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UFC Saudi Arabia: Whittaker vs Aliskerov - Jun 22 🇸🇦


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Posted (edited)

It’s no Fury vs Usyk but we’re off to Saudi Arabia again in a few weeks. First ever UFC Saudi show…

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ABC MAIN CARD
Robert Whittaker vs Ikram Aliskerov

Sergei Pavlovich vs Alexander Volkov 

Kelvin Gastelum vs Daniel Rodriguez 

Shara Magomedov vs Antonio Trocoli

Johnny Walker vs Volkan Oezdemir 

FIGHT PASS PRELIMS 
Nasrat Haqparast vs Jared Gordon 

Muhammad Naimov vs Felipe Lima

Rinat Fakhretdinov vs Nicolas Dalby

Muin Gafurov vs Kyung Ho Kang

Magomed Gadzhiyasulov vs Brendson Ribeiro 

Xiao Long vs Chang Ho Lee - Road To UFC Bantamweight Final 

 

 

Losing Khamzat has obviously hurt this one but I still quite like it. It’s a fairly strong Fight Night card but Whittaker vs Khamzat as headliner was definitely carrying the load. If you remember, the UFC were actually supposed to make their Saudi debut back in March but basically offered up an Apex card and were swiftly told to piss off. They’ve come back with this and apparently old Turki wants the UFC over there regularly like he’s been doing with the big Boxing cards. Can definitely see Islam Makhachev defending the title over there if he gets past Poirier in a few weeks. Interesting times ahead. 

Oh and just a head’s up, with this card being in Saudi Arabia, we’re getting a lovely UK friendly start time. From what I can tell the main card kicks off at 8pm!


 

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Robert Whittaker vs Ikram Aliskerov is our new main event then. Not ideal. Obviously, the original Whittaker vs Khamzat Chimaev fight was much bigger and more interesting. But what can you do? Khamzat just continues to disappoint. When it was announced he was out, Dana described him as being “violently ill”. Hopefully it’s nothing too serious. But man, to get this close to the fight only for him to drop out with a week to go is shite. Don’t know what you do with Khamzat at this point. The talk for a while has been that he can’t fight in the US due to legal issues. But then they try and have him fight in Saudi Arabia and this happens? Oh well. Like always, the game moves on regardless. And on just over a week’s notice, the UFC have done about as good as they could with the substitution.

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Gotta say fair play to ol’ Bobby Knuckles for accepting this last minute replacement. Because let’s face it, this matchup does little for him. A risky fight for relatively little reward because Aliskerov is a dangerous fighter but not particularly well known at this stage of his career. In that sense, this reminds me a bit of that Dustin Poirier vs Benoit Saint Denis fight back in March. Whittaker is never far away from title contention and it’s likely to stay that way until he significantly declines. Since moving up to 185 back in 2014, he’s gone 13-3 with the only losses being the two against Izzy and the surprising (at the time) TKO loss to Du Plessis last year. He rebounded in style beating Paulo Costa in a really fun fight at UFC 298 in February. Add to that wins over Uriah Hall, Derek Brunson, Jacare Souza, Yoel Romero x2, Darren Till, Jared Cannonier, Kelvin Gastelum and Marvin Vettori…he’s easily one of the best Middleweights in UFC history. One of the true good eggs in the sport as well. Impossible to dislike. To use a pro wrestling term, he’s as babyface as it gets. The Ricky Steamboat of MMA. Considering we first saw him on the excellent TUF Smashes season way back in 2012, it’s easy to forget he’s still only 33. I’d love to see him get another crack at the belt but with the current landscape at 185, it’s gonna be difficult. He’s 0-2 to Adesanya and already got stopped by DDP fairly recently. Again, credit to him for still taking this fight. He sounded well up for that Khamzat fight and must be gutted. Hopefully he wins this fight and gets back in the title mix.

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Aliskerov was all set to co-main on the Apex card on the 15th against UFC newcomer Antonio Trocoli. To go from that to this is quite a jump but it’s also a huge opportunity for him. Too good a chance to pass up. He’s been in camp anyway so conditioning and the weight cut shouldn’t be an issue. But it’s worth noting this is his third scheduled opponent during this training camp. He was originally supposed to fight Andre Muniz on the 15th, Muniz dropped out so then it was Aliskerov vs Trocoli. Now his fight’s been pushed back a week and he’s in with a former UFC champion in Whittaker.

