Darian Weeks (-124) vs Yohan Lainesse (-106)

Darian Weeks and Yohan Lainesse come into Saturday’s opener at a combined 0-3 in the UFC with two very different stories. Lainesse was TKO’d by Gabe Green after being dropped by repeated body shots. He has a kickboxing background and tries to implement his wrestling game but struggles to hold position on the ground as he attempts low-percentage chokes. Standing at range and doing his best work with a wide array of kicks, Lainesse does not like when the fight gets inside of that range.

Weeks was thrown to the wolves in his first two fights, a testament to how high the UFC valued his potential. With two decision losses to fan-favorite Bryan Barberena and Ian Garry, he looks to finally notch a win under his belt. Highlighted by great forward pressure leading to clinching and implementing his wrestling game, Weeks isn’t the most well-refined striker but does showcase a tight right hook that could drop Lainesse if landed well. Weeks utilizes his striking to open up good takedown opportunities that should be available against Lainesse.

I don’t see any real threat in the striking of Lainesse, and Weeks did a good job checking kicks against Ian Garry. This is something he’ll be asked to do against Lainesse if he can’t close the distance. I believe Weeks will cut the cage off, push Lainesse back, and be able to notch a takedown or two and possibly finish Lainesse on the ground. Give me Weeks.

Pick: Weeks -128 (1u)

Elise Reed (+140) vs Melissa Martinez (-170)

Melissa Martinez makes her debut coming from Combate Americas, a fighting promotion largely hosted in Mexico and the southern parts of the United States. Undefeated in her short stint, she’s knocked out 5 of her 7 opponents but won her title fight vs Desiree Yanez last time out by split decision. Unable to separate herself from the fence and very average in the grappling, she was mounted for the majority of the second round but managed to get the nod in the first and third.

She’ll have nothing to fear in the grappling department against Elise Reed, who was taken down and mounted by Sam Hughes for nearly all of the 15 minutes in their fight. Showcasing her strong boxing for the minute the fight was on the feet, Hughes knew she was outmatched and that she’d have to win through her wrestling and did just that. Reed had no answer to it and lost comfortably.

This fight should be a vintage striking battle on the feet, and I think we might get a finish. Elise Reed has some long, extended boxing combinations that do solid damage and Martinez has a deadly one-two of a right straight followed with a left hook. I wouldn’t be surprised if either fighter overwhelms the other and potentially knocks the other down and gets a TKO finish.

Pick: Fight not to go the Distance +165 (.5u)

Chad Anheliger (+145) vs Heili Alateng (-175)

Boasting a 10-fight win streak since starting his professional career 2-5, Anheliger finally receives his chance at the big-time at the ripe age of 35. 10 of his 12 victories have not gone to the judges, and he’ll look to continue that trend Saturday. With absurd power in his hands for the division, if he can find a way to scrape out the first two rounds rather than going behind he’ll be a real threat. The volume isn’t there but when he gets in the pocket and throws you tend to go down.

Given UFC veteran (3-1-1) Alateng in his debut will be no easy bout as Alateng comes off a 47 second knockout of Kevin Croom. His easiest path to victory will be implementing his wrestling and tiring out Anheliger, sapping some of that power and picking up important rounds. Anheliger’s takedown defense is poor so he shouldn’t see much resistance. I doubt Alateng will get into 50-50 exchanges with Anheliger and should fight a smart fight to pick up points.

Pick: No Pick – Lean Alateng

Norma Dumont (-425) vs Danyelle Wolf (+315)

Ladies and gentlemen we have a 1-0 fighter. Danyelle Wolf enters the UFC with her only professional fight being a win on the Dana White Contender’s Series. Wolf will have to lean on her world-class boxing to get the job done. Wolf is a 3-time US Boxing Champion and was the face of the Olympic Boxing team. Not only is Wolf an expert at boxing, but she is also a multi-time Jiu-Jitsu World League champion. Making her move to the Octagon, she enters as a massive underdog against a lethal Norma Dumont.

Dumont’s only two losses come to the hands of Megan Anderson and Macy Chaisson. In her fight against Chaisson she struggled to scrape herself off the cage as Chaisson tallied the last two rounds nearly exclusively to cage control. That won’t be an issue as Wolf won’t have the clinch or wrestling of Chaisson, but where Dumont is good on the feet so is Wolf. Dumont should have the hand-speed advantage but is far too large of a favorite against the former world champion in two different combat sports. Give me a shot at the dog.

