Welcome BACK to another UFC fight night preview where I (Rick) break down each and every fight on the upcoming card. We’re now going for FIVE consecutive positive cards after blowing the doors off of UFC 280 at 8-5 +6.88u, and it could’ve been better if not for a controversial loss on the Petr Yan fight that would’ve taken us to 10-3 and over 10u. That’s all the complaining I’ll do though, as it wasn’t a robbery and Sean O’Malley proved to everyone he belongs with the top of the division.

This card might not have the star-studded names of last, but we should have some phenomenal matchups between strikers and the judges shouldn’t be involved as much as they were last week! Let’s get rolling!

Cody Durden (+140) vs Carlos Mota (-170)

LFA Flyweight Champion Carlos Mota makes his UFC debut on short notice to face Cody Durden after the previous opponent Kleydson Rodrigues withdrew from the bout. While Mota might not have had a full camp to prepare for the bout, he’s still more than capable of coming out with a win. 8-1 in his MMA career with his lone loss coming to Charles Johnson via a round five knockout, Mota looks to build off his back-to-back first-round knockout victories and climb his way up the flyweight ladder in the UFC.

If you didn’t recognize Charles Johnson, you will soon. He’s also a former LFA champion and lost his lone UFC fight to Muhammad Mokaev but impressed throughout that fight as a large underdog. Mota might have lost to Charles, but he showed tons of promise in the fight. Stylistically he utilizes kicks to all three levels and his favorite punch is his power right straight. While he doesn’t check leg kicks well, he catches nearly every body and head kick and turns it into a takedown for his benefit. His issue? The opponent tends to get right back up. I’m not impressed with his speed, power, or defense on the feet, but his versatility in the striking game keeps opponents on the back foot.

To Cody Durden, he enters this fight now 2-2-1 in the UFC and at 31 years old he’ll want to start getting on a run. He’ll look to replicate his swift knockout of JP Buys on Saturday, where he landed a lethal right hook that dazed Buys before spamming about thirty lefts before the referee eventually stepped in. Both of Durden’s losses have come by submission, which is a bit misleading. He’s not a fish out of water by any means and against Jimmy Flick actually landed two great takedowns, but on the second one Flick immediately threw up a triangle that was too deep to do anything about unless your name is Alexander Volkanovski.

While Mota has the versatility in his striking game to give many opponents problems, I favor Durden’s defense on the feet and give him the power and speed advantage in that department to give Mota consistent problems. I also like Durden’s ability to sense blood in the water when he cracks opponents. He tends to jump right on them and put pressure on them without overextending himself and emptying his gas tank.

Pick: Durden +140 (1u)

Chase Hooper (-275) vs Steve Garcia (+220)

Not the “Teenage Dream” anymore, Chase Hooper has dropped teenager from his nickname as he’s now a man as 23 years old! Jokes aside, Hooper is growing into his frame and is now 3-2 in the UFC with a mixed bag of results and takes on the struggling Steve Garcia here in the prelims. While Hooper might be young, we’ve seen progressions in his game throughout his time in the UFC and his move to South Carolina to train with Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson seems to have been a smart move if his last fight was any indicator.

Hooper came into the UFC very raw, but had phenomenal Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. His scrambling and submission ability paired with his frame that people expected him to grow into were promising for the prospect and generated a lot of hype. While he’s been good in some fights, he’s left viewers questioning his abilities in others. While he’s phenomenal when the fight gets to the mat, he looked well below average on the feet and his defense lacked. His striking defense has been poor and he’s very hittable. After going 2-2 in his first four fights, he made the switch to train with Wonderboy as I said, and the striking improvements were on display in his last fight. He threw in combination much better and marched forward for periods in that fight. If he can evade incoming strikes and keep his hands higher during slugfests, he could have real potential to break through to the next level.

On to Steve Garcia, he’s a massive underdog in this fight, and for good reason. While he does have nine knockout victories to his name in eleven career wins, he’s mainly a one-trick pony. Garcia does wield solid offensive wrestling, but if he tries to use that in this fight I’d fire his coach on the spot. The ground is not a place you want to be with Hooper and given the power he has in his hands combined with Hooper’s striking defense he should be looking to piece Hooper up on the feet. While Garcia does have the power advantage, he’s been known to get knocked out himself, and he gets hit early and often. If we do get into a firefight, it wouldn’t be TOO big of a surprise if Hooper clipped him and then took it to the mat to finish it.

Either way, I don’t think we get to the cards in this matchup. Garcia will look to step on the gas when the fight is standing and look to take advantage of Hooper’s poor defense, and if we get to the mat Hooper should be able to utilize his fantastic BJJ and scrambling to leverage a dominant position and finish Garcia. I lean Hooper but I’m not willing to pay the huge price for him. I’ll take the under.

