UFC on ESPN 14: Whittaker vs Till | Prelim Predictions

UFC on ESPN 14: Whittaker vs Till | Prelim Predictions

155lbs- Jai Herbert vs Francisco Trinaldo

In the final fight of the undercard, Brazil’s timeless Francisco Trinaldo (25-7-0) continues to pick up wins with back to back defeats of Bobby Green and John Makdessi. He could be on a 4 fight winning streak if not for a questionable decision loss to Alex Hernandez. The Brazilian has won 11 of his last 14 fights.

Trinaldo is coming off of back to back fights in which his opponents landed more strikes over the course of 15 minutes, but he got the nod on the cards. It is worth noting that Francisco is 13-3 when fighting in Brazil, but only 2-3 on the road.

The Brazilian does his best work when he controls the distance, pressuring his opponent with stiff punches and kicks. He will mix in takedowns when possible but needs to avoid pushing himself and gassing out.

Debuting on the strength of 6 consecutive wins, Jai Herbert (10-1-0) has rebounded nicely from his lone career loss at the hands of Rhys McKee. Of his 10 pro wins, 8 have come by knockout- 6 stoppages after the opening round. He will stand 4-inches taller than Trinaldo with a 7-inch reach advantage.

The Cage Warriors Lightweight champion fires a hard straight right, bouncing in and how of range. He will work in a swift left hook, uppercuts, and some decent kicks. At close range, Herbert’s knees in the clinch are dangerous- he knocked UFC vet Cain Carrizosa out cold with a single knee strike.

The Brit can be taken down, relying on his height and long legs to set a wide base or scrambling back to his feet when possible. He will also go offensive with his takedowns, but prefers to stay vertical.

If Trinaldo can consistently work into range, land enough volume, mix in some takedowns, and not slow down he can win this fight with relative ease. But that is a lot of scenarios that need to go right. Trinaldo will slow if pressured and can be outworked. He had issues with the length of James Vick and Herbert should find similar success. Look for Jai’s cardio to help him edge out a close fight damaging Trinaldo as he continually pushes forward- my prediction is Jai Herbert to defeat Francisco Trinaldo by decision.

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170lbs- Nicolas Dalby vs Jesse Ronson

Jesse Ronson’s (21-10-0) 0-3 record during his 2013/2014 UFC tenure was the product of a trio of tough split decisions against top competition including Kevin Lee and Francisco Trinaldo. He then returned to the regional scene with a brief stint in PFL. “The Body Snatcher” is coming off a submission win earlier this year to bump his record 8-5 since leaving Octagon.

The TKO Lightweight champion’s UFC struggles were a product of his shaky TDD that saw him defend 61% of attempts but still give up 12 completions over 3 fights. He is just 4-7 on the scorecards compared to 10 wins by knockout.

Ronson showcased sharp striking against PFL Tournament winner Natan Schulte, hurting him to the body. Unfortunately, he was taken down shortly thereafter which was the theme of the fight. Moving up to 170, he was stopped with a knee to the body in a PFL alternate bout.

Denmark’s Nicolas Dalby (18-3-1 1NC) made his return to the UFC at the end of 2019. In his first tenure, a split decision win in his debut over Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos followed by a draw against Darren Till was overshadowed by a trio of consecutive losses- 2 in the UFC. He is undefeated over his last 5 fights including a decision win over Alex Oliveria at home.

Dalby will be an inch taller but have a more pronounced 4″ reach advantage. He looked to be in excellent condition against Oliveria, routinely outmuscling him along the cage and scoring a key 2nd round takedown.

The Dane utilized a takedown heavy approach in his debut which is something he would benefit from returning to. He has landed 9 takedowns over a 2-0-1 combined record inside the Octagon while giving up 4 completions in his 2 defeats.

The Canadian is replacing Danny Roberts with just a few weeks to prepare. He is the more technically sound striker and hits a little harder but Dalby has the edge in size, pace, and offensive wrestling. If Ronson can maintain distance, he has the skills to outwork Nicolas over 3 rounds. Instead, look for Dalby to clinch and drag Ronson to the floor in a physically demanding fight that will capitalize on Jesse’s lack of prep time and magnify Dalby’s size advantage. Ronson will have his moments, but my prediction is Nicolas Dalby to defeat Jesse Ronson by decision.

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265lbs- Tom Aspinall vs Jake Collier

Jake Collier (11-4-0) debuted in the UFC in 2014, but has fought just 6-times and hasn’t seen action since late 2017. He has alternated wins and losses over those 6 fights while competing at Middleweight and Light Heavyweight. He is moving up to Heavyweight after a win over Marcel Fortuna at 205.

Collier is 6’3″, 2 inches shorter than his Heavyweight opponent, but they share a 78″ reach.

The American has showcased decent striking, but also a clear vulnerability to giving up takedowns. He has been taken down in all but 1 of his Octagon outings- 10 completions over his last 5 fights.

