It really doesn’t get much better than this, folks.
We have a juicy 13-fight card ahead of us and I will be breaking down the top seven bouts, while Chris Carpenter is keeping his magic going on the prelims!
The UFC will be hosting its first event on Fight Island this upcoming Saturday, June 11th. Headlining the card, we have a trio of title fights, with the Welterweight, Featherweight, and Bantamweight titles all on the line while we have two ranked bouts in the Strawweight division (kinda) on the undercard!
UPDATE: The following fight is a late replacement after Burns tested positive for COVID-19. This fight will happen should both fighters have negative COVID-19 test results.
Kamaru Usman vs. Gilbert Burns (WW)
Kamaru Usman (16-1, 11-0 UFC) will be looking to defend his title for the second time and put an emphatic hold upon the Welterweight division with another controlling win here. “The Nigerian Nightmare” is coming off thirteen straight victories and had been nothing but dominant up until his war for the ages with Colby Covington, where Usman proved he has the finishing skills when it counts. Usman is a wrestler by trade and seeks to establish dominant position and rack up control time all while delivering ferocious ground and pound. He is by no means lost on the feet, however. His high defense and stalking jab, as well as front kick, help him establish range with his 6’0″ frame so as not to absorb power strikes from the pocket.
The BMF himself, Jorge Masvidal (35-13, 12-6 UFC) made his mark in a big way over the course of 2019, earning himself both Fight and Knockout of the Year Honors. Masvidal will be making his first appearance since defeating Nate Diaz via doctor stoppage last October after a series of failed negotiations. “Gamebred” is a striker by trade, utilizing his speed and movement to assault his opponents with an onslaught of blows. His power at Welterweight has been clearly displayed, but his improved movement has not been highlighted as much. In his nearly two-year layoff from 2017 to 2019, Masvidal shored up a number of his brawling tendencies and has become a master of timing and angles, able to exploit his often larger opponents’ size against them.
This seems almost like the Welterweight version of Conor vs. Khabib and I’m all for it. The champion Usman will be clearly looking to implement his grappling and control time, while Masvidal will want to keep distance more than anything and try to land power strikes on the Nigerian. The issue with Masvidal here seems to be his takedown defense, making it hard for me to believe that Usman will not wrangle “Gamebred” to the mat at least once (though likely more). Although Masvidal only has two submissions on his lengthy record, he has well respected jiu-jitsu abilities that were able to net him a D’arce choke over Michael Chiesa. Still, I’m not sure that will be enough to make the difference. Usman has otherworldly control abilities and a skill at minimizing risk on both the feet and the mat, so unless Masvidal can pull off a Street Jesus miracle, he’s in for a long night.
Take the Shot: Kamaru Usman via Unanimous Decision
Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway II (FTW)
2019 was somewhat of a poor year for Max Holloway (21-5, 17-5 UFC). A failed double champ bid slowed the “Blessed” Express and right when things looked to be back to their dominant status for Holloway, when he lost his belt to Volkanovski. He will get an immediate title rematch here to try and reclaim what he believes he should not have lost. Max doesn’t exactly have one-shot KO power and he doesn’t have stellar submission skills, but he kickboxes like no one else can. He just dances in and out of range, never letting his opponent get a shot off. He can work well from both southpaw and orthodox and fires leg kicks too to soften his opponent. What sets Max apart is the cardio and pace that he forces his opponent to try to maintain for five rounds, which is a task few are able to maintain when he takes away their power with his movement and their grappling with his takedown defense.
Alexander Volkanovski (21-1, 8-0 UFC) surged to the top of the Featherweight division with a vicious knockout of Chad Mendes followed by a clinic over Jose Aldo in which “The Great” more than tripled up on his strike differential. Volkanovski has a fantastic freestyle wrestling base, with damaging ground and pound and a fantastic ability to control where the fight takes place, whether that’s controlling his opponent from top position or scrambling back to his feet in an instant. He has become less reliant on his wrestling over his most recent fights, and it’s not hard to see why. Aside from going apart against great defensive grapplers, Volkanovski’s striking and work with the rising City Kickboxing team of Hooker and Adesanya has become the highlight of his game. He attacks with a furious pace, averaging more than six significant strikes a minute, while attacking both the legs and body, not only the head. It was the former that of those that Volk utilized to secure the title in his last bout against Holloway, showing he has damaging ability in all elements of his striking game.