Pick: u2.5 -150 (1u)

Joseph Holmes (+188) vs Jun Yong Park (-240)

“Ugly Man” Joseph Holmes faces “The Iron Turtle” Jun Yong Park in a battle of interesting nicknames in the middleweight division. Not to kill the fight before it starts, but I don’t have high expectations for this fight. Neither of these fighters have a high-volume style and both are naturally defensive. Holmes is significantly better on the mat, highlighted by five of his eight wins coming by rear naked choke, but he by no means is better than Park.

Park is now 4-2 in the UFC coming off a very close split-decision victory against Eryk Anders. Personally, I thought he lost it even though Anders tired out early in that fight. Park has held up along the cage for long periods of the fight and volume-wise it was fairly even. What I do like about Park is his ability to work in the clinch. He throws plenty of knees to the body and can threaten the neck to get opponents to disengage. At range, he has solid power and great calf kicks but again it’s the volume and passiveness that can allow fights to slip away. Park is undoubtedly above Holmes in the realm of UFC middleweights having faced Marc-Andre Barriault, Gregory Rodrigues, Anthony Hernandez, and more, but it’ll be interesting to see if he can stifle the grappling at range from Holmes.

Joseph Holmes will have a distinct height and reach advantage in this fight. Standing 6 inches taller and wielding a 7-inch reach advantage, if he can work his ‘one-two’s early and keep the fight at range he could find success. Much like how Anders’ cardio dropped off after a round, so does Holmes’ and if that happens I trust Park to put the pressure on Holmes and pick up rounds. The difference between Holmes’ last fight and this one though is that Holmes didn’t take this fight on short notice. With a full camp and being the much more adept finisher, I’ll take a flier that he’s able to pull out before going to the judges.

Pick: Joseph Holmes ITD +350 (1u)

Andrei Arlovski (+188) vs Marcos Rogerio de Lima (-235)

Petr Yan was on the wrong side of some horrid judging last week in his ‘loss’ to Sean O’Malley last week, and Marcos Rogerio de Lima can relate. After winning two in a row and getting his chance against a ranked Blagoy Inavov he impressed through every round even when his cardio left him and outstruck the Bulgarian nearly 60 to 40 before losing a somehow unanimous decision 29-28. Judges must’ve valued clinch control with zero damage more than I and others do because that decision felt like stealing.

I’m done complaining about de Lima being robbed of a three-fight win streak heading into this matchup. What you’re likely to get in this fight from him is fireworks. de Lima is borderline infamous for not making weight at light heavyweight and since his move up to the heavyweight division he’s a new fighter. He’s a gigantic human being that surprisingly moves well on his feet. He’s light and bounces on his toes even when tired, and what impresses me most about him is his ability to throw in extended combinations and with accuracy. Time and time again throughout fights he will throw 3-8 punch combinations involving hooks, jabs, and wobble opponents. See his bout against Ben Rothwell for instance.

From the wrong side of horrid judging to the right side, Arlovski is the master of split decisions and his last fight was no different. You can’t tell me he beat Jake Collier in his last fight, but somehow two of the judges agreed that he did. Outrage on social media ensued and many correct tickets were lost, but that’s neither here nor there. Now 43 years old, Arlovski will continue to do what he’s done better than nearly everyone in the division: work for 15 rounds and score points with volume and cage control. Even at 43 his movement and cardio are fantastic, and much like Inavov did against de Lima he steals rounds with pressure on the cage.

The difference between Inavov and Arlovski is that Inavov has a legendary chin that somehow doesn’t get cracked, and Arlovski has gotten knocked out numerous times throughout his career. I don’t think he’ll be able to withstand the early pressure of de Lima, and the massive Brazilian will get back to winning ways and thwart Arlovski’s resurgence.

Pick: de Lima by KO/TKO +175 (.75u)

Roman Dolidze (+145) vs Phil Hawes (-175)

Lina Lansberg last week was the Elbow Queen, and Phil Hawes should adopt the nickname for himself as the Elbow King. It’s rare you can classify a striker as volume-heavy and damaging yet patient, but that’s exactly what Hawes is. He leverages a stiff, powerful left jab as his range-finder, and backs it up with a wonderful right straight. Once he gets those going, he starts mixing in short elbows, strikes to the body, and hooks and what I like most is that it’s all based on the reads he makes early. Hawes never seems to over-extend himself for a knockout but doesn’t let opponents heal up either. He takes what fighters give him, makes the reads, and picks them apart.