Pick: Wolf +315 (.5u)

Jake Collier (-450) vs Chris Barnett (+330)

Chris Barnett will forever be known for his wheelkick knockout followed by a front-flip while throwing up the ‘rock-on’ hand gesture. The 5’9” 36-year-old’s other two UFC performances have been disappointing, submitted by Ben Rothwell and dominated throughout three rounds by Martin Buday. He’s a KO artist with 17 to his name, and that’s surely how he’ll have to get it done to win on Saturday.

Collier is the much more versatile fighter highlighted by a very balanced victory distribution. 4 by decision, 5 by KO, and 4 by sub, Collier is one of the few versatile heavyweights that can succeed anywhere the fight goes and I think that’s largely due to him initially joining MMA as a middleweight. He’s a high-volume striker with good stamina to boot and if this fight does make it to the ground he will surely finish Barnett there.

I’m nervous about the prospect of Collier being clipped by Barnett, but Collier should be able to push the pace on him and tire out the older opponent. I won’t pick a side but I will bet this fight doesn’t go the distance.

Pick: Fight not to go the Distance -120 (1u)

Jamie Pickett (-140) vs. Denis Tiuliulin (+110)

Denis Tiuliulin makes his second UFC appearance as he faces off against Jamie Pickett this Saturday. Looking for his first win, we all know exactly what to expect from Tiuliulin: 1-2 combinations with an occasional hook and no takedown defense. If he can keep this fight standing and at range, he’ll have every chance to win and potentially knock Pickett out. Jamie Pickett is only 2-3 in the UFC and was 1-2 in DWCS. He doesn’t have much volume but is very long for the weight class and could wrestle Tiuliulin in this matchup. If he is able to secure takedowns without expending much energy and hold Tiuliulin down he can win rounds and sap the energy from Tiuliulin, but for how bad Tiuliulin’s defensive wrestling is, Pickett’s offensive wrestling isn’t really world-class either. I could see Pickett struggling to secure Tiuliulin, and Tiuliulin being able to pick him apart on the feet eventually leading to a knockout. I’ll take Tiuliulin as a slight underdog in this matchup.

Pick: Tiuliulin +110 (1u)

Jailton Almeida (-800) vs Anton Turkalj (+475) – NO PLAY

Hakeem Dawodu (-220) vs Julian Erosa (+178)

When Julian ‘Juicy J’ Erosa enters the octagon you sit down in your chair and don’t blink. Erosa is always good at entertaining whether he wins or loses, and only 1 of his last 7 fights have gone to the cards. Now enterring his third stint in the UFC after an 0-3 run, he’s come full circle at 4-1 during his latest run and they aren’t against the bottom feeders of the division. Finishing Sean Woodson, Nate Landwehr, and Charles Jourdain are no easy feats in a tough featherweight division, yet Erosa was able to pull it off on all three occasions. A D’arce choke specialist, he can secure wins on the mat or on the feet – proven by his flying knee knockout of Landwher.

Hakeem Dawodu might be his toughest test to date though, as the Canadian is now 6-2 in the UFC. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Dawodu’s fights tend to be extremely close and go to the cards with 6 of those 8 UFC fights going to the judges and 3 of those being split decisions. He’s a true 3-level striker that works well in combinations and can keep the pace largely for 15 minutes. Patient and disciplined, he likes to pick apart his opponents methodically and break them down. Leg kicks and body shots will be on full display against Erosa that will cripple him and that should be the difference in this fight. Expect Dawodu to get better as the fight goes on and notch a victory in his cap.

Pick: Dawodu R3 or Dec EVEN (1u)

Johnny Walker (+167) vs. Ion Cutelaba (-220)

Johnny Walker is the king of 1st round fights. Whether knocking out the opposition or flailing like he was spooked by a Scooby Doo villain in the Jamahal Hill knockout loss, 6 of his last 8 fights have ended before the first bell. He’s 1-4 over his last 5 fights, losing against some of the division’s finest in Krylov, Santos, and Hill in the process. Looking to bounce back, the UFC gifts him an enormous test in Cutelaba which goes to show just how much confidence Dana White has in the abilities of Walker.

