The UFC takes it’s act back to Fight Island in Abu Dhabi Saturday, and while the card isn’t laden with the big, attention grabbing names you’d expect on a PPV show, there is no shortage of intrigue.
In the main event, Moraes and Sandhagen slug it out to see who will be next to challenge for the strap in the bantamweight division. Also, the Barbosa vs Amirkhani fight should be violence personified. Finally, the card is studded with huge prospects like Tom Aspinall and Youssef Zalal, ready to show they belong in the sports toughest proving ground.
Let’s get to it!
Marlon Moraes (+120) vs Cory Sandhagen (-140)
The first thing that jumped out at me about this fight were the odds. I thought they were listed in reverse. However, after some digging, it seems I’m not going senile just yet.
Moraes carries a 5-2 UFC record into this fight and is coming off a split decision victory over living legend and former featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo. Moraes is crazy aggressive on his feet and uses his jab to work inside on taller fighters where he he can land an overhand right to close the show or work a clinch takedown and implement his very under appreciated top game.
Sandhagen will be the bigger fighter in this bout and will no doubt look to bully the smaller Moraes around the octagon. The real question is how will Sandhagen react coming off his first career defeat (a submission loss to Aljo Sterling). If he’s smart he’ll mix up his rangy striking with his strong clinch game to steal rounds and grab a victory.
TIME OUT: However, I don’t see Moraes letting that happen. Sooner or later the underdog will clip Sandhagen and end the fight. Moraes in all formats, Sandhagen in GPP only for me.
Makwan Amirkhani (+225) vs Edson Barbosa (-265)
This should be a fun one. Everyone knows Barbosa as a highlight reel finisher who will absolutely cripple his opponent with sharp, rangy combinations that he finishes with thunderous, tibia shattering leg kicks. While he still is perfectly capable of imposing that pain on anyone standing in front of him, the Brazilian sniper seems to have lost his way, having dropped 5 of his last 6 fights, including 3 straight losses. However, 2 of those were split decisions. Still, it seems like the answer is simple: Barbosa has to tick up the aggression and take the judges out of the equation.
That will be easier said than done against Amirkhani, who has ridiculous takedown ability and has won 69% of his fights by submission. While Barbosa is not the easiest person to takedown, and has not been submitted in 5 years…
TIME OUT: I think he’s never fought a pressure wrestler with Amirkhani’s skill set, and while Junior will have his moments on the feet, I look for Amirkhani to grind out a win. Both are playable in cash.
Ben Rothwell (-150) vs Marvin Tybura (+130)
What do you know? A Ben Rothwell sighting! I’ve been watching this guy fight since the IFL days and he tends to grow on you after a while. First, he’s a monster of a human being who possesses an 80 inch reach and has won 74% of his fights by KO. He’s also crazy strong in the clinch and can use that to get trip takedowns and implement his very underrated ground game.
On the other hand, Tybura is a balanced fighter who doesn’t do anything ridiculously well, but can be serviceable wherever the fight goes. He’s 6-5 in the UFC and has a 2 fight winning streak going heading into his clash with Big Ben. That’s about all the good news for Tybura. The fact is his chin is highly suspect, as 4 of his 6 losses have been by KO.
TIME OUT: All it will take is one of Ben’s lunch pail sized hands to find Tybura’s button and it’s lights out. Then we get to see Ben do his evil villain post fight interview, and that makes me happy. Rothwell in all formats, I’ll pass on Tybura.
Markus Perez (+140) vs Dricus du Plessiss (-160)
If you’ve never seen Perez fight, strap in. He’s a crazy, Kung Fu trained Brazilian who loves to put on a show. From spinning back elbow KOs to Superman punches, Perez is an unpredictable striker who loves to mix it up on the feet. That’s not to say he’s a slouch when the fight hits the mat: he holds a BJJ brown belt and has multiple submission victories on his record. But like I said, Perez thrives on being a wild man on his feet, and that spells trouble versus UFC newcomer du Plessiss.