That’s why Hawes is now 4-1 in the UFC with wins over Jacob Malkoun, Nassourdine Imavov, Kyle Daukaus, and most recently Deron Winn. If you want to see a beatdown give that Winn fight a watch. For nine minutes he lit the much shorter Deron Winn up until eventually finishing it with elbows. The final strike difference was 118-32 and that doesn’t do it justice. While Hawes is fantastic on the feet, I’m a fan of him beating many excellent wrestlers so far in his UFC career, in particular Jacob Malkoun. Though Malkoun’s striking was putrid at that stage in his career, his wrestling is still dominant. His ability to wrestle with Malkoun, Imavov, and others gives me a lot of hope going into a matchup with Dolidze

If Hawes is the Elbow King, Dolidze is the King of the Knees. With two of his four UFC fights coming via a knee then ground and pound. Much like Hawes though, he’s no one-trick pony. He has a background in Combat Sambo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and as a FILA World Grappling Champion, it’ll be interesting to see if he tries to take the fight to the ground with judo throws. At range, he has a distinct disadvantage as his volume lacks heavily.

Give me Hawes’ ability to implement his jab early and often and as things get into the clinch land those slicing, powerful elbows. The grappling should cancel each other out and because of that, I’ll take Phil Hawes to dominate on the feet.

Pick: Hawes -175 (1.5u)

Dustin Jacoby (-165) vs Khalil Rountree (+138)

Khalil Rountree is looking to take the zero from Dustin Jacoby’s 6-0-1 UFC record and propel him up the UFC, building off his 2 fight win streak. Both fights came by way of finish and more specifically via kick. He defeated Modestas Bukauskas with a brutal side kick to the knee which did serious knee damage then followed it up with some deadly body kicks to Karl Roberson, crumpling him quickly. While both of those wins were impressive, it improves his record to just 6-4 in the UFC. With losses to Marcin Prachnio, Ion Cutelaba, and Johnny Walker, it’s not as though he’s losing to low-level competition by any means of the word. Can he take the step up and enter the rankings? Here’s how:

Rountree has continued to evolve his game since coming into the UFC years ago, entering as a solid boxer but not having the ground game or defense on the feet to move up the rankings and defeat the tougher competition. With time, he’s shown much better wrestling defense and movement on the feet to mitigate damage. Where he should have a distinct advantage in this fight is his power on the feet. His best path to victory is to overwhelm Jacoby early and try to land some of those powerful right hooks to drop him. While that’s easier said than done, Rountree’s cardio in the past hasn’t been good, and there’s a distinct dropoff after we leave the first round.

On the contrary, Dustin Jacoby’s is very good. He should be able to outpace Rountree throughout 15 minutes and if he can survive a potential early onslaught should be able to dominate as this fight goes deeper. Jacoby is defensively sound, so I have no concerns that he won’t be able to. He keeps his hands high and checks kicks very well. On the offensive side, he loves to throw snapping leg kicks to both the body and legs and works his jab early and often. What I like a lot about Dustin, and where I think he’ll find a lot of success, is in his work to the body. I already mentioned that he throws kicks there, but he works in hooks and straights to the body as well. His ability to mix up combinations to the core and head as well as end with leg kicks will give Rountree a lot to think about, and as Rountree’s cardio escapes him will only afford more and more success.

Pick: Jacoby -165 (2u)

Tresean Gore (+128) vs Josh Fremd (-158)

The Ultimate Fighter graduate Tresean Gore looks to get back on track after an 0-2 start to his UFC career on Saturday. His opponent? The 0-1 Josh Fremd. Both fighters came in with a lot of hype at a relatively young age and have yet to deliver, but both for very different reasons.

Tresean Gore is as frustrating a fighter to watch as there is in the UFC. It’s very clear when watching him that he has the technique and ability to knock people out, cardio to put pressure on the opponents, and wrestling to take the fight where he wants it, but he struggles to mix his martial arts together at all. Against Battle and Brundage he kept forward pressure but his volume was non-existent. When he throws his single shots there’s zip and clear power to them, but he rarely throws in combination and doesn’t set up any of his shots. If his coaching can fix that mental block and get him to implement the threat of takedowns or work a lead jab, he has real potential but it hasn’t shown itself yet.

Josh Fremd on the other hand is much the opposite. He’s a high-volume striker with wild combinations starting and ending with leg kicks to all three levels. Just see his debut fight against Anthony Hernandez – he threw about 15 strikes in the first 15 seconds! Now, he lost that fight because Hernandez’s wrestling and grappling is of a much higher tier, but this fight won’t go to the mat unless Fremd wants it there. On the feet, his early pressure and exertion should stun Gore, and if his cardio is as solid as I’ve seen in his other fights he should be able to keep it up through three rounds. The X-factor for me is that Cody Brundage (Gore’s last opponent) is a teammate of Fremd. I’m sure that Fremd will take from that experience in the octagon as well as months of training to prepare for Gore and have a game plan to exploit the weaknesses. Give me Fremd to knock Gore to 0-3 in the UFC and likely out of the competition.

