Curtis Blaydes vs. Tom Aspinall
With six wins from his last seven fights, the No.4 ranked Blaydes will be attempting to push closer to an elusive heavyweight title shot when he goes up against Aspinall, who has won all five of his UFC bouts to date.
Blaydes is well-rounded for a heavyweight, with solid boxing on the feet, strong wrestling ability and vicious ground-and-pound when he gets the fight there. Despite a good UFC record the 31-year-old has still found a title shot always just out of reach.
That’s due to the fact that he has been stopped inside the distance by two of the most heavy-handed strikers in the history of the division against Francis Ngannou (twice) and Derrick Lewis – his only losses in 20 career fights.
That’s exposed a weakness in Blaydes game in that he’s not the best at safely closing the distance, both to land strikes and also set up his all-important takedown attempts.
Like Blaydes, the 29-year-old Aspinall is also fairly young by the standard of the weight class and also has a good all-round skillset. I believe Aspinall has the better, faster technical boxing ability of the two men here. He’s not as heavy-handed as the likes of Ngannou and Lewis, and instead will be looking to throw with volume rather than relying on one big punch and has good fight IQ.
Meanwhile, Aspinall smoothly transitions to his capable wrestling ability to mix things up and also provides a solid submission game to go along with it.
Blaydes still has the wrestling advantage though, but I could see Aspinall besting him in the striking exchanges and punishing him with counters when he tries to go for takedowns. Blaydes is the more experienced and proven fighter here, which does give me some pause in a fight that really could go either way, but I’ll say Aspinall delivers a second round TKO stoppage win.
Prediction: Tom Aspinall to win by TKO in Rd2 Bet @ Neds
Chris Curtis vs. Jack Hermansson
After winning his first three fights in the UFC, Curtis now steps in on short notice as a replacement for Darren Till against Hermannson, who has been switching between wins and losses in his last six bouts.
While he’s still only nine months into his UFC run, the 33-year-old Curtis is a vastly experienced fighter with close to 40 career fights and he’s built a solid set of skills over the years, with robust boxing being bolstered by effective use of his defensive wrestling to keep the action on the feet, while he also has very good cardio.
That’ll present Hermansson with some problems as though he does have relatively solid striking in his own right with a rangey style that’ll benefit from a 3″ height and 2.5″ reach advantage, his work has lacked bite in recent times and I do feel that Curtis has him outgunned and is more durable in that department.
Meanwhile, Hermansson is a very good grappler with keen finishing instincts on the mat via heavy ground-and-pound and good submissions, but he may well find it tricky to get Curtis there in the first place.
I’ve been torn on my pick for this one as Hermansson’s patchy record of late is in part due to having fought very highly-ranked opponents, and he poses a big threat to Curtis on the mat. Still, I think a few early stuffed takedowns from Curtis could force him into a striking battle that will favor the short-notice replacement’s higher work-rate and more damaging offensive weapons, leading to a decision victory.
Prediction: Chris Curtis to win by decision Bet @ Neds
Paddy Pimblett vs. Jordan Leavitt
A big fan favorite in the UK, Pimblett looks for his third win in a row against Leavitt, who is 3-1 in the promotion so far.
It’s easy to see why Pimblett has quickly captured people’s attention, as in addition to his cheeky, larger-than-life personality, the former Cage Warriors champion is an exciting fighter to watch with a proven finishing record wherever the fight goes, via either strikes or submission.
However, as brief as they were, his two fights in the UFC have also highlighted the fact that Pimblett’s stand-up ability is less than polished and his chin is constantly hanging out there waiting to get hit. So much so in fact that he was rocked early in both of those bouts before quickly rallying to find a KO and submission win respectively.
That may quickly catch up with him against tougher opposition, but in some respects the matchmaking is kind to him here as Leavitt is not known for his striking game, being somewhat awkward on the feet and without possessing the power to really trouble him.
However, Leavitt has a very crafty submission arsenal at his disposal and has shown off creative flair with stoppage wins on the mat including a Peruvian Necktie in his first ever fight, as well as an inverted triangle choke, anaconda choke and heel hook finish.
Pimblett is at his best on the mat too though, so it’s an intriguing fight from that perspective, and even if there are some question marks about his stand-up, I do believe Pimblett will still have a significant striking advantage there and will make use of that to deliver a second round stoppage.
Prediction: Paddy Pimblett to win by TKO in Rd2 Bet @ Neds
Alexander Gustafsson vs. Nikita Krylov
Former light-heavyweight champion Gustafsson drops back down to light-heavyweight after a two-year absence to take on Krylov, who is coming off back-to-back losses.
