UFc 285 takes place tomorrow night in Las Vegas and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Jon Jones vs. Ciryl Gane
It’s been a long three years since Jones vacated the 205lb title and stated he’d be moving up to heavyweight, but now it’s finally set to happen as he fights for the vacant belt against Ciryl Gane on Saturday night.
Gane presents a formidable first test for Jones in his new weight class for a number of different reasons. For one thing, the 6ft 4″ Jones has always enjoyed a size advantage at 205lbs due to his enormous 84.5″ reach, but while that’s still a factor even at heavyweight it’s impact is diminished here, as his French opponent only gives up 3.5″ in reach and is an inch taller.
In addition to that, Gane is an uncommonly agile, athletic heavyweight who looks ripped and muscular even at 250lbs, while fight week photos suggest that Jones himself appears thicker around the midsection than expected and is still relatively lean on leg mass despite having three years to prepare for this move up in weight.
Gane is an agile, methodical and cerebral muay thai striker, who generally sticks to basic fundamentals, and I’d expect him to chop away at that Jones lead leg to test his resilience. He has good distance management and solid power when he chooses to use it, but he tends to have a more measured approach rather than swinging for the fences, which aids his cardio.
It makes for an intriguing puzzle even for an all-time great like Jones to solve as like Gane he is known for high fight IQ and a strong command of distance management. Jones didn’t have particularly notable punching power at 205lbs, but he made up for that with his ability and creativity in the striking department and he’ll offer more looks than Gane with his varied attacks to all levels with punches, kicks, elbows and at times knees too.
It has to be noted however that Jones did seem rather jaded in his final few fights at light-heavyweight and there were fewer surprises in his offense and less spark than before, which led to some closer-than-expected decisions.
Nevertheless, it’s worth bearing in mind that there’s plenty more strings to Jones bow than just striking and he’s also shown strong clinch work and takedowns at times in addition to very good wrestling and vicious ground-and-pound attacks.
And that will surely set alarm bells ringing for Gane as though he has shown some solid offensive wrestling of his own at times, his old training partner Francis Ngannou exposed some serious holes in his defensive wrestling in their title fight, despite the fact the champion had never really shown much in the way of a ground game before.
Gane will no doubt have been working hard to shore that up since, but even so it’s not a problem that’s easily fixed when going up against someone of Jones calibre. And so it’s primarily for that reason that I’m picking Jones here. There’s a lot of pressure on him here and so I think that’ll make him more likely to home in on the safest option, seeking out opportunities to clinch and work for takedowns rather than just stand and trade for 25 minutes.
I do have a lot of reservations though given how underwhelming some of Jones last few performances were, and now at 35-years-old and moving up in weight to fight a tough opponent after such a long lay-off. It’s quite possible that this could all go horribly wrong for him and there’ll be a lot of talk about how he squandered his talent if it does, but I’ll take him to win by either ground-and-pound or submission in the fourth round.
Pick: Jon Jones wins by submission in Rd4.
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Alexa Grasso
The dominant force for many years at flyweight, Shevchenko was surprisingly given her toughest test yet by Taila Santos last time out. However, she escaped with a narrow split-decision verdict and now looks for her eight title defense against Grasso, who has been very much in-form since moving up to flyweight in 2020 with four wins in a row to her name.
It’s a challenging match-up for Grasso, who was on the smaller side even at strawweight. She has very good boxing ability though and makes up for a lack of power with her fast hands, footwork and clean technique. She’s also tried to work on her ground game too, but does have trouble with being outmuscled at times.
And that’s a concern as Shevchenko is the bigger ,stronger fighter here. She’s also very well-rounded, with assured, excellent kickboxing ability being backed up by solid takedowns and strong control on top, while she poses a submission threat too.
Grasso will have to make the most of her speed advantage, but Shevchenko is sharp on the counter and with her wider arsenal of weapons on the feet and stronger ground game I think this is a fight where the champion can control the action and earn a convincing decision victory.
Pick: Valentina Shevchenko wins by decision.
Geoff Neal vs. Shavkat Rakhmonov
Top 10 ranked welterweights here, with Neal moving up to No.7 after a big KO victory over Vicente Luque, while Rakhmonov is No.9 after winning all four of his UFC fights inside the distance to extend his unbeaten record to 16-0.