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That’s the last time we saw Aliskerov. He bashed up Warlley Alves in about 2 minutes at UFC 294 in October. Before that was his UFC debut and he did the same to Phil Hawes. He’s from Dagestan, 31 years old, a 4 time world champion in Combat Sambo and has a MMA record of 15-1 with 11 not making it to the judges scorecards. The lone loss was by knockout at the hands of…Khamzat Chimaev. Now he’s stepping in replacing him. Funny old game. I’m not sure how good Aliskerov is yet. Haven’t seen a ton of footage but from what we have seen he definitely carries fight ending power and he goes for the kill. If nothing else, at least he hasn’t been boring yet. I’m not gonna complain about him when there’s so many dullards in the Middleweight division. I expect this’ll be an enjoyable enough fight. Doesn’t have the same buzz as the Khamzat fight would’ve but, as Middleweight headliners go, this isn’t a bad one.

 

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Sergei Pavlovich vs Alexander Volkov is a bit of a weird one. At face value it’s just a run of the mill Heavyweight fight. And not a bad one, to be fair. I feel like I’m always down on the Heavyweights but this is actually a solid fight. Pavlovich is obviously a heavy hitter and going up against a giant of a man in Volkov, it’s an interesting clash of styles and physical frames. It’s weird in the fact of the circumstances of how it came about. It definitely wasn’t the original plan. Volkov had apparently signed to fight Jailton Almeida at UFC 302 and Pavlovich was reportedly being lined up to fight Ciryl Gane in Paris in September. For whatever reason, the UFC decided to switch things up. Tom Aspinall was talking about it on Helwani’s show recently and said he’d heard the UFC announced it without either guy signing a contract. Nothing new there then, but it’s always mad when you hear about that shit going on in the biggest MMA promotion in the world. Then you factor in that Pavlovich and Volkov have trained together in the past and you see what Volkov’s saying about the fight and it all just feels odd…

“I found out about this fight when it was already announced. The UFC, as I understand it, received a ‘yes’ from Sergei Pavlovich’s team, because they replied that they would agree if I agreed. This card is important for the UFC and Dana White, so few people asked my consent here.”

“I had already turned down several fights because I didn’t want to fight with my compatriots who I trained with. My limits on refusals in the eyes of the UFC, unfortunately, are gone.” - Alexander Volkov

Doesn’t sound like he’s too jazzed about this fight, does it? And then when you read his memories of what sparring was like with Pavlovich…

“Pavlovich hits very hard. It was very difficult to work with him. I don’t think I won a single round against him. After every blow, my legs were giving way. To be honest, when he came to sparring, I tried to stand less with him because I understood that every time he hit, some kind of injury could happen.” - Alexander Volkov

Oh dear. Yeah, he’s not sounding up for this. Not sure why they couldn’t have just left the original fights with Jailton and Gane intact but, given Gane’s recent antics, I’m guessing he didn’t fancy fighting Pavlovich and that’s what’s forced the shuffle. Reading those quotes from Volkov though, it seems like he’s already going in with a defeatist mindset. Maybe he rises to the occasion, maybe it’s mind games. Fuck knows? But on the surface, it looks like he’s already mentally beaten.

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Looking forward to seeing Big Sergei back in there. Obviously he’s coming off that quick knockout loss to Tom Aspinall at MSG in November. In fairness though, that fight was thrown together just a couple of weeks before the show because Jon Jones got injured (surprise, surprise) and got the Stipe Miocic fight cancelled. So neither Pavlovich or Aspinall would’ve had an actual training camp for that fight. They jumped at the opportunity purely because it was for the interim title and on a huge card. It was worth the gamble so they both just rocked up with no camp and threw bombs at each other. Like a lot of Heavyweight slugfests, it felt very much like a case of whoever lands first. But Sergei tagged Aspinall and got slept with the counters. It was a fun big man shootout for the 1:09 it lasted but Sergei ended up flat on his back looking at the lights on the ceiling of MSG. Before that though, he’d been a wrecking ball. He was on a 6 fight winning streak in the UFC, with all 6 fights ending by KO/TKO in the first round and had stopped Derrick Lewis, Tai Tuivasa and Curtis Blaydes in his 3 previous fights. Overall he’s 19-2 now with 15 first round knockouts. Like any Heavyweight, he’s not without flaws. He had a couple of fights go the distance earlier in his career and I’ve read he looked shite in at least one of them. But they were so long ago now. He’s way better than most of the dross in the division. Volkov’s coming off 3 wins now and submitted Tuivasa last time out at UFC 293 in September. His size and height would usually make this interesting but if those sparring stories are true (and why would Volkov lie and make himself look bad?), it doesn’t sound like Pavlovich had much trouble with that. Yeah, bit of a strange booking really but hopefully it’s a good fight.

