We had a solid lineup of fights last week at St. Petersburg, and now we have another fun and chaotic weekend in Fort Lauderdale. Well, by chaotic I mean that there’s been a whirlwind of cancellations up to this fight. This was originally UFC on ESPN 3, but that got fizzled out and we are demoted back to ESPN+ for the main card. First it was Romero/Costa, but Costa got an injury. Then it was Romero/Jacare, but Romero got sick. Then it was supposedly Jacare/Costa, but that never panned out. Now Jack Hermansson will be making a quick turnaround to fight Jacare Souza in what will be a hefty fight between two reliable finishers. In Freaks style, we’re going to work our way from the bottom up.
Early Prelims (ESPN2)
Court McGee vs. Dhiego Lima (WW)
Court McGee (19-7, 8-6 UFC) is always down for a fun fight. The TUF 11 fighter has had 11 of his last 12 fights going to decision, most recently beating Alex Garcia in October. McGee has a very grindy, wrestler approach and loves to just hold his opponent down and smash on them for fifteen minutes. He has a killer chin on him and has only ever been knocked out once to Ponzinnibio, which is nothing to scoff at.
Dhiego Lima (13-7, 4-6 UFC) has been in the UFC for a solid bit. He most recently beat Chad Laprise to get out of a three-fight losing streak. Lima brings some power in his hands with a Muay Thai sorta style. His ground game SUCKS. He gets taken down easy and just has no weapons off his back. This is pretty much the ideal match for McGee.
Take the Shot: Court McGee via Unanimous Decision
Angela Hill vs. Jodie Esquibel (SW)
Angela Hill (8-6, 2-3 UFC) suffered a first-round submission loss to Randa Markos recently and is able to make a quick turnaround to get back on the winning track against Jodie Esquibel. Hill has a worlds better striking game than Jodie Esquibel (6-4, 0-2 UFC), who is not on the level of the UFC. Esquibel is a decision fighter and her striking is not on the level of Hill. That combined with Angela’s wrestling should make a dominant recovery fight.
Take the Shot: Angela Hill via Unanimous Decision
Jim Miller vs. Jason Gonzalez (LW)
Jim Miller (29-13, 18-12 UFC) has been in the UFC FOREVER. Miller has been on a rough streak going 1-6 in his past seven with a lone first-round submission over Alex White. I’ve been fading for a while on Miller and his level of competition has slowly been going down. His stand up is serviceable but is definitely more of a grappler. His standup is definitely the weakest part of his game and will be looking to shoot. This is definitely a close match and Miller may very well be existing in the UFC on name only.
Jason Gonzalez (11-4, 1-2 UFC) was sacrificed to Gregor Gillespie in an amazing Fight of the Night. Gonzalez is a giant at 155 with 6 inches of height and 4 of reach against Jim Miller. Gonzalez has never seen a decision and loves to come out brawling. He has some striking caliber, but is definitely more talented on the ground, holding a variety of submission methods on his record. I’m going to give the striking advantage to Gonzalez here. I think he will be clipping Miller on the feet and will force Miller to go to the ground. Gonzalez has the defense to either keep it on the feet or force Miller to a bad attempt that puts him in jeopardy.
Take the Shot: Jason Gonzalez via Round 3 Knockout
Gilbert Burns vs. Mike Davis (LW)
We have a real fun matchup kicking off the ESPN prelim card. Gilbert Burns (14-3, 7-3 UFC) is coming in off an absolutely dominant decision win over Olivier Aubin-Mercier at UFC 231. Burns has incredible wrestling and the submission game to match it and was all over OAM whenever the fight went to the ground. He has creative takedowns and the ability to pull out a submission threat out of seemingly nowhere. On top of this, “Durinho” also brings in severe power. He can throw a devastating hook from either hand that will stop his opponent right in their tracks and is always well represented even if he doesn’t take advantage of his wrestling.
