UFC On ESPN 40 takes place tomorrow night in Las Vegas and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Thiago Santos vs. Jamahal Hill
The recent records of these two light-heavyweight headliners couldn’t be more different, with Santos having lost four of his last five fights, while Hill has five of his last six bouts, including back-to-back first round KO victories in his last two outings.
Before his slump in form Santos was one of the division’s most feared strikers, with his heavy muay thai kicks and powerful punches delivering numerous KO and TKO victories on his way to a title shot against Jon Jones.
However, though Santos did well to only lose to Jones by split-decision, it came at a cost as he suffered multiple knee injuries in that fight, which led to 18-months on the sidelines recovering from double-knee surgery. Unfortunately he’s never looked quite the same since, still looking dangerous in flashes, but for the most part lacking the potency and dynamic striking game that we saw in his prime, and at 38-years-old he’s certainly no longer in his prime.
As such this match-up is a challenging one for him to reverse his fortunates as the 31-year-old Hill is currently riding a wave of momentum, with his long, rangey and high-volume technical striking, being aided by a 2″ height and 3″ reach advantage here as he looks to rack up yet another big finish win via strikes.
Santos is certainly still a threat, but I think the younger, fresher Hill will be the more active fighter here and his ability to push the pace with crisp strikes from range will leave Santos struggling to match his opponent’s energery levels and intensity as the fight goes on, leading to a third round TKO finish.
Pick: Jamahal Hill wins by TKO in Rd3.
Vicente Luque vs. Geoff Neal
Luque’s march towards title contention at middleweight was halted last time out when Belal Muhammad put an end to his four-fight winning streak, while Neal’s split decision win over Santiago Ponzinibbio last time out came after back-to-back losses.
There’s a lot of firepower on display here between these two hard-hitting strikers. Luque is the type of fighter who is constantly looking to go on the attack in search of a finish, and he doesn’t discriminate as to whether that comes on the feet with concussive punches and thudding kicks, or on the mat via submission. He has a very strong chin too, which can bail him out at times when he gets into a firefight.
Neal may have less striking weapons at his disposal, but he has knockout power in his fast hands, has solid takedown defense and good durability.
Exciting exchanges are all but guaranteed here, but I think Luque will prove to be the more active and consistent striker over the course of three rounds and will be more versatile in his approach, leading him to decision victory.
Pick: Vicente Luque wins by decision.
Mohammed Usman vs. Zac Pauga
There’s two TUF finals on the main card, including this heavyweight bout that sees the younger brother of welterweight champ Kamaru, Mohammad Usman, putting a 7-2 career record so far up against Zac Pauga, who has gone 5-0 so far.
Anyone expecting Usman to perform like his brother will be left disappointed. The 33-year-old has athleticism, but he committed to MMA much later in life and still has a fairly rudimentary level of striking and wrestling ability, together with decent power and strength, but not very good cardio or technique.
The fact that the 34-year-old Pauga made it to the final despite only starting his career at 30 gives some indication of the quality of competition this season. That being said, Pauga has previously fought mostly at light-heavyweight, so while he’s not the biggest heavyweight around, he is lighter on his feet and so will certainly have speed on his side in this match-up, as well as being better at putting strikes together compared to Usman, who will load up on single punches.
I’m not expecting much from this fight, but I do feel that Pauga has a reasonable chance of keeping this one upright and outstriking Usman to win by decision.
Pick: Zac Pauga wins by decision.
Brogan Walker vs. Julianna Miller
The other TUF final features women’s flyweights, who both entered the show from Invicta FC, with Walker holding a 7-2 record, while Miller was only 2-1 before joining the season.
So clearly the 34-year-old Walker has the pro-experience advantage here, having even beaten UFC fighter Miranda Maverick back in 2018, while her two losses came against former UFC fighter Pearl Gonzalez and current one Erin Blanchfield.
However, it should be noted that her 26-year-old opponent Miller did have a 6-0 run as an amateur and also has extensive experience competing in BJJ tournaments. That latter point speaks to Miller’s strengths as she isn’t the best striker, but will look to battle her way to the clinch to try to force some kind of a takedown so that she can use her grappling ability to hunt for submissions.
Walker is more striking orientated, though she is functional in other areas too. She has respectable power on the feet, albeit without much in the way of finishing ability, and should be able to land the more meaningful offense here.
I think in the long run Miller may have more potential, but I think her lack of wrestling to get the fight to the mat will be a problem for her here, enabling Walker to keep the action standing and emerge with a win on the scorecards.
Pick: Brogan Walker wins by decision.
Augusto Sakai vs. Serghei Spivak
After having lost just once in his first 17 fights it’s been surprising to see Sakai lose three fights in a row via strikes in the past couple of years, leaving him in real need of a win here against Spivak, who has won four of his five bouts over the same period.
To be fair, Sakai was going up against a string of heavy-handed opposition in Alistair Overeem, Jairzinho Rozenstruik and most recently Tai Tuivasa, but nonetheless it has left concerns that the 31-year-old could potentially now be operating with a compromised chin. Beyond that though Sakai remains a good striker who adopts a high-volume strategy on the feet, with the accumulated damage from that having paid off for him with 11 finishes from his 16 career victories to date.
I don’t expect to see Spivak loooking to test Sakai’s chin on the feet as he definitely does his best bringing the fight to the mat where he can deliver finishes via submissions or ground-and-pound.
So there is a route to victory for Sakai here if he can keep this one standing, but I think Spivak’s takedown ability is good enough to get the fight where he wants it, though he may have to end up settling for a decision victory.
Pick: Serghei Spivak wins by decision.
Ariane Lipski vs. Priscila Cachoeira
Lipski picked up a decision win over Mandy Bohm last time out to bring an end to a two-fight losing run, while Cachoeira has racked up wins in three of her last four Octagon outings.
There was considerable hype surrounding ‘The Queen Of Violence’, Lipski when she first joined the UFC a few years ago, but a 3-4 record since then has lowered expectations. However, the 28-year-old performed well last time out, which did bring some hope that she may yet reach her full potential. She employs an aggressive, muay-thai based striking game with good power and can also utilize wrestling and grappling to some extent when required.
Coincidentally, Cachoeira is also 3-4 in the promotion. She is also an aggressive striker, though less technical than Lipski, instead relying on being a hard-headed brawler who will walk through strikes in order to land her own hard-hitting punches.
If this just descends into a battle to see who can withstand the most punishment then Cachoeira could well come out on top, but Lipski has the better striking ability and is the better of the two on the mat, which should be enough to help her bring home a decision victory.
Pick: Ariane Lipski wins by decision.
Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)
Sam Alvey vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk
Bryan Battle vs. Takashi Sato
Terrance McKinney vs. Erick Gonzalez
Nate Landwehr vs. Zubaira Tukhugov
Jason Witt vs. Josh Quinlan
Cory McKenna vs. Miranda Granger
Mayra Bueno Silva vs. Stephanie Egger