This Saturday, rising contender Jamahal Hill makes battle with former title challenger Thiago Santos. Hill will be looking for his third stoppage win in a row against Santos who is 1-3 since losing to Jon Jones back in 2019. Hill looks set for stardom at 205lbs thanks in part to his flashy striking skills and no-nonsense attitude on the mic. This will be an interesting test of his durability and pace over five rounds as Santos will be looking to prove that he can still hang with the top of the division.
In the co-main event, two of the Welterweight division's hardest hitters will be out looking for bonus money. Vicente Luque returns after his disappointing and relatively shocking defeat to Belal Muhammad while Geoff Neal makes his first octagon appearance of 2022. Someone's likely going to sleep here and I cannot wait.
Elsewhere on the main card, the Heavyweight and Flyweight Ultimate Fighter finalists will duke it out to crown the winners of season 30. Mohammed Usman will be looking to repeat the heroics of his brother Kamaru who won his season back in 2015. He'll face off against undefeated Zac Pauga who has some respectable wins on his record under the Cage Warriors and LFA banners.
Grappling stud Juliana Miller, despite having just three professional fights to her name and being the youngest fighter in her season, takes on the veteran Brogan Walker who already has a win over UFC prospect Miranda Maverick.
Augusto Sakai will be looking to snap his 3-fight losing streak against the surging Sergey Spivak while Ariane Lipski and Priscilla Cachoeira serve as the curtain jerkers for the main card in what should be an entertaining striking battle.
It's a pretty weak Fight Night card but it has just enough fighters I enjoy watching to make it passable in terms of quality. The matchmaking is so lopsided across the board that I'm expecting a heap of finishes.
Let's get into these predictions, shall we?
Thiago Santos x Jamahal Hill
The UFC are putting everything into Jamahal Hill becoming a legitimate title contender. Even after he was humbled by Paul Craig, Hill jumped right back into action and rattled off two impressive first-round knockouts over Jimmy Crute and Johnny Walker - two fighters who the UFC once held in high regard too and have since fallen on tough times.
I'll be honest, I'm not yet sold on Hill as a potential champion of the Light Heavyweight division. It probably stems from the fact that I think much of the fighters he has beaten on his way to this main event slot. This fight stands as a genuine test of his credibility and aspirations in the division.
Thiago Santos is a shell of his former self and certainly feels like a warm body for Hill to beat on and climb up the rankings. Ever since those knee injuries suffered in the Jon Jones fight, Santos has become a cautious and tense striker. With his explosiveness and chaotic approach to fights completely void from his game, Santos' fear factor at 205lbs has disappeared entirely. He was never an outstanding fighter in the division but he was so wild and powerful that his opponents simply couldn't withstand him.
Despite Santos' durability, Hill has all the tools to knock him out. He's longer, uses his reach to his advantage and carries a lot of power at the end of his strikes. I do believe, however, that Hill would benefit from getting some additional rounds under his belt if he wishes to pursue the title in a division chockful of fighters at the top who are both durable and dangerous across 25 minutes of fighting.
As such, I'm expecting a fairly uninspired but dominant performance from Hill. He'll have to respect the power of Santos in the early stages of the fight until he finds his rhythm. After that, he's going to realise that Santos doesn't drop easy and will likely experience some frustration due to that.
Pick: Jamahal Hill by decision
Vicente Luque x Geoff Neal
I'm very, very excited for this one. I know Geoff Neal hasn't looked himself since the health issues he encountered in 2020 but this is the kind of fight that will draw him out of his comfort zone and force him to scrap.
Vicente Luque is still that guy. I don't care that he was grappled to death by Belal. You ask me to give you a list of the names of the ten most violent guys on the UFC roster and Luque's one of the first I will jot down. This is terrific matchmaking to get Luque back on track or even provide Neal with a significant boost up the rankings.
Neal's a decent boxer, relatively low-volume, but also has one of the nastiest head kicks in the sport. Luque will find success in swarming and exchanging with Neal but he will have to remain cautious of the big shots coming his way. Luque's durability isn't in question but he almost always gets hurt or dropped in every fight that he is in, win or lose. It gives me a little pause in picking him here. But then I remember that Neal has looked a shell of himself since he beat Mike Perry back in 2019. If he isn't willing to go to deep waters with Luque, he's going to get brutalised. Make no mistake about it.
