UFC On ESPN 23 takes place this coming Saturday night in Las Vegas and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Dominick Reyes vs. Jiri Prochazka
Reyes stock remained high after his title challenge defeat against Jon Jones last year, but a TKO loss to Jan Blachowicz for the vacant title last time out was a big blow, while Prochazka marked his UFC debut with a bang as he KO’d Volkan Oezdemir.
Prochazka came from the Rizin promotion, where he’d built a reputation as a big finisher, and in fact he has no less than 24 wins via strikes from 27 career victories.
A big, athletic 205lb’er, Prochazka is also very unconventional in his approach, often intentionally baiting opponents to throw strikes at him by leaving his chin out, showboating and adopting unusual stances, but he’s been able to make it work due to his ability to launch devastating strikes from unexpected angles.
The drawback to this is that it’s a style that makes him very hittable, particularly since his hands are almost always kept low, and as entertaining as his style is to watch and as good as his powers of recovery have been in the past, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before he pays the price for it against the higher level of competition he’s going to face every time he steps into the Octagon.
In this instance that comes from Reyes, who is not as physically imposing, but is an athletic fighter with good speed and a high-volume approach to striking, with both his kicks and punches offering up a finishing threat.
Reyes operates well from range, but will be at a 3″ reach disadvantage here, though it should be noted that an even more distinct reach differential didn’t stop him from having some success against Jones in their title encounter.
Reyes disappointing performance last time out and the fact he was finished does give me some concern in this match-up given Prochazka’s heavy hands.
However, while he doesn’t hit quite as hard, Reyes is still dangerous while being less reckless in his approach, and he’s going to find plenty of opportunities to hit the target in this fight. As such I’m leaning towards him punishing Prochazka for his defensive vulnerabilities, leading to a second round TKO stoppage.
Pick: Dominick Reyes wins by TKO in Rd2.
Giga Chikadze vs. Cub Swanson
With four wins in the Octagon in 2020 and five overall, Chikadze now takes a step up in competition against one of the featherweight division’s most established veteran in Swanson, who claimed a KO victory last time out.
Now 37-years-old, Swanson’s striking credentials are well established and even in the twilight years of his career he remains a handful for anyone in the division, maintaining a high pace, showing good movement and mixing up his strikes nicely, while staying tight defensively.
That should make for a fun striking match-up with Chikadze, who is a former Glory kickboxer with good striking technique, combined with the advantage of having 4″ in both height and reach over Swanson. He’s not the biggest hitter, but his strikes still commands respect and he has good distance management, which is going to make it harder for Swanson to find the mark.
This should be a competitive battle, but I feel Chikadze has the strking experience to not be overwhelmed by Swanson’s pressure, and he’ll be able to make the most of his long range advantage to come away with a decision victory here against the crafty veteran.
Pick: Giga Chikadze wins by decision.
Ion Cutelaba vs. Dustin Jacoby
Things haven’t been going to well for Cutelaba of late, including having suffered back-to-back first round losses due to strikes against Magomed Ankalaev.
On the other hand, after failing to make an impact in his initial UFC stint back in 2011-2012, Jacoby has eventually fought his way back to the UFC and picked up two wins in a row.
Cutelaba’s a bit of a wildman, a combustible ball of energy from the opening bell who will look to overwhelm his opponents with a frenetic pace as he swings for the fences on the feet and goes for takedowns where he can continue to stay on the offensive with ground and pound.
Either way it’s all about finishing fights early, and Cutelaba has had a fair degree of success with that, but it can leave him vulnerable defensively, which is more of a problem now that his durability is under question, and also his gas tank suffers a lot when he’s not able to deliver that early stoppage.
Jacoby fights at a more measured pace and has more refined technique, helped by his former kickboxing experience for the likes of Glory. Whether it’s been in MMA or kickboxing, Jacoby has often tended to hit a ceiling though that he’s struggled to break through,so it remains to be seen whether he can keep his current winning streak going.
Cutelaba isn’t above his ceiling though – it’s certainly a fight he could win given ‘The Hulk’s’ weaknesses. Still, Cutelaba is the more dangerous fighter here and I think if he focuses more on his wrestling here than just trading blows with Jacoby then that would likely serve him well, so I’m taking him to make the most of his early momentum and secure a first round TKO stoppage via ground and pound.
Pick: Ion Cutelaba wins by TKO in Rd1.
Krzysztof Jotko vs. Sean Strickland
Both Jotko and Strickland will come into this fight with confidence given that they are each coming off three-fight winning streaks.
Jotko has often been the kind of fighter who is happy to just embrace the grind, using stifling clinch work and spells of top control to frustrate opponents and earn a decision victory, but last time out against Eryk Anders he did use his kickboxing on the outside to secure the judges decision.
Strickland is a solid boxer and his punches carry more weight than Jotko, while he’s also the more active fighter offensively.
Strickland also has enough grappling ability to foil Jotko’s attempts to grind out the win, so I’m taking him to be the one pressing the action here and land the better strikes en-route to a decision win.
Pick: Sean Strickland wins by decision.
Merab Dvalishvili vs. Cody Stamann
Dvalishvili heads into this one with five wins in a row under his belt, while Stamann has had more mixed results, picking up two wins, two losses and a draw from his last five trips to the Octagon.
Known as ‘The Machine’, the pace Dvalishvili sets is a sight to behold and he has a voracious appetite for landing takedowns, although he doesn’t always end up doing much with the advantageous positions he finds himself in afterwards.
That could be a problem for Stamann as he would like to dictate the wrestling here, but will be hard pushed to match his opponent’s tempo.
Stamann can also strike, but he’s not that potent offensively and again will have to deal with Dvalishvili throwing everything but the kitchen sink at him with no sign of slowing down for 15 minutes, and as such I have to go with ‘The Machine’ to earn the decision victory.
Pick: Merab Dvalishvili wins by decision.
Poliana Botelho vs. Luana Carolina
Carolina returns to action from the knee injury she suffered courtesy of an Ariane Lipski submission last year, while Botelho also looks to rebound from a loss to Gillian Robertson last time out, which left her with a 2-2 UFC record.
Both fighters are more likely to be eager to show off their striking skills in this match-up, and Botelho should have the greater power in her punches and kicks, but Carolina also has solid kickboxing ability, so it should be competitive on the feet.
Botelho has an extra card up her sleeve though as she does at least have some ability on the mat and could use that to her advantage here, and I think overall she will get the better of the action against Carolina to get her hand raised.
Pick: Poliana Botelho wins by decision.
Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)
Randa Markos vs. Luana Pinheiro
Gabriel Benitez vs. Jonathan Pearce
TJ Brown vs. Kai Kamaka III
Sam Hughes vs. Loma Lookboonmee
K.B. Bhullar vs. Andreas Michailidis
Felipe Colares vs. Luke Sanders