Cutelaba has had a mixed bag of results lately, being finished twice by Ankalaev in 2020 (there was no need for a rematch), then tying Dustin Jacoby and beating Devin Clark before being submitted by Ryan Spann in his latest bout. Much like Walker, Cutelaba comes out firing and regresses throughout the fight. He has the arsenal to finish Walker in any manner, but I’d be surprised if this fight is anything but a slugfest on the feet. I don’t like the chin of Walker, but I do like his arsenal on the feet and because of that, I’ll take a flier on him by knockout.

Pick: Walker by KO +325 (.5u)

Irene Aldana (-182) vs Macy Chiasson (+147)

We talked a little earlier about Chiasson’s fight against Norma Dumont where she won almost exclusively by holding her up against the cage and doing minimal damage in the clinch. She faces Irene Aldana who has fought just twice over the last 33 months, including a unanimous decision loss to THE Holly Holm. On either side of that loss though there were first-round knockout victories against Ketlen Vieira and Yana Kuyitskaya.

An elite boxer, Aldana should have the advantage on the feet so long as Chiasson’s pressure doesn’t get her backed up to the cage. If Aldana can avoid those situations, she’ll waltz her way to a massive victory for her career, propelling her up the rankings at the age of 34. Her left hook is dangerous and is what dropped both Vieira and Kuyitskaya in those first-round knockout victories. I doubt she’s able to land another, but I will take her to win in what should be a close fight.

Pick: No pick – Lean Aldana

Kevin Holland (-210) vs Daniel Rodriguez (+174)

Fan Favorite Kevin ‘Trailblazer’ Holland is back yet again in the octagon facing a surging Daniel Rodriguez. Still only 29 years old but with 15 UFC fights under his belt, Holland is one of the most active fighters in the organization. 5 UFC fights in 2020, 3 in 2021 and this being his 3rd of 2022, we all know what to expect out of the showman. A great boxer with a very stiff jab, Holland has a 7-inch reach advantage that will prove massive Saturday. Not only is he a great boxer, but he is also a decent offensive wrestler and has above-average BJJ (8 submission wins).

Finally getting his wish, Holland fights 35-year-old Daniel Rodriguez. Winner of 6 of his last 7 fights, D-Rod is a tricky striker with some solid defensive submissions to boot. He’s happy to stay in the pocket and accept damage to deal it, setting traps to get opponents in that range. He’s likely the more powerful striker if he can land, but I doubt Holland will take the bait. Instead I expect Holland to keep the fight at range to utilize that reach advantage or take D-Rod down. Give Me Kevin Holland to win the fight in the later stages.

Pick: Holland R3 or Dec +150 (1u) & Holland R2 +500 (.2u)

Jingliang Li (-325) vs Tony Ferguson (+250)

The Leech faces one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time in Tony Ferguson. Sadly, Tony is not the fighter he was during his 11-fight win streak (9 bonuses), and has lost 4 straight fights to some of the best lightweights in the world in Chandler, Gaethje, Oliviera, and Dariush. Looking to get back to winning ways before considering retirement, he faces a tough test in Li Jingliang. Finishing 2 of his last 3 opponents by knockout while the third fight was a quick submission by Khamzat Chimaev in the next fight, he’s looked good and will need every bit of it against Tony.

‘El Cucuy’ moves up to welterweight for the first time since winning his UFC contract at 170 lbs in the Ultimate Fighter Season 13. Even though he lost by a highlight reel front kick from Michael Chandler last time out, he had moments in that fight that looked promising. It shows he still has some energy and heart left in the gas tank even though he’s clearly regressing at a swift rate. Jingliang is a great matchup for him because The Leech’s chin has been questionable recently. If Ferguson can crack him like he did Michael Chandler there’s a real chance he can get the finish, and I don’t doubt Tony’s defensive submissions on the ground either. This line shouldn’t be as far apart as it is, so give me Ferguson for a half unit.

Pick: Ferguson +250 (.5u)

Khamzat Chimaev (-1000) vs Nate Diaz (+700)

Do NOT touch this fight. Khamzat will surely win the fight against Nate. The biggest question will be if he can pull off a finish on Diaz, and when that will be. It could be absolute domination in the first round or victory by decision, and for those reasons, enjoy the ass-whooping and don’t put money on it.