After a week away, the UFC returns tonight with a rarity: flyweights topping the UFC Fight Night card. The last time that happened was January 2019 when Henry Cejudo defended the flyweight title against TJ Dillashaw. The last time a non-title flyweight fight headlined a Fight Night card was August 2017, when Sergio Pettis upended Brandon Moreno. In other words, the UFC sees something they like in Kai Kara-France and Amir Albazi. Let’s not waste time. Let us dig into how the latest UFC Fight Night will play out.
Kai Kara-France vs. Amir Albazi | Flyweight
It’s easy to see this fight playing out for either fighter tonight. Each of their strengths match up well against the other’s weakness. Kara-France’s grappling has always been his Achilles heel and Albazi is an overwhelming wrestler with underrated submissions. Albazi’s striking is very much a work in progress while Kara-France may be the most dangerous striker in the division with Deiveson Figueiredo moving on out. It’s an easier call to say this fight ends before the final bell than it is to pick a winner.
With size and age differences being negligible, it comes down to who has more ways to win the fight. Kara-France is more likely to score a KO, but he’s not going to get a submission, not against Albazi. Albazi may have more raw power than Kara-France, meaning a KO victory for him wouldn’t be shocking. Albazi’s defense is concerning, but it isn’t like Kara-France is a defensive savant either. Don’t take my word for how Albazi wins the fight, but he will win the fight.
Prediction: Albazi via submission of RD4
Alex Caceres vs. Daniel Pineda | Featherweight
45 fights into his MMA career and Pineda has yet to win a fight by decision. That’s an incredible statistic. There doesn’t appear to be any indication he’s slowing down either despite his 38th birthday approaching this summer. We can speculate all we want why that is, but his history of PED use is something that shouldn’t be discounted as a possibility. It isn’t cheating if you don’t get caught, right? Besides, Caceres has a history of bonehead mistakes that has resulted in him losing fights he shouldn’t. Against someone with the finishing instinct of Pineda, it seems inevitable Caceres slips up.
Well, that would have been the story a few years ago. Caceres has matured a LOT over the last few years. The UFC agrees. Why else would they have him co-main event on a UFC Fight Night? Caceres has only a single loss over his last seven contests, a closer-than-expected decision loss to Sodiq Yusuff. That isn’t to say Caceres is impervious to making mistakes anymore, but he’s far more defensively alert than he used to be. More opportunistic too. Caceres has never had issues with his gas tank. Pineda has. It’s weird to say, but Caceres is the more reliable fighter in this case.
Prediction: Caceres via submission of RD3
Jim Miller vs. Jared Gordon | Lightweight
Every time you think the book on Miller is finite, he adds a new wrinkle. It was that he was a dangerous submission threat for a round-and-a-half before his suspect gas tank sank him. He had gone a decade with a lone finish due to strikes – over a rundown version of Takanori Gomi – before exhibiting a newfound KO power. Now, Miller appears to have re-discovered his stamina, putting up a competitive third round in his most recent fight.
While everyone loves Miller, it would be foolish to put too much into that one fight. Expecting a 39-year-old to rediscover the fountain of youth isn’t a wise strategy. Gordon isn’t much of a finisher, but he’s tough as nails and has a deep gas tank. It’s hard to imagine Miller outworking him. It wouldn’t be a shock if Miller were to submit him, but Gordon’s losses have come against clearly superior athletes than himself. That isn’t Miller.
Prediction: Gordon via decision
Tim Elliott vs. Victor Altamirano | Flyweight
The mental state of Elliott is what everyone is focusing on. He has alleged his wife cheated on him with his best friend, something that would throw anyone off. Elliott fought effectively with emotion against Jordan Espinosa a few years ago, but this appears to be a different level of emotion. Plus, Elliott is now 36 and flyweights have a short shelf life. It isn’t like Elliott has a fight style that helps him to avoid damage either.
Altamirano doesn’t excel in any one area, but he’s competent in all areas. Plus, he appears to be developing greater instincts. Elliott is tough to prepare for and there are signs the additional emotion could be good for him. Given Elliott’s history of getting himself into trouble and advanced age, the smart choice would appear to be Altamirano.
Prediction: Altamirano via decision
Karine Silva vs. Ketlen Souza | Women’s Flyweight
Coming over as the Invicta flyweight champion, Souza has a reputation as a feared striker. However, finishes have dried up since facing respectable opposition. That hasn’t been the case with Silva. Souza is the more technical striker, but Silva is more well-rounded with sharper finishing instincts. That makes it more likely Souza wins a decision, but Silva has only gone to decision once. All of Souza’s losses have come before the final bell. I like Silva in this razor thin contest.
