After a two-week break following a blockbuster UFC 257, the UFC returns to their weekly run of events this Saturday night with a fight card that looks to be stronger than next weeks PPV.
Headlined by a heavyweight title eliminator between the mammoth pair of Alistair Overeem and Alexander Volkov, the main event is chiefly supported by an intriguing bantamweight top-five clash of Cory Sandhagen vs. Frankie Edgar.
With such a strong top end, the main card can also boast a must-see Alexandre Pantoja vs. Manel Kape and the second meeting between top 15 lightweights Diego Ferreira and Beneil Dariush.
Alistair Overeem (47-18, 1 NC) vs. Alexander Volkov (32-8)
This has the potential for a really interesting tactical battle over 25 minutes, a rarity in the UFC’s heavyweight division.
With neither the hardest hitter at this stage in their careers, both men tend to rely on volume or range to better the rest of the pack in addition to their ability to take the fight to the mat if needed.
While the durability factor may side with Volkov, Overeem is perhaps the better finisher of the two even with Overeem’s recent shift towards a safer fighting style.
Where Volkov might find his success though is if he can thwart Overeem’s takedowns and establish his range for later in the fight.
Doing that however is a big ask. While Volkov’s takedown defence has improved over time, I think Overeem’s trips and control on top should allow him to get enough momentum and rounds for him to get the nod here.
Pick: Alistair Overeem
Cory Sandhagen (13-2) vs. Frankie Edgar (24-8-1)
This being a three-rounder as opposed to a five-rounder should benefit the elder statesmen in Edgar.
With less time to work with, Edgar can easily steal rounds through his wrestling and avoid Sandhagen’s damaging strikes at the same time.
While Edgar hasn’t used his wrestling ability for a while, Sandhagen’s loss to Aljamain Sterling does prove that he can be grounded and controlled with his back on the mat.
Sandhagen, however, is a big rangy hitter at bantamweight and he has a fair few tools in his arsenal.
I think with Edgar’s takedowns mainly coming from his famed knee tap, I believe Sandhagen will keep the distance for enough time to find a damaging blow on the feet.
Pick: Cory Sandhagen
Michael Johnson (19-16) vs. Clay Guida (35-20)
Michael Johnson is perhaps the hardest fighter in MMA to predict.
While his speed and ability have allowed him to pick up wins over Tony Ferguson, Edson Barboza and Dustin Poirier, he loves to throw away fights he is winning like his last three outings.
Guida, despite his own recent slump, is still active inside the octagon and has retained his aggressive hunting for the takedown which could easily see Johnson accept his fate.
With both so inconsistent, this could be a coin flip for who takes the initiative. While Johnson’s reaction to being taken down is a huge red flag, he has remained competitive with better opposition than Guida and he should have enough on the feet.
Pick: Michael Johnson
Alexandre Pantoja (22-5) vs. Manel Kape (15-4)
Pantoja’s fighting style may well play right into a debuting Kape’s hands.
While Kape may find some trouble down the line with the scrambling ability of those at flyweight, Pantoja is more than happy to get into boxing range with his opponents and land strikes while relying on his durability.
Kape meanwhile is happy to be aggressive in his pressure and pull counters from his opponent.
With Pantoja happy to engage in a firefight, I think Kape’s explosive sniping striking will see him land the more stinging blows.
Pick: Manel Kape
Cody Stamann (19-3-1) vs. Askar Askar (11-1)
Coming into a fight with Cody Stamann on short notice is a big ask for Askar Askar.
While Askar has given a good account of himself in LFA, Stamann is a really well-rounded fighter and one that produces a fair amount of output whether it be on the feet or with takedowns.
Pick: Cody Stamann
Diego Ferreira (17-2) vs. Beneil Dariush (19-4-1)
Ferreira has come on a lot as a fighter since their first meeting but Dariush is still a big threat when it comes to controlling the fight on the mat or with power in his hands.
While Ferreira has dominated a lot of fights with his grappling, Dariush would win their first encounter with his own jiu-jitsu pedigree.
On the feet, however, Ferreira’s improvements are where I think the fight will be won. While Dariush could sting him early, Ferreira’s pressuring style could trouble Dariush as the fight progresses and I think he’ll do just that as it enters the third and final round.
Pick: Diego Ferreira
(Last Predictions: 2/5, Total: 8/16, 50% Success Rate)
(Success Rate: 2016: 61%, ’17: 60%, ’18: 58%, 19′: 57%, 20′: 67%)