This is a hard fight to predict as we don’t know what version of Gustafsson is going to show up. While he was held in very high regard in the past, in recent years there’s been question-marks as to whether his heart is really in the fight game after long layoffs, retirement talk and lackluster performances, including that short-lived, ill-fated move up to heavyweight last time out.
When he’s on form, Gustafsson is a talented striker with crisp technique, speed and good footwork who will put together solid combinations and control distance well, while he’s also a capable wrestler too.
As for Krylov, he’s perhaps not quite as much of a loose cannon as he was earlier in his UFC run, but he’s still the type of fighter that’s hell-bent on going for a finish, whether on the feet or on the mat via submission. His work isn’t the most refined though and his defenses lapses can run him into trouble along the way, particularly via submission, accounting for all but one of his seven career losses.
If Gustafsson can turn back the clock and approach this fight with the refined striking ability he showed during his five round KO victory over future champ Glover Teixeira then he could also pick apart Krylov comfortably, but that was the 35-year-old’s last good performance and it was over five years ago!
At least it’s certain that the 30-year-old Krylov will show up ready, willing and able to fight to the bitter end, and do so at a high pace whether on the feet or mat, and as such I’ll take him to gain the upper-hand, but ultimately settle for a decision win.
Prediction: Nikita Krylov to win by decision Bet @ Neds
Molly McCann vs. Hannah Goldy
Another UK crowd-pleaser, McCann will enjoy plenty of support from the fans in London as she seeks to extend her winning streak to three fights against Goldy, who is 1-2 in her UFC run to date.
McCann is a tough, gritty boxer on the feet who will apply plenty of pressure as she looks to close the distance and overwhelm opponents with her volume striking on the inside. She will also continue that forward momentum into takedown attempts at times with her fairly solid wrestling, though more technically skilled grapplers can trouble her on the mat.
Despite a nice submission win last time out, Goldy is very much a striker and so she’ll be trying to keep this one standing and operate her own high-volume striking game from range and good use of kicks.
I do feel that McCann will cause her a lot of problems though with her pressure, boxing combinations at close range and power advantage, while her wrestling advantage is also a useful tool if needed on her way to a decision victory.
Prediction: Molly McCann to win by decision Bet @ Neds
Paul Craig vs. Volkan Oezdemir
Submission specialist Craig has somewhat unexpectedly compiled a six-fight unbeaten run in the UFC and now aims to continue riding that wave of momentum against Oezdemir, who has only won two of his last six fights since fighting for the title.
Craig’s UFC run really has been quite remarkable. Everybody knows that his triangle choke is his go-to move and is absolutely lethal, yet he still manages to secure it. He’s now tallied up eight finishes via that one technique in his career, while other finishes have been set up from it too.
Beyond that though Craig’s skills are less impressive, with a striking game that does see him throw a variety of kicks, but he doesn’t have the kind of athleticism to really throw with speed and power, while he also lacks a solid wrestling game, and so he often has to rely on setting traps or creating scrambles to get the fight to the mat.
On the other hand it’s the stand-up game where former kickboxer Oezdemir is at his best, with good technique and finishing power in his punches. It should be noted however that Oezdemir has never really managed to rediscover the early momentum and big finishes that led him quickly to a title shot at the start of his UFC, and he has been tapped out a couple of times in his career, once in the Octagon and once in Bellator.
On paper it often seems like Craig will struggle to get away with his specialist gameplan again and yet he somehow manages to defy logic. It’s fun to watch, but his run has to end some time and I feel if Oezdemir stays disciplined and keeps the fight on the feet at all costs then he can emerge with a second round TKO victory here.
Prediction: Volkan Oezdemir to win by TKO in Rd2 Bet @ Neds
UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs. Aspinall Prelims
(Predicted winners in bold)
Marc Diakiese vs. Damir Hadzovic
Nathaniel Wood vs. Charles Rosa
Muhammad Mokaev vs. Charles Johnson
Makwan Amirkhani vs. Jonathan Pearce
Jai Herbert vs. Kyle Nelson
Mandy Bohm vs. Victoria Leonardo
Claudio Henrique Da Silva vs. Nicolas Dalby
About the Author: Ross Cole
Ross Cole is one of the most prolific mixed martial arts writers in the world, having written more than 17,000 MMA news stories for MMA Insight, which he founded in 2009 as a way to channel his passion for the sport of mixed martial arts, and reaching millions of die-hard MMA fans in the process. You can read more of Ross’s work at MMAInsight.com.