the top bantamweight in the promotion who digs deep and finds a way to win, which is what great champions do. “Suga” is probably the most dangerous puncher he’s ever faced, just as Sterling is the most accomplished wrestler to ever compete against O’Malley. I know 25 minutes is a long time to fight without eating something solid, just as I also know how difficult it can be to throw knockout punches from your back. Assuming Sterling doesn’t get lazy with his shooting, which could end in a Moraes-like collapse, I expect him to treat O’Malley like Rory MacDonald treated Nate Diaz at UFC 129.

Prediction: Sterling def. O’Malley by unanimous decision

115 lbs.: UFC Strawweight Champion Zhang “Magnum” Weili (23-3) vs. Amanda “Amandinha” Lemos (13-2-1)

Zhang Weili is once again strawweight champion after a rather easy day at the office last November, when “Magnum” took out Carla Esparza like that soda machine took out Little Leaguers in Maximum Overdrive. I’m sure Weili is not shedding any tears over the departure of her two biggest rivals in Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Rose Namajunas. The former retired after losing five of her last seven while the latter jumped to flyweight following a frustrating loss to “Cookie Monster” at UFC 274. Those hasty exits likely paved the way for No. 5-ranked Amanda Lemos, who leapfrogs Xiaonan Yan (No. 3) and Tatiana Suarez (No. 4) to earn her crack at the division crown. It’s hard to make a case against Weili, whose only two losses over the last decade came against Namajunas. One of those defeats was registered by way of split decision in a bout many media outlets scored in favor of “Magnum.” Outside of those performances, the Sanda champion out of Handan won seven fights under the UFC banner with four nasty finishes, split evenly between knockouts and submissions. She also sports more than a dozen takedowns inside the Octagon, giving her the option to take things south when it gets dicey on the feet.

Lemos is no slouch herself, mirroring Weili with a 7-2 record in UFC but the Brazilian has one more finish to her credit. She’s also been finished in both her losses, courtesy of a technical knockout defeat at the hands of Leslie Smith at UFC Fight Night 113, followed by a submission loss to Jessica Andrade at UFC Vegas 52. I don’t want to open any of the expensive champagne for Lemos’ submission win over Michelle Waterson, who’s now sporting double-digit losses after dropping five of her last six, but I will admit to be impressed by the way Lemos handled Top 10 contender Marina Rodriguez in their UFC Vegas 64 headliner. “Amandinha” out-struck all but one of her opponents in her seven wins and keeps a high-pressure pace, which probably won’t do much to intimidate Weili or keep her from moving forward. The inimitable “Magnum” embraces violence in every one of her fights and would be more than happy to stand in the pocket and go for broke. That said, her fan-friendly style may work against her since the Brazilian has a two-inch reach advantage, so expect more grappling than we saw in some of her previous bangfests, like the first Jedrzejczyk fight.

Weili has four post-fight performance bonuses in her last six bouts, against two for Lemos. These are two of the most exciting (and most violent) strawweights in the game and I expect them to bring the heat this weekend in Boston. Lemos is dangerous and cannot be easily dismissed ahead of this five-round title fight because she’s so good in every aspect of the game.

Unfortunately for “Amandinha,” Weili is just a little bit better.

Prediction: Weili def. Lemos by unanimous decision

170 lbs.: Neil “The Haitian Sensation” Magny (28-10) vs. Ian “The Future” Garry (12-0)

Ian Machado Garry is supposed to be the next big thing at welterweight, which is something we hear a lot these days. Jack Della Maddalena was also the bees knees at 170 pounds, but his performance against regional bruiser Bassil Hafez may have taken some of the bloom off the rose. As for former “next big thing,” Khamzat Chimaev, he ended up moving to middleweight so I guess “The Future” is now. Garry is 12-0 overall and 5-0 in UFC, which is certainly a great start, but maybe we can wait to see how he fares against a longtime veteran like Neil Magny before we break out the party horns. Like most people, I was impressed by Garry’s first-round destruction of Daniel Rodriguez at UFC Charlotte but the way some of these pundits were acting you would think “D-Rod” was Kamaru Usman or something.

The 25 year-old Irishman is now training out of Kill Cliff FC and has out-struck his opponents 358-214. Considering Magny is not the most prolific striker and has just one knockout over the last seven years, I can’t imagine he’ll be looking to keep this fight standing and honestly, there’s no reason to when Song Kenan was two-for-three in takedowns against Garry. That’s really the story of this fight. I don’t typically make a strong case for combatants competing on short notice, but Magny was already preparing for UFC 292 as coach for Austin Hubbard and remained in fighting shape when the call came in to replace the injured Geoff Neal.

“The Haitian Sensation” holds the record for most wins in welterweight history because he knows how to neutralize dangerous strikers, scoring 15 takedowns (combined) in winning performances against Carlos Condit, Robbie Lawler, and Daniel Rodriguez. Working in his favor is the fact that he only needs three rounds to beat “The Future” and a couple of well-timed takedowns may be the means to that end. In addition, Garry likes to walk forward and apply pressure, which could also serve Team Magny, at least in terms of securing the takedown.

