UFC Fight Night: Barboza vs. Chikadze
UFC Fight Night: Barboza vs. Chikadze

The UFC is back with another 12 fight card headlined by a five round main event in the featherweight division between Edson Barboza and Giga Chikadze and the finals of season 29 of “The Ultimate Fighter”.

The action gets started at 7pm EST on ESPN+ with the main card airing on ESPN/ESPN+ starting at 10pm EST.

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Edson Barboza (-120) vs. Giga Chikadze (+100)

Edson Barboza is looking to continue his winning streak in the featherweight division.  He lost a close split decision to Dan Ige in his divisional debut, but since then has picked up a unanimous decision over Makwan Amirkhani and a third round knockout of Shane Burgos.

Giga Chikadze will be facing the stiffest test of his career when he meets Barboza.  Chikadze has won six straight fights since joining the UFC, picking up the biggest win of his career with a first round knockout of Cub Swanson in his last fight.  The Georgian kickboxer dropped Swanson with a body kick and finished him in just 63 seconds.  Four of Chikadze’s wins have come by decision. 

This is a fantastic fight between two of the division’s most dangerous strikers pitting Barboza’s Muay Thai versus Chikadze’s kickboxing. I’ve been skeptical on Chikadze, picking against him every time except against Irwin Rivera and Jamey Simmons and been burned each time. The main reason is always his ground game. I still don’t know how good it is, but that shouldn’t be a factor here. These two are going to go toe to toe and we’ll find out who’s the better striker, at least for one night.

There have been questions about Barboza’s durability in the past, but that issue seems to be more overblown than it should be. On the other side, Chikadze’s durability is still a mystery because he does a very good job of limiting damage absorbed. He is more defensively sound than Barboza, but Barboza pushes a better pace and will throw more strikes. Chikadze has also shown a tendency to slow down later in fights and now he has to potentially fight for five rounds. Unless Chikadze can hurt or finish Barboza early, it’s more likely that Barboza will be the more effective and dangerous fighter the longer this goes so the pick is Barboza.

PREDICTION: Barboza by decision

Brian Battle (-170) vs. Gilbert Urbina (+150)

Our next fight will decide which middleweight will earn a UFC contract and be crowned champion of “The Ultimate Fighter”.  Originally scheduled to be Brian Battle versus Tresean Gore, Gilbert Urbina has been tabbed as a short notice replacement after Gore injured his knee.

Battle was the last middleweight pick of Team Volkanovski. He defeated Kemran Lachinov by unanimous decision in the quarterfinals, then upset Andre Petroski in the semifinals via second round submission.  He’s 5-1 with four wins coming inside the distance, three by submission.

Urbina defeated Michael Gillmore in the quarterfinals by first round submission, then faced Gore in the quarterfinals and was knocked out in the second round.  He’s 6-1 with three wins by decision and two by submission.  His lone professional loss is to UFC veteran Sean Brady by unanimous decision.

Most of Urbina’s fights prior to TUF took place at welterweight so Battle is the naturally bigger fighter with a four inch height and three inch reach advantage. Battle looks to primarily be a striker, even though most of his wins have come by submission, while Urbina seems to be a more willing grappler. I don’t have a strong read on this fight, but I’ll go with Battle. Urbina got dropped against Gore multiple times so durability may be an issue and if he can’t get his grappling going, Battle should be the more effective striker.

PREDICTION: Battle by decision

Ricky Turcios (-155) vs. Brady Hiestand (+135)

Turcios defeated Dan Argueta by unanimous decision in the fight of the season in the quarterfinals and then defeated Liudvik Sholinian by unanimous decision in the semifinals.  Turcios is 10-2 with six wins coming by decision and three by knockout.  He lost to Boston Salmon on the Contender Series by unanimous decision and also lost to recent UFC signing Mana Martinez by first round knockout. Turcios splits his training between Gracie Barra in Texas and Team Alpha Male.

Hiestand defeated Josh Rettinghouse by split decision in the quarterfinals, then knocked out Vince Murdock in the first round in the semifinals.  Hiestand is 5-1 with four of his wins coming inside the distance, split evenly between knockout and submission.  He is a training partner of Michael Chiesa at Sikjitsu in Spokane, Washington.

