The end of the year is finally here, and the UFC is giving us one last PPV present to wrap it up. No, unfortunately there isn’t a title fight to wrap up the calendar year, but we do have some phenomenal matchups including prospects like Bryce Mitchell, Ilia Topuria, Dricus Du Plessis, Paddy the Baddy, and more! Below, I break down most every fight (aside from the Ponzinibbio fight and ironically the main event as I have a play for that attached to the co-main), and if you enjoy the content I encourage you to subscribe and follow me on twitter (@RickHHSports) as I’ll be live-tweeting the entire card and possibly provide some more plays there. Without further ado, let’s get into it!
Cameron Saaiman (-350) vs Steven Koslow (+260)
Opening up the card we have two young prospects making their UFC debuts. Cameron Saaiman enters the favorite after winning on Dana White’s Contender Series this summer, while his opponent Steven Koslow enters as a sizeable underdog after taking this fight on one week’s notice. Koslow didn’t have to go the route of DWCS because he was able to finish all 6 of his opponents on the Combat Night Pro promotion by first round submission.
Stylistically, this will be an intriguing fight. Saaiman is a South African out of fellow compatriot Dricus Du Plesis’ camp, and much like Du Plesis he loves to bang. Four of Saaiman’s six wins have come by knockout, and it’s his kickboxing that makes him great. Only 21 years of age, Saaiman fights like a veteran with how versatile his skillset is. He switches stances fluidly, throws leg kicks well, and has adept wrestling and grappling when he needs to use it. The only red flag I’d give him is that his movement defensively lacks, leaving his head on line to get taken off at times (see his DWCS first round).
On the feet, Saaiman will have an advantage, but as you can imagine with six first round submission victories, Koslow should have the advantage on the mat. Koslow also boasts impressive, efficient takedowns and when the fight is there he weaponizes ground and pound brilliantly, transitioning from position to position fluidly until his opponent is in a horrible spot. In his fight against Jon Ortiz he nearly knocked him out multiple times on the mat before locking in a triangle.
This is a tough fight to call because on the feet it should be Saaiman’s to lose, but on the mat Koslow should have a distinct advantage. It’s worth noting that neither fighter is poor where the other fighter is good, but the advantage on the feet for Saaiman and on the ground for Koslow should be enough to see a finish. I’ll take a flier on this fight to not see the latter stages of the second round.
Pick: u1.5 rounds +105 (.5u)
Daniel da Silva (+170) vs Vinicius Salvador (-210) – Canceled
Our second fight is an all Brazilian affair as Daniel da Silva looks to keep his job in the UFC after being finished in all three fights he’s taken part in. Granted, his level of competition has been decently hard (Jeff Molina, Francisco Figuereido, and Victor Altamirano), but we’re in the UFC and if you’re getting finished early and often by everyone, your time will be short. Vinicius Salvador makes his debut after winning on DWCS, and his last 7 fights have ended before the conclusion of the second round as well.
Vinicius is an entertainer as much as he is a fighter. He has 13 wins by knockout and he makes it known that’s his intention from the first minute to the last. He empties the gas tank early in an effort to finish his opponent, but what’s encouraging for him is that so does his opponent. Da Silva also has never won by decision and while he has a more versatile game that includes grappling and submissions, his durability is questionable to say the least and once his gas tank hits empty he’s useless. I want NOTHING to do with this fight, I’ll happily pass.
Erik Silva (-115) vs TJ Brown (-105)
From one fast-paced, presumably quick fight to another Erik Silva and TJ Brown should be fireworks for however long it lasts. Erik Silva comes into this fight with five consecutive first round finishes, four of which coming by way of rear naked choke and his last coming by way of ground and pound just 92 seconds into his DWCS challenge. TJ Brown is much the opposite, with his last four wins coming by way of decision. That isn’t for a lack of trying though, TJ Brown has gotten into some fantastic fights in that span with the latest being the most entertaining.
Both of these fighters will want to take this fight to the ground, but before we analyze their grappling games, it’s important to dissect how the fight will take place on the feet. Erik Silva offers good leg kicks and a decent lead left jab that he pairs with a powerful overhand right well. TJ Brown keeps a high output with tons of jabs and calf kicks, but defensively leaves his head on the centerline far too often when throwing his own offense. That could cause Brown issues early while the fight is on the feet given Silva’s cracking right hand he’s landed against numerous opponents.
