This past weekend, the UFC returned in spectacular fashion with a card stacked to the brim, featuring two long-awaited title bouts.
After the chaos that ensued those few days ago, fight fans have very little time to prepare themselves for two more events, both of which are scheduled to take place this week.
The first and easily most underrated takes place on Wednesday, once again at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, and features a number of exciting UFC talent. Headlined by light heavyweights Anthony Smith and Glover Teixiera, the event is set to parade 11 fights, with the majority being thrown together last minute.
Here are four fun fights (with predictions) that we recommend keeping an eye on:
Hunter Azure vs. Brian Kelleher
Our first sleeper bout of the evening takes place in the featherweight division, where wrestling standout Hunter Azure is looking to keep his perfect record intact against the always dangerous Brian Kelleher, who will be fighting above his natural weight class.
Hunter Azure made his UFC debut last September, defeating TUF standout Brad Katona by way of unanimous decision. This performance marked his arrival in the big leagues, as he unexpectedly controlled his opponent for the majority of their fight, extending his professional record to 8-0; throughout his debut, Azure displayed vastly improved striking as well as impressive takedown defence, which was to be expected considering his college wrestling accolades. The 28-year-old enters his May 13 matchup with an advantage in every area of MMA – I don’t see an aspect where Kelleher is better than him, which cements the fact why Azure is sitting at a -175 favorite.
Despite Brian Kelleher lacking a clear path to victory, he remains a crafty veteran with plenty of tricks up his sleeve. His last outing, a submission win over a once-regarded prospect in Ode Osbourne, showcased his slick jiu-jitsu, particularly the guillotine choke. “Boom” has some decent wins under his belt, that include UFC featherweight ace Julio Arce and former bantamweight champion Renan Barao, both of which he defeated distinctly. One strength of Kelleher’s is his granite chin, which has been tested a number of times and only cracked by one of the sport’s best power punchers in John Lineker. Due to this, I do not see him being rendered unconscious by the striking of Azure.
I predict Hunter Azure to flaunt his ever-improving kickboxing in a fight that will go the distance. When the fight hits the mat – which it will – the undefeated featherweight will use his wrestling to control Kelleher and land fierce ground and pound; nonetheless, he needs to remain wary his opponent’s submission game.
Prediction: Hunter Azure via UD.
Michael Johnson vs. Thiago Moises
At first glance, this fight looks like an utter mismatch as it pitches 10-year UFC veteran Michael Johnson against youthful lightweight Thiago Moises, who is in the midst of a fairly unsuccessful promotional tenure. However upon further inspection, it makes for a compelling and competitive bout.
Michael Johnson needs absolutely no introduction. For a large proportion of his UFC career, “The Menace” sat in lightweight’s upper echelon, battling the divisions stiffest participants. His left hand is one of the most undervalued weapons in all of MMA, and when it lands, it leaves its mark. Johnson has a major issue with inconsistency, which has seen him drop fights to the likes of Darren Elkins and Stevie Ray. But when on form, the 33-year-old possesses the speed and accuracy to best quite a few notable names in the top 15. This contest is a must-win for Michael Johnson, as he is currently riding a two-fight losing streak.
His opponent, Thiago Moises, is at an entirely different stage of his career. Being 8 years younger and relatively unknown in comparison to Johnson’s stature, the Brazilian has the opportunity to propel himself upwards in the rankings and collect a victory over a well-respected veteran. As a jiu-jitsu black belt, it’s no secret that he will own the advantage when it comes to the grappling element of his May 13 bout. However, the American Top Team standout is consistently refining his standup in order to establish himself as a well-rounded fighter, with an ability to finish the job wherever his fights end up. These skills are poised to cause his adversary difficulties on the feet, especially when you take into account his smooth kicking ability; the roundhouse and question mark kicks are only two of the aesthetic, yet threatening, strikes in his arsenal.
