I’m not gonna lie, y’all. This will be the greatest day of my life. I’m heading down to Atlanta for this one to see these Greek gods smash each other live and I can’t wait. I really can’t. This is SUCH a good card. 13 fights. TWO interim belts at stake. Adesanya and Gastelum. Poirier and Holloway 2. Goddamn. Let’s just jump right in.
Early Prelims (Fight Pass)
Brandon Davis vs. Randy Costa (FW)
“Killer B” Brandon Davis is on a two-fight losing streak, most recently being submitted by the god amongst us, Zabit. He is getting a step down in competition and a loss here may very well cash his ticket out of the UFC. Davis is mostly a striker with the “killed by a thousand cuts” method. What he lacks in power and ground skill, he makes up for in incredible speed. Ultimately, I haven’t really liked Davis coming in. The Featherweight division is not to be trifled with easily and Davis’ 1-3 UFC record proves that.
Randy Costa is much less proven with only 4 fights under his belt. Yet every fight is a win, and a first-round knockout, at that. Costa is a punishing striker and has demonstrated skill in many organizations. There isn’t a ton to go off of with Costa, as he only has around 5 minutes in pro fight time. What I have seen, I have loved, so I will tentatively go with Costa here. Davis eats shots a little too easily and that is awful against someone with a cannon like Costa.
Take the Shot: Randy Costa via Round 1 Knockout
Lauren Muller vs. Poliana Botelho (SW)
Lauren Muller is stepping in for the injured Paige VanZant. She takes a 1-1 Octagon record along with Poliana. Muller got submitted bad in the Flyweights so she is stepping down a weight class (you already know my thoughts on that). 4 of her 5 wins come through decision and I don’t expect her knockout power to go up when she drops weight, especially against someone who can take a shot like Botelho.
Poliana Botelho came into the UFC with a 33-second knockout over Syuri Kondo, then got submitted 12 seconds shy of round 2 against Cynthia Calvillo. Botelho is a brutal striker and has amazing footwork. She has amazing takedown defense, not that Muller will look to head there. This is a huge mismatch. I mean Botelho was supposed to fight PVZ and now she’s up against someone who didn’t even come up when I googled her name. I’ll go Botelho, no questions asked.
Take the Shot: Poliana Botelho via Round 1 Knockout
Montel Jackson vs. Andre Soukhamthath (BW)
Montel Jackson came into the UFC with a dominant knockout on DWTNCS and has since gone 1-1 with a first-round submission and a decision loss to Ricky Simon, who is a huge up-and-comer in his own right. “Quik” lives up to his name with incredible speed and a brutal punch. He has great Muay Thai striking and surprising jiu-jitsu caliber, as shown by his first round D’arce. Jackson is a huge talent and is someone to keep an eye on going forward.
Andre Soukhamthath has looked mediocre to me. His 2-3 record has 5 decisions on it and his knockout power doesn’t have the one punch capability of Jackson. In a striking battle, I will take Jackson, but this is MMA. The Asian Sensation has skill on the ground with three submissions on his 10-6 record. However, his takedown leaves a lot to be desired. My main fade on Andre is his abysmal fight IQ. It’s just disgusting. For that reason alone, I’ll take Jackson, but he also has amazing boxing skill and apparently game on the ground too.
Take the Shot: Montel Jackson via Round 2 TKO
Curtis Millender vs. Belal Muhammad (WW)
This is a HUGE mismatch and the line is WAY off. Curtis Millender lost by submission in the first round about a month ago to Zaleski. But before that, he was on 9 fight win streak. Millender is an amazing and technical striker and he will own Belal wherever this goes. The only advantage Muhammad will have is in his wrestling, which is by no means amazing and offers no submissions. Belal is smaller, slower, and weaker. Give me Millender everywhere.
Take the Shot: Curtis Millender via Unanimous Decision
Boston Salmon vs. Khalid Taha (BW)
We’re in for a treat on this one. Both fighters look for a brawl and love to just smack their opponent for as long as they can. Boston Salmon took a decision win on the very first episode of DWTNCS. Nearly two years later, he steps into the Octagon (and his only pro fight since then). The 6-1 fighter has 4 wins by knockout and is very promising on the feet. The only thing I am looking for him to improve on is to move around a bit more. His ground game has not really been tested yet and we most likely won’t see that against Taha.
