The UFC is back in the comfy confines of the UFC APEX this weekend with a card headlined by Mr. APEX himself (ht Zane Simon). That’s right, Sean Strickland is the main event on Saturday night. He will be taking on the relative UFC newcomer Abus Magomedov.

The co-main event is Damir Ismagulov vs. Grant Dawson. Also on the card is the return of Kevin Lee, who fights Rinat Fakhretdinov, and a promising action fight between Ismail Bonfim and Benoit Saint-Denis.

As always our staff has poured over the stats and the tape and made their picks. Unsurprisingly, most of us are picking Sean Strickland to win (though, we’re not that enthused about it).

Most of us are picking Damir Ismagulov to win in the co-main.

You can see all our picks for UFC Fight Night: Sean Strickland vs. Abus Magomedov below.

UFC Fight Night: Sean Strickland vs. Abus Magomedov fight preview.

UFC Fight Night: Sean Strickland vs. Abus Magomedov staff picks and predictions

Sean Strickland vs. Abus Magomedov

Anton Tabuena: Abus Magomedov looked good in his one UFC fight, but that was just 19 seconds, and against a contender series vet who’s 1-4 in the UFC. Now he’s headlining a UFC fight night card, and I’m not sure why? Sean Strickland has a singular approach to fights, and is a bit predictable, but at least he’s proven himself against ranked opposition. Until I actually see something from Magomedov, there’s no reason for me to pick him right now, as this is a massive jump up in competition. Sean Strickland by decision.

Dayne: In the last decade, I can’t think of a fighter who is a greater mystery fighting in a UFC fight night main event than Abus Magomedov. Ilir Latifi filling in on short notice in 2013 is what comes to mind for any sort of comparison. This wasn’t a short notice match, making this an even bigger anomaly. I don’t have any doubts that Magomedov belongs in the UFC, but in the main event scene?

No clue. His recent wins have been impressive, but they’ve also come against unproven competition. So what do I know? I know Sean Strickland can fight a hard 25 minutes. It’s been almost five years since Magomedov has even gone into the third round. I know Strickland has only been finished by Alex Pereira at 185, so he’s quite durable. I don’t know if Magomedov’s ability to finish fights translates to a higher level. In the last 30 months, Magomedov has just 19 seconds of cage time.

He’s expected to not only be sharp with so little recent cage time, but do so against his toughest opponent yet? It isn’t impossible, but it is a HUGE ask. I’m going with the more proven fighter in this case. Sean Strickland via decision

January 14, 2023, Las Vegas, NV, LAS VEGAS, NV, United States: LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 14: (R-L) Sean Strickland kicks Nassourdine Imavov in their 5-round bout at UFC Apex for UFC Fight Night - Vegas 67 - Strickland vs Imavov - Event on January 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, NV, United States. Las Vegas, NV United States - ZUMAp175 20230114_zsa_p175_014 Copyright: xLouisxGrassex
Sean Strickland when he fought Nassourdine Imavov. IMAGO/ZUMA Wire

Chris: Surely… SURELY Abus Magomedov or someone in his camp has watched Sean Strickland’s last two fights and figured out that this man can be beaten by a modest gameplan of engagement and power punches. Also the coin said Magomedov. 

Stephie: While I’m rooting for Abus Magomedov, I sadly have to pick Sean Strickland who will probably bore Abus to sleep, thus ensuring the victory. Sad days, these.

Victor: Been a fan of Abus since I first saw him in PFL back in 2018. While he’s shown very, very little in the UFC to the point where it probably shouldn’t even count in a scouting report, this dude is good. Punishes the body, strikes, wrestles, and works with a great team. They should be smart enough to break down Sean Strickland’s game and put that pressure on him. Abusupyan Magomedov by TKO.

Bissell: I can’t pick Abus Magomedov here because the experience gap, when it comes to top level opposition, is so vast between him and Sean Strickland. With what I’ve seen of him, it’s hard to imagine any scenario other than Strickland earning a decision through rather dull pressure fighting. Hope I’m wrong, though. Sean Strickland via decision.

Zane: On the one hand, I have no real problem with sticking Abus Magomedov in a fight like this. He’s in his 30s, he has tons of experience, and he’s been fighting for years now. If he’s going to make a splash in the UFC he’s going to do it right away or not at all.

On the other hand, nothing about Magomedov’s game really thrills me, and the idea of seeing him in a Sean Strickland fight doesn’t up the tension any further at all. Magomedov has some snappy kicks, a blitzing punch game, and some solid work from top control if he can get there. He doesn’t get pressured much, however, and I can’t think he’ll deal with it all that well if he gives Strickland the front foot. Assuming that happens, I’ll take Sean Strickland by decision.