Pick: Fremd -158 (2u)

Waldo Cortes-Acosta (-213) vs Jared Vanderaa (+170)

Undefeated and 7-0 Waldo Cortes-Acosta enters the UFC octagon for the first time to face someone on his way out in Jared Vanderaa who has lost his last four fights. While these two are very clearly trending in opposite directions, they do have fairly different skill sets. Vanderaa has a solid offensive wrestling game that he’s gotten away from in his UFC tenure, and on the feet his striking is very basic. He’ll use jabs and hooks but none have great power or are that damaging.

Cortes-Acosta also uses jabs and hooks but at a much higher level. His jab is a true range finder and when he unloads his hooks moving forward he does so with violence on his mind. He throws in combination well and implements leg kicks at range well. If Vanderaa takes this fight into the clinch, Cortes-Acosta is no stranger to throwing slicing elbows as he creates separation. It’s clear that Vaneraa is on his way out and his lack of damage at this division will cost him once again. Expect Cortes-Acosta to end this fight before the end of the second round.

Pick: Cortes-Acosta ITD -115 (1.5u)

Tim Means (+152) vs Max Griffin (-182)

In our co-main event, we have two fighters in Tim Means and Max Griffin that combine to be 20-17-1 in the UFC. Both are legends in their own right for longevity and ability to entertain against everyone they’ve faced, but neither has or will ever break the top ten of the division. Tim Means has been on a decent run lately winning three of his last four, but “Big Mouth” Kevin Holland got the best of Means in his last fight. Griffin has been on an identical run winning three of his last four as well before losing to Neil Magny by a split-decision.

Both fighters are similar in that they’re boxing heavy and should bring out the best (and most entertaining) of each other. The difference I see in this fight is that Tim Means should have an advantage in the clinch and will have more volume there as well. Factor in that Means works the body very well throughout the fight between punches and kicks and I like the volume out of him Max Griffin has decent boxing but doesn’t throw much in combination, so unless he damages Means and unleashes I think it’s likely that he’ll lose rounds on the scorecards. While that could happen, I haven’t seen enough of that power from Griffin in his UFC career so I’ll side with the underdog in Means to win the fight in upset fashion.

Pick: Means +152 (1u) & Means in R3 or Dec +240 (.5u)

Calvin Kattar (-105) vs Arnold Allen (-115)

This card might be quite the dropoff in quality from UFC 280, but this main event is destined to entertain. Both of these gentlemen push forward to impose themself with hellacious boxing and are willing to take a beating to give one. If we’re lucky enough, neither fighter will get knocked out and we’ll have five rounds of damage – though I’m not sure Kattar needs any more of that after absorbing 447 strikes against Holloway nearly two years ago. The winner of this fight is likely 1, maybe 2, fights away from the championship in the Featherweight division led by Alexander Volkanovski then Max Holloway. A win here puts them close to challenging them, while a loss puts you right in the thick of a very talented division.

Calvin Kattar might’ve absorbed 447 strikes from Max Holloway in a historic day, but I don’t want you to think he’s horrible on the feet. Yes, he got his ass whooped by Holloway who clearly was on top of his game, but Kattar is as dangerous as they come in boxing range against anyone not named Max. Unbelievable combinations involving body shots, stiff straights from both hands, and tight hooks are staples of him at range, but as he crashes in close it’s his elbows that are deadly. He’s unique in how often and hard he throws them, and it’s put many a fighter down in his day.

Opposite of Kattar is Arnold Allen who is continuing to ascend in the UFC. Now 9-0, he’s finally getting tough competition to prove he belongs in the top 5 of the division. After beating Sodiq Yusuff in a fairly close contest in his last fight, he turned around and knocked out Dan Hooker in the first round. Sadly, that seems to be a theme of Hooker’s fights over the past few years but nevertheless, it was impressive by Allen. Much like Kattar, it’s high-volume boxing that gets it done for Allen. While most of his fights have gone to a decision (6 of 9), it’s his pressure and volume that overwhelms and dominates his opponents.

Calvin Kattar’s chin is on another level, and I doubt that Arnold Allen will be able to end Kattar’s night. I doubt that Kattar finishes Allen either, as this should be a steady, quality striking battle of two technical strikers. Neither will load up on the majority of their shots, and we should see a back-and-forth with total significant strike numbers well over the 200 total.

Pick: Kattar in R4, R5, or Dec +175 (1.5u)