Regardless of the quality of the card – and it isn’t the best quality – it’s always good to have the UFC back in action after a week off. There’s a strong reason for that. For all the critiques that can be leveled at the UFC, it can’t be denied they provide the best cards, from top to bottom, just about every week. That includes the weeks when they aren’t presenting their best product. That’s due to the depth of the roster. For instance, a contest between Brendan Allen and Krzysztof Jotko is capable of headlining a Bellator card. For the UFC, it’s a preliminary contest. There’s also a former PFL champion on the prelims too. Wait... what’s that? Bellator 286 is also this weekend? Damn, that’s a stacked card. Well... it’s not like the prelims of UFC Vegas 61 are on at the same time as Bellator 286...
- It might sound weird for some, but I look at the contest between Ilir Latifi and Aleksei Oleinik as an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. I don’t know if it’s possible for anyone to submit Latifi... but I also believe there isn’t anyone out there Oleinik can’t submit. Something’s gotta give, right? Oleinik is not only the sole fighter in UFC history to secure an Ezekiel choke, he’s done it twice. Hell, he even has multiple neck cranks on his resume. Unfortunately for Oleinik, Latifi doesn’t have a neck. What may be more troubling for Oleinik is Latifi may have the strongest base on the entirety of the roster. The Swede has never been taken down in his 14-fight UFC career. Oleinik has some power, but he was never fast to begin with and is glacially slow now that he’s 45. Latifi has more power than Oleinik and his durability doesn’t appear to be fading the way Oleinik’s is. If Father Time wasn’t such a prominent factor, I’d probably favor the wily Oleinik to pull this out. Unfortunately for him, there’s a lot of wear and tear on his body in addition to his age. That should give Latifi the edge he needs. Latifi via TKO of RD2
- The re-emergence of Jessica Penne in 2021 was one of the better low-key stories of the year. After four years away, the former Invicta champion snapped a three-fight losing streak with two wins for the year, sneaking her way into the official UFC rankings after many believed she should have already been washed out of the organization. It’s proof of what a steady jab and crafty grappling can do. However, some would point to favorable matchmaking as a reason for those wins as she suffered a loss when given a physically stronger opponent. That won’t be the case this time around as her opponent, Tabatha Ricci, is probably better suited to be fighting at atomweight. There’s no doubt Penne will have a decided advantage on the feet with her significant reach advantage. The question is whether Ricci’s aggression and takedowns will make up for that. Penne’s takedown defense isn’t that great, though it can be said that is in part due to Penne’s willingness to operate off her back. Ricci appears to be one of the few in the division who is a slicker grappler than Penne. Combine that with her aggression and I think the younger fighter finds success. Ricci via decision
- Jesse Ronson has had a long and storied MMA career... for a journeyman. The Canadian striker has fought all over the globe, but has yet to pick up a victory in one of the major organizations, despite seven fights between the UFC and PFL. He came thisclose to achieving that in his return to the UFC, only to have the win vacated when his drug test came back with PED’s. At one point, the technical striker went nearly a decade without being finished in a fight, but each of his last two losses saw him fail to go the distance. At 36, it could be that the wear and tear on his body is catching up to him. Joaquim Silva isn’t quite as old as Ronson, nor does he have the same mileage on his body, but he has exhibited some of the same signs. Silva is the superior athlete and probably the heavier hitter. However, he’s also been a victim to his own questionable fight IQ at times, not to mention extended periods of inactivity. Couple that with Ronson’s biggest weakness being wrestlers – Silva has scored one takedown in his seven fight UFC career – and I think the Body Snatcher will finally pick up his first official UFC win... though I don’t say that exuding confidence. Ronson via decision
