So this week we are heading to Philly with the ESPN network. I love how these monthly fights are really pushing into a new audience. This is only good for the sport and I think we’re going to see better fights, better fighters, better for everyone. Things went well last week at Fight Night 148, and you can see my predictions matched up with the results.
This card is one of my favorite kinds of cards. There’s light fighters, heavy fighters, female fighters, strikers, grapplers. It truly is MIXED Martial arts, headlined by a killer lightweight bout between Edson Barboza and Justin Gaethje.
Early Prelims (ESPN+)
Alex Perez vs. Mark De La Rosa (BW)
Alex Perez is another fighter hopping off the burning ship of the Flyweights to the Bantamweight division. Perez is normally seen as a one-sided grappler but his boxing has sizably improved recently. He’s 3-1 in the UFC, losing only to Joseph Benavidez which is nothing to be ashamed of. I am often a fan of fighters moving up weight classes, and I understand why he would have the advantage with his serviceable, improving boxing and solid submission game.
However, I believe the line is very off. Mark De La Rosa should not be written off by any means. His submission game is also good enough to tango with Perez and I’m not particularly high on either of their boxing. Despite being the natural Bantamweight, Perez looks a bit bigger than De La Rosa. This fight will probably come down to whoever ends up on top, as I don’t see either fighter getting a finish here. They both have the submission skills to ward off the other’s attacks and not good enough stand-up to land a knockout. I’m going to side with Perez here because he’s moving up a weight class but I would not take either fighter here
OOF That’s a Rough Shot to Take: Alex Perez via Unanimous Decision
Sabina Mazo vs. Maryna Moroz (FLW)
Sabina Mazo, the Flyweight LFA champ, is coming in with a 6-0 record. She has 2 first round KO wins by head kick and the rest are in decision. She is mostly a kickboxer but uses reverse wrestling very well. Her gas tank is incredible and she’s gone through a hard 25 minutes twice already. She is really solid with a very high fight IQ and I’m seeing her as a big fighter going forward. I’m really looking forward to this fight and she does well off the mat. Although she doesn’t have any submission wins, she has amazing defensive wrestling and I’m pretty high on her.
Maryna Moroz is taking a step up to Flyweight after back to back losses from Carla Esparza and Angela Hill. She’s 3-3 in the UFC and I think that if she loses this, she’s done. Her only finish in the Octagon was an armbar in her debut. In fact, all of her submissions are by armbar. She doesn’t have the striking to do enough damage and she also doesn’t have the good top game that Mazo has if she gets up there. I see Mazo keeping it on the feet and bullying Moroz for 15 minutes.
Take the Shot: Sabina Mazo via Unanimous Decision
Ray Borg vs. Casey Kenney (BW)
Alright, now just for you guys and gals I got an official transcript of Casey Kenney’s phone call with his manager.
Manager: Hey, Casey buddy, I got some good news for you!
Casey: What’s up?
Manager: I booked you a UFC fight! You’re making your debut!
Casey: Oh that’s great!! Who am I fighting?
Manager: Oh, ya know… Ray Borg.
Casey: UMMM WHAT WHEN?!?
In all seriousness, I do kind of feel bad for Casey Kenney. He’s making his Octagon debut against someone whose last fight was for the Flyweight title against Mighty Mouse. His 6-1 record has four KOs on it and a submission too. But things just aren’t looking good. He’s taking on one of the best Flyweights who is now moving up to Bantamweight. Ask Showtime Pettis, moving up a weight class is fun. This should be a walk in the park for Borg.
Casey Kenney just hasn’t shown enough to me to be Octagon caliber, especially not against Ray Borg. His two DWTNCS appearances both went to decision with a win and a loss. That’s not to discount the striking or grappling ability of Kenney, but it looks to be too wild and uncalculated, so Borg will easily be able to take advantage of it. When it comes to submissions, Kenney is gone the second it touches the mat.
Take the Shot: Ray Borg via Submission
Kevin Holland vs. Gerald Meerschaert (MW)
Kevin Holland is making his 3rd UFC appearance after losing his debut to Thiago Santos and beating John Phillips with a submission. “Trailblazer” is a fairly well-rounded fighter with solid kickboxing and a put together submission game. He has a well-rounded pressure style but can also strike well off the back foot. I think the line is right on this one as Gerald Meerschaert has not particularly shown greatness yet in the Octagon.
However, Meerschaert has serious BJJ skill. Take this to the ground and he may very well have a submission to snatch as I think he will take the ground advantage. Meerschaert’s striking is serviceable, but I think Holland will hold the feet advantage. While Meerschaert is a submission threat, he often leaves himself open for submission threats. Holland may take advantage of this and I’m also going to give Holland the striking advantage here. That being said, Meerschaert does have avenues to victory and is an underdog possibility for this one.