Khalid Taha’s 12-2 record is very impressive with only 3 fights going to decision. He’s coming off a decision loss to Nad Narimani in his UFC debut. 7 KOs and 3 submissions make him a very dangerous fighter. Taha is not a dangerous jiu-jitsu specialist – both subs come from RNCs, which is why I’m guessing this won’t head down to the ground. Taha also carries power and always loves to jump in and start swinging, which Salmon will be more than willing to partake in. When they go into these heavy trading sessions, Salmon is the one who stays more technical in the pocket. That leads me towards Salmon as he sets up his power shots beautifully, but when both fighters are swinging anything can happen.
Take the Shot: Boston Salmon via Round 3 Knockout
Max Griffin vs. Zelim Imadaev (WW)
Max Griffin looked so promising prior to the UFC, but now he’s rocking a 2-4 record inside the Octagon with all but one win by decision. He is a quick bastard and he came in as a power puncher and has attained that reputation. His ground game does enough to get him by but he really is much more of a boxer, jumping around and using his hands to land some solid punches. To be honest, after losing (which was a robbery) to Thiago Alves, I’m afraid he is becoming a
Griffin will be testing a newcomer in Zelim Imadaev. Imadaev is a Russian fighter who came to the UFC with an 8-0 record out of the Russian circuit. Every single one of those wins is by knockout and he carries that power into every single round. I’m going to be honest and say it’s been difficult to find a lot of tape on Imadaev, but what I have seen from him is serious power and an unpredictable style. Griffin is also a power puncher but is MUCH faster. The issue is Imadaev is SUPER unproven and gasses just as quickly. Griffin’s chin should hold him past then, where he will dominate.
Take the Shot: Max Griffin via Round 3 TKO
Wilson Reis vs. Alexandre Pantoja (FLW)
Here we have ourselves a high-level Flyweight bout. Wilson Reis is a former UFC title contender and has extremely good wrestling and grappling. 7 of his 10 submissions come by rear-naked choke. Reis has serviceable standup, but almost exclusively uses it to get to his wrestling. My problem with Reis lies in his gameplan. He takes the exact same skill and the exact same plan in every time – wrestle them to death, submit them if I have a shot. It’s kind of like Khabib. The difference is that Khabib hasn’t lost 9 times and had the instructions to beat him literally thrown in front of his feet.
Pantoja is the much more well-rounded fighter. His 20-3 record has 6 wins on it, which is uncommon for 125. Although he hasn’t gotten a finish inside the ‘Gon, he has damaged fighters badly and taken lopsided decisions. His only losses come in decision and I accredit that to his ground game. The main finishing power of Flyweights is submissions and Pantoja offers many submission threats himself. I don’t see that changing. While it is possible Reis may wrestle him for eternity, Pantoja will take the advantage on the feet and may very well be dominant on the ground as well.
Take the Shot: Alexandre Pantoja via Unanimous Decision
Jalin Turner vs. Matt Frevola (LW)
Jalin Turner recently impressed at UFC 234 with a first-round knockout over Callan Potter. His 8-4 record has been compounded with a 1-1 UFC showing, after another solid knockout on DWTNCS. “The Tarantula” has skills that are fairly simple, but nonetheless effective. He has devastating power along with a massive size advantage at 6’3, a height rarely seen in the Lightweight division. Turner has decent submission skill but it is almost exclusively defensive. My problem with Turner is that he is too risky. His ground game is not secure enough and although he packs a wallop, his chin leaves much to be desired.
A loss to Polo Reyes and a draw against Lando Vannata scuffed up Matt “The Steamrolla” Frevola’s entry to the Octagon and his perfect 6-0 record. Regardless, Frevola is an amazing wrestler who has submission skill. Think Usman but he knows how to throw a nice triangle. This is a very heavy striker vs. grappler matchup and the near-even line demonstrates this. I would not be surprised if Turner clips Frevola and puts him down, but I give the advantage to Frevola on the ground without a doubt. If 2018 has taught us anything, it is the power of the wrestlers. The issue for me is Frevola’s chin, which has shown many issues. A bad clip from Turner could end the fight quick.
Take the Shot: Jalin Turner via Round 1 Knockout
Main Card (PPV)
Ovince Saint Preux vs. Nikita Krylov 2 (LHW)
At first, I didn’t know it was the second fight. All the way back in 2014, OSP submitted “The Miner” in around 90 seconds. OSP is one of the most experienced UFC Light Heavyweights. An extremely well-rounded fighter, OSP can knock you at in a second with kicks and also punches. However, his main strength is his ground game (hence the newly christened OSP choke). OSP has incredibly high fight IQ and fights expertly for a man of his age (36). The most notable advantage for OSP here will be recovery. He can switch his game immediately when he knows he is in trouble.
