UFC On ESPN 56 Predictions

UFC On ESPN 56 takes place tomorrow night in St. Louis and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.

Main Card

Derrick Lewis vs. Rodrigo Nascimento

Derrick Lewis comes into this fight with just two wins from his last seven appearances in the Octagon, while Rodrigo Nascimento has had a better time of it over the same time-frame, going unbeaten in four bouts.

That doesn’t tell the full story though as Lewis has been consistently fighting high-ranked heavyweights during that time, while Nascimento’s wins have comes against low-tier fighters. Nevertheless it’s still apparent that at 39-years-old Lewis has seen better days. He retains his explosive KO power though that’s left him with more knockout wins that anybody else in UFC history and he can still cover ground faster than expected for a man of his size, but at the same he’s also more prone to being finished himself nowadays, having been stopped via strikes three times in the past three years. Also, while Lewis has had a knack for just brute-forcing his way out of bad spots on the ground in the past, that’s been less effective of late.

Still, an aging Lewis remains a big step up in competition for the 31-year-old Nascimento. He’s a big heavyweight who often does his best work on the mat with decent wrestling and some grappling chops that have led him to a few submission wins. He’s also worked to improve his striking and it’s become more functional, though he’s not demonstrated much in the way of finishing power.

While Lewis may be in decline I still feel this is a fight where he can find success as Nascimento probably can’t keep ‘The Black Beast’ grounded, and might struggle to even close the distance on him in the first place without eating a fight-ending blow. I’ll take Lewis to win by KO in the 1st round.

Pick: Derrick Lewis wins by KO in Rd1.

Joaquin Buckley vs. Nursulton Ruziboev

Six weeks ago Joaquin Buckley extended his winning streak to three fights with a TKO finish of Vicente Luque, while on the same card Nursulton Ruziboev went 2-0 in the UFC after TKO’ing Sedriques Dumas, and now the two will go up against each other.

The recently turned 30-year-old Buckley’s current winning streak began after dropping down to 170lbs, where he remains a physical specimen with explosive, dynamic striking ability, but has also shown improved cardio. That means he’s not only still capable of stunning highlight-reel finishes, but can also pace himself better to win on the scorecards too, and also benefits from having shown some solid wrestling improvements too. The stand-up game is still his biggest asset though, but he’s not immune to being finished himself, with three of his four losses in the UFC coming via strikes.

The 30-year-old Ruziboev may be a relative new face in the octagon he’s actually an experienced veteran with no less than 46 fights to his name. Admittedly his level of opposition on the regional scene has been questionable at times, but nonetheless he’s someone with well-rounded skills and shows composure in the cage. At 6ft 5″ tall he’ll tower over Buckley by 9″ even though they have the same reach. Ruziboev has good timing when landing his punches and kicks and appears to be quite durable too. Some of his best success has come on the ground though as he’s a solid wrestler and has a large amount of wins by submission, albeit against low-level opposition.

A big question mark over Ruziboev in this fight is the fact that he’s dropping down to 170lbs on five weeks notice, which seems an odd choice given his size and the fact he appeared to be coping well at 185lbs. That, together with the fact that Buckley is gaining some momentum now and has the bigger firepower on the feet leads me to picking him to emerge with a 2nd round TKO finish here.

Pick: Joaquin Buckley to win by TKO in Rd2.

Alonzo Menifield vs. Carlos Ulberg

Alonzo Menifield and Carlos Ulberg both head into their fight after going unbeaten in their last five fights.

Tthe 36-year-old Menifield is a powerhouse, leaning on athleticism and finishing power in his fists, but he has had to fine-tune his pace and cardio over time to ensure he doesn’t run out of gas. He prefers to stay upright and has fairly solid takedown defense, but he’s not out of his depth on the mat and has a few submission wins to his name.

The 33-year-old Ulberg is the taller of the two here with a 4″ height advantage, though only 1″ extra in reach. He has kickboxing experience and is an assured, accurate striker who can attack with speed and id good on the counter, while his finishing power has been on display lately to secure three of his last four wins in the opening round. Ulberg wasn’t all that well-rounded when he joined the UFC, but he appears to be trying to round out the rough edges of his game and earned his first submission victory in his last appearance.

I think Ulberg will prove to the be better technician on the feet here, using his counter-striking and footwork to frustrate Menifield and set up opportunities for a late TKO finish.

Pick: Carlos Ulberg wins by TKO in Rd3.

Diego Ferreira vs. Mateusz Rebecki

Diego Ferreira appeared to be on his way out of the sport after a three defeats in 2021 was followed by a two-and-a-half year absence from competing, but then last year he suddenly returned and secured a KO win over Michael Johnson. Now a year later he goes up against Mateusz Rebecki, who has gone 3-0 in the UFC so far and is 19-1 overall in his career to date.

