Chris Weidman returns to headline a card set in his home state of New York. Kelvin Gastelum is attempting to climb the rankings here against a very tough opponent in hostile territory. The main card is premised of mostly local fighters taking on outsiders for pride based battles. Dennis Bermudez, Gian Villante and Jimmie Rivera will lead an action packed main card against tough opponents. The main card and televised prelims both take place on Fox on Saturday night. The following are previews and predictions for the entirety of the card.
UFC Fight Pass Prelims (4 p.m. ET / 1 p.m. PT)
Frankie Perez (10-3) vs. Chris Wade (11-3) – Lightweight Bout
A rematch from Ring of Combat where Chris Wade earned a split decision victory over Frankie Perez will open the night of fights Saturday. Frankie Perez had a short lived retirement in 2015-2016 when he came back in December of last year and lost to Marc Diakiese. His style is aggressive and he has really good chokes, but has struggled to put it all together so far. Chris Wade is a grinding fighter that uses his NCAA D1 wrestling to smother his opponents. A few wins by submission, Wade primarily goes the distance in his wins. Both fighters are in need of a win here in order to prove their worth to the company as the last win for either man was in January of 2016. This is up to who improved more and while Wade has the better wrestling, Perez is the more dangerous man and will put Wade in uncomfortable positions.
Prediction: Frankie Perez via Unanimous Decision
Shane Burgos (9-0) vs. Godofredo Pepey (14-4) – Featherweight Bout
After two wins inside the UFC Shane Burgos is still undefeated and has finished eight of his nine fights. Godofredo Pepey is a nice step up in competition to see just how good Burgos is. Pepey had a rough start in his UFC career going just 1-3 losing two of those via TKO in the first round but has since gone 4-1 winning all via stoppages and his lone loss to the suffocating style of Darren Elkins. This fight will be exciting and will not likely go the distance. Burgos hasn’t been in much danger yet in his career but Pepey is the man who could put him in some. Using his extra couple inches of reach, Burgos will attack from some angles when Pepey rushes in on him. Until Burgos shows more holes in his game it is likely that he gets another TKO finish here at some point before the final horn.
Prediction: Shane Burgos via TKO Round 2
(#12) Timothy Johnson (11-3) vs. Junior Albini (13-2) – Heavyweight Bout
The young newcomer Junior Albini is only 26 years old and gets the chance to face a top 15 opponent in his promotional debut. Albini is riding a 9 fight winning streak and has finished 11 of his 13 wins. Albini looks like a really good all around prospect with a strong top game and confidence off of his back. Johnson has a rough fight against Alexander Volkov and an even harder one against Jared Rosholt, but I don’t think Albini possesses a style similar to either. This fight will be interesting because it’s hard to tell if Albini has what it takes against high end fighters or if he has been beating easy opponents. Youth and the overall amount of fight experience goes to Albini, but against lesser competition. For the sake of some new talent in the shallow division, Albini gets it done.
Prediction: Junior Albini via Unanimous Decision
Brian Kelleher (17-7) vs. Marlon Vera (9-3-1) – Bantamweight Bout
An intense UFC debut against Iuri Alcantara in Brazil just last month for Brian Kelleher put him on the map. Submitting Alcantara in less than two minutes was impressive and Kelleher looked to have stunned him on his feet slightly that caused the takedown attempt. A seven fight win streak has improved Kelleher from being a mediocre 10-7 fighter. His guillotine choke seemed to tap out Alcantara within three seconds so he must have crazy power in his chokes. Marlon Vera is a good test to make sure Kelleher’s win wasn’t a fluke. He has gone 3-2 in the UFC most recently finishing off Brad Pickett in March. The win over Pickett was a come from behind one and he was losing the fight against the veteran up until that last round. We only saw a couple minutes of Kelleher in his debut, but his striking is better than Vera’s and he has the strength to out muscle him. Vera is hard to finish so I wouldn’t expect a finish.