This is an interesting fight because there are clear paths to victory for both fighters. Turcios holds the striking edge, while Hiestand is a stronger wrestler and grappler. A major factor in this fight is going to be the cardio of Hiestand and lack of experience. He should be able to get his wrestling going early on Turcios, who struggles to defend takedowns. However, if he can’t hold Turcios down, Turcios could drown him with pressure on the feet. Turcios’ lack of takedown defense does concern me, but I prefer his pace and experience.

PREDICTION: Turcios by decision

Kevin Lee (-150) vs. Daniel Rodriguez (+130)

After being inactive for 15 months, Kevin Lee makes his return, this time in the welterweight division.  Lee has been scheduled to make his welterweight debut against Sean Brady twice this year, but after Brady recently had to withdraw, in steps Daniel Rodriguez.

The last time we saw Lee, he was submitted in the third round by eventual UFC lightweight champion Charles Oliveira.  It was his fourth loss in his last six fights so he’s looking for a clean slate in the welterweight division.

Rodriguez has won five of six fights since joining the UFC, most recently knocking out Preston Parsons in the first round.  His lone loss in that stretch is a controversial decision to Nicolas Dalby.  Three of the five wins have come inside the distance, twice by first round knockout.

Lee was struggling to make the lightweight limit so it will be good to see him not killing himself to make weight. He’s going to be a little undersized at welterweight, but what he lacks in size, he’ll make up in skill. Lee is a strong wrestler and grappler and has solid striking skills. He’ll be four inches shorter than Rodriguez, but he’ll have a three inch reach advantage. Rodriguez is a more dangerous striker than Lee, but he did give up two takedowns to Mike Perry, who is nowhere near the wrestler that Lee is. I would expect Lee to have success getting this fight to the ground and as long as he doesn’t spend too much time on the feet, it’s his fight to lose.

PREDICTION: Lee by decision

Andre Petroski (-525) vs. Michael Gillmore (+385)

Our next fight is a battle of middleweight competitors on this past season of “The Ultimate Fighter” as Andre Petroski takes on Michael Gillmore.

Petroski defeated Aaron Phillips in the quarterfinals by first round submission, but was then submitted in the himself second round by Brian Battle in the semifinals.  Petroski is 5-1 with all of his wins coming inside the distance, three by knockout. 

Gillmore stepped up as a short notice replacement on the show, but was submitted in the first round by Gilbert Urbina in the quarterfinals.  He’s 6-3 with three wins by decision and three by knockout.  All three of his professional losses have come by submission.

As soon as this fight was booked, it immediately screamed showcase for Petroski. He was one of the favorites to win the show, but was upset by Battle. He’s a strong wrestler and grappler, but there are concerns about his cardio and durability. Gillmore came in as a short notice replacement and it was a good story, but he was dominated by Urbina on the ground and it’s clearly a weakness of his. Now he’s matched up with a strong grappler in Petroski. I’m expecting Petroski to run right through him in the first round.

PREDICTION: Petroski by first round submission

Mahkmud Muradov (-630) vs. Gerald Meerschaert (+450)

Kicking off the main card is a middleweight bout between Mahkmud Muradov and Gerald Meerschaert.

Muradov has won three fights in a row since joining the UFC with his last two wins coming by third round knockout.  He’s won 14 fights in a row and has an overall record of 25-6.  17 of those wins have come by knockout.

Meerschaert snapped a two fight losing streak in his last fight with a first round submission of Bartosz Fabinski via guillotine choke.  During his losing streak he was knocked out in a combined 91 seconds by Khamzat Chimaev and Ian Heinisch.  All six of Meerschaert’s wins in the UFC have come inside the distance, five by submission and he has 24 overall wins by submission.

This matchup seems pretty cut and dry to me. If Meerschaert is unable to get this fight to the ground, he’s probably going to suffer his third straight knockout loss. Meerschaert’s wrestling isn’t very good and his durability is definitely a concern. Both of Muradov’s knockouts have come later in the fight, but once he touches Meerschaert’s chin early, that might be all he needs.