Moises will undoubtedly cause Michael Johnson more issues than expected, which will make for an exceedingly competitive and technical fight. I trust that the bout will take place on the feet for the most part, with Johnson’s experience playing an enormous factor. Despite his capability to trade on while standing up, don’t be startled if Moises drags his opponent to the mat in an attempt to snatch a submission – jiu-jitsu is one of Johnson’s major flaws, after all (his fights with Darren Elkins and Stevie Ray once again being a testament to this).
Prediction: Thiago Moises via UD.
Ricky Simon vs. Ray Borg
Your classic striker vs. grappler matchup is here, Ladies and Gentlemen.
On May 13, UFC’s 135-pound division is once again on display as the highly-touted Ricky Simon looks to get back into the win column versus former flyweight title contender Ray Borg, who was forced to make the switch to bantamweight due to numerous failed weight cutting attempts. When I say both men need a win here, I mean it.
Ricky Simon is often perceived as one of the most talented fighters in the bantamweight division, with many believing that the sky is the limit for him. His striking and clinch game is constantly improving, which was evident in his 2018 victory over Montel Jackson. After two disappointing but critical losses to Uriah Faber and Rob Font respectively, Simon desperately needs a win, and his upcoming fight grants the chance to do so.
Former top-ranked flyweight Ray Borg will make his second appearance as a bantamweight, this time, however, the move is permanent. His stint at 125-pounds was a big success as he earned a title shot against the divisions best-ever athlete Demetrious Johnson. Ultimately coming up short. To achieve this championship opportunity Borg used his offensive wrestling to defeat the likes of Louis Smolka and Jussier Formiga, which exhibited his aptness in the grappling faculty.
It’s worth mentioning that Simon walks into this scheduled bout with a 6-inch reach advantage, which will come into play whenever the two are on their feet. If used correctly, it will allow him to stay at range and pick his shots.
The safe bet here has to be Simon, as he’s competing at his natural weight class and is significantly larger than his counterpart. Albeit, I believe Borg will control the fight through his wrestling and walk away with the unanimous decision victory. He is capable enough on the feet to hang with Simon and will use his speed advantage to drag him down to the mat.
Prediction: Ray Borg via UD.
Alexander Hernandez vs. Drew Dober
Finally, we arrive at the last, and arguably most exciting fight on this list: Alexander Hernandez vs. Drew Dober. These pair of lightweights have been striving towards the divisions top 15 for quite some time now, and a highlight reel finish on May 13 will gain the victor enough esteem to potentially break into these rankings; if that isn’t enough, it will without a doubt set the winner up with a ranked opponent.
Hernandez first burst onto the scene in 2018, steamrolling through Beneil Dariush in less than 50 seconds. This win oddly gifted him the No.13 position in the ranking, which he maintained through his next victory over Olivier Aubin-Mercier. Hernandez boasts big knockout power on top of decent wrestling, however there is no one element he shines in.
At UFC 246, Drew Dober once more made his name known to fans when he unexpectedly knocked out prospect Nasrat Haqparast early in the first round. This spectacular finish showcased Dober’s heavy hands, which he has been evolving at a rapid pace over the course of his 7-year UFC career. I believe he hits harder than his opponent, a factor that will definitely come into play during their encounter.
In my opinion, Alexander Hernandez should make a quick start to the fight and be cautious of his opponent’s sneaky right hand; he is more than willing to stand in the pocket and trade if needs be. After a short feeling out-process, he should attempt to take the action to the ground, where he holds a slight advantage.
As for the favorite, Drew Dober, his best shot is to keep the fight standing and be wise in his selection of shots. I expect his performance to be somewhat of an oxymoron: patient, yet chaotic. Hacking Hernandez down through leg kicks are one of the many tools he should use to make the fight less competitive.
Although both men have the power to knockout the other, making the odds of foreseeing the winner more challenging, I predict that Drew Dober will get the job done.
Prediction: Drew Dober via TKO, R2.