 

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Kelvin Gastelum vs Daniel Rodriguez is OK. Not in love with it but it’s not a bad fight. I’m just sort of done with expecting much from Gastelum at this point. It always boggles my mind when I remember how young he still is. He’s only 32 but it genuinely feels like he’s a relic from a bygone era these days. The names he’s fought is insane and he’s had some big wins over the years against the likes of Bisping, Jacare etc. But at just 32, it really feels like he’s pretty much shot at the top level. Not that he was ever truly tippy top level but he did have that war with Adesanya and came close to winning at various points. I think that was the fight that sapped whatever was left of his prime though. He was always a bit inconsistent but since that Izzy fight he’s gone an abysmal 2-5 and hasn’t looked great in any of them. He’s coming into this fight off a submission loss to Sean Brady in December. Still, it’ll be nice to see him get to compete on the same card as his twin brother from another (German) mother…

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Rodriguez is the older man at 37 but hasn’t really taken the punishment Gastelum has or faced as much stiff opposition. He’s 17-4 and his notable wins are over Li Jingliang (where’s he, actually?), Kevin Lee and Tim Means. But even then, the Jingliang win was a split decision that I recall being hotly debated at the time. And Lee and Means were both on the downswing. D-Rod is now coming off back-to-back losses to Neil Magny and Ian Garry, he was finished in both, got brutally headkicked by Garry, and has been out of action just over a year now. Yeah, they might have a decent dust up but they both have the look of fighters on the way out.

 

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Shara Magomedov vs Antonio Trocoli is ***WAND’S ONE TO WATCH*** now. Jesus Christ though. At this point fuck knows if this is the fight we actually get on the night. On a card that’s been full of changes and dropouts, this fight especially has been all over the shop. If I’m keeping track, Shara Bullet was originally supposed to fight Ihor Potieria. But then Potieria jumped in against Michel Pereira on short notice at UFC 301 in May when Pereira’s scheduled opponent withdrew. And that was that. Pereira buzzsawed through Potieria quick and choked him out. The original plan was for Potieria to still fight Shara here but the way the fight went, he wasn’t gonna be able to turn around and fight again just weeks later. So Shara then called out Pereira but nothing came of it. The matchmakers finally found him an opponent in UFC newcomer Joilton Lutterbach but then just 3 days before fight night, Lutterbach was also out after the anti-doping commission popped him for pissing hot for some substance or other. Just an absolute shambles.

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Will he actually get to fight this time? Will his opponent make it 2 more days or will I have to edit this shit again for fuck’s sake? I hope this one does go ahead. He’s from Dagestan, just turned 30 in May and so far he’s gone undefeated at 12-0 with 10 knockouts, 7 of them inside a round. In his last fight before signing with the UFC he won by KO in just 8 seconds! Definitely dangerous but largely untested. His first 11 opponents don’t even have a Wikipedia page so I’m not sure how good any of them were. I guess we’ll find out soon enough if he can hang with legit opposition. And to be fair, he did alright in his UFC debut…

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He took on Bruno Silva at UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi back in October. It was an entertaining enough scrap and Shara ended up winning a decision. Silva’s no world beater but he’s a tough guy and had gone the distance with Alex Pereira a few fights ago. Certainly the best opponent Shara has faced to date and I recall him winning comfortably. Although I do also recall his grappling looking very suspect and I came away from that fight feeling like there’d be fun matchups to be had with him against some of the strikers at 185, but that ultimately his lack of ground game will let him down and his ceiling probably isn’t particularly high. We’ll see, I guess.

