Don’t Sleep On This – UFC Philadelphia Edition

The UFC is finally back in my hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – for the first time since 2011. A marquee lightweight bout between heavy leg strikers Edson Barboza and Justin Gaethje headlines the card and we also have the debut of former LFA women’s flyweight champion Sabina Mazo. I’m taking a look at my favorite matchups going into this weekend, as these will be the first fights I’ll be seeing live since January of 2016.

Kicking off the early prelims, Sabina ‘The Colombian Queen’ Mazo is set to make her debut against Maryna Moroz. This fight was announced in January, you can check out my analysis hereMy pick: Moroz’s ground game could spell trouble for Mazo, but ultimately I think Mazo is victorious in her octagon debut

Ray Borg was set to make his return this weekend against Kyler Phillips, but as of yesterday Phillips is out and newly crowned LFA double champ and DWTNCS vet Casey Kenney steps in. LFA flyweight champion Casey Kenney, who captured that title in November, just added the bantamweight title to his mantle this past weekend – now he’s headed to the UFC. Kenney beat Brandon Royval at LFA 53 to claim the flyweight strap then knocked out Vincent Cachero in the first round this past weekend to become the bantamweight champ. Kenney went 1-1 on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, the only loss on his 11-1 record and is now looking to stick around with the top promotion. Borg hasn’t fought since his 2017 title loss to then-champion Demetrious Johnson. Injuries and complications with his newborn son has kept him away from the sport, but now Borg is ready to make some waves as he moves to the bantamweight division. My pick: Kenney takes it on short notice after his successful move up to bantamweight, the time off will hurt Borg

One of the top fights on the preliminary card is between the streaking Enrique Barzola and former LFA featherweight champion Kevin ‘Angel Of Death’ Aguilar. Barzola has been on a 4-fight win streak since late 2016, picking up victories over Chris Avila, Gabriel Benítez, Matt Bessette and most recently Brandon Davis at UFC Fight Night 129 last May. Barzola will be tasked with stopping the 8-fight win streak of Aguilar. Kevin Aguilar has been with LFA since 2013, going 8-1 during that stretch and claiming the featherweight title before being featured on DWTNCS. Aguilar didn’t get a contract that night but did get the call for the Ultimate Fighter 28 Finale where he beat out Rick Glenn in a three round war. Aguilar hasn’t quite found that stride that made him a name in LFA, but I think a knockout victory here will gain him some attention. My pick: Aguilar by TKO

On to the main card, where top strawweight contenders Karolina Kowalkiewicz and ‘The Karate Hottie’ Michelle Waterson will face off. Kowalkiewicz came into the UFC on a 7-fight win streak and picked up three wins before getting a shot at the title. Since her loss to then-champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Kowalkiewicz has gone 2-2, her most recent fight a brutal knockout loss to the next strawweight challenger, Jéssica Andrade. Waterson was a hot prospect coming into the UFC, going 2-2 before putting together a couple of wins against Cortney Casey and most recently Felice Herrig. A win here for Waterson could mean a title shot, while Kowalkiewicz is looking to get back in the win column. My pick: This is a tough fight to call, but I’m going with Kowalkiewicz via unanimous decision

The last time Josh Emmett fought was at UFC on FOX 28 over a year ago, a controversial loss to Jeremy Stephens where it looked like Stephens landed a knee to a downed opponent; nonetheless, it was the first knockout loss for Emmett. Prior to that, Emmett was 13-1, holding wins over Jon Tuck, Scott Holtzman and former title challenger Ricardo Lamas – his only loss being a split decision to Desmond Green. Emmett is ready to prove himself again after having ‘one of the worst years’ of his life in 2018. Standing in his way is Michael ‘The Menace’ Johnson; Johnson is on a 2-fight win streak after beating Artem Lobov at UFC Fight Night 138. Johnson’s career has been streaky, he went 8-4 from 2010 to 2015 and holds wins over Tony Ferguson and Edson Barboza in that span; but then went 1-5 after that before putting together that small win streak – his lone win over Dustin Poirier. Johnson has fought the who’s who in the featherweight division, and this matchup has FOTN written all over it. My pick: Emmett gets back on track, but this could go either way

