Though none of the contests on the main card are can’t-miss – there isn’t a contest on the card that can be labeled that way – three at least offer a competitive contest. The fourth contest – the opener – features Alexander Volkanovski who is by far the best Australian prospect at this point. That he is in a contest that isn’t expected to be competitive isn’t the UFC’s fault, as visa issues and injury forced the UFC to rotate through four opponents before setting on one. Perhaps the UFC could be given a bit of a pass as over half of the main card contests were besieged by fighters withdrawing for various reasons. They’ve actually done fairly well to at least give us competitive contests given the circumstances.
The main card begins on FS1 at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT on Saturday.
The most overlooked contest on the entire card, this bout should be a lot of fun. Means has developed a reputation as one of the toughest and meanest – no pun intended – welterweights on the roster. Though best known for shredding his opponent in the clinch with his Muay Thai elbows and knees, Means has quietly become a skilled fighter from the outside. He’s made good use of his 75" reach with a consistently steady jab complemented with kicks to the lower and mid-section.
Muhammad has seemingly steadied out an up-and-down start to his UFC career as he adjusted to the level of athleticism possessed by UFC fighters. Not a terrific athlete himself, Muhammad relies on a technical combination boxing game and excellent stamina to wear down his opposition. Similar to his boxing, his wrestling, though technical, lacks the oomph necessary to get take down opposition with a decent wrestling background. Thus, it isn’t hard to see where he struggled upon his UFC entry.
This contest boils down to whether Muhammad can get Means to the ground on a consistent basis. Means has made strides in his wrestling, even making a point to use it against George Sullivan to prove to the media that he can win a fight from the ground. However, Muhammad is better than Sullivan in that aspect. Expect Muhammad to get Means to the ground at some point, probably even on multiple occasions. On the flip side, Muhammad’s durability has been a question mark, being dropped multiple times by Alan Jouban and finished in 79 seconds by Vicente Luque. It’s a bit of a coin flip, but I’m going with Means. Means via TKO of RD2
A teenager when he debuted in the UFC back in 2014, Matthews’ continued physical maturity has pushed the now 23-year old up to welterweight. Given his reliance on his physical gifts, the transition for the youngster could prove to be difficult in the early stages. Matthews has shown flashes of being a fantastic combination puncher, a bullish wrestler, and a skilled scrambler. However, he does struggle with making in-fight adjustments, something that should improve as he gains more experience.
Velickovic is a great test for Matthews. Not a good athlete himself, Velickovic is about as tough, durable, and stubborn as they come. Despite his lack of quick-twitch ability, he does have a long reach he’s been learning to use more effectively with each subsequent contest. Low kicks have long been his most consistent weapon, though his jab is improving. Where Velickovic is most effective is in the close quarters, grinding away against the fence, using his large frame to wear on his opposition in hopes of taking advantage of his deep gas tank.
Matthews is unquestionably the better athlete with far more tools in his bag to end the fight before the time limit expires. However, he’s also been such a mixed bag that it’s hard to know what version of him we’ll see in the cage. Velickovic, for all of his limitations, has been consistent fight to fight and exceptionally difficult to put away. Matthews is guaranteed to have his moments, but I like Velickovic’s size advantage to cause problems for Matthews striking and wrestling. Velickovic via decision
The UFC’s resident hair model meets suburbia’s resident dad. Based strictly on the physical appeal, Theodorou and Kelly are on completely opposite ends of the spectrum.
Kelly has developed a cult following in the hardcore MMA fanbase as he has yet to be favored on the betting lines in any of his UFC contests to date, yet still sports a 6-2 record in the world’s premier MMA organization. It isn’t that Kelly is unathletic; the dude is a 4-time Olympian in judo and is amongst the stronger middleweights in the division. He simply lacks any explosion. Kelly’s judo base makes him very difficult to deal with in the clinch as he has surprised opponents with his trips and tosses from there while being very difficult to ground himself. Subtle improvements in his footwork have allowed for noticeable improvements in his boxing as well since his UFC debut three years ago.
Theodorou operates either in close quarters or on the outside, depending upon the matchup. Given Kelly’s strong base, don’t look for the Canadian to look for too many takedowns from his relentless chain wrestling. Instead, expect Theodorou to circle around the cage throwing a variety of kicks to the legs and body of Kelly. Should Kelly find a way to close the distance, Theodorou’s boxing, though improving, doesn’t scare anyone and he’s struggled to do anything on the ground once he drags his opponent to the mat.
I’ve only gotten two predictions right on Kelly: his two UFC losses. Now that Kelly is officially 40-years old, I’m finally picking him to win. Kelly’s two losses have come against two of the division’s harder hitters in Sam Alvey and Derek Brunson. Theodorou doesn’t provide that type of threat. Sure, he’s far more athletic and is strong enough that Kelly shouldn’t overpower him consistently in the clinch, but Kelly just has that extra intangible that allows him to overcome guys like Theodorou. Kelly via decision
As the fourth opponent who has been scheduled to face Volkanovski on this card, Young didn’t get a lot of time to prepare for the contest. Given the stylistic contest he faces, he’ll want to use every second of preparation that he has. A solid striker with constant jab, Young has no problem throwing the requisite volume to win a decision. He does have issues avoiding his opponent’s return fire, but that is the least of his worries with Volkanovski. No, Young’s takedown defense is more likely to be a bigger problem as Volkanovski is a beast in the wrestling department.
A rarity in that he’s a skilled wrestler out of Australia, Volkanovski has been a takedown machine in the UFC. Granted, he hasn’t exactly faced top competition in Yusuke Kasuya and Mizuto Hirota, but they’re far better than anyone Young has faced. Volkanovski’s counter punching game has yet to fully blossom, but it’s coming along. He’ll have opportunities to practice at it if he wants as Young will offer every chance to trade punches.
There is very little that needs to be said. This should be a cakewalk for Volkanovski. I would have preferred the UFC reschedule Volkanovski on a different card against some actual UFC contest rather than pit him against Young who isn’t ready for the UFC. Hell, I got my doubts he’ll ever be ready. Alas, I understand the UFC wanted to keep the Australian on the card and he gets a meaningless win to add to his record. Volkanovski via TKO of RD2