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If for some reason you were looking for a reason to root against Trocoli, there you have it. He’s dating Mackenzie Dern. Trocoli’s a weird one actually. He’s 33 years old and has a record of 12-3-0-1 with 8 finishes. He also hasn’t fought since November 2021! He’d won a fight on DWCS before that but it got overturned to a No Contest when he got caught with PEDs in his system. He was given another chance in 2022 and was booked against Ovince Saint Preux but pulled out with Visa issues and Dana binned him again. Then as recently as May this year, he was briefly booked against Oumar Sy but dropped out again. I mean, fuck! So even this close to show time, I’m not exactly confident he’s gonna actually make it to the cage. He was already training though, he was supposed to fight Ikram Aliskerov on the Perez vs Taira card at the Apex a week earlier but Aliskerov was pulled out to headline this card against Whittaker. What a mess. Hopefully they both make it to Saturday night and this fight goes off without a hitch.

 

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Johnny Walker vs Volkan Oezdemir sounds like a potentially hilariously goofy fight to me and I’m all for it. There’s been a few exceptions but, on the whole, you’re usually getting something weird and wonderful out of a Walker fight. Win or lose. This is a man who once knocked his opponent out and then dislocated his own shoulder doing ‘The Worm’ in his celebration. He’s an absolute loon but the Light Heavyweight division could do with more like him, to be honest. Never gonna be champion, probably never even gonna challenge for UFC gold, but he brings a bit of fun to a division that often lacks it.

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Last time we saw him, it ended like that. He got decked by Magomed Ankalaev in their Apex headliner in January. A rematch of that mad fight in Abu Dhabi last year where Ankalaev caused a No Contest due to an illegal knee to Walker’s head while he was grounded. Ankalaev has mostly been a dullard but Walker just seems to bring out the chaos in fights. Oezdemir should be the ideal opponent for Walker to have a bit of a nutty scrap with. He’s 19-7 and has had a really hot and cold run in the UFC. Easy to forget he actually fought for the title against Daniel Cormier at one point. He’s had some alright wins but has mostly lost when he’s stepped up a level. Heavy handed though and he’s not afraid to throw them. He’s coming off a first round finish over Bogdan Guskov on the Paris card in September.

 

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Nasrat Haqparast vs Jared Gordon isn’t setting the world alight but I don’t mind the fight. They’ve both had very hit and miss UFC stints but they’re both coming into this fight off good wins. Haqparast is still only 28, 16-5 and is now on a 3 fight win streak. He got a first round stoppage over Jamie Mullarkey in a POTN winning showing back in December. It’ll also be nice to see him get to compete on the same card as his twin brother from another (Mexican) mother…

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Gordon’s 35 now and has a 20-6-0-1 record. He’s been on the UFC roster since 2017 but mostly went under the radar until he got robbed by the judges of his rightful win over Paddy Pimblett in December 2022. Still pisses me off and I’ll continue to recognise that as a win for Gordon. His luck didn’t get any better in his next fight, a No Contest due to a clash of heads with Bobby Green, which left Gordon with a concussion. He did manage to end 2023 on a positive note though, getting a first round TKO over Mark Madsen on the MSG card in November. That must’ve been the personal highlight of his career so far, as a New Yorker getting that moment at MSG.

 

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Muhammad Naimov vs Felipe Lima is another late card change. Naimov was all set to fight Melsik Baghdasaryan until Baghdasaryan dropped out on fight week. Lima is an interesting replacement though, to be fair. He’s the Bantamweight champion for the Oktagon promotion and never lost the belt. They’ve granted him his release for whatever reason. He hasn’t fought in almost a year so I’m guessing it’s some contractual loophole but, regardless, Oktagon have let him go and do his thing in the UFC. He’s 26 years old with a record of 12-1 with 6 finishes. Got subbed in his MMA debut way back in 2015 and has done nothing but win ever since. Went 5 rounds in his last fight as well so there’s that. Naimov’s from Tajikistan, 29 years old and 11-2 with 8 finishes. He’s on a 6 fight win streak and has beaten Jamie Mullarkey, Nathaniel Wood and Erik Silva since signing with the UFC last year. I don’t really remember his last fight (Silva) but he looked decent in the Mullarkey and Wood fights. Although he was cheating like prime Eddie Guerrero against Wood with the repeated groin strikes and fence/glove grabbing. So yeah, Lima sounds like a solid substitute. I’m actually more interested in this fight now than I was when it was Baghdasaryan involved.

