UFC On ESPN 36 takes place tomorrow in Las Vegas and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Jan Blachowicz vs. Aleksandar Rakic
Blachowicz returns to the Octagon for the first time since losing the 205lb title to Glover Teixeira by submission, which ended a career-defining five-fight winning streak, while Rakic comes in off two wins in a row, taking his UFC record to 6-1.
Blachowicz has solid all-round ability, fighting at a measured and at times plodding pace on the feet, but with good technical ability, working off the jab and having self-proclaimed ‘legendary Polish power’ to call upon, while also being mindful of his defensive responsibilities. Meanwhile he’s a good wrestler offensively and can work for submissions too, though he tends to be less effective on his back.
Rakic is a talented fighter with dynamic striking ability that sees him unleash fast, powerful punches and kicks and he doesn’t take too much in return when he’s operating on the outside. In the early days of his UFC run there was more bite to his offense, but in recent times he has been less action-orientated and has started to utilize his wrestling ability more often, which has helped him rack up wins, but has taken some of the steam out of his title push.
Blachowicz may have more one punch power here, but I think that the big, athletic Rakic can hold his own on the feet when required, but will find more success continuing his recent gameplan of using his wrestling to get the better of the former champ on the mat on his way to a decision win.
Pick: Aleksandar Rakic wins by decision.
Ryan Spann vs. Ion Cutelaba
Spann is coming off two losses via KO and submission respectively after a four-fight winning streak, while Cutelaba holds a 5-5-1 UFC record to date, but is coming off a decision win last time out.
This is a fight that should be fairly competitive wherever the action goes. A good athlete, Spann will hold a 4″ height and reach advantage which he’ll use to land fast punches from range, but he doesn’t have the highest output and he’s there to be hit in return as well as not having the sturdiest chin. He is something of a jack-of-all-trades though as he’s a capable wrestler and can pose a submission threat too.
Cutelaba is the kind of fighter who loves to start fights hard and fast, coming out with a high intensity style that’ll see fists flying in the hopes of an early stoppage, while also being willing to burst into takedown attempts too, where heavy ground-and-pound can follow.
At times it’s been a successful strategy for him, overwhelming opponents early, but it’s been less effective the further up the ladder he’s climbed and cardio issues in the later rounds after all that energy expenditure has also been a major flaw in his gameplan.
There have been signs that Cutelaba is finally starting to adjust for that, pacing himself a bit better and that is definitely a positive step forward, although with that bein said, Spann’s recent losses have come early in his fights and I think Cutelaba’s aggressive style could lead to a similar outcome here via a first round TKO victory.
Pick: Ion Cutelaba wins by TKO in Rd1.
Davey Grant vs. Louis Smolka
After a strong spell that saw him with three fights in a row, Grant is now coming off two losses, while Smolka’s coming off a KO loss, his third stoppage loss in his past five outings.
Grant can be quite reckless at times on the feet, throwing absolutely everything into his high-volume, unpredictable offense and though it does leave him exposed at times he has proven to be very durable and does hit hard, as proven by back-to-back KO wins not so long ago.
It also helps that Grant’s actually traditionally had more success on the mat, so he’s not afraid to be taken down and will aggressively pursue submissions from there.
As for Smolka, he’ll look to match Grant’s intensity as he also like sto fight at a high tempo and has the ability to mix things up on the feet and on the mat as required.
However, I feel Grant is the more potent fighter wherever the fight goes and is also less prone to being finished, so I feel like he has a good chance to gain the upper-hand here one way or another, with a TKO on the feet by the second round seeming like the most likely path to victory.
Pick: Davey Grant wins by TKO in Rd2.
Katlyn Chookagian vs. Amanda Ribas
Current No.1 contender at flyweight, Chookagian has won her last three fights by decision, while Ribas has gone 5-1 in the UFC to date and is coming off a decision win.
Chookagian is the far taller fighter with a 6″ height and 2″ reach advantage here and as a striker she will look to make the most of that with constant offense and movement, though it should be said she typically doesn’t have the most damaging or effective work, with a lot of the strikes she throws hitting thin air. Nevertheless, it’s been a strategy that’s paid dividends as it keeps her opponents at bay and her energy levels help her win rounds.
Meanwhile, Ribas is the more athletic of the two and she’s more committed to going on the attack, though she doesn’t have much stopping power. It’s a different story on the mat however as she has very good grappling and will be a big threat with submissions.
Despite Ribas’ obvious talent I think Chookagian could once again play spoiler here, avoiding the ground battle by keeping her opponent at a distance with her strikes from range to eek out another win on the scorecards.
Pick: Katlyn Chookagian wins by decision.
Frank Camacho vs. Manuel Torres
Camacho only holds a two wins from his last seven UFC fights as he prepares to take on the debuting Torres, who joins the promotion from the Contender Series with a 12-2 record.
There’s a lot of pressure on Camacho here as in addition to his poor form in the Octagon he’s also coming off a two-year layoff due to health issues that cancelled two previous fights, with the first coming due to getting Covid in 2020, while a year later he was involved in a car crash that left him with neck and back injuries.
So Camacho has a lot to prove here, and he’s certainly the kind of fighter that likes to put on a show as he’s extremely offensive on the feet with a very high strike-rate, and on the regional scene he was a proven finisher.
That being said, the 32-year-old had a bad habit of eating even more strikes than he was dishing out, and that seemed to be catching up with him in his most recent fights, including a 41 second TKO loss in his last appearance.
Now he’s going up against a 27-year-old prospect in Torres who has been aggressively running through the regional ranks, scooping up 11 stoppages from 12 career wins along the way. He wields good power in his punches and kicks and showed signs of being more composed and technical last time out, although most of his recent wins have come on the mat via submission.
That being said, Torres has been tapped out a couple of times before and Camacho has a grappling game that he rarely uses that could come in handy. Camacho also has the experience advantage, but after his lay-off and all the wear-and-tear he’s endured I hesitate to pick him here and will go for the younger Torres to get the better of the early striking barrages to secure a first round TKO finish.
Pick: Manuel Torres wins by TKO in Rd1.
Jake Hadley vs. Allan Nascimento
25-year-old Hadley booked his spot in the UFC via the Contender Series and comes in with an 8-0 record that includes some significant accolades, including having won titles at both Cage Warriors and EFC. As for the 30-year-old Nascimento, he’s a seasoned fighter with an 18-6 record who actually lost by split decision on the Contender show a few years ago and then did the same in his UFC debut in 2021.
Both fighters are at their best on the mat, with Hadley being an aggressive grappler with a solid knack for finding his way to his opponent’s back, while Nascimento holds a strong record of 13 submissions from 18 career wins, though he’s a bit too willing to spend time off his back and can end up being controlled there.
Nascimento also has respectable muay thai ability on the mat and will throw out solid kicks, but Hadley will put up a fight while always staying on the lookout for opportunities to go for takedowns.
In the end I feel Hadley has the momentum on his side here and I like his chances of outgrappling Nascimento on the mat, though he may well have to settle for a decision victory.
Pick: Jake Hadley wins by decision.
Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)
Viviane Araujo vs. Andrea Lee
Michael Johnson vs. Alan Patrick
Virna Jandiroba vs. Angela Hill
Tatsuro Taira vs. Carlos Candelario
Nick Maximov vs. Andre Petroski