UFC 301 Predictions

UFC 301 takes place tomorrow night in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.

Main Card

Alexandre Pantoja vs. Steve Erceg

Alexandre Pantoja made the first successful defense of his flyweight title against Brandon Royval late last year and now fights an unexpected opponent in the 10th ranked Steve Erceg, who has won three fights in a row since joining the UFC.

The 34-year-old Pantoja has a strong mix of talent, toughness and intensity that’s made him a hard man to beat. In the striking department he’s fearless and aggressive. He’s not the cleanest or most crafty, but he applies pressure, throws with power, has a strong chin and is also able to suddenly switch to takedown attempts to keep his opponents guessing. And his ground game is a strong suit, with very good wrestling and scrambling ability, which often leads to him getting to the back, where he’s proven to be able to find a finish via submission. He also has good cardio, even if he does look winded at times.

The 28-year-old Erceg doesn’t look like a fighter, he’s not a physical specimen and he seems to have got a title shot prematurely, but nonetheless it would be wise not to overlook him as he’s actually looked pretty good in his UFC fights so far. He came into the UFC with his ground game looking like his main asset, being a skilled grappler who like Pantoja is good at taking the back and working for finishes from there, while he’s a solid wrestler too. However, during his time in the Octagon he’s also shown that he’s comfortable on the feet too and has good accuracy and respectable speed when he’s working his boxing, which will be aided by a 3″ height and extra inch in reach here.

Erceg seems like a solid prospect who Pantoja will have to take seriously. However, I do think the champ will emerge victorious here, with his intensity and durability on the feet together with having the stronger wrestling will work in his favor here and eventually lead to a third round stoppage via submission.

Pick: Alexandre Pantoja wins by submission in Rd3.

Jose Aldo vs. Jonathan Martinez

Two years after he retired from the sport, Jose Aldo has suddenly re-emerged looking to honor the final fight on his UFC contract in a match-up against Jonathan Martinez, who is currently on a six-fight winning streak.

Aldo hasn’t been sitting with his feet up since retiring as he immediately turned his focus on fulfilling his ambition to become a professional boxer. However he’s not made a big impact there yet, only managing to emerge with a majority draw against ex-UFC fighter Jeremy Stephens in his pro-boxing debut, despite having TKO’d him in the Octagon in the past. He’s also has two other decision wins on his record against unheralded opponents, though one was an exhibition bout.

A year on from those fights, the now 370-year-old Aldo returns to MMA, where he was actually doing pretty solidly before his departure. Of course he did lose to Merab Dvalishvili in his last fight, but there’s no shame in that and beforehand he’d been on a three-fight winning streak against solid opponents in Marlon Vera, Pedro Munhoz and Rob Font. Aldo was always a fighter whose crisp, technical boxing was held in high regard, while there was also a time when his low kicks were also deadly, though in later years he disappointingly started to shy away from that, perhaps to his detriment. Meanwhile, ‘The King Of Rio’, also has excellent takedown defense and isn’t out of his element when he is taken down.

Given Aldo’s lengthy absence from the Octagon and the fact he’s getting up there in age it’ll be interesting to see how his cardio holds out against a younger, energetic opponent like the 30-year-old Martinez, who is perhaps undervalued at just No.13 in the division despite beating the likes of Adrian Yanez, Said Nurmagomedov and Cub Swanson during his unbeaten run. Martinez is a well-versed, active striker who actually has taken up the mantle as one of the hardest leg-kickers in the lighter divisions in Aldo’s absence, finishing two of his last three opponents in that fashion. Martinez delivers good kicks to all levels, has fast hands and also good knees at close range too. Martinez would much prefer to keep this fight on the feet than the mat, and it’s likely that Aldo will oblige.

Perhaps Aldo will feed off the fans in Rio and deliver a vintage display from him, but I wonder if he still really has the desire and the energy to fight at Martinez’s pace for three hard rounds. I also don’t know if Aldo will fire off his leg kicks, but I do know that Martinez certainly will be throwing his while pressing the action for 15 minutes and as such I’ll take the younger man to win on the scorecards here.

Pick: Jonathan Martinez wins by decision.

Anthony Smith vs. Vitor Petrino

Anthony Smith is coming off a TKO loss that leaves him with just one win from his last four fights, while on the other hand Vitor Petrino is riding a four-fight winning streak since joining from the Contender Series last year.

The 35-year-old Smith is 57 fights into his pro career and has a lot of wear and tear to show for it. The former title contender has been finished by strikes 11 times, with two of those coming in his last four Octagon outings, while he’s also had a laundry list of injuries and ailments to contend with too. Smith remains a dangerous fighter offensively though as he has a strong finishing rate wherever the fight goes. He’s a versatile striker who has the potential to manufacture a stoppage from all eight limbs, while on the mat he’s proven to be a notable threat via submissions and ground-and-pound. However, while Smith will actively try to fight out of bad situations he is vulnerable to being finished himself and the fact he does tend to eat too many punches and has poor leg-checking ability doesn’t help his cause.