It’s a testament to just how talented and well-rounded Rakhmonov is that all 16 of his wins came inside the distance, with 8 by strikes and 8 by submission. He’s not necessarily the most active striker, but when he engages he’s dynamic and carries power along with good timing and he’s solid defensively too.
Meanwhile, Rakhmonov is also a strong wrestler and excellent grappler who will offer multi-faceted offense on the mat via strikes and submission.
Now he’s going up against the 32-year-old Neal, whose ‘Handz Of Steel’ nickname is well-earned as he carries serious power in his punches. He’s less versatile on the feet than Rakhmonov, preferring to focus on that heavy-handed boxing, but he is more aggressive and active on the feet.
That being said, while Neal has strong takedown defense he doesn’t have as much to offer as his opponent on the mat. He’s more tried and tested than Rakhmonov the longer the fight goes though, having fought the full 25 minutes before, while ‘Nomad’ has actually never been beyond the second round.
So Neal could potentially find success with a single fight-ending blow or by testing his opponent’s staying power in the later rounds, but nonetheless I do feel that Rakhmonov’s broader skill-set and advantage on the mat in particular will help pave the way for a second round tap-out here.
Pick: Shavkat Rakhmonov wins by submission in Rd2.
Jalin Turner vs. Mateusz Gamrot
The 10th ranked lightweight Turner comes into this one on a five-fight winning streak, while the 7th placed Gamrot was on a four-fight unbeaten run of his own until a loss to Beneil Dariush.
Turner is very tall and lanky for a lightweight and that equates to a major 5″ height and 7″ reach advantage against Gamrot. Turner will utilize that with his high volume, hard-hitting punches and solid kicks from range. He holds the distinction of having earned all 13 of his career wins inside the distance, but while he’s mostly done so via strikes, he’s actually been showing off his submission ability inside the Octagon with three of his last five wins coming in that fashion.
Gamrot comes into this fight on just a couple of weeks notice, but he’s well-conditioned fighter, and also a well-rounded one too. He stays active on the feet, but he’s also always hunting for opportunities to work for takedowns and thanks to his strong work ethic and ability he does well with that and has good control on the mat with his assured wrestling and grappling.
Getting inside Turner’s reach and power is going to be key for Gamrot and likely something he’ll wish he had more time to prepare for, but he is very durable and so I’ll take him to make it work and grind out a win on the mat via decision.
Pick: Mateusz Gamrot wins by decision.
Bo Nickal vs. Jamie Pickett
As big of a hyped prospect as we’ve seen from the Contender Series so far, the 27-year-old Nickal makes his debut in the main card opener against the 34-year-old Pickett, who has only mustered a 2-4 record in the UFC so far and is coming off back-to-back losses.
Nickal is only 3-0 as a pro fighter so far, but has managed to finish those outings in less than 3 minute combined cage-time via one KO a nd two submission stoppages. What’s really got people excited though is that Nickal has been a stand-out in his amateur wrestling career, being a three-time NCAA D1 champion and Big Ten Conference champ too.
And so far he’s taken to MMA like a duck to water, but of course there’s likely to be holes in his overall MMA game, and a striking-focused fighter like Pickett will be eager to try to keep this fight on the feet and try to test him in a stand-up battle.
Pickett does have an inch in height and 4″ in reach to his advantage and he’ll hope that his significant power will both keep Nickal at bay and also potentially set up a big upset finish.
Pickett’s ground game is weak though and so I expect Nickal to bring him down into his world early and then deliver a big finish, potentially by ground-and-pound, but perhaps most likely by submission.
Pick: Bo Nickal wins by submission in Rd1.
Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)
Derek Brunson vs. Dricus Du Plessis
Viviane Araujo vs. Amanda Ribas
Julian Marquez vs. Marc-Andre Barriault
Jessica Penne vs. Tabatha Ricci
Cameron Saaiman vs Leomana Martinez
Ian Garry vs. Kenan Song
Da’mon Blackshear vs. Farid Basharat
Cody Garbrandt vs. Trevin Jones