Two high-octane Featherweights just inches away from contender status duke it out on “Fight Island” this Wednesday (July 15, 2020) when Calvin Kattar and Dan Ige headline the second of four Abu Dhabi cards. UFC on ESPN 13 also features a Flyweight clash between Tim Elliott and Ryan Benoit, as well as a Featherweight crossroads battle pitting Jimmie Rivera against Cody Stamann.
We’ve got another seven “Prelims” undercard bouts in the dugout, all of them joining the main card on ESPN/ESPN+. Since we’ve got a busy week ahead of us, we’re doing them all in one batch. Enjoy!
185 lbs.: John Phillips vs. Khamzat Chimaev
John Phillips (22-9) didn’t make quite the immediate splash he wanted in the Octagon, dropping his first three fights to Charles Byrd, Kevin Holland and Jack Marshman. He finally managed to showcase his notorious power in Sept. 2019 with a 14-second knockout of Alen Amedovski that earned the Welshman a $50,000 bonus.
All of his wins have come inside the distance, 19 of them by form of knockout.
Khamzat Chimaev (6-0) — a training partner of Alexander Gustafsson and other UFC veterans at Allstars Training Center — ran through his first six professional opponents in less than two rounds apiece. His 2019 campaign saw him starch unbeaten Sambo champion Ikram Aliskerov with a gnarly uppercut and choke out knockout artist Mzwandile Hlongwa with a second-round d’arce.
He replaces “Contender Series” veteran Dusko Todorovic on less than one week’s notice.
If Chimaev is even half the prospect he looks like, he could be among the most significant signings this year. Between his terrific wrestling and surprisingly crisp and powerful stand up, he might be Sweden’s most promising mixed martial artist since a prime Gustafsson. Even if he doesn’t turn out to be all that, though, he should still have more than enough to destroy Phillips, whose complacency with his power led him to never develop any boxing or grappling skills.
Chimaev is admittedly moving up in weight for this short-notice fight and Phillips admittedly hits like a particularly pasty meteor, but “Borz” has shown that he doesn’t dally on the feet when the takedown is there. He takes Phillips to the mat and either pounds or chokes him out in the first few minutes.
Prediction: Chimaev via first-round submission
145 lbs.: Ricardo Ramos vs. Lerone Murphy
Ricardo Ramos (14-2) put together a 4-1 Octagon record at Bantamweight, beating the likes of Kyung Ho Kang and Journey Newson, before moving up to 145 pounds last year. His divisional debut went about as smoothly as possible, as “Carcacinha” choked out Eduardo Garagorri to earn a “Performance of the Night” bonus.
He’s dispatched seven professional opponents by submission and another two by knockout.
Four months after a first-round knockout win in his native England, Lerone Murphy (8-0-1) headed to Abu Dhabi to face Zubaira Tukhugov in his Octagon debut. Though he suffered an early knockdown, “The Miracle” took advantage of his opponent’s cardio troubles to fight his way to a split draw.
He’ll enjoy a 1.5-inch reach advantage.
As praiseworthy as his efforts against Tukhugov were, the fact remains that “Warrior” took Murphy down effectively at will, even when gassed to death. That’s more than a little concerning against Ramos, a capable wrestler with a lethal submission game. Even if he’s not a physically dominant as Tukhugov, being a long-time Bantamweight, Ramos still looks likely to put Murphy on his back without issue and dominate from there.
Murphy is still the more dangerous striker, but Ramos is no slouch on the feet, and the threat of the Brazilian’s ground game should go some way towards limiting Murphy’s willingness to let his hands and feet go. Unless Murphy can catch him coming in, Ramos takes him down and wraps up a quick rear-naked choke.
Prediction: Ramos via first-round submission
205 lbs.: Modestas Bukauskas vs. Andreas Michailidis
Lithuania’s Modestas Bukauskas (10-2) has won six straight, all by stoppage, since hitting a two-fight skid in 2016. In his most noteworthy fights to date, he knocked out Marthin Hamlet Nielsen for the Cage Warriors title in June of last year and did the same to Riccardo Nosiglia in his first defense.
He has not won by decision since his pro debut, knocking out seven.
Andreas Michailidis (12-3) rebounded from a loss to Vladimir Mineev with three consecutive first-round knockouts, including a wheel kick finish of UFC veteran Marcel Fortuna. His efforts set up a Cage Warriors Middleweight title bout against Nathias Frederick, only for the event to fall through because of the ongoing pandemic.
“The Spartan” replaces Vinicius Moreira — who tested positive for COVID-19 — on less than two weeks’ notice.
Bukauskas doesn’t get the virtual “gimme” he had with the underwhelming Moreira, but this still looks like a successful debut in the making. Michailidis is a natural Middleweight, making Bukauskas’ own lack of size a non-issue, and is notably outclassed on the feet. Though the Greek’s wrestling and ground game are a threat, especially since Bukauskas has chronic issues with getting taken down against the fence, his lack of cardio and Bukauskas’ scrambling abilities mean he’ll quickly run out of steam if he goes that route.
Between Bukauskas’ speed, cardio and crisper striking, Michailidis needs a finish in the first five minutes if he wants the win. Odds are he won’t get it. Bukauskas survives some hairy grappling in the early going to outlast and beat down a fading “Spartan” late.
Prediction: Bukauskas via second-round technical knockout
145 lbs.: Jared Gordon vs. Chris Fishgold
Jared Gordon (15-4) beat down Michel Quinones in his UFC debut before successfully returning to Lightweight with a decision over Nova Uniao veteran Hacran Dias. He has since struggled to recapture that momentum, suffering knockout losses in three of his last four bouts.
“Flash” Gordon is the taller man by one inch.