- If the UFC were to extend their official rankings to the 16 and 17 spot – not that I’m campaigning for that – Krzysztof Jokto and Brendan Allen would very likely fill that spot. Between the two, Allen has the higher ceiling, but he’s also incredibly prone to mental mistakes. At times, it can negate his improvements in his wrestling and striking technique, but the hope is consistency can come with more experience. There are signs that is the case as his inconsistency doesn’t have such a wide variance as it used to, but there are also doubts it will every truly dissipate at this stage. Jotko is on the opposite end of the spectrum, a model of consistency with minimal ability to end a fight early. Thus, while Jotko can turn some of Allen’s mistakes into a favorable position or a couple of notable strikes, it’s doubtful he can create a fight ending sequence. Even if Allen avoids major mistakes, Jotko is likely to keep the fight close despite Allen’s edge in physical attributes. However, Allen is dynamic enough that he could finish the fight to no one’s surprise. Plus, at 26, it’s most likely that Allen is still improving, especially as he has had a reasonable amount of time to adjust to the coaching of the Kill Cliff gym. I’d expect the dividends begin to pay off. Allen via decision
- It looked like Philipe Lins was on his way to being one of the biggest free agent busts in recent UFC history before he returned to light heavyweight and righted his ship. The former PFL heavyweight champion, no longer the smaller man in the cage, was able to return to his ground roots and secure enough control to take a close decision. Will he be able to execute a similar strategy against Maxim Grishin? That’s hard to say. Sporting a similar frame to Lins, Grishin may ultimately prove to be the bigger man in the cage. Plus, Grishin is far more disciplined in the striking department than Lins, which should allow him to spend long stints on the outside chipping away with kicks and punches. Lins may have more punching power, but there’s no doubt his ground game is superior. That said, Grishin’s ground game may be the most underrated part of his game as the lanky Russian hasn’t been submitted in over a decade despite a busy career. I don’t see Lins throwing anything at Grishin that he hasn’t already seen, meaning Grishin’s methodical attack should be enough for him to deliver himself a W. Grishin via decision
- A product of the Diaz brothers, that has proven to be enough of a reason for some to get excited about the future of Chelsea Chandler. Anyone who has paid attention knows that’s all the more reason to be weary given the likes of Chris Avila and Martin Sano have also come from the Diaz camp. To be fair to Chandler, she does appear to have a greater skillset to work with than either of those two, showing a strong grappling base and raw power. She has fought her last two contests at featherweight and more than held her own physically, so she could be a domineering force at 135... if she’ll be able to make that weight as this contest will be at 140. However, it appears she’ll probably be playing right into the strengths of Julija Stoliarenko. Stoliarenko has also fought at featherweight, but hasn’t had the same success as Chandler in that division. Regardless, Stoliarenko has fought a much higher level of competition and finally got her vaunted ground game to work for her in her last appearance, nabbing an armbar out of the gate to snap her losing streak. Chandler has the higher ceiling, but I’m not sure the Diaz camp is the best place for a younger fighter to stay for an extended period of time. Stoliarenko via submission of RD2
- For the last several years, I’ve expected each fight Guido Cannetti appears in to be the last time we see him in the UFC. Through a combination of fortunate matchmaking a pure luck, the 42-year-old is still here doing his thing. That doesn’t change my opinion of his abilities all that much; he’s still short on stamina and technique. To be fair, he’s chuck full of grit, long on power, and gets by as a wrestler due to his relentless nature. However, given the inconsistent nature of the talented Randy Costa, some pause is required as to whether Cannetti can pull off another upset. After all, Costa also has a short gas tank and hasn’t shown the same type of grit as Cannetti to hang in there when the going gets tough. It all comes down to whether Costa can secure his customary early finish. Costa is exceptionally heavy-handed and has a history of hurting his opponent even if he doesn’t succeed in putting them away. If Costa has matured some from his last two fights – both losses – it’s damn near impossible to not see him succeed in getting back on track. Even if he shows no signs of maturity, he would still be the favorite. Thus, only people who solely play the long betting odds will be picking Cannetti. Costa via KO of RD1