We won’t get to see Dan Henderson and Lyoto Machida do battle after the UFC canceled the bout due to a USADA violation by Machida. But there is still plenty to enjoy on this Fox card with the return of Khabib Nurmagomedov, a killer women’s fight between Tecia Torres and Rose Namajunas, and an important lightweight fight between Beneil Dariush and Michael Chiesa. Let’s break them all down.
Rashad Evans ($9100) vs Glover Teixeira ($10300)
Rashad Evans has fought just once since 2013, a loss to Ryan Bader at UFC 192. He mustered little offense in that fight, landing just 25 significant strikes and going 0-3 on takedowns. It was a woeful performance. He was coming off a layoff of almost two years, and that might have had something to do with it. But Evans has always been a low-volume striker who relies on takedowns and power punches to win fights. At age 36, I don’t see Evans making any wholesale changes to his game. Glover Teixeira is still at the top of his game and another title shot is not out of the question. Glover is a high-volume striker with solid all-around skills. He’ll thwart any offense from Evans and will eventually knock him out.
Pick: Teixeira by KO/TKO
Khabib Nurmagomedov ($11400) vs Darrell Horcher ($8000)
Nurmagomedov is the #2-ranked lightweight in the UFC. He was initially scheduled to fight Tony Ferguson, but he had to withdraw due to injury. He’ll get UFC newcomer Darrell Horcher, and this should be a squash match. Nurmagomedov is 22-0, and in his last fight he beat current UFC lightweight champ Rafael Dos Anjos. This is a mortal lock, and I would think ownership will be extremely high for Nurmagomedov.
Pick: Nurmagomedov by KO/TKO
Tecia Torres ($9200) vs Rose Namajunas ($10200)
Torres and Namajunas will rematch after meeting in Invicta back in 2013, a fight Torres won via unanimous decision. The hype behind Namajunas is at a fever pitch after she dissembled and dominated Paige VanZant in her last fight, submitting her in the final round. Torres also has a win against VanZant and remains undefeated as a pro. Here’s why I like Torres to win the rematch: She’s never been taken down in the UFC, she lands 4.56 significant strikes per minute, and she absorbs very little punishment due to her speed and defense. Torres will win the rounds and the fight, but it will be by decision. Torres has averaged just over 64 points per fight, and that’s what you can expect from her with a decision win here.
Pick: Torres by decision
Beneil Dariush ($10000) vs Michael Chiesa ($9400)
Two southpaws, both ground specialists, both ranked in the top 15. This is a very important fight in the UFC lightweight division, and it could be the fight of the night. Dariush is the more-polished striker, and lands more volume than Chiesa. Dariush had difficulty with Michael Johnson’s striking, but Chiesa is nowhere close to Johnson’s level with his hands. This is an extremely tough fight to pick, but I lean toward Dariush with the belief that he is the more well-rounded striker, where I presume much of this fight to take place since both fighters are difficult to take down.
Pick: Dariush by decision
Bethe Correia ($9500) vs Raquel Pennington ($9900)
Apparently pundits and fans have given up on Bethe Correia. Making her first appearance since getting knocked out by Ronda Rousey, Correia needs a win to remain in the top-10 of the women’s bantamweight division. It’s not going to happen. Pennington has proven to be one of the toughest, grittiest fighters in MMA. She’s lost twice in the UFC, both split decisions. One was to Holly Holm and the other to Jessica Andrade. She choked out Andrade in a rematch last year. Correia will come out looking to brawl right away, but Pennington will endure that test, then take Correia down and beat her up over three rounds. She’ll get the TKO finish in the third.
Pick: Pennington by KO/TKO
Santiago Ponzinibbio ($10100) vs Court McGee ($9300)
Speaking of tough fighters, Court McGee is as game as they come. He fights at a furious pace, and landing over five significant strikes per minute. He’s also adept at getting takedowns, averaging over two per fight. Ponzinibbio has excellent power, but no one has been able to knock McGee out yet. If McGee can continue that streak, he will outwork, out-land and beat Ponzinibbio up on the feet and the ground. He will get takedowns that will help him take close rounds, and I think he wins by decision in a small upset.
Pick: McGee by decision
Cub Swanson ($9800) vs Hacran Dias ($9600)
Cub Swanson has dropped two straight, both submission losses, both at the very end of those fights. Those were to Max Holloway and Frankie Edgar, two of the best in the UFC. But Swanson rolls over guys like Dias. He’s ranked #10 in the division, but I’ve yet to see anything remarkable from Dias other than his ability to get takedowns. Unfortunately for Cub, the ground game has been his bane over those last two losses, getting taken down by Edgar seven times and submitted by Holloway. Still, Swanson remains one of the fastest featherweights, and I think his hand speed will be too much for Dias. Look for Cub to get back to his winning ways, being the first to put Dias out.
Pick: Swanson by KO/TKO
Manny Gamburyan ($8200) vs John Dodson ($11200)
Dodson is nearly impossible to take down, and that’s the area where Gamburyan excels. Demetrious Johnson is the only fighter to ever take down Dodson, handing him the only losses in his UFC career. Dodson will stuff most if not all of Gamburyan’s takedown attempts, and even if he does get taken down he will get right back up. He’ll use his speed and to move in and out and land strikes, which will be the key to his decision win. It won’t be worth $11200 though.
Pick: Dodson by decision
Randy Brown ($10400) vs Michael Graves ($9000)
Here we have the upset special of the card. Graves took Vicente Luque down seven times in his UFC debut after appearing on TUF. While he didn’t throw a large amount of strikes, he was accurate, landing at a 60% clip. Brown comes from Dana White’s “Looking For a Fight” show, and he bested Matt Dwyer in his debut. But I think he’s in for a whole different level and style of offense against Graves. Look for Graves to repeat what he did against Luque in piling up the takedowns, but this time he will end the fight with a submission.
Pick: Graves by submission
Drew Dober ($8800) vs Islam Makhachev ($10600)
I was a bit surprised when Dober defeated Scott Holzman at UFC 195, and I will be very surprised if Dober is able to beat Makhachev. The Russian is a takedown machine, and he should be able to put Dober on his back repeatedly. Dober has shown susceptibility to being subbed, so unfortunately this is a bad style matchup for him. It should be Makhachev early with the submission win.
Pick: Makhachev by submission
Cezar Ferreira ($8900) vs Oluwale Bamgbose ($10500)
Bamgbose replaced Caio Magalhaes, much to the chagrin of Cezar Ferreira. Bamgbose has incredible power and Ferreira is very hittable. This has all the signs of it being a squash, with Bamgbose putting Ferreira to sleep early in round one.
Pick: Bamgbose by KO/TKO
Omari Akhmedov ($9700) vs Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos ($9700)
Akhmedov has fought five times in the UFC, yet somehow, this will be in the first fight of the prelims come Saturday. That strikes me as odd. Zaleski has fought just once in the UFC, but he put on a nice performance against Nicolas Dalby, a fight he would lose by split decision. He out-landed Dalby in that fight but was taken down over and over. It’s possible that Akhmedov can take Zaleski down, but he’ll have to get inside first. Zaleski has heavy hands and good striking, so I think the conventional wisdom here is correct: Zaleski will lay Akhmedov out early.
Pick: Zaleski dos Santos by KO/TKO