UFC on ESPN 1- Preliminary Predictions

UFC on ESPN 1- Preliminary Predictions

135lbs- #5 Jimmie Rivera (21-2-0) vs #7 Aljamain Sterling (15-3-0)

The shark tank that is the Bantamweight division offers another impressive matchup of contenders as Jimmie “El Terror” Rivera faces Aljamain “Funkmaster” Sterling. Rivera defeated John Dodson to start the rebuild after suffering his first loss in 10-years; he is 6-1 inside the Octagon. Sterling has won back to back fights with a submission win over Cody Stamann and decision victory against Brett Johns- he is 8-3 in the UFC.

Sterling is 3 inches taller than Rivera to go along with a 3″ reach advantage. Rivera is the older man by a month.

Both men share noteworthy similarities and key differences. In a similar fashion, both fighters will utilize their wrestling as a key aspect of their attack. Sterling is more apt to set up a submission or work his ground and pound while Rivera focusses on control his goe.

Defensively, Rivera has never been taken down in the UFC while Sterling has given up 9 takedowns over his last 7 fights.

They diverge in their striking offense. Sterling tends to be a counter striker with his hands while initiating with his kicking techniques. His use of kicks helps him to maintain gap control. Rivera is much more aggressive with his boxing, moving forward and throwing combinations.

Against Dodson, Jimmie utilized some good low kicks and landed a respectable 62 significant strikes against the Elusive “Magician”.

Neither man has overwhelming power numbers and both have been recently knocked cold by future title challenger Marlon Moraes.

Sterling is a dangerous grappler, but if Rivera’s TDD holds- Aljamain will be without one of his key weapons. Conversely, Rivera’s speed and volume will be at the forefront of his success. Sterling’s lack of a consistent boxing attack and below average power will allow “El Terror” to press forward unchecked. Jimmie could find success with his own takedowns, but he may also opt to remain vertical- my prediction is Jimmie Rivera to defeat Aljamain Sterling by decision.

135lbs- Benito Lopez (9-0-0) vs Manny Bermudez (13-0-0)

A battle of undefeated prospects features Team Alpha Male product “Golden Boy” Benito Lopez taking on submission machine Manny “The Bermudez Triangle” Bermudez in the Bantamweight division. Lopez earned a split decision on the Contenders fight before picking up a decision victory over Albert Morales in his debut. Bermudez is 2-0 in the UFC, submitting both Morales and Davey Grant.

Lopez has been on the shelf for just over 15-months since his debut. Both men are 5’10”, but Lopez will have a 2″ reach advantage. They are nearly the same age.

Bermudez is a submission specialist, earning 10 of his 13 pro wins by tap out. The majority of his victories have come by guillotine or his vaunted triangle choke. Lopez will need to avoid the grappling exchanges, but that has been easier said than done.

Manny will pull guard and attack with submissions or set up sweeps- opting to take damage on the mat to set up attacks.

Lopez needs to keep this fight on the feet and utilize his striking offense. He has some pop in his techniques, but his willingness to get wild and brawl could work against him. Bermudez did drop Grant, but his striking is a secondary aspect of his offense. Benito has to magnify this shortcoming.

In both his debut and his Tuesday Night Contender battle, Lopez spent some time on his back and had trouble creating separation in the clinch. Bermudez has shown he only needs 1 opportunity on the mat to set up a submission. Even if they don’t go horizontal, Manny will attack in the clinch. Lopez is simply too reckless to avoid getting locked up with Bermudez which won’t end well- my prediction is Manny Bermudez to defeat Benito Lopez by submission.

125lbs- #12 Ashlee Evans-Smith (6-3-0) vs #14 Andrea Lee (9-2-0)

In the Women’s Flyweight division, ranked opponents square off when Ashlee Evans-Smith takes on Andrea “KGB” Lee. Evans-Smith was last seen scoring a decision win over Bec Rawlings to halts her 2-fight losing skid. Lee extended her current winning streak to 5 with an Octagon debut victory over Veronica Macedo.

AES is 2 inches taller, but Lee will have a 2″ reach advantage. Lee was tagged to fight near the end of 2018 against Jessica-Rose Clark, but Clark was forced to pull out.

