With three title fights at the top, UFC 251 is a blockbuster event. That doesn’t mean you should sleep on the prelims. There’s so much to look forward to that we don’t need too big a preamble to get this going. Let’s do this.
Volkan Oezdemir vs Jiri Prochazka
Oezdemir (17-4) might not be Mr No Time anymore, but he’s much more measured and composed as a fighter. His cardio is still not as good as it can be, yet his striking and use of range are still good. This time, he has the tall order of welcoming Jiri Prochazka (23-6, 1 NC) to the UFC. Jiri is a wild man, obliterating opposition and landing heavy strikes while negating takedowns and not letting them get their shots in. His wins that reflect best on him were against Vadim Nemkov and then-fellow prospect Karl Albrektsson, whom he stopped in emphatic fashion. Oezdemir needs to mind his space, because Jiri can crowd him easily and goes ham once he smells blood.
Elizeu Zaleski vs Muslim Salikhov
Zaleski (22-6) is a force that somehow has yet to crack into the upper crust of the welterweight division. With a funky capoeira style and his wild scrambles, to karate kicks and opportunistic submission tendencies, he’s a fluid and gifted athlete that can crack. Unfortunately, he also had his chin tested against Li Jingliang last August, and the chin didn’t past the test. That doesn’t mean he’s chinny or shot, just that if you can find it, the off switch is there, and Salikhov (16-2) is really, really good at finding the off switch. The so-called King of Kung Fu has over 50 knockouts across all of his combat sports competitions, and might be able to snare Zaleski into a dogfight to catch him slipping. His knockout wins over Nordine Taleb and Ricky Rainey were devastating, but he’s going to have to mind his distance and Zaleski’s kicking game, as well as punches down the middle to set up hooks and clinch entries.
Makwan Amirkhani vs Danny Henry
People constantly forget or ignore that Makwan Amirkhani (15-4) was a standout wrestler before getting into MMA. He’s a patient and scrappy fighter that still hasn’t had his full game come together yet and can be submitted by a more technical submission grappler that he can’t bully. Is Danny Henry (12-3) that guy? Judging from his work on his South African circuit, he might be. Setting up his strikes from mid-range, pumping his jab early and often, deterring takedowns with his strikes and a savvy submission game make him an true threat in this fight, and possibly for the rest of the division. Makwan might take over in the clinch and grind the fight to a halt, but if he doesn’t control the fight for a significant portion of it to wear Danny down with damage, this will get ugly for him.
Leonardo Santos vs Roman Bogatov
Leonardo Santos (17-3) has been in the UFC since 2013, and has wins over Kevin Lee, Stevie Ray and Rocco Martin. Problem is he’s fought so infrequently that it’s hard to remember those fights. Injuries have hampered his career, but he’s undefeated in his UFC run. So he’s a good candidate for being the first guy to test M-1 lightweight champion Roman Bogatov. Undefeated at 10-0, his choke game is superb, and he’s not easily bullied or taken down. Santos can take a hit and defend takedowns effectively while spamming leg kicks, but Bogatov might just ace this test to get ahead against the more experienced Brazilian.
Marcin Tybura vs Maxim Grishin
Marcin Tybura (18-6) was an impressive heavy hitter that the UFC took interest in, only to have him look not-as-great afterwards. That’s fine, it happens. The former M-1 champion has gone 2-4 since defeating Andrei Arlovski by decision in 2017, and has looked slower and less durable in recent outings. Even his win against Sergey Spivak didn’t look great. And (Scott Steiner voice) that spells disaster for him, because Maxim Grishin (30-7) is a quicker and much more dynamic striker that moved up from light heavyweight and can absolutely melt his opponents with his right hand. Grishin should have been in the UFC years ago, and is sure to make a sudden impact upon arrival.
Zhalgas Zhumagulov vs Raulian Paiva
Zhalgas Zhumagulov (13-3) has been doing some fine work repping Glorious Kazakhstan during his time at Fight Nights Global, defeating Tyson Nam and both Ali and Artur Bagautinov. He’s got more polish overall to be closer to a finished product than most Kazakh fighters, with good boxing, a lot of pressure and a knack for controlling opponents while staying active off his back. Paiva (19-3) can crack, and while he did well to get into the UFC via Contender Series, he had a rough landing with back to back losses against Kai Kara-France and Rogerio Bontorin. How did he react? By smoking Mark De La Rosa, that’s how. Zhumagulov might be ready for the UFC, but he might not get past the fight-stopping power that Paiva brings if he can’t outwork him to control from top position.
Vanessa Melo vs Karol Rosa
Fun fact: this fight was supposed to take place last year outside of the UFC. Vanessa Melo (10-7) was to meet Karol Rosa (12-3) at Future FC 5 in May of 2019. Women’s bantamweight hasn’t been the most thrilling division for some time, and this fight may disappoint. Melo has had some good wins against Gloria Bravo, Daiane Firmino, Molly McCann and Jan Finney (albeit Jan Finney in 2019), while Rosa has a win from 2014 over a Jessica Andrade that is not the former UFC champ, along with Mariana Morais and PANCRASE’s Sidy Rocha. Her losses are more notable, coming at the hands of Melissa Gatto and Larissa Pacheco.
It’s tough to gauge this one, considering how limited they both are and their wins and losses only tell us that they both seem to have hit their ceiling.
Martin Day vs Davey Grant
While he fell short in his UFC debut against Pingyuan Liu by split decision, Martin Day (8-3) is a prospect out of Hawaii still trying to find his footing. With some striking finishes in his back pocket, he’s still green in terms of phase shifting and putting all the pieces together but is capable of some fun violence. Davey Grant (9-4) has some ace-level submissions and can pounce on an opponent early, as he demonstrated on his Ultimate Fighter run back in 2013. This could be unpredictable fun.