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Saturday 9th March in Wichita, Kansas. Someone’s getting knocked out. ESPN+ MAIN CARD Derrick Lewis vs Junior Dos Santos Beneil Dariush vs Drew Dober Sergio Moraes vs Anthony Rocco Martin Blagoy Ivanov vs Ben Rothwell Daniel Spitz vs Jeff Hughes Tim Boetsch vs Omari Akhmedov ESPN+ PRELIMS Yana Kunitskaya vs Marion Reneau Curtis Millender vs Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos Julian Erosa vs Grant Dawson Alex Morono vs Zak Ottow Tim Means vs Niko Price Louis Smolka vs Matt Schnell Alex White vs Dan Moret MMAJunkie’s bout order there. Surely it’s going to be reshuffled though. Dariush-Dober as co-main? I’m not in love with this card, to be honest. I really like the main event and there are some good fights underneath, but I don’t know. It’s lacking something for me. Certainly isn’t helped by being sandwiched between a stacked UFC 235 a week earlier and the really strong London card a week later. Derrick Lewis vs Junior Dos Santos will be fireworks though. I know Lewis has had a couple of shit fights but I can’t see it playing out like that here. JDS isn’t what he was but he’s still a top heavyweight and is still going to beat most of the division. He fought twice in 2018 and went 2-0 with wins over Blagoy Ivanov and Tai Tuivasa. And of course, we last saw the Black Beast in November, losing in his title shot against Daniel Cormier at MSG. JDS has lost a step but he’s far from shot. He’s always going to bring it and he hits hard so Lewis is going to have to fire back. Like with pretty much every Derrick Lewis fight, he’s outmatched in skill and technique here. JDS is the way superior boxer, he’s faster, can throw in combinations and has a nice jab. But Lewis always has that one punch x-factor and it’s got him out of trouble a bunch of times. He’s got a knack for landing that bomb when he most needs it. I really don’t want either man to lose this fight. It’s the only drawback for me of the matchup being made. Beneil Dariush vs Drew Dober is OK. Like I said though, this can’t be the co-main event. I know it’s not the deepest of lineups but there are at least two better options to fill the co-main spot. Whatever the case, I hope Dariush wins this. I’ve always had a soft spot for him for some reason. He’s had some bad setbacks, most memorably that flying knee KO he suffered against Barboza springs to mind. But he’s a good fighter, an excellent grappler and he has wins over Jim Miller, James Vick and Michael Johnson on his record. He’s had a patchy run of late but he is coming off a win now. Hopefully he continues that here because I’ve never taken to Dober. Decent enough and is coming off 3 wins but something about him has always bugged me. I think it’s his face. He has a very punchable one. Look at it. Thankfully for me, he’s in a line of work where he’ll get punched in the face regularly. Sergio Moraes vs Anthony Rocco Martin again, feels too high up the card. Could be a bit of a darkhorse fight though. Both are on good form at the moment. I’ve always quite liked Moraes. He’s nothing special but I remember him seeming like a real good egg on the first TUF Brazil years ago. He made the finals but lost to Cezar Ferreira. He has won 4 of his last 5, to be fair though, with the only loss being to Kamaru Usman. Tremendous grappler. He’s a 3rd degree BJJ black-belt and has multiple gold medals on his mantle. Martin is a guy who’s been on the roster for ages but went pretty unnoticed for the longest time. He’s looked good recently though. Won 3 in a row, submitted Jake Matthews in his last fight and scored a headkick KO against Ryan LaFlare before that. Why’s he going by Anthony Rocco Martin now though? It was just plain old Tony Martin for years now he’s trying to make himself sound like a Goodfellas character? Blagoy Ivanov vs Ben Rothwell in another heavyweight clash. I like this. Could well be sloppy as fuck if it goes past about a round and a half but it could also be a right slobberknocker. Ivanov is 16-2-1, was the WSOF heavyweight champion and fought for years in Bellator. He’s probably most known for the story of him being stabbed and almost dying though, hence that scar just below his tits in the picture there. Crazy story and it’s remarkable that he survived much less returned to MMA. He made his UFC debut in July and lost a 5 round decision to JDS. Tough debut fight for him but I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s got here. Rothwell hasn’t fought since April 2016, also losing to JDS. He was