Almost a decade younger than Smith, the 26-year-old Petrino’s technique can be a bit scrappy at time and relies more on his physicality, but he has some potential. He’s not a particularly active striker, but he will press forward and when he does fire off strikes he does so with genuine power, while he’s also able to land on the counter. He’s also got solid wrestling control and ground-and-pound, while his grappling is decent. Cardio can be an issue for him though due to leaning on his power and strength over technique.

This will be Petrino’s toughest test yet, but though Smith still has the ability to finish him wherever the fight goes, I think he’s really starting to degrade badly with all the miles he has on the clock and so I’ll take Petrino to keep his winning streak going via a 2nd round TKO stoppage.

Pick: Vitor Petrino wins by TKO in Rd2.

Michel Pereira vs. Ihor Potieria

After 5 wins at welterweight and a further two at middleweight, Michel Pereira now faces Ihor Potieria, who recently dropped from 205lbs and got a win under his belt, but is only 2-3 overall in the UFC.

With a background in capoeira, the 30-year-old Pereira is an exceptionally creative and acrobatic striker who is capable of throwing techniques that you’d usually expect to see in the movies, and on the regional circuit he had a knack for actually finishing people with them. It’s highly entertaining to watch, but despite getting a flying knee finish in his UFC debut back in 2019 he quickly found it was a style that didn’t really work against good level opposition in the UFC, leaving him gassed out from his overly-energetic approach. However, rather than fizzle out, Pereira has refined his process, still retaining some of his flair, but fighting in a more measured fashion rather than being determined to find a finish at all costs, while also showing off a surprisingly solid wrestling game and submission threat. Meanwhile, his move up to 185lbs hasn’t hindered his progress and he actually looks big for the division.

The 27-year-old Potieria is a scrappy, battling striker who has solid power and versatile offense, but his defensive holes and cardio caused him problems at light-heavyweight, suffering three TKO losses. 185lbs seems like a better fit for him though, being more of a physical presence in the weight classes, while he’s also showning some glimpses of technical improvement over time too.

Despite the fact they were two weight classes apart not so long ago I don’t see Potieria having a size advantage here, or a skill advantage either for that matter, with Pereira being the superior striker and also having a wrestling advantage too. I think he dismantles Potieria on the feet here to find a TKO finish by the 2nd round.

Pick: Michel Pereira wins by TKO in Rd2.

Paul Craig vs. Caio Borralho

Paul Craig has three losses from his last four Octagon appearances, while by way of contrast Caio Borralho has won all five of his UFC fights so far and in total has gone unbeaten for almost nine years.

The 36-year-old Craig’s strengths and weaknesses are well established at this point. He can be extremely dangerous on the mat via submissions, whether on top or often from his back, and can use that to change the course of a fight he’s losing in the blink of an eye. His triangle choke is his most notorious finishing move, accounting for 13 of his 17 submission finishes and can also set up opportunities to finish via strikes as well. However, Craig’s wrestling is poor and means he can often struggle to get the fight to the floor in the first place, particularly if opponents are wise to his attempts to pull guard or create scrambles. Meanwhile, on the feet Craig’s lack of athleticism is an issue, lacking the speed and technique to compete against most strikers.

The 31-year-old is confident in his ability and rightly so. He’s athletic and has very good wrestling, with assured takedowns and strong top control on top. He’s happy to use that to his advantage to just grind down opponents and win on the scorecards rather than take risks looking for a finish, even though he’s certainly capable of doing so. Meanwhile on the feet he has a karate-based style and can strike with speed and accuracy on the outside, but again isn’t a notable finisher.

The far faster, more athletic Borralho could just opt to outstrike Craig here, but while it’s risky taking him to the mat I think the Brazilian will be confident his stifling wrestling will make it difficult for his opponent to get going. Either way I see Caio Borralho winning, perhaps via a late stoppage, though I’ll say he ends up settling for a decision victory.

Pick: Caio Borralho wins by decision.

Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)

Joanderson Brito vs. Jack Shore
Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Iasmin Lucindo
Elves Brener vs. Myktybek Orolbai
Jean Silva vs. William Gomis
Joaquim Silva vs. Drakkar Klose
Jamie Mullarkey vs. Mauricio Ruffy
Dione Barbosa vs. Ernesta Kareckaite
Ismael Bonfim vs. Vinc Pichel
Alessandro Costa vs. Kevin Borjas

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.