If you’re looking strictly at the main card of UFC Raleigh, you’ll probably be disappointed. The main and co-main event are excellent. Curtis Blaydes and Junior dos Santos are two of the best heavyweight in the world, even if neither is going to climb into the title picture any time soon. Michael Chiesa is looking to prove he deserves to be talked about among the divisional elite in his new home at welterweight against the ultimate gatekeeper at 170 in Rafael dos Anjos. Beyond that though…it’s mostly prospects who still need to prove why we should be getting excited about them. There’s no guarantee any of them will be worth keeping a close eye on, but each does offer promise.
The main card begins on ESPN+ at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Rafael dos Anjos (29-12) vs. Michael Chiesa (15-4), Welterweight
At 35 and well over three years since he lost his lightweight title, it feels safe to say Dos Anjos isn’t going to be returning to the title picture again. After all, the durable Brazilian has lost three of his last four. However, when one takes a look at the names of those he has been losing to – Colby Covington, Kamaru Usman, and Leon Edwards – they’ll realize he’s only losing to the best in the business. It could be argued the experienced Brazilian is still a top-five welterweight.
The thing that has kept Dos Anjos from beating his opposition more than anything was his lack of size. After so many years of weight cuts to 155, he couldn’t take the difficult cut any more. Though he’s big enough to hold himself with most opponents at his new home, he couldn’t deal with the physicality of Covington, Usman, and Edwards, wearing down under their constant pressure to the point where his own vaunted gas tank was running at or near empty late in the contests. Against less physical opposition, dos Anjos has served as the bully, pressuring with his tight Muay Thai, regularly working over the body with punches and kicks.
Chiesa won’t want to have anything to do with the standup of Dos Anjos. The former TUF winner has always had power in his fists and has cleaned up his technique some, but is still extremely sloppy in comparison to those who are regarded as his peers in terms of level of competition. Fortunately, he rarely engages in a fist fight, usually finding a way to get the fight to the mat in a big hurry. There was concern how about well his takedowns would translate to welterweight. Given that he’s faced an aged Diego Sanchez and a shot Carlos Condit, those questions still remain. Dos Anjos isn’t impervious to takedowns by any means, but he poses a tougher test than either of those. However, even if Chiesa is successful in his takedowns, can he finish off Dos Anjos? Chiesa surprised Dos Anjos protégé Beneil Dariush with a RNC a few years ago, but I’d be surprised if Dos Anjos – a hell of a respected BJJ practitioner himself – doesn’t show Chiesa the respect on the mat he deserves and avoids a finish.
Given Dos Anjos has only lost to the elite over the last eight years, there’s reason to automatically pick him as Chiesa is not elite. That would be foolish. Chiesa matches up well with Dos Anjos as the Brazilian doesn’t respond well to pressure. Chiesa will do that out of the gate and most of his striking improvements have come on the defensive end. If Chiesa can get Dos Anjos to the ground, it isn’t completely crazy to see him submitting him or controlling him for long stretches to steal a very close decision. Plus, Dos Anjos has been fighting at a high level with several contests that have seen him take a lot of damage. Is he slowing down?
Regardless, I’m going with Dos Anjos. Even when Covington, Usman, and Edwards took him down, they couldn’t keep him down. As a wrestler, Chiesa isn’t on their level. Plus, judges favor striking damage more than they ever have as opposed to positional control. Chiesa won’t make it easy, but Dos Anjos finds a way to win. Dos Anjos via decision
- It feels rare that the UFC actually gives the hardcore fans what they ask for, but someone positively responded to the complaints the flyweights are never given a main card position. Lo and behold, Alex Perez and Jordan Espinosa found themselves on the main card. Huh…. Not the flyweight contest I would have put on a main card, but it should be fun regardless. Perez was making noise at the end of 2018 to the point many were picking him to upset Joseph Benavidez. It wasn’t hard to see why. The Team Oyama veteran has shown a diverse skill set, relying on wrestling against Eric Shelton while laying an ungodly pace against Jose Torres. It’s hard to guess what approach he’ll take with the super-quick Espinosa. Espinosa’s takedown defense has been a major strength and he’s incredibly explosive with one-punch power, a rarity at flyweight. Regardless, I’m picking Perez as I trust his ability to pour it on more than I do Espinosa being able to find a flash KO. Perez via decision
- Due to her uncomfortable nature in the spotlight, Hannah Cifers has been gaining a bit of a cult following as many find her awkwardness to be endearing. Fortunately for the native North Carolinian, she’s a lot less awkward in the cage, showing aggression and surprising power given her small frame. After Brianna Van Buren was forced out due to injury – who would have been a nightmare matchup for Cifers – Angela Hill stepped up once again on short notice. The former Muay Thai practitioner has been maddeningly inconsistent, even within the same fight, not just fight to fight. Utilizing a lot of movement in a manner similar to her teammate, Dominick Cruz, Hill tends to jump out of the gate in a big hurry before slowing about midway through the second round. Hill has struggled with fellow high-octane opponents, giving Cifers a strong chance to pull off the upset. Regardless, it’s more likely Hill’s experience allows her to edge the hometown favorite. Hill via decision
- There is a LOT to like about Jamahal Hill. Though a bit old for a typical prospect at 28, he’s still young enough to make the long climb to the top before he ages out of his prime. He has an ideal frame at 6’4” with a 79” reach. He’s got good power too. However, Hill is also very inexperienced, beginning his pro career in 2017. He’s been able to overcome that by entering each of his contests with a strategy that belies his experience. He was often too patient on the regional scene, but showed an uptick in aggression in his DWCS appearance. However, it is worth noting he hasn’t faced anyone with the power of Darko Stosic. Though on the shorter side, Stosic is carved out of granite with a difficult frame to move. However, that frame moves glacially, making it difficult for the Serbian to rack up the necessary volume to get a decision victory if he can’t get the finish. Given the durability of Stosic, I’d expect a finish from Hill to be unlikely. Hill via decision