The big Brit, Tom Aspinall (7-2-0) has finished all 7 of his pro wins- 5 by knockout. All 7 stoppages have come inside the opening round compared to a 0-2 record beyond the first 5-minutes. His last loss was a 2016 DQ due to illegal downward elbows.

He offers heavy hands with serviceable striking. He stepped away from MMA between 2017 and 2018 for a brief stint as a pro boxer. The lack of long fight experience certainly raises some questions as he makes the move to the UFC. If the Brit is unable to secure an early stoppage- how will he fare in a more protracted battle?

Aspinall has openly talked about his pandemic struggles as he was unable to work with training partners Darren Till or Mike Grundy and was largely isolated from his coaches as well. Instead, he focused on his fitness and getting in shape through solo training.

Collier has been out of action and is moving up a division to face a man that will outweigh him by 15-25 pounds. Aspinall hits hard and Jake has been knockout twice- both at Middleweight. The American needs to extend this fight, potentially using takedowns and test Aspinall’s cardio beyond the first 5 minutes. That being said, the Brit is decent off his back and Collier is far from a natural wrestler. The bigger man and bigger hitter gets it done- my prediction is Tom Aspinall to defeat Jake Collier by knockout.

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145lbs- Movsar Evloev vs Mike Grundy

Still undefeated after a pair of successful UFC fights, Russia’s Movsar Evloev (12-0-0) defeated Seung Woo Choi and Enrique Barzola each on the scorecards. Evloev entered the UFC as a fighter primarily known for his ground attack and has maintained that method of victory with 9 combined takedowns in 2 fights.

Against Barzola, Movsar utilized his striking early with a hard jab and decent overall volume before changing levels for well-timed takedowns. He did slow down as the fight advanced, struggled to maintain top control when on top, and was taken down at the end of round 2.

Despite slowing versus Barzola, Movsar has fought into the 5th round on a couple of occasions including a 5-0 record on the scorecards.

A Commonwealth Games Gold medalist in Freestyle wrestling, Mike Grundy (12-1-0) debuted with an unexpected victory. Grundy had won 8 of 11 fights by submission, mainly d’arce and triangle chokes, but against Nad Narimani he scored an impressive 2nd round knockout. It was the first of his career.

Grundy put a minimal focus on his wrestling for his debut, completing just 1 of 3 takedowns. He landed a hard right hand on multiple occasions, finished Nad with a left hook,  but was also rocked prior to getting the finish himself.

The Brit had not seen action in nearly 16-months prior to his debut and will enter this bout off of a similar layoff.

Grundy comes from the better wrestling pedigree, but Evloev has done a better job of integrating his takedowns into MMA. When a pair of wrestling reliant fighters meet, their ground skills could cancel each other out leading to a striking-based contest. On the feet, Grundy throws with power, but Evloev offers more volume. Look for a back and forth battle, with Movsar pushing the Brit at a pace he can’t handle which should allow Evloev to use his wrestling later in the fight- my prediction is Movsar Evloev to defeat Mike Grundy by decision.

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265lbs- Tanner Boser vs Raphael Pessoa

Less than a month removed from a sensational opening round knockout of PFL Champion Philipe Lins, Canada’s Tanner Boser (18-6-1) returns to action. Boser is 2-1 in the promotion and despite entering his 3rd UFC fight with decisions in 12 of his last 14 fights, he showed he has finishing potential.

A big right hand stunned Lins with the end coming shortly thereafter. Another effective weapon utilized by the Canadian are his heavy low kicks. He has landed them throughout his UFC tenure and even stopped opponents on the regional scene.

Boser’s cardio is solid with championship round experience. The Canadian utilizes a lot of movement and entered his last fight appearing to be in the best condition of his short UFC career. In his debut, he landed 93 strikes over 15-minutes.

At the other end of the spectrum, Brazil’s Raphael Pessoa (10-1-0) has recorded 6 of his 10 career wins inside round 1. He is coming off of his 3rd career win on the scorecards, defeating Jeff Hughes. 6 of his 7 finishes have come by knockout.

Despite a finish heavy record, Pessoa looked decent over the distance against Hughes. He did slow down in the final round, but he was already comfortably ahead.

The Brazilian throws big power in his hands and will augment his power punches with heavy low kicks. He looked more confident and relaxed against Hughes when compared to his debut performance.

Boser and Pessoa offer a lot of similar skills; decent punching power, hard low kicks, and respectable cardio. That being said, Boser’s endurance and work rate appear to be superior. Raphael dictated the pace against Hughes leading to victory. That won’t be the case here. Look for Boser to push the action early, land a barrage of low kicks that slow Pessoa down, and outwork him as the fight advances- my prediction is Tanner Boser to defeat Raphael Pessoa by decision.

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135lbs- Bethe Correia vs Pannie Kianzad

Former title challenger Bethe “Pitbull” Correia (11-4-1) rallied to an upset victory over Sijara Eubanks ending a difficult 1-4-1 stretch that began with her title fight defeat. Correia is 9-1-1 in decisions including a 2-1 record in split decisions.

