While UFC 260 has been devastated by “COVID protocols”, its preliminary contests were never that great to begin with. Jessica Penne may be a former UFC title challenger, but she hasn’t won a fight since 2014. Losing her contest against Hannah Goldy to COVID isn’t a massive loss. Randa Markos was also pulled from her fight with Luana Pinheiro for COVID, but Markos has lost whatever sheen she has. With those losses, it leaves the prelims with a bunch of fighters looking to establish themselves with none of them having the can’t-miss prospect label attached to them. I’ll admit several look like they could be fun, but this is a below par presentation of preliminary contests for a PPV.
- There weren’t many who believed Alonzo Menifield was ever going to be a title contender, but the few on that bandwagon probably jumped off over the course of 2020 following his losses to Devin Clark and Ovince Saint Preux. However, there are signs he is attempting to learn from his losses, pacing himself against Saint Preux after fading fast against Clark. Regardless of whatever wrinkles he adds, Menifield will still be an explosive power puncher who needs to get his opponent out of there in a hurry if he’s to win. He’s getting a sizeable step down in competition as he welcomes Fabio Cherant to the organization. Cherant is still a raw striker, but he’s developed his boxing enough that he can put together an effective 1-2 combo with regularity. However, it is his choke game that is his bread and butter, whether it be a guillotine or an anaconda, fighters are reluctant to put their necks out in his vicinity. If Menifield were to be consistently looking for takedowns, I might be inclined to consider the possibility of a Cherant upset. However, Cherant’s defense is still developing and I’d expect Menifield to find a finish early given his unnatural punching power. Menifield via TKO of RD1
- Jared Gooden didn’t come close to winning his UFC debut against Alan Jouban, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t a number of positives to take out of his performance. He showed a lot of accuracy, toughness, and more durability than many thought he possessed. Regardless, he also showed off his terrible striking defense and there are still questions about his takedown defense given Jouban didn’t put that aspect to the test. Given that Gooden’s takedown defense has been shady in the past, it would be good to have some further information given Abubakar Nurmagomedov is going to make every effort to take him to the mat. One of Abdulmanap’s many protégé’s – in addition to being Khabib’s cousin – Abubakar is a beast on the mat. Unfortunately, Abubakar is also reckless, leaving himself open to submissions… provided he he’s looking to do damage on the mat as he can also fall into bouts of inactivity. Abubakar isn’t as diverse of a striker as Gooden, but at the very least uses his punches to disguise his takedown attempts. Given Gooden’s work off his back is nothing special, it’s hard to pick against the Nurmagomedov name in this contest. Nurmagomedov via decision
- At one point, it looked like Michal Oleksiejczuk was on the verge of being a real mover and shaker in the light heavyweight division. Then he gassed against Ovince Saint Preux and got manhandled by Jimmy Crute in his subsequent contest and it looks like he’s thisclose from being shown the door. Being undersized has caught up with the Pole, requiring him to exercise a ridiculous amount of energy to stuff takedowns in addition to occasionally making his own effort to take the fight to the mat. Modestas Bukauskas will be another physically imposing figure when standing next to Oleksiejczuk, but the Lithuanian rarely makes an effort to muscle his opponent around the cage. Instead, the lanky striker prefers circling around the cage, looking for openings to land his short and simple punching combinations and kicks. It can be frustrating as Bukauskas lateral movement makes him difficult to catch and he may already have one of the best gas tanks in the division. If Oleksiejczuk can close the distance, he has one-punch power. If he can’t it’s going to be a long night. I’ll favor Bukauskas to use his long reach to keep Oleksiejczuk at bay and outpoint the former bright prospect, though Bukauskas lack of wrestling or grappling does worry me. Bukauskas via decision
- City Kickboxing has gotten a lot of attention as of late, largely due to the recent successes of Israel Adesanya and Alexander Volkov. However, some of their members have been overlooked, including Shane Young. While it seems highly unlikely he’ll ever be champion, the kickboxer does make things exciting with his nonstop pressure and high output. What holds Young back is his lack of three things: power, diversity in his attack, and defense. It isn’t like Omar Morales is amongst the best in those three categories within the division either, but he does have Young beat pretty soundly in all those areas. Part of that can be attributed to Morales being a big featherweight, making good use of his reach and picking his spots well. However, if Morales is unable to put Young away, there’s a very good possibility Young can outwork the Venezuelan representative. However, Morales tends to pressure too and there’s an even better possibility he can entice a forward moving Young to take a nap shorty after meeting Morales’ fist. Morales via TKO of RD2
- If you think Abu Azaitar was briefly cut from the UFC for a bag of potatoes, you have him confused with his brother, Ottman. Abu debuted in the UFC almost three years ago and hasn’t been seen since, making it easy to mix him up for his brother. At middleweight, Abu is also significantly larger, but he is also just as reckless on the feet as his younger brother, winging hooks with reckless abandon in hopes of securing a highlight reel KO. That description isn’t too far off the mark for his opponent, Marc-Andre Barriault. The Canadian has proven to be a top-notch dirty boxer, brutalizing Oskar Piechota with uppercuts in his most recent appearance. Barriault’s approach is pretty singular minded, but he has also proven to be exceptionally difficult to put away despite subpar defense. Thus, Barriault’s opponents have had to outwork and outwit him. Azaitar has some wrestling to fall back on, but he typically doesn’t use it. That could cost him as I favor the Canadian to be just a little bit busier if they end up engaging in a firefight. Regardless, this is not only a difficult contest to pick, it’s also an under-the-radar pick for FOTN. Barriault via TKO of RD2