The co-main event is a middleweight matchup between David Branch and Jack Hermansson. David Branch is 2-2 in his return to the UFC after winning 10 straight including both the middleweight and light heavyweight championships in the WSOF. Branch took out Krzysztof Jotko and current LHW title challenger Thiago Santos while his most recent fight was a TKO loss to Jared Cannonier. Jack Hermansson is riding his second win streak with the UFC after going 3-2 to start off with the promotion. Hermansson finished Thales Leites and Gerald Meerschaert and is looking to keep that momentum going as he tries to crack into the top 15. This is another fight that could go either way, Branch’s inconsistency is a concern as Hermansson has looked near-flawless in his wins. My pick: David Branch

The main event Saturday night is a gift to MMA fight fans. Edson Barboza is one of the most dynamic strikers in the UFC and that includes having the hardest leg kicks in the sport (just ask Mike Lullo and Rafaello Oliveira). Barboza has only had one small losing streak: a two-fight stretch from December 2017 to April 2018; he has fought the best in the division, including wins over Paul Felder, Anthony Pettis, Gilbert Melendez and most recently taking out the streaking Dan Hooker at UFC on FOX 31 – a fight that was one for the books. Justin ‘The Highlight’ Gaethje is an enigma, he is a NCAA Division I All-American wrestler, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from his fights. Gaethje went 17-0 with 14 KO’s while competing for the WSOF, capturing the lightweight title and defending it five times before signing with the UFC. In his first fight, he put on a classic FOTN against Michael Johnson and finished him in the second round. Since then he is 1-2, suffering his first loss to Eddie Alvarez and then Dustin Poirier before picking up a win against James Vick in August. Between the two, Barboza and Gaethje have 13 fight night bonuses and have both ended fights via leg kicks. Gaethje’s brawler style is a lot of fun to watch, and Barboza is no stranger to battles, but as the less dynamic striker it might be wise for Gaethje to finally use his wrestling this time. I don’t see that happening. My pick: Barboza wins the battle of the leg kicks

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Live Results – Bellator 218: Sanchez Vs. Karakhanyan 2

Friday, March 22nd – WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma

Bellator returns after a month away to Thackerville, Oklahoma as Emmanuel Sanchez is set to rematch Georgi Karakhanyan – a fight that went Sanchez’s way the first time via majority decision; Karakhanyan returns to Bellator after a two-fight stint with ACB. The co-main event features Valentin Moldavsky taking on Linton Vassell, who is moving up to heavyweight.

The main card kicks off @ 9:00PM ET/6:00PM PT on the Paramount Network.

Main Card (Paramount Network 9:00PM ET/6:00PM PT)

  • Featherweight Bout: Emmanuel Sanchez def. Georgi Karakhanyan via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
  • Heavyweight Bout: Valentin Moldavsky def. Linton Vassell via unanimous decision (29-27, 29-27, 29-27)
  • Middleweight Bout: Anatoly Tokov def. Gerald Harris via submission (guillotine choke) 0:37, R2
  • Middleweight Bout: Norbert Novenyi def. Will Lavine via submission (head & arm choke) 4:05, R2

Don’t Sleep On This – UFC Nashville Edition: Maycee ‘The Future’ Barber

Maycee Barber was all smiles after her UFC debut in November and had reason to be. The 20-year-old is currently the youngest fighter on the roster and is undefeated at amateur and pro (6-0). The Colorado native has been involved in the fight game since the age of 3, starting with karate and dabbling in everything from BJJ to boxing up until her pro debut in 2017. Fighting out of Fort Collins Martial Arts Academy, ‘The Future’ is back in action this weekend opening up the main card in Nashville against her toughest test to date, J.J. Aldrich.

Barber had cut her teeth in Legacy Fighting Alliance to begin her career, going 4-0 with three finishes (two by submission, one by ground and pound). Barber’s ground and pound has been on display her last three fights, and when she gets on top and in position, there’s very few who’d be able to withstand it. In her last fight for LFA against Audrey Perkins, Barber caught Perkins’ kick and transitioned to a straight armbar before finishing the fight with relentless G&P.

After her LFA run, Barber was invited to main event Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series and didn’t disappoint. In the 3rd round, Barber finished Jamie Colleen with that same ground and pound that ended her last fight and scored a contract.

Barber then made her debut at UFC Denver last November and faced off against fellow newcomer Hannah Cifers. Barber opened a lot of eyes with a brutal 2nd round stoppage of Cifers while taking minimal damage in the fight.