Luque has an extensive arsenal of strikes and blends them all together when he's in the groove. If Neal is his usual low-volume self and doesn't catch Luque with a power shot early, Luque is going to start mixing in knees and elbows and will melt Neal.
I worry that Neal was simply a flash in the pan at Welterweight and his best years are past him. Luque will probably hurt him on the feet and drag him into his patented D'Arce choke - a submission I would wager that he's the best at executing in the sport.
Irrespective of what happens here, someone is going to sleep.
Pick: Vicente Luque by submission
Mohammed Usman x Zac Pauga
I'm one of the two people that watched the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter. I grew up on this show and there's a little part of me that will always bring me back to it. Admittedly, the series hasn't been good for years and anyone who's remotely good just goes the way of Contender Series. I want to say I watched it because I knew I would have to break down the finals at some point but I'd be lying. I watched it because I have zero self worth.
When I looked through the lineup for this season, I saw Mohammed Usman's name and immediately said that he will win the entire thing. Not because he's good but because the UFC are going to match him up favourably against his fellow contestants. And then I saw Zac Pauga's name - a fighter I'm more than familiar with from his time in Cage Warriors and LFA. I knew that the UFC would try to avoid this matchup for as long as they could because Pauga is a better fighter with less than a fraction of the name value.
Pauga is one of the better fighters to come out of the TUF house in recent years, I'd wager. He's undefeated as an amateur and professional with some pretty credible wins. He isn't a natural Heavyweight and that's part of why he made it to the final handily. He has a significant speed advantage over natural Heavyweights, is a well measured striker and has a diverse set of tools to explore on the feet. Although he doesn't often strike in combination, he accrues his volume through a steady diet of calf kicks and a potent jab.
Usman is quite athletic but struggles to do much with that athleticism due to a lack of talent and legitimate skill. He isn't a primary wrestler like his brother and doesn't pack as much power as you'd imagine for a fighter his size. He's a fairly tepid striker who banks on an overhand right and little else outside of that.
This fight could be dull as you have two low-volume heavyweights who don't carry much power in their strikes. Pauga is better conditioned, will beat Usman to the punch and will score often with his calf kicks.
Pick: Zac Pauga by decision
Brogan Walker x Juliana Miller
The highlight of TUF 30, for me, was Juliana Miller. The first time I heard her talk, I immediately made my mind up that she was going to get eliminated very quickly. Within a few minutes of watching her fight, she grew on me. Although she's visibly raw and inexperienced with only three fights to her name, Miller is a scrapper on the feet and a menace on the ground. She absorbs quite a bit of damage but is durable enough that it doesn't dissuade her from fighting the way that she does.
Brogan Walker is the opposite of Miller in almost every way. She was the most experienced female fighter on the show and it paid off. Although her performances weren't as flashy or definitive as Miller's, Walker beat two strong opponents on her way to the final. Walker is primarily a counter striker who hits hard. I don't think her counter-striking is born out of sheer intention but rather the fact that she struggles to move laterally and thus finds herself always getting backed up by anyone who can pressure her. Nonetheless, her striking is still a danger for anyone prodding forward. Her biggest weakness is most definitely her defensive grappling and how quickly she gives up on defending takedown attempts. This is why I think Miller is the marginal favourite in this fight.
Miller will find success in the clinch and on the ground when she inevitably gets it there. I think Walker is good enough at defending submissions that she won't get caught in anything flashy that Miller attempts but I can see Miller swarming her on the ground and constantly transitioning to find that sub. And she might just catch her in something.
Pick: Juliana Miller by submission
Augusto Sakai x Sergey Spivak
At one point in 2020, August Sakai was the man at heavyweight. His impressive Muay Thai skills had seen him finish multiple opponents and he had also secured a victory over the ageless Andrei Arlovski. Then he met Alistair Overeem who chipped away at his cardio and mauled him on the ground. Since then, Sakai hasn't won a fight - he's also been finished in every single fight too.
Sergey Spivak is a horrible matchup for Sakai. He's one of the better grapplers in the division and does his best work on the ground despite a solid striking base on the feet. I can't envision Spivak spending too long on the feet with Sakai who will definitely come out all guns blazing in order to snap his abysmal losing streak.