Staff picking Strickland: Dayne, Anton, Kristen, Stephie, Bissell, Ben, Jack, Eddie, Zane
Staff picking Magomedov: Lucas, Chris, Victor

Damir Ismagulov vs. Grant Dawson

Dayne: Had Ismagulov not already stuck a foot into retirement, he’d be one of the easier picks on this UFC fight night card. The problem is, it’s so hard to trust an athlete who is looking beyond their present profession, particularly in the fight game. Ask Bigfoot Silva how constant flirtation with retirement can go. Despite that, I’m still leaning in his direction. Ismagulov is hard to take down and even harder to put away. Dawson is an excellent takedown artist and has several late finishes.

Of course, those recent finishes came against aged competition and a former featherweight. Ismagulov is much closer to his physical prime than Dawson’s recent competition and is typically the bully himself. I’m fearing I’ll regret the pick, but I’ll go with Ismagulov despite his flirtation with retirement. Damir Ismagulov via decision

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Shenzhen-Ismagulov vs Moises, Aug 31, 2019; Shenzhen, China; Damir Ismagulov (red gloves) and Thiago Moises (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Shenzhen Universiade Sports Centre. Mandatory Credit: David G. McIntyre-USA TODAY Sports, 31.08.2019 16:32:40, 13287487, UFC Fight Night, MMA PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxONLY Copyright: xDavidxMcIntyrex 13287487
Damir Ismagulov when he fought Thiago Moises at UFC Fight Night: Shenzhen. IMAGO/USA TODAY

Chris: Ismagulov had a bad time with Arman Tsarukyan and I fear that his head is not in the right place. Also the coin said Dawson. 

Victor: I was super confident in Damir when we did the Level Change this week, but now I’m not quite as confident. Dawson carries some power and has a fair amount of explosive athleticism. Damir has technique and some funky movement on his feet. Smart money should be on Dawson, but I’m dumb as fuck and very stubborn with my hunches. Come on, have you seen my pick record for the year? I have no shame. Dignity, sure. I keep a bit in a bucket over there in the corner. But not shame. Damir Ismagulov by submission.

Bissell: I think Dawson might struggle with Ismagulov’s length, but even so, I see him getting in on him and taking him down. Ismagulov has good takedown defense, but I don’t think he can stop every shot. Dawson will get enough of them to convince the judges. Grant Dawson via decision.

Zane: If Grant Dawson wins this fight, I will be depressed. His clingy, grind-heavy style has its place, and can beat a whole hell of a lot of fighters out there, but it’s not much fun, and Ismagulov really should be too good for it. Even Arman Tsarukyan had trouble holding him down with any consistency, and he’s a much more natural striker, faster athlete, and more technical wrestler. Dawson might have some early success, but the more Ismagulov scrambles the more I think Dawson will fade and get stranded standing where Ismagulov’s volume and jabbing can pick him to pieces. Damir Ismagulov by decision.

Staff picking Ismagulov: Lucas, Dayne, Anton, Ben, Jack, Victor, Eddie, Zane
Staff picking Dawson: Chris, Kristen, Stephie, Bissell

Max Griffin vs. Michael Morales

Dayne: Griffin’s recent run has been nothing short of spectacular. From being on the verge of being handed his walking papers to winning four of his last five – even arguably winning all five – Griffin has proved he’s capable of beating anyone outside the official UFC rankings. He’s also been the better athlete in each of those fights with the possible exception of his lone loss in that stretch.

Morales will be far superior in that category. There’s no way Morales should be as wide of a favorite as he is and I’m sure he’ll suffer his first loss in the next year or two. Despite that, I’m not sure Griffin is the man to do it. Griffin isn’t starting to get up there in age; he’s already up there. He’s also been in some hard battles. I’ll favor youth in this one. Michael Morales via TKO of RD2

July 30, 2022, Dallas, Texas, Dallas, TX, United States: DALLAS, TX - JULY 30: (L-R) Michael Morales battles Adam Fugitt in their Welterweight bout during the UFC 277 event at American Airlines Center on July 30, 2022, in Dallas, Texas, United States. Dallas, Texas United States - ZUMAp175 20220730_zsa_p175_033 Copyright: xAlejandroxSalazarx
Michael Morales when he fought Adam Fugitt. IMAGO/ZUMA Wire.

Chris: Max Griffin is the lowest-profile fighter to beat Mike Perry in the UFC. A dubious distinction but good enough for the coin to say “Pain” gets the W vs Morales. 