Barber wants to be a household name along with being the youngest UFC champion ever, and she has a little under 3 years to do so. Standing in her way this weekend is J.J. Aldrich. Aldrich is on a 3-fight win streak after losing her debut, besting Chan-Mi Jeon, Danielle Taylor and most recently Polyana Viana at UFC 227. Barber will make the move to flyweight, where she will have more strength and power to add to her skillset. You can watch ‘The Future’ open up the main card.

UFC Fight Night: Thompson Vs. Pettis streams live on ESPN+ with the main card starting at 8:00PM ET/5:00PM PT.

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Live Results – UFC on ESPN+ 5: Till Vs. Masvidal

Saturday, March 16th – The O2 Arena in London, England

The UFC is back in London at about the same time they were last year, and the card is headlined by Liverpool’s Darren Till and Jorge Masvidal, who is back in action for the first time since November 2017. The co-main event pits streaking Leon Edwards against Iceland’s Gunnar Nelson and filling out the card is an important light heavyweight matchup between Volkan Oezdemir and Dominick Reyes, London’s own Nathaniel Wood and the return of Joe Duffy.

The preliminaries kick off @ 1:00PM ET/10:00AM PT with the main card starting @ 4:00PM ET/1:00PM PT streaming live on ESPN+.

Main Card (ESPN+ 4:00PM ET/1:00PM PT)

  • 5-Round Welterweight Bout: Jorge Masvidal def. Darren Till via KO (punch) 3:05, R2
  • Welterweight Bout: Leon Edwards def. Gunnar Nelson via split decision (28-29, 29-27, 29-28)
  • Light Heavyweight Bout: Dominick Reyes def. Volkan Oezdemir via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
  • Bantamweight Bout: Nathaniel Wood def. José Alberto Quiñónez via submission (rear-naked choke) 2:46, R2
  • Welterweight Bout: Cláudio Silva def. Danny Roberts via verbal submission (armbar) 3:37, R3
  • Catchweight Bout (188): Jack Marshman def. John Phillips via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)

Preliminary Card (ESPN+ 1:00PM ET/10:00AM PT)

  • Featherweight Bout: Arnold Allen def. Jordan Rinaldi via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 29-28)
  • Lightweight Bout: Marc Diakiese def. Joseph Duffy via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
  • Light Heavyweight Bout: Saparbek Safarov def. Nicolae Negumereanu via unanimous decision (29-26, 29-26, 29-27)
  • Featherweight Bout: Dan Ige def. Danny Henry via submission (rear-naked choke) 1:17, R1
  • Women’s Flyweight Bout: Molly McCann def. Priscila Cachoeira via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
  • Featherweight Bout: Mike Grundy def. Nad Narimani via TKO (punches) 4:42, R2

Don’t Sleep On This – UFC London Edition: Volkan Oezdemir Vs. Dominick Reyes

Since Jon Jones has returned to the light heavyweight picture, the division has seen an emergence of contenders. It’s a breath of fresh air since in the last few years we have seen only a few of the same title challengers. Daniel Cormier seems to be done with the division, focusing on ending his career at heavyweight. After that, Jones has his work cut out for him. Up next for Jones could very well be Thiago Santos, who has made waves in the division after moving up from middleweight. Alexander Gustafsson will be fighting recent challenger Anthony Smith in the summer. Corey Anderson is also on a win streak and awaiting what’s next for him. Then there’s the dark horse, Dominick ‘The Devastator’ Reyes who will face former title challenger Volkan ‘No Time’ Oezdemir this weekend. If Reyes can keep his win streak going, we could very well see him next in line for a shot at the champ.

Volkan Oezdemir seems like he came out of nowhere when he was picked up by the UFC. A former kickboxer and Bellator fighter, Volkan made his debut in 2017 and won a split decision against former title challenger Ovince Saint Preux. In his next fight, he stopped the hype train and 8-fight win streak of Misha Cirkunov and then dropped title contender Jimi Manuwa. Both of those fights ended in under a minute, which explains the nickname ‘No Time’. Since then, Volkan has dropped two straight – to then champion Daniel Cormier and most recently Anthony Smith. Now on the first losing streak of his career, Volkan is in a must-win situation as the light heavyweight picture is heating up.

