Updated: Sep 17
Back to winning ways on UFC 279 we were able to cash in on much of the craziness that ensued because Khamzat couldn't make weight - and didn't care about it. Nate Diaz was able to secure his fairytale ending by choking Tony Ferguson out by guillotine, and Khamzat made quick work of Kevin Holland. While last card had some absolute legends in it, after researching each of the fighters on this card I'm even more excited for this one. There are some phenomenal matchups between contrasting styles, similar styles, strikers who get it done in different ways, and more! Let's get started!
Nikolas Matta (-200) vs Cameron VanCamp (+155)
A fight nearly a year in the making, these two fresh UFC faces had their last bout canceled and in the meantime picked up debut knockout losses. Matta lost to veteran Jim Miller as nearly a 2-to-1 favorite, while VanCamp was folded by a now surging Andre Fialho. Oil and water as it pertains to fighting styles, we should see quite a contrast on Saturday.
Breaking down Matta is fairly simple. He’s a pure striker with dynamite in his hands. Matta implements kicks decently well, but I doubt he’s able to utilize them as much against the much longer VanCamp. He stands heavily on his lead leg and loads up on accurate power shots. Nikolas lacks volume because he is nearly exclusively looking for that knockout blow, but when he connects he does tend to end the opponents night. With 8 knockout wins to his name over 12 victories, that’s his easiest path to victory and given VanCamp will be testing his out a new weight class down at 155 his durability could suffer.
While his chin might not be the same at 155 as it is 170, VanCamp will be the much heavier and longer fighter in this fight. He’s a submission specialist with 9 to his name, and he gets it done in a variety of ways. Whether by D’Arce, armbar, guillotine, rear naked choke, or triangle, his Jiu-Jitsu from top and bottom is excellent. While that is his forte, he’s decent on the feet with great leg kicks and front kicks to keep the fight at his range. It’ll be important he does that and mixes in his wrestling to keep Matta off balance, and if he can blend the two well and avoid the power shot he should win comfortably.
VanCamp’s chin worries me against the power of Matta, but the rest of his game is superior. I’ll take VanCamp as a solid underdog to begin the day in hopes that he can keep his head out of harm's way.
Pick: VanCamp +155 (1u)
Eddie Law - Cageside Press
Tony Gravely (+144) vs Javid Basharat (-174)
As of Tuesday Javid Basharat is not the only Basharat in the UFC. With a win in Dana White Contender Series, his brother was awarded a contract and will join Javid. A polished, undefeated striker at 12-0, Javid will look to keep the zero against the wrestling heavy Gravely. Not only is his striking polished, his footwork and movement is excellent, and he’ll have to lean on that to avoid the shots from Tony Gravely. If Basharat can keep this on the feet he’ll be able to open up the arsenal with spinning kicks, low kicks, and multi-level combinations to potentially put Gravely away.
I’ve talked a lot about how good a striker Basharat is, but Gravely is no slouch on the feet either. He might even be the heavier handed fighter, he’s just not as refined. There are holes in his striking that will be taken advantage of, but if he can land a few and chain it into his takedowns he’ll find a lot of success. Gravely leads all bantamweights in top control percentage and is 4th all-time in takedowns. Once he has you there, you’re not getting up. I expect him to be relentless in working his wrestling and make this a boring fight to the eyes. Give me what is now a solid underdog to pull the upset and remind the UFC of his potential.
Pick: Gravely +144 (1u)
Mariya Agapova (+123) vs Gillian Robertson (-151)
We’re in an unfamiliar situation within the female side of the UFC where both fighters are finishers. Both Agapova and Robertson have 8 finishes and 2 decision wins to their name, and I doubt we see anything different here. Agapova will have a stark advantage on the feet but she tires quickly throughout the fight. She has decent jiu-jitsu on the ground but her wrestling is sub-par. Unfortunately she’s going up against a UFC veteran and dominant wrestler in Gillian Robertson.