Mike Davis (6-1) will be making his UFC debut here after an incredibly entertaining showing against Sodiq Yusuff on the Contender Series. Although losing his match to Sodiq, Davis quickly added another W to his record, where all 6 wins have come by knockout. Davis was a massive Featherweight, so for his Octagon debut, he will be moving up to 155. This will without add to his power, but he now has to worry about heavier hitters (like Burns). Although Davis has some wrestling credentials himself, he really is much more of a standup fighter and would be at a huge disadvantage against Burns on the ground. Both fighters have the cardio to take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’, but the worry is in Davis’ caliber of opponents. Other than Sodiq, in which he was knocked down several times and almost finished, his opponents’ have been very low level. This coupled with his lack of a ground game makes this an easy win for Burns in whichever way he wants it.
Take the Shot: Gilbert Burns via Round 1 Submission
Carla Esparza vs. Virna Jandiroba (SW)
Carla Esparza (13-6, 4-4 UFC) was the first Strawweight champ but is now on a two-fight skid. Her wrestling style leaves her to grind out wins over opponents. Her dominant wrestling simply cannot be denied and her boxing has been improving, but she still is not at all a threat on the feet. Virna Jandiroba (14-0) will be making her UFC debut here. I think that Virna is an awful matchup for Esparza. She has 11 wins by submission which makes Esparza’s best area a danger area. Her striking is also significantly better than Esparza, so I think that whether it comes by submission or decision, it’s the debuting fighter’s night.
Take the Shot: Virna Jandiroba via Unanimous Decision
Andrei Arlovski vs. Augusto Sakai (HW)
Andrei Arlovski (27-17, 6-7 UFC) has been fighting way too long. It’s just a fact. 2-8 in his last ten bouts, the 40-year-old veteran continues fighting because, in his own words, he just loves it. Arlovski is (or maybe was) a power puncher and a wrestler. He hasn’t landed a knockout since 2015 on Travis Browne and his wrestling is nowhere near the level that it used to be. I’m hoping this will be his last fight, win or lose.
Augusto Sakai (12-1-1, 1-0 UFC) is a huge up and comer in the Heavyweight division. He competed at Bellator for a period then came into the UFC after a brutal knockout on DWTNCS. That debut ended up being a 3rd round KO against Chase Sherman that showed off his standup talent in a wide variety. 10 of Sakai’s wins have come by knockout and in terms of style (and appearance), I would compare him to Tai Tuivasa. At first glance, Sakai looks to have an uncoordinated style and swings looping hooks and overhands. On closer examination, Sakai uses this style on purpose. He has a more technical standup, but he uses this unorthodox style to throw his opponent off their rhythm, while giving him time to find his. He strings together combinations very well and combines power with brilliant footwork and unorthodox workings to make an incredible and entertaining style.
Take the Shot: Augusto Sakai via Round 2 Knockout
Ben Saunders vs. Takashi Sato (WW)
Yayyy, another old guy. Ben Saunders (22-11, 6-5 UFC) has just 1 win in his last 5 matches. He really should retire. His only win came from a lucky knee against Jake Ellenberger, whose body is also waning. His chin is almost nothing now and he should just stop. Please, Ben. Stop.
Takashi Sato (14-2) will be making his UFC debut here against the veteran. I don’t know why they’re doing this fight. Sato has brutal power in his hands and a wrestling game with violent ground and pound to go along with it. Although it is Sato’s debut, I’ve just entirely given up on Saunders, ESPECIALLY against power punchers.
Take the Shot: Takashi Sato via Round 1 Knockout
Main Card (ESPN+)
Roosevelt Roberts vs. Thomas Gifford (LW)
Roosevelt Roberts (7-0, 1-0 UFC) has been ON FIRE. He came in off a DWTNCS win by submission and then a first-round submission over Darrell Horcher. “The Predator” has never gone past the 8-minute mark of a fight, whether it’s by knockout or submission. Roberts has solid power in his hands and the ground game to match it. Roberts is looking like a seriously hot prospect.
