While there isn’t much name value for the main card of UFC Wichita, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth tuning into. I understand if you’re hesitant to tune in. The co-main event consists of Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos and Curtis Millender, two names very few casual fans have heard of. However, what if I were to tell you the two welterweights have a combined 9-1 record in the UFC? Change your mind at all? Tim Means has long been a favorite of those who follow the sport closely. Ben Rothwell was a dark horse for a title shot the last time he stepped into the Octagon. And we all know you can’t sleep on Tim Boetsch. This card isn’t unbelievable by any means, but it feels like what a card on ESPN+ should be. I’ll admit there have been cards that I haven’t been overjoyed to watch. This isn’t one of those.
The main card begins at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Saturday on ESPN+.
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos (20-5) vs. Curtis Millender (17-3), Welterweight
It only took six straight victories for dos Santos to make it onto the main card of an event… and he still isn’t the most prominent dos Santos on the card. Regardless, dos Santos has established himself as a hell of an action fighter in the process, securing three violent finishes in that span. His improved takedown defense has played a big role in his winning stretch, being taken down only once in his last four contests after going down 14 times in his first three UFC contests. While not being anything more than an average athlete, dos Santos willingness to take risks – and knowing when to take risks – and technical striking make him an extremely lethal striker.
Millender easily represents the biggest test of dos Santos career. A massive welterweight with excellent distance control, Millender’s measured approach presents an interesting clash in styles to dos Santos’ voluminous approach. Possessing plenty of power, Millender’s finishing instincts kick in quickly once he hurts an opponent with a jab or a kick. Millender has already faced a pair of strikers in Thiago Alves and Max Griffin that possess some similarities to dos Santos and passed those tests with flying colors. I’d expect him to do the same here. Millender via decision
Tim Means (28-10-1, 1 NC) vs. Niko Price (12-2, 1 NC), Welterweight
Long a favorite of hardcore fans, Means appears to be on the downside of an action-packed career. He did look reinvigorated in his last appearance against Ricky Rainey as Means took some much-needed time off prior to that contest, but he’s getting up there at 35 with a lot of mileage on his body… and I don’t just mean in the cage. If Means was in his prime, I’d be picking with without a second thought over the uber-aggressive Price. Means is still one of the most durable 170ers on the roster, making it difficult for Price to capitalize on his opportunistic nature to sniff out a finish. It’s plausible Price can catch means in a scramble and choke him out, but I reckon Price’s reckless nature will put him in the clinch with Means sooner or later… a place no one wants to be. Means via TKO of RD2
Blagoy Ivanov (16-2, 1 NC) vs. Ben Rothwell (36-10), Heavyweight
The amount of similarities between Ivanov and Rothwell is striking. They have similar frame-types, though Rothwell is about 5” taller. They are both incredibly durable. Both hit harder than hell and neither is a great athlete. Did I also mention both are coming off 5-round decision losses to Junior dos Santos in their most recent appearances? While Rothwell’s record isn’t as impressive in terms of winning percentage, he’s also been doing the damn thing since before the turn of the century and has faced some of the best across several generations of heavyweight MMA. However, he’s also proven old dogs can be taught new tricks, adding a lethal arsenal of front chokes. However, when it boils down to it, his heavy fists are still his best weapon.
Ivanov, with less mileage on his body, is probably the more durable of the two at this point. However, it’s also possible that could be negligible given Rothwell hasn’t stepped foot in a cage for three years due to a PED suspension. Will Rothwell be rusty or will the time off have served him well? However, I think the bigger question will be how Ivanov deals with Rothwell’s length as he has struggled with longer vets. Rothwell isn’t the tactician JDS is, but he does have a decent knowledge of how to use his length and is difficult to get to the mat. I’m expecting a slog, but I’m hoping for something else. Rothwell via decision
Beneil Dariush (15-4-1) vs. Drew Dober (20-8, 1 NC), Lightweight
Dariush may have righted his ship when he dominated Thiago Moises in his last contest, but the three consecutive contests without a win had already done their damage: nobody sees him as a top ten lightweight anymore. That doesn’t mean he’s no longer dangerous. An aggressive striker and phenomenal grappler, Dariush’s lack of striking defense and questionable chin have been exposed. It had nothing to do with declining offensive skills. Naturally, Dariush reacted with a very safe performance against Moises. It’s hard to say if that performance is indicative of a new trend or if it was an aberration simply meant to get him back on track after a tough run.
Dober’s career has been in an upward trajectory after a slow start to his UFC run. Originally seen as a volume wrestle-boxer with pillow-fists, the Nebraska native has been sitting down on his punches to add some oomph to them. It has made him a threat to finish his opponent which has also opening up his wrestling more in the process. However, despite his improvements, Dober still has yet to secure a breakout win. His lone opportunity to do so saw him get submitted by Olivier Aubin-Mercier. Dariush isn’t quite the takedown threat OAM is, but he’s a more diverse threat on the ground and grappling is Dober’s weakness. Dariush continues his climb back to respectability. Dariush via submission of RD1
Tim Boetsch (21-12) vs. Omari Akhmedov (17-4-1), Middleweight
Boetsch has been in the UFC for a long time. At one point, he was seen as a dark horse contender. Those days are long gone as Boetsch is a solid gatekeeper at this point, but nothing more. Nonetheless, his ability to endure punishment and generate power in short areas has made him one of the most notable comeback specialists in the history of the UFC. However, the years of toil have caught up to him and he isn’t as durable as he used to be. Fortunately for him, Akhmedov is unlikely to expose his Achilles heel as Akhmedov isn’t much of a submission artist. That doesn’t mean Akhmedov doesn’t stand a chance as one of his hard hooks could put Boetsch to sleep if it lands in the right spot. What does stand as a question mark is Akhmedov’s chin. Boetsch’s striking is more diverse and technical. He’s likely to find a way to turn out Akhmedov’s lights before the fight goes the distance. Boetsch via TKO of RD2