The UFC closes out its four-part Fight Island series with UFC on ESPN 14 on July 26, 2020, at the Flash Forum in Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.
The event will be headlined by two of the biggest stars in the UFC’s middleweight division. Former champion Robert Whittaker returns for the first time since losing his belt while former welterweight title challenger Darren Till hopes to continue to make noise in his new division. In the co-main event, Shogun Rua will take on Minotauro Nogueira for the third time in their distinguished careers. Former UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum also takes on former light heavyweight title contender Alexander Gustafsson in the third bout of the main card.
Let’s preview all the bouts from the main card and pick our winners:
Robert Whittaker is the former UFC middleweight champion who won The Ultimate Fighter: Smashes welterweight tournament. The 29-year old New Zealand-born Australian is the #1 middleweight contender today. He stands 6-0 tall with a reach of 73.5 inches while fighting out of the orthodox stance. Whittaker has a record of 20-5 with nine knockouts and five wins by submission. The Reaper is 11-3 inside the UFC octagon and his loss to Israel Adesanya at UFC 243 snapped a nine-fight winning streak.
Darren Till is the 5th ranked UFC middleweight contender. This 27-year old from Liverpool in England challenged for the UFC welterweight title at UFC 228 but lost to Tyron Woodley via submission. Till stands 6-0 tall with a reach of 74.5 inches while fighting out of the orthodox stance. The Gorilla has a record of 21-2-1 with 10 knockouts and two wins via submission. He is 6-2-1 under the UFC and is coming off a split decision win over Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 244.
Till has been out-struck in his last three bouts and there’s a good chance that Bobby Knuckles will do the same to him here. The Gorilla likes to bring his hands down which leaves him open when his opponents rush him. He also holds his arms out when he moves backward and that’s how Masvidal caught him with a punch down the middle. Whittaker has fast hands and lands with volume and I think he beats Till to the draw.
PREDICTION: ROBERT WHITTAKER (-129)
Mauricio Rua is the 2005 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix winner and the former UFC light heavyweight champion. This 38-year old Brazilian has been fighting since 2002 and was given up for dead when he went 2-4 from 2012-2014. Rua has since posted a 4-1-1 record to keep his UFC career going. He stands 6-1 tall and has a reach of 6 inches. Shogun has a record of 26-11 with 21 knockouts and one win via submission.
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira is the little brother of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Little Nog was a former Brazilian amateur boxing champion and Pan American Games bronze medalist. He fought for Deep, PRIDE, and Affliction before coming to the UFC. Nogueira is already 44 years old and he stands 6-2 with a reach of 75 inches and is a southpaw. His current record is 23-9 with 8 knockouts and 6 wins via submission. He is 2-4 in his last six bouts and his last four bouts have ended in knockouts ( with two tins)
Shogun is a well-rounded fighter who packs power in his fists. Only five out of his 26 wins have gone the distance and he also averages 2.17 takedown so his opponents will have a hard time figuring him out. He doesn’t mind getting hit and has bee involved in so many bawls. Rua doesn’t move his feet well and he is also flat-footed. This is the third fight between these two and Rua won the first two bouts. I think that we will see the same result here.
PREDICTION: MAURICIO RUA (-185)
Fabricio Werdum is a former UFC heavyweight champion and a four-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion. The 42-year old Brazilian is currently ranked 14th in the UFC’s heavyweight division. Werdum stands 6-4 tall with a reach of 77 inches and is an orthodox fighter. He has a record of 23-9 with 6 knockouts and 11 wins via submission. Vai Cavalo is just 3-3 since losing the title to Stipe Miocic at UFC 198.
Alexander Gustafsson is the 7th ranked light heavyweight in the UFC. The Swedish Mauler challenged for the UFC’s 205-pound title three times but lost on all occasions. The 33-year old announced his retirement after losing to Anthony Smith last June 2019 but will be making a comeback this weekend in the heavyweight division. Gus is 6-5 tall with a reach of 78 inches and is an orthodox fighter. He has a record of 18-6 with 11 knockouts and 3 wins via submission.
Werdum is the best submission artist in the division and he also has power in his punches. However, he looked very old and too slow in his last fight and unless he takes Gustafsson down often here, he’s going to have trouble with the light-footed Swede. Gustafsson moves around very well and is constantly looking for angles. He has accurate jabs and long kicks to keep Werdum off. I think Gus stays away from trouble and wins this on points.