Thomas Gifford (14-7) will be looking to end that hype. Gifford is making his Octagon debut as a submission specialist with 12 subs on his record. Gifford’s record is a little inflated and he has gone against a lot of low-level regional guys, even losing to some of them. Gifford’s game on the feet is, uh, it’s not good. He just kind of tries to run around his opponent until he finds an opportunity to get it to the ground. That won’t go well against Roberts, who is a threat on both the feet and the ground. I’m taking Roberts here and I think that Gifford needs to clean up a lot on his game if he wants to be competitive in the UFC.
Take the Shot: Roosevelt Roberts via Round 1 Knockout
John Lineker vs. Cory Sandhagen (BW)
This is the most exciting match of the night to me. John Lineker (31-8, 12-3 UFC) has been in the UFC for a LONG time, although only being 28. The moniker “Hands of Stone” is fitting as he is the hardest Bantamweight puncher outside of Cody Garbrandt. Lineker is well tested and obviously brings in a lot of stand up skill. His knockout game is solid and his cardio matches it as well. Every fight that I’ve seen with Lineker is always entertaining as he comes in to fight. Every time.
Like Lineker, Cory Sandhagen (11-1, 3-0 UFC) is always down for a brawl. Sandhagen is skilled on the feet and uses his range expertly. That range will be monstrous here, as he will hold 7 inches of height and 4 inches of reach over Lineker. Sandhagen have knockout power, but I don’t think it is the same one-punch power that Lineker carries. With that in mind, Sandhagen pushes a higher pace and will hold a higher volume. The biggest advantage for Sandhagen here would be his wrestling and he would be wise to go to the ground against the much less ground-savvy Lineker. He should have the advantage in points and he should be able to use his more well-rounded game to avoid a bomb from Lineker.
Take the Shot: Cory Sandhagen via Unanimous Decision
Glover Teixeira vs. Ion Cuteleba (LHW)
What is with all these veteran fighters? In the words of Marsellus Wallace, “Boxing don’t have an old timer’s day.” That applies here, right?
Glover Teixiera (28-7, 11-5 UFC) has been trading wins and losses for the past three years. The 39-year-old still remains ranked, which I attribute to the shallow division. Teixiera possesses heavy hands and a serious ground game that was a world of hurt for almost all his opponents. Nowadays, his chin is a serious concern and he doesn’t have the same threat in his ground game. Still, Teixiera is an active threat on the ground against non-grapplers and still packs some power.
Ion Cuteleba (14-3, 3-2 UFC) has slowly been working his way up the division. A late choke from Cirkunov and a decision loss to Jared Cannonier set him back along the way, but many still see Cuteleba as a serious force coming for the top of the division. 11 of his wins have come by knockout and when standing up, you always have to be worried about Cuteleba. His ground game is not news breaking, but it works as a defense. I actually think his jiu-jitsu is underrated simply because his striking never requires him to use it, but Cuteleba has two wins by omaplata. I think Cuteleba has enough grappling skill to defend any threats from Teixeira there and power to seriously threaten the chin of Teixeira.
Take the Shot: Ion Cuteleba via Round 3 Knockout
Alex Oliveira vs. Mike Perry (WW)
I’m not gonna lie. I’ve been struggling with this one. Alex Oliveira (19-6, 9-4 UFC) is coming in here after a submission loss to Gunnar Nelson. Oliveira is primarily a striker with a fast-paced and hoppy style. He likes to feint a lot and try to draw his opponent into vulnerable positions. Although he holds 4 submission wins on his belt, that is not at all his strong suit and much of his ground game is pretty low level. That would be his best plan of attack against Perry, whose ground game is by no means a threat.
Platinum Mike Perry (12-4, 5-4 UFC) has the most devastating KO power in the 170-pound division. On top of that, he has an amazing chin and is also certifiably insane. This dude likes getting hit and says that enjoys the possibility that he or his opponent may die in the cage. Perry is coming off a submission loss to Cowboy Cerrone from a takedown that he initiated. Here, I doubt he will make the same mistake and his takedown defense is good enough to ward off any of Oliveira’s mediocre takedowns. For this, it came down to the fighter’s defense. Perry has never been knocked out and is very sound defensively. On the other hand, Oliveira keeps his hands down much too often and is open for Perry’s speedy attacks. Ultimately, if this fight goes this distance, I would have to give it to Oliveira. However, I don’t see Oliveira landing a knockout and his ground game isn’t high level enough to push past Perry’s pretty solid defense. I think Perry will be able to find a home for his monster right, given Oliveira’s tendency of taking a shot.
