After the disaster that was last week’s card, the UFC has been getting a lot of flack for card quality. Some of that has carried over into UFC 288. The UFC doesn’t deserve the criticism for UFC 288. They’ve made a hell of an effort to make this a quality card.
UFC 288 isn’t a stacked card, but the UFC only does about one or two tentpole events a year. They typically try to reserve that for what is traditionally the annual Madison Square Garden show. The original co-main between Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush was a quality co-main. When that was lost to injury, they managed to make a new one on short notice with Belal Muhammad and Gilbert Burns. They even managed to improve on one of the main card bouts when Movsar Evloev agreed to fight Bryce Mitchell on short notice, only for Mitchell to eventually fall out. The UFC deserves plenty of criticism, but not for this card. UFC 288 is a quality card.
Belal Muhammad vs. Gilbert Burns | Welterweight
Are we done underestimating Belal Muhammad yet? I suppose picking against him in this contest doesn’t necessarily mean he’s being underestimated since Burns is a really good fighter. But Muhammad has proven versatile, attacking their opponents where they’re weakest. That indicates a high fight IQ. He’s also about as technically sound as they come, allowing him to execute his plethora of different game plans. And yet, due to a limited athletic ceiling, he has entered as the underdog in each of his last three contests… and walks into this one as a slight underdog yet again!
To figure out how Muhammad is likely to attack Burns, one must identify where Burns is vulnerable. That’s not an easy thing to do. Some might say he’s chinny, but I would disagree. Only Kamaru Usman and Dan Hooker have put him away with strikes. Plus, Burns’ chin has held up much better since he stopped dehydrating himself so much to make lightweight. Besides, Muhammad hasn’t even tried to win a fight with a single big punch. There’s no way he’d try to do so now.
What appears to be the most likely route is by pushing a hard pace and tiring Burns. It’s a risky proposition as Burns has only gassed once at 170, when he experienced an adrenaline dump against Usman. But there’s reason to believe it’s possible. Burns is fighting for the third time in less than four months, including his last fight being less than a month ago. That’s a lot of weight cutting. Granted, Burns isn’t huge for the division, but he’s also not someone who pushes a heavy pace in his contests, at least not when he’s controlling the pace. And Muhammad is a cardio king. The route to victory appears to be there.
I’m not proclaiming it’s a guarantee Muhammad wins. Burns packs a powerful punch and is one of the most skilled grapplers in the division. Burns could KO or submit Muhammad or utilize long periods of control for a decision. There’s more ways for him to reasonably win. But Muhammad has had similar issues in his recent contests and still found a way to walk the tightrope on his way to victory. My brain says I should be going with Burns, but there’s also something about Muhammad’s run that says destiny to me. UFC 288 proves to be the night he secures a title shot.
Prediction: Belal Muhammad via decision
Jessica Andrade vs. Yan Xiaonan | Women’s Strawweight
There’s no mystery around Andrade. She’s a pitbull who hunts down her opposition, launching heavy punches that will inevitably wilt her opponent, provided they consistently find their intended home. It’s hard to deter her as she can be out-techniqued, but Andrade is a sound enough athlete that it requires a narrow tightrope to do that. Joanna Jedrzejczyk did it over five rounds. Rose Namajunas was able to do that enough in their three round contest to pull it off. Can Yan do the same?
There’s a lot of voices I respect out there that believe Yan can. She’s well-rounded without any massive holes and showed a lot of heart and grit in her upset victory over Mackenzie Dern. She’s also the cleaner striker. But is she a technician on the level of Jedrzejczyk or Namajunas? I haven’t seen Yan operate on that level. After all, it was just a year ago Marina Rodriguez outclassed her on the feet. Yan doesn’t have the type of power to catch Andrade out of the blue either when Weili Zhang dethroned Andrade.
I know the UFC wants Yan to win this. They love the idea of Weili and Yan clashing in an all-China contest and how that might further open that market. But this wasn’t the route to go if they want that. Andrade should be focused now that she’s focusing on a single division rather than bouncing back and forth. Plus, y’all remember how Carla Esparza bullied the crap out of Yan? Andrade is imminently more physical than Esparza. Andrade should find a way to end things before the final bell.
Prediction: Jessica Andrade via TKO of RD2
Movsar Evloev vs. Diego Lopes | Featherweight
No disrespect intended towards Lopes. He’s a solid prospect with a slick ground game. But he’s walking into a buzzsaw in Evloev. The Russian may be undersized for the division, but his technique, timing, and speed allow him to remain one of the more effective ground fighters in the division. Plus, while he lacks power and still isn’t fully comfortable on the feet, he’s probably got the advantage in the striking against Lopes. And while Lopes’ size in general helps, being a big 145er might hurt him here as he tries to shed the pounds in a hurry. After all, he accepted the contest within the week.
Lopes is a fantastic addition to the division. His striking power is progressing to the point where he’s a threat and he’s going to be a mainstay for a long time to come. He’s about as ready made as a prospect gets. But this is him being thrown into the deep end. Evloev is certifiably a top ten featherweight, perhaps even top five. That Evloev has been prepping for a fight for a while only stacks the deck further against the newcomer. I expect Evloev will look to get his first UFC finish at UFC 288.
Prediction: Mosvar Evloev via submission of RD2
Kron Gracie vs. Charles Jourdain | Featherweight
Where the hell has Gracie been? It’s been almost four years since he last competed in the UFC, basically wasting what are the prime years of most fighter’s career. It makes it fair to question if he really wants to take his fighting career seriously. What’s his motivation for coming back now? That he opted to strike against Cub Swanson rather than take the longtime veteran to the ground – where Gracie had a HUGE advantage – also opens up all sorts of questions about his fight IQ. Then again… all he may need is one takedown, one scramble. I don’t say that just because his last name is Gracie. He’s that damn good on the mat.
Jourdain is no bum. He’s a plus athlete with no fear of throwing high-risk maneuvers that will turn out the lights if they can land. He’s not too bad at finding ways to make them land either. Unfortunately, he also has a questionable fight IQ. Even worse, his questionable fight IQ has a proven track record. Gracie only has the one fight that could very well prove to be a learning experience. Plus, Gracie may not have a lot of fights under his belt, he does have the pressure of being a lifelong Gracie. I think that pressure is telling him to just get a win this time around rather than proving anything else.
Prediction: Kron Gracie via submission of RD1
Click here for a brief rundown of the preliminary action out of UFC 288.
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