Will Dean has been banging in the winners since the start of Fight Island, so don't miss his latest selections for the prelims.
Hosting its third event in just eight days, the UFC is in stellar form. The interest surrounding Fight Island has drawn in a new wave of viewers, and the bouts we have seen so far have surely awoken hundreds of new MMA fans to the intense excitement of the sport.
After a trio of title fights last weekend, the vacant Flyweight belt is up for grabs this Saturday. Before a new champion is crowned, the preliminaries will begin the action at 10pm UK time. Five of the six preliminary bouts ended inside the distance on Wednesday, and I am expecting more fireworks.
Tsarukyan to continue his ascent
A competitive matchup between two grapplers, this fight could actually be spent predominantly on the feet. Davi Ramos and Arman Tsarukyan have done their best work on the mat in their UFC careers, but each will respect the grappling prowess of the other.
Ramos is one of the most credentialed BJJ practitioners in the UFC’s Lightweight division. Having won seven of his 10 professional fights via submission, most opponents try to avoid the ground and attempt to strike with him. While he does wield some explosive power in his right hand, his striking will never catch up to his grappling ability, as he has low output and does not set his strikes up with combinations. Whenever he has come up against fellow grapplers in the Octagon, he has gone on to lose a striking-heavy decision.
Tsarukyan made his UFC debut on short notice against Islam Makhachev in 2019. As a massive underdog, the young Armenian held his own against one of the most feared Sambo fighters in the sport and proved himself as an elite grappler in his own right. The relevance here is that Makhachev was one of those fellow grapplers that scored an easy decision victory over Ramos. The Brazilian landed just seven significant strikes across 15 minutes in that bout and a similar scenario could unfold here.
In Tsarukyan’s sophomore fight, he was able to show his competent and active striking game, attempting 174 shots. He mixed in takedowns nicely, impressing across all aspects of MMA and ultimately winning a decision. He looks to be the complete package and has both the defensive grappling and volume-based striking needed to beat his Brazilian foe this weekend.
I expect the grappling exchanges to be brief. If it does turn into a kickboxing affair, I expect Tsarukyan to have the style that is much more appealing to the judges. There does not seem to be much hope for a stoppage for the Armenian, who will cruise to a relatively tepid decision victory as long as he can avoid the powerful strikes of Ramos and keep away from the ground.
Dolidze can weather the early storm
Khadiz Ibragimov’s fighting style is best described as ‘kill-or-be-killed’. Wielding some heavy power in his hands, he charges forward in round one and attempts to knock his opponent unconscious as quickly as possible. His fights, much like his striking technique, are chaotic and messy, but guarantee entertainment. However, as you would expect, he has very little left in the gas tank if the fight reaches round two.
At 6-0, Roman Dolidze is an exciting Light Heavyweight prospect. Beginning his martial arts journey as a decorated BJJ grappler, the Georgian fighter has developed into a powerhouse of a striker. All six of his professional victories have come via stoppage (3 KOs, 3 submissions) and it is easy to see why. He fights with a real aggression, goading his opponents inside the cage and enticing them into brawls. His opponent on Saturday night will surely grant him this wish, and I am putting my faith in the fighter with less mileage to survive the early barrage.
That toughness and willingness to engage will serve Dolidze well in this fight. While Ibragimov throws five-plus punch combinations in his opening round barrages, the Georgian is a lot more methodical and patient. We have seen Ibragimov look like a completely different fighter in the second round of both of his UFC appearances (losing via decision and round three submission), where his strikes look laboured and lacking in power as fatigue set in.
Dolidze should be able to carry his finishing ability into the second and third rounds, where he can use his grappling to further tire his Russian opponent, or seek the knockout victory on the feet. Considering what we have seen from the Georgian on the regional circuit, I have every confidence that he can add to his impressive collection of stoppage victories. He just needs to survive long enough to get the chance.
Johns to continue the Welsh momentum
Brett Johns will certainly be motivated by the dominant performance from compatriot, friend and teammate Jack Shore on Wednesday night. The duo from Shore MMA have similar styles, utilising composed grappling to advance position and secure the submission victory. But while Shore was a huge favourite in his bout, Johns finds himself playing the role of the underdog here.
It is impossible to analyse Montel Jackson without highlighting his physical prowess. At 5’10’’, his 75.5-inch reach is staggering for a Bantamweight. Also, the American notoriously has larger hands than Francis N’Gannou (who stands at 6’4’’ and weighs 260lbs), which has its benefits in a fistfight. Quick will certainly have the advantage on the feet against his Welsh opponent, as he can maintain distance and keep him on the end of his punches.
Johns will certainly be aware of this and must close the distance to have success here. At boxing range, The Pikey can begin to set up his wrestling and drag Jackson down to the mat. From here, he should be able to control his opponent and land offensive ground strikes, all whilst looking for an opportunistic submission.
Comparing previous grappling performances from these two fighters also highlights the Welshman’s advantages on the ground. Jackson’s sole loss inside the UFC came at the hands of one of the division’s best wrestlers in Ricky Simon. He was taken down seven times in that fight and gave up four grappling advances.
Johns on the other hand showed how advanced his grappling has become as he submitted Tony Gravely in his last bout. Gravely came into the UFC with an abundance of expectation as a successful college wrestler, and the Welshman beat him on the mat comfortably.
With all that said, I understand why Jackson has been lined as the favourite here. We have seen how much of an advantage a bigger frame can provide on the feet in MMA, and his physical gifts have been put to good use so far in his career. If Johns struggles to get his wrestling going, then he will almost certainly lose.
However, if The Pikey can force enough grappling exchanges in this fight then I would expect to see him win rounds and ultimately get his arm raised. At 2/1, that's a chance worth taking.
Posted at 1115 BST on 17/07/20
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