WATCH: TOMMY TOE HOLD FIGHT BREAKDOWN


The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns this weekend with UFC on FOX 23, which takes place Saturday night at Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. The UFC has put together an excellent free TV card for fight fans, one that will likely deliver a number of action-packed bouts.

Here are the top-five things you need to look out for this weekend at UFC on FOX 23.

Pena Fights Shevchenko

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The main event of UFC on FOX 23 is a five-round women’s bantamweight bout between Julianna Pena ($7,800) and Valentina Shevchenko ($8,400). Pena won The Ultimate Fighter and has since gone 4-0 in the UFC including a huge win over former title challenger Cat Zingano in her last outing. The 27-year-old is known for her strong wrestling and ability to wear down and outlast her opponents. She has the ability to finish fights on the ground against anyone as she’s proven, but her striking is also still in the rudimentary phase and that’s what she needs to keep working on if she wants to become a champion.

Shevchenko, who is 28, is 2-1 in the UFC and in her last outing she picked up a huge win over former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm. Her only loss in the UFC is to current champ, Amanda Nunes. Shevchenko is a well-rounded fighter with an impressive striking attack, underrated grappling and solid cardio. She showed a ton of improvements against Holm, and if she can continue to improve, she certainly has the chance to make things interesting in a rematch with Nunes. But to get there, she’ll first have to take out Pena and that won’t be easy.

Analysis: This is a tough fight to call, but ultimately I lean towards Shevchenko to win the fight. She proved against the former champion Holm that she can go a strong 25 minutes, whereas Pena has never gone the full five rounds before. Pena is an excellent wrestler but Shevchenko should have the takedown defense to keep this fight on the feet where she should hold the striking edge.


Cerrone Looks To Keep Rolling

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Two welterweights on a roll will look to keep their winning ways going when Donald Cerrone ($8,900) takes on Jorge Masvidal ($7,300) in the co-main event. Cerrone, who is now 33, is one of the UFC’s most exciting fighters and also one of the most active, as he consistently fights four times a year. Cerrone, who grew up in Denver, is an incredible 19-4 in the UFC and has won four-straight fights via stoppage since moving up to welterweight. In total, he’s won 12 of his last 13 fights and is one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport right now. He has an incredibly well-rounded game with a devastating striking attack, a slick submission game, underrated wrestling, a solid gas tank and a good chin. He’s simply one of the most exciting fighters in the sport, and a win over Masvidal could earn him a shot at the welterweight title.

As for the 32-year-old Masvidal, the long-time veteran is 8-4 in the UFC and is currently riding a two-fight win streak with a first-round finish over Jake Ellenberger his last time out. Since moving up to welterweight, Masvidal is 3-2 with two finishes, and both his losses were competitive split decisions that he could have won. The Cuban-American is a very well-rounded fighter with an excellent striking attack, especially his boxing, plus solid wrestling chops and an underrated ground game. He also is as durable as they come, having only been stopped three times in 42 fights, including only one knockout loss. Plus, he has great cardio. The problem though is that he is inconsistent from fight to fight and occasionally has a fight where he doesn’t do enough and loses a decision that he could have won had he done more. And if that happens against Cerrone, a guy who always comes to perform, it could end up being another one of those fights for “Gamebred.”

Analysis: This should be a very exciting and competitive fight, but I lean towards a Cerrone win. He’s looked incredible since moving up to welterweight and is a much more consistent performer than Masvidal, who is probably going to be durable enough to not get finished. I’m looking for Cerrone to win a competitive decision in what should be a “Fight of the Night” candidate.


Ngannou Takes on Arlovski

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Surging heavyweight contender Francis Ngannou ($9,600) gets the toughest test of his career to date when he takes on former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski ($6,600) in a fight that should feature a highlight-reel knockout. Ngannou, who is 30, is 4-0 in the UFC with four finishes and looks like a future champion. In fact, all nine of his career victories have come via stoppage, and he’s only lost once, early on in his career when he was still very green in MMA. Ngannou is a massive heavyweight with incredible athleticism for a big man, and he keeps improving every single fight. He has huge knockout power in his fists, and in his last outing he showed a new wrinkle in his game as he submitted Anthony Hamilton with a kimura. Ngannou truly looks like a future champion, and a win over Arlovski would put him in title contention.

