It’s hard not to get excited for UFC 238. Even if the title contests aren’t the most riveting out there, the rest of the card more than makes up for that shortcoming. Fortunately for the hardcore fans who can’t skip a fight, the depth runs deep in the card with the Fight Pass prelims offering a couple of potentially tasty treats. It’s rare when Angela Hill is in a boring fight as she looks to test the mettle of intriguing prospect Yan Xiaonan. Plus, Katlyn Chookagian and Joanne Calderwood look to push their way into the title conversation at women’s flyweight. I’m not saying these are headlining fights. However, for early prelim contests, these are pretty damned good.
The early prelims begin either on Fight Pass or ESPN+ at 6:15 PM ET/3:15 PM PT on Saturday.
Yan Xiaonan (10-1, 1 NC) vs. Angela Hill (9-6), Women’s Strawweight
Hill has been busy, busy, busy, stepping into the Octagon for the third time since March. After having a bitter taste left in her mouth when she was submitted by Randa Markos in March, she rebounded with a beautiful performance on the feet against Jodie Esquibel a month later. Repeating a replay performance against Xiaonan will be difficult as her Chinese counterpart is much larger than Esquibel, and a better athlete to boot. However, it would be disingenuous of me to say Hill isn’t improving either, showing better energy management, finishing the fight strong when she has previously faded in the wee stages of her previous contests. Depending on the matchup, Hill is a solid fighter in the clinch too. This looks like it could be one of those matchups.
It’s been fun to see Xiaonan’s confidence in herself grow with every subsequent appearance in the UFC. In her most recent appearance against Syuri Kondo, she unloaded a mind-boggling 150 significant strikes over the course of three rounds. She did so by issuing a wide variety of range-finding kicks and punches before regularly closing the distance with lengthy combinations. I won’t say she wasn’t visibly tired by the final round in comparison to the opening frame, but her output never wavered. Hill will struggle to maintain her distance striking with Xiaonan, leading me to believe she’ll be caught up in the type of fast-paced battle that has doomed her before, leading to her output slowing in the waning stages of the fight, allowing Xiaonan to steal a decision. Xiaonan via decision
Katlyn Chookagian (11-2) vs. Joanne Calderwood (13-3), Women’s Flyweight
There’s no mistaking the difference in the energy levels of Calderwood between fighting at 115 and 125 pounds. Everyone’s favorite soft-spoken Scot now sits at 3-0 at flyweight, the last two wins coming since making the move permanent. Her lack of elite athleticism is better hidden against larger opponents and not having to commit to a larger weight cut has allowed her more energy devoted to a high-output game on the feet. JoJo has also shown a greater willingness to mix things up on the ground, securing a triangle-armbar from her back against Kalindra Faria.
Fans frustration with Calderwood has been a bit more pronounced as she entered the UFC with high expectations, but it’s plausible Chookagian would have more people tearing their hair out if they were so inclined to take a closer look. A volume outside striker with her most pronounced power coming in the clinch, Chookagian doesn’t offer enough substance with her high output. She often comes up short with her punches and there isn’t much power in them when they do land. She used to supplement some of those shorter punches with low kicks, but has abandoned those recently and even become susceptible to them herself. Nonetheless, her high level of activity has often covered up for those shortcomings, leading to her taking several questionable decisions.
Chookagian is tough as nails and has a size advantage, so counting her out would be a mistake. However, she’s suffered from the same ills that have plagued her for a while, showing no signs of shoring those up. Calderwood’s increased enthusiasm and improved versatility have me leaning in her direction. Calderwood via decision
As for the rest….
- It wasn’t much of a surprise when Bevon Lewis came up short in his UFC debut against Uriah Hall. Sure, Lewis’ physical talents rival that of Hall’s – who has largely been considered an underachiever – but Lewis entered the contest short on experience. Regardless, the lanky middleweight led through two rounds before faltering to the always dangerous Hall. He gets a step down against the still improving Darren Stewart. Stewart prefers getting things dirty, fighting in the clinch and pounding out opponents. However, he still lacks much offense from the outside and Lewis showed he’s decent at maintaining his distance, even if he hasn’t mastered it yet. He gets his first UFC win. Lewis via decision
- You’d think a promotional newcomer would be younger than Eddie Wineland, a WEC bantamweight champion all the way back in 2006. And yet, Gregory Popov is older than the longtime mainstay of the division. Nonetheless, Popov doesn’t have the mileage on his body Wineland does and that’s the one chance he has as Wineland has shown signs of wear and tear in recent years. Popov, a Tiger Muay Thai rep, throws lethal kicks and doesn’t mind adding in spinning attacks, but he’s also faced a disturbingly low level of competition. The one noteworthy opponent on his ledger, Alexey Polpudnikov, dispersed of him with ease, though that was almost five years ago. Regardless, Wineland has seen it all and presents a difficult striking target with his in-and-out boxing attack. Did I mention six of Wineland’s last seven wins came via stoppage? He’ll add another one to the list. Wineland via TKO of RD2