I suspect that Spivak will eat a couple of shots in order to close the distance, power through on a double leg and get Sakai down with ease. From there, Spivak will finish the fight however he pleases. We've seen Sakai wilt when dragged to the mat by lesser grapplers. I like Spivak's pressure and general control from top position. Wouldn't be surprised if he catches Sakai with the same arm triangle that stopped Tai Tuivasa a few years back.
Pick: Sergey Spivak by submission
Ariane Lipski x Priscilla Cachoeira
I'm really excited for this fight. As someone who loved Lipski's body of work prior to entering the UFC, it's great to see her finally matched up with someone who will have zero interest in wrestling her. Priscilla Cachoeira has scored one takedown in her entire UFC career and historically also struggles against strong grapplers.
Lipski's power is deceptive. She has a solid roundhouse kick to the body and elbows in the clinch. We might finally get to see her break out her Muay Thai. The fact that she missed weight by a considerable amount, however, is concerning. Cachoeira is nicknamed 'Zombie Girl' for a reason. You can hit her with anything and she will continue prodding forward while winging heavy shots. Her forward pressure and aggression could impact Lipski's cardio.
I don't think Cachoeira is at all a better fighter than Lipski but she hits incredibly hard and poses a nightmare matchup for Lipski on the feet. Lipski's conditioning - and, as a byproduct, her durability - doesn't inspire much confidence here.
It's a classic case of volume vs power and I can see power winning out on the night.
Pick: Priscilla Cachoeira by KO/TKO
Sam Alvey x Michał Oleksiejczuk
Sam Alvey shouldn't be here and I'll be damned if you think I'm going to spend time breaking this down.
Oleksiejczuk has a nasty array of strikes to the body and a mean uppercut. Alvey gets put to pasture.
Pick: Michał Oleksiejczuk by KO/TKO
Terrance McKinney x Erick Gonzalez
Whoever booked this fight hates Erick Gonzalez. The idea of locking Terrance McKinney in a cage with a guy who willingly brawls despite being defensively porous and carrying little knockout power is hilarious. I'm all here for it, though.
I don't know what McKinney's ceiling is and, frankly, I don't care either. He's one of the most exciting prospects in the sport purely because he has legit wrestling credentials but instead chooses to dash across the cage and attempt to detach your head from your shoulders. Although he was crazy for taking the Drew Dober fight on such short notice, he was mere seconds away from stopping Dober before his gas tank depleted.
Gonzalez doesn't have the durability of Dober and is coming off a knockout loss to Jim Miller* who is 38 years of age and has six career knockouts in 51 pro fights.
McKinney has never gone to a decision and has only seen the 3rd round once in his 16-fight career. Gonzalez won't be the man to drag him into deep waters. This is going to be a mugging.
Pick: Terrance McKinney by KO/TKO
*I love Jim Miller. That was not me slandering the man.
Bryan Battle x Takashi Sato
This matchup proves to me that the UFC sees very little upside in TUF 29 winner Bryan Battle. Despite being 2-0 in the organisation, Battle should not be fighting someone like Takashi Sato just yet.
Battle is a former Heavyweight who has passed through Light Heavyweight, Middleweight and now makes his career debut at 170lbs. It's a pretty needless cut for a guy who looked decently sized at 185lbs. I worry that Battle is trying to find his ideal weight class while also fighting for the most competitive organisation in the sport. It typically doesn't bode well for fighters who do this and Battle looked depleted on the scales.
Battle is the definition of an all-rounder. He doesn't excel at anything but does a good job of mixing the martial arts. The fact that he isn't a serious wrestling threat is why I mentioned that I don't think the UFC care much for him. Sato is powerful striker with a slick boxing game; his only real weakness is his wrestling defence. Belal Muhammad set the blueprint for beating him and Gunnar Nelson signed off on it with aplomb. Battle isn't on the level of either of those two fighters.
