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UFC 293 predictions, preview, and analysis

UFC 259: Blachowicz v Adesanya Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to the pay-per-view (PPV) market for the upcoming UFC 293 mixed martial arts (MMA) event, headlined by the middleweight title fight between reigning 185-pound kingpin Israel Adesanya and No. 5-ranked contender Sean Strickland. The action takes place this Sunday at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney, Australia, but airs Sat. night (Sept. 9) in most markets due to the discrepancy in time zones.

Remember, you’ll need a subscription to ESPN+ (sign up here) to stream UFC 293.

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!

Before we break down the five-fight PPV main card, which also features a heavyweight co-headliner pitting Russian bruiser Alexander “Drago” Volkov opposite hard-hitting local hero Tai “Bam Bam” Tuivasa, be sure to take a closer look at our comprehensive preview and predictions for this weekend’s UFC 293 preliminary undercard action on ESPNN and ESPN+ by clicking here and here. The latest UFC 293 odds and a complete betting guide for the entire “Adesanya vs. Strickland” PPV lineup can be located here.

Let’s see what the main card has in store for us this weekend “Down Under.”

185 lbs.: UFC Middleweight Champion Israel “The Last Stylebender” Adesanya (24-2) vs. Sean “Tarzan” Strickland (27-5)

UFC matchmakers rolled the dice on this card and came up snake eyes, rushing Israel Adesanya back in time for the Australian event with the expectation that Dricus De Plessis (or Robert Whittaker) would answer the call. Well, Du Plessis whooped Whittaker and cemented his place atop the list of 185-pound title hopefuls, then decided he wanted more time to celebrate his success, leaving UFC in a lurch. The only available contender who hadn't already been thrashed by “The Last Stylebender” was middleweight mental patient Sean Strickland, so “Tarzan” got the field promotion and found himself headlining his first major PPV event.

This is one of those “Excalibur” title fights; meaning, you find a knight who won a few jousts and give him a shot at pulling the sword from the championship stone. Strickland hasn’t done anything spectacular over the last few years and he came up short against Alex Pereira and Jared Cannonier, two fights that served as opportunities to prove he was a legitimate title contender worthy of fighting the best middleweight on the planet. That didn’t happen, leaving us with a very lean argument for the upset. What exactly does he bring to the table that Adesanya hasn't already faced and defeated? I’d probably feel a little more optimistic if Strickland had a win over the likes of Robert Whittaker or Marvin Vettori, or even Paulo Costa.

There is no such thing as an unwinnable fight in a sport as crazy as MMA and Strickland, in theory, could use his wrestling and jiu jitsu to shut down the champion’s kickboxing attack. But that would require the kind of disciplined gameplan that Strickland has historically abandoned in favor of the JUST BLEED offense. It nearly got him killed against Alex Pereira and will likely do him no favors here. In addition, “The Last Stylebender” was taken down a combined eight times in recent bouts against Whittaker and Vettori and still managed to win those fights, so Strickland scoring a takedown is hardly a game changer.

For Adesanya to retain, he simply needs to maintain distance and play Whac-A-Mole for 25 minutes. Strickland — who gives up three inches in height and four inches in reach — is a former welterweight who doesn’t have the power to score a one-hitter quitter, nor does he have the size and strength to keep Adesanya grounded. Let’s also point out the fact that the champion has a takedown defense of 77 percent. There’s no question that “Tarzan” is tough and he’s likely to keep himself in the fight, but his face is gonna look like a half-eaten pie floater by the time it’s all said and done.

Prediction: Adesanya def. Strickland by decision

265 lbs.: Tai “Bam Bam” Tuivasa (14-5) vs. Alexander “Drago” Volkov (36-10)

It’s hard to believe that Tai Tuivasa has already been with the promotion for six years heading into UFC 293, posting a record of 8-3 along with way with all but two of those fights ending within the distance. As you might expect from a former rugby player with a thirst for violence, “Bam Bam” lives and dies by the sword. His last seven fights have all ended by way of knockout, including his two recent losses to Ciryl Gane and Sergei Pavlovich. Those performances are the most telling, at least in terms of where the Aussie fits in the heavyweight title picture, because it exposed his limitations as a striker.

And if striking is all you bring to the table ...

Alexander Volkov is also a striker by trade and like his fight night opponent, has come up short against competition that would have otherwise propelled “Drago” into the 265-pound title picture. Instead, losses to Tom Aspinall and the aforementioned Gane have left him on the outside looking in. The Russian’s size is his biggest asset, thanks to a commanding 80-inch reach that makes his long-range jab a formidable weapon. It can also serve as his biggest weakness. Let’s face it, a lumbering, 6’7” heavyweight is not the hardest target in the world to hit, assuming you don’t get knocked silly upon entry.

So who wins this fight?

Tuivasa is here (both here in UFC and here in Australia) because he brings the heat in every fight. He’s also proven to be the kind of eccentric character (Shooeyvasa!) that fans love to cheer for (and buy tickets to see). UFC is as much spectacle as it is sport and “Bam Bam” checks both boxes. That said, I don’t think he’s got the striking chops to hang with a more well-round mixed martial artist like Volkov, who is coming off back-to-back knockout wins over Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Alexander Romanov. Unless “Drago” makes a stupid mistake, like he did against Derrick Lewis at UFC 229, this should be a 15-minute shooting gallery, not unlike his performance against Greg Hardy at UFC Moscow.

