UFC 238 is a fantastic card from top to bottom, but some argue it’s still not “pay-per-view worthy.” I have to disagree here, as there are several title shot eliminators, as well as two title bouts. True, one of the title fights is in a very thin women’s division, but aren’t they all? There really is a wealth of talent that will be on display Saturday night, and in my humble opinion, this event is much more PPV-friendly than some of the costly offerings we’ve seen this year.
Now, to get to the real business at hand; the underdogs. I’ve selected four contests I believe have an excellent opportunity to end in an upset. Let’s get started analyzing those fights.
Tatiana Suarez $9500 vs. Nina Ansaroff $6700
Suarez will be Ansaroff’s toughest challenge to date, and Tatiana absolutely has earned that reputation with her outstanding wrestling. She beat Carla Esparza as though the former champion were an amateur and cut a swathe of destruction through the TUF 23 house.
Ansaroff is such an underrated talent, and she just keeps getting better. She’s a durable volume striker and she works a stiff jab beautifully. American Top Team has been doing great things with their fighters, and Ansaroff is a great example of that. Nina’s most improved area might be her takedown defense, though. She shut Claudia Gadelha down, denying her purchase on 8-of-10 takedown attempts.
It’s a really risky choice, but fortune favors the bold, and the bold might find that Ansaroff is checking all the right boxes in this contest.
Prediction — Nina Ansaroff via Decision
Tai Tuivasa $8700 vs. Blagoy Ivanov $7500
Tuivasa is a good heavyweight prospect who’s managed to win over middling/regional level competition, but a step up has yielded different results. A nearly washed Andrei Arlovski took him to a decision, and Junior dos Santos finished him in the second round of their fight after Tai took the first round.
This fight with Ivanov will be the real litmus test as to Tuivasa’s place in the pecking order, as Blagoi is a durable grinder who’s lost only twice in 20 fights and been finished only once (Alexander Volkov via RNC). It should be noted Blagoy also has a loss to dos Santos, via unanimous decision. His cardio often looks suspect, but he’s been the distance multiple times and often digs deep late in an attempt to steal rounds. He’s coming off a unanimous decision over a still-competitive Ben Rothwell, where Arlovski is Tuivasa’s best win to date. This is yet another tough choice, but Blagoy should have the experience and grit to take the win from a still-green Tuivasa.
Prediction — Blagoy Ivanov via Decision
Tony Ferguson $8600 vs. Donald Cerrone $7600
Ferguson is an absolute beast and he’s not on an 11-fight win streak by luck. It’s by pushing the most relentless pace, being hyper aggressive, and by being just as effective on his feet as he is on the ground. He’s got a potent stinger front push kick (teep), which almost makes up for his slow starts (see Groovy Lando fight). His grappling is the jewel in the crown, though, and if this fight hits the ground, I’d be hard pressed to call a winner either way, because Cowboy is just as good. Tony’s willingness to be reckless has put him in jeopardy on more than one occasion, and it will catch up with him at some point.
Cerrone is on a fantastic career arc, dispatching the favorite in his past couple fights. He’s got excellent kickboxing, working well from range with high kicks and in the phonebooth with heavy knees. He’s a crafty, wily opportunist, and that is perhaps his best weapon against Ferguson, who, as noted above, has a penchant for putting himself in dangerous situations.
This is another tricky fight to call, but if anyone has the tools to upset the Ferguson applecart, it’s Cowboy.
Prediction — Donald Cerrone via Submission
Marlon Moraes $8300 vs. Henry Cejudo $7900
Moraes is one of the most dynamic fighters on the UFC roster. He’s explosive and powerful and has blinding speed and accuracy. His past three opponents have met the business end of either a knee, a kick or a submission, all for a combined total of just 4 minutes and 57 seconds. He submitted Raphael Assuncao in their rematch, but Marlon knocked him down first, then landed some serious ground-and-pound, softening him up for the guillotine. It’s a bit of a mystery how he will deal with a wrestler of Cejudo’s caliber, and that is what makes the Olympic gold medalist a live dog in this fight.
Cejudo’s bread and butter is obviously his wrestling, and his takedown game is top notch. He also has a keen sense of when to level change, but it’s his striking that might be the most significant tool in his arsenal. He’s got an effective jab and knockout power, as evidenced by six (T)KOs, but more importantly, he shows constant improvement and evolution in his standup. Henry also has the intangible gift of confidence. When you beat Demetrious Johnson and T.J. Dillashaw back-to-back, it’s pretty clear you’re breathing rarified air.
As are the three previous fights before this one, this is a tough call to make, but if Cejudo can stay clear of those devastating kicks and counters, or if he can be gritty enough to get through the ones that land, I think he has a solid chance at walking away with another belt.
Prediction — Henry Cejudo via Decision
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