Wasting no time in its attempt to fulfill the terms of the contracts of with their fighters – and with ESPN — the UFC is getting back in the swing of things just four days after a near-two month hiatus thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Understandably, this Fight Card isn’t nearly as deep as UFC 249 was. In fact, some would say there isn’t a meaningful fight on the prelims. In my opinion, that depends on your definition of meaningful. Is Andrei Arlovski still a meaningful piece of the heavyweight picture? No, but Philipe Lins, Arlovski’s opponent and the 2018 PFL heavyweight champion, may be in short order. Hunter Azure shows promise too. However, if your definition of meaningful means they shape the current picture of their divisions, then I’ll admit there isn’t anything meaningful.
Andrei Arlovski (28-19, 2 NC) vs. Philipe Lins (14-3), Heavyweight
When I said Lins may be a meaningful piece of the heavyweight picture, I was fully aware that he’s already 34. However, heavyweights tend to have a later physical prime than all other divisions and Lins hasn’t taken a significant amount of damage over his career. There is reason to be concerned that he was finished in each of his losses, but he has also looked much better since making the move to heavyweight after dehydrating himself to make 205. Lins doesn’t have the one-punch power that dominates the heavyweight division, but he does a solid job of playing the matador while picking away at his charging opponent with hooks, jabs, and low kicks. Plus, the Brazilian has shown an accomplished clinch game.
Arlovski is a name many love to call out as he is a former UFC champion. Of course, it was also 14 years ago when he last reigned and he’s been on the backslide of his career for several years at this point. Despite that, it could be said Arlovski has never been more technical than he is at this point. He puts together combinations and has learned how to take a punch, being KO’d just once in the last three years despite 11 career KO losses. What’s missing is the killer instinct and confidence that allowed Arlovski to dominate in his prime. He isn’t the athlete he once was either, but you’d be hard-pressed to find another 41-year old with better physical gifts than the Belarussian.
The easy pick in this contest is to say Lins is going to take the old horse out to pasture given Arlovski is 3-9 since 2016. However, rare has been the occasion when Arlovski has been blown out, generally putting up a competitive fight. I wouldn’t expect Lins to blow out the longtime vet – Arlovski may even put a scare into him — but I still think he’s primed to walk out of his UFC debut with a W. Lins via TKO of RD3
- Michael Johnson is merely 3-7 in his last 10 contests. A record like that tends to get someone who isn’t a box office breaker cut from the promotion. Yet, he’s still here. Most of his losses came to high end opposition and most would argue he was the rightful winner of his most recent loss, a controversial decision against Stevie Ray. Though Johnson is hardly ancient at 33, he has shown signs of slowing down, losing a touch of his quickness that once separated him from the pack. Plus, he has never solved his longstanding problem of slowing down around the midpoint of a fight. Can Thiago Moises take advantage of those weaknesses? Moises has the talents to do so and the submission chops Johnson has been vulnerable to. The issue with Moises is his tentativeness since arriving in the UFC. If he can get past that, he should take advantage of Johnson’s tendency to fade. Otherwise, Johnson manages to prolong his UFC career. Johnson via decision
- Remember that time when Sijara Eubanks was briefly scheduled to headline UFC 230? Since that time, Eubanks has yet to win a fight without an unfair weight advantage, possibly leaving her on the outside looking in if she were to drop this contest. A skilled grappler with plus power, Eubanks has struggled moving up to bantamweight, losing the size advantage she enjoyed at flyweight. Being the smaller fighter could be problematic against Sarah Moras, a talented grappler in her own right. Moras has fared well when she’s afforded a size advantage and she’ll have that here. However, she has yet to have an advantage on the feet in any of her UFC contests. Eubanks isn’t the most technical striker, but she packs a lot of power and has a diverse skill set. Given her grappling chops should allow her to survive Moras’ ground attack – at the very least – Eubanks should find a way to emerge victorious. Eubanks via decision
- The time is now for Omar Morales, something that isn’t typically said about DWCS alumni. The hard-hitting Venezuelan is 34-years old and is still largely a mystery given he’s faced subpar competition for most of his career. He shows some flash and sound finishing instincts, but he’ll have to loosen up if he wants to continue to find success. He faces his most experienced opponent in Gabriel Benitez, who is moving up from featherweight to lightweight. Benitez has a simplistic approach with a barrage of low kicks in hopes of baiting his opponents into running into his slick counter punches. Given Benitez’s experience against proven competition, it’s hard to pick against him in this situation. Benitez via TKO of RD2
- Brian Kelleher has an innate ability to surprise when everyone has counted him out, just as he did in his last appearance when he upset Ode Osbourne. Not blessed with an abundance of physical gifts, the moniker of Boom fits Kelleher precisely as he’s the ultimate boom-or-bust performer; only one of his seven UFC contests has gone to decision in a division not reputed for its frequency of finishes. Kelleher gets another young DWCS prospect in Hunter Azure. Unlike Osbourne, Azure owns a reliable wrestling base, the type that has given Kelleher problems in the past. If Azure sticks to what he does best and minds Kelleher’s submission attempts, he’s the favorite. If he continues to try and prove he can stand and trade, he’s liable to find himself in trouble. Regardless, it’s an evenly matched contest. Kelleher via submission of RD1
- Even though he washed out of the UFC with a disappointing 2-5 record, it isn’t a surprise Chase Sherman found his way back to the organization. At 30. He’s young for a heavyweight, has a legitimate heavyweight frame, and tends to put on an entertaining contest on a regular basis. His opponent, Ike Villanueva, is a late bloomer who is a natural light heavyweight. Despite being on the smaller side, he packs one hell of a punch with over three-fourths of his wins coming via KO/TKO. Despite his improvements, Sherman’s defense has never been up to snuff. There’s a good chance he catches Villanueva with something that turns out the lights, but my guess is Villanueva does so first. Villanueva via TKO of RD1