 

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Rinat Fakhretdinov vs Nicolas Dalby is a pairing I really like the sound of actually. Fakhretdinov is 21-1-1 now with 17 finishes. He got off to a good start in the UFC, going 3-0, and absolutely smoked Kevin Lee in less than a minute last July. Granted, it was a washed up Lee but if nothing else it was a name on his record that could’ve catapulted him onto bigger things. It’s cooled off slightly though, with him being taken to a draw by Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos on the São Paulo card in November. I vaguely recall thinking Rinat won but Zaleski did have a big third round that might’ve forced a 10-8. Regardless, coming straight back against Dalby isn’t a step backwards by any means. Dalby’s coming off a TKO win over Gabriel Bonfim in the FOTN on the same São Paulo card Rinat last fought on. It was a cracking fight and, for me, Dalby’s best win and overall performance in the UFC to date. Bonfim was undefeated going in, 12 years younger than Dalby and had home field advantage. Great win for Dalby. He also dragged Darren Till to the most entertaining fight of his career back in 2015 on a Dublin card. Looking forward to this. Two hard nosed pitbulls colliding.

 

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Muin Gafurov vs Kyung Ho Kang. Just filler but whatever. I’ll give it a bash. Gafurov’s 27 years old, from Tajikistan and has a record of 18-6 with 17 finishes. Not bad on paper but he’s gone 0-2 since signing with the UFC. He lost on points to John Castaneda in his debut last June, then got guillotine choked in just over a minute by Said Nurmagomedov at UFC 294 in October. That Nurmagomedov loss especially was a bad look for Gafurov. From my memory of it he just rushed in and overcommitted to a takedown, left his neck out there and Said was on it like a shot. Kang’s 36 and has a 19-10-0-1 record. He’s been in the UFC since 2013 and I can barely remember a thing about his 11 years on the roster. I probably saw most of his fights as well. He’s coming off a decision loss to John Castaneda in November but had won his previous two fights. Meh. Not gonna pretend I give a bollocks about this.

 

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Magomed Gadzhiyasulov vs Brendson Ribeiro. Not a clue. Never seen Gadzhiyasulov but looking him up on Sherdog, he’s from Dagestan, 30 years old and undefeated at 8-0 with 6 first round finishes. Fought in Eagle FC and Brave CF before winning his fight on DWCS back in October. He’s also had a bunch of amateur fights. And Ribeiro, I’ve only seen him once but that was when he got chinned in less than 2 minutes by Zhang Mingyang at UFC 298 in February. He’s 15-6-0-1 and all 15 wins came inside the distance. Going in blind but it sounds like this could be explosive.

 

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Xiao Long vs Chang Ho Lee then. Absolutely zero idea on this. Never seen nor heard of either but it’s the finals of the Road To UFC Bantamweight tournament. Not sure what exactly that means because the winner and loser will probably be kept around regardless. Maybe the tournament winners come in on a better contract or something. Fuck knows? Anyway, Xiao Long’s Chinese, 26 years old and has a 26-7 record with 13 finishes. Nothing jumps out looking at his record but he’s coming off 4 wins in a row and he has gone 5 rounds before. Chang Ho Lee is South Korean, 30 years old and 9-1 with 6 finishes. He’s fought in ONE FC and Brave CF and he’s stopped his last 3 opponents.

 

 

That’s UFC Saudi. Dana’s turn to tickle Excellent Turki’s taint.

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Edited by wandshogun09
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Posted (edited)

Few additions to the card and the current bout order. I’ve updated the opening post but this is how it’s looking now…

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Shara Magomedov finally gets an opponent after the originally booked Ihor Potieria fight got ruined by Michel Pereira squashing him at 301. The other additions and changes aren’t anything special but I’m liking this card on the whole.

Start times don’t hurt either. 5pm for the prelims? Get in! 

Edited by wandshogun09
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Reports all over Twitter now that Khamzat’s out. Seriously, fuck June up the arse. Dry.

I’m way more gutted about this than McGregor vs Chandler likely being off. 

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I cannot.... retracted banned word..... believe this what a crippling blow this has turned into for the UFC.

Losing khamzat in a main event so important and anticipated in Saudi Arabia 

Then the very next week it's looking more likely each day we're losing Conor McGregor

Jesus Christ this one has bummed me so badly out I couldn't wait too see khamzat again unbelievable.