It’s hard to believe that Dominick Reyes debuted back in 2017 when he seems like a fresh addition to the light heavyweight title picture. The 29-year-old Reyes is undefeated at 10-0 and had one bout in LFA before signing with the UFC. Reyes finished Joachim Christensen, Jeremy Kimball, Jared Cannonier and had a near-finish on former title challenger Ovince Saint Preux back in October. Reyes is excited for the ‘brawler vs. kind-of-boxer’ matchup this weekend and is ready to show the division that it’s ‘his turn’.

UFC Fight Night: Till Vs. Masvidal streams live on ESPN+ with the main card starting at 4:00PM ET/1:00PM PT.

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Suarez Vs. Ansaroff/Chookagian Vs. Calderwood set for UFC 238

UFC 238, which will be headlined by women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko and challenger Jessica Eye, just got some more marquee women matchups. In what could be #1 contender bouts, dominant strawweight prospect Tatiana Suarez finally found an opponent in Nina Ansaroff and in the flyweight division, Katlyn Chookagian faces Joanne Calderwood.

Undefeated prospect Tatiana Suarez is 4-0 in the UFC with three finishes and was having trouble finding her next opponent. After taking out former Invicta FC standout Alexa Grasso and former strawweight champ Carla Esparza, Suarez wanted a step up in competition, and she will draw #3 ranked Nina Ansaroff. Ansaroff, who is the fiancé of double champ Amanda Nunes, is riding a 4-fight win streak since starting 0-2 in the UFC. Ansaroff has picked up big wins over former Invicta FC champion Angela Hill, Randa Markos and most recently former title challenger Cláudia Gadelha back in December at UFC 231. Will Ansaroff be the answer for the Suarez who seems to have ‘future champ’ written all over her?

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Pennsylvania native and #3 ranked flyweight Katlyn Chookagian will be looking to bounce back from her second professional loss after putting together a 3-fight win streak. Chookagian came into the UFC undefeated and went 4-1 before she dropped a split decision to Jessica Eye, who will challenge for the title on this very card. Chookagian draws Joanne ‘JoJo’ Calderwood who has found new life after moving up to the flyweight division. Calderwood is 3-0 in the division, most recently picking up wins over Kalindra Faria and former KSW standout Ariane Lipski. With her move to Syndicate MMA, Calderwood looks to be a threat in the division.

UFC 238: Shevchenko Vs. Eye will air live on PPV Saturday, June 8th from the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.

Don’t Sleep On This – UFC Wichita Edition: Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos Vs. Curtis Millender

UFC is back this weekend after the eventful 235 event and heavyweights will take center stage. Derrick Lewis is set to face Junior dos Santos in Wichita, Kansas, but the co-main event is something to look out for – welterweights Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos and Curtis Millender haven’t suffered a loss since 2015 and with both fighters riding 5+ win streaks, this is a fight you do not want to miss.

Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos or ‘Capoeira’ as he’s known in Brazil, is riding a 6-fight win streak with the UFC. Capoeria hasn’t lost since his promotional debut, a split decision that didn’t go his way. Since then he has stopped Omari Akhmedov, Sean Strickland and most recently Luigi Vendramini in September. Capoeira had been buried on the prelims (save for one preliminary headliner) but now he will serve as the co-main event, and much deserved so.

Curtis Millender was making waves in LFA, ending back-to-back fights with highlight reel head kicks that finally landed him in the UFC. The former Bellator vet is riding an 8-fight win streak and is 3-0 since joining the promotion, debuting with a knockout of Thiago Alves and taking decision victories over Max Griffin and most recently Siyar Bahadurzada in December.

These are two fighters who are capable of highlight reel finishes, riding very impressive win streaks and looking to climb higher in the rankings. Capoeira will get his chance to show he deserves to be on a main card and Millender will continue to get a push from the UFC. I’m curious to see if this fight goes to the ground, which I believe dos Santos will have the advantage; Millender does hold a 5″ reach advantage and with slightly similar styles, a first round finish for either fighter isn’t out of the question. Book this for fight of the night.

UFC Fight Night: Lewis Vs. dos Santos streams live on ESPN+ with the main card starting at 8:00PM ET/5:00PM PT.