After two fairly decisive, albeit well-performed, losses by Holloway in 2019 that saw his thirteen fight win streak crumble, the avenue to beat him is clear and he is yet to provide a successful response. Holloway has poor counters to leg kicks, which Volkanovski brutalized to cripple his trademark movement. Volkanovski didn’t even need his wrestling in the slightest, as he landed over 150 strikes on Holloway in their bout in December. Volkanovski has no issue competing with Max’s pace and has clearly found how to outstrike him, leaving Max with few avenues for a victory. I see Volk winning an even more clear cut decision than their first bout.
Take the Shot: Alexander Volkanovski via Unanimous Decision
Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo (BW)
Petr Yan (14-1, 6-0 UFC) has been on fire since his debut in August 2018, scoring three knockouts over six victories en route to the title. Yan is a Russian master of sport in boxing and does it better than nearly anyone in the UFC right now. He keeps a constant high guard, as well as forward aggression and an adept control of the center. Yan has serious power when he plants his feet, but often takes time to make his reads and is patient when he has his opponent hurt. Luckily because of his aggression, he rarely finds himself on the wrong side of volume. Even though he is an elite striker, he has demonstrated a sound understanding of grappling offense and defense to round out his MMA game.
Featherweight GOAT and King of Rio Jose Aldo (28-6, 10-5 UFC) is now looking to lay claim to the Bantamweight division and cement his legacy. Despite coming off of two losses, Aldo’s close match and name value have earned him a shot at the vacant belt. Aldo utilizes great fundamental Muay Thai boxing, with great counter reads and great speed. His dangerous kicking game, although less present of late, still remains a danger for anyone looking to come into the cage. Aldo presents fantastic combos along with ferocious body striking and power, making him a dangerous contender at all times on the feet.
As great of a PPV draw and big name as Aldo is, he doesn’t deserve nor have much to offer in this match. While much of the Brazilian’s offense is still intact, his defensive holes are pretty exposed at this point in his career and Yan looks bred to do exactly that. Yan offers the same aggression and pacing that Volkanovski so expertly used to stifle Aldo’s ferocious counter shots and his constant hand defense won’t leave him nearly as vulnerable as Renato Moicano, the last opponent that Aldo defeated. Not to mention that Aldo’s issues with stamina over five rounds will certainly not be aided by his more drastic weight cut. Yan overwhelms Aldo on points for a dominant victory.
Take the Shot: Petr Yan via Unanimous Decision
Jessica Andrade vs. Rose Namajunas II (SW)
Jessica Andrade (20-7, 10-5 UFC) is an absolute beast. Although standing at a mere 5’1, she was a feared contender even at Bantamweight, but since her move to Strawweight she has torn through almost everyone, going 5-2 with her only losses to Joanna Jedrzejczyk and current champion Weili Zhang, who both slugged it out back at UFC 248. The 27-year-old Brazilian has one punch KO power, uncommon for Strawweights and a talented BJJ background which she built her striking off of. Her greatest struggle has been volume strikers who can piece her up from distance, as we saw with both Joanna and Thug Rose in the match Andrade finished with a killer slam, pictured right.
This will be Rose Namajunas’ (8-4, 6-3 UFC) first bout since losing her title to Jessica Andrade (hence, the rematch) just about 13 months ago. Namajunas built her base as a grappler with terrific submissions, but what has set her apart in recent years has been her striking, which she used to both knock out and outpoint former champ and divisional GOAT Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Rose has a crisp, clean jab that she uses to mitigate range and set her own terms, utilizing her stellar jiu jitsu skills and submission potential off her back to keep the fight precisely where she wants it.
This is such an enticing rematch because Rose was essentially dominating the match on the feet, even rocking Andrade, before Andrade KO’d the champ with the massive slam. Don’t think that was all because of Andrade’s power, as she made the correct reads and adjustments to get past Rose’s defense of her takedowns, showing incredible fight IQ. I fully expect Rose’s jab and technical striking to once again neutralize Andrade’s brawling power and with the correct improvements made to avoid the grappling of Andrade, which a BJJ artist of Rose’s caliber can certainly do in 13 months time, she can find the victory.
Take the Shot: Rose Namajunas via Unanimous Decision
Paige VanZant vs. Amanda Ribas (FLW)
Few fighters have gained name notoriety like Paige VanZant (8-4, 5-3 UFC), partially due to her time on Dancing with the Stars, but even fewer are able to back it up in the cage. “12 Gauge” has a well-rounded skillset, with her dangerous kicking attacks and elite submission acumen on the mat. VanZant’s weakness has been elite grapplers who are able to control her on the mat.
