UFC On ESPN 43 takes place tomorrow night in San Antonio, Texas and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Marlon Vera vs. Cory Sandhagen
The 3rd ranked Vera hopes to earn a shot at the title if he can beat Sandhagen, who is ranked 5th and bounced back from two losses with a TKO victory over Song Yadong in his last fight.
Vera is a formidable and extremely durable striker who has repeatedly shown during his time in the UFC that he has fight-ending ability in his powerful punches and kicks. He doesn’t rush for quick finishes though. Instead he stays patient, even when he seems to be losing, and seems to have a knack for studying his opponents and lying in wait for the right opportunities to launch devastating attacks as the fight goes on.
Sandhagen is also a great striker with a dynamic and versatile style that’ll see him throw high-volume combinations of punches, kicks, knees and elbows. He doesn’t have Vera’s one-punch power, but he compensates with his superior movement and output from beginning to end, while he has never been stopped by strikes.
Both men are also skilled on the ground, with Sandhagen using reactive takedowns occasionally to mix things up, while Vera has as many submission wins as he has victories via strikes.
This promises to be a thrilling battle that could go either way. I’m leaning towards Sandhagen with his relentless offense, better mobility and unpredictability giving him the edge in rounds, but it’s a close call as he will probably have to go the distance against the exceptionally tough Vera, who could end the fight at any time.
Pick: Cory Sandhagen to win by decision.
Holly Holm vs. Yana Santos
The 41-year-old Holm came back from a long break last year and lost a controversial split decision to Ketlen Vieira in a fight that many people believed she should have won. She will now face Yana Kunitskaya, who now goes by the surname Santos after marrying fellow UFC fighter Thiago Santos and having a baby girl with him last year.
Even in her 40’s Holm is still a well-conditioned fighter who likes to keep her distance, using her kickboxing skills more than the boxing ability that first made her a star in the squared circle. She has good technique and her endless cardio ensures that she’s always moving, but though she does have some impressive head kick KO’s on her highlight-reel, she typically opts more for volume than power with her strikes and at times has a habit of being more active than effective with her offense. Holm is strong and can do well operating in the clinch, but she doesn’t have much to offer on the ground.
Santos hasn’t fought in almost two years because of her pregnancy, and her last fight was a late first round TKO loss to Irene Aldana. She has also been TKO’d in two other fights in the UFC against Cris Cyborg and Aspen Ladd. Santos is however a capable all-rounder who has a Taekwondo style on the feet, while she’ll also look to strike in the clinch and can wrestle too.
Overall I think Santos will have trouble landing or taking down Holm, who will be constantly moving on the outside and will be strong in the clinch too, enabling her to secure a relatively uneventful decision win.
Pick: Holly Holm wins by decision.
Andrea Lee vs. Maycee Barber
“The 34-year-old picked up a couple of wins in 2021, but her sole fight last year ended with a loss by decision. Now she will face Barber, who is 10 years younger and has won her last three fights.
Lee has a 1″ height and 4.5” reach advantage here as well as having a technical advantage too on the feet with her agile kickboxing skill, while she also has good clinch-striking too. Lee doesn’t have much stopping power, but she can also work for occasional takedowns and have some submission ability too.
Physically strong for the division, Barber likes to play the role of the bully, looking to aggressively push the pace land big hooks and elbows at close range or from the clinch. She showed she can be a fight-finisher early in her UFC career with three TKO wins in a row, but since then her last five Octagon outings have all gone to the judges. Barber’s overall skill-set is not very polished, but does also including some wrestling and good ground-and-pound if she can get on top.
Barber’s constant forward pressure will make it hard for Lee to find room to operate effectively on the feet and will turn the fight into more of a close range battle where ‘The Future’s’ strength and power will help her win by decision.
Pick: Maycee Barber wins by decision.
Austin Lingo vs. Nate Landwehr
Landwehr was supposed to fight Alex Caceres, but he withdrew recently and so Lingo steps into his place on just a week’s notice after his own fight against Ricardo Ramos a fortnight ago was cancelled at the last minute when his opponent missed weight.
The 28-year-old Lingo has won his last two fights after losing in his UFC debut, but he hasn’t fought since the summer of 2021 due to injuries. He is mainly a striker who has an aggressive boxing-style and shows good power, but he tends to be found lacking when it comes to his ground game.
Landwehr is gritty, well-rounded fighter who fights at a very high pace. He can be very reckless on the feet, with his overeagerness to land strikes meaning that he tends to eat a lot in return. He has been finished twice by strikes in his 3-2 UFC career so far, but unless he is stopped decisively then he continues to be a threat from beginning to end, no matter how hurt he is, and he is just as persistent on the mat too.
Landwehr’s wild style always gives him a chance of being finished, but I see this is one of those fights where he can overload Lingo with his pace, aggression and significant advantage in the wrestling and grappling departments, leading him to a second-round stoppage via ground-and-pound.
Pick: Nate Landwehr wins by decision.
Alex Perez vs. Manel Kape
“Perez has lost his last two fights by submission as he prepares to fight Kape, who is coming off three wins in a row.
To be fair to Perez, he was facing two of the best fighters in the division in his last two losses against Deiveson Figueredo and Alexandre Pantoja, but it is still worth noting that he has now been submitted in the first round five times in his career.
However, submission defense concerns aside, Perez is actually a well-rounded fighter who is a threat on the ground himself with both good wrestling skills and a capable offensive submission game, while on the feet he has proven to have very damaging leg kicking ability.
Kape is a talented, dynamic and athletic striker with a wider range of weapons than Perez and a clear advantage in terms of his boxing skill, delivering combinations with both power and impressive speed. He is less comfortable on the mat than Perez though and so he will aim to keep this one on the feet.
Perez should make this one close, but in the end I feel Kape’s greater skill, variety and hard-hitting offense will be the deciding factor here, which could lead to a stoppage, but I’ll take him to settle for a win on the scorecards.
Pick: Manel Kape wins by decision.
Chidi Njokuani vs. Albert Duraev
Njokuani began his UFC run with two KO wins, but he was TKO’d in his last fight in a war with Gregory Rodrigues and now faces Duraev, who was also TKO’d last time out after a win in his debut.
Njokuani is a very damaging technical striker and he holds a size advantages over Duraev, being 4″ taller and 5″ more reach, and that not only aids him with his punches and kicks from range, but also in utilizing damaging elbows and knees too. He doesn’t have much to offer on the ground though and his takedown defense is questionable.
Duraev will look to take advantage of that as he is a good wrestler and also has nine submission wins under his belt. Duraev’s last fight was troubling though as he couldn’t get his ground-game working against another striker in Joaquin Buckley and was beaten up on the feet on his way to a TKO loss.
That could spur him on to pursue the ground game even more here, but I think Njokuani will make that hard for him with his hard-hitting strikes from distance and given Duraev’s poor striking defense, which includes the fact that he was KO’d three times before joining the UFC, I’ll say Njokuani delivers a first round knockout finish.
Pick: Chidi Njokuani wins by KO in Rd1.
Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)
Steven Peterson vs. Lucas Alexander
Daniel Pineda vs. Tucker Lutz
Trevin Giles vs. Preston Parsons
CJ Vergara vs. Daniel Da Silva
Manuel Torres vs. Trey Ogden
Victor Altamirano vs. Vinicius Salvador
Hailey Cowan vs. Tamires Vidal