UFC On ESPN 33 Predictions

UFC On ESPN 33 takes place tomorrow night and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.

Main Card

Curtis Blaydes vs. Chris Daukaus

Having come very close to title contention on two occasions now, Blaydes is currently building another case for a shot at the belt, starting with a decision win over Jairzinho Rozenstruik last time out.

Blaydes benefits from being a well-rounded fighter in the weight class who is at his best on the mat courtesy of a strong wrestling game that paves the way for some of the most brutal ground-and-pound around.  Blaydes is a solid striker too, but the three blemishes on his 15-3 (+1nc) record have come via strikes against two of the hardest punches in the sport, Francis Ngannou (twice) and Derrick Lewis.

Daukaus would like to add his name to that list, and he is certainly a striker Blaydes will have to be wary of as he’s secured 11 finishes via strikes from 12 victories, and that includes all four of his UFC fights so far.

That being said, Daukaus isn’t as physically imposing or as hard-hitting as either Ngannou or Lewis, but he has good boxing technique together with the kind of speed and timing that’s been posing problems for many of his heavyweight counterparts, although like Blaydes, he too suffered a KO loss at the hands of Derrick Lewis in his last fight.

Daukaus has some ability on the mat, but I still feel Blaydes has a significant advantage in both size and skill there and would be wise to get the fight their early and often.

Blaydes can be vulnerable when he’s shooting for takedowns so that’s something he’ll have to be very wary of, but I still like his chances of controlling the action on the mat and delivering a second round TKO finish.

Pick: Curtis Blaydes wins by TKO in Rd2.

Joanne Wood vs. Alexa Grasso

Wood heads into this fight with a 7-7 record in the UFC overall and only one win from her last four fights, but she’s still been drawn a tough opponent in Grasso, who is doing well since moving up to flyweight, earning two victories so far.

Wood is a technically sound muay thai fighter who pieces together her striking combinations well, mixing in elbows and knees alongside her punches and kicks.  The 35-year-old has never really carried much in the way of athletic traits, but despite her soft-spoken manner she can draw on her grit and determination along with her considerable experience to try to make up the difference.

While Wood may no longer be in her prime it feels like the 28-year-old Grasso is reaching hers at a good time when she’s finally starting to deliver on the potential she showed prior to joining the UFC.  She’s a slick, technical boxer and will be considerable faster and lighter on her feet than Wood, though she doesn’t carry much in the way of power.

Along with her striking, Wood can occasionally mix in takedowns, but she struggles against more seasoned grapplers and she’s been submitted several times recently, so I think she would be wary of doing so against the capable mat work of her opponent here.

It just feels like this is Grasso’s time to shine and I think her speed will be a key factor here as she repeatedly beats  wood to the punch and steers clear of taking too much damage in return to earn a win on the scorecards.

Pick: Alexa Grasso wins by decision.

Askar Askarov vs. Kai Kara-France

Askarov is definitely one to watch at the moment, having gone undefeated in 14 fights and beaten the likes of Alexandre Pantoja and Joe Benavidez in recent times, while Kara-France also comes into the fight on a high with first round finishes against Rogerio Bontorin and Cody Garbrandt.

Askarov is a well-rounded fighter who excels with his ground game, which sees him utilize very good wrestling alongside a strong submission arsenal.  His striking has also improved over time too, making him a hard man to beat.

He’ll have to be cautious of Kara-France’s striking prowess here though as his boxing is a strong suit with speed and proven finishing power meaning he’ll be the more dangerous of the two on the feet.

I think Askarov can cope upright long enough to set up takedowns though and his advantage on the mat should pave the way for a solid decision victory here.

Pick: Askar Askarov to win by decision.

Matt Brown vs. Bryan Barberena

Despite now being 41 and having lost two fights in a row not so long ago, Brown showed he’s still dangerous with a KO finish against Dhiego Lima last time out.  Now he faces the 32-year-old Barberena, who has a 7-6 record in the promotion.

A hard-hitting muay thai striker, part of Brown’s success over the years has also been down to his durability and iron will, which has enabled him to outlast many good opponents.  Cracks have started to show in recent years though as he suffered from concussions symptoms for a while after a couple of losses due to strikes a few years ago that led to some talk of retiring.  He didn’t follow through with that, but there’s a sense he’s not as indestructible as he once was and he fights at a more measured pace these days.