Prediction: Brian Kelleher via Unanimous Decision
Kyle Bochniak (7-1) vs. Jeremy Kennedy (10-0) – Featherweight Bout
At 24 years of age, Jeremy Kennedy is really a complete prospect. Solid BJJ, Muay Thai and wrestling gives him threats everywhere. 2-0 in the UFC, he hasn’t gotten a finish yet, but looked really strong against Rony Jason when he returned back to his 145 lb weight class earlier this year. Kyle Bochniak lost a short notice debut against Charles Rose but put up a really good fight and then went on to win a very close decision against Enrique Barzola. Both men have some strengths behind them and are overall athletes with varied skills, but Kennedy just seems a little bit better everywhere and will have the size advantage.
Prediction: Jeremy Kennedy via Unanimous Decision
Fox Prelims (6 p.m. ET / 3 p.m. PT)
Damian Grabowski (20-4) vs. Chase Sherman (10-3) – Heavyweight Bout
Both of these men had poor starts to their octagon careers going 0-2. Chase Sherman got his first promotional win against Rashad Coulter last time out via KO. This bout is a good chance for Sherman to get a win-streak going because Damian Grabowski has been knocked out twice in a row and at age 37 his chin won’t be getting any better. The best opportunity for Grabowski is to get Sherman to the ground and work out a submission as Sherman has yet to really be tested on the ground. Sherman will be able to stay up though, and he will be the third man in a row to finish Grabowski.
Prediction: Chase Sherman via TKO Round 1
(#13) Ryan LaFlare (13-1) vs. Alex Oliveira (16-3-1, 2NC) – Welterweight Bout
Ryan LaFlare might be one of the most durable fighters there is, not only never being finished, but never really being in much trouble at all. His only career loss was against Demian Maia, someone there is no shame to lose against. LaFlare has never seen a finish in the UFC and he won’t here, win or lose. LaFlare has a grinding style that isn’t the most exciting as he pressures against the cage and controls the match while peppering his opponents with shots. Alex Oliveira has only lost to two fighters in the UFC, Gilbert Burns and Donald Cerrone both via submission. Oliveira is more of a finisher than LaFlare is, but does best with some space and LaFlare won’t give him an inch. LaFlare gives Oliveira his third UFC loss, and keeps his second win streak going.
Prediction: Ryan LaFlare via Unanimous Decision
Rafael Natal (21-8-1) vs. Eryk Anders (7-0) – Middleweight Bout
A late notice replacement for Alessio di Chirico, Eryk Anders will have his hands full against the really tough Rafael Natal. Natal isn’t a top end fighter, but he is definitely better than a lot of the middleweight division. Natal has good hands, is a BJJ black-belt and can mix it all up well. Eryk Anders has fought a lot in his two and half year career, seven times to be exact. He has excellent striking and is five years younger than Natal. The only plus of fighting Natal on short notice is that he has less time to prep for the style of Anders. In his last fight only a month ago, Anders went five full rounds and got some championship experience in. Anders might just pull off an upset here.
Prediction: Eryk Anders via Split Decision
Lyman Good (19-3, 1NC) vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos (16-5) – Welterweight Bout
Lyman Good fought for years in Bellator, becoming a household name during that time but he made his UFC debut on short notice against Andrew Craig, winning via KO in the second round. Good was the first man to ever do that to Craig so that just shows his power and finishing ability. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos is 2-1 in the UFC, losing a close decision to Nicolas Dalby in his debut before winning two last year. These two could have an exciting striking battle as they have a combined 21 knockouts yet neither man has ever been knocked out themselves. This should be a fun one and I could see Good being the first to finish dos Santos. Either by knockout, or hurting him on the feet then submitting him, more likely the first.
Prediction: Lyman Good via KO Round 2
Fox Main Card (8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT)
(#5) Jimmie Rivera (20-1) vs. (#9) Thomas Almeida (21-1) – Bantamweight Bout
4-0 in the UFC and 20-1 overall, Jimmie Rivera seems like he has put everything together and is going to be a force at bantamweight. The last two wins over Iuri Alcantara and Urijah Faber have shown his strengths and how much he wants to get to that title shot. Rivera is not a known finisher, but he is strong, has great combinations on the feet and is a product of Tiger Schulmann’s MMA so he is a true mixed martial artist. Thomas Almeida is a beast on the feet, but it leaves him open to taking unnecessary punishment too. Four of his five UFC wins have comes via knockout and his only loss was a coming out party for Cody Garbrandt.