Amanda Ribas (9-1, 3-0 UFC) is surging towards the top of the UFC’s Strawweight division and is looking to take a big name down in her win here. She has ran through all her competition so far, even dominating the then undefeated and jiu-jitsu world champ Mackenzie Dern on the mat and the feet. Ribas has her nine victories evenly split between knockouts, submissions, and decisions, but truly does her best work when utilizing her judo and jiu-jitsu black belt. She is by no means lost on the feet, landing an average of nearly five significant strikes per minute while boasting an insane rate of 74% striking defense. Ribas has all the tools needed to absorb VanZant’s strikes and use her takedowns to dominate on the mat, where she will easily be able to work through VanZant’s less than stellar submission defense.
Take the Shot: Amanda Ribas via Round 1 Submission
Volkan Oezdemir vs. Jiri Prochazka (LHW)
Volkan Oezdemir (16-4, 4-3 UFC) three fight win streak was matched by three losses, but he has reasserted his spot at the top of the Light Heavyweight division with straight victories over Ilir Latifi and Aleksander Rakic. Oezdemir is a kickboxer who utilizes his close range ability to close the show and his chin. Holding his hands somewhat low, “No Time” loves to surge into the pocket and deliver quick bombs that will stumble his opponent quickly. Although he had pretty clear issues dealing with his gas tank, he has made serious improvements in that realm and shouldn’t have any issues in this three-round match.
The former Rizin champion will be transitioning to the UFC, as Jiri Prochazka (26-3) makes his way into the Octagon riding a ten fight winning streak with nine of those by KO, and eight of THOSE inside the first round. Prochazka is widely regarded as one of the best talents outside of the UFC and he will have a quick entry to the top of the somewhat sparse Light Heavyweight division, with his debut being against the number seven ranked fighter. “Denisa” has ended a stunning 23 of his 26 victories by knockout and uses his massive 6’4″ frame to stun his opponent with long power strikes. Jiri keeps great distance with his boxing and jab, but the sole focus of his game is to landing power. He doesn’t throw a crazy volume in his fights, but that is mainly because he only needs one to close the show.
We’re set up for one great firefight here, as neither fighter has any real interest in grappling and both possess true one-shot knockout power. Prochazka looks to have the edge in distance striking, as he will be operating with more height and reach, as well as being able to mitigate the range with his jab. Oezdemir showed susceptibility to that in his fight with Rakic and had trouble closing the distance. “Denisa” has way too much power for Oezdemir to try to absorb the shots that he did in that fight, and the style, technique, and power of Prochazka look primed to find the chin of Oezdemir so long as he can keep his back off the fence.
Take the Shot: Jiri Prochazka via Round 2 Knockout
Elizeu Zaleski vs. Muslim Salikhov (WW)
Elizeu Zaleski (22-6, 8-2 UFC) had just made it to the top 15 of the stacked Welterweight division, only to have it taken from him by Li Jingliang. Zaleski is a capoeira fighter who utilizes many flashy kicks and knees, but also has solid jiu-jitsu credentials and an impressive gas tank for his high-amplitude style. Zaleski does tend to become more telegraphed as the fight wears on and struggles with his accuracy, particularly against speedier, more agile fighters. For all his credentials on the mat, he rarely takes the fight there due to his poor wrestling capabilities. His recent bout against Alexey Kunchenko did display an increased awareness, as well as a clearer sense of urgency.
Since being submitted in his UFC debut, Muslim Salikhov (16-2, 3-1 UFC) has rattled off three straight, including two brutal KO finishes of Ricky Rainey and Nordine Taleb. “The King of Kung Fu” fights with his namesake style, bouncing around the outside of the cage while reading his opponent. He keeps a busy left hand to mask his power rights and spinning kicks because when he loads up, he does it with precision and deadly intention. In his last fight against Laureano Staropoli, the Dagestani demonstrated an improved sense of grappling, landing three takedowns on the Argentinian. Salikhov’s Achilles’ heel at the moment seems to be his gas tank. After a round or two of unloading high-amplitude shots, his volume and movement falters and he becomes increasingly easier to hit.
Both these fighters have similar strengths and weaknesses, and the line reflects that, as the odds are literally even at -115 at time of writing. I believe the result is likely to come because of whichever athlete is able to impose their own rhythm and pacing. Based upon Salikhov’s sound defense and Zaleski’s lackluster wrestling, I doubt the latter’s superior grappling will be able to come into play. Instead, Zaleski’s best pursuit of victory is in the volume, as his gas tank and output are superior, but he will have to get through some very dangerous rounds without being too complacent. Salikhov is flat-footed and too telegraphed for the defensively sound Zaleski to be exposed and although Salikhov has the better power, he should be thoroughly outpointed.
Take the Shot: Elizeu Zaleski via Unanimous Decision
This card is simply too good to miss.
Keep an eye out to see the Prediction Wonderboy, Chris Carpenter, at work on the prelims!
Until next time, Freaks.