supposed to fight Fabricio Werdum after that but failed a drug test and got a 2 year USADA suspension. He’s served his time and here we are. Rothwell was actually on a hell of a run before that JDS loss. He’d racked up 4 consecutive wins with finishes over Brandon Vera, Alistair Overeem, Matt Mitrione and Josh Barnett! People forget but Rothwell was legitimately knocking on the door of a title shot in 2016. Mixed in with his cringeworthy post-fight promos he was stopping heavyweights left and right. But in light of his USADA ban, how much of it was down to PEDs? This is his chance to try to redeem himself. Could see this maybe ending up as the co-headliner. Tim Boetsch vs Omari Akhmedov could be fun. Boetsch is quality. Always been an undercard highlight for me ever since he made his debut all those years ago and dumped David Heath on his twatty head. The comeback KO against Okami in Japan is up there amongst the maddest comebacks in MMA history as well. He’s 38 now, 21-12 record and coming off a one-sided submission loss to Shoeface. It feels like he’s reaching the end of his career now. Akhmedov is no cakewalk though. Just looking at him, he looks like he could eat broken glass and nails and wash it down with petrol. Russian fighters just have that aura don’t they. He’s 17-4-1, wins over Abdul Razak Alhassan and Kyle Noke. A winnable fight for Boetsch but a tough one. Yana Kunitskaya vs Marion Reneau is just there really. Kunitskaya is Russian, 29 years old, 11-4-1 record. She’s going to be mostly remembered as one of Cyborg’s victims. She did rebound with a win over Lina Lansberg on the Khabib vs McGregor prelims in October. Reneau is American, a BJJ black-belt with a 9-4-1 record. She’s 41 years old, which I think makes her the oldest woman to fight in the UFC. Not a bad fighter, Reneau. No world beater but she’s certainly had her moments in the UFC. She took Holly Holm the distance, scored a come from behind submission over Sara McCann and in 2015 she submitted Jessica Andrade, in Brazil, inside a round! The matchup here doesn’t do much for me, but it might be a pleasant surprise. Curtis Millender vs Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos is ***WAND’S ONE TO WATCH*** on this one. This should be on the main card, no ifs ands or buts about it. I hope it gets bumped up. Millender is a real prospect, one of the brightest on the roster for me. And Dos Santos is one of the better and more underrated prelim guys in the UFC as well. Love this pairing. Millender is 17-3 and coming off 9 wins in a row. He debuted in the UFC less than a year ago and is already 3-0 with wins over Thiago Alves, Max Griffin and Siyar Bahadurzada. Dos Santos is 20-5 with 16 finishes and coming off 6 wins in a row. He ended his last 2 fights with a flying knee and a spinning wheel kick respectively. One of the unsung badasses on the undercards. This is probably stealing the show unless the Beast and JDS decide to go all Hunt vs Bigfoot 1 on us. Tim Means vs Niko Price could be great. I’ve always said I thought Means was one of those fighters who’s better than his record suggests. You look at his record (28-10-1-1) and think journeyman. But when I watch him I think ‘this guy should’ve done better than he has’. A couple of his losses were split decisions, then he’s taken top guys like Masvidal and Magny the distance. He’s a solid fighter and a good all-rounder. It just hasn’t panned out for him results-wise for whatever reason. Speaking of results not panning out, Niko Price got KO’d by Abdul Razak Alhassan in his last fight. He’s 12-2-1 now but he still has loads of potential, IMO. He’s 29, a BJJ brown-belt, exciting to watch. He’s a real finisher too, 11 of his 12 wins are finishes. He’s stopped Alan Jouban and Brandon Thatch in the UFC, both were considered hot prospects at the time. And he KO’d the fuck out of Randy Brown with hammerfists off his back! Louis Smolka vs Matt Schnell is one I’ll keep an eye on purely because of Smolka. Always enjoyed his fights. Him vs Paddy Holohan on one of the Dublin shows a few years back remains one of the highlights of the flyweight division for me. Fantastic forgotten fight that was. I didn’t even realise Smolka had left the UFC. He lost 4 in a row between 2016 and 2017 and went away and won 3 fights in 2018, all finishes, and came back and got a submission win on the Ngannou vs Blaydes 2 show in China in November. Didn’t know he was gone but I’m glad he’s back. Hey look, I went from barely giving a bollocks about this card to talking myself into quite liking it.