UFC on ESPN 9: Main Card Preview with Predictions
For the first time in recent history, UFC has provided fans with two events in the one week, with the first taking place on May 13 and the second on May 16, respectively.
These pair of ‘Fight Night’ cards include a wide array of talent that includes some of the promotion’s lesser-known combatants, who have been gifted the opportunity to thrust their names in the limelight on the biggest stage of them all.
The week’s second event, scheduled to take place on May 16 in VyStars Veteran Memorial Arena, Jacksonville, Florida, features a number of ranked fighters looking to scale their divisions in search of a title. Headlined by a clash between veteran heavyweight Alistair Overeem and Walt Harris, the card is guaranteed to stir excitement amongst the MMA community; it will likely be the only live combat sports on, so expect more viewers than usual.
Without further ado, here is your full main card preview with predictions:
Song Yadong (15-4-1-1) vs. Marlon Vera (15-5-1)
Opening up the main card is a featherweight clash between two bantamweights in Song Yadong and Marlon Vera, who will both be competing above their natural weight class. Despite this, the fight will still cause ramifications in their usual division of 135-pounds.
Both men are currently No. 14 and 15 at bantamweight, meaning this bout could see the winner take a huge leap up in competition while taking one step closer to a championship opportunity.
China is being touted as the next nation to produce a wealth of sharp and galvanic mixed martial arts, with strawweight champion Weili Zhang and heavy hitter Li Jingliang currently solidifying this claim. Along with the country’s polished veterans are their prospects, which includes 22-year-old Song Yadong. Yadong is unbelievably technical for his age, owning tremendous striking while packing legitimate one-punch knockout power, a rare sight at the lower weight classes. He is very active and mobile while on the feet, possessing a laser-accurate jab and right hand. On top of being able to out-punch the opposition, Yadong proved he could grapple well in his victory over Felipe Arantes, controlling the action with good positional awareness and fierce ground and pound; he almost tapped out the jiu-jitsu brown belt with an arm-triangle choke, too.
Yadong remains dangerous throughout each and every round, meaning you can never count him out of the fight. His 2019 KO over Alejandro Perez displayed his incredible ability to pick shots and land hard. Which he was able to fulfill through incessant (yet efficient) footwork and feints, prompting the opposition to leave an opening for his piston of a right hand.
His May 13 opponent, Marlon Vera, is an extremely versatile and fluid striker, who enjoys using length to his advantage. The Ecuadorian will not hesitate to attempt manoeuvres such as the standing guillotine choke and loves breaking down his adversary from the outset, which he will looking be to achieve in his fight Yadong.
Vera owns a slight advantage at range, as his kicks are a major weapon used to inflict pain from the outside; whether it’s to the body or head, expect full torque on each one. He is shaping up to be a fantastic pressure fighter, which is a key element in his style of fighting. I believe the threat of his submission game – which remains criminally underrated – will deter Yadong from using his wrestling, thus expect the bout to be dealt with on the feet.
In spite of Vera’s five-fight hot streak which has seen him dispense numerous impressive performances, I am backing the Chinese sensation Song Yadong to snatch the win at UFC on ESPN 10. As previously mentioned Yadong has ferocious power in both his fists and unlike many of the sport’s fighters today, can fight decently well moving backwards. Vera has a knack of rushing towards his opponents, standing flat-footed with square hips. For this reason, I believe Yadong will catch him during one of these rushes, consequently earning him another knockout victory.
Prediction: Song Yadong via TKO, R2.
Eryk Anders (13-4) vs. Krzysztof Jotko (21-4)
First and foremost, I am extremely relieved that Eryk Anders has permanently returned to middleweight. After a brief and fairly unsuccessful 1-2 stint at light heavyweight, which included a short notice defeat to perennial contender Thiago Santos, he has once again found his footing in the middleweight division.
Anders is one of the heaviest hitters in his weight class and funniest personalities in all of MMA. In his most recent Octagon outing, the 33-year-old defeated submission specialist Gerald Meerschaert via split decision in a fight that displayed his raw power and ability to pile on the pressure when needed. “Ya Boi” performs best while leading the dance, which includes firing off first and keeping the opposition backed up against the fence. On top of this, he relies on his boxing and big left hand in order to score damage. Unfortunately it makes him very one dimensional in his approach. I believe Anders should incorporate more kicks into his arsenal and begin to cut off his opposition as oppose to chasing them around the cage, which was visible in the Elias Theodorou fight. He is extremely physical which is doubtlessly a huge advantage to have in mixed martial arts, nevertheless, this physicality can only pay dividends for so long.
His opponent on May 16 is Poland’s Krzysztof Jotko, a dangerous striker who uses range and volume to his advantage while competing. Just like Anders, Jotko enjoys pressurizing his counterpart as a means to land his lead uppercut or straight left. This was on full display in his disappointing defeat to Uriah Hall. In spite of losing the bout, Jotko showcased his well-versed boxing and movement, which will certainly be a factor against Anders. Although he is far from the level of reigning champion Israel Adesanya, the Pole understands distance control exceptionally well, which he uses regularly to avoid absorbing heavy strikes targeted at the head.