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Don’t Sleep On This – UFC 235 Edition

UFC 235 has been the most talked about card so far this year. We have the return of Jon ‘Bones’ Jones, who’s looking at his quickest turnaround since 2011, taking on journeyman Anthony ‘Lionheart’ Smith. Tyron ‘The Chosen One’ Woodley will defend his welterweight title against Kamaru ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ Usman after negotiations with interim champ Colby Covington never materialized, and ‘Ruthless’ Robbie Lawler returns to the cage against the newly signed ‘Funky’ Ben Askren. That’s just a few of the fights featured on the main card; I’m taking a look at my fights to look out for and predicting the winners, here we go.

Kicking off the ESPN prelims, Mickey Gall gets his wish and takes on Diego Sanchez. UFC vet since 2005, Sanchez has settled in at welterweight after bouncing around between lightweight and featherweight. Sanchez is coming off a win against Craig White where he dominated for three rounds and is only 5-7 in his last 12, but every time you think he’s done, he’ll surprise you with an impressive win; he’s looking to do the same against the prospect Gall. Gall is also coming off a win, against George Sullivan in August, bouncing back from his first professional loss. All of Gall’s wins have come by way of rear-naked choke. I spoke with Mickey Gall when I was covering PFL 7, you can check it out below. My pick: Mickey Gall via submission

Later on the prelims is a marquee light heavyweight matchup. Misha Cirkunov, who was once on an 8-fight win streak, is fighting an exciting newcomer to the division in Johnny Walker. Walker asked to step in on short-notice once Ovince Saint-Preux had to bow out due to injury, and got his wish. Walker is on an 8-fight win streak at the moment, scoring a UFC contract on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series Brazil and following that up with wins against Khalil Rountree, Jr. and Justin Ledet. Walker has been quite the personality since joining the promotion, and this one month turnaround is coming off a 15-second knockout win and another performance bonus. Cirkunov was looking to make it nine in a row and put his name in title contention, but Volkan Oezdemir had other plans and finished the Russian in just 28 seconds at UFC Fight Night 109. Cirkunov then suffered another loss to former title challenger Glover Teixeira before getting back in the win column against Patrick Cummins this past October. My pick: Cirkunov wins this fight on the ground and gets the submission

Headlining the ESPN prelims is an exciting featherweight bout between veteran Jeremy Stephens and one of, if not the best prospect in the division, Zabit Magomedsharipov. After riding an impressive 3-fight win streak, Stephens fell to José Aldo this past summer, a loss that stuck with him for while – something he spoke about this week on Ariel Helwani’s MMA ShowZabit came into the UFC on an 8-fight win streak and collected four more wins (three by submission) against Mike Santiago, Sheymon Moraes, a fight of the night with Kyle Bochniak and most recently locking up a rare modified kneebar against Brandon Davis at UFC 228. This will be Zabit’s toughest fight to date, but his awkward fighting style and well-rounded game will be the difference. My pick: Zabit

Kicking off the main card is the return of Cody ‘No Love’ Garbrandt, who is fighting in his first non-title bout since August 2016. Garbrandt will take on Pedro Munhoz, who is 6-1 in his last seven; with that sole loss being a split decision against John Dodson, a fight many thought should have went the other way. Munhoz is coming off a TKO win against Bryan Caraway at the Ultimate Fighter 28 finale in November and looks to continue making his way to the top, which a win against the former champ will do. Garbrandt is coming off his second straight loss to T.J. Dillashaw; in both fights Garbrandt did have his moments, but seemed to rush the fight and fought more with emotion than with his head. After some time off, we’ll see if he’ll be able to put those fights behind him and get back to a title shot. My pick: This could very well be fight of the night, and if that’s the case, I’m going with Cody Garbrandt

‘Ruthless’ Robbie Lawler will also be making his return to the octagon after injuries have sidelined him since December 2017. In his post-title run, he defeated Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone and then lost to Rafael dos Anjos on that December card. Lawler is tasked with welcoming the funky one, Ben Askren, to the UFC. Askren has been talked about by fans for a while, wondering when he’d make the jump to the big show; unfortunately UFC president Dana White wasn’t a fan and had compared Askren’s fights to ‘taking ambien’. Askren to the UFC looked like it would never happen, until the first trade in MMA history was announced in November, shipping flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson to ONE FC for Askren. Askren will now get to test his undefeated record against the best welterweights in the world. My pick: Askren gets it done in his debut