Take the Shot: Kevin Holland via Unanimous Decision
Enrique Barzola vs. Kevin Aguilar (FW)
I really like Enrique Barzola in this matchup and I think he could be a much higher favorite. This is classic striking vs. grappling and Aguilar could get the win if it stays on the feet and he has the more technical striking and more power. However, Barzola is an animal at both fighting on the mat and getting it there. I don’t really think that Aguilar has the defense to keep it standing and I see Enrique pulling away another easy decision.
Take the Shot: Enrique Barzola via Unanimous Decision
Ross Pearson vs. Desmond Green (LW)
Goddamn. Ross Pearson has been in the UFC since 2009. He has alternated wins and losses but has always kept his spot because of always being fun to watch. However, he is 1-5 in his last six fights and is looking to get to be too old. Although only 34, he’s been fighting forever and has had numerous surgeries and health issues. I’m not super high on Desmond Green, but I just can’t put anything on Pearson anymore. He just isn’t the same fighter. Desmond Green is a solid fighter and should take an easy decision if he stays on the feet. I don’t see him getting a finish, and MAYBE if Pearson gets it to the ground he can get a submission, but I just don’t see that happening.
Take the Shot: Desmond Green via Unanimous Decision
Jessica Aguilar vs. Marina Rodriguez (SW)
Poor Jag seems to have the bad end of the stick here. She is 1-3 in the UFC and it seems to me that she is being sacrificed to another prospect. As a 36-year-old, she seems to be on her downward spiral. Her striking isn’t particularly damaging, but she has a goddamn chin on her, as her 20-7 record with 0 KO losses shows. She has a submission game, and typically they come off the back, but she needs to have an unproven jiu-jitsu opponent who will open up for submissions.
Marina Rodriguez will probably not give her that option. Rodriguez’s record is unscathed except for one draw against Randa Markos. Rodriguez has heavy hands for the Strawweight division and scored a first-round knockout on DWTNCS to make her way to the ‘Gon. She has an underrated ground game and her wrestling is more impressive than her two submissions would suggest. She would be best to keep this on the feet, but her wrestling would probably take the advantage as Aguilar will give up the top position quite easily in the hopes of finding a triangle or an armbar. Rodriguez has enough BJJ skill to avoid that and dish out heavy damage from the top, if not threaten subs of her own. I see her having the edge wherever this fight heads.
Take the Shot: Marina Rodriguez via Unanimous Decision
Sodiq Yusuff vs. Sheymon Moraes (FW)
Sodiq Yusuff is making his sophomore UFC appearance. His first fight was a first round KO over Suman Mokhtarian after a dominant win on DWTNCS. Yusuff has a monster of a right hand. I mean he DROPS bitches. I think that is his most important thing to work on would be his kicking and mixing up his strikes more. He has solid counter-wrestling and obviously, jiu-jitsu is always helpful, but his main focus right now should be making his striking more diverse and less predictable.
His ground game will not be an issue against Sheymon Moraes, a fellow striker. Moraes has an okay ground game, but he tends to keep it on the feet. He’s 2-1 in the UFC, losing his debut to Zabit and most recently defeating Julio Arce. Moraes has the more technical striking and if he doesn’t get KOd, this is his fight. Sodiq tends to slow down quickly and so long as he doesn’t land a knockout, Moraes will be able to smack him in the second and third to take a KO or decision.
Take the Shot: Sheymon Moraes via Knockout
Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Paul Craig (LHW)
Kennedy Nzechukwu is coming in after 2 DWTNCS appearances. Holding a 6-0 record, he is a power striker with 4 KOs and 2 decision wins. Okay, this bastard is 6’5 with an 83″ reach. 2 inches taller than Craig and 7-inch reach advantage. That’s straight scary. However, he seems to have the Francis Ngannou problem where he holds a brutal striking advantage but is kind of screwed if it gets to the ground.
That’s Paul Craig’s shot. He is a submission ace, which is uncommon for the big boys. “The Bearjew” has never seen decision and I don’t think he will this time. This is like the 50th striker vs. grappler matchup on this card. Craig is done if he stays on the feet. Nzechukwu hits hard and also kicks hard, but go to the ground and this is Craig’s win to take. Nzechukwu has god awful ground game, but will dominate with his Muay Thai and Craig cannot get a takedown to save his life.
Take the Shot: Kennedy Nzechukwu via Knockout
Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Michelle Waterson (SW)
Karolina Kowalkiewicz is another Polish fighter *cheers* with a 12-3 record. She has been a staple of the Strawweight division since just about a year after the division was created. She has a title shot against Joanna where she lost in a decision. She is coming off of a loss against Jessica Andrade where she was knocked out in the first round. Kowalkiewicz is a great mixed martial artist in the sense that she is very well-rounded but she does lack finishing skill. However, she is more than willing to fight her way to a decision.