The chances are that this fight will take place largely on the mat. Erik Silva is a master at taking his opponent’s back when on the mat and finding the neck, locking in a body triangle to ensure he isn’t wriggled off. TJ Brown offers a much more fluid grappling style, happy to throw up submissions from his back or on top in an effort to improve position. My concern with Brown is that in the scrambles Erik Silva will be able to quickly lock in that body triangle and work on the neck early, but if Silva is able to have any success in defending that, he could easily get the better of many situations on the ground.
The X-factor for me in this fight is if we reach the second round. We’ve seen time and time again Brown’s endurance be weaponized, as he can continue to implement takedowns and keep a consistent high pressure on opponents. Erik Silva is much the opposite and is aging to go along with it. Silva tends to push heavily early in fights to secure the takedown, find the back, and get out. If Silva begins to tire after expending himself early, Brown could begin to pull away as time passes. This is a massive step up in competition for Erik Silva and I think Brown will be able to defend the grappling threats of Silva en route to a decision victory. I won’t get that cute though, give me Brown straight up to win.
Pick: Brown -105 (1u)
Billy Quarantillo (-170) vs Alexander Hernandez (+140)
If you get Billy Q into the octagon you know you’re in for a treat. It’s a shame it’s been over a calendar year since we’ve seen him compete, but the former DWCS alumnus is looking to get back on track after losing two of his last three fights. Alexander Hernandez is looking to do the same, but changing his nickname from “The Great” to “The Great Ape” isn’t a great start. Hernandez came into the UFC with a lot of hype behind him after knocking out now #4 contender Beneil Dariush in the first round, but has since sputtered out to nearly a .500 record.
Hernandez might be 5-4 in the UFC, but his 5-4 record reads much differently than many in the UFC when you dive deeper. His losses were to Donald Cerrone, Renato Moicano, Drew Dober, and Thiago Moises, all respectable losses. Neither fighter uses leg kicks much on the feet, the boxing matchup should be fantastic. Quarantillo is known for his relentless pressure and volume boxing style, while Hernandez relies much heavier on his counter striking ability and power to get it done.
Alexander Hernandez has taken a ton of beating throughout his career. Donald Cerrone stopped him then Drew Dober cracked his chin a number of times. He also has multiple wins by knockout himself, but I don’t see him being able to do that against Billy Q when they stand and bang in the pocket. The pressure of Quarantillo will overwhelm Hernandez, whose striking defense is porous and gets him hit clean far too often. Expect one Quarantillo shot to wobble Hernandez followed by an onslaught to finish him.
Pick: Quarantillo ITD +180 (1u)
Chris Curtis (+138) vs Joaquin Buckley (-165)
Chris Curtis’ meteoric rise came to a screeching halt as Jack Hermansson frustrated him to the point Curtis showed his ass on international television, flicking Hermansson off and calling him names during the fight and afterwards before apologizing later for acting like a child. It was a quick fall from grace, but Curtis is still a well-known name in the MMA community now, which must still feel surreal for him considering just 16 months ago he wasn’t even in the UFC at the age of 34.
Curtis takes on the human highlight reel himself in Joaquin Buckley, the winner of multiple performance of the night bonuses throughout his career including his knockout of the year against Impa Kasanganay. Both fighters are short for the middleweight division at only 5’10”, but both gentlemen are built like tanks. The winner of this fight will likely come by who has more composure when moving forward attacking, because as soon as the aggressor gets a little too comfortable and leaves their guard down a hook from the other can end the night.
Buckley is known for marching forward and winging nearly exclusively power hooks, and while Curtis does that as well he has a much more diverse boxing game to go along with it. He rips the body phenomenally and has a nice jab to pair with it. If he’s able to get in the pocket to land short combinations and keep his head safe I believe he could see a lot of success in this matchup and potentially end Buckley’s night. Their wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu should cancel each other’s out, and I’ll back Curtis to bounce back, even after his antics made me dislike him.
