The first of three UFC events this week, UFC Fight Night 80 goes down Thursday night and you’ll need UFC Fight Pass to see it. Paige VanZant and Rose Namajunas headline a card that also features wunderkind Sage Northcutt and Elias Theodorou. Let’s break it down.
Rose Namajunas ($9200) vs Paige VanZant ($10200)
“12-Gauge” Paige has become the latest star in women’s MMA, with fans loving her high-volume striking style. She’s outlanded her three UFC opponents 201-86, connecting at a 60% accuracy rate. She absorbs just two strikes for every five she delivers, and can also get fights to the ground if needed. She is the complete package. Rose Namajunas looked great in her fight against Angela Hill, but former champ Carla Esparza throttled her in the first-ever strawweight championship fight. This fight will take place at break-neck speed, something which favors VanZant since she is the more accurate striker. I look for VanZant to finish Namajunas in the latter rounds, in what should be a thrilling fight.
Pick: VanZant by KO/TKO
Michael Chiesa ($9700) vs Jim Miller ($9700)
Miller remains what he has always been: an exceptionally tough fighter that is dangerous on the ground. Michael Chiesa is almost the same thing, but with a lot less miles on him. I also like that he has height and reach advantage, but that is something Miller has dealt with in the entirety of his career. Still, I like the youth and hunger of Chiesa, plus his propensity to break his opponents will. I think it will be a great battle, but one that goes to the final bell. I’ll pass on playing it, but I’ll certainly enjoy watching it.
Pick: Chiesa by decision
Sage Northcutt ($11300) vs Cody Pfister ($8100)
Northcutt is the latest “It” fighter in the UFC, coming off an exciting UFC debut where he finished Francisco Trevino in less than a minute. He’s finished all six of his opponents in his pro career, and Pfister will be the seventh. Northcutt has a high salary, but it will be worth every dollar.
Pick: Northcutt by KO/TKO
Elias Theodorou ($10700) vs Thiago Santos ($8700)
Like Northcutt, Theodorou is a rising star who’s won all three of fights his in the UFC. His strikes landed to absorbed per minute ratio is about 4.5/1. He defends very well and his ground game is excellent too. Santos is coming off two exciting first-round finishes, but they were against bottom of the division fighters. Uriah Hall couldn’t finish Santos, but Theodorou will.
Pick: Theodorou by KO/TKO
John Howard ($8500) vs Tim Means ($10900)
This is my lock of the night. Howard is a plodding, low volume striker who has lost three of his last four. Means is a dynamic fighter who is an awkward matchup for anyone he faces. He will throw a variety of punches, kicks and elbows, and if it gets to the ground he’s fine there, too. I like Means to end this one early.
Pick: Means by KO/TKO
Omari Akhmedov ($9800) vs Sergio Moraes ($9600)
I absolutely love the ground game of Sergio Moraes, but Akhmedov is the better striker and certainly a capable grappler. Moraes will have a very tough time getting Akhmedov to the ground, in which case this becomes a standup battle, one that favors the heavy-handed Russian. Maybe not the first round, but a KO win is on the way for Akhmedov.
Pick: Akhmedov by KO/TKO
Antonio Carlos Junior ($10600) vs Kevin Casey ($8800)
Speaking of killer ground games, both Antonio Carlos Junior and Kevin Casey excel in Jiu Jitsu. Casey seems to gas in every fight. I like Carlos Jr. to break Casey’s will in the third, beating him at his own game with a submission. Cardio is king, at least when opponents are evenly matched like they are here.
Pick: Carlos Jr. by submission
Aljamain Sterling ($11000) vs Johnny Eduardo ($8400)
Sterling has every advantage over Eduardo, save for experience. He absorbs very little punishment at just 1.12 strikes per minute, excels at getting takedowns and has tremendous speed. The problem here is Eduardo, who is an exceptionally tough out. Sterling is a rising star and getting better with each fight in the Octagon, but I’m not sure I want to spend $11k of my salary cap on him, mostly due to the toughness of Eduardo. I think Sterling will win, but by decision.
Pick: Sterling by decision
Santiago Ponzinibbio ($10500) vs Andreas Stahl ($8900)
Ponzinibbio is just 2-2 in the UFC, but he’s a much better fighter than his record suggests. He will be able to be the predator here, unlike his fight with Lorenz Larkin. I like his power to take over early, and he should score an early knockout of Andreas Stahl. This isn’t a good matchup for him.
Pick: Ponzinibbio by KO/TKO
Danny Roberts ($10100) vs Nathan Coy ($9300)
Nathan Coy has bounced around, having fought in both Bellator and Strikeforce, while also competing on TUF 21 as a member of American Top Team. He was nearly killed in his last fight in Bellator, and at age 37 it seems to be asking a lot of him to out duel a younger, faster opponent in Danny Roberts. But Roberts is also making his UFC debut, and Coy is an outstanding wrestler, or just the kind of guy a striker does not want to face. I think Coy can grind this one out, but at $9300 I doubt he’ll earn enough fantasy points to make him a worthwhile pick.
Pick: Coy by decision
Phillipe Nover ($9000) vs Zubaira Tukhugov ($10400)
Quite frankly, I’m not all that sure why Phillipe Nover was invited back to the UFC. His first run was horrendous and he really didn’t thrill crowds during his time in Bellator or Ring of Combat. Tukhugov is considered to be an excellent prospect, and at age 24 already has 20 pro fights to his name. He also is growing into more of a power puncher, something Nover will witness first hand.
Pick: Tukhugov by KO/TKO
Kailin Curran ($10800) vs Emily Kagan ($8600)
Curran put on a heck of a show in her loss against Paige VanZant last November, then dropped another fight to Alex Chambers in May. But she gets a great matchup in this bout against Emily Kagan, who ate an insane 107 strikes in her loss against Angela Hill. Curran will use her speed and striking to beat up Kagan, and she’ll finish her in the third round.
Pick: Curran by KO/TKO