Arlovski, with a 14-7 record in the UFC, has the tools to make this fight interesting. Although he is 37 now, he is still a dangerous heavyweight as he showed with his knockout win over Travis Browne, but with three-straight losses it’s clear he’s on the downside of his career. Arlovski has won 17 of his 25 career victories by knockout, so he clearly has power, but he’s also been knocked out nine times, and that is a huge concern fighting a guy like Ngannou who can knock anyone out with one punch.

Analysis: Heavyweight fights can go either way, but in this particular fight I highly favor Ngannou to win. The guy is simply a freak athlete with gigantic knockout power, and Arlovski is an aging fighter who has a weak chin. I’m looking for Ngannou to catch Arlovski early on and put his lights out for another spectacular finish as he continues his march up the heavyweight ladder.


Alvey Aims For Fourth-Straight Win

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A pair of veteran middleweights meet in the main event of the preliminary card as Sam Alvey ($9,000) takes on Nate Marquardt ($7,200). Alvey is 6-3 in the UFC with five finishes and he has won his last three fights. At 30, Alvey is in the prime of his career and is poised to finally break into the top-15 at 185lbs. As far as his fighting style goes, Alvey may not the most athletic fighter on the roster, but he makes up for that with huge knockout power, as 18 of his career 29 victories have come via TKO. When he touches someone’s chin, it’s lights out. And he is extremely durable, having only been TKOed once in his career.

As for Marquardt, who trains in Denver, the former middleweight title contender is an impressive 13-8 in the UFC and is still the only man to knock out the highly-regarded Demian Maia. However, Marquardt is now 37 and although he has won two of his last three fights by KO, he’s still only 3-3 over his last six fights and has been knocked out four times in his last eight outings, something which is concerning against a guy with big power like Alvey. Having said that, Marquardt is the superior mixed martial artist and has a better ground game, as well as a more versatile striking attack, which he showed with his head kick KO of Tamdan McCrory in his last outing. But with his chin diminished and with his advanced age, this could prove to be a very bad night for “The Great.”

Analysis: Marquardt has looked better as of late, but it’s still hard to trust his chin against a power striker like Alvey. I’m looking for Alvey to catch Marquardt on the chin in the first round and score another impressive knockout victory.


Bantamweights Assuncao, Sterling Meet

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Top-five ranked bantamweights Raphael Assuncao ($8,200) and Aljamain Sterling ($8,000) meet on the preliminary card in what is a very important fight in the 135lb division. Assuncao is 34 and is 7-2 overall in the UFC. The Brazilian, who is a well-rounded fighter with a solid ground game and impressive striking attack, was on a seven-fight win streak and was well on his way to getting a title shot, but he lost a decision to TJ Dillashaw at UFC 200 which set him back. Now he must get past Sterling to put himself back in the title picture, but it won’t be easy.

Sterling, who is just 27, is 4-1 in the UFC. Like Assuncao, he was well on his way to getting a title shot but lost a decision to Bryan Caraway his last fight back that halted his path to the title. Sterling is a great athlete who is a quick learner. He’s an excellent grappler who is consistently improving his striking game, and considering he is still on the right side of 30, he has a good chance to get himself back to the top of the division, but first he’ll need to take out Assuncao in what would be the biggest win of his career.

Analysis: This should be a pretty competitive matchup between two bantamweights who don’t get as much love as they should. Ultimately, I am going to side with Sterling. He’s the younger fighter by a wide margin, has the edge in athleticism and speed, and most importantly has the wrestling advantage. Having said that, Assuncao is extremely durable and experienced against high-level competition, so I don’t expect Sterling to finish him.

 


I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is MMAdamMartin) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.