Prediction: Volkov def. Tuivasa by decision

125 lbs.: Manel “Starboy” Kape (18-6) vs. Felipe “Lipé Detona” dos Santos (7-0)

Manel Kape made a name for himself in Japan after tearing through the Rizin ranks with multiple highlight-reel knockouts. But some of the problems he faced inside the Octagon after signing with UFC back in early 2021 were also apparent in “The Land of the Rising Sun” if you examine his loss to Kyoji Horiguchi, a skilled opponent who is not easily baited into a go-for-broke firefight. “Starboy” opened his UFC run with consecutive losses to Alexandre Pantoja and Matheus Nicolau, but has since rebounded with three straight wins over solid competition. It would have been nice to see him against Kai Kara-France, a fight that would have established Kape as a bona fide title contender (or not), but the 30 year-old Kiwi was forced to withdraw due to injury.

In his place stands up-and-coming Brazilian bruiser Felipe dos Santos, a fiery young prospect who is still just 22 years old. “Lipé Detona,” a teammate of former UFC lightweight champion Charles Oliveira at Chute Boxe Diego Lima, was expected to compete on Dana White’s “Contender Series” late last month; however, his opponent withdrew due to medical issues, opening the door for this short-notice showdown. From the little I’ve seen of Dos Santos I can tell you he’s got that old-school Brazilian style worthy of the Chute Boxe moniker, constantly pressuring and unleashing hell in every exchange. That should at least give him a fighting chance against “Starboy” at UFC 293, but there’s really no argument for the upset outside of “puncher’s chance.” Kape has faced some of the best flyweights in the world all over the globe and has already proven he belongs in the Top 10 at 125 pounds.

Until we see otherwise, Dos Santos is just a young prospect with a lot of potential, yet to be realized on the big stage.

Prediction: Kape def. Dos Santos by knockout

265 lbs.: Austen Lane (12-3, 1 NC) vs. Justin “Bad Man” Tafa (6-3, 1 NC)

Note: Their first fight ended in less than 30 seconds after a brutal eye poke from Lane at UFC Jacksonville earlier this year, so matchmakers paired them back up for UFC 293. Therefore, we’ll go ahead and repost Andrew Richardson’s “X-Factor” breakdown from their first go-round since nothing has changed except the date.

Best Win for Lane? Juan Adams
For Justin Tafa? Parker Porter
Current Streak: Lane has won six straight ahead of his UFC debut, while Tafa has won his last two bouts
X-Factor: Lane is a former Jacksonville Jaguar!
How these two match up: Big ol’ power punchers are going to do their best to ensure we don’t see a second round.

Austen Lane is about what you would expect of a former NFL player-turned MMA fighter. He’s absolutely massive, and he definitely has plus attributes in terms of speed and power. His technical game and defense are still rough around the edges, but then, that’s pretty standard for heavyweight, is it not?

Justin Tafa has a rugby background rather than football, but these two share some similarities in terms of strengths and weaknesses. The difference is that Tafa has been a martial artist, specifically a striker, for quite some time longer and thus has more offensive tools at his disposal than pure power.

This is a classic heavyweight banger that could end in either man hitting the canvas face-first inside a couple minutes. Neither man has shown the skills to switch it up and take things to the canvas, so it really feels like a kickboxing match.

Seeing as both men can crack, I’ll side with the more fluid striker in Tafa. Lane has been stopped in all three of his losses, and it’s not unreasonable to call Tafa the most technical striker he’s faced. That’s not saying a lot, but if we’re betting on who finds the other’s chin first, I’m guessing that Tafa has a trick or two up his sleeve and lands first.

Prediction: Tafa by knockout

205 lbs.: Tyson Pedro (9-4) vs. Anton “The Pleasure Man” Turkalj (8-2)

Tyson Pedro turns 32 in just a few days and has been competing inside the Octagon for nearly seven years, but has less than 10 fights under the UFC banner because the Aussie missed four years of his competitive prime (from 2018-2022) due to injuries and personal setbacks. That said, Pedro didn't appear to suffer from any ring rust upon his return, smashing and trashing Isaac Villanueva and Harry Hunsucker in back-to-back wins to close out his 2022 fight campaign. The Kempo black belt would follow that up with an uncharacteristically tepid performance in a decision defeat to the streaking Modestas Bukauskas at UFC 284 earlier this year, a loss he blamed on a late case of gastroenteritis.

Side effects included “extreme diarrhea and vomiting.”

Anton Turkalj, who calls himself “The Pleasure Man” (which sounds super creepy in a sport that involves so much physical contact), will look for his first victory under the UFC banner after posting consecutive losses in his only two trips to the cage. After getting submitted by Jailton Almeida at UFC 279 — which is forgivable when you look at the torrid run “Malhadinho” has been on — Turkalj came up short on the judges’ scorecards against Vitor Petrino at UFC Las Vegas back in March. This is probably not the start anyone (particularly Turkalj) envisioned when the 27 year-old Swede captured a UFC contract as part of Dana White’s “Contender Series” proving ground back in summer 2022.

Expect things to go from bad to worse.

Unlike a lot of his Australian and New Zealand cohorts, like Tuivasa and Tafa, the well-rounded Pedro is a complete mixed martial artist with black belts in both Japanese jujitsu and Brazilian jiu-jitsu to complement his Kempo accomplishments. Credit his father John Pedro, who owned King of the Cage in Australia, for setting Pedro on the combat sports path. Turkalj was able to rack up a good record on the international circuit but has failed to replicate that success on the big stage. He even called Petrino “easy money” ahead of UFC Las Vegas ... then laid an egg when it came time to prove it. Calling Pedro the better fighter is not opinion, it’s fact, assuming we’re grading both athletes on the available data.

I’m expecting Pedro to smash “The Pleasure Man” and end this contest fairly quickly.

Prediction: Pedro def. Turkalj by knockout will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 293 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPNN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, followed by the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 293: “Adesanya vs. Strickland” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here. For the updated and finalized UFC 293 fight card and ESPN+ lineup click here.

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