UFC On ESPN 53 Predictions

UFC On ESPN 53 takes place tomorrow night in Las Vegas and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.

Main Card

Amanda Ribas vs. Rose Namajunas

Amanda Ribas has been stuck in a pattern of win-one, lose-one for the past few years, but after a big TKO victory in her last fight she’ll now to carry on that momentum and build a winning streak.  To do so though she’s going to have to get past former strawweight champion Rose Namajunas, who is uncharacteristically coming off back-to-back losses.

When she’s on form and in the right frame of mind the 31-year-old Namajunas has proven to be an extremely talented fighter.  Her potential was evident from very early in her career when she would aggressively pursue submissions and even successfully pulled off a flying armbar finish.  Arriving in the UFC at a young age, Namajunas proved to be very coachable and her striking progressed leaps and bounds, becoming more composed and calculated with clean, accurate striking on the outside, very good speed and excellent timing.

That was enough to best other top-flight talents like Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Zhang Weili, defeating both twice, but it hasn’t been all plain-sailing.  It’s never been a skill issue with Namajunas, but more of an internal mental battle that’s sometimes held her back at times.  She’s admitted to having falling out of love with the sport at times, has contemplated retiring at a relatively young age more than once and even when things appeared to be going well she struggled to cope with the pressure of being a champion.  That could explain why since first winning a title back in 2017 she’s typically only been fighting once a year, and why there’s been times, most notably her rematch with Carla Esparza a couple of years ago, where she performed well below what’s she’s capable of.

There’s no such concerns about the 30-year-old Ribas, who has proven to be a steely, determined fighter who always takes the fight to her opponent every time she competes.  And she has the offensive tools to do so as she’s an aggressive striker with some power in her strikes, operates well in the clinch and can use her judo to initiate takedowns, while she’s also capable of working for finishes via submission.  However, Ribas aggression has been her downfall at times as she’s been too willing to eat strikes to land her own and has paid the price, including two TKO losses in the past three years in addition to a KO defeat earlier in her career.

This fight all hinges on Namajunas mental state.  If she fights like she doesn’t want to be there then Ribas has a chance.  However, the reality is that the former champ is just the more talented fighter in every aspect of the game and her porous defense on the feet will leave ample opportunity for ‘Thug’ Rose to punish her for that, and I think that’ll eventually lead her to a TKO finish in the third round.

Pick: Rose Namajunas wins by TKO in Rd3.

Karl Williams vs. Justin Tafa

Karl Williams has won his first two fights in the UFC and was set to fighter Junior Tafa next, but when he pulled out injured it was his brother Justin who stepped in on three weeks notice to replace him.

the 30-year-old Tafa has three wins and a no-contest to show from his last four Octagon outings, which looks good on paper, but it has to be said he’s been facing relatively low-level opponents, with Harry Hunsucker and Parker Porter having both since been released from the UFC ranks, while Austen Lane is a newcomer from the Contender Series.  Still, he did KO all three of them in the first round, and after going 1-3 at the start of his time in the promotion Tafa will be happy to have gained some momentum.

Tafa is a striker who is a bit too willing to get into harm’s way, but nonetheless has proven to be a capable boxer with good hand-speed who can strike on the counter and has finishing power.  His game beyond that is limited though and it’s also concerning that just a couple of months ago he pulled out of a fight on short-notice due to an injury to his knee ligaments, so there is a question-mark over whether he’s returning to action too soon here.

The 34-year-old Williams is 3″ taller and has 5″ more in reach over Tafa, but he’s actually a former light-heavyweight and will give up about 25lbs to his opponent here.  He’s the better athlete of the two and should have the advantage in cardio as the fight progresses.  Williams can strike, but he’s not as heavy-handed as Tafa and his natural tendency is to utilize his wrestling, which seems like a sensible strategy here.

Tafa will be a threat early if the action remains standing, but I don’t see Williams engaging in a slug-fest with him and instead I expect him to take his opponent into deeper waters with a wrestle-heavy approach that will lead him to a decision victory.

Pick: Karl Williams to win by decision.

Edmen Shahbazyan vs. AJ Dobson

After losing four of his last five fights the pressure is on Edmen Shahbazyan to get a win under his belt against AJ Dobson, whose UFC run got off to a bad start with back-to-back losses, but he’s since earned his first victory.

Despite being in the UFC for years now, Shahbazyan is actually still only 26-years-old.  He started his time in the UFC strongly with four wins, including a head kick finish of Brad Tavares, but since then he’s struggled, with other ranked opponents getting the better of him.  The problem has generally been that though Shahbazyan is a hard-hitting boxer with the power to end fights early, when he doesn’t succeed in doing so he tends to run out of steam.  The consequences of that have started to take a toll on his chin as he’s now been TKO’d three times, including in his latest fight.

The 32-year-old Dobson agreed to this fight on four-weeks notice, stepping in to replace Dusko Todorovic.  He’s the kind of fighter who doesn’t really stand out in any one area, but he is a good athlete who employs a mix of boxing and wrestling, while having relatively solid cardio over three rounds.