Prediction: Silva via TKO of RD2
Abubakar Nurmagomedov vs. Elizeu Zaleski | Welterweight
There’s no doubt Zaleski is the more dangerous striker with a greater track record. Plus, he looked as sharp as ever in his most recent outing. Of course, that contest was 19 months ago and he’s entering an age when a decline should be expected. Nurmagomedov is also a nightmare matchup for Zaleski as he’s a very technical, positionally sound wrestler. A sudden KO from dos Santos isn’t out of the question, but Nurmagomedov is a stylistic nightmare for the Brazilian. Khabib’s cousin should find a way to get the job done.
Prediction: Nurmagomedov via decision
Jamie Mullarkey vs. Muhammadjon Naimov | Lightweight
Naimov is a prospect worth taking a look at. He’s well coached, has some power, and has responded well to his first career losses. He’s also got a lot of work to do on his wrestling and is a natural featherweight. Mullarkey isn’t a classic wrestle-first fighter that has terrorized strikers, but he is as gritty as they come, dragging his opponents in the grime if they can’t overwhelm him with their physicality. Given he’s fighting a weight class up, I don’t think Naimov can do that, especially on short notice.
Prediction: Mullarkey via decision
John Casteneda vs. Muin Gafurov | Bantamweight
If Gafurov takes this contest on a full camp, I’m picking him hands down. As it is, I have concerns. Casteneda has underrated punching power, but that’s not what worries me so much in this contest. It’s whether his pace can wear down Gafurov. Plus, Gafurov is a fantastic wrestler and I’m not sold on Casteneda’s takedown defense. It isn’t hard to see Casteneda outwork a fading Gafurov down the stretch, but I’m high enough on Gafurov to believe he can pull this out, even if just by the skin of his teeth.
Prediction: Gafurov via decision
Andrei Arlovski vs. Don’Tale Mayes | Heavyweight
Arlovski has an impeccable ability to outwit and convince the judges he’s outworking his opponents. Mayes would appear to be the type of fighter who perfectly sets up Arlovski for another victory. Then again, Arlovski is 44 and the completion of his fall off the cliff could come at any minute. Mayes does have power and a massive frame after all. That could be enough to do the trick. Arlovski is near the end of the line, but the old dog still has just enough to eek past Mayes.
Prediction: Arlovski via decision
Daniel Santos vs. Johnny Munoz | Bantamweight
There’s no doubt Munoz is one of the more skilled grapplers in the division, but he’s also one-dimensional. It’s hard not to see the progress in his striking, but it’s still a long way from being a legit threat in his standup. The same can’t be said of Santos. Santos is a dangerous striker with underrated know-how. His takedown defense does leave open the possibility of Munoz finding the submission that is most likely to grant him victory. However, I don’t trust Munoz wrestling for the fight to get there. The physically superior Santos cruises comfortably on his striking.
Prediction: Santos via decision
Elise Reed vs. Jinh Yu Frey | Women’s Strawweight
I really want to like Reed, but she manages to give the fight away with her poor grappling every time I think she’s going to have a breakout performance. On the flip side, Frey manages to add a new wrinkle every time I feel like I should write her off. And yet, I’m sticking to my guns. Frey’s wrestling has been nonexistent since coming to the UFC and age appears to be catching up to her. Even as Frey has managed to pick up her volume, it’s been against less technical strikers than Reed. Reed should manage to outwork the harder hitter.
Prediction: Reed via decision
Da’Mon Blackshear vs. Luan Lacerda | Bantamweight
Both Blackshear and Lacerda are slick ground fighters. Blackshear is more unorthodox, instigating scrambles. Lacerda has a more traditional BJJ background. Should the fight go to decision, Lacerda is the superior striker, there’s a strong incentive to lean in his direction. However, Blackshear’s funk style on the mat can be difficult to prepare for, not to mention his unusually long frame. It’s one of the harder contests on the card to pick, but Blackshear is the direction I’m headed.
Prediction: Blackshear via submission of RD2
Philipe Lins vs. Maxim Grishin | Light Heavyweight
Despite being 39, Grishin might be able to continue rolling along for a few more years at 205 with his massive frame and technical striking causing problems. Of course, that has really only been effective when he’s got a distinct advantage in reach. He won’t have that against Lins. Lins’ chin is concerning, but he’s the better athlete and more versatile fighter. Putting any sort of trust in Lins is a fool’s errand, but he’s acquitted himself well to lumbering fighters. Grishin is about as lumbering as a 205er gets.
Prediction: Lins via TKO of RD3
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