Robertson has the UFC flyweight record for submission wins at 5 and competes in grappling competitions between UFC fights. She will pressure Agapova consistently throughout 3 rounds, utilizing her threat of takedowns to make her opponents tentative on the feet. While her striking is poor, she likely will force this fight to the mat and should have her way getting it there. When it’s on the mat I give Robertson a massive advantage given her wrestling and submission threats, so while Agapova can land some submissions, I doubt she’ll be given the opportunity. Give me Gillian!
Pick: Robertson -151 (1u)
Jay Anderson - Cageside Press
Trey Ogden (+253) vs Daniel Zellhuber (-344)
Much like the first fight on this card, this matchup is fairly simple to break down. If Zellhuber can stuff Ogden’s takedowns he will run away with this, but if he cannot he will likely get submitted on the ground. Zellhuber comes into the UFC at 12-0 and boasts supreme power in his leg kicks and hands. What separates him from the pack is that he often grows into fights and gets better as they go. Most power strikers lose some zip throughout the fight, but Zellhuber is the exception.
Ogden has yet to record a knockout win in his career, but boasts 11 submission victories. That doesn’t mean he can’t strike, but it’s by no means his forte. In his debut he lost by split decision to the awkward Jordan Leavitt, primarily by leg kicks and top control. Leavitt is an expert grappler himself so I’m not surprised that Ogden wasn’t able to get the better of him. Zellhuber’s stamina and takedown defense will be vital to this fight and will be put to the test.
My best bet here is the under. If Zellhuber can’t stop the takedowns from Ogden he’ll likely be finished on the mat, but if he does and the fight is on the feet, I see the power being too much for Ogden and the hype behind Zellhuber growing through a knockout victory. Give me u2.5 rounds.
Pick: u2.5 rounds -125 (1u)
Loma Lookboonmee (-217) vs Denise Gomes (+166)
Even though her professional record is 6-3, Loma Lookboonmee is a UFC veteran. She’s 4-2 in the UFC with her only losses being to Loopy Godinez and Angela Hill - two solid fighters in the division. She’s a Muay Thai specialist who struggles with her takedowns (won’t be tested in this fight) and wins every fight by decision. Gomes is making her UFC debut off of a Dana White Contender Series and has solid striking but nothing to the ability of Lookboonmee. Honestly, at these odd’s I would just stay away from this fight, but I do think that Lookboonmee could be a decent parlay piece.
Pick: Lookboonmee & Trevin Giles +110 (1u)
Aspen Ladd (-147) vs Sarah McMann (+121)
Bout has been canceled due to Aspen Ladd not making weight.
Sarah McMann is on the wrong side of 40, and at 41 she has to regress at some point. That wasn’t the case in her last fight as she wrestled, wrestled, wrestled and won handedly against Karol Rosa. 14 years younger, Aspen Ladd’s hype train has sputtered a bit, losing back-to-back fights against Raquel Pennington and Norma Dumont after beginning her career 4-1. At one point she was the next big prospect, and now will need to reinvent herself to get back to the heights some thought she’d reach.
As I mentioned, McMann will utilize her wrestling as long as she can to secure a victory, and while Aspen Ladd doesn’t have the best takedown defense, the ground is where she thrives. With excellent top control, ground and pound and submission abilities, Aspen Ladd will take advantage if she’s able to assume position. Expect McMann’s tank to only last her until midway through the 2nd round and for Ladd to dominate the latter half of this fight. This is a classic buy-low, sell-high situation, and I’ll take Ladd to get back on track.
Pick: Ladd -147 (1u) & Ladd in R3 +1200 (.1u)
Damon Jackson (+148) vs Pat Sabatini (-192)
Sit your ass down and watch this fight. This will be the best fight of the night. I don’t care that Sandhagen and Yadong face off later. Dana White and the UFC deserve an open-hand slap for putting this fight where it is on the fight card - this will be a grappler’s paradise. Both fighters have 10+ submission victories to their name and rarely go to decision. Neither are slouches on the feet, but everything they do is with the intention of getting the clinch and taking the fight to the ground.