Nikita Krylov has never seen a decision. I credit this to his gas tank, as he tends to run a bit loose towards the end of the second round. He has a karate style striking stance and uses that to throw out kicks quick and get it to the ground. After a loss to Misha Cirkunov in late 2016, Krylov left the organization. He returned and was submitted in the second round by Jan Blachowicz in the second round. Although the majority (slight) of his finishes come by submission, they aren’t the most technical. He doesn’t have jiu jitsu training and his number of finishes there inflate his ego. This puts him in bad positions against better grapplers, which OSP most certainly is.
Take the Shot: Ovince Saint Preux via Round 2 Submission
Alan Jouban vs. Dwight Grant (WW)
Alan Jouban vs. Dwight Grant is a striker’s delight. Jouban is 16-6 with an impressive 11 knockouts, 7-4 within the UFC. Jouban demonstrates the power and solid footwork, but his issue lies on the ground. He has a minor wrestling base and no submission threat whatsoever. While Jouban packs a lot of power, he looks to be a sort of glass cannon. He can dish out heavy shots, but cannot exactly take them. This would be a large issue against Grant, who dishes out heavy power.
Dwight Grant most recently knocked out Carlo Pedersoli Jr. in February. He’s making a quick turnaround to produce another show. Grant is a power puncher. It’s that simple. He has solid cardio and beautiful footwork to compound his brute power. Grant trains at AKA with the boys Khabib, Rockhold, and *sigh* DC. I think Grant will be more than capable of holding back the mediocre ground game of Jouban. He is a brilliant striker and I think people aren’t giving him enough credit. Even in his split decision loss to Zak Ottow, he demonstrated sizable fight IQ and striking prowess.
Take the Shot: Dwight Grant via Round 2 Knockout
Eryk Anders vs. Khalil Rountree (LHW)
Eryk “Ya Boy” Anders is coming off two losses, one from Thiago Santos’ LHW debut and the other in an attempt at Middleweight. I think moving back up is definitely a smart idea for Eryk (I mean, he used to play college football). Anders is not to be taken lightly.
Apart from his last two, Anders’ only loss came from a five rounder split decision against Lyoto Machida. Anders is a power striker and he obviously has good cardio. Anders’ footwork and speed are very impressive for his size and I really like what I’ve seen from him.
Khalil Rountree was most recently broken open by Johnny Walker’s hellbows. A graduate of TUF 23, Rountree has put on a 3-3-1 showing in the Octagon. Rountree is always willing to brawl and like Anders, he brings in serious power with him. “The War Horse” has a little hop in his step that I like and I think both he and Anders have the cardio to go 3 rounds (I don’t see it going there, though). This is a complete striker’s battle and both fighters seem small for the division but are BUILT. I like Rountree’s feinting and leg kicks, but I think Anders has some more power and the better cardio. Either way, this should be a great fight.
Take the Shot: Eryk Anders via Round 2 Knockout
Kelvin Gastelum vs. Israel Adesanya (MW)
Poor Kelvin. Weigh-ins were solid before UFC 234 (despite a bit of ringworm) and fight day was going smooth. Then Robert Whittaker gets a nice hernia and has to pull out only hours before the fight. Now he is fighting for the Interim belt against Israel Adesanya, an absolute killer who has an undefeated record of 16-0, with 5 of those wins coming inside the Octagon. Adesanya smoothly beat Anderson Silva (which was a bit of a gimme fight) at the aforementioned UFC 234 and called out Gastelum onstage. Now they get their chance to go at it for the next shot at the Champ.
Kelvin Gastelum moved up from a 6-2 record in the Welterweight division, which is pretty solid, considering his only losses were in split decisions. Gastelum wound up with a 4-1-1 record at Middleweight to give him this title shot and has had many impressive performances to get his name up there. His lone 185 loss came at the hands of Chris Weidman with a third-round submission but fixed it up with a quick knockout of Michael Bisping and a split decision over Jacare Souza. His knockout over Bisping shows his one-punch knockout power and Gastelum also has significant wrestling skill, although that will be difficult against Adesanya.
