UFC 290 Predictions

UFC 290 takes place on Saturday night Las Vegas as part of their International Fight Week festivities and you can check out our predictions for all the fights below.

Main Card

Alexander Volkanovski vs. Yair Rodriguez

Volkanovski earned praise, even in defeat, after a competitive lightweight title fight against Makhachev earlier this year and now he returns to his natural weight class to defend his featherweight belt against Rodriguez, who became the interim champion in his absence with a 2nd round submission win over Emmett.

Volkanovski showed that he can cope with bigger opponents in his fight with Makhachev, so he won’t be intimidated by Rodriguez’s 5″ height advantage, and he actually also has the same reach as him. However, that reach stat doesn’t account for Rodriguez’s impressive kicking skills, being as dynamic and unpredictable as anyone in the Octagon in that regard.

Rodriguez is also dangerous with his punches, elbows and knees too, and he’s improved his submission game over time as well, making him more dangerous to deal with on the ground.

That being said, Volkanovski is the dominant champ for a reason and has an impressively well-rounded skill-set.  He’s proven his striking accumen against featherweight legends like Holloway (x3) and Aldo, demonstrating great technique, good speed, high fight IQ and dependable cardio, while he also manages distance well and is sound defensively.

Still, Rodriguez is creative and versatile enough on the feet to pose a new challenge for Volkanovski, and so it’s possible that he will opt to change things up, utilizing his wrestling ability to land takedowns and control the action on top.  He’s not generally known for his submission prowess, but he is good defensively that way, so he won’t be overly concerned about what Rodriguez might do there.

Rodriguez is certainly a tough opponent for Volkanovski as long as they are standing, but the champ can still compete well with him there, while having a big advantage on the ground that should help him tire out the striker, enabling him to benefit in the later rounds as he continues to push the pace and earna decision win.

Pick: Alexander Volkanovski wins by decision.

Brandon Moreno vs. Alexandre Pantoja

Moreno finally became the undisputed flyweight champion after defeating Figueiredo to end their quadrilogy. Now he faces an old foe in Pantoja, who has beaten him twice before, once by submission on TUF season 24 and then by decision in the UFC in 2018.

That loss cost Moreno his UFC contract, but he bounced back with a TKO victory to win the LFA 125lb belt and subsequently returned to the UFC, where everything has since clicked into place, going 6-1-2, including five title fights. Pantoja, on the other hand, has not received the same recognition despite his wins over Moreno and going 6-2 since, but now he finally gets his shot at the title.

And he deserves this chance as the 33-year-old is a skilled and dangerous fighter in all areas. On the feet he’ll look to swarm in with his aggressive boxing, delivering fast, powerful punches while demonstrating a sturdy chin. He is also lethal on the ground with good wrestling and a strong BJJ game, with quick scrambles and a constant submission threat.

Moreno has also improved a lot since their last encounter five years ago, with his hard-fought battles with Figueiredo only making him better. He’s a tough and talented boxer who isn’t afraid to get into a fire-fight, but is a bit more composed in the heat of the moment than Pantoja and has more endurance, though he might not have quite as much power. Moreno is also a very capable wrestler, has solid submission skills and robust defense, but I think Pantoja still has the edge overall in BJJ terms.

Moreno’s fights with Figueiredo were incredibly competitive and I think Pantoja will push him to the limit too, so this is a very close fight that could go either way. As such it’s hard to settle on a winner, but I’m going to go with the challenger Pantoja here. He fights with great intensity, and while Moreno will not back down on the feet and will be more technical, I think that on the ground Pantoja’s high-octane pace, skill and finishing instincts will lead him to a third round submission victory.

Pick: Alexandre Pantoja wins by submission in Rd3.

Robert Whittaker vs. Dricus du Plessis

Whittaker may have come up short twice against Israel Adesanya, but he has defeated everyone else in his weight class so far and so now he could be back in the title picture if he get past Du Plessis, who has a perfect record of five wins in the UFC so far.

