What’s going on everyone, it’s Rick here back with another UFC article. You may be wondering where I’ve been or why I chose such a horrible card in terms of star talent to cover, and I’ve got answers for you. I’ve had significant positive developments in my life that have not afforded me the time to spend hours each week watching the tape, taking notes, researching, writing, and more to do the job that I want to do to bring you comprehensive breakdowns of each and every fight on a card stylistically and from the betting perspective. Make sure to follow me on Twitter here as I’ll likely be tweeting out plays for UFC cards I can’t write, MLB, and more moving forward.

Why did I pick a fight card headlined by 2023 Holly Holm and co-mained by Jun Yong Park? Because I enjoy the research on fighters I don’t know and bringing that knowledge to you, the reader in an easily digestible, compact and comprehensive manner that you cannot otherwise acquire unless you watched tape. As always, I appreciate each and every one of you taking the time to read and follow my UFC cards, and I hope you take the time to ask questions and engage with me on Twitter. Let’s get into it!

Ashlee Evans-Smith (+170) vs Ailin Perez (-210)

Whenever you see this fight card officially starting, wait an extra 30 minutes, then turn this on. No offense to either fighter, but this is the 14th fight of a UFC Fight Night for very good reason. Ashlee Evans-Smith (AES) came into MMA with an illustrious wrestling background, being a 4-time All American NAIA Wrestler. She channeled that and Kickboxing to begin her MMA career, and early it went, finishing two of her first three opponents before getting choked out by Raquel Pennington in her UFC debut.

That’s where it goes off the rails.

From 2016-2018, AES fought 5 times going 3-2 and was scheduled to fight Lauren Murphy but she pulled out, Andrea Lee stepping on short notice and beat AES. Injuries then plagued her causing a 21 month layoff before losing decidedly in a horrible performance against Norma Dumont. The aggressive AES was no more, as she practically shadow-boxed the entire time while Norma did what she wanted. Still, she has great wrestling and when it came to that in her fight against Dumont she looked better there.That fight was now 32 months ago. Has she made improvements? Wholesale life changes? At 36, it’s hard to know what to expect.

As for Ailin Perez there’s more to be bright about. You’re 28 and you’ve made your name knocking out opponents. One of your losses against Tamires Vidal (now in the UFC) she was dominating before they called a fluke knee and Vidal milked it to save her record. She proceeded to finish her next two opponents before coming into the UFC and struggling with veteran Stephanie Egger’s length and scrambling. Now against a much slower, less mobile fighter in AES she should find success in that wrestling and be able to throw up her deep arsenal of submissions. I’ll take Perez to win inside the distance and for Evans-Smith to retire.

Pick: Perez ITD +210 (0.75u)

Carl Deaton III (+145) vs Alex Munoz (-175)

There are a lot of just absolutely diabolical UFC fights tonight and I’m not sure where this ranks but it’s near the top. No disrespect to either of these fighters, their families, or fanbases but this fight is going to stink for a multitude of reasons. Let’s start with the overall career and where we are now. For Deaton, who is the slightly brighter spot. Despite being 2-2 over his last four fights, he was invited to the UFC for the cult following he has (see his picture below) and his fighting style. He’s 0-1 in the PFL and now 0-1 in the UFC as Joe Solecki just Solecki-ed everywhere and wrestled Deaton into the ground and held him there for 9 minutes until he eventually submit him.

Now for the lesser of the happy tales. Alex Munoz is 33 years old, has been a professional since 2015, and is 6-2. He’s 0-2 in the UFC with two justified decision losses, and I should give him some grace because Nasrat Haqparast on your debut is tough. Six months later he fell to Luis Pena by split decision, and has not fought in 27 months due to a multitude of injuries. Stylistically, Munoz is here to wrestle and that’s about it. He relentlessly shoots for takedowns and his standup is very poor and basic, limited to just punches primarily. That works right in the favor of Deaton, who doesn’t check leg kicks at all and leaves his chin up to get countered.
With Deaton’s opponent record being 186-146-2, his last good win being against an 0-5 Justin Jaynes, and being held down for 9 minutes against Joe Solecki I’m worried the same could happen to him here. We know exactly what Alex Munoz is, and he’s a dog. Against Haqparast he took sizable damage and kept going for it like a dog on a bone, and he’ll do the same here. With a significant grappling advantage and Deaton’s mediocrity in smaller competitions and lack of ability to stop Solecki whatsoever, I favor the Team Alpha Male wrestling coach to get it done, with some improved striking over the past 27 months. At -175 that price is far too steep, and I do think we get a finish here by one of these gentlemen, as Deaton will likely push for a finish as he normally does.
Pick: u2.5 rounds +180 (0.75u)

