UFC On ESPN 51 takes place tomorrow night in Las Vegas and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Vicente Luque vs. Rafael dos Anjos
Luque suffered his first KO loss against Geoff Neal and has been out of action for a year due to what was only recently revealed to have been diagnosed with a brain haemorrhage post-fight. He’s now been cleared to fight again and goes up against dos Anjos, who is coming in off a submission win over Bryan Barberena.
Needless to say the news of Luque’s brain bleed after the Neal fight was disturbing and not only leads to concerns over his physical health heading into this bout, but also if nothing else will surely present a psychological hurdle for the fighter to overcome once fists start flying.
And Luque is a naturally aggressive, all-action striker who tends to be the one handing out the beating thanks to his relentless hard-hitting punches, kicks and knees. Up until his last fight he was known for being very durable and wasn’t afraid to eat punches to land his own, but there’s indications he may be looking to operate a bit less recklessly now, and I do think he’s technically good enough to do that.
Luque can also wrestle and has good submission ability too, but he may find it difficult to get those aspects of his game going against the well-rounded RDA, who is often at his best on the mat with his technical grappling and wrestling, while he’s also good in the clinch. In addition dos Anjos is a very capable striker too, though he’s not the hardest hitter, particularly at 170lbs, so volume and cardio are important factors for him, and even at 38 he is still in very good shape.
I’ve never really liked the idea of dos Anjos fighting at 170lbs though as he’s definitely on the small side for that weight class. So even though Luque’s brain injury scare makes me anxious and not quite certain what to expect from him, if I look beyond that my feeling is that his significant size and power advantage will give him the edge here to win on the scorecards.
Pick: Vicente Luque to win by decision.
Cub Swanson vs. Hakeem Dawodu
The 39-year-old Swanson tried his luck at bantamweight last time out, but was stopped by strikes in the second round. Now he returns to 145lbs to face the 32-year-old Dawodu, who has suffered two decision losses in his last three UFC appearances following on from a five-fight winning streak.
Swanson has been known for his fast, dynamic and versatile striking ability over the years, and he still has some of those qualities despite approaching 40-years-old. He’s shown some vulnerability to leg kicks however, while many of his losses have occurred on the mat due to his weaker submission defense and wrestling.
Dawodu is unlikely to exploit those weaknesses on the mat however as he prefers to keep the fight standing. He has a background in muay thai and has solid technique and explosive power, but at times it feels like he’s hanging back a bit too much and doesn’t take full advantage of his ability.
Dawodu will have to avoid being outpaced by Swanson in the striking exchanges, but I think the younger man will be able to make good use of his leg kicks to slow down the veteran and strike his way to a decision victory.
Pick: Hakeem Dawodu wins by decision.
Khalil Rountree vs. Chris Daukaus
Daukaus has been stopped in his last three fights at heavyweight and so now moves down to 205lbs to face Rountree, who by way of contrast has won his last three bouts.
Daukaus had a promising start in the UFC, winning four fights in a row by strikes, despite not being the biggest of heavyweights thanks to being relatively light on his feet and being a bit more technical than the typical slugger found in the lower-tiers of that division. However, he’s since found the going tougher after a step up in competition, leading to his latest series of losses, which included being KO’d in 23 seconds by Rozenstruik in his last fight.
Daukaus faces a tough first test at light-heavyweight Rountree, who has developed a powerful and effective muay thai striking style. Rountree can deliver devastating kicks and punches, and has good speed as well. He’s not as capable on the mat though, and perhaps Daukaus will try to exploit that, but it’s more likely he’ll favor the stand-up battle too.
I feel Rountree is the more talented, athletic striker here and will use his punishing kicks to the legs and body to wear down Daukaus, leading to a second round TKO finish.
Pick: Khalil Rountree wins by TKO in Rd2.
Polyana Viana vs. Iasmin Lucindo
Viana has won three out of her last four bouts and now takes on Lucindo, who has a win and a loss in the UFC so far.
Viana is a 31-year-old grappler who likes to finish fights early and has a proven submission game, whether she’s working off her back or on top. Her striking improvements were also evident in her quick KO win last time out. However, she has struggled with fighters who can pressure her on the feet and she is not a great wrestler, so getting the fight to the mat in the first place can prove problematic.
Lucindo is a young and promising fighter at only 21 years old who actually has a lot of experience for her age, holding a 15-4 record. She is an aggressive striker who likes to wade into range throwing powerful punches, while she also has good wrestling ability and can control the fight on top.
Lucindo has been caught in submissions before, so she’ll have to be wary of going for takedowns against a crafty grappler like Viana. However, Viana tends to fade after the first round if she can’t find a finish and I think Lucindo can use her wrestling defensively to keep the action upright and utilize her constant forward pressure to leave Viana fighting off the back foot where she’s less effective, paving the way for a decision victory.
Pick: Iasmin Lucindo wins by decision.
AJ Dobson vs. Tafon Nchukwi
Two fighters from the Contender series here who are yet to really make their mark, with Dobson suffering two defeats so far, while Nchukwi has a 2-3 record since joining, and was beaten via strikes twice last year.
The 31-year-old Dobson is athletic and has a more versatile skill set than Nchukwi with his mix of boxing and wrestling. He’s not really stood out in either regard, but there may well be opportunities for him to exploit Nchukwi’s weakness on the ground here.
Nchukwi, 28, is a thickly muscled fighter who comes from a kickboxing background. He has solid technique and big power, but he is on the slower side and has problems keeping up a good pace. He also showed some vulnerability in his last two losses, which led to him dropping back down to 185lbs for this fight, but that could pose it’s own problems for him as given his size it’s a tough weight cut.
Nchukwi has the edge in striking power, but I think Dobson’s wrestling will help him control the fight and drain his opponent’s energy, leading to a decision win.
Pick: AJ Dobson wins by decision.
Josh Fremd vs. Jamie Pickett
Fremd bounced back from two losses with a submission victory in his last outing, while Pickett is in a precarious position after suffering three consecutive losses via stoppage.
The 29-year-old Fremd likes to apply pressure and makes nice use of straight punches and has decent power. He also has solid wrestling skills and can work for submissions on the ground.
Pickett’s underwhelming 13-9 record includes two losses on the Contender Series before he finally earned a UFC contract at the third attempt. However, he has only won two of his seven fights since then and so he’s perhaps lucky to stayed in the UFC this long. The problem is that there’s just too many holes in his defensive game, whether it’s getting hit too much on the feet, failing to prevent takedowns or being vulnerable to submissions.
I feel Fremd has the advantage here wherever the fight goes, but I think his safest route to victory is by taking Pickett down and controlling the action on top.
Pick: Josh Fremd wins by decision.
Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)
Juliana Miller vs. Luana Santos
JP Buys vs. Marcus McGhee
Terrence McKinney vs. Mike Breeden
Francis Marshall vs. Isaac Dulgarian
Josh Parisian vs. Martin Buday
Jaqueline Amorim vs. Montserrat Ruiz
Da’mon Blackshear vs. Brady Hiestand