UFC On ESPN 30 takes place tomorrow night in Las Vegas and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Edson Barboza vs. Giga Chikadze
This should be a fascinating main event pairing as it features two top-flight striking talents at a time when Barboza is coming off back-to-back wins, while Chikadze is unbeaten in his six UFC outings so far.
Barboza has been showcasing his striking credentials for many years in the UFC against the best the promotion has to offer, with his dynamic offense including fast, powerful and at times acrobatic kicks and knees, backed up by very good boxing ability.
All those battles over the years add up though, so while the 35-year-old is still in very good shape physically, he’s not as fresh as he once was.
As for the 32-year-old Chikadze, he’s a former Glory kickboxer who has made a very smooth transition to MMA. He too has an impressive kicking game, including a devastating liver kick, and he’s calculating and efficient with his output, regardless of what strikes he chooses to unleash.
So far Chikadze has never been stopped by strikes in MMA, but it should be noted that he was KO’d a couple of times in kickboxing, so while he’s a big talent, he’s not indestructible.
Overall this looks like an exceptionally close fight and one where both men have the weapons at their disposal to emerge victorious. In the end though I’m actually leaning slightly towards Barboza here as I think he has bigger power in his strikes, is a bit more active and has vast experience in the sport at the highest level, which will help him edge out a decision victory.
Pick: Edson Barboza wins by decision.
Bryan Battle vs. Gilbert Urbina
A Tresean Gore knee injury means he won’t have a chance to fight in the TUF middleweight finale, so now the man he KO’d in the semi’s gets his place instead against Bryan Battle.
The 26-year-old Battle made an impression during the TUF show with a well-rounded game that didn’t leave too many glaring weaknesses, despite the fact he was only seven fights into his MMA career at the show’s start.
Urbina was very familiar with the TUF format before joining as he’s the third brother in his family to be a part of it, although it’s been a rough road for them as after a 1-2 run in the UFC Hector Urbina reappeared via the ‘Redemption’ season and crashed out quickly due to a botched weight cut, while Elias Urbina didn’t get through the quarter-final stages.
So there’s a lot of pressure on Urbina to make the most of this opportunity and he is a capable striker and wrestler, but it was concerning that he seemed to be getting lit up so easily in his last TUF outing before being knocked out.
Overall Battle seems like he has the advantage in most areas here and is the more durable fighter too, which will lead him to become a TUF winner via decision.
In the end it feels like Battle is the more complete and robust fighter at this stage in their careers, and I’ll take him to show it by winning on the scorecard to become a TUF champ.
Pick: Bryan Battle wins by decision.
Ricky Turcios vs. Brady Hiestand
Another TUF final, this time at bantamweight, which features Team Alpha-Male’s Turcios going up against the younger, less experienced Hiestand.
At only 22 years-old, Hiestand certainly shows potential with his solid wrestling, power and pressure game.
The 28-year-old Turcios has twice as much MMA experience though and is the better striker of the two technically, while also offering up a threat on the mat with his jitu-jitsu as well.
The TUF campaign will have been a great learning experience for Hiestand and he still has a lot of time to develop in the coming years, but for now I believe Turcios has more to offer and will find success on the feet and secure a decision win here.
Pick: Ricky Turcios wins by decision.
Kevin Lee vs. Daniel Rodriguez
It’s been a bumpy last few years for Lee at lightweight, experiencing mixed results in the Octagon while also having real struggles making weight, so he’s now looking to make a run at welterweight.
For his first fight there he was supposed to fight Sean Brady, but after the fight was postponed a few times the UFC instead moved on and paired him up with Daniel Rodriguez instead.
D-Rod only had a couple of weeks notice here, but he is coming off a good run in th eUFC so far, having gone 5-1, including a TKO finish against late-replacement Preston Parsons just a month ago.
Rodriguez will enjoy a 4″ height advantage here, but at the same time is actually giving up 3″ in reach to Lee. He’s a striker who applies a lot of pressure with his high-volume output, while his punches will also carry more power here than Lee and he also has the additional benefit of having never been finished inside the distance.
Lee is the more well-rounded of the two though as he’s a strong wrestler who also provides a significant submission threat and has gradually developed his striking ability too.
A big issue for Lee in recent times has been his submission defense as he’s been finished in three of his last four losses from that, but keep in mind that he was going up against very high-level grapplers at the time.
If Rodriguez can fend off the takedowns here then he’ll have a real chance on the feet to emerge victorious, but I think Lee’s strong wrestling and the fact that he’s not going to be depleted by weight-cutting issues will stand him in good stead and enable him to a secure a decision win.
Pick: Kevin Lee wins by decision.
Andre Petroski vs. Micheal Gillmore
Gillmore only made it onto TUF 29 as an alternate and lost in his first fight, but he’s been given a golden opportunity here to fight on the main card against Petroski, who fought his way to the semi-finals.
It’s a tough match-up for Gillmore as he’s primarily a striker who does have some power, but is let down by weak takedown defense and the fact that he’s susceptible to being submitted, as was demonstrated both on TUF and earlier in his career.
That’s a real problem given that he’s going up against a strong wrester in Petroski and I suspect he will be able to rustle up a submission finish here within the first five minutes.
Pick: Andre Petroski wins by submission in Rd1.
Makhmud Muradov vs. Gerald Meerschaert
Muradov compiled a lot of experience on the regional scene before finally making his way to the UFC, and the 31-year-old has so far made a good start to life in the Octagon, putting together three wins in a row.
The 33-year-old Meerschaert also has a lot of fights under his belt and has a lot more experience in the UFC, but has had mixed results there, going 7-6 overall so far.
It’s no secret that by far Meerschaert’s best weapon is his dangerous submission game which has accounted for 24 of his 32 career victories so far, including 6 of his 7 wins in the Octagon.
What’s also known however is that Meerschaert’s stand-up game is not nearly as strong and his chin has been cracked several times recently, including Ian Heinisch TKO’ing him in 74 seconds last year and Khamzat Chimaev KO’ing him in 17 seconds just a few months later.
Therefore Muradov will be relishing fighting him on the feet as he has a strong record of finishing opponents, including two in the UFC so far, and he’s also going to be the faster, more athletic fighter on the night too.
So, Meerschaert will be eager to get the fight to the mat early, but I think Muradov will make him pay on the feet before he can get his ground game going to keep his winning streak intact via a first round TKO finish.
Pick: Makmud Muradov wins by TKO in Rd1.
Abdul Razak Alhassan vs. Alessio Di Chirico
Sam Alvey vs. Wellington Turman
Dustin Jacoby vs. Darren Stewart
JJ Aldrich vs. Vanessa Demopoulos
Jamall Emmers vs. Pat Sabatini
Guido Cannetti vs. Mana Martinez