PREDICTION: ALEXANDER GUSTAFSSON (-355)
Carla Esparza is the 7th ranked female strawweight in the UFC. This 32-year old from California is the first Invicta FC strawweight champion and first UFC strawweight champion after winning the TUF 20 tournament. Esparza struggled after losing her belt but has picked up three straight wins heading to this fight. She is 5-1 tall with a reach of 63 inches and is an orthodox fighter. Esparza has a record of 16-6 with three knockouts and four wins via submission.
Marina Rodriguez is the 9th ranked strawweight in the UFC. This 33-year old Brazilian fought for Aspera FC, Shooto Brazil, and Thunder Fights before she was discovered in the Dana White Contender Series. Rodriguez is undefeated in four UFC bouts but with two draws. She has a record of 12-0-2 with five knockouts and one win via submission. She stands 5-6 tall with a reach of 65 inches and is an orthodox fighter.
Esparza is an excellent wrestler and his ground game is the backbone of her success. She has landed at least one takedown in all but one of her 11 UFC bouts and is averaging 3.28 takedowns per 15 minutes. Rodriguez is a very good striker but she can be wild at times and leaves herself open for takedowns. I think Esparza will take this fight to the ground where she can dominate Rodriguez with her ground and pound and perhaps even force a submission.
PREDICTION: CARLA ESPARZA (+151)
Paul Craig is the former BAMMA light heavyweight champion who joined the UFC in 2016. This 32-year old from Scotland has struggled in eight UFC bouts, picking up a record of 3-4-1 during his tenure inside the octagon. Craig stands 6-3 tall with a reach of 76 inches and is an orthodox fighter. His record is 12-4 with one knockout and 11 wins via submission.
Gadzhimurad Antigulov fought for M-1 and Absolute Championship Berkut where he was a two-time light heavyweight champion. This 33-year old from Dagestan won his first two UFC assignments but has lost back to back fights since then. He stands 5-11 tall with a reach of 70 inches and is an orthodox fighter. He has a record of 20-6 with four knockouts and 15 wins via submission.
Craig has great conditioning which enables him to push the face from start to finish. He is primarily a submission artist but his striking has improved over the years. Antigulov’s striking has been scarce but his takedown game has helped him compete in the UFC. However, I doubt if he will have success on the ground against an elite submission artist like Craig. If he decides to fight on the feet, Craig will most probably out-strike him, and even knock him out. Either way, I think Craig wins.
PREDICTION: PAUL CRAIG (-132)
Alex Oliveira is one of the veterans in the UFC. This 32-year old Brazilian has fought the likes of Gilbert Burns, Donald Cerrone, Tim Means, Carlos Condit, Gunnar Nelson, and Mike Perry among others. Cowboy stands 5-11 tall with a reach of 76 inches while fighting out of the orthodox stance. His record is 20-8 with 12 knockouts and four wins via submission.
Peter Sobotta competed for KSW and FFC before coming over to the UFC in 2014. This 33-year old Polish-German fighter has a decent 4-2 UFC record and an overall mark of 17-6 with five knockouts and 10 wins via submission. He is a southpaw who stands six feet tall with a reach of 75 inches. Sobotta heads to this fight after getting knocked out by Leon Edwards in March 2018.
Oliveira is a well-rounded fighter who has been very active inside the octagon. This Brazilian is a very good standup fighter with KO in his punches but still averages over two takedowns per fight. Sobotta has not fought in two years and has fought sparingly throughout his career due to injuries. He is an aggressive fighter who likes to brawl but given his injuries and time of the octagon, I don’t trust his conditioning.
PREDICTION: ALEX OLIVEIRA (-179)
Khamzat Chimaev is a training partner of Alexander Gustafsson. This 26-year old from Stockholm for Brave FC before coming over to the UFC. He is undefeated wit ha record of 7-0 with four knockouts and three wins via submission. Chimaev is an orthodox fighter who stands 6-2 with a reach of 75 inches.
Rhys McKee fought for BAMMA and Cage Warriors before he was signed by the UFC. This 24-year old from Northern Ireland has a record of 10-2 with seven knockouts and three wins via submission. He stands 6-2 tall with an undisclosed reach and is an orthodox fighter. McKee will be making his Octagon debut in this bout.
Chimaev is a very strong fighter who imposes his will on his opponents. He has knockout power and is also a good submission artist. McKee has heavy hands and he prefers to fight on his feet. He is a long fighter with a smooth jab. However, he can easily be countered or put to the mat. I think Chimaev gets this fight down and wins vis submission.
PREDICTION: KHAMZAT CHIMAEV (-1200)
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