UFC ON FOX 23 PRIMER: Ecochard’s preview of Shevchenko vs. Pena, Cerrone vs. Masvidal, Arlovski vs. Ngannou, Marquardt vs. Alvey

By Matt Ecochard, MMATorch contributor

UFC on Fox is headlined by two female fighters for the second time in a row with the top two contenders in the bantamweight division. Valentina Shevchenko looks to cement her claim to a rematch with Amanda Nunes by stopping the extended winning streak of the young and improving Julianna Pena. The card is full of some exciting fights and will start on UFC Fight Pass at 4 PM EST before jumping to Fox Sports 1 at 5 PM EST with the main card taking place on Fox starting at 8 PM EST. The following are previews and predictions for every fight on the card starting with UFC Fight Pass early prelims:

UFC Fight Pass Early Prelims

Jason Gonzalez (10-3) vs. J.C. Cottrell (17-4) – Lightweight Bout

Both Jason Gonzalez and J.C. Cottrell look to get their first UFC victory and stay on the UFC’s lightweight roster. Gonzalez was caught by Drew Dober early in their bout in September and didn’t get much of a chance to show what he is capable of on the feet or on the ground. He will be the larger lightweight here at 6’2” compared to Cottrell’s 5’9” and that could give him significant help on the feet. Cottrell is much more comfortable on the ground with 11 of his 17 victories stemming from submissions and only 2 coming from knockouts. Gonzalez should be able to keep the fight standing here and get the finish late in the first to finally get him that first win.

Prediction: Jason Gonzalez via TKO Round 1

Alexandre Pantoja (16-2) vs. Eric Shelton (10-2) – Flyweight Bout

Two exciting flyweights from this past season of TUF will be battling for the first time officially inside the UFC. Alexandre Pantoja was a pretty heavy favorite to win this season of TUF as he was the number one pick overall for either team. Not losing in six years and having slick striking and grappling skills makes him a very dangerous threat to an opponent he faces. At the age of 26, it is scary to think about how great Pantoja could become if he continues to train seriously and face higher levels of competition. Eric Shelton is better on the ground than he is on the feet, but he isn’t as good as Pantoja is with submissions. There really isn’t anywhere that Shelton is better skill wise, but he is more athletic and that is his x-factor, but is it enough to get past Pantoja?

Prediction: Alexandre Pantoja via Unanimous Decision

Fox Sports 1 Prelims

Marcos Rogerio de Lima (14-5-1) vs. John Phillips (21-6-0, 1NC)– Light Heavyweight Bout

A striking battle should be going down with the Brazil native Marcos Rogerio de Lima taking on UFC newcomer John Phillips from Wales. De Lima is 3-2 so far in his UFC career, but has proven he can swing with some of the big boys as the likes of Igor Pokrajac and Clint Hester are some solid wins. John Phillips is moving up from middleweight to make his debut and will be the smaller man here. It’ll be interesting to see if Phillips’ knockout power translates against bigger fighters here, and while he will likely be an underdog I’ll be choosing him to get the upset here.

Prediction: John Phillips via KO Round 1

Eric Spicely (9-2) vs. Alessio Di Chirico (10-1) – Middleweight Bout

The submission skills of Eric Spicely are nothing to joke about as they allowed him to beat a ranked opponent last time out. While his ground game is strong he doesn’t offer a whole lot on the feet and that could be a problem when he faces opponents with a strong wrestling defense. Alessio Di Chirico isn’t the most intimidating fighter, but he is definitely more well rounded than Spicely is. Spicely very well may take Chirico down early and get the finish, but Chirico is young, strong and has yet to be finished in his career. Chirico wins in a mild upset and continues to improve his game.

Prediction: Alessio Di Chirico via Unanimous Decision

Luis Henrique da Silva (12-1) vs. Jordan Johnson (6-0) – Light Heavyweight Bout

Luis Henrique da Silva is looking for a quick rebound in a disappointing loss against newcomer Paul Craig in December. Taking on another newcomer in Jordan Johnson, da Silva needs to keep himself more composed and pick apart Johnson on the feet where he is just a brutal striker. Johnson has proven to love his jiu-jitsu so far in his short MMA career and most likely will need to follow that up against the experienced da Silva. While da Silva was beat last time out by a newcomer with submission skills, Jordan Johnson doesn’t seem as good as Paul Craig was. There shouldn’t be much of a threat here and I fully expect da Silva to get the job done.

Prediction: Luis Henrique da Silva via KO Round 2

Bobby Nash (8-1) vs. Li Jingliang (11-4) – Welterweight Bout

At the age of 26 Bobby Nash will be getting his chance to fight for the UFC. A wrestling base gave Nash a good head start as he had time to develop the rest of his skills. Nash isn’t one to just hold down an opponent as he has seven finishes in his eight victories and only lost a single decision fairly early into his career. Li Jingliang is 3-2 in the UFC and is also one to chase the finish. This bout should be a competitive one with both men having a wrestling background, but willing and able to fight just about anywhere. Jingliang has struggled against some fellow welterweight journeymen so my confidence in him isn’t that high. The prospect Bobby Nash might have a much higher ceiling and could start his climb off strong on Saturday night.

Prediction: Bobby Nash via Submission Round 3

(#4) Raphael Assuncao (23-5) vs. (#7) Aljamain Sterling (12-1) –Bantamweight Bout

Aljamain Sterling lost his last fight in a disappointing bout against Bryan Caraway where he just didn’t look like himself. The UFC must believe in him because he is getting an even bigger opponent and a potentially tougher challenge against Raphael Assuncao. Sterling has NCAA level wrestling, has very slick submission skills and an improving striking game thanks to his team at Serra-Longo. I’m sure Sterling went back to training and will not come out looking like he did against Caraway again.

