The UFC’s now infamous ‘Fight Island’ comes to an end this Saturday night as the promotions residency in Abu Dhabi finishes with a five-round middleweight title eliminator.
After four solid fight cards have been put in the books, UFC on ESPN 14 closes out the month-long staycation with an extremely rare seven-fight main card with 15 bouts in total – a joint promotional record dating back to UFC 2.
While we will delve deeper into the main card of Saturday’s event, the preliminary card does boast a heavy UK theme with the likes of Nathaniel Wood, Mike Grundy, Jai Herbert and Tom Aspinall set to feature on the undercard.
Robert Whittaker (20-5) vs. Darren Till (18-2-1)
With unknowns as to how Whittaker will rebound from injuries and a plethora of other setbacks, stylistically I think this is ‘The Reaper’s’ fight to lose.
While Till certainly has the timing, power and distance management to frustrate Whittaker, I still have big questions over his head movement and output.
Whittaker meanwhile can take advantage of his lack of defence with blitzes akin to the Jorge Masvidal fight and his speed and power can certainly make them count.
While it certainly isn’t anything close to a foregone conclusion, I think Whittaker’s more diverse arsenal will allow him to pick up the victory.
Pick: Robert Whittaker
Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua (26-11-1) vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (23-9)
In what looks to be a farewell fight for two legends of the sport, I doubt this trilogy fight will resemble anything close to their fantastic first meeting 15 years ago.
Rua’s durability has fallen off a cliff recently so the opportunity for ‘Lil Nog’ to land a punishing blow and follow it up will remain a constant threat throughout this fight.
‘Shogun’ however is the sprightlier fighter and his grappling has allowed him to nullify and control fights for his recent wins.
It could go either way as neither has looked good recently but I’ll cautiously side with Rua to grind this one out.
Pick: Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua
Fabricio Werdum (23-9-1) vs. Alexander Gustafsson (18-6)
The heavyweight division is always a flip of the coin thanks to their fight-ending power but Fabricio Werdum has looked nothing other than unimpressive since his return from suspension.
While Werdum’s submission threat will remain and the fact he is a natural heavyweight will likely give him some good stead for taking shots from a fighter moving up in weight, I think Gustafsson’s boxing will be the deciding factor in keeping the Brazilian at bay.
Pick: Alexander Gustafsson
Carla Esparza (16-6) vs. Marina Rodriguez (12-0-2)
For Esparza to win, I think she has to unequivocally win the first two rounds convincingly.
The former UFC champion’s recent showings have all been the same with her grappling picking up the earlier rounds before tiredness slows her down dramatically in the third round.
Rodriguez meanwhile has shown that she can remain a problem into the final round and her greater physicality and athleticism should play up against a smaller Esparza.
It’s a tough fight to pick but I’ll side with Rodriguez being hard to grind down and her size being too much.
Pick: Marina Rodriguez
Paul Craig (12-4-1) vs. Gadzhimurad Antigulov (20-6)
Paul Craig fights are perhaps the toughest to predict in all of MMA as he continually pulls of hail mary wins.
Both Craig and Atigulov are at their best when threatening submissions so in true MMA fashion I expect this to take place primarily on the feet.
While Antigulov has been caught out twice on the feet in the UFC, I don’t think Craig has the timing or power to put him away and so Antigulov’s aggression will pay dividends.
Pick: Gadzhimurad Antigulov
Alex Oliveira (21-8-1, 2 NC) vs. Peter Sobotta (17-6-1)
If Sobotta wasn’t coming into this fight after nearly two years out, I might side with him against a declining Oliveira.
While Sobotta does seem the more controlled and technical, I think Oliveira’s unpredictably tied with his physical presence will cause Sobotta problems at least in the early running.
Pick: Alex Oliveira
Khamzat Chimaev (7-0) vs. Rhys McKee (10-2-1)
Rhys McKee will look to try and benefit from Chimaev’s quick turnaround here but ‘Borz’s’ grappling ability is seemingly otherworldly.
I don’t doubt McKee will be back as he’s shown promise in Cage Warriors but Chimaev looks set to become a problem at welterweight thanks to his grappling and ground-and-pound.
Pick: Khamzat Chimaev
(Last Predictions: 3/5, Total: 69/97, 71% Success Rate)
(Success Rate: 2016: 61%, ’17: 60%, ’18: 58%, 19′: 57%)