Tyson Nam (+325) vs Azat Maksum (-425)

Undefeated fighter out of Khazakhstan you say? Another Shavkat Rakhmanov? Many will agree with you, but I’m here to tell you he gets knocked out by Tyson Nam in what will appear to be an upset, but won’t be in time. Azat Maksum has fought both Brave and Octagon promotions, both held in high esteem. He has 5 knockouts and 6 submissions to his name, and he does a lot well. On the feet he works a nice left jab, and isn’t desperate for takedowns though he will start to go for them. He feints to get reactions and reads out of opponents, and can do big damage with his overhand right.

His wrestling and grappling is odd, because he’ll find plenty of success getting into a good position just to give it up immediately in search for a new angle. I’ve seen it time and time again, and it makes me think he doesn’t believe in some of his submissions or ground game in areas, or that his fighter IQ isn’t top. I lean toward the latter because throughout his career he’s gotten rocked by power shots. While he’s recovered from them all en route to a 16-0 record, he leaves himself open when he throws his right and never returns his hands back up to his face after.

Why is that so important? Nam is one of the more crisp boxers in the UFC, and holds unbelievable power for this weight class. Now 39, there’s plenty of concern about his speed at this division, durability after his last loss, and more and I’m here to justify some but pump the breaks on others. At 39, you can imagine he isn’t as fast as he once was, but even in a twitch-fast division he is able to find the mark well and go to the body to open up the head. As for his durability, the head kick TKO in his last fight was the first time he’s been finished since 2013 against none other than Marlon Moraes (also by head kick). He hasn’t shown signs of lack of durability, and Maksum is not the best striker he’s faced by a longshot.

If this fight goes to a decision, I find little chance Nam wins unless he drops Maksum multiple times. His volume is lacking at times and with Maksum’s high motor going for takedowns and forcing engagements it’s likely he’ll do enough to win on the scorecards. But I don’t think we get to the cards. With above average takedown defense combined with top tier power for this division against a guy who has been hurt plenty before, I think Nam is able to time a hook to land clean and end the Khazakhstani’s hype train.

Pick: Nam ITD +650 (.5u)

Genaro Valdez (+240) vs Evan Elder (-300)

I know I haven’t had the most positive outlook on this fight card throughout the first few fights, but this one should be a lot of fun despite unfortunate results for both recently. Evan Elder is now 7-2 and 0-2 in the UFC, but that doesn’t tell the story. His UFC debut was against Preston Parsons on short notice and up a weight class and though he lost he had good moments. In his next fight against Nazim Sadykhov he was up 20-18 after two rounds but had a gnarly cut on his eye and the doctor called it. If that doesn’t happen he’s 8-1 with a very reasonable loss.

So what does Elder like to do? Plant his lead left, squat a little bit, and throw his power right. When it lands it puts people down, just as it did Sadykhov in the first round. That isn’t all of his game, but he does hold a high volume with nearly all hooks and kicks. It’s important to note that he dealt with Sadykhov’s relentless pressure by circling towards his own power before planting with hooks to back him up. Valdez will assuredly put the pace on Elder, and if Elder sits on one of those he could hurt Valdez badly. Elder will feint and use takedowns methodically, though his Jiu-Jitsu is not his forte.

Valdez is also 0-2 in the UFC, but his fights have gone much different. He was knocked down 6 times in debut against Matt Frevola before being finished, and lost his next fight against Natan Levy, taking too much damage despite progressing for all 15 minutes. What Valdez has shown is that he doesn’t care if he gets hit so long as he gets his. While I respect the mentality, it’s shown over his last few fights that you can’t get away with that.