That fighter will now go down in history as the fighter who started on the most impressive debuts in the company id say ever absolutely tearing up the rankings in unreal timing getting so so close to a title shot and I'm convinced he would have won it. To now completely evaporating fighting once in a year or slightly longer completely blown what would have been a unbelievable couple of years within the UFC. Christ I'm feeling this one 

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  • wandshogun09 changed the title to UFC Saudi Arabia: Whittaker vs Aliskerov - Jun 22 🇸🇦
6 hours ago, wandshogun09 said:

Done all the updates on the opening post and poll. If you voted before you’ll have to vote again. Sick of editing these things now 🤣

Your a star this has now become a full time job for you the sheer amount your having to update and amend 

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Yep. Yet another edit to the opening post. They’ve decided now to move the Shara Bullet vs Joilton Lutterbach fight from the main card to the prelims, for some reason. 5 fight main card as it stands now but no doubt they’ll shuffle shit up a million times between now and next Saturday.

Oh well, at least we’ve got the early start time. Unlike the actual UK card next month. 

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Hadnt considered the early start time, may actually watch this one live.

Got a feeling Aliskerov beata Whittaker, based off nothing other than a hunch. I'll lock him for underdog money.

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22 minutes ago, Egg Shen said:

Got a feeling Aliskerov beata Whittaker, based off nothing other than a hunch. I'll lock him for underdog money.

It has got that feel about it. It’s one of those fights where I feel like Whittaker should win but a combination of the last minute switch of opponent plus Aliskerov being a bit of an unknown entity but carrying power etc. It feels like it’s got all the ingredients for the upset. Plus as good as Whittaker is, I hope I’m wrong but there’s a chance he might be starting to slip a bit. He got badly wobbled by Costa last time and was stopped by DDP before that, which wasn’t expected at the time. Then add in that it’s in Saudi Arabia which is pretty much as good as a home game for Aliskerov, it feels like all the stars are aligning for it to be Aliskerov’s breakthrough moment. Whether he’s good enough to make the most of it remains to be seen but it does feel like everything’s fallen nicely for him. 

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And Whittaker has come out and said that he had a gameplan 100% focused on Chimaev, that he's having to totally pivot here and had no idea who Aliskerov was until after he got offered him. Not passing the sniff test if you want to be very confident for Whittaker here. He should be beating Aliskerov in normal circumstances, but you guys have hit what I was thinking, that they might be meeting at the wrong time for Whittaker and the right time for Aliskerov. 

On a different train of thought for now, looking at that graphic has confirmed  for me that Haqparast needs to eat himself up to 170 at some point to fight Kelvin Gastelum. Watch DC try to tell them apart on commentary and we'll be privy to seeing his head explode live on air. 

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Posted (edited)
On 6/16/2024 at 10:48 AM, wandshogun09 said:

no doubt they’ll shuffle shit up a million times between now and next Saturday.

Fuck me. Couple more changes…

• Shara Magomedov is on his third scheduled opponent for this card now. Joilton Lutterbach is out, Antonio Trocoli is in. It’s back on the main card now as well. Don’t know what they’re playing at but it feels like Shara’s been moved from main card to prelims back to main card back to prelims back to main card every few days over the last couple of weeks. 

• Melsik Baghdasaryan is out of the Muhammad Naimov fight. Naimov’s now fighting UFC newbie and Oktagon Bantamweight champ Felipe Lima.

With 2 days to go, hopefully that’s it now for changes because fucking hell, man. I’m blaming Khamzat. Every card he’s on seems to be thrown into chaos stemming from something to do with his health or bad weight cutting.

As it stands today at 17:49pm on the 20th June…

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Edited by wandshogun09
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Great write up, and multiple edits, Wand. Im liking the look of this main card alot. The Walker/Oezdemir and Volkov fights should be fun watches. Your quotes of Volkov are crazy though. Sounds likes he just cant be arsed with this one and just doesnt want to do it. Still looking foward to it a lot, as Pavlovich is a wrecking ball.

As you said, it just doesnt seem possible that Gastelum is only 32. Thats insanity. In my head I think of Gastelum being on TUF when everyone still watched it, and fighting on the old TV channels like Fuel and stuff. His KO of Bisping seems a lifetime ago, and even for that I think of him as already being there for years.

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