PREDICTION: Muradov by first round knockout

Alessio Di Chirico (-240) vs. Abdul Razak Alhassan (+195)

After both Antonio Brago Neto and Aliaskab Khizriev had to withdraw, Alessio Di Chirico and Abdul Razak Alhassan will meet in what will be Alhassan’s middleweight debut.

Earlier this year, Di Chirico snapped a three fight losing streak with a shocking first round head kick knockout of Joaquin Buckley.  Di Chirico is 4-5 in the UFC with two wins by knockout and two by submission.  Four of his five losses have come by decision with the other loss coming by submission.

Alhassan started off his UFC career with two first round knockouts, both in under a minute.  He then lost a split decision to Omari Ahkmedov, but followed that up with three straight first round knockouts.  Alhassan has now lost three fights in a row, unanimous decision losses to Mounir Lazzez and Jacob Malkoun sandwiched around a brutal 30 second knockout loss to Khaos Williams.  Now he’ll be looking for a fresh start at middleweight.

I’ve lost all confidence in Alhassan at this point. If he can’t score an early knockout, I don’t expect him to win and Di Chirico is durable. I know he can fight hard for three rounds and Alhassan can’t. Di Chirico doesn’t excel in one area, but he’s good everywhere. As long as he avoids the early power of Alhassan, he should be able to exploit Alhassan’s weak takedown defense and grind out a win.

PREDICTION: Di Chirico by decision

Wellington Turman (-130) vs. Sam Alvey (+110)

Wellington Turman has lost three of four fights since joining the UFC and has been knocked out brutally in back to back fights, both in the first round.  His lone win is a unanimous decision over Markus Perez.  Eleven of his 16 career wins have come inside the distance, seven by submission.

Sam Alvey is winless in his last six fights with five losses and one draw, although the draw with Da Un Jung and split decision loss to Ryan Spann are very debatable.  Alvey had a rough stretch at the end of his light heavyweight run so he decided to try his hand at middleweight for the first time since 2017.  It didn’t end well as Alvey was choked unconscious in the second round by Julian Marquez.  Alvey is 10-10 in the UFC with 5 wins by knockout.  Six of his ten losses have come by decision.

After watching Turman get put to sleep by Silva in his last fight, I really worry about his durability going forward and this could potentially be another disastrous result for him. Alvey is a very frustrating fighter to watch. He has power in his hands, but he’s just so damn cautious. Turman likely wants this fight on the ground, but Alvey has great takedown defense so I’m expecting this fight to take place on the feet. Turman could out volume Alvey or even knock him out as Alvey isn’t the most durable these days either. It’s not a confident pick, but I’m going to side with Alvey to put Turman out for the third straight time.

PREDICTION: Alvey by first round knockout

Dustin Jacoby (-180) vs. Darren Stewart (+155)

After an unsuccessful early run in the UFC and MMA in general, Dustin Jacoby made the transition to kickboxing where he had more success.  He decided to give it another run in MMA and earned a UFC contract, defeating Ty Flores by unanimous decision on the Contender Series.   He stopped Justin Ledet in the first round with kicks and punches, then eeked out a unanimous decision over Maxim Grishin.  In his last fight against Ion Cutelaba, Jacoby was lucky to walk away with a split draw.

Darren Stewart is winless in his last three fights with decision losses to Eryk Anders and Kevin Holland and a no contest due to an illegal knee against Anders.  Stewart was almost finished three times in that first round so he was fortunate the fight was ruled a no contest.  The majority of Stewart’s fight have taken place at middleweight, but the latest fight with Anders was at light heavyweight like this fight will be.  Stewart is 5-6 in the UFC with two no contests.  Three of his wins have come inside the distance, while four of those losses are by decision.

Jacoby gets another wrestler that is going to try and grind him out in Stewart because Stewart can not compete with Jacoby in a pure striking match. Stewart likes to grind in the clinch and Jacoby has some questionable takedown defense, but I don’t see Stewart being very effective with his wrestling at light heavyweight. Even though Jacoby struggles to defend takedowns, he scrambles well back to his feet and makes his opponent work. It probably won’t be pretty, but Jacoby is the pick.