Pick: Curtis +138 (1u)
Edmen Shahbazyan (-305) vs Dalcha Lungiambula (+235)
Much like Joaquin Buckley in the fight before, Dalcha Lungiambula throws everything into each and every strike he throws. Sometimes it works out, others it doesn’t. See his fight against Cody Brundage as an example of one where he nearly got the finish before Cody Brundage jumped guillotine and ended Dalcha’s night. Now 2-4, Lungiambula has no easy task as he takes on Edmen Shahbazyan. Now 3-3 in the UFC, Shahbazyan has lost his last three fights after building a large following by finishing his first 3 fights by first round stoppage. Now, losses to Jack Hermansson, Derek Brunson, and Nassourdine Imavov are not bad losses, but given the hype train attached to him it’s imperative he returns to winning ways in this fight if he ever wants to re-enter the rankings.
As I said, Shahbazyan was one of the up-and-coming stars in the UFC and until that three fight losing streak was destined to hold the belt at some stage in his career. Though he lost, he’s still young and developing, only 25 now after a year off. He’s 10 years younger than Lungiambula and while age by itself might not be the difference, the wear-and-tear and regression skills will be. Shahbazyan should have a distinct speed and size advantage in this fight, and so long as he avoids Lungiambula’s looping power hooks he should be safe. Don’t expect this fight to go the distance, as 10 of Shahbazyan’s 11 wins have come by first round finish. Give me the prospect to get back on track.
Pick: Shahbazyan ITD -135 (1u)
Jay Perrin (+195) vs Raul Rosas Jr. (-250)
Raul Rosas Jr. makes his UFC debut as the youngest fighter on the roster as a newly turned 18 year old, and it’s by no means lucky that he got here. He may only be 6-0 in his professional MMA career, but five of those wins are by stoppage, using armbars, rear naked chokes, and knockouts to get it done. He’s immensely talented and Dana White is giving him somewhat of a layup in his first fight to get his feet wet. Jay Perrin is 0-2 now in the UFC against Aoriqileng and Mario Bautista, but had moments in both fights. He nearly knocked out Aoriqileng in the waning moments of the fight, and took Bautista on short notice.
Jay Perrin’s competition is far higher than anything Raul Rosas has faced, so there’s no true barometer to go off of when dissecting Rosas’ potential and ability other than what the eye test tells you, and it won’t take long for you to see it. Rosas is going to take the fight to Perrin early and try to take his opponent out through power shots and if he needs a break will happily shoot for takedowns and lay on top of you. With power, endurance, ferocity, and fantastic grappling when he gets to the mat, I trust Rosas to win this fight and build hype around his name. What I trust more though is that this fight won’t need the judges.
Pick: Fight not to go the distance -125 (1u)
Jairzinho Rozenstruik (-170) vs Chris Daukaus (+160)
Jairzinho Rozenstruik has had quite the career for a 6-4 fighter. He’s fought nearly the top of the division for the entirety of his career, and while he can’t break through to the very top he’s right on the cusp. His losses came to Francis Ngannou, Ciryl Gane, Curtis Blaydes, and Alexander Volkov. That’d be the champion, #1 contender, #4 contender, and #8 contender. His power is undeniable, with all six of his wins coming by knockout, but he’ll be tested by Chris Daukaus.
While Rozenstruik has the distinct power advantage, Daukaus has the speed and diverse skillset to pick Rozenstruik apart so long as he can avoid the power. Daukaus has solid boxing and is fleet of foot, with great cardio for the division. He has decent Jiu-Jitsu but never shows it, and it’ll be interesting to see whether he tries to implement it to avoid the power of Rozenstruik here. Now, Rozenstruik does have a decent kicking game he will look to implement at range and could find success in it, but I think the faster feet and boxing combinations will damage and finish Rozenstruik early.
Pick: Daukaus by finish only +160 (1u)
Bryce Mitchell (+110) vs Ilia Topuria (-130)
I swear at the beginning of many main cards lies my favorite fight of the night, and for this PPV we’re in the exact same situation. Bryce Mitchell vs Ilia Topuria deserves to be the co-main event here, but I’ll happily take it to begin the final PPV of the year. Someone is going to lose their zero in this fight and whoever wins is on the fast track to the top of the division because they’ll have proven themselves against an elite fighter that specializes in an art different than their strength.