Raphael Assuncao was one of the greatest bantamweights in the UFC and still could possibly be. A seven fight win streak kept Assuncao near the title picture, but then he was out for  almost two full years and returned against the former champion T.J. Dillashaw and he just looked a step slower the entire bout. Assuncao is great at making a fight go at his pace and controlling the bout by grappling and clinching. Assuncao is a black belt in BJJ, but his style isn’t as unique as Sterling’s. Assuncao might be better overall, but he didn’t seem to be himself when he fought Dillashaw and if that same version shows up against Sterling, then he won’t be as tough of a challenge as many believe he will be. Assuncao takes Sterling lightly and gets caught in an upset.

Prediction: Aljamain Sterling via Submission Round 1

Nate Marquardt (38-16-2) vs. Sam Alvey (29-8, 1NC) – Middleweight Bout

Nate Marquardt is the height of a veteran of the sport, fighting on multiple occasions in the UFC as well as Strikeforce and smaller organizations. He has fought some of the best in the world and depending on when and who his opponent was, he has had success. Marquardt used to be more of an all around fighter, but as of late has been happy to just stand and trade. The chin of Marquardt is beginning to fail and he might have some trouble with Alvey’s power. Sam Alvey is primarily a stand up fighter, but can surprise with his submissions every so often. The chin of Alvey is made of stone and his hands are even heavier. I’d be surprised if Marquardt makes it out of this fight remaining conscious.

Prediction: Sam Alvey via TKO Round 1

Fox Main Card

Alex Caceres (12-9, 1NC) vs. Jason Knight (18-2) – Featherweight Bout

Two exciting and fit featherweights will be clashing on Saturday night in a battle that should be exciting no matter where it takes place. Alex Caceres has been an interesting, albeit inconsistent fighter. Both fighters enjoy the ground game and are tough as nails, but both fighters have a slight edge in certain aspects of the sport. Jason Knight will likely have the advantage on the ground as his BJJ is at a higher level. Caceres will be better standing up because he is very fluid and has a fun striking style that should keep Knight on his toes. If Knight can keep Caceres down on the ground he should be able to control the bout, but Caceres should be too slick as he has shown rapid improvement as of late and he is just getting into his prime.

Prediction: Alex Caceres via Split Decision

(#7) Andrei Arlovski (25-13, 1NC) vs. (#10) Francis Ngannou (9-1) – Heavyweight Bout

  A huge opportunity for Francis Ngannou takes shape in the chance to takeout veteran Andrei Arlovski. Arlovski was so close to getting a UFC title shot, winning four straight at one point but has since dropped three fights in a row recently. The chin of Arlovski was never the strongest, but it has recently seemed to begin fading away. Arlovski can strike and has a fairly strong clinch game, but he really does become most dangerous when he is hurt. Ngannou hasn’t beaten any huge names, but he is really quite an athletic freak of nature. With such a young career, it is surprising that Ngannou is developing at the speed he has been so far. The striking and submission skills paired with the forward pressure of Ngannou has led to a firestorm that has torn through his opponents so far. Look for the hype train to come full speed ahead with an early victory.

Prediction: Francis Ngannou via KO Round 1

(#5) Donald Cerrone (32-7, 1NC) vs. (#12) Jorge Masvidal (31-11) – Welterweight Bout

Two tough veterans go head to head in the co-main event on Saturday night with the dangerous Donald Cerrone facing the savvy Jorge Masvidal. Cerrone has some of the best striking in any division and is decisive with his attacks. At welterweight Cerrone has really looked better than ever, getting three straight TKO victories over tough and durable fighters in Patrick Cote, Rick Story and Matt Brown. The ground game of Cerrone is likely even better than his striking it just hasn’t been shown off much lately. Jorge Masvidal is primarily a boxer, but mixes in his kicks and clinches well enough that he is really a solid overall fighter. There just isn’t many places that I see Masvidal being better in than Cerrone is. Masvidal is one of the hardest fighters to finish off, but if anyone could do it, it would be the resurgent Cerrone.

Prediction: Donald Cerrone via TKO Round 2

(#1) Valentina Shevchenko (13-2) vs. (#2) Julianna Pena (9-2) – Women’s’ Bantamweight Main Event (5 Rounds)

The top two contenders for Amanda Nunes’ bantamweight strap will duke it out in what must be a title eliminator match. Valentina Shevchenko is one of the highest decorated female strikers that the UFC has, having multiple master of sports and black belt titles in various striking disciplines and one in Judo. Going 58-2-1 in kickboxing, winning world championships in Muay Thai and getting a 13-2 in mma is incredibly impressive for anyone to achieve. Shevchenko has beaten Sarah Kaufman and Holly Holm so far in the UFC, sandwiching a loss from the now champion Amanda Nunes.

Julianna Pena has gone 4-0 inside the UFC including her initial win that crowned her the champion of TUF 18. Her striking is improving, but where she is most impressive is when she is on top of her opponent and is laying down nasty ground and pound. Her wrestling is very impressive and it allows her to take the fight out of her opposition’s hands as they can’t do much but just defend themselves. Pena’s own worst enemy might just be herself with her troubles outside of the cage and her attitude creating issues.

The match comes down to Shevchenko being able to keep it on the feet and out-striking Pena, which she is very capable of doing. Pena could take the fight down with relative ease and finish it off, but the Judo of Shevchenko should keep it staying up on the feet. The edge has to go to Shevchenko if she can do so, Pena’s best victory came against Cat Zingano who was out for a year and a half. There just isn’t much to go on with Pena besides her wrestling and confidence, so the pick has to go with the number one contender.

Prediction: Valentina Shevchenko via Unanimous Decision

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