PREDICTION: Jacoby by decision

JJ Aldrich (-410) vs. Vanessa Demopoulos (+310)

Originally scheduled to face Tracy Cortez, JJ Aldrich will now meet UFC newcomer Vanessa Demopoulos on short notice.

Aldrich is just 2-2 since moving up to flyweight.  She’s coming off a debatable split decision over Cortney Casey and is 5-3 overall in the UFC.  All five of those wins have come by decision. 

Demopoulos snapped a two fight losing streak in her last fight with a 37 second first round knockout of Cynthia Arceo.  Demopoulos is 6-3 with four wins coming inside the distance, three by submission.  All three of her losses have come by decision and two of those losses are to UFC veterans Lupita Godinez in LFA and Cory McKenna on the Contender Series.

Aldrich is a solid fighter in the women’s flyweight division. She is not great in any area, but she’s good enough and Demopoulos doesn’t seem like a UFC caliber fighter. Aldrich will have a three inch height advantage and an eight inch reach advantage. Most of Aldrich’s fights take place on the feet and she’s going to have a major advantage over Demopoulos in the striking exchanges. Demopoulos is not the most technical fighter. She just basically blitzes her opponents and looks for an early knockout or submission and has strange balance. Aldrich isn’t much of a finisher so I expect her to win a lopsided decision here.

PREDICTION: Aldrich by decision

Jamall Emmers (-150) vs. Pat Sabatini (+130)

Jamall Emmers picked up his first UFC victory with a unanimous decision win over Vince Cachero and was then set to face Chas Skelly, but notoriously pulled out of the fight with back spasms as Skelly was in the cage.  In his only other UFC fight, Emmers lost a tight split decision to Giga Chikadze.  It’s his only loss in his last six fights.  Emmers is 18-5 overall with eight wins by decision and seven by knockout.  He’s been finished in three of his five losses, twice by knockout.

Pat Sabatini made a successful UFC debut earlier this year with a unanimous decision victory over Tristan Connelly.  Sabatini is 14-3 overall with ten wins by submission.  Prior to joining the UFC, Sabatini was the CFFC featherweight champion.

Emmers and Sabatini are both strong wrestlers and grapplers, but Emmers is the better striker and athlete and that’s what will set him apart here. Sabatini needs to get his wrestling going, but that’s going to be a tough task as Emmers defends takedowns very well. On the other hand, Emmers can win this fight either striking or wrestling. Sabatini surrendered a takedown to Connelly and Emmers is a far better wrestler.

PREDICTION: Emmers by decision

Mana Martinez (-275) vs. Guido Cannetti (+220)

In the opening prelim of the night, Mana Martinez takes on Guido Cannetti in the bantamweight division.  Martinez was scheduled to face Trevin Jones last week, but decided to withdraw after his head coach Saul Soliz tragically passed away.

Martinez competed on the Contender Series last September, getting submitted via triangle choke in the first round by Drako Rodriguez.  Since then, Martinez has picked up back to back first round knockouts in a combined 92 seconds.  He also holds a first round knockout of Ricky Turcios, a finalist on this season of “The Ultimate Fighter”.  Martinez is 8-2 overall with all eight wins coming by knockout, five in the first round.  He’s only been the third round once, losing a split decision to Dulani Perry in his second pro fight.

Cannetti hasn’t fought since being knocked out in the first round by Danaa Batgerel in March of 2020 and has lost two in a row and four of six since joining the UFC. Both of his wins have come by unanimous decision, while all four losses are by stoppage, three by submission. He’s 8-5 overall.

This is another fight that has showcase written all over it. Cannetti is one of the worst fighters in the UFC and he’s 41 years old. I don’t think Martinez is an elite prospect, but Cannetti is tailor made for him to get a highlight reel finish.

PREDICTION: Martinez by first round knockout

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Last event: UFC Vegas 34 (7-5)

2021 record: 180-138 (57%)

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