Doubts still remain about whether the 39-years-old Ferreira truly is back to his old self, or whether finishing another well-past-his-best veteran in Johnson was just flattering to deceive. The first evidence to potentially support that is that Ferreira generally isn’t known as a big finisher on the feet, with that KO win being only the fourth win via strikes of his career. Also, prior to his long layoff the signs hadn’t looked good for Ferreira as he’d gone from a hard-working fighter who could break fighters with his pace to someone who seemed both jaded and lacking in energy, leading to two TKO losses in a row. However, at his best Ferreira was also a talented grappler and capable wrestler, and he’ll be looking to show those skills on Saturday night.

While Ferreira looks to prove he’s still got it, the 31-year-old Rebecki has a winning streak extending for close to a decade, though much of that took place on the Polish scene. He’s a short but very powerful fighter who trusts in his chin and likes to bully his opponents. He has hard-hitting punches and kicks but will have to navigate past Ferreira’s 8″ reach advantage in order to land them. Rebecki also wrestles well, has vicious ground-and-pound is a submission threat too.

I’m sceptical about Ferreira’s chances here and feel that Rebecki will go on the front foot from the start, with his aggression, power and pace enabling him to grab the fight by the scruff of the neck, leading to a 2nd round TKO finish.

Prediction: Mateusz Rebecki to win by TKO in Rd2.

Alex Caceres vs. Sean Woodson

Alex Caceres has won 7 of his last night fights but is coming off a decision loss to Giga Chikadze as he now takes on Sean Woodson, who has gone 5-1-1 in the UFC so far.

The 35-year-old Caceres is now a 13-year veteran of the UFC and has done well to find more consistent success in recent years despite often having mixed results earlier in his Octagon run. That being said, the overall pattern suggests that he still tends to struggle when coming up against higher level opposition. Still, Cacares has refined his striking over time be a bit more focused and he has better hands now and is light on his feet, though he does still like to throw a lot of kicks on the outside and continues to lack much in the way of stopping power. Grappling has always been a strong suit for Caceres as he can be quite crafty and likes scrambling opportunities, but while he can find finishes via submission he can also be caught in them too at times.

Woodson is very lanky for a 145lb’er and will have a 4″ height and 5″ reach advantage here. He has a background in boxing in his formative years and does have good technique, working punches to the head and body, while his kicks from range are good too and he threatens with knees at close range too. He can operate on the mat when required too, but whether he’s upright or grappling he’s more likely to get the job done on the scorecards than with a finish.

I think this is a fight where Caceres may just get caught up in a striking battle from distance that will favor Woodson’s long limbs and greater striking accuracy, leading him to a win on the scorecards.

Pick: Sean Woodson wins by decision.

Waldo Cortes-Acosta vs. Robelis Despaigne

Heavyweights open up the main card with Waldo Cortes-Acosta having gone 4-1 in the UFC so far, while Robelis Desapaigne won his UFC debut by TKO in just 18 seconds in March.

A former Olympic taekwondo bronze medalist, the 35-year-old Despaigne’s brief 5-0 career record so far has been remarkable given that he’s stopping his opponents in lightning-quick time, including a 3 second finish that was then followed by a 4 second one! And ‘Big Boy’ certainly looks the part as a deadly striker as he’s absolutely huge at 6ft 7″ tall, 260lbs and with a massive 87″ reach and athletic build. He’s fast and loads up on his strikes for maximum impact, but can be quite careless with his defense and so is hittable if anyone can last long enough to do so. That being said, when Josh Parisian tried to go on the attack against him in his debut he showed good technique and footwork to KO him while moving backwards.

The 32-year-old Cortes-Acosta isn’t small by heavyweight standards, but nonetheless he will still be at a 3″ height and 9″ reach disadvantage here. He’s a fairly basic but competent, durable striker who sticks to the fundamentals and adopts a volume-based style of boxing for the most part that’s been enough to get the better of some low-level UFC heavyweights and a 45-year-old Andrei Arlovski so far.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens if Cortes-Acosta can weather the storm and take this fight into the later rounds, but that’s a big ask and given Despaigne’s size, speed and power I think he gets another finish inside the first five minutes here, though he might have to go deeper into the round than he’s used to in order to get the finish.

Pick: Robelis Despaigne wins by TKO in Rd1.

Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)

Chase Hooper vs. Viacheslav Borshchev
Terrance McKinney vs. Esteban Ribovics
Tabatha Ricci vs. Tecia Pennington
Billy Goff vs. Trey Waters
Charles Johnson vs. Jake Hadley
Jared Gooden vs. Kevin Jousset
JJ Aldrich vs. Veronica Hardy

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.