Victor: I scouted Morales for Contender Series. Ask me what I remember about that. See? Not even gonna look it up. It’s just… whatever. Max Griffin by decision.

Bissell: I think Michael Morales has a physical profile that will give Griffin, who is getting pretty long in the tooth, some trouble. It’s the biggest test for Morales to date, but that says more about his past fights than Griffin’s current level of ability. Michael Morales by TKO.

Zane: I don’t like the structure of what Morales does much (namely there isn’t any), but he’s unquestionably a big, strong, and fast athlete with some good pop and some decent technique when he chooses to lean on it. Just as often he can be caught clean walking opponents down without any real plan, but nobody’s beat him just for that yet. Griffin could.

He’s terribly durable, has good power himself, and tends to be able to take over a fight anywhere he’s got a clear advantage. He can also get pushed out of his success without too much trouble though, and has a big problem handling good athletes. I think the youth and size of Morales will be a problem. Michael Morales via split decision.

Staff picking Griffin: Lucas, Chris, Victor, Eddie
Staff picking Morales: Dayne, Anton, Kristen, Stephie, Bissell, Ben, Jack, Zane

Ariane Lipski vs. Melissa Gatto

Dayne: The rule with Lipski in the UFC is every time she’s on the verge of being cut, she comes back with a performance that reminds us why we were all so excited about her being signed. Then she falls back to earth until she’s being pushed towards the chopping block again. There’s reason to believe the change could be permanent this time as her win over JJ Aldrich wasn’t a flash of violence; it was a thorough beating over 15 minutes.

However, Gatto is a different athletic animal than Aldrich. She has the length and speed to get the fight to the mat in a way Aldrich couldn’t. If the fight hits the mat, expect Lipski to lose confidence. Thus, given Gatto’s success in getting Tracy Cortez down, I think she should take this one. Melissa Gatto via decision

MMA: UFC 265-Leonardo vs Gatto, Aug 7, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Victoria Leonardo (red gloves) fights Melissa Gatto (blue gloves) during UFC 265 at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports, 07.08.2021 17:46:49, 16530435, NPStrans, MMA, Toyota Center, TopPic PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxONLY Copyright: xTroyxTaorminax 16530435
Melissa Gatto when she fought Victoria Leonardo. IMAGO/USA Today

Victor: Dayne is so painfully right. I feel conflicted, because Lipski was doing some insane shit in KSW. So if you missed that part of her career, you might wonder why some of us feel so disappointed and weirded out by how her UFC run has gone. Then I look at how Gatto blasts opponents and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture. Lipski is durable, but her decisions moment to moment once pressured have her end up in some really bad spots for long stretches. I guess I’ll go with Melissa Gatto by late TKO.

Bissell: I’m still waiting for Lipski to realise some of what made her so exciting in KSW and bring it to the UFC. She’s looked gunshy in previous bouts and that’s what she’s like in this fight, it will be over quick. But I’m just going to hold onto my belief that Lipski is a sleeping giant in the division and this will be night she wakes up. Ariane Lipski via TKO.

Zane: Gatto tries to wrestle just enough that she can probably beat Lipski on the mats. If she doesn’t, though, she probably won’t beat her anywhere else. Melissa Gatto via submission.

Staff picking Lipski: Chris, Kristen, Bissell, Ben, Jack
Staff picking Gatto: Lucas, Dayne, Anton, Stephie, Victor, Eddie, Zane

Beniot Saint-Denis vs. Ismael Bonfim

Dayne: Saint-Denis isn’t the fraud I thought he was upon his initial signing. He’s double tough, aggressive, and found his proper home at 155. That said, Bonfim is one of my favorite prospects on the roster at the moment. On the feet, he kind of reminds me of Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos… the same man who pieced up Saint-Denis in the Frenchman’s UFC debut.

I know there are differences and Saint-Denis isn’t the fighter that suffered that hellacious beating, but Bonfim has already learned the lessons most prospects are forced to learn in the UFC. He should have the intelligence and skills to give Saint-Denis some painful flashbacks. Ismael Bonfim via TKO of RD2

Victor: There’s so much to love about this fight, and Bonfim is rightfully the guy a lot of us working in this space are high on. But I also think Saint-Denis is going to have the well-rounded game and durability to give him fits and take over. Benoit Saint-Denis by decision. 

Bissell: This is a really close one and I think both guys are going to make some noise over the next few years. I’m siding with Bonfim here because his striking is so dynamic and in a close fight, I side with the person I think has more chance of ending it all in a split second. Ismael Bonfim via KO.