This is a big South African who has finished all 14 of his pro wins including 9 submissions. While Perez has an advantage on the feet, du Plessiss is the truth. Despite him being a late replacement…
TIME OUT: I think du Plessiss grinds out a win with definite submission potential. Play him in all formats, and save Perez for a deep GPP flier.
Alan Baudot (+440) vs Tom Aspinall (-580)
This fight pits a couple of heavyweight up and comers against each other, with Baudot making his UFC debut. Aspinall is nothing if not efficient, as all 8 of his wins have come inside the first round. That equates to just 24 minutes of actual fight time for the Englishman. He showed that same level of effectiveness in his inaugural UFC bout, knocking Jake Collier out in just 45 seconds on July 25th.
Similarly, “The Black Samurai” is also a lover of all things knockout. He carries an 8-1 record, with 7 of those wins by KO. He’s also has kept his passport full of stamps, having fought in France, South Africa, and Japan, just to name a few. He now steps in on just 9 days notice for his first UFC fight. Both of these guys are headhunters, and eventually one of them will get touched, which will cause the other to bite down on his mouthpiece and slug it out in a phone booth until someone falls.
The truth is this: Aspinall has a better skill set, has faced better competition and is coming off a full training camp. He’s just better. I can’t see any other way for this to play out.
TIME OUT: Aspinall is good for cash and GPP. Baudot is nothing but a long shot GPP. Odds this goes more than 3 minutes are slim.
Youssef Zalal (-170) vs Ilia Topuria (+150)
This bout sees Zalal putting his unblemished 3-0 UFC record on the line against promotional newcomer and undefeated prospect Ilia Topuria. Zalal has been the definition of a grinder during his UFC tenure. He averages more than three takedowns a fights and all three of his octagon fights have seen the final bell. It’s interesting to note that prior to entering the UFC, all of his wins came inside the distance.
Zalal is a rangy featherweight who uses his hands to keep his opponents at distance until he sees the opening he needs to implement his wrestling and submission game. For whatever reason, Zalal has decided to play it safe inside the octagon and grind out decisions. While he will be flirting with disaster playing on the ground in Topuria’s web, Zalal is plenty good avoiding submissions while scoring with ground ‘n pound and top control.
TIME OUT: I think you can safely play Zalal in cash, while reserving Topuria for deep GPPs in case he snatches a submission.
Tom Breese (-265) vs KB Bhullar (+225)
Breeze is a huge middleweight who at one time, was thought of as one of the brightest prospects to emerge from the UK. However, various injuries and mental health issues have prevented Breese from fulfilling that promise and have resulted in a mixed bag of wins, losses, success and failure. However, the Englishman has an opportunity to remind people of how good he can be as he takes on late replacement and UFC newcomer KB Bhullar.
There’s just not much to look at regarding Bhullar. We see very few fights pop up on YouTube and articles on the usual MMA sites are scarce. Given that he is being provided this opportunity (and since he was on the roster to compete on an upcoming Contender’s Series show), either Mick Maynard or Sean Shelby think highly of his skill set. I just think Breese has too much going for him here, and Bhullar has too big of a hill to climb.
TIME OUT: Give me Breese in all formats, and fade Bhullar.
Rodrigo Nascimento (-270) vs Chris Daukus (+230)
Daukus is returning to the octagon just two months after winning his debut fight by KO. He’s a big, lumbering striker who has decent footwork, but tends to fade as the fight goes longer. Therefore, he likes to try and get things done quickly. Eight of his nine pro wins are KO’s.
Nascimento won his first UFC fight by submission, which came on the heels of him earning a contract on the Contender’s Series. He’s never seen the final bell in any of his pro fights, he’s finished all 8 of his wins, including 6 submissions. This fight boils down to whether Daukus can catch Nascimento before he tired out and gets taken down and submitted.
TIME OUT: For me, I’ll run both of these guys as deep GPP plays only.
