The Octagon has set down in Las Vegas for a three-day mixed martial arts marathon. The weekend, which will be capped off by a featherweight rivalry showdown between Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor, features three UFC events in three days, including a kickoff on Thursday in the form of UFC Fight Night 80.
Exclusively on UFC Fight Pass, the 12-fight card will be headlined by strawweight contenders Rose Namajunas and Paige VanZant. Namajunas fills in for Joanne Calderwood, who was injured in the lead up to this main event. It’s a big fight for Namajunas, who headlines her second UFC card opposite blossoming star VanZant. The company is obviously behind the marketable VanZant, who looks to use this main event as a platform to make a statement and jump ahead in the division.
The card is also littered with talent across various weight divisions. Longtime UFC veterans like Jim Miller, John Howard and Philippe Nover will look to show why they have taken a number of fights with the company and keep getting asked back. Then there are young guns like Elias Theodorou, Aljamain Sterling and Sage Northcutt who look to show fans why they are among some of the best young stars in the sport. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the card and make some predictions for each bout.
Rose Namajunas vs. Paige VanZant
In looking at the main event, I actually think that Paige VanZant has drawn a tougher opponent than the originally planned Joanne Calderwood. Namajunas is more well-rounded and will give her fits on the ground if “12 Gauge” wants to go there. On the feet, it will be a dogfight, as both ladies like to brawl. Namajunas has underrated technique and skill upright, which is why I see this as a bad matchup for VanZant. In the end, I think Namajunas plays spoiler and puts her name on the short list of strawweight contenders.
Jim Miller vs. Michael Chiesa
In terms of matchups on this card, I like this one from a technical standpoint as opposed to a brawl. Michael Chiesa is like a good pair of Dockers: safe, consistent and hard to wear on (especially if said Dockers are Stain Resistant). He comes to fight and makes you work. Jim Miller has been the workhorse of the lightweight division outside Donald Cerrone, working more than most in his tenure on the roster. He too is consistent, using strong boxing and ground to make him a top-15 155er. Miller has seen this matchup before, and though Chiesa makes Miller earn this one, the gritty New Jersey native does pull this one out.
Sage Northcutt vs. Cody Pfister
I have to say, I have a hard time buying into the Sage Northcutt hype at this point. But I am not oblivious — his UFC debut was impressive. Not only that, but the UFC has teed up another perfectly beatable opponent in Cody Pfister here. Northcutt is insanely ahead of Pfister in three key categories in this fight: athleticism, strength and striking. After he defends some Pfister takedown attempts, he batters him constantly on the feet, wearing on him to a point that Pfister can no longer handle, giving Northcutt another finish.
Elias Theodorou vs. Thiago Santos
When it comes to middleweight prospects, the UFC may have one of the brightest in the world in the form of Elias Theodorou. Sure, he isn’t the flashiest of fighters, but neither are some of the best fighters in the game today. Theodorou is a workman, grinding and wearing on guys to the point of breaking them. He’ll need to avoid lengthy exchanges with Thiago Santos, who will literally be looking for the knockout early and often, and throughout. Theodorou is more than equipped to avoid that and break down the Brazilian, cruising in another star-building performance.
Tim Means vs. John Howard
If you are looking for a preliminary bout to camp on for an early Fight of the Night contenders, look no further than John Howard vs. Tim Means. Both have had their fair share of violent striking affairs, which is why this piece of matchmaking is an obvious booking. I think Means has more tools upright in terms of length and height, as well as technique, to frustrate Howard. Howard does have a bit of wrestling in his back pocket, but I don’t think it’s enough to plant Means on the mat. This kickboxing bout will result in a raucous crowd and a fun win for the New Mexican, Means.
Omari Akhmedov vs. Sergio Moraes
Brazilian jiu-jitsu at a high level is an absolutely beautiful art. When it’s used in the UFC, it’s even a more welcome sight. That’s why this undercard bout featuring Sergio Moraes is one to keep your eyes on. He is one of the best in the company in terms of pure BJJ, and has proven it in his short period in the UFC. Injuries have hurt his progress, but he has shown he belongs. Omari Akhemdov is no pushover, though. He will batter you on the feet and can take your head off. However, as seen in the Gunnar Nelson fight, he can be taken down and submitted. This is a tossup, but I will take Moraes by late submission.
Antonio Carlos Jr. vs. Kevin Casey
Two aces on the mat meet up in the next bout, so it may not be who’s the better BJJ artist, but who’s the better mixed martial artist. Both Antonio Carlos Jr. and Kevin Casey are beasts on the mat, but that tends to cancel out in these types of fights. What it will be left up to is who has the better striking. In this case, I believe that to be Casey. He has shown he can knock guys out standing, where Carlos has mostly shown to thrive on the mat. Casey scores another victory here.
Aljamain Sterling vs. Johnny Eduardo
For one of the top prospects in any weight division, pay attention to Aljamain Sterling. In terms of physical gifts, his quickness, strength and uncanny athleticism give him an outright automatic advantage for any fight he gets into. He is also a beast wrestler and grappler who is adding more refined striking to his repertoire. It won’t be easy against Johnny Eduardo, who showed he can break a jaw with one strike in his latest outing against former title challenger Eddie Wineland. However, given his talent and ability, I think Sterling passes this test with flying colors and continues to make his case as a fringe top-10 UFC bantamweight.
Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Andreas Stahl
A kickboxing match is set to break out in a UFC Octagon when Santiago Ponzinibbio and Andreas Stahl square off. Both men like to bang on the feet; however, it’s Ponzinibbio who has shown a consistency against better opponents. He hits hard, he hits often and has a great chin as a failsafe. Stahl gets some licks in, but it’s Ponzinibbio who scores the knockout.
Danny Roberts vs. Nathan Coy
Michael Graves of American Top Team was set to take on Danny Roberts of rival gym The Blackzilians. However, Graves was hurt in training and his teammate will continue this rivalry fight when Nathan Coy steps up on short notice. For Roberts, the training stays the same. Both Graves and Coy specialize in wrestling, so he doesn’t have to change his camp up much. Roberts is very talented, both upright and on the mat. He is a great prospect for 170 that will defend Coy’s attempt at takedowns and score an impressive debut victory.
Zubaira Tukhugov vs. Philippe Nover
Philippe Nover has seemingly been around forever, but this is his second go in the UFC and he’s hoping this will be better than his first run. He got off to a good start by winning his re-debut with the company, though many would argue Yui Chul Nam took that fight. He doesn’t get much of a let up here, as Zubaira Tukhugov is a savage that will bring the fight to him. Nover is nothing to write home about these days, so I think Tukhugov continues to brighten his star here.
Kailin Curran vs. Emily Kagan
The bottom of the ladder is where you don’t want to be in MMA. Working your way up is tough, but Emily Kagan and Kailin Curran will attempt to do that. Kagan has shown inconsistent, especially in recent times. Curran has the fortune of being very competitive in both her UFC bouts, though she ended up losing them. She is aggressive and tough, which will make Kagan uncomfortable. I take Curran here as she secures her UFC roster spot.