I know it’s fun to board a fast-moving hype train and Garry checks all the boxes. I just can’t rubber stamp the victory when he’s been taken down by three different opponents. The difference in those fights, as opposed to Sat. night’s showdown against “The Haitian Sensation,” is that the 6’3” Magny is the same size as Garry and will do a far superior job of keeping him down. Expect Garry to have his moments, but Magny’s wrestling will do enough to sway the judges when it matters most.

Prediction: Magny def. Garry by unanimous decision

135 lbs.: Mario Bautista (12-2) vs. Da’Mon “Da Monster” Blackshear (14-5-1)

Mario Bautista has been a pleasant surprise at 135 pounds after a rocky start in his UFC debut. At first, it appeared the Arizonan would be cannon fodder for the upper half of the bantamweight division, but Bautista was able to rebound from his submission loss to Cory Sandhagen to capture six of his next seven and he’s currently the winner of four straight. That includes his first-round submission victory over Guido Cannetti at UFC Las Vegas back in March. For this contest he’ll give up inches in both height and reach and will need to control the wrestling like he did in his last four wins. His opponent, Da’Mon Blackshear, is stepping up on short notice to replace the ailing Cody Garbrandt. You can argue that Bautista spent his entire camp training for a different style, but Blackshear didn't even have a camp, filling in just a week after his bonus-winning submission win over Jose Johnson at UFC Vegas 78.

Blackshear also had a rough start to his UFC career, opening with a draw against Youssef Zalal at UFC San Diego before falling to Farid Basharat at UFC 285 the following March. “Da Monster” has lived up to his nickname on the ground, securing nine submission victories in 14 wins, including his twister over “No Way” last weekend in “Sin City.” Whether or not that pedigree deters or at least tempers the wrestling attack of his opponent remains to be seen, but Bautista is no slouch on the mats himself, owning six taps in 12 wins. Considering this is a three-round fight and Blackshear is merely a week removed from his last performance, I don’t expect his conditioning to be an issue. What I do expect is “Da Monster” to capitalize on his momentum, which is one of those weird intangibles that is difficult to measure, at least quantitatively, but nonetheless existent in the world of athletic competition. A first-round finish would not surprise me.

Prediction: Blackshear def. Bautista by submission

135 lbs.: Marlon “Chito” Vera (20-8-1) vs. Pedro “The Young Punisher” Munhoz (20-7, 2 NC)

For awhile there, it looked as though bantamweight veteran Marlon Vera was going to make a serious run at the 135-pound title, racking up four straight wins and scoring finishes over the likes of Sean O’Malley and Dominick Cruz. In fact, “Chito” was ranked No. 3 in the division and perhaps one fight away from getting the next crack at the bantamweight crown. Unfortunately, Vera was unable to maintain his momentum, falling to fellow title hopeful Cory Sandhagen at UFC San Antonio earlier this year, sending him down three spots in the rankings to No. 6. Whether or not “Chito” remains a legitimate threat to the top half of the division is likely to be determined by his performance in Boston, because you could also make the argument that Vera — outside of O’Malley — was on a hot streak because of favorable matchmaking. Let’s face it, former champion Frankie Edgar and Dominick Cruz were already past their expiration dates and the unheralded Davey Grant is not ranked in the division Top 15.

Pedro Munhoz has also faced the likes of Edgar and Cruz but lost, part of a 2-4 record across his last six fights that left him ranked at No. 10 at 135 pounds, one spot below Cruz. “The Young Punisher” is coming off a decision win over No. 15-ranked Chris Gutierrez, his only victory over a fighter currently ranked in the Top 15 since taking a decision victory over Rob Font more than six years ago. It would have been nice to see how the O’Malley fight played out when they clashed at UFC 276; but alas, the eye poke of doom sent them both to the showers midway through the second stanza. Munhoz is not unlike Vera in that he’s super durable and has never been finished. He’s also got a nice mix of knockouts and submissions to his credit, proving he’s a well-rounded mixed martial artist and not just a Brazilian brute who can take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.

Vera and Munhoz have a combined 15 post-fight performance bonuses, which is why they’ve been charged with opening the PPV main card. Statistically speaking, they are pretty much even across the board in both offensive and defensive numbers. I’m giving the edge to Vera because he’s a proven winner and still just 30 years old, competing in his fighting prime. Munhoz turns 37 in just a few weeks and that’s certainly not over the hill, but MMA is often compared to football because it’s a game of inches. When every advantage counts, it’s hard to pick against “Chito” for this high-octane matchup.

Prediction: Vera def. Munhoz by unanimous decision will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 292 fight card right RIGHT HERE, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches at 6:30 p.m. ET, followed by the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/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. For the updated and finalized UFC 292 fight card and ESPN+ lineup click here.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Mania Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Mania