In the co-main event, Tyron Woodley will defend his welterweight title against Kamaru Usman, not the interim champ Colby Covington. It looks like Covington couldn’t make the March date so the UFC moved on. Now that opportunity comes to Usman, who hasn’t lost since 2013 and is riding a 13-fight win streak that includes victories over former title challenger Demian Maia and former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos. Woodley has defended his belt four times (one draw), most recently submitting Darren Till at UFC 228. These two fighters match up pretty similarly, both coming from a wrestling base but the edge in striking and power leaning towards Woodley. My pick: This fight could go all 5 rounds, either way I have Woodley winning a strategic battle and retaining his belt

Jon Jones will make a two month turnaround after coming back and claiming his title at UFC 232 in December. Jones said he wants to fight at least three times this year and is welcome to face anyone who wants to step up. First on that list is Anthony Smith. Smith is a 44-fight veteran of the sport, fighting for promotions like Strikeforce, Bellator, CFFC and RFA before landing back with the UFC in 2016. In his second stint with the promotion, Smith has gone 7-2 with six finishes and is currently riding a 3-fight win streak which includes knockouts over two former champions and most recently a submission win over contender Volkan Oezdemir which earned him his title shot. Smith’s experience is the only advantage he holds over the champion, as this will be the biggest test of his long career. Smith has a puncher’s chance, but there’s a reason Jon Jones is considered the G.O.A.T. in MMA. My pick: Jon Jones via 2nd round submission

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Don’t Sleep On This – UFC Prague Edition: John Dodson Vs. Petr Yan

UFC on ESPN+ 3 will visit the Czech Republic for the first time in the promotion’s history, and it will be headlined by top heavyweights Jan Blachowicz and Thiago Santos. Also on the main card is an exciting bantamweight matchup between John ‘The Magician’ Dodson and Petr ‘No Mercy’ Yan. Dodson is looking to find his footing the division since moving up from flyweight and Yan has been making noise since his debut last summer.

After winning the Ultimate Fighter 14 against current bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw in 2011, Dodson moved to flyweight and went 5-2 in the division, with those two losses coming in title fights against champion at the time, Demetrious Johnson. After the second loss, Dodson moved back up to bantamweight and has alternated wins and losses since. Those wins came against Manny Gamburyan, Eddie Wineland and Pedro Munhoz; while the losses have been against contenders John Lineker, Marlon Moraes and most recently Jimmie Rivera.

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Petr Yan came over from ACB after winning the bantamweight championship while avenging the only loss of his career. At 11-1, Yan has won three straight since debuting with the UFC, besting Teruto Ishihara, Jin Soo Son and Douglas Silva de Andrade.

Yan will have the height and a slight reach advantage, but it’s hard to match the speed of Dodson. This will be the biggest test of Yan’s career, but something he’s welcoming, as he wanted John Lineker after his latest win. Yan signed a new contract with the UFC in the beginning of the year and this will be his fourth fight in just eight months. Dodson is just trying to get some consistency going, as a loss here will land him on the first losing streak of his career.

UFC Fight Night: Blachowicz Vs. Santos streams live on ESPN+ with the main card starting at 2:00PM ET/11:00AM PT.

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Don’t Sleep On This – UFC Phoenix Edition

UFC is finally making its main card debut on ESPN this weekend, and on paper, it shouldn’t disappoint. The main card features the return of one of the greatest heavyweights in the sport, facing a former title challenger looking to get back to the top. In the co-main event; after being booked to fight this summer and then having it fall apart, a lightweight bout between James Vick and Paul Felder was rescheduled to the delight of many fans. Kron Gracie will also be making his UFC debut against ‘Bruce LeroyAlex Caceres. The prelims also offer a lot of great style matchups, and that’s what I’ll be taking a look at.