He showed more restraint and patience against Levy, which helped him a lot. He implemented his calf kicks well, which could be very important against a heavy footed Elder. Additionally, he used his front kick to keep space, allowing him to dictate the pace and where the fight is. While Valdez will most certainly get caught in this fight, his power stumbles and hurts opponents, and he’s like a shark smelling blood when it happens. I question Valdez’s durability, but I like the forward pressure, leg kicks, and versatility on the feet enough to warrant an upset call here at good plus money.

Pick: Valdez +240 (0.5u)

Jack Della Maddalena (-550) vs Bassil Hafez (+425)

I’ll keep this one relatively short and sweet. If you don’t know Jack Della Maddalena yet, go watch his KO of Danny Roberts and you’ll see the skillset he brings, the stage presence and ability to manipulate a crowd, and more. With now 14 wins in a row and 4-0 in the UFC (all by way of R1 KO) there’s understandable hype behind him. His concern lies in that he’s had 2 weight cuts now in 2 weeks. How will that affect his durability and cardio?

If there’s someone who can test it it’s Bassil Hafez. He had a long amateur career facing decent opposition, and is just 8-3-1 professionally, with 4 submissions to his name. That’s where he’s going to want to keep the fight, though he has seen success on the feet, nearly knocking out Anthony Ivy and continuing to tee off on him. Still, it’s the takedowns and BJJ dominance that could get him a massive upset here. What’s his major red flag? Cardio. He trains with Justin Gaethje, Kamaru Usman, and others. Still, he’s impressed against great opposition in Jeremiah Wells, finished Evan Cutts, and more.

With his striking continuing to improve, and it’s nowhere close to Della Maddalena but I’ll take my longshot stab at Bassil Hafez to finish Maddalena in either the first or the second, covering it with Maddalena inside the distance depending on the price. The deeper lines aren’t out at the time of writing on most books, but as Friday approaches I’m sure they’ll appear. My guess would be that Hafez in R1 is +1000 and R2 is +1800. I’m afraid Maddalena inside the distance is -300, but if it’s less than -200 I’ll take that for multiple units.

Update: lines were about where we thought they were, so going with Hafez to pull an upset at long odds.

Pick: Hafez in R1 or 2 +800 (0.25u)

Austin Lingo (+170) vs Melquizael Costa (-210)

The “Melk” Man is back in Melquizael (Mel) Costa as he faces the struggling prospect Austin Lingo. Melk is 0-1 in the UFC after getting choked out by Thiago Moises, but his stock only improved. He’s 19-6 with 7 knockouts, 6 submissions, and 6 decisions. With unbelievable experience coming into the UFC and the ability to win the fight anywhere, it’s understandable that he’s ballooned to a sizable favorite in this fight.

Melk should have a decided advantage on the feet and it starts with his ability to switch positions. He’s able to throw advanced combinations and his fight IQ and instincts are top tier, and that’s what I like most about him. He takes advantage of the in between moments, seemingly processing the situation in slow motion at times before getting a free look on his opponent. He excels in the clinch and has good trip takedowns, and have I mentioned his kicking arsenal to all three levels? The kid is a complete prospect, and he’ll be here to stay.

I almost feel bad writing Lingo’s piece after that praise. Austin Lingo is no slouch, and he won’t get walked over in this fight. He’s 2-2 in the UFC and his qualities, good and bad, are very evident at this point. Lingo likes to move forward with boxing combinations, keeps a high tight guard, doesn’t throw and kicks, and has good defensive wrestling. His cardio isn’t bad but it’s definitely not good, and he doesn’t take getting hit well. I think Costa overwhelms him and impresses after a talented opponent in his debut.

Melk opened up as a -140 favorite, and has since moved all the way to -210 at the time of writing this. At -210, it’s a little steep to play straight up, but I do like the fight not to go the distance. I think both will look to move forward for 15 minutes and force the fight out of one another. I’ll take the fight not to go to the cards and for Melk to finish Lingo.