On the feet, Battle does an OK job of fighting at distance but can get caught leaning back with his chin in the air far too often. There's a reason that the UFC so desperately re-booked him to fight Tresean Gore - a fighter who was bafflingly being compared to Anthony 'Rumble' Johnson. If the UFC had high hopes for Battle, his debut at 170lbs should have come against someone like Cameron Van Camp or Evan Elder - fellow relative newcomers who could serve as winnable opponents.
I appreciate that Sato hasn't won in two years but his superior striking skills, proclivity for going to the body and the fact that he's a natural and well-conditioned Welterweight spell trouble for Battle.
Pick: Takashi Sato by KO/TKO
Jason Witt x Josh Quinlan
Jason Witt's run in the UFC has been quite interesting. He's alternated losses and wins in which he's displayed both solid wrestling and an awfully shot chin. That immediately worries me against an explosive striker in Josh Quinlan.
Despite the gulf in experience and quality of opponent faced, I can't see Witt getting his hand raised in this fight. Though he is a solid wrestler, he leaves himself open on takedown attempts and rarely disguises his entries. Quinlan is flashy and explosive. I can see him sleeping Witt with a highlight reel knee or uppercut.
It doesn't help that Quinlan can fight adeptly - and carry power - out of either stance and is liable to switch stances multiple times in a fight. It's a puzzle that Witt will struggle to figure out.
As a professional, Quinlan has yet to go to a decision. Witt doesn't have the durability to be the first guy to take him there either. It's not that I'm really high on Quinlan, I just think that this is a favourable matchup against probably the weakest chin in the division. Of his eight career losses, Witt has been knocked out six times. This is a bad fight for 'The Vanilla Gorilla.'
THIS BOUT HAS SINCE BEEN CANCELLED AND RESCHEDULED FOR NEXT WEEK!
Cory McKenna x Miranda Granger
I'll always have a soft spot for Cage Warriors alums and I'll never shy away from that. Cory McKenna is the youngest female fighter in the UFC and has shown flashes of one day becoming a pretty good fighter.
Despite the disappointing loss to Elise Reed back in March, McKenna showed improvements in her game against an older and better striker.
Miranda Granger hasn't won a fight in three years and hasn't fought in the last two. Her last time out against Ashley Yoder (who is now 8-8 as a pro), she was beaten handily. Granger is a decent grappler but she isn't imposing enough to initiate a consistent wrestling advantage over McKenna who excels most in that department. She has also been doing a lot of her training at Team Alpha Male in the last two years which has only served to further sharpen those grappling tools.
Top position for McKenna is key and it's where she'll find the most success. Granger has a solid guard game but McKenna is too smart to get caught in anything.
I won't bother breaking down much of the potential striking exchanges, purely because I don't think we'll see much of it. Granger has a significant 10-inch reach advantage but I've never seen her fight on the outside or behind a jab.
I suspect that this will be a routine victory for the blossoming McKenna by way of superior grappling.
Pick: Cory McKenna by decision
Mayra Bueno Silva x Stephanie Egger
Someone's probably going to get armbarred here - it's all about who can initiate their offensive grappling quicker.
Egger is an excellent judoka - certainly one of the best on the UFC roster - and she does her best work on the ground. She executes a terrific trip takedown - as you would imagine - in order to get the fight exactly where she wants it. The problem with Egger, though, is that she doesn't have very much outside of that. If she can't initiate the clinch and get her opponent down, she's quite inefficient on the feet and doesn't have the combinations nor the stopping power to cause her opponent issues in striking exchanges.
What is of benefit to Egger in this fight is that Mayra Bueno Silva is all pressure, especially in the first round of fights. She charges across the cage, blasts powerful strikes and looks to immediately overwhelm her opponents. If Egger can stay composed and weather the storm, I would imagine that she won't even need to initiate a clinch. Bueno Silva is likely going to crash forward and press Egger against the fence. I don't think she's technical enough to dominate that position; I can see her getting reversed and floored within seconds.
The interesting part of this fight is certainly the exchanges on the ground. Egger is a better grappler who does good work in top control or side control, especially as that is how she works in her armbar attempts. Bueno Silva is a menace off her back and that's where she works in her armbar attempts!
I think I'm more excited about this fight than most. I generally don't find Egger's fights exciting but I do Bueno Silva. It's just a shame I don't think she'll be able to cope with the ground game of Egger.
Pick: Stephanie Egger by submission