UFC on ESPN 9 isn’t the deepest card. Given the circumstances the sports world – and the world in general – is currently operating under, I’m not complaining. But I also have to be honest in my assessment of the card. Nevertheless, the fights, even if not of the highest of quality that would be expected in normal circumstances, are competitively matched. Even though the co-main event of Blagoy Ivanov and Augusto Sakai doesn’t stir much in terms of name value, but it does represent an opportunity for one of the heavy hitters to test their mettle against the top of the division. Provided the contest doesn’t become a stinker, that alone could prove to be enough to take interest in this care… outside of the main event of course.
The main card begins on ESPN and ESPN+ at 9:00 PM ET/6:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Blagoy Ivanov (18-3, 1 NC) vs. Augusto Sakai (14-1-1), Heavyweight
It’s hard not to root for Ivanov. A sub six-foot tall heavyweight who survived a stabbing underneath his sternum in 2012, Ivanov has overcome an awful lot to find himself hanging with big swingers like Junior dos Santos and Derrick Lewis. Even if Ivanov wasn’t able to topple them, he went the distance with both KO artists, extending his career record without a single KO loss. His lack of height does make it difficult for him to win a striking battle based on volume – throwing one punch at a time doesn’t help – but he’s proven to be a particularly savvy judge of distance. If Ivanov wants to get another crack at the big boys of the division, he’ll have to get past Sakai.
Sakai has been a pleasant surprise since graduating from DWCS. Though there was no doubt that he had the skill set to make himself a mainstay of the UFC roster, his doughy frame and lackluster performances when the spotlight was brightest in his Bellator run had many believing he’d never advance beyond being a gatekeeper. However, his work in the clinch and his deep gas tank have been far better than expected, usually working in conjunction as he swarms the opposition in close quarters.
If the fight remains standing for the entirety of the contest, Sakai is the favorite. However, Ivanov is a former sambo world champion and has made a greater effort to utilize his abilities on the mat in recent contests. Sakai has proven difficult to take down, but he’ll be operating in Ivanov’s wheelhouse if he tries to utilize his typical offense in the clinch. Either he’ll be taken down or he’ll lose some of his aggression in anticipation of stopping the takedown. No matter how it plays out, it should be just enough for Ivanov to stall the Brazilian’s breakout performance for another day. Ivanov via decision
- It isn’t often you see a catchweight at 150 in the UFC, but the COVID-19 pandemic has created strange times. Billy Quarantillo has experienced a career revitalization following a loss to Michel Quinones on the regional scene, going 6-0 with five finishes in that time. He’s stepped up his striking since his time on TUF and his hyper-active ground game is difficult to deal with. However, Quarantillo is going to be met by one of the ultimate balls of energy in Spike Carlyle. The Alpha Ginger is a dogged wrestler with surprising pop in his fists. His lack of bulk makes it difficult for him to maintain top control, but typically can find a way to get the contest back to the mat in quick order. It’s a tough call, but I’m siding with Quarantillo as he’s at or near his peak in addition to being the larger man. Quarantillo via decision
- Brok Weaver may have picked up a win in his official UFC debut, but he wasn’t happy about it. That’s because he got the W thanks to the referee disqualifying his opponent for an illegal knee. It was the right call, but no one ever wants to win that way. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of positives to take out of that contest as Weaver was losing most of the contest against an opponent Weaver was supposed to beat. What did shine through was his resilience and toughness, but that only goes so far in the UFC. Roosevelt Roberts received some shine from Uncle Dana not that long ago as a top prospect, only to fall after receiving that anointing. Uncle Dana wasn’t talking out his ass; Roberts is exceptionally skilled. He also showed greater maturity in his latest outing after that loss. Picking Roberts is easy. How he wins is the question. I’ll say Roberts secures his signature guillotine. Roberts via submission of RD1
- She may have lost some of her shine, but Mackenzie Dern should still be looked at as a top prospect. A grappling guru who appears to have found a higher level of maturity following motherhood, Dern suffered a lopsided loss to Amanda Ribas in her most recent contest. That’s largely due to Dern not having an answer for a jab, the type of issue that’s not all that surprising when a fighter has been able to skate by on their natural physical talents. She’s fortunate to be facing a much smaller opponent in Hannah Cifers. They don’t come any tougher than Cifers and she will take the fight right to Dern. However, Cifers wheelhouse, the clinch, plays right into the hands of Dern. Dern is the more physical fighter and Cifers’ takedown defense is merely good as opposed to great. Cifers won’t go down without a fight, but she will go down. Dern via submission of RD2