Picks: Fight not to go the distance -115 (1u), Costa ITD +175 (1u)

Istela Nunes (+160) vs Viktoriya Dudakova (-200)

I’m genuinely not sure what everyone sees in Viktoriya Dudakova that has them (1) excited about her as a prospect and (2) a 2-to-1 favorite in this matchup. She’s 6-0 with 4 wins by submission, but who in the world has she fought? Her first fight against Irina Degtyareva that poor lady literally couldn’t throw a punch. She circled until she’d find an angle she liked better than the others and shoot for a takedown where she’d pull Dudakova on top of her.

My point is, Dudakova has faced absolutely nobody, and while she’s huge for the weight class and loves to take her opponents down, I haven’t been impressed in any of her matchups. Against Marina Shutova, her fight that got her to DWCS, she struggled heavily with takedowns. In multiple instances she had her hands clasped below the butt for a double-leg and instead of lifting, finding the angle and driving through she tried to pick her opponent straight up, wasting her own arms and achieving nothing.

The issues I’ve seen are glaring and she’s gotten away with it due to her level of competition. Yes, she’s facing an 0-3 opponent, but don’t let that record give you confidence in an undefeated fighter from Russia. It’s bait. Istela Nunes has an interesting 3 fight losing streak in the UFC. In her debut she struggled to defend the takedown and lost decidedly. In her second fight against Sam Hughes she showed large improvement, but lost due to an eye-poke point deduction. In her third fight she knocked down Yazmin Jauregui and nearly finished her before the Mexican prospect turned up the heat and finished Nunes.

To summarize, I’ve been less than impressed with the striking and wrestling of Dudakova, and Nunes continues to improve her wrestling defense to compliment her fantastic power on the feet. Give me Nunes to win this fight handedly, and get in soon because the line is only getting shorter.

Pick: Nunes +160 (2u)

Tucker Lutz (+130) vs Melsik Baghdasaryan (-160)

Two fighters born thousands of miles apart with Melsik Baghdasaryan calling Romania home growing up, while Lutz was born in America. Now, Baghdasaryan is the one closer to the Apex in Las Vegas as he trains out of a small gym in California, while Lutz is with Ground Control Academy in Maryland. Both gentlemen are coming off disappointing losses and with both right around 30 years old, the time is now to hit stride.

Both will have to stay healthy to do so though with injuries plaguing both this decade. Lutz tore his MCL and in his first training session back tore his calf, resulting in a 16 month layoff after his loss to Pat Sabatini, before being guillotined by Daniel Pineda after a decent showing. For Baghdasaryan, he’s fought just once since 2021, pulling out of both fights in 2022 due to injury. Finally getting into the octagon against Joshua Culibao, he performed well until Culibao instinctually jumped on Baghdasryan’s back in a chaotic scramble and cinched in a rear naked choke.

I’ve spent a lot of time on their backstories, so what’s the fight going to look like? Starting with Baghdasaryan, he’s a kickboxer through and through. He’ll throw more kicks than punches and will leverage his movement and footwork to continually circle to keep his range from shorter strikers or grapplers. Even then, despite being choked out by Culibao, Baghdasaryan has shown respectable wrestling defense and an ability to get back up when taken down. He utilizes tons of feints directed towards defending opponents shooting on him, which keeps his range as well, and does solid work in the clinch leveraging free limbs to land short strikes.

As for Lutz, he’s the better grappler here most certainly, but he prefers his standup game. His hand speed is slow, but he has accurate and decent power in his boxing. He’ll throw some body kicks out there, but not enough to really threaten. He’ll switch stances to give different looks, which could be big to keep his legs fresh from the calf kicks of Baghdasaryan. Two things I don’t like that I think will get him in trouble are how heavy is on his feet, and particular lead leg when he goes forward, and that he gets clipped heavily when getting on the inside.

With Baghdasaryan’s ability to chop Lutz down with leg kicks for 15 minutes combined with Lutz standing heavy on his feet, I see those creating a lot of problems for Lutz and forcing him to shoot takedowns. If they clinch along the fence, I like Baghdasaryan to do the better work and get up if taken down. Baghdasaryan opened up as a -215 favorite and is all the way down to -160. People are buying Lutz’s wrestling and ability to close the distance, but I’ll go with the Romanian’s footwork and kickboxing ability to protect himself from takedowns, chop the legs, and give Lutz too much to think about.