Take the Shot: Mike Perry via Round 2 Knockout
Greg Hardy vs. Dmitrii Smoliakov (HW)
Greg Hardy’s (3-1, 0-1 UFC) last fight was filled with controversy before, during, and after. He got a co-main slot for his UFC debut with only a 3-0 record, not to mention the domestic violence charges from his ex-girlfriend back when he was an NFL player. An illegal knee from Hardy ended the fight prematurely. But hey, what did everyone expect? He’s been in the sport for about a year and a half and before his fight with Allen Crowder, he had less than 5 minutes in the cage INCLUDING his amateur career. Now he has another co-main slot because hey, he makes money.
Hardy is an amazing striker. He has brutal power, like on a Ngannou level, along with pure athleticism and deceptive speed for his size. His athleticism only goes so far on the ground, as he doesn’t have any training there, but his allies at American Top Team say he is making leaps and bounds in his training. As long as he avoids another rookie mistake, Hardy will have a dominant advantage on the feet.
Dmitrii Smoliakov (9-2, 0-2 UFC) has similarly not had success in the Octagon, but his blunders came from his opponents instead of himself. A second round submission and first-round KO sent him out of the Octagon for a fight, but now he is back. “The Lifeguard” has that typical Heavyweight power but also presents a submission threat against Hardy. If he presses his advantage on the ground, he may find a victory against the fairly untested fighter.
With that being said, this seems like a setup fight. Smoliakov has not seemed UFC caliber in any of his fights and being brought in just for this match seems just like a sacrifice to Hardy. The UFC seems like they are setting Smoliakov up for a ticket out and when that happens, I tend to go with Dana’s divine wisdom.
Take the Shot: Greg Hardy via Round 1 Knockout
Jacare Souza vs. Jack Hermansson (MW)
I think I may actually be more excited for this match than Romero/Costa. Jacare Souza (26-6, 9-3 UFC) has been a part of the Middleweight division since when it came over from Strikeforce. Although he is 39 years old, he is still a wrecking ball of power and submission ability. After many striking matchups, some seem to forget that Jacare is THE BEST grappler in the UFC, no questions about it. He also has a wildly entertaining brawl style (check out his fight with Chris Weidman). The issue with Jacare seems to be his willingness to stand and trade. He has a tendency to get hurt by punches and that problem will only get worse as Father Time comes chasing.
Looking to take advantage of Jacare’s somewhat dwindling chin will be Jack Hermansson (19-4, 6-2 UFC). Hermansson is coming off a quick submission defeat over David Branch in late March. Guess who predicted that fight right, not to brag or anything. The quick fight, in which The Joker didn’t even break a sweat, gave him an opportunity for a quick turnaround. Hermansson showed off his submission game against Branch but he would be wise not to go to the ground with Jacare. Hermansson has devastating knockout power and that would be his area of expertise against the all-too-eager to brawl Souza.
Jacare takes the advantage on the ground. There’s no argument there. His takedown game isn’t as great as I would like to see and I think that if Hermansson will be able to use his own ground game in reverse if he plays it smart. Jacare has not looked to head to the ground in his recent fights and his willingness to stand and trade has had monstrous problems in his last few fights. Whether it’s The Reaper brutally knocking him out or Chris Weidman landing multiple stunning blows, his chin is going down. Hermansson is a much harder striker than Whittaker or Weidman and I think that very well may bite Souza in the ass.
Take the Shot: Jack Hermansson via Round 2 Knockout
Looks like we have quite a few solid matchups ahead of us this week. We’re in for a good show and I will finally be able to lounge on my couch and enjoy instead of huddled around 6 inches of pixels. There’s quite a few shows here from Cory Sandhagen and Mike Perry, so win or lose, we’re all in for some fun.
Until next time, Freaks.