Sabitini uses power takedowns to get the fight to the ground, and given Jackson’s takedown defense isn’t great he should be able to land them. Jackson will welcome being taken down because his submission threat on the ground is THAT good. Cardio is Jackson’s best friend and he’ll weaponize it well, but what he does best is take advantage of his opponent’s weaknesses. If Sabitini shows any signs of exhaustion, faulty technique, or something else - Jackson will notice and take advantage for the rest of the fight. This fight should be incredibly close and for that reason I’ll take Jackson because he shouldn’t be this large of an underdog.
Pick: Jackson +148 (1u)
Anthony Hernandez (-204) vs Marc-Andre Barriault (+159)
Full disclosure, I have taken a liking to Marc-Andre Barriault and have backed him in nearly every fight in his career. He’s either done me dirty with a 16 second KO loss to Chidi Njokuani or cashed my tickets with a mounted guillotine on Jordan White. He is 3-1 in the UFC since switching camps and has improved drastically in striking into the clinch. Where before he telegraphed his takedown attempts, the transition now is much smoother. Barriault is still a fighter that likes to throw down in close quarters, but you can expect him to end those engagements with takedowns, his best asset. He’s consistent, has a solid gas tank, and will bring the fight to you for 3 rounds. He’s not necessarily a finisher, but he should win each round in this fight.
I say Barriault should win every round because his volume and pressure will pick up points, but what Hernandez has that Barriault doesn’t as much is knockout power. He’s able to stagger people in close range - an area Barriault loves to fight - so Powerbar will have to be careful. Where Hernandez will thrive is if the fight is at distance, but if there’s one thing I’m certain about it’s that Barriault won’t allow the fight to take place there. Expect a relatively boring fight as Barriault picks up points through pressure, top control and steadiness.
Pick: Barriault +159 (1u)
Esther Lin - MMA Fighting
Tanner Boser (-181) vs Rodrigo Nascimento (+150)
Neither of these heavyweights have fought in over a year, but both have ambitions to climb into the heavyweight rankings sooner rather than later. Tanner boser is a well-rounded striker that utilizes volume and leg kicks to perfection. He’s not the most powerful heavyweight, but has the endurance to outlast many of the other fighters in this division and wear them down.
Nascimento is much more of a submission artist with 6 of his 8 wins coming by submission, but don’t sleep on his striking. His 1 no-contest was actually a knockout victory that was called a no-contest only because of a failed drug test that was eventually overturned. In that fight he dropped Alan Baudot and finished him. If Nascimento can utilize that power to drop Boser, he’ll likely submit him on the ground.
This is a tough fight to call because Boser’s volume should cause problems on the feet, but if Nascimento gets it to the ground this might be over. I’ll take the well-rounded striking and experience of Boser to get the most of Nascimento.
Pick: Boser -181 (1u)
Chris Unger - Zuffa LLC
Alen Amedovski (+356) vs Joseph Pyfer (-526)
Joe Pyfer gets his debut in the big-time after an impressive Dana White Contender Series victory and the odds show that. He’s above a 500-point favorite tonight and is given a cakewalk in his first fight tonight in the UFC. Amedovski is 0-3 in the UFC with 2 of those losses coming in a combined 75 seconds. Pyfer is the much more technical fighter in this matchup. Expect Pyfer to stay away from the power shots, pick Amedovski apart, and potentially wrestle and grapple him to death. There’s no value in Pyfer here as this big of a favorite, I’d just stay away and enjoy the prospect dominate.
Pick: Stay away
Chris Unger - Zuffa LLC
Andre Fili (-129) vs Bill Algeo (+102)
Bill Algeo has had a mixed bag in his short UFC career thus far. He’s 3-2 with every fight going to decision aside from his most recent victory against Herbert Burns where Burns gave up due to exhaustion in the second round. While that probably makes it sound like Algeo dominated him for 5+ minutes (and he absolutely damaged him), Algeo was in danger multiple times of being submitted and Burns committed to those efforts until he was exhausted. One interesting statistic about Algeo is that he’s been taken down now in every fight in the UFC and DWCS…
…which is a perfect transition into Andre Fili! While both of these fighters are awkward volume strikers with power in their hands, Fili has shown time and time again in his very long UFC tenure that he has above average wrestling. Not only showcased in fights against primary strikers, he’s taken down wrestlers themselves. He’s struggled lately losing 4 of 5, and we know his ceiling given he’s lost handedly to Max Holloway, Calvin Kattar, Yair Rodriguez, and Bryce Mitchell, but he still shows the speed and power he’s always had.