Pick: Baghdasaryan -160 (1u)

Terrance McKinney (+105) vs Nazim Sadykhov (-135)

TWrecks as he calls himself has had one of the most entertaining 3-2 UFC careers to date. All 5 fights have come by way of finish, with his debut being a 7 second knockout of Matt Frevola. He parlayed that into a submission victory over Fares Ziam in just over 2 minutes, and it only gets more exciting from there. He and Drew Dober went back and forth wobbling each other for 3 minutes until McKinney ate a knee he couldn’t swallow and went out.

Don’t worry, he came back just 5 months later to finish Erick Gonzalez in just over 2 minutes by a standing rear naked choke, and to round it all off Ismael Bonfim send McKinney face first into the canvas with a flying knee from Hell.

So you better sit down and watch this fight because it’ll be fireworks for however long it lasts.

McKinney has a brilliant wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu background that got him to where he is today with 8 submission victories. He’s consistently improved his hands to where they are incredibly fast and dangerous, but he’s begun to fall in love with them too much and not protect himself. Against someone like Sadykhov, that will get you put to sleep.

On the feet, Sadykhov is crisp and technical. He’s a natural southpaw but switches stances fluidly, and though he primarily uses punches, he’ll end a combination with a kick every now and then. His power hooks are accurate and he keeps the pressure on his opponents, doing his best work when in tight. Against Elder he showed a good ability to get up from being taken down, and actually landed his own with ease in the second round.

Training with Aljamain Sterling, Merab, and Matt Frevola is good company for Sadykhov, as his cardio should definitely improve with that group. He won’t need that cardio tonight, but the wrestling from those will be why he wins this fight. He’ll push McKinney up against the fence where the defense of Terrance will lapse yet again, forcing him out yet again.

Pick: Sadykhov -135 (1u)

Ottman Azaitar (-105) vs Francisco Prado (-115)

In our last fight Terrance McKinney knocked out Frevola in 7 seconds. Well, Ottman Azaitar had a bit of a different experience his last time out with Frevola, knocked out by a clean left hook just mid-way through the first round. It hasn’t been too dissimilar to Azaitar’s other contests, he just ended up on the winning end of those. Now 2-1 in his UFC career with his two finishes combining for 5 minutes of fight time, he faces Francisco Prado who returns to the UFC octagon for the second time after losing to Jamie Mullarkey.

Prado’s fight against Jamie Mullarkey was odd, and not a great indicator of what will happen in this fight. In the first round he was taken down and beaten to every spot in route to a clear 10-9 for Mullarkey. When the fight was on the feet though, he showed kicks to all three levels, in particular the left head kick. He fatigued relatively quickly however, and with his kicks being the main weapon they faded and became easily recognizable and slow.

Additionally, while Prado is 11-1, his opponent’s records are not good and even the opponents that have good records have not fought good competition. Prado throws heavily when he does, and that will wear on his gas tank in this fight. I doubt he’ll be able to implement his wrestling and ground game against Azaitar, and his cardio never holds up in his fights

Azaitar lost his first and only fight because Frevola throws sledgehammers and he decided to test it. He doesn’t face the same caliber of striker here and should be able to run through Prado, who left himself open many times against Mullarkey, clean enough to shut his lights out.

Picks: Azaitar -105 (1u), Azaitar ITD +175 (0.5u)

Norma Dumont (-155) vs Chelsea Chandler (+125)

In the middle of our main card we have the rare 145 pound female fight between these two ladies. A division created for and dominated by Amanda Nunes, but it has never truly had enough fighters to make a true division out of. To make my point, Norma Dumont is ranked the #2 Female Featherweight in the world according to Tapology, behind only Cris Cyborg. Nevertheless, we should have an absolute banger of a fight with these two offensive strikers and grapplers.

Starting with Dumont, the story of her career has been methodically picking apart her opponents over multiple rounds. She holds solid power in both her hands and legs, and while her volume may look lacking throughout the fight, she’s just very patient and measured in her approach. On the grappling side, she does have decent takedowns and takedown defense, but when it gets to the mat she will be the worse of the two fighters here.