Whittaker is a skilled striker who isn’t perhaps as big of a finisher as he once was, but instead has further refined his boxing fundamentals, working especially well off the jab, while also having good movement and effective kicks. Meanwhile he has strong takedown defense, can wrestle offensively when needed and has very good stamina.

Du Plessis is a powerful and explosive striker who leans more on his athleticism and willingness to attack with reckless abandon rather than on refined technique. It makes him a big finishing threat, but also exposes him to counter-strikes and he has been hurt before, though he’s also shown that he can dig deep and still emerge victorious.

Du Plessis will also look for wrestling opportunities and and has a knack for finishing his opponents with guillotine and rear-naked chokes.

I’d expect Du Plessis to have a hard time taking Whittaker down and I think Whittaker’s more precise and technical striking will give him the edge on the feet, enabling him to outstrike Du Plessis and maintain his position as the top contender at middleweight.

Pick: Robert Whittaker wins by decision.

Jalin Turner vs. Dan Hooker

Turner was on a five-fight winning streak in the UFC until he faced Mateusz Gamrot earlier in the year, who defeated him by a close decision. Now he fights Hooker, who will try to build some momentum after a TKO victory last time out snapped his two-fight losing skid.

Turner is a huge lightweight, measuring 6ft 3″ in height with a 77″ in reach, and as such, even though Hooker is big for 155lbs too, he’ll still give up 3″ in height and 1.5″ in reach to ‘The Tarantula’.

Turner is adept at fighting from range, using those long limbs to land fast and precise punches and kicks with knockout power. He is susceptible to takedowns, but he’s becoming harder to hold down and in recent times has increasingly been showing off his submission skills to good effect.

Hooker has faced some of the toughest fighters in the lightweight and featherweight divisions in recent times like Islam Makhachev, Dustin Poirier, Michael Chandler and Arnold Allen, which goes some way to explaining why he’s only 2-4 from his last 6 fights. You don’t get to consistently fight stars of that calibre without being a good fighter.  Hooker has a pressure-heavy striking style and a knack for finishing fights, while he can also wrestle too when needed.

Still, the 33-year-old Hooker has suffered some tough losses against elite opposition and that may well have affected his durability. And that could be a problem against such a large, hard-hitting striker like Turner who will test his chin early and I think find success,  claiming a first round TKO win.

Pick: Jalin Turner wins by TKO in Rd1.

Bo Nickal vs. Valentine Woodburn

Nickal is as hyped a prospect as ever emerged from the Contender Series and was expected to face Gore in his second UFC bout on Saturday night, but an injury to his opponent means he will now welcome late replacement Woodburn into the UFC instead.

Woodburn is undefeated in seven fights in the Combat Night organization out of Florida, where he became the middleweight champion and finished five opponents by strikes. That was enough to get the attention of the UFC, who had initially intended to field him on the Contender Series next month before this short-notice opportunity emerged.

Woodburn is a very stocky 5ft 8″ middleweight who relies on his punching power and clinch work, but he lacks technical finesse and is quite predictable with his approach.

He faces a tough challenge in Nickal, an elite amateur wrestler who has dominated his four MMA fights so far, all ending in the first round by either submission or knockout.

This fight seems like a mismatch that heavily favors Nickal, who should be able to quickly take Woodburn down and secure another early submission win.

Pick: Bo Nickal wins by submission in Rd1.

Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)

Robbie Lawler vs. Niko Price
Jack Della Maddalena vs. Josiah Harrell
Yazmin Jauregui vs. Denise Gomes
Jimmy Crute vs. Alonzo Menifield
Shannon Ross vs. Jesus Santos Aguilar
Vitor Petrino vs. Marcin Prachnio
Kamuela Kirk vs. Esteban Ribovics

Ross launched MMA Insight (previously FightOfTheNight.com) in 2009 as a way to channel his passion for the sport of mixed martial arts. He's since penned countless news stories and live fight reports along with dozens of feature articles as the lead writer for the site, reaching millions of fans in the process.