Evans-Smith is coming off her best all-around performance which included 116 strikes landed, primarily on the feet. An improved striking offense is key for AES as she has struggled to implement her wrestling. If forced to contend on the feet, Lee offers a variety of striking technique.

Andrea is a sound striker, building around her Karate background. She outlanded her opponent 56-24 in her debut, utilizing a combination of range and clinch striking. Similar to Evans-Smth, Lee utilized the clinch along the cage to set up takedowns and drag her opponent to the floor.

If the fights hits the floor, Lee has a solid submission game, securing 4 wins by tap out. Conversely, AES has been submitted twice as a pro and on multiple occasions as an amateur.

AES’s striking looked improved, but she will struggle with the more diverse offense of Lee. Lee is strong in the clinch which is where AES picks up most of her takedowns. Lee will either defend or scramble out of the wrestling exchanges and land the better strikes in gritty battle- my prediction is Andrea Lee to defeat Ashlee Evans-Smith by decision.

155lbs- Scott Holtzman (12-2-0) vs Nik Lentz (31-9-2 1NC)

A pair of Lightweight scrappers go toe to toe as Scott “Hot Sauce” Holtzman takes on Nik “The Carny” Lentz. Holtzman has won a trio of fights, most recently finishing Alan Patrick last October. Lentz is coming off a finish of Gray Maynard, he has secured wins in 4 of his last 6 outings.

Holtzman is an inch taller and will have a 1″ reach advantage over Lentz. Nik is the younger fighter by a year.

The takedown number of both men stand out as the most significant statistical aspect of this fight. Holtzman has completed at least 1 takedown in each of his UFC fights; he is 4-0 when winning the takedown battle and 1-2 when losing it. In a similar fashion, Lentz is 1-4 in his last 5 fights when he doesn’t complete a takedown.

Lentz has averaged 4 completions per fight over his last 8 victories.

On the feet, both fighters have showcased a notable uptick in their overall output. Holtzman put up good numbers against Patrick and McBride- landing 104 significant strikes. He should have an edge in both volume and impact.

Lentz landed 75 significant strikes on Maynard, his UFC best. Normally, “The Carny” lands between 35 and 60 significant strikes.

There appears to be a difference in career directions between these two fighters. Holtzman has been stringing together is best overall performance, improving his wrestling, throwing more volume, and tightening up his defensive game. Lentz’s wrestling hasn’t been nearly as effective and his vertical output is below average.

If Lentz can utilize his wrestling, he has the ability to grind his way to a decision. Holtzman’s improved defensive game should afford him the ability to stay vertical long enough to do damage on the feet. Holtzman will be the more impactful and active striker and might even find success with his own wrestling later in the fight- my prediction is Scott Holtzman to defeat Nik Lentz by decision.

135lbs- Renan Barao (36-7-0 1NC) vs Luke Sanders (13-3-0)

Former Bantamweight champion Renan Barao looks to break out of his current losing slump when he takes on “Cool Hand” Luke Sanders. Barao dropped a split decision to Andre Ewell in Brazil, his fifth defeat in his last 6 fights. Sanders opened his promotional run with a victory over Maximo Blanco, but has since stumbled through a 1-3 stretch that saw him get finished in all 3 defeats.

Both men stand 5’6″, but Renan will have a 3″ reach advantage. The former champion is the younger man by 2 years.

Sanders has a reputation for starting strong, but fading. In his first 2 UFC defeats, he won the opening round before he was finished in the 2nd frame. Even in his win over Patrick Williams, he dominated the early action, but slowed and allowed Williams to get back into the fight.

The former champion has relatable, but different issues. Barao struggles with opponents that push a heavy pace and maintain a constant flow of offense. At least early in the fight, Sanders has shown he can offer a decent work rate, hammering his foe with heavy strikes both standing and on the mat.

It is also worth noting that while Barao is the younger fighter, he also has considerable more mileage on his body. He made his pro debut 6-years before Sanders and has fought 42 pro fights to just 15 for Luke.