On the ESPN prelims, Ashlee Evans-Smith, who was originally scheduled to face Lauren Murphy, now faces former LFA flyweight champion Andrea ‘KGB’ Lee. Lee is looking for her sixth straight win and second with the UFC after being successful in her debut back in May. Evans-Smith is looking for her second in a row after besting Bec Rawlings in April. These two match up very similar, with Evans-Smith usually having the advantage with her wrestling background, but doesn’t seem to rely on it often. My pick: Andrea Lee gets the nod after three rounds

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Headlining the prelims on ESPN are bantamweight contenders Jimmie Rivera and Aljamain Sterling. Rivera is coming off a win over John Dodson, which helped with the sting of his first defeat since 2008 by Marlon Moraes last June. Rivera came into the UFC on a 15-fight win streak and continued with five more straight against Marcus Brimage, Pedro Munhoz, Iuri Alcântara, Urijah Faber and Thomas Almeida. Sterling also suffered a defeat to Moraes, but since then has won two straight against Brett Johns and Cody Stamann. This could very well be a precursor to a title fight – if T.J. Dillashaw fights Moraes next, whoever wins this could be next in line. My pick: Jimmie Rivera by unanimous decision

Kicking off the main card will be featherweights Andre Fili and Myles Jury. Fili is coming off the wrong end of a split decision loss to Michael Johnson, but before that had reeled off two straight against Artem Lobov and Dennis Bermudez. Jury had taken two years off and when he came back had won two straight as well, against Mike De La Torre and Rick Glenn. Back in July, Jury welcomed Chad Mendes back from his suspension and lost the fight via first round TKO. My pick: I love this matchmaking, but I think the more well-rounded fighter will get it done, Myles Jury

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In what will be the UFC‘s 5000th fight (if nothing changes), Kron Gracie, the son of Rickson Gracie and the grandson of Hélio Gracie, will be making his UFC debut. Gracie will come in with a 4-0 record (all submissions), but hasn’t fought since December of 2016. ‘Bruce Leroy’ Alex Cacares will have the task of dealing with the submission specialist. Caceres is coming off a win against Martín Bravo, but is only 4-6 in his last 10. My pick: This is a classic striker-versus-grappler, Gracie by (no surprise) submission

The third and final strawweight bout of the night is Cortney ‘Cast Iron’ Casey versus Cynthia Cavillo. Casey has been on the wrong end in two of her last three fights, all split decisions; losing to Felice Herrig and Michelle Waterson, but picking up the win against Angela Hill in August. Cavillo was on a roll coming into the UFC, winning her first three (two by submission) against Amanda Cooper, Pearl Gonzalez and Joanne Calderwood. Calvillo then lost to former champion Carla Esparza at UFC 219 along with being suspended for marijuana metabolites, but returned in November with another submission win against Poliana Botelho. Casey has the height and reach advantage, but Calvillo will most likely want to take this fight to the mat where she has excelled. My pick: Calvillo

In the co-main event, a fight that was supposed to happen in the summer is finally set to take place. James ‘The Texecutioner’ Vick faces Paul ‘The Irish Dragon’ Felder. Vick has been on a tear during his UFC run, going 8-1 from 2013 to 2017. Vick kicked off last year with a win over Francisco Trinaldo before getting the main event slot at UFC Fight Night 135 in Lincoln, Nebraska against former WSOF lightweight champion Justin Gaethje. After all the back-and-forth, bad blood and dust had settled, Gaethje had knocked Vick out in under two minutes. Standing in his way of trying to put that loss behind him is Paul Felder. Felder had won three straight and was set to face Vick at UFC Fight Night 133, but Vick was pulled in favor of said matchup against Gaethje. Felder then stepped in on short notice and moved up to welterweight to fight Mike Perry at UFC 226 – a decision loss, but Felder suffered a broken arm early on in the fight. Both fighters have something to prove, and a win could help them move up that crowded lightweight ladder. My pick: Felder via TKO

In the first main event on ESPN, Cain Velasquez makes his much anticipated return to the cage against Francis Ngannou. Ngannou had taken the heavyweight division by storm, winning six straight with highlight reel knockouts along the way and earning himself a title shot against then-champion Stipe Miocic. Miocic exposed the flaws in Ngannou’s game and that carried over in his next fight against Derrick Lewis. In a rematch against Curtis Blaydes at UFC Fight Night 141, Ngannou surprised a lot of his critics with a first round TKO of the National Champion wrestler. It’s been almost four years since Cain Velasquez has fought; a TKO win against Travis Browne at the historic UFC 200. Velasquez is still hailed by many as the greatest heavyweight of all time even though has a hard time staying active, but one of the advantages he has by training at American Top Team are his training partners – two of which are current champions and one being a former champion. All that being said, even with his knockout power, I can’t see Ngannou shoring up his lack of a ground game against the best wrestler in the heavyweight division. My pick: Cain Velasquez is victorious in his octagon return

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