UFC Orlando Predictions – MMA Fighting
The UFC has assembled a great card for its first show in Orlando since 2018.
The last time the promotion was in ‘O-Town’, future PFL fighter Jeremy Stephens knocked out future interim featherweight title challenger Josh Emmett in the main event, Sam Alvey won the fights and the UFC was still on FOX. A respectable card, but the UFC Orlando lineup took it down on Saturday.
Longtime welterweight contender Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson is in another headliner, this time against the ever-vivacious Kevin Holland. Both years were difficult for Thompson, who rarely fought and struggled when he did. He is coming off back-to-back lopsided decisions with Belal Muhammad and Gilbert Burns.
Thompson, a two-time UFC title challenger, still holds the No. 10 in the MMA Fighting World Rankings, but the 39-year-old is clinging to that ranking by a thread and Holland could be the man to take it. The “Trailblazer” has impressed since dropping down to 170 pounds (outside of an unexpected catchweight bout against Khamzat Chimaev at UFC 279). A win against Thompson guarantees a number next to his name.
In other main action on the card, welterweight Bryan Barberena takes on former UFC champion for his second straight fight when he meets former lightweight king Rafael dos Anjos, flyweight contenders Matheus Nicolau and Matt Schnell will face off, top-ranked heavyweights Tai Tuivasa and Sergei Pavlovich go on knockout hunts, Jack Hermansson meets short-notice replacement Roman Dolidze in a middleweight bout, and middleweights Eryk Anders and Kyle Daukaus built the show.
What: UFC Orlando
where: Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.
When: Saturday 3 December. The eight-fight preliminary card begins at 7 pm ET on ESPN and ESPN+, followed by the six-fight main card at 10 pm on ESPN and ESPN+.
(Numbers in parentheses indicate that you are standing World MMA Fight Rankings)
Stephen Thompson (10) against Kevin Holland
At 170 pounds, Kevin Holland has lost none of the surprising creativity and finishing power that made him a top 10 middleweight contender. He also has a huge advantage in length and youth, which is why I’m leaning towards him for this pick.
Stephen Thompson remains one of the most perplexing puzzles to solve in MMA, especially if you’re a striker. Now, the secret is that if you have a strong wrestling game, you can anchor ‘Wonderboy’, so if Holland can focus on his attack right now, that’s a good time to start. However, Holland’s submission opportunities usually come from his striking, so it’s a little surprising to see him focus solely on taking out Thompson.
So why go to Holland? Size matters. Age matters.
Thompson lost a decision to another standing fighter, current middleweight Darren Till. This match was hard to watch and unfortunately fans may be in for a similar match on Saturday. Holland can produce an incredible burst of attack when he finds the range and as hard as it is to do against Thompson, I expect Thompson to be slower in pace than the fighter who messed with Geoff Neal and Vicente Luque a few years ago that is the past. One step will make all the difference.
Expect Holland to give Thompson a round or two before turning him around in Round 3 en route to a convincing decision victory or possibly a late finish.
Rafael dos Anjos (10 AG) vs. Bryan Barberena
Let me start by saying that I like Bryan Barberena’s current approach to making matches. After getting a decisive victory over a bona fide legend in Matt Brown, he followed that up by knocking out former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler and can now add another former UFC champion to his list of victories with Rafael dos Anjos. Even if “RDA” was a champion in a lighter division, it would still be one hell of a three-fight run for Barberena.
Poor Barberena, dos Anjos is just better than him at mixing martial arts.
While Lawler has the type of fighting style that is destined for diminished returns as he gets older, dos Anjos can train lower-level fighters for years with his diverse skill set. Barberena isn’t the biggest welterweight either, so dos Anjos should have no trouble engaging him in a boxing match or taking him down if the situation arises.
Barberena is a busy striker, but lacks the kind of one-hit power that should make us fear that dos Anjos is about to become a sudden collapse threat like Frankie Edgar or Marlon Moraes. That day could come for dos Anjos, just not Saturday.
Look for dos Anjos’ performance to be closer to Raphael Assuncao’s recent Victor Henry formation, another comfortable decision victory for the Brazilian veteran.
