UFC On ESPN 22 takes place this coming Saturday night, April 17th and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum
After a good win over Jared Cannonier last time out, former middleweight champ Whittaker now goes up against Gastelum, who picked up a win last time out after having lost his previous three fights in a row.
I liked what I saw from Whittaker last time out. His striking seemed a bit tighter defensively and he was consistently making good use of the jab and using that to set up a variety of other strikes that kept him one-step ahead.
Whittaker will have 3″ in height and 2″ in reach over his opponent, which will certainly aid his cause, but he will still have to be mindful that the short, stocky Gastelum has fast hands, covers distance quickly and has good punch.
That being said, Gastelum just isn’t as technical on the feet or as good at mixing up his attacks, and meanwhile Whittaker’s very solid takedown defense figures to keep this one upright and further limits Gastelum’s opportunities to get the upperhand here, short of a big finish.
As such I do like Whittaker to win here, though I suspect he’ll find it difficult to put away the tough Gastelum definitively and will have to settle for getting the decision nod.
Pick: Robert Whittaker wins by decision.
Jeremy Stephens vs. Drakkar Klose
Almost 14 years into his UFC run, Stephens is currently experiencing his worst losing slump, having gone five fights without a win, though his standard of opposition has been high.
On top of that he’s also coming off a tough KO loss against Calvin Kattar, though it should be noted that while Klose has won three of his last four fights, he too is coming off a knockout defeat again Beneil Dariush over a year ago.
Stephens is the fighter who is more likely to be threatening with a finish due to strikes as he is naturally the heavier, more aggressive hitter here, while Klose hits well enough, but has yet to produce a stoppage win in his seven UFC fights to date.
That being said, Klose is a good striker who can operate effectively on the outside, is sharp on the counter and keeps a good pace.
I don’t expect there to be much between these two, so it’ll be competitive for the full three rounds, but I feel the fresher Klose will avoid just getting into a firefight and instead be the more methodical striker to edge out a decision victory.
Prediction: Drakkar Klose to win by decision.
Chase Sherman vs. Andrei Arlovski
Arlovski stepped into this fight on just a week’s notice after seeing his two-fight winning streak ended by Tom Aspinall back in February.
Meanwhile, Sherman is enjoying a second stint in the UFC, picking up a TKO win against Isaac Villaneuva in his comeback fight, though when you include his last run in the promotion that leaves him with just a 3-4 Octagon record.
This should be a stand-up battle and it’ll be Sherman who leads the charge as he likes to keep the pressure up by being on the offensive, hoping to overwhelm his opponent and secure a finish, which has paid off for him against a certain level of opposition, but he’s tended to come unstuck against better quality fighters.
Arlovski is certainly someone who will be looking to show there’s levels to this game as these days at the ripe old age of 42 he’s happy to pace himself, working from range and looking to use his striking technique to win on the scorecards rather than go all-guns-blazing for a highlight reel KO.
It’s a strategy that’s helped give Arlovski’s career extra longevity, and while there’s always a risk that he just gets caught here and his chin isn’t up to it, I think it’s more likely that he’ll just be able to pick apart the holes in Sherman’s defense to earn a decision win.
Pick: Andrei Arlovski wins by decision.
Luis Pena vs. Alex Munoz
Munoz lost in his UFC debut, so the pressure will be on to find a win against Pena, who is also coming off a defeat and has lost two of his last three fights in the Octagon.
As alway Pena has a huge 6″ height advantage here and 3″ of reach to go with it, which he’ll use to work strikes from range, while shortening them up with lanky knees and elbows at closer proximity.
Pena is also a submisson threat and his size makes him a tricky customer on the mat, so that’s something Munoz will need to be mindful of as he’s very much a wrestler, who will be seeking to get this fight to the ground early and often.
I think Pena has more ways to win here, but I feel his fairly flimsy takedown defense is going to cause him problems here as Munoz grinds his way to a decision win on the mat.
Pick: Alex Munoz wins by decision.
Abdul Razak Alhassan vs. jacob Malkoun
These two share something unfortunate in common in that they were both knocked out cold in less than a minute the last time they set foot in the Octagon.
Needless to say that’s not a good look, particularly for Malkoun given that he’s only five fights into his pro-career and with his main claim to fame being that he’s a training partner of the event’s headliner Robert Whittaker.
The few fights Malkoun has had suggest he is a capable boxer and has some jiu-jitsu ability too, but it’s still to established if he can really hold his own in the UFC.
On the other hand, though Alhassan has now lost two fights in a row, he has proven in the past that he’s a fearsome striker who has stopped all 10 of his career victories inside the first round.
Alhassan’s main issue is being overly reckless at times and failing to pace himself, but I think Malkoun will struggle to survive the early storm here and will suffer a KO loss in the openinn round.
Pick: Abdul Razak Alhassan wins by KO in Rd1
Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)
Tracy Cortez vs. Justine Kish
Jessica Penne vs. Loopy Godinez
Alexander Romanov vs. Juan Espino
Gerald Meerschaert vs. Bartosz Fabinski
Zarah Fairn dos Santos vs. Josiane Nunes
Tony Gravely vs. Anthony Birchak