UFC On ESPN 27 takes place tomorrow night in Las Vegas and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Cory Sandhagen vs. T.J. Dillashaw
Despite being a former bantamweight champion, Dillashaw has a lot to prove heading into this fight, since he not only lost by TKO to Henry Cejudo in just 32 seconds during an unsuccessful attempt to become a two-weight titleholder at flyweight in his last bout, but was also subsequently hit by a two-year USADA suspension after testing positive for EPO and is only now finally returning to action.
On that same night back in 2019, Sandhagen picked up his third UFC win in a row, and he’s risen to become one of the 135lb division’s leading talents in Dillashaw’s absence, now wielding a 7-1 record in the Octagon, and he’s coming off his biggest wins to date, finishing both Marlon Moraes and Frankie Edgar via strikes.
Dillashaw’s EPO usage has raised questions about whether that performance enhancing drug was elevating his performances at the peak of his career, and in particular his cardio, but in fairness to him, there was a lot to like about his game that can’t be explained away by PED’s, such as his sharp, technical striking, smooth footwork and range management, together with very solid wrestling. However, he’s now 35 and hasn’t set foot in the octagon for two-and-a-half years, so we won’t know for sure how that’s affected things like his speed, sharpness and cardio until Saturday night.
What we do know for sure is that the 29-year-old Sandhagen is in excellent form at the moment with his at times slightly awkward, yet undeniably very effective striking having got the better of several other of the 135lb division’s most respected stand-up technicians.
He’s aided by the fact that he’ll have a 5″ height and 3″ advantage over Dillashaw, and that lanky physique also helps him take advantage of his knack for landing well-timed knees, which could prove to be a very useful deterrent if Dillashaw seeks to swoop in for takedown attempts.
Despite his past transgressions I do believe Dillashaw is a very talented fighter, so it’s entirely possible he could hit the ground running and emerge with a victory here to fast-track himself back into the title picture. Nevertheless, Sandhagen is the more proven commodity in 2021 and riding that wave of momentum, together with his more impactful striking and greater durability, I’m taking him to battle his way to a third round TKO victory.
Pick: Cory Sandhagen wins by TKO in Rd3.
Aspen Ladd vs. Macy Chiasson
Fight cancelled on short notice due to Macy Chiasson suffering an injury.
Kyler Phillips vs. Raulian Paiva
After missing weight for his last fight at flyweight and then being hospitalized after passing out following another weight-cutting mishap, Paiva is now seeking to regroup by moving to bantamweight by accepting a fight on one month’s notice against Phillips.
Paiva has fought at 135lbs in the past at times, though not during his 3-2 stint in the UFC, so he’ll have to settle for not having the size advantage he’s had at times in the Octagon, but won’t be completely out of his element.
However, he is facing a tough opponent in the 26-year-old Phillips, who has impressed with his well-rounded game that showcases slick striking alongside nicely timed takedown attempts and good grappling once he does have the fight on the mat.
Paiva does have a submission game to fall back on if he’s taken down, but typically he’s at his best on the feet with good striking and he’s proven to be effective on the counter, but generally is more of a decision fighter than a big finisher.
This doesn’t seem like a great match-up for Paiva as there’s nowhere he holds a clear advantage over his opponent. As such, I like Phillips more damaging, dynamic striking and ability to switch things up with takedown to secure a decision win.
Pick: Kyler Phillips wins by decision.
Darren Elkins vs. Darrick Minner
At 37-years-old, grizzled veteran Elkins went through a rough spell in which he lost four fights in a row, but he managed to turn that around with a submission win against Luiz Eduardo Garagorri last time out, while Minner started off his UFC campaign with a loss, but has since notched up two wins.
While Elkins has lived up to his ‘The damage’ nickname over the years by taking plenty of it, there still appears to be no quit in him at this late stage in his career and he continues to employ a solid wrestling game and grinding style that can wear on his opponents, while he’ll also have a 3″ height and 1.5″ reach advantage here.
Meanwhile, Minner is aggressive fighter who has a reputation for tapping out opponents, having successfully done so in 22 of his 26 career victories to date, although on the other hand he’s also been submitted himself on eight occasions.
If Minner isn’t careful then Elkins could catch him out, but overall I feel he’s the younger, fresher fighter and I’ll take him to get the better of the action, but fail to catch the wily old veteran in a submssion, leading to a win on the scorecards instead.
Pick: Darrick Minner wins by decision.
Miranda Maverick vs. Maycee Barber
This is not only a well-matched fight, but one that pits two of the most promising up-and-coming flyweights together, with the 24-year-old Maverick being 2-0 in her UFC run so far, while the 23-year-old Barber also had a strong start to her time in the Octagon, but is now having to regroup after two losses in a row.
Maverick has a nicely developed game for her age, putting combinations together on the feet, while also being a strong grappler who has found significant success finishing fights via submission.
Barber’s recent losses shouldn’t overshadow the fact that she’s still a talented prospect who is somewhat of a rarity in that she is a flyweight with fight-ending power in her punches, which also carries over to her ground-and-pound when she utilizes her wrestling on top.
Given her relatively young age, Barber does have some rough edges to her striking though and she does fall into the trap of focusing more on power than technique, which can leave her overcommitted and vulnerable defensively against better quality opposition.
It’s a little tricky picking a fight like this, not just because it’s closely matched, but also due to their age they are still in a position to potentially make significant improvements from one fight to the next.
nevertheless, I feel Maverick is a little bit more reliable right now and so with her ability to remain the more technical, cool-headed fighter when the action heats up, I’ll pick her to edge out a decision victory here.
Pick: Miranda Maverick wins by decision.
Mickey Gall vs. Jordan Williams
Gall is somewhat of an anomoly in that he’s been fighting in the UFC from just his second pro fight, and that’s not necessarily been a good thing in terms of his development, and as such he’s been bouncing between wins and losses for quite a while now.
Gall still has the attributes that made him worthy of a spot on the roster in the first place, being a crafty BJJ player on the mat, but he’s not really built a solid striking game to go with it and doesn’t have the best cardio, which is increasingly problematic nowadays since at 29 he’s no longer just an up-and-coming prospect.
Meanwhile, Williams drops down to welterweight for this fight after a loss in his debut. Williams is the kind of fighter who will go all out for the finish on the feet and has the power to back that ambition up, but that often comes at the detriment of his defensive responsibilities and so there’s also always the risk that he will be the one who ends up being stopped.
Gall’s not shown any signs that he can really exploit those kind of defensive holes though and I think Williams has enough wrestling ability to help keep this one standing, and is early offensive pressure will trouble his opponent, leading to a second round TKO finish.
Pick: Jordan Williams wins by TKO in Rd2.
Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)
Punahele Soriano vs. Brendan Allen
Nassourdine Imavov vs. Ian Heinisch
Randy Costa vs. Adrian Yanez
Julio Arce vs. Andre Ewell
Sijara Eubanks vs. Elise Reed
Diana Belbita vs. Hannah Goldy