UFC 251: Usman vs Masvidal | ESPN+ Prelim Predictions

UFC 251: Usman vs Masvidal | ESPN+ Prelim Predictions
265lbs- Maxim Grishin vs Marcin Tybura

Poland’s Marcin Tybura (18-6-0) appeared to be on the cusp of his UFC release, but a decision win over Sergey Spivak returned him to the win column. Tybura had lost 4 of 5 including a trio of knockout defeats.

Tybura found success with his takedowns against Spivak, a key aspect of his winning performances. Over his last 4 UFC wins he has completed 10 takedowns compared to just 3 over his 5 UFC defeats.

On the feet, Marcin’s volume is decent for a heavyweight and he throws a nice variety of techniques including high kicks with fight-ending potential. He will also work effectively from the clinch. The trio of recent knockout losses are a concern and place further significance on his takedowns.

With just over a week to prep, Russia’s Maxim Grishin (30-7-2) moves up from his traditional Light Heavyweight home. Grishin will stand an equal 6’3″ with his opponent but will most likely be the lighter man.

Grishin compiled a 4-0-2 record over the 2018 and 2019 PFL season. That span included a decision win and draw against former UFC competitor Jordan Johnson. A diverse finisher, Maxim has recorded 15 wins by knockout, 6 submission victories, and a solid 9-1-2 record on the cards.

He has power in his right hand and will throw decent kicks. Against Johnson, Grishin did a decent job of defending takedowns, but ultimately spent some key time on his back which cost him a chance to advance in the PFL tournament.

The size difference should be a key factor. If Grishin can maintain separation, he will be the quicker fighter which will aid his striking. He needs to land his right hand with regularity and mix in leg kicks from the outside. Tybura’s grinding style will be difficult for Maxim to overcome. Look for the Polish fighter to clinch and drag his foe to the mat, wearing on him as the bout advances and the short notice takes effect- my prediction is Marcin Tybura to defeat Maxim Grishin by TKO.

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125lbs- Raulian Paiva vs Zhalgas Zhumagulov

Brazil’s Raulian Paiva (19-3-0) looks for a 2nd straight win and to continue to emerge as a potential Flyweight darkhorse. A contestable split decision against Kai Kara-France spoiled his debut and a cut stoppage continued his struggles. Paiva righted the ship with a TKO win over Mark De La Rosa.

The knockout was his 7th stoppage- he is 12-1 on the cards. The Brazilian was landing hard right hands against De La Rosa, eventually putting him down in the 2nd round. He will also mix in a quick left jab and uppercuts along with some low kicks.

Over his first 2 defeats, Raulian gave up a 4-pack of takedowns. Despite those issues, he is an adept scrambler capable of countering his opponent’s grappling attacks and authoring his own.

Making his promotional debut, Kazakhstan’s Zhalgas Zhumagulov (13-3-0) has won 4 in a row including a split decision win over former UFC title challenger Ali Bagautinov and Tyson Nam. The Fight Night Global Flyweight champion has won 3 straight 5-round decisions and gone a full 25-minutes in 4 of his last 5 bouts.

Zhumagulov has power, offering a patient striking attack. Against Bagautinov, he cut off the cage but was waiting to engage before countering. Against Nam, he jumped in with some combination striking but had limited success from range.

Bagautinov found success wrestling Zhumagulov, who in turn has used a ground-based approach successfully in some of his other fights.

Paiva will wade forward and fire his right hand in addition to the rest of his striking arsenal while Zhumagulov attempts to counter strike or at least move into even closer range to land his own offense. If Zhalgas attempts to change levels, Paiva should be able to scramble back to his feet or his own offensive position. Paiva’s work rate and general aggression should hold up well against a fighter willing to fight off his back foot- my prediction is Raulian Paiva to defeat Zhalgas Zhumagulov by decision.

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135lbs- Vanessa Melo vs Karol Rosa

In a debut devoid of defense, Brazil’s Karol Rosa (12-3-0) outslugged her foe in a high-paced striking battle. Edging out her adversary 171-165 in significant strikes, Rosa scored a 3rd round knockdown that most likely gave her the nod in the split decision result.

The Brazilian has secured 4 career knockouts and offered her best techniques when she threw her hands in combination and punctuated her boxing with a hard low kick. Rosa is the main training partner of former Champion Jessica Andrade.

Rosa has been submitted twice, accounting for 2 of her 3 pro losses. Against a BJJ Black belt in her debut, she was able to routinely stuff the takedown attempts and forced the action to transpire on the feet.

Potentially fighting for her Octagon life, Vanessa Melo (10-7-0) is winless in her first 2 UFC outings. A tough debut loss to contender Irene Aldana was followed by a wide decision loss to Flyweight Tracy Cortez- a fight both girls took on short notice.

Melo’s debut also came on short notice and after missing weight by 5-pounds, she was definitively pieced up on the feet by Aldana. “Miss Simpatia” appears willing to stand and trade, but has yet to record a win by knockout. With just a pair of early career submission wins, Melo has been reliant on the scorecards with 8 wins in 14 decisions.

Slow, but steady in her forward motion- Melo has absorbed 204 significant strikes over 30 minutes of actions compared to just 108 strikes landed. When tested on the mat, Melo has had issues getting off her back which cost her against Cortez.

Melo is too linear and defensively vulnerable despite her forward pressure. Rosa didn’t show much defense in her debut, but she made up for it with her volume. If Melo doesn’t hurt Rosa on multiple occassions- she will struggle to offer enough offense to win. Look for Rosa to be more active during the exchanges and possibly mix in a takedown or 2 when appropriate- my prediction is Karol Rosa to defeat Vanessa Melo by decision.

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135lbs- Martin Day vs Davey Grant

British grappler Davey Grant (11-4-0) returns to action following a November split decision win over Grigorii Popov- the victory snapped a 2 fight skid.

Grant came out aggressive against the striking-based Popov, pressing the pace early with his striking and initiating his grappling attack throughout the contest. Grant landed his Octagon-best 6 takedowns. He secured solid top control time and routinely out scrambling his foe whenever put under duress on the mat.

Unable to score a submission win in the UFC, Grant recorded 8 on the regional scene. The Brit has struggled against more talented ground fighters- submissions have accounted for all 4 of his pro losses.

A decision loss on the Contender Series sent Martin Day (8-3-0) back to the regional scene which triggered a 3-fight winning streak and a recall to the UFC where he dropped a split decision in his debut. He has not fought in roughly 20-months.

“The Spartan” builds his attack around a Taekwondo background, authoring a nice variety of kicking techniques. Standing 2-inches taller than Grant with a 4″ reach advantage- Day will want to utilize his length to keep the Brit at distance.

Day landed far more strikes than his debut opponent but got dropped in round 3 which arguably cost him a close fight. In his Contender’s loss, he was taken down on multiple occasions and had his back taken before a late rally fell short.

Grant is willing to stand and strike, but he needs to utilize his vertical offense as a means to set up his grappling attack. Day is a strong range striker but has proven vulnerable against fighters that want to close the gap. The Brit should find success pushing the Hawaiian back to the cage, fighting inside Day’s kicking range, and dragging him to the floor with regularity- my prediction is Davey Grant to defeat Martin Day by submission.

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