Dobson will attempt to weather the storm here and punish Shahbazyan later in the fight as others have done, but he’s not on the same level as other opponents that Shahbazyan has been facing during his losing run and so I think this is a fight where he can make the most of his striking prowess to secure a first round TKO victory.

Pick: Edmen Shahbazyan wins by TKO in Rd1.

Payton Talbott vs. Cameron Saaiman

The unbeaten Payton Talbott has been marked out as a cut above the average fighter we see coming off the Contender Series production line and after winning via submission in his UFC debut he now moves on to fight Cameron Saaiman, who won his first three fights in the Octagon, but then saw his undefeated record come to an end last time out.

Two young, talented prospects here.  The 25-year-old Talbott is a tall, lanky 135lb’er who will have an extra 2″ in height and 3″ in reach over Saaiman on Saturday night.  He’s an entertaining fighter to watch as he fights at an insane pace with relentless offense, and there’s method to the madness as he pieces combinations together well and maintains good accuracy.  He has solid power too, but generally gets his finishes later on in fights as his opponents fold under the relentless series of attacks.  Meanwhile can be taken down, but generally is able to get back up and did notch up a submission win last time out. The drawback to all this is that he doesn’t give any real consideration to defense when he’s on the attack, and though he’s proven to be durable it’s only a matter of time before that becomes a problem.

Just 23-years-old, Saaiman is also a good striker with solid kickboxing technique and he fights at a good pace, though he’ll have to step that up again to match his opponent here.  Like Talbott he has shown a capability for finishing fights in the later rounds and will also add some versatility to his approach by working for some strategic takedowns too.

Regardless of the outcome here both of these fighters should have the potential to have a good future in the UFC.  It’s going to be very interesting to see who comes out on top and I’ve gone back-and-forth on my pick, but ended up siding with Talbott, who does seem to have more spark to his game, and despite his troubling defensive flaws I think he’ll land more strikes and have the bigger moments over three rounds to earn a closely fought decision victory.

Pick: Payton Talbott wins by decision.

Billy Quarantillo vs. Youssef Zalal

Billy Quarantillo is currently stuck alternating between wins and a losses as he gets ready to take on a late replacement in Youssef Zalal, who was released from the UFC back in 2022, but now gets another chance on just a week’s notice.

Zalal previously had a two-year run in the promotion that started off well with three wins, before losing his next three and then fighting to a majority draw that led to his exit.  Since then the 27-year-old has gone on to win three fights in one night at a regional tournament last year and now gets another chance to show what he can do.  Though he got a couple of fast TKO finishes in that tournament Zalal that’s not typically how his fights play out at the UFC level and it’s more likely that he’ll blend capable kickboxing with more of a lean towards wrestling and grappling in the hopes of grinding out a win here.

The 35-year-old Quarantillo’s is an all-action fighter who will apply pressure all fight long by swarming his opponent with strikes.  he’s not all that technical and is very hittable, but nonetheless he can be effective and has generally proven to be very tough too.  Quarantillo’s takedown defense isn’t great, but he can wrestle offensive and is a threat via submissions.

It’s nice that Zalal gets a second chance in the UFC but coming in on a week’s notice is tough, particularly against a fighter like Quarantillo who will push the pace and seems to match up well against him, so I expect him to emerge with a decision victory here.

Pick: Billy Quarantillo wins by decision.

Fernando Padilla vs. Luis Pajuelo

1-1 in the UFC so far, Fernando Padillo now opens up the main card here against the debuting Luis Pajuelo, who joins from the Contender Series.

A tall, rangey fighter for a featherweight, the 27-year-old Padilla will hold a 3″ height and significant 7″ reach advantage in this match-up.  He’s technical enough with his boxing and kicking game to make use of that, but won’t just wait around on the outside of his opponent to come to him and instead likes to press forward with good volume. He can also deliver strikes nicely from the clinch when fighting at closer range and has also had significant success finding submissions when the fight goes to the mat.

The 29-year-old Pajuelo has a boxing-orientated style and will fights aggressively with good power, which also translates on the mat, where he’ll deliver hard-hitting ground-and-pound.  So far things have generally gone his way, with seven of his eight wins coming via strikes, but it remains to be seen how he’ll do now he’s in the UFC.

I’d expect Padilla to be the more technically sound striker here and use his size to his advantage on the outside, while he could also have success on the mat too if required on his way to a decision victory.

Pick: Fernando Padilla wins by decision.

Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)

Kurt Holobaugh vs. Trey Ogden
Ricardo Ramos vs. Julian Erosa
Miles Johns vs. Cody Gibson
Jarno Errens vs. Steven Nguyen
Montserrat Rendon vs. Dariya Zgeleznykova
Mohammed Usman vs. Mick Parkin
Igor da Silva vs. Andre Lima

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.