Brash bruisers Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz lock horns inside Madison Square Garden this Saturday (Nov. 2, 2019), headlining UFC 244 in the inaugural “BMF” title fight. Fifteen pounds north, Darren Till makes his Middleweight debut against recent title challenger Kelvin Gastelum, while Stephen Thompson faces Vicente Luque in a pivotal Welterweight battle.
We’ve got four “Prelims” undercard bouts that remain to be examined (check out the first batch here), so let’s check out the ESPN 2 lineup:
265 lbs.: Corey Anderson vs. Johnny Walker
Corey Anderson (12-4) claimed victory on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 19 with three straight decisions in the house and a 61-second finish of Matt Van Buren at the Finale. He soon hit a 4-4 patch, but enters the cage this Saturday on the heels of three dominant victories.
“Overtime” will give up three inches of reach to the Brazilian.
Johnny Walker (17-3) emerged from “Contender Series: Brazil” to establish himself as a UFC contender with three bonus-winning first-round knockouts in less than three minutes combined. His most recent effort saw him flatten Misha Cirkunov with a flying knee in 36 seconds, then injure his shoulder during his victory dance.
Fourteen of his professional wins, including seven of his last nine, have come via (technical) knockout.
I’ve picked against Walker in all three of his UFC fights to date, and the infuriating part is that neither Justin Ledet nor Cirkunov got to use the parts of their games that I thought Walker would struggle with. We still have no idea how Walker will deal with strong wrestling or crisp boxing besides just knocking out his opponents before they have a chance to use it.
Anderson’s takedowns and pace slot nicely into the remaining unknowns in Walker’s game. He also, unfortunately, has a habit of getting sparked out of nowhere, which Walker does with disturbing regularity. In short, Walker catches him changing levels with something unpleasant.
Prediction: Walker via first-round technical knockout
145 lbs.: Shane Burgos vs. Makwan Amirkhani
Shane Burgos (12-1) fell short in his clash of prospects with Calvin Kattar in Jan. 2018, snapping a three-fight Octagon win streak in the progress. “Hurricane” Shane bounced back 10 months later with a comeback armbar of Kurt Holobaugh, then out-dueled Cub Swanson in Ontario for a unanimous decision win this past May.
He stands one inch taller than “Mr. Finland” and will enjoy a 3.5-inch reach advantage.
Makwan Amirkhani (15-3) claimed victory in his first three Octagon appearances, two by stoppage, before losing a narrow split decision to Arnold Allen in London. He scraped out a win over Jason Knight his next time out, then tapped Chris Fishgold with a bonus-winning anaconda choke in June.
This will be his first time fighting twice in a calendar year since 2015.
It’s honestly staggering how little striking Amirkhani has had to do during his Octagon tenure. He scores so many takedowns and spends so long on top that he’s never landed more than 18 standing strikes in a UFC fight. Unfortunately for him, that doesn’t seem to be an option here — Burgos boasts terrific takedown defense and the cardio to punish Amirkhani if the Finn’s gas tank gives out as it has in the past.
Though Burgos gets hit way too often, Amirkhani isn’t a sufficiently skilled striker to take advantage of that, and “Mr. Finland’s” going to eat an unprecedented amount of strikes trying (and failing) to execute his preferred gameplan. It’s touch-and-go for a round or so until Burgos’ volume wears down Amirkhani enough for “Hurricane” Shane to take over the fight.
Prediction: Burgos via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Brad Tavares vs. Edmen Shahbazyan
Brad Tavares (17-5) — the last remaining member of TUF 11 to remain in UFC besides Court McGee — started his Octagon career 7-1, only to drop three of his next four. His knockout loss to Robert Whittaker gave way to a fresh four-fight win streak, which ended with a loss to Israel Adesanya in Tavares’ first headlining appearance.
He replaces Krzysztof Jotko on one month’s notice.
Edmen Shahbazyan (10-0) entered “Contender Series” with nothing but first-round knockouts on his resume, a trend he continued with a 40-second knockout of Antonio Jones to earn a contract. He had to go the distance to get by Darren Stewart in his debut, but went on to stop Charles Byrd and Jack Marshman in a combined 1:40.
Five of his 10 wins have come in less than one minute apiece.
Shahbazyan has thus far cleared every hurdle I’d expected to trip him up. Neither Stewart’s toughness nor Karl Roberson’s ground game were enough to keep him from victory, and though I’d still like to see him go back into deep waters before calling myself a full convert, the signs are definitely good despite his horrible handicap of being trained by Edmund Tarverdyan.
Tavares might be able to give us additional info — he’s still a durable, technically adept wrestle-boxer with good low kicks, and he can definitely give Shahbazyan issues if he gets past the first few minutes. Judging by the latter’s recent efforts, though, that may prove problematic. Therefore, Shahbazyan wrecks him in the first few minutes.
Prediction: Shahbazyan via first-round technical knockout
265 lbs.: Andrei Arlovski vs. Jair Rozenstruik
Nearly 19 years after his Octagon debut, Andrei Arlovski (28-18) continues to chug along. Arlovski currently finds himself in the midst of a 3-8 (1 NC) skid, though he did upset former victim Ben Rothwell this past July to snap a four-fight winless streak.
“The Pitbull” faces one-inch height and reach disadvantages against “Bigi Boy.”
Jair Rozenstruik (8-0) entered his UFC debut against Junior Albini as an underdog, but after a rough first round, the Suriname native came back to knockout Albini with a head kick and punches. Four months later, he one-upped himself by flattening Allen Crowder in just nine seconds.
All but one of his wins have come by form of knockout, seven in the first round.
For those keeping track, this is the fifth time in Arlovski’s last six fights that UFC has put him up against a knockout specialist, and yet he’s gone the distance in each of those five previous bouts. He has this weird ability to turn punchers into tentative, gun-shy messes despite his own 13-fight knockout drought.
Then again, he still tends to lose to those fighters, and Rozenstruik has him beat in speed and power. Arlovski definitely has a chance between his wrestling and weird aptitude for hypnotism, but Rozenstruik just looks a bit too much. He clips Arlovski in the opening minutes and puts him away from there.
Prediction: Rozenstruik via first-round technical knockout
I don’t really think I need to try and sell this must-watch pay-per-view (PPV) show to you guys. See you Saturday, Maniacs!
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 244 fight card this weekend RIGHT HERE, starting with the Fight Pass/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN 2 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC 244: “Masvidal vs. Diaz” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.