As for Chandler, she’s damn near the exact opposite of measured. She runs forward with wreckless abandon firing everything she has until she clinches, where she does good work, takes her opponents down and has consistently gotten better at top control and armbars before her fight with Juljia Stoliarenko. On the feet she works the body well and I think the variation in her attacks and aggressiveness will get her into clinch situations without being damaged too much, and she’ll be able to take Dumont down and win points, taking the fight by decision.

This fight started all the way at a pick ‘em, but Chandler is all the way near +125 so it may be worth continuing to wait to see if the steam picks up and that number gets bigger. Regardless, I’d monitor the line to ensure people aren’t buying Chandler at a better price now.

Picks: Chandler +125 (1u)

Albert Duraev (+130) vs Jun Yong Park (-160)

You know exactly what you’re going to get from Albert Duraev: takedowns and suffocating grappling. Can he implement that against Jun Yong Park’s solid takedown defense and ability to get up? That’s the X-factor in the fight, but I won’t water it down to just that either. Albert Duraev has some skills on the feet that gain the respect of his opponent so he doesn’t have to just shoot takedowns, but he takes a ton of damage in the process.

As for Park, he’s had quite the UFC career so far going 6-2 with wins over Marc-Andre Barriault, Eryk Anders, and Tafon Nchukwi and losses to Anthony Hernandes and Gregory Rodrigues. His quality of opponent is difficult and as my friends over at Fight Night Picks pointed out, he’s won when he’s able to implement his offensive wrestling, and loses when he gets taken down.

He’s likely getting taken down in this fight, and while his ability to squirm up to the fence and work his way up is good, Duraev is a different animal. The squeeze he implements on his opponents and fluidity between positions on the mat is elite and that’s what concerns me for Park. Will Park find success on the feet? Yes. Will he dominate on the feet? I don’t think so. Duraev has a good jab and throws some wide hooks that have power behind them.

One of the issues Duraev had in his last time out was controlling Njokuani’s length. With the Iron Turtle being much smaller I think he’ll find it easier to control and have more success than he did against Njokuani, and for that reason I have the underdog to pull it out here.

Pick: Duraev +130 (1u)

Holly Holm (-180) vs Mayra Bueno Silva (+150)

The now 41-year-old Holly Holm takes the UFC octagon for the 15th time with an 8-6 record and while people were ready to write her off after he head kick KO against Amanda Nunes that capped off a 2-4 run, but she’s since gone 3-1 with her only loss coming to Ketlen Vieira by split decision. A true mixed martial artist, Holm has reinvented herself and continued to add layers throughout her career, which has allowed for her longevity despite other areas of her game regressing.

So now she faces a submission specialist in Mayra Bueno Silva, who has been a buzzsaw through the decision since losing to Manon Fiorot back in 2021. Winning her last 3 fights now with 2 coming by way of finish, Bueno Silva knows her easiest route to success. She’s a decent defensive striker on the feet and likes to work the body/head combo, but we’ll have to see whether that is present here against Holm and her boxing.

To see success in this matchup, Bueno Silva needs to gain some respect on the feet so she can then mix in takedowns without them being obvious so she can catch Holm at a good time. Once the fight gets to the mat, Holm has solid grappling defense, but Bueno Silva has the massive advantage.

The issue for Bueno Silva is that Holm likely won’t let it get there. At 41, she’s implemented a much more measured approach, circling away from opponents consistently and being more physical than every opponent in the clinch. Combine that with 10 5-round fights compared to Bueno Silva’s zero and I think that the longer this fight goes, the more success Holm will find.

As for the betting angle, Holm is currently at -180, and his teeter tottered right around that since the lines opened. Given Bueno Silva’s skillset, Holm having had success against similar fighters, and Bueno Silva struggling against high level strikers like Manon Fiorot, I have confidence in Holm but I’m not willing to go to a specific method of victory. I’ll pay the juice on Holm and also parlay her with Melk Costa.

Picks: Holm -180 (1u), Holm/Costa MLP +120 (1u)