UFC Fight Night 217 takes place on Saturday night in las Vegas to kick off the UFC’s 2023 campaign and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Nassourdine Imavov vs. Sean Strickland
After the announcement earlier this week that Kelvin Gastelum had withdrawn from the main event due to requiring dental work following a training room accident, the headliner for the UFC’s first event of 2023 has undergone an abrupt switch, with Sean Strickland now in on less than a week’s notice to face Imavov at a revised weight of 205lbs.
Strickland fronted the final event of 2022 too, but lost to Jared Cannonier via split-decision. That was his second straight defeat, so he’s clearly determined to try to get back on winning terms as quickly as possible and try to rediscover the form that saw him win six fights in a row not so long ago.
That’s no easy task however the 26-year-old Imavov is a well-rounded fighter who works effectively from range with technical striking and has strong footwork, while also having good defense.
Meanwhile he can also pursue takedowns and has solid grappling ability.
Although Imavov also generally has good output, there are indications that his cardio can suffer as the fight drags on. Strickland will be aware of this and usually has very good cardio, using that to his advantage to apply pressure and attempt to break his opponents will over five rounds.
That being said, by his own admission Strickland has had the last few weeks off during the Christmas season and was on the verge of going on a snowboarding trip prior to being called up as a late replacement, hence the reason for the bout being moved up to 205lbs, and as such you have to wonder whether that will hamper his ability to push the pace for 25 minutes.
On the other hand, Imavov is coming in off a full camp and though like Strickland he was a welterweight earlier in his career, he is a big middleweight and will likely wear 205lbs well. I think Imavov’s striking style can match up well to what’s become a fairly predictable jab-focused output from Strickland that lacks urgency and aggression at times, so together with potentially mixing in an occasional takedowns against his underprepared opponent I think that will help him earn a decision win here.
Pick: Nassourdine Imavov wins by decision.
Dan Ige vs. Damon Jackson
After losing four of his last five fights, Ige is in dire need of a win in the co-main event against Jackson, who is looking to continue his current streak of four straight victories.
Despite his disappointing run of form, it has to be stressed that Ige has been consistently competing against highly regarded Top 10 ranked opponents during that time and has still managed to maintain a proud record of never having been stopped inside the distance in his career.
Ige doesn’t have the biggest stopping power, but he is a good boxer who event managed to defeat Edson Barboza by split decision back in 2020. Meanwhile his takedown defence isn’t impenetrable, but he can use his wrestling offensively and can look for submissions on the mat if required.
Jackson hasn’t been up against the same level of opposition as Ige, but he is an experienced fighter who has competed in the likes of Bellator, PFL, and LFA, in addition to two separate stints in the UFC.
While Jackson is fairly well-rounded he’s likely to come off second-best in the striking department and has been KO’d on three occasions. However, he is a good wrestler and he’s won 15 of his 22 career victories by submission, so there’s no doubt he’ll be eager to get this fight to the mat early and often.
I think Jackson may have a tricky time navigating past Ige’s aggressive offense as he steps into range though and that’ll lead to a second TKO victory for his opponent.
Pick: Dan Ige wins by decision.
Punahele Soriano vs. Roman Kopylov
Soriano beat Dalcha Lungiambula by knockout in July to snap a two-fight losing streak, leaving him with a 3-2 record overall in the UFC. Kopylov is in a similar spot, having lost his first two fights inside the Octagon before defeating Alessio Di Chirico via KO back in September.
The 30-year-old Soriano might not be a particularly technical striker, but he’s a good athlete who possesses lots of power, including two KO’s and a TKO win in the UFC so far. His foundation is actually wrestling though and he’s fairly solid in that regard, though it does still feel like there’s work to be done to blend his skills together more effectively.
Kopylov is also a proven finisher on the feet, with all but one of his nine wins having coming via KO or TKO. His defense is less convincing though and while he has yet to be stopped by strikes he’s certainly been hurt.
Koplyov’s ground game also isn’t entirely convincing, so I feel there may be opportunities for Soriano to make use of his wrestling, though it’s perhaps more likely that he’ll look to slug it out on the feet, and I think he’ll land the more powerful blows to deliver a TKO stoppage in the second round.
Pick: Punahele Soriano wins by TKO in Rd2.
Ketlen Vieira vs. Raquel Pennington
Vieira is close to title contention at 135lbs after a win over former champ Holly Holm secured her spot at No.2 in the rankings, while Pennington is currently No.5 after winning four fights in a row.
Vieira was able to edge out Holm in the striking exchanges in her last fight as he gets increasingly comfortable on the feet with a steady, but not particularly spectacular style, but she’s still generally at her best with her assured grappling ability on top and she also has Judo ability to help aid her attempts to get the fight to the floor via trips and throws.
Pennington is a sturdy boxer who likes to apply pressure and unleash her combination punching from close quarters, while also making use of the clinch to help grind her way towards victory.
Pennington can also use her wrestling and has a few submission wins to her name, but overall Vieira is the superior grappler here and is the more likely of the two to secure takedowns and that’ll help her to gain control time on top and work towards a decision victory.
Pick: Ketlen Vieira wins by decision.
Umar Nurmagomedov vs. Raoni Barcelos
Brother of Bellator lightweight champ Usman and cousin of UFC great Khabib Nurmagomedov, the 26-year-old Umar has a lot to live up to, and so far he’s doing just that with three wins in the UFC so far taking his unbeaten career record to 15-0.
Now he goes up against another talented fighter in the 35-year-old Barcelos, who suffered back-to-back losses a while back, but has since claimed a decision win over Trevin Jones to take his overall record in the UFC to 6-2.
Nurmagomedov can be a relentless pursuer of takedowns and in addition to his strong wrestling he’s also a very good grappler too who has proven to be adept at finding finishes via submission. However, he’s also at ease on the feet too and makes good use of his kicking ability from range.
Barcelos will be eager to test Nurmagomedov’s striking skills though as he’s a talented muay thai striker who utilizes his speed and aggression well, and though he’s not displayed it much in recent times, he has shown fight-ending power in the past. That’s not all though as Barcelos is a well-rounded fighter who has good credentials in both wrestling and BJJ and also has strong takedown defense.
Even so, I still feel it will be difficult to deny Nurmagomedov from succeeding in his repeated takedown attempts and will find him difficult to get out from under on the mat, while I also think Barcelos may find it tricky to effectively close the distance on Umar in the limited opportunities he’ll get to exchange on the feet, so I’ll take Nurmagomedov to earn a decision victory.
Pick: Umar Nurmagomedov wins by decision.
Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)
Abdul Razak Alhassan vs. Claudio Ribeiro
Mateusz Rebecki vs. Nick Fiore
Javid Basharat vs. Mateus Mendonca
Allan Nascimento vs. Carlos Hernandez
Daniel Argueta vs. Isaac Dulgarian
Jimmy Flick vs. Charles Johnson
Priscila Cachoeira vs. Sijara Eubanks