Michelle Waterson, the new Karate Mommy, will try to make this a close fight with the striking. If it did stay striking, then I would without a doubt take KK by decision. Waterson will definitely try to use her wrestling and submission skill to take home the victory. The issue is that Karolina is very good at avoiding a takedown and if Waterson can’t take her down, it will go south for her quick.
Take the Shot: Karolina Kowalkiewicz via Split Decision
Josh Emmett vs. Michael Johnson (FW)
Josh Emmett got straight MURKED by Jeremy Stephens over a year ago, bringing his record to 13-2. Emmett is primarily a striker with a decent ground game, but normally fights his way to decision. A serious worry for me is the Stephens fight. Emmett had to get like 6 bones healed and you better believe that changes how you’re thinking in the cage.
That’s not to mention that Johnson, the former Lightweight, will look like an absolute monster against Emmett in size. Johnson is fast and also packs a lot of power. I think he could take a decision, but I am scared for Emmett’s performance and chin in there. I think he will look like Ngannou right after Stipe broke him.
Take the Shot: Michael Johnson via Knockout
David Branch vs. Jack Hermansson (MW)
David Branch came into the UFC heralded as a massive threat in the division and fought Luke Rockhold in his second Octagon appearance. His 2-2 UFC record has not exactly shown that skill and as a 37-year-old I worry he may be winding down a little. His chin has been exposed as that led to both of his UFC losses, most recently against Jared Cannonier. Branch fights well on the feet and landed a TKO on Thiago Santos (which not many can boast) but he also has a well-rounded submission game. He will be looking to get back on the winning track with a dominant win here.
The Swede Jack Hermansson is mostly a striker who does not like to go to decision. His 18-4 record was most recently stained with a KO by Marretta himself, which is nothing to be ashamed of. “The Joker” would be best to keep this on the feet and take advantage of Branch’s chin, and his wrestling (which is underrated in my opinion) should be enough to keep it where he wants it. His submission game is also there but he would not be wise to try to use that up against Branch. This fight is very close as the near even lines suggest. The loss to Cannonier may be altering the line a little, but quite frankly, it should. Branch’s chin was a factor not often seen, but with power strikers in the UFC, it is a serious issue. I’m going to take Hermansson here because of Branch’s chin but this is a very close fight so keep that in mind.
Take the Shot: Jack Hermansson via Knockout
Edson Barboza vs. Justin Gaethje
If you want to know why Edson Barboza is so terrifying, just watch his famous wheel kick knockout over Terry Etim. Or maybe his most recent match against Dan Hooker, where he brutally damaged Hooker until he collapsed into a turtle ball. Barboza is a brutal kickboxer. And he is really a KICKboxer. Every single leg kick, body kick, or god forbid head kick, cracks off his opponent and you can see the pain in their eyes. He HURTS people. However, Edson’s failures have always been known. He quite frankly fails on the ground. Even when Hooker was entirely gassed and destroyed, he was all over Barboza on the ground. “Junior”‘s only escape came because his opponent had nothing left. Barboza’s other HUGE problem is his gas tank. After the first round, his movements get more telegraphed and his hands go down.
That doesn’t work too well against Gaethje. Gaethje’s 19-2 record has SIXTEEN knockouts on it. Lucky for Barboza, Justin will have no wish to go to the ground and is more than content to stand and trade. Gaethje has a CHIN on him and is well-known for going into brawls with the intent to stand and trade, as his moniker “The Highlight” suggests. Gaethje’s gameplan normally is to kick his opponent’s legs then finish them off with a flurry of punches, but he demonstrated knockout power against James Vick. Gaethje has a wrestling game that has gone unnoticed because he never really uses it, but it would be an asset to him in this fight.
Justin Gaethje has shown problems when his opponent (check out his fight with The Underground King) hits him in the body as his blocking is covering up his head. While his chin will certainly be a help against the famed striker, Barboza will BEAT THE LIVING HELL outta your body (Dan Hooker). In my eyes, Justin’s best path to victory would be wrestling the first round and burning out Barboza’s gas tank, which has always been a struggle for him but isn’t for the natural lightweight in Gaethje. After that, he should be able to tee off on Junior without having to worry about a wheel kick out of nowhere as much. I’m liking the underdog here in Gaethje, but Barboza always does have a puncher’s chance (or rather kicker’s chance), but regardless, this leg kicker’s extravaganza will surely be an incredible fight.
Take the Shot: Justin Gaethje via Knockout
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This card holds a lot of contentions for titles for the victors. There are tons of quality matchups here and it should be a lot of fun. Be sure to tune into ESPN+ at 3:30 EST or ESPN at 5:00 EST. We’re in for a fun, knockout filled night.
Until next time, Freaks.