Zane: I don’t think Saint-Denis is a clean enough technician to overwhelm Bonfim with aggression and size. Bonfim is exceptionally cool and calm on the counter and if Saint-Denis gives him as many options as he did Zaleski, he’ll probably pay for it all fight long. Ismael Bonfim by TKO, round 2.

Staff picking Saint-Denis: Lucas, Victor
Staff picking Bonfim: Dayne, Chris, Anton, Kristen, Stephie, Bissell, Ben, Jack, Eddie, Zane

Nursulton Ruziboev vs. Bruno Ferreira

Dayne: This is going to offer an interesting dynamic given Ruziboev is as long and lanky as they come at middleweight while Ferreira is as squat as they come. I’m not crazy about Ruziboev’s ability to stay around for a while as he’s racked up his wins against a LOT of questionable competition. I won’t fault him as it got him to the UFC, but Ferreira is a beast.

I know his KO of Gregory Rodrigues appeared to come out of nowhere, but Ferreira is a skilled boxer who is used to working with a reach disadvantage. Plus, he looks durable to me. I see him finding his way to Ferreira’s chin. Bruno Ferreira via KO of RD1

Victor: Another week, another dude I totally forgot was even signed to the UFC. When did Nursulton get the come up? Don’t matter. Bruno Ferreira by TKO, round 2.

Zane: Ruziboev is the dude that crushes dudes that only crush cans. Anyone who can win solid, high level fights, seems like they should be able to bust him up. Ferreira is very much a one-trick pony but I think that one trick (punching really goddamn hard) will be enough. Bruno Ferreira via KO, round 1.

Staff picking Ruziboaev: Lucas, Chris, Bissell
Staff picking Ferreira: Dayne, Anton, Kristen, Stephie, Ben, Jack, Victor, Eddie, Zane

Kevin Lee vs. Rinat Fakhretdinov

Anton: Tough return fight for Lee, but he’s a vet that won’t be slow rolled on this second stint with the UFC. Lee is still just 30 years old, and while I can see it going either way, I think he is still dangerous and good enough to get a win against those outside the top 15. Kevin Lee by TKO.

Dayne: Lee should be in his physical prime. However, it appears he has peaked, his last performance seeing him eek out a win over a long past his prime Diego Sanchez. I’ve heard he wasn’t completely healthy…

To read the rest of our UFC Fight Night: Sean Strickland vs. Abus Magomedov staff picks head on over to Substack. Now that Bloody Elbow is a fully independent site the best way to support us, so that we can continue fearless coverage of combat sports, is to pick up a paid subscription. Paid subscribers help fund other exclusive content like editorials from Karim Zidan and Jonathan Snowden and investigations by John S. Nash.

Leader board

Eddie kept his place at the top thanks to going 7-5 at UFC Fight Night: Emmett vs. Topuria (where he was the only person to pick Maycee Barber over Amanda Ribas). Anton and Dayne are in a virtual tie, only separated by Anton doing slightly better in week 19. Behind them are Zane and Kristen.

Though Eddie has widened his gap at the top, still plenty to play for and there could be some significant shuffles on the leader board after UFC Fight Night: Sean Strickland vs. Abus Magomedov is done and dusted.

PositionStafferCorrectIncorrectTotal Picks%Picks BackWeek 20 Record
1 (-)Eddie151992500.6047-5
2 (-)Anton1471032500.58836-6
3 (-)Dayne1471032500.58836-6
4 (-)Zane1421082500.56897-5
5 (▲1)Kristen1371132500.548147-5
6 (▼1)Stephie1351022370.570134-8
7 (-)Lucas1251132380.525256-6
8 (-)Bissell1231272500.492276-6
9 (-)Chris1161242400.483346-6
10 (-)Victor87781650.527636-6
11 (-)BE Community85731580.538656-6
12 (-)Jack66591250.528835-7
13 (-)Ben2111320.6001296-6

Whether or not you agree with our opinion pieces, Bloody Elbow will always tell it like it is, and share our views without ever compromising or kowtowing for access. Support independent MMA opinions by subscribing to the Bloody Elbow newsletter.

About the author
Tim Bissell
Tim Bissell

Tim Bissell is a writer, editor and deputy site manager for Bloody Elbow. He has covered combat sports since 2015. Tim covers news and events and has also written longform and investigative pieces. Among Tim's specialties are the intersections between crime and combat sports. Tim has also covered head trauma, concussions and CTE in great detail.

Tim is also BE's lead (only) sumo reporter. He blogs about that sport here and on his own substack, Sumo Stomp!

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