UFC Fight Night 204 takes place tomorrow afternoon in London, England and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Tom Aspinall vs Alexander Volkov
The UK’s Aspinall gets to fight on home soil in the main event after making an immediate impact in the heavyweight ranks, securing four wins in a row since joining the UFC a couple of years ago, including recent wins over the likes of Andrei Arlovski and Sergey Spivak.
The 28-year-old Aspinall benefits from being relatively well-rounded by heavyweight standards, with his boxing being a strong aspect of his game with fast hands, good movement and respectable power to go along with it. However, he also has solid wrestling along with a black belt in BJJ and so he’s more than willing to take the fight to the mat when the opportunity presents itself.
The 33-year-old Volkov is the far more experienced competitor here and has even been almost within reach of title contention more than once. A tall, rangey striker, Volkov will have a 2″ height and 3″ reach advantage together with having put on some mass in recent years, which adds a bit more meat to his strikes, although perhaps chips away at his speed and cardio a litte too.
Volkov is most effective from distance with his straight punches and kicks, and tends to be more of a combination striker who relies on that volume rather than one-punch KO power to wear down his opponents
Volkov is a seasoned veteran though whose been on the verge of title contention more than once during his UFC run. A tall, lanky striker with a 2″ height and 3″ reach advantage here whose bulked up a bit more in recent times, Volkov works well from range with straight punches and solid kicks to keep his opponents at bay. Rather than looking for one big strike he’s more of a volume striker who can piece together combinations well and gradually break down his opponents and then finish them.
Volkov won’t want to spend time on the mat here so he’ll be relying on his takedown defense to maintain what should be a competitive striking battle on the feet. However, I think Aspinall’s speed advantage and pressure game will open opportunities for takedowns and I think that’ll give him the edge he needs to win by decision here.
Pick: Tom Aspinall wins by decision.
Dan Hooker vs Arnold Allen
Hooker moves back down to featherweight after many years at lightweight following a spell in which he’s lost three out of his last four fights, albeit against high-quality opposition. It’s going to be no different for him at 145lbs though as he’s going straight up against one of the division’s most in-form fighters in Allen, who has won all eight of his fights in the promotion so far.
That’s a very impressive record, but Allen has perhaps suffered from not having notched up many big finishes along the way, with six of his wins coming by way of decision and as such he’s not had the fanfare that some other fighters get with less victories to their name. That shouldn’t take away from the fact that Allen is a very skilled and well-rounded fighter through, who has a patient, methodical striking game and very good wrestling ability on the mat.
Hooker is more of an all-action striker who will seek to be far more active than Allen on the feet, mixing in elbows and knees to his work and he has a considerable size advantage here, with 4″ in height and 5.5″ in reach over his opponent.
Hooker’s a tough, durable competitor but has taken a troubling amount of damage in some of his recent wars which will take it’s toll at some stage. It also remains to be seen how he’ll fare back down at 145lbs given that at the start of his UFC run, some eight years ago, he only put together a 3-3 record in the division before opting to move up.
This is definitely a big test for Allen as he tries to keep his winning streak going against a well known, seasoned veteran. I think his more cautious, calculating style on the feet rather than just trading blow for blow with Hooker will work in his favor, but it’ll be his stronger wrestling game that really makes the difference here to edge out a decision win.
Pick: Arnold Allen wins by decision.
Paddy Pimblett vs Rodrigo Vargas
A top prospect outside of the UFC for a long time, Pimblett finally signed last year and the 27-year-old earned a first round KO in his debut. Now he takes on the 36-year-old Vargas, who is 1-2 in his UFC run so far.
Pimblett’s debut wasn’t as perfect as it might first look though as he was actually rocked by big shots before he showed off his durability and determination to secure the highlight-reel finish.
It showed that Pimblett has some big holes in his striking defense, but though he’s perhaps still best known for his larger-than-life personality, he does have a lot to offer. His offensive striking has improved over the years, but it’s actually his grappling ability that’s been his strongest suit over the years and regardless of whether he’s working off his back or on top he provides a big threat via submission.