Israel Adesanya has been nothing but impressive inside the Octagon. His record has 13 KOs on it brought on by his wild and impressive striking. His massive 185 frame gives his 6’4 height a 7-inch advantage over Gastelum along with an 8-inch reach advantage. Adesanya uses amazing kickboxing to dominate his opponents from range and up close, delivering elbows and knees, along with punches down the middle. The Last Stylebender has been absolutely incredible to watch and his cardio has held up, winning a five-rounder against Brad Tavares. However, I am a little worried that he is being rushed in. His best opposition has been Derek Brunson (as Silva just isn’t the same). While his performance was incredibly dominant over Silva, the Brunson fight offered much more of his skill set. Adesanya has incredible takedown defense and uses it to keep the fight exactly where he wants it and his striking can give him one punch (or knee/kick/elbow) knockout power or he can decimate his opponent with a thousand strikes.
Gastelum has fought better talent. It isn’t even a question. However, he has the problem of fighting to his opponent’s level instead of working at his own game, as evidenced by his 5 split fights. Another huge problem for him is Adesanya’s size, and I mean huge in the most literal sense. Adesanya has range and power to crack him from every angle. Gastelum’s wrestling won’t do much here. Shoot in for a long takedown and he could be cracked by a knee. If he doesn’t get smashed on the nose, he won’t get Adesanya down. Brunson is a much better wrestler, in my opinion, and he had so much difficulty getting Adesanya down. Even if you get him down, he just hops right back up. Adesanya looks to be much more impressive in many more ways and Gastelum’s only chance to me seems to be a winging hook if Stylebender gets too loose.
Take the Shot: Israel Adesanya via Round 2 TKO
Max Holloway vs. Dustin Poirier 2 (LW)
Max Holloway, the dominant Featherweight champion is trying to make a run at the Lightweights in an effort to become the first 1.5 Division Champion. After Khabibby’s little stunt after the infamous UFC 229, the champ is out for a bit, leaving interim title up for grabs. Tony Fergusons aside, these two are the most deserving of a title shot at Lightweight.
Holloway is on an absolute tear right now. After losing to McGregor back in 2013, the 20-3 fighter has put together a 13 fight win streak. After recurring issues in making weight, Holloway is (rightfully) stepping up to 155. Holloway is a massive 145er and is still large for a Lightweight, too. “Blessed” has incredible technical striking and combines clean shots with brutal speed and precision. He uses his kicks to set up his punches brilliantly and he always finds the perfect time to surge forward and find his shot. Max has an incredible fight IQ and always knows how to move around and place his shots right when he needs them. Another thing that I think Holloway picked up from his matches with Aldo (or maybe Aldo picked it up from him) is going to the body. Blessed throws strikes to the head, legs, and body to completely mess with his opponent’s head. My favorite thing about Holloway is his little swagger in there. He has this little swaying movement and almost lulls his opponent into strikes that will put them out there for Max to land a few stinging punches on. Max’s biggest skill comes from his cardio, which will only be better at Lightweight. Holloway always has enough in the tank to keep going and even ramps it up as the fight goes on.
Max will hold a two-inch advantage in height but will give up three inches in reach to “The Diamond”.
Holloway’s only loss by finish came from Dustin Poirier way back in February 2012, who snagged a triangle for a first-round win. 7 years and a combined 35 fights later, they have a chance to run it back, this time at Lightweight. Poirier is a devastating striker in his own right. Poirier is a true Octagon veteran with a 16-4-1 record inside the cage. What I’m a big fan of is Poirier’s leg kicks and I think utilizing those would help him tremendously. Poirier fights nice at range and has a hammer of a straight left. Poirier has submission skill, but there is no chance of this going to the ground. I’m sure Poirier will try to take it there or even pull guard, but Max is wayyyy too defensively sound. Both fighters would love to stand and trade and Poirier is equally accurate.
An issue for me is the chin of Holloway. While he doesn’t get knocked out, whenever he gets hit, he has a tendency to slow down and get knocked off his rhythm. Holloway has an incredible recovery time and is always able to find his way back after getting clipped. A huge threat to the Diamond will be the volume of Max Holloway. Holloway just throws over and over leading into these brilliant and incredibly accurate combinations. Poirier’s range game won’t be at play here, and that may very well prove to be a huge problem for him. Holloway is also a master of range and elongates himself, along with hopping in and out of range at will. While Poirier definitely has avenues to victory, I see Holloway as being too much for Poirier and giving off way too many strikes for the Diamond to handle. Not to mention my golden rule of moving up weight classes. Look for “Blessed” to slowly cripple Poirier with shots before finishing him after he gets tired.
Take the Shot: Max Holloway via Round 4 TKO
This card is great. I’m just gonna leave it at this.
Until next time, Freaks.