Chris Fishgold (18-3-1) — the former Cage Warriors Featherweight champion — put his UFC debut loss to Calvin Kattar behind him with a second-round submission of Daniel Teymur. He couldn’t do the same to Makwan Amirkhani, who tapped the Englishman with an anaconda choke in Stockholm.
Thirteen of his professional wins have come by submission, all but one by guillotine or rear-naked choke.
The oddsmakers currently have this pegged as the closest fight on the undercard and I’m inclined to agree. Gordon’s cardio and incredible output look potentially problematic for the explosion-heavy Fishgold, but “Flash’s” chin has failed him over and over recently. What narrowly edges it for the Brit is that according to UFC’s website, this is a Featherweight bout. The last time Gordon tried to make that cut back in 2017, he weighed in at 149 pounds.
Now, he’ll have to make it with three knockout losses’ worth of additional trauma and under the non-ideal circumstances of “Fight Island.” Having to fend off a wrestler and submission artist as potent as Fishgold with that sort of baggage sounds like a tall ask — Fishgold scores an early takedown and finds his neck soon after.
Prediction: Fishgold via first-round submission
125 lbs.: Diana Belbita vs. Liana Jojua
Diana Belbita (13-5) brought a four-fight win streak into her Octagon debut, which pitted her against rising prospect Molly McCann in Boston. Despite a surprisingly strong effort, “Warrior Princess” ultimately fell by decision after giving up five takedowns to “Meatball.”
She’ll have three inches of height and six inches of reach on Jojua.
Georgia’s Liana Jojua (7-3) short-circuited prospect Marina Mokhnatkina’s rise with a majority decision victory in 2018, claiming the Fight Nights Global Bantamweight belt in the process. Sarah Moras proved a taller task, pounding Jojua out midway through the third round.
“She-Wolf” has scored five first-round finishes during her time in the paid ranks.
Jojua badly underperformed in her UFC debut, but I’m willing to chalk up a good chunk of her struggles to being extremely undersized for Bantamweight. I expect her to look a fair bit better at 125 pounds, especially with the Octagon jitters ostensibly behind her. Still, I’m not sure that’s enough for me to pick her here; beyond the considerable height and reach advantages, Belbita proved hard to hold down against Molly McCann and threw more than five times as many strikes in that bout as Jojua did against Moras.
While Belbita’s three submission losses should give Jojua some hope, the Romanian’s length and output will make actually getting in on Belbita’s hips an issue. Barring the move to her proper weight class turning out to be a panacea for Jojua’s problems, Belbita overwhelms her on the feet to claim a wide decision.
Prediction: Belbita via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Jack Shore vs. Aaron Philips
Wales’ Jack Shore (12-0) tore through the Cage Warriors ranks, knocking out Mike Ekundayo for their Bantamweight title and defending it with a third-round submission of Scott Malone. He was similarly dominant in his UFC debut, in which he earned “Performance of the Night” by tapping Nohelin Hernandez.
“Tank” has finished 11 of 12 pro opponents, with only UFC vet Vaughan Lee lasting the distance.
Aaron Phillips (12-3) washed out of UFC in 2014 after a winless (0-2) run, then suffered an injury technical knockout loss in his next effort. After nearly three years away, he returned to win each of his last five, four of them in less than two rounds apiece.
He steps in for the COVID-afflicted Anderson dos Santos on 10 days’ notice.
Philips’ original two-fight UFC tenure saw him land 56 cumulative significant strikes and get taken down 11 times in the span of 30 minutes. His recent efforts on the regional scene saw him once again struggle with wrestlers and get dropped in the process. It does not take a Sherlock Holmes-esque feat of deductive reasoning to determine that Shore’s going to brutalize him.
“Tank” remains a standout prospect in a division full to bursting with young talent, boasting the skills to keep up with Philips on the feet and utterly demolish him on the mat. He racks up the ground-and-pound until Philips’ neck presents itself.
Prediction: Shore via second-round submission
205 lbs.: Jorge Gonzalez vs. Kenneth Bergh
Mexico’s Jorge Gonzalez (16-4) scored the biggest win of his career when he knocked out UFC vet Luke Barnatt in February of last year, setting up a Professional Fight League (PFL) tournament bid. When that fell through due to injury, he suffered a loss to unbeaten Nasrudin Nasrudinov and subsequently choked out unbeaten Marcos Rodriguez.
He replaces Germany’s Timo Feucht on five days’ notice.
After an unsuccessful bid on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 23, Kenneth Bergh (8-0) fought his way onto “Contender Series,” where he suffered a first-round submission loss to underdog Antonio Trocoli. The loss was subsequently overturned because of Trocoli’s failed drug test, since which Bergh has stopped two opponents in a combined 62 seconds.
He has scored seven first-round finishes, four of them by submission.
I am very much not sold on Bergh being a prospect, especially after the Trocoli fight, but he should dominate here. Gonzalez is a slugger to the core, disdaining technical striking or any semblance of defense in favor of hurling haymakers. Though he can wrestle and grapple a bit, he hasn’t got much to offer besides well-timed entries on reactive takedowns that he lacks the polish to finish properly.
Bergh’s reckless aggression does admittedly give Gonzalez a genuine puncher’s chance, especially if he follows in Barnatt’s example and gets too comfortable teeing off on Gonzalez’s unprotected face. The likeliest outcome still sees “Ymir” take him down early, mash him with elbows, and choke him out soon after.
Prediction: Bergh via first-round submission
It may lack the championship action of the cards that sandwich it, but a card that includes Kattar vs. Ige, Elliott vs. Benoit, and Rivera vs. Stamann figures to be loads of fun. See you Wednesday, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on ESPN 13 fight card this week, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the main card portion that will also stream on ESPN/ESPN+ at 10 p.m. ET.
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