Luke usually gets off to a good start, but his opponent is able to hang around and rally. Barao tends to fade in the latter stages of a bout, but his drop off in performance is directly impacted by his adversary’s ability to push the pace early. Sanders will start out strong, blitz Barao with punching combinations and keep engaging. Renan’s ability to come back will be compromised after the initial exchanges- my prediction is Luke Sanders to defeat Renan Barao by decision.

115lbs- Jessica Penne (12-6-0) vs Jodie Esquibel (6-4-0)

In the second of 4 Women’s bouts on the card, former UFC title challenger and Invicta Atomweight champion Jessica Penne returns to action across the cage from Invicta alumni Jodie Esquibel. Penne is in the midst of a 3-fight losing streak, dropping fights to Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Jessica Andrade, and most recently Danielle Taylor. Esquibel has lost each of her 2 UFC outings, falling via decision to Jessica Aguilar and Karolina Kowalkiewicz.

Penne is the taller fighter by 2 inches and will have a 3″ reach advantage. Jodie is the younger fighter by 3-years while Penne hasn’t fought in almost 22-months.

The first question surrounding this fight is the focus of Penne. Beyond her inactivity, she suffered a pair of brutal TKO finishes. A lack of confidence could also be an issue as Penne has not won a fight in over 4-years.

Esquibel is in a similar situation,  with just a single win in her last 4 fights. She is 5-3 on the scorecards with a 3-0 record in split decisions.

Penne needs to get back to her base; a BJJ Black belt- her best performances have come when she can get her grappling game involved. Jodie comes from a boxing base and will struggle if Penne can take her down.

Esquibel has defended 7 of 8 TDAs in the UFC.

Despite her boxing background, Esquibel’s output hasn’t held up in either loss. She has given up triple-digit volume in both outings. That might not be an issue against Penne, who has a UFC-best of 69 significant strikes landed and has given up more offense than she offered in all 4 of her appearances.

Jessica has been outlanded 370 to 160 inside the Octagon.

Penne doesn’t have the power to back the boxer off and is devoid of the wrestling needed to incorporate her grappling with consistency. Esquibel will move in and out, landing flurries and capitalize on Jessica’s unwillingness to let her hands go. Ring rust will further impact Penne’s performance, my prediction is Jodie Esquibel to defeat Jessica Penne by decision.

115lbs- Aleksandra Albu (3-0-0) vs Emily Whitmire (3-2-0)

The opening fight of the night pits Aleksandra “Stitch” Albu against TUF 26 alumni Emily “Spitfire” Whitmire in the Strawweight division. Albu improved her UFC record to 2-0 last July with a decision victory over Kailin Curran at UFC 214. Whitmire has also fought twice inside the Octagon, dropping her debut via submission but rallying to score a decision victory over Jamie Moyle.

Whitmire returned to the Strawweight division in her last fight, she 3 inches taller than Albu and they will share the same reach. Emily is the younger fighter by a year.

The key to victory for Whitmire will be her endurance and technical skills. Albu likes to muscle her offense which could create cardio issues later in the fight especially when combined with the 1.5-year layoff for the Russian.

While “Stitch” is a little stiffer than Whitmire, she will also do more damage when her offense lands. Albu constantly presses forward and throws heavy kicks and punches. Emily was getting tagged with regularity against Moyle and can’t afford to let Aleksandra pile up the offense.

The most interesting aspect of this fight will be the ground exchanges. Albu completed 5 takedowns against Curran, relying heavily on her strength and a head and arm throw to get the action to the mat. She also pulled guard early in the fight. Once on top, she can do damage with her GNP or set up a sub.

Whitmire has been submitted in both of her pro bouts and lost via TKO due to GNP in her TUF tournament exit. While she can do work on the mat, she appears to be vulnerable. “Spitfire” could gain the positional edge if Albu tires and/or makes some mistakes when they lock up.

The layoff for Albu and overall lack of activity is a major concern. That being said, she is the better athlete and the physically stronger woman. Albu will find success pushing forward and landing power strikes with Whitmire struggling to back her off. Once on the inside, “Stitch” will score takedowns and do damage from top position- my prediction is Aleksandra Albu to defeat Emily Whitmire by TKO.

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