Jotko does not fare well against competent boxers because of his lacklustre defence (asides from his impressive skill of controlling distance). Due to this, he’ll need to stay alert against “Ya Boi”; Anders is quite capable of sneaking a hefty punch through the guard, which he will surely capitalize on.
I trust that Kryzystof Jotko will have the edge in the grappling facet, particularly the clinch. While Anders’ physicality will come into play, Jotko should have the skills to denaturalize this.
This fight is truly about who performs best on the night, as both can win just as easily as the other. The pair love to march forward and control their opponent, therefore it will be interesting to see who captures the centre of the Octagon. Either Jotko outpoints his foe over the course of three rounds, or Anders establishes himself as the aggressor and punches his way victory. I believe the latter will occur.
Prediction: Eryk Anders via TKO, R3.
Dan Ige (13-2) vs. Edson Barboza (20-8)
As many of you will know, Brazil’s Edson Barboza needs absolutely no introduction. A longtime contender at lightweight, Barboza is set to make his first appearance at 145, where he takes on the overlooked Dan Ige.
Dan Ige, for whatever reason, is one of the more undervalued athletes in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. His last appearance against the always durable Mirsad Bektic proved that he is constantly evolving as a mixed martial artist. His striking? Neat. His wrestling and ground game? Terrific. Ige has one of the best top games in the featherweight division, as he runs through fierce opposition on the ground with relative ease.
A member of the renowned Xtreme Couture gym in Las Vegas, the Hawaiin has long been surrounded by some of the sports most formidable grappling machines, frequently training alongside lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and the fast-rising Islam Mackchev. These experiences have reflected positively on Ige’s in-cage performances as his grappling prowess is beginning to mould a reputation of its own. Look no further than his rear-naked choke victory over Danny Henry, where in just over a minute, he found the neck and sunk in the submission to force the tap. Anticipate Ige to show off his offensive wrestling by landing a takedown early in the first round.
Taking down a regular opponent is difficult enough, let alone an accomplished striker with notable takedown defence and a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. Edson Barboza is this striker.
A member of the UFC’s roster for almost a decade, Barboza is known for his prominent kicking ability which has seen him pick up three career wins by way of leg kicks. On top of his propensity to hack the legs, “Junior” is known for his patent switch kick that is targeted toward the midsection of his opponent, a move deemed critical in his triumph over both Evan Dunham and Dan Hooker. Barboza has always struggled to maintain his cardio into the later rounds and with his featherweight debut set to take place on May 16, it’ll be intriguing to see if the extra drop of 10 pounds in weight will tax his gas tank even further.
Ige’s entire game happens to revolve around his scheduled opponent’s key weakness – grappling. Undefeated lightweight king Khabib Nurmagomedov – who is good friends with Ige – exposed the full extent of Barboza’s fragility in this department. However, the Brazilian’s standup evens the playing field in this matchup. Ige is no slouch on the feet, but his sole UFC loss to talented kickboxer Julio Arce revealed inferior ability when adjacent to fearsome strikers.
Has Dan Ige improved enough on the feet to outlast and deceitfully shoot a takedown? Or will Barboza add another highlight to his seemingly never-ending reel? Come Saturday night, we will have the answer.
Prediction: Dan Ige via UD.
Claudia Gadelha (17-4) vs. Angela Hill (12-7)
There are only a handful of athletes in the sport today who are willing to take a fight anywhere, anyplace, anytime, against anyone – Angela Hill is one of them.
In just over a year, she has fought for the UFC six times, the majority being on short notice. Out of these six fights Hill has had her hand raised on four occasions, and currently rides an imposing three-fight win streak. Her opposition at UFC on ESPN + 30 will be Claudia Gadelha, a former title contender with intentions to capture the championship she so narrowly missed out on.
Gadelha is one of the more physical strawweights on the register, and this has been apparent numerous times throughout her UFC run. During her 2016 victory over Cortney Casey, the jiu-jitsu black belt exhibited immense power and strength, allowing her to dominate the full 15-minute encounter. While on the ground she stays active through short ground and pound strikes and methodical advances past the guard. She enters her matchup with Hill with a distinct grappling advantage, therefore expect her to do some damage in the clinch early on before shooting for a takedown.
On the other hand, Alliance MMA’s Angela Hill will be doing everything in her power to deny the takedown attempts of Gadelha, and will much prefer to keep the fight standing where she’s known for her high output and constant motion. Over her last few showings, Hill has matured into a top-15 calibre fighter, willing to cause the upset on any given night. This will be no different on Saturday as she currently sits at a +173 underdog.
I believe Gadelha will be the aggressor from the outset, forcing Hill to fight off the back foot before tieing her up in the clinch. While in this position, she will need to roughen the underdog up before shooting in for the double leg takedown. There she will aim to pummel with strikes while hunting for a submission. Hill’s best chance is to keep moving and fire recurrent leg kicks, occasionally firing her right hand over the guard to score damage.
The likelihood of Hill evading her opponent’s wrestling expertise for three rounds is slim, thus why I predict Gadelha to claim to a unanimous decision victory, setting herself up for a potential top 5 contest next.
Prediction: Claudia Gadelha via UD.
I will not be breaking down the main event this week that takes place between veteran heavyweight Alistair Overeem and surging contender Walt Harris.