UFC 252 takes place on Saturday night in Las Vegas and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights for you below.
Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier
With both of these elite heavyweights holding a win over each other and it being Cormier’s retirement fight, there’s a huge amount at stake in this finely balanced trilogy fight.
Miocic was caught off-guard by Cormier’s speed and power in the opening round of their first fight, leading to a KO stoppage, but the second fight lasted longer and as the rounds went on Miocic realized he could hurt DC and deplete his gas tank with body shots that would eventually help him on his way to a fourth round TKO victory.
This time around DC has made it clear he plans to focus heavily on his Olympic-level wrestling, and that risk-adverse style of stifling clinch work, technical takedowns and grinding top control is something he’s very good at, and his winner’s mentality means he won’t be ashamed to turn it into a boring fight as long as he emerges with his hand raised.
There are concerns for Cormier though. It’s well known that he’d wanted to retire on his 40th birthday, but injury woes delayed that, and the 41-year-old has admitted prior to this fight that grueling training camps take a toll on him these days, while he was heavier than normal coming into this one, so there are question marks as to whether he’s really going to be 100% healthy and well-conditioned here.
That’ll likely give Miocic confidence and while his grappling just isn’t on the same level as Cormier’s, part of the reason for his success has been his well-rounded mix of boxing and wrestling, so he’s not a pushover in that department.
Of course Miocic will be looking to keep this one at striking range wherever possible though and another lesson he learned in the last fight is that he has to stay mobile and use his footwork, which is something he’s capable of doing well, and he also has a 6″ height and 7.5″ reach advantage to help keep DC at bay as well.
If this was a prime version of DC I’d be more likely to pick him here, but even although I think a grinding wrestling strategy is a good route to victory here, I do have significant concerns about how he’s holding up physically and whether his cardio will be where it needs to be to go five intense rounds.
Miocic figured some things out in the last fight and even if he doesn’t have as many opportunities to do so, working to the body when possible can still have a pay-off later in the fight, and may also help him to set up his head-hunting punches better too and keep Cormier guessing about what’s coming next.
DC will still be a big problem, especially in the early rounds, but Miocic will still have his moments and as the fight moves into the later rounds he’s again come on stronger and emerge with a fourth round TKO stoppage victory.
Stipe Miocic wins by TKO in Rd4.
Sean O’Malley vs. Marlon Vera
The undefeated O’Malley has become the UFC’s biggest hope of a genuine breakout star to emerge from the Contender Series, possessing not just the kind of confidence, charisma and style to make people pay attention, but also having genuine skills to back it up in the Octagon.
The lanky O’Malley has been racking up some big finishes of late that speak not just to his power, but in particular his very good accuracy and timing, even when implementing a high-volume, dynamic and at times flashy offensive style.
This is a good test for him however as Vera is talented, a proven finisher in his own right wherever the fight goes, and though he does have some losses on his record, he’s never been stopped inside the distance.
Vera won’t have a height or reach advantage on this occasion though and though he’s more than willing to wade into range to land big shots, O’Malley is effective on the counter and will be able to punish him if he just rushes in.
It would be interesting to see what will happen if Vera can get this one to the mat and work for a submission, but I’m not convinced he’s going to be able to secure the takedowns he needs. Instead I can see O’Malley outstriking him on the feet in the opening two rounds, and though he may fade a little in the final five minutes he’ll earn a decision victory to keep his unbeaten run going.
Sean O’Malley wins by decision.
Junior dos Santos vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik
Two heavyweight striker’s on show here and it’ll be interesting to watch JDS’s boxing matching up with Rozenstruik’s kickboxing.
There’s been some concern in recent years about the damage JDS has taken at times over the years and back-to-back TKO losses haven’t helped restore faith in the quality of his chin. On the other hand, Rozenstruik has generally been pretty robust during his MMA and kickboxing career, but he is coming off a 20 second KO loss to Francis Ngannou just a few months ago, which is a cause for concern.
Dos Santos appears to be in a good shape and when he’s on form he can work well on the outside, utilizing good footwork, cutting angles and making effective use of his clean, accurate jab while waiting to unload his power hand.
Rozenstruik is a seasoned striker though and while he’s not always as active as he should be, when he does engage he’s equipped with both speed and power, and he’ll be mixing in heavy leg kicks and fast head kick attempts in with his punches in search of a finish.
JDS is always a threat and could potentially also outpoint his opponent here if it’s a cautious encounter, but I do fear for his chin when Rozenstruik lets his fists and feet fly and think he’ll take a TKO victory in the second round here.
Jairzinho Rozenstruik wins by TKO in Rd2.
John Dodson vs. Mareb Dvalishvili
Dodson has always been a terrific athlete, and even at 35, though he may lack a little of the spark of his younger years, he’s still a fast, agile operator, and it’s worth noting that despite over 30 career-fights competing against mostly top-flight competition, he’s still never been stopped inside the distance.
Dvalishvili isn’t the kind of fighter that’s likely to blemish that record as he’s generally been a man who gets the job done on the scorecards, but he can be very difficult to fight against with his relentless wrestling that can see him rack up a large amount of takedowns over the course of a bout, while on the feet he’ll stay aggressive and repeatedly try to land spinning backfists.
The durable Dvalishvili will also have a 3″ height and 3″ reach advantage, but Dodson is used to being the smaller man and his speed, technique and dynamic offense can make up for that, while on the mat he’s very good in the scramble, which makes him difficult to keep down.
Sometimes Dodson can be too hesitant these days though, waiting too long to unleash his impressive offensive arsenal and that might cause him problems here as he has to make the most of his striking opportunities here when he gets them.
If he doesn’t then Dvalishvili is just going to close the distance and look to turn this into a wrestling match for the most part, and while Dodson may make it difficult for him to get long spells of top control, his repeated takedowns will be the most significant factor in the fight and help him grind out a win on the scorecards.
Mareb Dvalishvili wins by decision.
Herbert Burns vs. Daniel Pineda
Burns vs. Pineda takes a big hike up from the early prelims to the main card here due to Ion Cutelaba being forced out of his main card opening bout due to testing positive for Covid-19.
Burns isn’t yet as well known as his brother Gilbert in the UFC, so he’ll welcome this chance to showcase his skills in a higher-profile spot on the card, and like his sibling he’s a very good grappler who generally gets the job done via submission.
As it happens Pineda is also a proven finisher by way of submission and also has a lot more experience in MMA than Burns, but nevertheless I feel that it’s Burns who is the better fight on the mat and I think he’ll get a tap-out win here by the second round, if not earlier.
Prediction: Herbert Burns wins by submission in Rd2.
Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)
Jim Miller vs. Vinc Pichel
Felice Herrig vs. Virna Jandiroba
Chris Daukaus vs. Parker Porter
Livia Renata Souza vs. Ashley Yoder
T.J. Brown vs. Daniel Chavez