Generally speaking Barberena has been the kind of tough, durable brawler that would meet Brown half-way and battle it out on the feet, but like his opponent there are caveats as TKO losses to Vicente Luque and Randy Brown back in 2019 followed by significant injury woes have appeared to take a toll on him.

Nonetheless, while Barberena isn’t as naturally heavy-handed as Brown, he should still be the more active fighter offensively here.

While they each can mix things up on the mat to an extent, I don’t believe we’ll see much of that here as they’ll both feel they can finish the other on the feet.  I really feel this one could go either way so I’ve gone back and forth on my pick, but at their best Brown is the more dangerous man and given that both feel somewhat compromised these days I’ll take the veteran to pace himself and make his power advantage count at the right times to earn a TKO finish in the second round.

Pick: Matt Brown wins by TKO in Rd2.

Aleksei Oleinik vs. Ilir Latifi

With a remarkable 76 fights already under his belt, the 44-year-old Oleinik continues to compete, but his back is against the wall at the moment after losing three bouts in a row, while the 38-year-old Latifi has so far put together a 1-1 run since moving up to heavyweight.

It’s concerning that two of Oleinik’s last three losses came via TKO, and that’s something that Latifi will be looking to exploit as though he doesn’t have much in the way of volume to his striking game, when he does engage he swings for the fences.

Latifi also will be roughly equal in weight here despite having fought much of his career at light-heavyweight and he’s a powerfully built fighter, while Oleinik is on the lighter side for a heavyweight, but does have a 4″ height and 7″ reach advantage here.

Oleinik does have some striking technique, so he’s not necessarily out of his depth there, but at this stage in his career he is slowing down and becoming more fragile, so that is a concern.

On the other hand, Oleinik’s resume of 46 career victories via submission speaks for itself and even at this age the wily old veteran remains a predator on the mat.

The catch here that the strong, compactly built Latifi is difficult to get down in the first place and so I think it’s ‘The Sledgehammer’ who is going to make the most of his striking opportunities here to deliver a first round KO finish.

Pick: Ilir Latifi wins by KO in Rd1.

Marc Diakiese vs. Viacheslav Borshchev

After a strong start to his career and a promising beginning in the UFC, Diakiese has struggled to maintain that momentum in recent years, with only two wins to show from his last seven Octagon outings.  His opponent Borschev made it to the UFC after scoring a KO win on the Contender Series and has continued that form with a KO in his official UFC debut earlier this year.

At his best Diakiese is fun to watch as he’s a flashy striker who also has very good speed and athleticism and has the benefit of a 4″ reach advantage in this match-up.  However, when he’s gone up against other high-level strikers who are able to put him more on the back foot and limit his time and space he’s tended to have more trouble making his mark.

Borschev could present similar problems as while he’s only 6-1 in his MMA career to date he also has good experience competing in boxing and kickboxing prior to his transition to the sport.  He’s a very technical striker, has good volume and will wade forward with fight-ending power, although on the downside he is a bit too hittable at times.

Diakiese will hold an advantage in terms of being a bit more well-rounded, but it’s debatable whether he will put his ground game to work here.  Instead I think he’ll be drawn into the striking battle and Borschev’s technical edge, punching power and pressure will be the difference-maker, resulting in a TKO stoppage midway through the fight.

Pick: Viacheslav Borshchev wins by TKO in Rd2.

Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)

Neil Magny vs. Max Griffin
Sara McMann vs. Karol Rosa
David Dvořák vs. Matheus Nicolau
Luis Saldaña vs. Bruno Souza
Batgerel Danaa vs. Chris Gutierrez
Jennifer Maia vs. Manon Fiorot
Aliakhab Khizriev vs. Denis Tiuliulin

Ross launched MMA Insight (previously FightOfTheNight.com) in 2009 as a way to channel his passion for the sport of mixed martial arts. He's since penned countless news stories and live fight reports along with dozens of feature articles as the lead writer for the site, reaching millions of fans in the process.