The Brazilain’s cardio is solid and her striking volume is respectable. She got off to a rough start against Eubanks and clearly lost the first round before rallying to secure the final 2 frames against a faded foe. One fight prior, she had some big moments against Irene Aldana, but succumbed to an armbar in the 3rd round.

Correia will have to overcome a 2″ reach and height disadvantage to work her way into her desired punching range.

Sweden’s Pannie Kianzad (12-5-0) went 2-3 under the Invicta banner, but battled her way the Featherweight TUF 28 Finals where she fell via submission to Macy Chiasson. A brief return to the regional scene for a win was followed by a 1-1 record in her return to the Octagon.

Pannie is coming off an impressive 98-strike performance in her rematch with Jessica-Rose Clark. Her right hand was key weapon setup by a busy lead left jab. The Swede looked light on her feet, maintained a high guard, and slipped in and out of range effectively.

When the scenario presents itself, Kianzad will look for takedowns, but she has been submitted twice.

Bethe showed against Aldana that she can find success against more technically gifted strikers. She will need to find a similar approach here; pushing into range to land short but hard punches. Kianzad is more technical, but she should also have an advantage in the work rate based on her last fight. Look for Pannie to land and evade on the feet and potentially mix in a few takedowns- my prediction is Pannie Kianzad to defeat Bethe Correia by decision.

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170lbs- Ramazan Emeev vs Niklas Stolze

Despite home field advantage, Ramazan Emeev’s (18-4-0) perfect UFC run and 7-fight winning streak came to an end at the hands of Rocco Martin. He had picked up a trio of UFC wins including a debut decision defeat of Sam Alvey at Middleweight.

Emeev’s effectively utilizes takedowns to mute his opponent’s offensive consistency. Over his first 3 UFC bouts, he secured 7 takedowns while limiting his adversaries to less than 30 significant strikes while only landed in the mid to high 30’s himself. Martin defended all 9 of Ramazan’s TDAs and outworked him on the feet by a total of 41-30.

Emeev will pop a left jab to help set up his entries, utilizing a clinch heavy offense between attempted TDAs.

A 15-month layoff and 2-week short notice call set the stage for the debuting German Niklas Stolze (12-3-0). He has won 4 in a row since a mini 1-2 slump back in 2016/2017. His last 4 opponents offer a combined record of 38-27 with only one currently holding a sub .500 mark.

Of his 12 wins, 9 have come inside the distance- 5 by submission. He is just 3-3 on the scorecards. The German moves well, offering slick counter-punching and solid kicking technique up and down the body.

He did struggle with the takedowns of an opponent during one of his recent regional defeats. Niklas gave up multiple completions and spent some key fight time on his back.

Stolze has to keep this fight at distance at all costs as he should have a striking advantage in both variety and volume. Unfortunately, Emeev is so effective at grinding down his opponent in both the clinch and on the mat. This physically demanding style makes the short notice prep fo Niklas even more concerning. Emeev will force Stolze to his back, draining his cardio which will in turn lead to further mat time- my prediction is Ramazan Emeev to defeat Niklas Stolze by decision.

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135lbs- John Castaneda vs Nathaniel Wood

With a trio of wins to launch his UFC career, England’s Nathaniel Wood (16-4-0) took a step up in competition against former Flyweight title challenger John Dodson, but suffered his 2nd career knockout. Wood had previously finished all 3 of his UFC foes by submission.

The Brit offers a nice variety of finishing skills with 9 wins by knockout 5 more by submission. He has also been stopped 4 times, split evenly between subs and (T)KOs. His striking repertoire is solid and his ability to control his opponent on mat while setting up a potential finish has been impressive.

As Dodson was able to exploit, Wood is a little too willing to take damage. He has been hurt on multiple occasions and Dodson was able to crack him several times before finally putting him down.

John Castaneda (17-4-0) makes his debut on a month’s notice to replace the Umar Nurmagomedov after the death of his Uncle- Khabib’s father. The American recently dropped back to back fights before securing 3rd round submission wins. He won a 2017 decision on the Contenders Series, but return to the regional scene in the aftermath.

He has split his 12 finishes evenly between submissions and knockouts. In his Contenders bout, Castaneda spent the first round on his back, but turn the contest with a well-timed knee and went on to win the next 2 rounds.

More recently, he has found success with his takedown game to set up his submission. At distance, he throws a decent variety of offense but is far from an overwhelming volume striker and can be out worked.

A devastating knockout loss should encourage Wood to refocus on his defensive game. That being said, he is best suited to utilize an aggressive offensive first approach against Castaneda. Castaneda won’t be able to match his striking pace and unless the American is able to stop him or find consistent success with his wrestling, Nathaniel should be the front runner. Wood eventually takes him down, lands some ground and pound before looking for the finish- my prediction is Nathaniel Wood to defeat John Castaneda by submission.


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