One looks for history, the other to settle a score.
UFC champions Demetrious Johnson and Amanda Nunes defend their titles this Saturday, headlining UFC 215 in Edmonton, Canada. Standing in their way are grappling ace Ray Borg and Kyrgyzstani sensation Valentina Shevchenko.
In addition, former lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos makes his second welterweight appearance against Neil Magny, Ilir Latifi squares off with top light heavyweight prospect Tyson Pedro, and Gilbert Melendez makes his featherweight debut opposite Jeremy Stephens.
We’ve got four free Prelims left to break down before all that, though, so let’s dig in.
135 lbs.: Sara McMann (11-3) vs. Ketlen Vieira (8-0)
McMann’s failed title bid against Ronda Rousey kicked off a 1-3 slump, capped by a submission loss to Amanda Nunes in Nashville. She’s since re-inserted herself into title contention with three straight wins, becoming the first person to ever submit Alexis Davis in the process. Five of her eleven pro wins have come by submission.
Just two years after her professional debut, “Fenômeno” joined the UFC and defeated Kelly Faszholz in her debut. This led to a clash with Ashlee Evans-Smith wherein Vieira, playing the underdog role, outstruck her veteran foe en route to a unanimous decision win. At 5’9”, she stands four inches taller than McMann.
McMann has really come into her own recently. She’s always had power, but she’s finally added some nuance to her striking and developed a dangerous submission game to complement her top-tier wrestling. While Vieira’s a capable striker, McMann’s firepower evens things up on the feet and she has the tools to dictate where the fight takes place.
Unless Vieira can rock McMann early, she’ll struggle to shut down her opponent’s takedown assault. McMann holds her own on the feet and eventually locks up a fight-ending choke.
Prediction: McMann by first-round submission
125 lbs.: Henry Cejudo (10-2) vs. Wilson Reis (22-7)
Four consecutive UFC victories, including a split decision over former world #1 Jussier Formiga, led Cejudo to a title shot, which came to an abrupt end thanks to Demetrious Johnson’s knees. He went on to fall short on The Ultimate Fighter 24, then again in his fight with rival coach Joseph Benavidez via narrow split decision. He has scored four wins by form of knockout, though none since 2013.
Wins over Dustin Ortiz, Hector Sandoval, and Yuta Sasaki paved the way for Reis’ first title shot this past April. That momentum wasn’t enough to carry him past Demetrious Johnson, who handed him his first-ever submission loss late in the third round. Ten of his professional wins, including two in the UFC, have come by submission.
As of this writing, Cejudo is a -345 favorite. That is just not reflective of this fight. Reis has developed into a fearsome wrestler since joining the UFC flyweight division and his scrambling is top-of-the-line. That said, Cejudo did handle a similar foe in Jussier Formiga with relative ease and Reis has a habit of getting dropped at inopportune times.
I expect this one to be competitive throughout. After seeing him handle Formiga, though, Cejudo’s wrestling and slick boxing have me leaning his way. He shuts down enough takedowns and lands enough power shots to take the decision.
Prediction: Cejudo by unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Sarah Moras (4-2) vs. Ashlee Evans-Smith (5-2)
Moras, Miesha Tate’s second women’s pick on The Ultimate Fighter 18, submitted the towering Peggy Morgan before falling to eventual winner Julianna Peña in the semifinals. “Cheesecake’s” two UFC fights saw her edge out Alexis Dufresne and suffer a unanimous decision loss to Jéssica Andrade. This will be her first fight in over two years.
Evans-Smith put her debut loss to Raquel Pennington behind her with consecutive wins over Marion Reneau and Veronica Macedo. She last fought Ketlen Vieira in April, losing a unanimous decision after struggling with the Brazilian’s striking. Three of her five wins have come by (T)KO.
And here I face the task of balancing a clear stylistic edge with the fact that the bearer of said edge is kind of terrible. Evans-Smith, despite her wrestling pedigree, was content to get chewed up by Vieira on the feet and what shots she did take were ugly and ineffective.
That was a pretty damning performance, but Moras spent her last fight getting taken down at will by the much smaller Andrade. Even with that and the layoff, though, I can’t ignore Evans-Smith’s abysmal fight IQ. Moras edges the decision.
Prediction: Moras by unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Gavin Tucker (10-0) vs. Rick Glenn (19-4-1)
Eight finishes in nine wins, including a successful acquisition and defense of a regional title, establish Tucker as a prospect to watch. Though he couldn’t pick up finish number nine, he nonetheless kept his unbeaten record intact with a decision over Sam Sicilia in his UFC debut. He will give up five inches of height to “The Gladiator.”
Glenn capped off a thirteen-fight unbeaten streak with an upset stoppage of Georgi Karakhanyan for the WSOF title. Though he lost his belt to Lance Palmer his next time out, three straight wins earned him a spot in the UFC, where he’s split bouts with Evan Dunham and Phillipe Nover. Twelve of his professional wins have come by form of knockout.
Tucker is a terrific prospect, though he looked a bit too cocky against Sicilia. He’d better have his mind on business here, as Glenn does not stop advancing and punching until the final bell rings.
Still, so long as Tucker fights smart, this is extremely winnable. Glenn is straightforward and rudimentary with his offense, which Tucker should be able to exploit with his speed and footwork. It’s hard to pick a winner in the wrestling department, but Tucker ought to be in a better position to land and defend takedowns with his range management. He outlands Glenn for a decision victory.
Prediction: Tucker by unanimous decision
Two title fights and Magny vs. Dos Anjos? Worth it, I’d say. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Current UFC “Prelims” Prediction Record for 2017: 105-56 (1 NC)