UFC On ESPN 14 takes place tomorrow night on Fight Island and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Robert Whittaker vs. Darren Till
Whittaker has had many injury woes in recent years, but both of these fighters have also battled with mental issues too, with Whittaker taking time out due to being burned out, while Till appeared to go off the rails for a while after a couple of tough losses and admitted that he almost faked an injury to get out of his last fight due to anxiety.
Despite all that these remain two talented and very dangerous strikers, who are capable of delivering ‘Fight Of The Night’ caliber action in the main event if their heads are in the right place.
Whittaker is the more naturally aggressive of the two, but he does so with sound technique, putting together potent combinations with fast hand-speed, and though he can be caught in return, his defense is sound enough that he’s landing more blows that he takes in return.
It’ll be interesting to see how Till deals with an opponent who is more his size as he’s had good success in the past, but often against fighters he has a physical advantage over. That’s not to take away from his skills though as he has good kickboxing technique, a powerful left hand and generally manages distance well.
It should be a hard-fought fight and I’m favoring Whittaker to emerge victorious thanks to a battling performance that utilizes his speed, higher volume output, more versatile attacks and aggressive flurries to edge out Till on the scorecards.
Robert Whittaker wins by decision.
Mauricio Rua vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
There’s questions to be raised here about whether a trilogy fight between these two is actually a good idea given that ‘Shogun’ won the first two and they are both now well past their prime years.
In fact Nogueira is now 44-years-old and coming off a KO loss, while he’s become visibly more stiff and creaky in his last few Octagon outings and only managing to fight every once a year at most – so it’s no surprise he plans to retire after Saturday night’s showdown.
In all fairness, Shogun doesn’t look a shadow of his old self either, but nonetheless he’s still managed to muster a respectable 4-2-1 record in the past five years to keep his career on the rails as he’s lumbered into his late 30’s.
Shogun might not be as agile as he once was when these two first fought in a thriller over in the PRIDE organization, but he still hits and kicks with potentially fight-ending power while being savvy enough not to be overly aggressive.
At his peak Nogueira was a very capable boxer, but with his more limited mobility on the feet these days he’d be better off looking for extended grappling engagements where his slick jiu-jitsu would give him a better chance of success.
Overall though I think Shogun has a bit more life left in him and a big connection to Nogueira’s aging chin could be enough to send him into retirement on a regrettable KO loss.
Mauricio Shogun Rua wins by KO in Rd1
Alexander Gustafsson vs. Fabricio Werdum
Gustafsson moves up to heavyweight after two losses at the top-end of the 205lb division, and goes straight into a fight with a former champion in Werdum.
While that’s a bold move on paper, Gustafsson may well see this as an opportune moment to fight Werdum as the Brazilian is about to turn 43, recently sat out for the best part of two years due to a steroid suspension and looked out-of-shape and rusty during a comeback fight a couple of months ago, which he lots by split-decision against Aleksei Oleinik.
Gustafsson will actually also hold a 1″ height and 2″ reach advantage over Werdum and he is the kind of fighter who relishes fighting at range with clean, straight punches, while utilizing good movement and maintaining a good pace.
Werdum’s striking actually developed very nicely over the years, but he was very sloppy last time out which is a big concern, especially since its hard to train properly in the middle of a pandemic.
Werdum remains a terrific grappler though, so he may try to lean on that, but Gustafsson is hard to take down and I think the Swede will have the better energy levels here, staying busier on the feet from range to outpoint his opponent on the scorecards.
Alexander Gustafsson wins by decision.
Carla Esparza vs. Marina Rodriguez
Former strawweight champion Esparza’s three fight winning streak will be put to the test on Saturday night against the undefeated Rodriguez.
Rodriguez is a talented striker with very good muay thai, although the finishes that punctuated the early stages of her career have faded as the competition has increased and she’s actually had a couple of draws already during her four-fight run in the UFC.
Weaknesses in Rodriguez’s ground game are partly to blame for that and Esparza will be looking to exploit that, and while she might be outgunned on the feet, her strong wrestling game should enable her to grind out a decision victory here.
Carla Esparza wins by decision.
Alex Oliveira vs. Peter Sobotta
A fun fight is usually guaranteed when Oliveira is fighting thanks to his all-action style, whhether he’s slugging it out on the feet or going for a finish on the mat.
It’s a flawed style though as Oliveira is there to be hit due to his focus on offense, while his own submission defense is also vulnerable.
Sobatta has had an interest time of it in the UFC, struggling to make an impact during his initial run, but then returning later with more assured striking to compliment his grappling, and that produced better results.
However, Sobotta hasn’t fought in the past couple of years due to focusing on his personal life for a while after a TKO loss to Leon Edwards and then suffering from a neck injury too.
Therefore it’d be tricky to pick either man with a great deal of confidence here. Sobotta may be able to weather an early storm here and then turn the screw, but I think Oliveira’s offensive onslaught in the first half of the fight will be enough to see him battle his way to a close decision victory.
Alex Oliveira wins by decision.
Paul Craig vs. Gadzhimurad Antigulov
These two are notable submission finishers, though they go about it in different ways, with Antigulov being known for tapping out opponents in the opening round, while Craig has a penchant for last-gasp, against-all-odds submissions.
However, Craig has also shown signs of improvements in his previously sub-par striking game too. He’s still far from being a polished technician and lacks athleticism, but he’s more capable of holding his own now – though still vulnerable against explosive strikers.
Meanwhile, Antigulov has lost his last two fights via strikes and is coming off a 44 second KO loss, which speaks to a vulnerability on the feet that was apparent even in the early days of his career, so he’ll be looking to get this one onto the mat fast.
I wouldn’t put it past Antigulov to secure that early submission finish, but I think if Craig resists that urge to test himself on the mat and instead focuses on staying upright and outpointing his opponent via strikes then he can emerge with a win on the scorecards here.
Paul Craig wins by decision.
Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)
Francisco Trinaldo vs. Jai Herbert
Khamzat Chimaev vs. Rhys McKee
Nicolas Dalby vs. Jesse Ronson
Tom Aspinall vs. Jake Collier
Mike Grundy vs. Movsar Evloev
Tanner Boser vs. Raphael Pessoa
Bethe Correia vs. Pannie Kianzad
Ramazan Emeev vs. Niklas Stolze
Nathaniel Wood vs. John Castaneda