Matheus Nicolau (10) vs. Matt Schnell
Matt Schnell excels in chaotic scraps, but don’t expect Matheus Nicolau to adapt.
Nicolau is one of the most underrated contenders in the UFC flyweight division, though that’s somewhat understandable considering he’s known more for his consistent performance than his explosive production. The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 4 The standout has won five straight fights and 11 of his last 12, passing former title challengers Tim Elliott and John Moraga, and former RIZIN champion Manel Kape.
He is resourceful and unhurried, although Schnell certainly has the patience and experience to try this approach. If Schnell can make this one ugly, he might push Nicolau out of his comfort zone, but Nicolau is very solid with his hands and controls the distance well. On the pitch, I also favor Nicolau.
If Nicolau wants to make a championship statement and gain fans, he will take some risks and take the fight to Schnell; if he just wants to take care of business as usual, he will continue to fight like Matheus Nicolau.
Nicolau by decision.
Tai Tuivasa (4) vs Sergei Pavlovich (6)
I’ll tell you something: I think Tai Tuivasa could be the new Derrick Lewis.
Finish me first.
For years, Lewis was a consistently dangerous top-5 keeper at heavyweight. Enough to knock anyone out of a few names, enough to get a title, not enough to win it all. That sums up where Tuivasa is at at this point in his career and I believe when he ousted Lewis two matches ago the caretaker torch was passed to a more than worthy successor.
So it’s up to Tuivasa to avenge his brother by swangin’ and bangin’, with Sergei Pavlovich also coming off a recent win over Lewis.
All that to say, we’re talking about a heavyweight puncher matchup here and I can’t predict who will win this one. I said Tuivasa was overlooked as a serious contender and he proved it with a loss in a thrilling effort against Ciryl Gane, an opponent he had little chance against on paper. But Pavlovich is legit, a Russian machine who just slips through the opposition. He has everything to become the UFC champion in 2023.
My heart says Tuivasa because I don’t want to believe that the good times are over. My instinct told Pavlovich. I went there with my guts.
Jack Hermansson (13) against Roman Dolidze
There is no doubt that Roman Dolidze will be there to finish, but he faces a big step in the competition with Jack Hermansson and in a short time.
Dolidze is very aggressive, even on his back, which is both an advantage and a disadvantage when calculating his chances of beating Hermansson. His willingness to fight on the ground may come back to bite him as Hermansson is a poor finisher on the mat himself. Expect some aesthetically appealing hustle and bustle on this one, as they both want to cut a neck or a leg.
On the feet, Hermansson’s reach and stamina give him the edge, although Dolidze has yet to finish his 12-fight career. Again, I view Hermansson as a tougher challenge than Dolidze has faced so far, one that will greatly affect how I assess Dolidze as a competitor going forward.
Even with the loss, I still think Dolidze has a ton of potential because he’s still relatively young in MMA years. So even though I go with Hermansson grabbing a submission in a fun fight, Dolidze should consider it a learning experience.
Eryk Anders vs. Kyle Daukaus
Eryk Anders always had all the tools to be a 185-pound letter carrier, but he rarely put it all together. By comparison, Kyle Daukaus knows who he is, a submission specialist, and he knows he needs to use that skill as soon and as often as possible.
There’s a clear path to victory here for Anders, one that sees him stuffing takedowns and holding off submission attempts until Daukaus is tired and weak in the second half of the fight. However, Daukaus is such a strong grappler that I don’t see Anders lasting long enough to execute this game plan. Anders is powerful on the feet, but doesn’t have the kind of power that can scare Daukaus. Daukaus fights back inside, knocks Anders down and goes to work.
It might take a second or two, but Daukaus wins by submission.
Niko Price beats. Phil Rowe
Angela Hill (13) beats. Emilie Ducote (14)
Scott Holtzman beats. clay guide
Michael Johnson batted. Marc Diakiese
Jonathan Pearce won. Darren Elkin
Nathan Levy lost. Genaro Valdez
Francis Marshall won. Marcelo Rojo
Yazmin Jauregui lost. Isela Nunes