As for Vargas, he will be eager to probe Pimblett’s defenses on the feet as he has stopping power and will feel he has a chance to gain the upperhand in the striking exchanges, while he is also a capable grappler too.
I think at this stage Pimblett still has to prove that he’s got what it takes to live up to the hype. If he’s over-confident here and continues to leave his chin in harms way then he could get himself in trouble here, but I imagine will be a bit more cautious this time out and seek to use his grappling more often to find a second round submission stoppage.
Pick: Paddy Pimblett wins by submission in Rd2.
Gunnar Nelson vs Takashi Sato
After more than two years out, Nelson finally returns to action hoping to shake off the two losses he suffered all the way back in 2019 as he goes up against late replacement Takashi Sato, who has so far compiled a 2-2 run in the UFC.
Nelson has always been a tricky opponent to deal with, particularly in the grappling department where he excels with fluid movement and good control on top, together with a strong submission game. Striking wise he has a very karate-orientated stance and operates on the outside in an almost point-fighting style where he’ll wait for the right opening to attack. He is accurate when he does strike, but his lack of volume can be a downside to this approach.
Sato will be busier than Nelson the feet and is a heavy hitter, making it his best chance to create an upset here. Unfortunately for him though he’s had a weakness to being submitted in the past few years and that’s bad news when going up against someone of Nelson’s caliber on the mat, so I think we’re looking at a submission finish here.
Pick: Gunnar Nelson wins by submission in Rd2.
Molly McCann vs Luana Carolina
McCann ended a two fight losing run with a decision win last time out, while Carolina has so far put together a 3-1 run in the promotion.
McCann is the type of fighter who thrives fighting in her home country in front of a big crowd so she’ll be in her element here. She’s a tough, durable and gritty competitor who has good boxing ability and will look to take the fight to her opponent. There’s more to her game than that however as she also likes to incorporate wrestling into her offensive approach and while she can come off second best against fighters who are more specialized on the ground, it can give her an edge against those who would much prefer to keep the fight standing.
Carolina would fit into that category as she’ll be eager to just engage with McCann on the feet, looking to make the most of her muay thai and massive 7″ reach advantage.
Her punches and kicks from range could certainly pose a problem for the Brit, but McCann isn’t the type of fighter who will shy away from stepping into the fire and I think her constant pressure will enable her to get into range to make use of her boxing and set up the takedowns that I believe will be the key to her decision victory.
Pick: Molly McCann wins by decision.
Ilia Topuria vs. Jai Herbert
A talented fighter with a 3-0 record in the UFC so far, Topuira has this week become better known for starting a brief scuffle with co-main event fighter Paddy Pimblett in a hotel lobby.
That’s not who he’s actually fighting this weekend though as he’s actually going up against a short-notice opponent in Herbert, who is 1-2 in the promotion. Topuira has had difficulties making weight recently, so he’s actually agreed to fight at 155lbs here, which is Herbert’s natural weight class.
Furthermore, Herbert actually has an enormous size advantage here, being 6″ taller and with a whopping 8″ reach advantage over Topuira, which he’ll seek to bring to bear with his muay thai striking, with his punching power in particular being a dangerous weapon that has finished numerous fights for him in the past.
Nevertheless, Topuira won’t be intimidated as he’s a perfect 11-0 in his career to date and has the more well-rounded game here. He has good power both on the feet and mat as he showcased in his last two KO wins in the UFC, but the reality is that it’s his skilled and aggressive ground game that shines brightest.
Herbert was tapped out last year by Renato Moicano and I think against another skilled grappler like Topuira he’s facing a similar fate here and it’s possible it could happen within the first five minutes.
Pick: Ilia Topuira wins by submission in Rd1.
Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)
Jack Shore vs Timur Valiev
Shamil Abdurakhimov vs Sergei Pavlovich
Paul Craig vs Nikita Krylov
Mike Grundy vs Makwan AmirKhani
Mo Mokaev vs Cody Durden
Nathaniel Wood vs Liudvik Sholinian
Cory McKenna vs Elise Reed