If they stay standing up, Almeida might drag this into deep waters and push Rivera farther than he has ever been. Rivera might be the better technical fighter, but Almeida will come out like a man possessed to take him out. River will be smart to try to tie up Almeida and try to slow him down. Using leg kicks and clinch work will be the best approach for Rivera. Rivera lost via TKO when he tried out for TUF, but hasn’t been in that rough of a position since and that was in 2011. While Almeida is a killer, Rivera hasn’t shown much to prove he can’t get the win against him. This is a great opener for the main card on Fox, look for Rivera to outlast Almeida in an exciting fight.
Prediction: Jimmie Rivera via Unanimous Decision
(#11) Patrick Cummins (9-4) vs. (#13) Gian Villante (15-7) – Light Heavyweight Bout
This fight will end via a TKO. I would be in complete shock if this somehow goes the distance or ends in any other way. Gian Villante and Patrick Cummins have won via TKO 14 times and lost via it a combined 8 times. Cummins is known as a great wrestler who likes to strike, but all of his losses are from getting knocked out. Villante’s takedown defense is really good and although Villante hasn’t won against quality competition in awhile, he will be in front of a hometown crowd and has the style to give Cummins issues. Villante has really heavy hand and he’ll be able to put away Cummins within two rounds.
Prediction: Gian Villante via TKO Round 2
(#10) Dennis Bermudez (17-6) vs. (#11) Darren Elkins (23-5) – Featherweight Bout
I was surprised when I saw how long Darren Elkins has fought with the UFC, when he entered he was 10-1, meaning he has fought 17 times with the company and has always been in the higher level of fighting with them. Elkins hits a wall against some people at the very top, but he will remain a top 10ish fighter for a long time. Elkins has a suffocating style and refuses to let up normally wining a decision, but in his last fight finished Mirsad Bektic even though he was losing the entire fight up until that point. Dennis Bermudez has struggled in the last few years against the top end of the division as well, losing to Jeremy Stephens, Ricardo Lamas and Chan Sung Jung. The two are heavy wrestlers so if that cancels out, Bermudez should have the advantage on the feet.
Prediction: Dennis Bermudez via Unanimous Decision
(#5) Chris Weidman (13-3) vs. Kelvin Gastelum (14-2) – Middleweight Main Event (5 Rounds)
A main event that could signal a changing of the guard in the middleweight division. Chris Weidman was champion just over a year and a half ago, but has since lost two more in a row, with all three stemming from a knockout. Weidman has been competitive, but he just seems to fall short at certain points. Kelvin Gastelum has been his own worst enemy in the past missing weight at welterweight, but moving up to middleweight has given him two straight wins (1 a no-contest from marijuana). This fight should be really competitive from the get-go and is a great main event for the New York crowd.
Chris Weidman is in dire need of this win. If he wants to get anywhere near a title fight again he needs to be impressive here against the prospect that is Kelvin Gastelum. Weidman has all the tools to keep him in the top of the division. A NCAA D1 wrestler, a black-belt in BJJ under Matt Serra and a striking coach in Ray Longo and Mark Henry should leave him with very few holes in his game. At this point it seems to be a mental block with him needing to get a win to feel like his old self. If Weidman keeps this at his reach, or decides to go back to his wrestling he could do very well against the young Gastelum. He needs to implement those two things together to get the win.
It’s hard to judge just how good Kelvin Gastelum really is. In some fights he can look unstoppable, in others he can barely scrape by his opponents. At 185 lbs, I believe his skills are in full effect, but he has to overcome being a smaller guy in the division. Wins over the likes of Vitor Belfort, Johny Hendricks and Nate Marquardt in the last couple of years make it seem like he can beat some of the better fighters, but who knows how much these guys all have left in the tank at the point of when he fought them. Weidman has the longer reach advantage and is the better wrestler. So if the fight stays at kicking range or goes to the mat Weidman has the advantage. While Gastelum could be the next big thing, he is still only 25 years old and needs to keep improving. Weidman is too much for him in New York this Saturday.
Prediction: Chris Weidman via Unanimous Decision