For Mitchell, that art is wrestling and grappling. If you know Mitchell, this isn’t a surprise. It’s rare I classify someone’s wrestling as violent, but that’s where I’d put Mitchell’s. He endlessly will wrestle opponents and once on the mat has a grappling game that rivals the best in the world. He’s able to torque opponent’s bodies and transition between positions flawlessly, throwing up submissions and dealing damage throughout the process. While that will always be his staple, Mitchell is no slouch on the feet and continually improves, exemplified by his knockdown of Edson Barbosa early in the first round with a straight shot.
I’ve already mentioned their strengths lie in different areas, so you’d assume that Topuria’s strength is on the feet. You’d be correct. While Topuria has 7 submissions to his name and is above average in that area, he’s best with the fight on the feet. At 4-0 in the UFC, he knocked out awkward wrestlers and grapplers in Ryan Hall and Damon Jackson before being given a dangerous striker in Jai Herbert, who he knocked out cold with a deadly right hook. Both fighters will want the fight in their specific area, but are still high level in the other disciplines.
I’ll side with Mitchell’s ability to control where the fight takes place and pick up rounds through his wrestling and ground and pound. He’s a slight underdog, and I’ll take him confidence that he’ll pull through and get a shot at the top 5 of the division.
Pick: Mitchell +110 (1.5u)
Darren Till (+160) vs Dricus Du Plessis (-200)
From the fight of the night to the second best fight, this bout at Middleweight should be phenomenal for however long it lasts. Darren Till, much like Edman Shahbazyan, was the hype of the UFC before entering his losing streak. Now 1-4 over his last five fights, Till gets a minor step down in competition in Du Plessis from the likes of Robert Whittaker and Derek Brunson in a fight that seems to determine whether he’ll be in the rankings with room to move up or just a decent fighter.
Du Plessis is only 3-0 in the UFC but his level of competition is very low, with his best win being against Brad Tavares by unanimous decision. You may look at Du Plessis’ 9 submission wins and think he’s an elite tier grappler, but you’d be slightly wrong. His Jiu-Jitsu is good, but his ability to get it there is relatively poor. On the feet Du Plessis loves to blitz forward with extended combinations, overwhelming opponents but leaving him susceptible to a counter. His cardio is good in that he’ll be able to continue his pace for the entire fight.
There’s a lot of questions with Darren Till given he hasn’t won a fight in over three years due to injuries and tough fights, but he’s still just 29. What we did see out of Till when he was at his best was a heavy handed striker that put out any and all of his opponents. On top of having a cracking right hand, he had solid wrestling and a respectable submission game. I like that he’s been training with Tom Aspinall and is close with Khamzat Chimaev and think he’ll be prepared to counter when Du Plessis bursts forward and knocks him out.
Pick: Till +160 (1u)
Paddy Pimblett (-285) vs Jared Gordon (+225)
Ohhh Paddy the Baddy, ohhh Paddy the Baddy!
That’s what will ring out as the international sensation makes his walk out into Madison Square Garden to perform as the co-main event in a PPV just three fights into his UFC tenure. He entered with a lot of hype and has backed up all of his antics on the microphone with unforgettable performances throughout his short time, most recently being his obliteration of Jordan Leavitt, choking him out before the mid-way point of the fight.
Pimblett is best when utilizing his wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu, but he’s developed his striking to a degree that it can’t be trifled with. He enters this fight with 5 knockouts to his name and a 5-inch reach advantage so if Gordon wants to stay at range to stifle the wrestling of Paddy he’ll be pieced up with jabs. If Gordon wants to bring the fight in boxing range that will play right into Paddy’s hands, where he can utilize clinch work and takedowns to eventually progress to a submission to finish Gordon.
Gordon is probably the most well-rounded of any fighter that Paddy has fought, but he isn’t elite anywhere and that’s where I could see him struggling. Yes, Gordon has fantastic cardio and a good chin, but his offensive striking is decent and grappling is worse than Jordan Leavitt’s, so where is he distinctly better than Pimblett? No where. Give me Paddy and I’ll pair him with Magomed Ankalaev, who should take care of the 39 year old aging former champion Jan Blachowicz with relative ease.
Pick: Paddy & Ankalaev -130 (2u)