Fili has long been a very durable fighter, but that mileage after 18 UFC fights is starting to add up. While Algeo isn’t a knockout artist by any means, given that both of these guys do throw heavy strikes and have high volume I think we might get a finish, and given the odds on it, I’ll go ahead and rip it.
Pick: u2.5 +183 (1u) & Fili -129 (1u)
Kyle Terrada - USA TODAY Sports
Chidi Njokuani (-125) vs Gregory Rodrigues (-101)
Chidi Njokuani couldn’t be more impressive through his last 3 fights (2 UFC, 1 DWCS). He’s finished all three, and both UFC fights were in the first round. He showcased his grappling and defensive wrestling against Dusan Todorovic before landing an elbow from hell that dropped Todorovic with no follow-up shots needed. What impresses me the most about Njokuani’s striking is just how much distance he can close in a short amount of time. He’ll be standing at kicking range and within a blink have a right straight full-power in your face.
His opponent in Gregory Rodrigues is much the same in that he loves boxing and has sheer power in his hands, but he doesn’t quite have the power and definitely not the speed or length of Njokuani. What he does have is top level Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Judo. If he can hold his own on the feet and mix in some judo throws from the clinch to then work in his BJJ he could give Njokuani all sorts of trouble.
Neither of these two have faced a high level of competition within MMA, so it’ll be interesting to see which prospect separates themself. As I always seem to, I’ll go with the more well-rounded fighter in Gregory Rodrigues to implement his BJJ and Judo to complement what is a solid, yet basic, boxing game. I could look very stupid if Njokuani knocks him out within a round, or we could coast to a decision victory. Either way, I’ll take the slight dog.
Pick: Rodriguez -101 (1u)
Cory Sandhagen (-206) vs Song Yadong (+158)
13 fights down, 1 to go. Main events often don’t live up to the hype they get throughout fight week and during the card, but this one absolutely should. We have 2 elite-level strikers with different repertoires, physiques, and experiences. On one hand you have the 24-year-old Chinese prospect in Song Yadong who has melted his competition in the UFC aside from a fluke loss to Kyler Phillips, but on the other you have Sandhagen who has been fighting the best of the best for some time now. While he hasn’t come out on top against Yan, Dillishaw, or Sterling, he’s put in some good performances in that time and arguably beat Dillishaw.
You could argue that Sandhagen is now the gatekeeper to the Top-5 and I might agree with you, but his unorthodox kicks and unpredictability on the feet in addition to still being relatively young in his UFC career makes me think he could further evolve and push Yan and Sterling. Training with world-class grapplers will help him in that area, but it will take time to implement. One concern of mine about Sandhagen is that he consumes so much damage in his fights. While he’s typically okay to eat a punch while he gives one, the sheer amount of strikes will add up in time.
If Sandhagen wants to go punch for punch with Song Yadong, he’ll be in real trouble. While Sandhagen mixes in kicks to all levels and has flashy striking, Yadong is quite the opposite. He rarely utilizes kicks, but his boxing is world-class. I already mentioned how fast his hands are and if he’s able to get to the target faster than Sandhagen there’s a good chance he rocks Sandhagen and capitalizes on it. At 8-1-1 in the UFC, Sandhagen is his biggest test, but he’s passed every one so far. He beat Marlon Vera soundly, knocked out Marlon Moraes and beat Julian Arce easily as well. Can he do it against Cory Sandhagen?
I’m willing to bet he does. I think we have a fight of the night contender as both of these fighters want to make a statement and put the division on notice. Sandhagen’s motive is to prove he belongs with the tip-top, while Yadong wants to show he’s continuing to progress. Give me Yadong and I’ll sprinkle on him to win by finish as well.
Pick: Yadong +158 (1u) & Yadong by KO +303 (.5u)
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