Impa Kasanganay (-255) vs Joaquin Buckley (+215)
Kasanganay makes another trip to the octagon just six weeks removed from beating Maki Pitolo and nine weeks since winning a UFC contract on the Contender’s Series. He’s a well rounded, undefeated fighter who is solid anywhere the fight takes place.
Buckley is a grinder. Originally slated to face someone else, he’s got to be at least a little pissed off that he’s drawn such a talented replacement. The fact of the matter is that Impa is simply a better all around martial artist. Buckley was KO’d by Kevin Holland his last time out, No shame in that, but it’s indicative of how this fight will go.
TIME OUT: Impa isn’t a great finisher, as 75% of his fights go the distance, but he should be dominant. Play him everywhere and pass on Buckley.
Ali Alqasi (+185) vs Tony Kelley (-225)
With both of these fellas coming off losses, each should be hungry to prove they belong on the sport’s biggest stage. Kelley has been dealing with injuries over the last two years, and those have limited him to two fights in that span, the last of which was a loss to current UFC fighter Kai Kanaka.
However, Kelley is a rangy striker who should have significant reach and striking advantages. I just can see Alqasi getting close enough to Kelkey to execute any sort of effective game plan. Look for Kelley to ride his distance boxing game to an easy decision.
TIME OUT: Kelley is playable in all formats, and I’m fading Alqasi.
Giga Chikadze (+125) vs Omar Morales (-145)
After having to withdraw from his last scheduled fight, we finally get to see kickboxing superstar Giga Chikadze make another walk to the octagon. However, he will get all he can handle in Morales. Giga in 3-0 in the UFC, having garnered all 3 wins by way of decision. One thing about which there is zero doubt is that he will be looking to keep the fight standing, as nobody in the division has better striking credentials.
Morales comes into this bout an undefeated 10-0. Seven of those wins are by stoppage, with 5 being submissions, and therein lies his path to victory. Giga does not possess the Cro Cop type takedown defense that allows him to implement his kickboxing game at will, and Morales’ wrestling is plenty good to plant Giga on his back.
TIME OUT: As long as Morales doesn’t let his pride coax him into a striking match, he should be able to grind out a win. Morales is cash viable. Because of his striking prowess, Giga is a GPP only play.
Tracy Cortez (-185) vs Stephanie Egger (+160)
Ok, admission time: I love me some Tracy Cortez. I think she’s a smoke show, so I will do my best to be impartial here, but I’m only a man.
Here goes: Egger brings a three fight win streak into this weekend’s fight, as she steps in to face Contender’s Series alum Cortez in less than two weeks notice. Cortez is on a seven fight win streak herself, although she has taken nearly a year off since winning her UFC debut.
Cortez holds clear advantages on the feet, in the clinch, on the mat and in octagon experience. This is her fight to lose, period. I don’t smell a finish here, but I do see a dominant decision victory for my lady friend.
TIME OUT: Play Cortez in all formats and pass on Egger.
Tagir Ulanbekov (-410) vs Bruno Silva (+330)
Silva is hunting his first win in the UFC, and he will have his hands full with UFC debutant Ulanbekov. Wait, let me rephrase that: he has little to no chance against Ulanbekov, who is a Dagestan based wrestler that grew up learning from Khabib Nurmagomedov’s late father.
Huge for a flyweight, Ulanbekov is bigger, stronger, faster and more skilled than his opponent. This will be a takedown/ground ‘n pound-fest where we will get to see the emergence of who many think is the next big thing at flyweight.
TIME OUT: Play Ulanbekov anywhere you can, although I’d lean cash since the fight will be grinding. Fade Silva.
FAVORITE CASH PLAYS
Ulanbekov, Kasanganay, Cortez, Kelley
FAVORITE GPP PLAYS
Rothwell, Morales, Ulanbekov, Aspinall
There is my full breakdown of the card! If you would like to see the our MMA cheat sheet along with content for all other sports, get on board with our PREMIUM MEMBERSHIP to get signed up!