The UFC returned to Abu Dhabi this past weekend with UFC 253. Leaving no gaps in their schedule, they're back on 'Fight Island' this weekend for UFC on ESPN: Holm vs. Aldana.
Naturally, this is a big step down from the pay-per-view in terms of card quality. In fact, it's far weaker – on paper at least – than the UFC's last Fight Night show. Still, there are at least a couple of fights to look forward to here, including three former UFC champs in action.
Here are the predicted outcomes for UFC on ESPN: Holm vs. Aldana.
#1 UFC Bantamweight Division: Holly Holm vs. Irene Aldana
The UFC's Women's Bantamweight division is in an odd spot right now. Champion Amanda Nunes has essentially cleaned the division out and beaten everyone, meaning that a title shot isn't too far away from anyone's grasp – including fighters who've already lost to 'The Lioness.'
Holm falls into that category. A former UFC Bantamweight champion herself – although her upset win over Ronda Rousey now seems like a lifetime ago – 'The Preacher's Daughter' fought Nunes in July 2019. To say the fight didn't go well for her would be an understatement, as the Brazilian knocked her out with a head kick in the first round.
Since then, Holm has fought in the UFC just once – a dull decision win over Raquel Pennington that largely took place in the clinch. Could she be granted another title shot with a win here? Potentially. There aren't that many other contenders out there right now and the UFC like Holm and her star power.
To get to that point, though, she'll have to get past Mexico's Aldana. 'Robles' has been in the UFC since 2016, but has been steadily improving to the point where she's now 5-1 in her last six. And the lone loss – a split decision to Pennington – could easily have gone the other way.
Aldana is a fascinating fighter to watch. Originally more of a brawler, she's now developed an extremely sharp boxing game, tending to sit behind her jab to pick her opponents off. At 5'8" with a 69" reach, she's got plenty of range, and we've seen her use it to full effect, particularly in her KO win over top contender Ketlen Vieira last December.
On the ground, too, Aldana isn't lost at all. She was able to submit Bethe Correia – a solid grappler – with an armbar at UFC 237, and has steadily improved her takedowns too. Basically, she's a dangerous fighter in all areas.
The issue for her here is going to be how she matches up with Holm, a former professional boxer. 'The Preacher's Daughter' has been outstruck before, most notably by Nunes, Cris Cyborg, and Germaine de Randamie. But all three were more well-rounded strikers than Aldana, and all three enjoyed a size advantage over Holm.
In this fight, however, Holm is the same height as her foe and will also enjoy a slight reach advantage – perhaps negating Aldana's ramrod jab. So is the best bet for the Mexican to look to take the former UFC champion down?
Perhaps. Holm's ground game has improved somewhat over the years, but it still isn't perfect, and if she could put her on her back, there's the chance that Aldana could submit her. But Holm isn't easy to take down, and her constant movement makes her a tricky target for a single or double leg.
Another issue may be the main event status of the fight. Sure, there will be no fans in attendance to add pressure, but Holm has main-evented multiple UFC shows in the past and has gone five rounds on numerous occasions. Aldana, meanwhile, was TKO'd on the only occasion she went out of the third round.
Overall, it'd be far better for the UFC and for the division as a whole if Aldana were to win impressively. Nunes needs opponents, and 'Robles' would be an interesting test for her. However, styles make fights, and on this occasion, I think the styles favor Holm.
If there's a finish here, I'd bet my bottom dollar on it being from Aldana – Holm is 38 and is somewhat shopworn after all – but I suspect 'The Preacher's Daughter' will edge out a close and rather dull decision.
The Pick: Holm via unanimous decision
#2 UFC Heavyweight Division: Yorgan De Castro vs. Carlos Felipe
Given that these two Heavyweights lost in pretty disappointing fashion last time around, it's hard to understand why the UFC have put them in the semi-main event here. Sure, the likelihood is a big knockout for one of them, but neither is a contender right now, so why not use a more relevant fight?
At any rate, both men are similar. They're hardly physical specimens, but they hit hard, with a total of 11 KO's or TKO's between them in just 16 fights. If they were up against different opponents here, it'd probably be worth breaking their skillsets down. For instance, Felipe's ground game looked like a major liability in his loss to Sergey Spivak.
The truth, however, is that the two men aren't likely to go to the ground anyway. Instead, they're more likely to fire big shots at one another until one is unconscious. Naturally, the likelihood of a violent KO is exactly why the UFC have chosen to showcase them. Overall, I'm probably favoring De Castro here by a hair.
Firstly, despite appearing to be in bad shape, the native of Cape Verde simply has a very low center of gravity, ala former UFC star Mark Hunt. That means that everything he throws comes with a ton of power, but he's not a crude brawler per se. He KO'd Justin Tafa with a picture-perfect counterpunch, and he was picking Greg Hardy apart before breaking his foot.
Brazil's Felipe is much more likely to simply come out swinging, and if that's the case, then he could find himself in some trouble. He's never been stopped by strikes before, but there's a first time for everything - particularly in the UFC - and I suspect he'll walk into something nasty and find himself out before the first round ends.
The Pick: De Castro via first-round KO
#3 UFC Bantamweight Division: Germaine de Randamie vs. Julianna Pena
There are plenty of parallels between this fight and the main event. Like Holm, de Randamie is a former UFC champion – albeit at Featherweight – and like Holm, she was beaten in a title fight by Amanda Nunes in 2019.
‘The Iron Lady’ at least went the distance with Nunes, but when the fight was over, there was absolutely no question who’d won. De Randamie was simply dominated on the ground by ‘The Lioness’ despite a couple of decent moments for her.
The fact that she was whitewashed on the ground should be a concern for her in this fight. Pena is a ground specialist, and outside of the great Valentina Shevchenko – who surprised her with an armbar in their 2017 clash – she’s dominated all of her UFC opponents on the mat.
Even solid grapplers in their own right like Nicco Montano and Cat Zingano were unable to do anything with ‘The Venezuelan Vixen’ on the ground. Basically, Pena – the winner of the 18th season of The Ultimate Fighter - is large and powerful, has strong takedowns, and from the top, she’s extremely dominant.
This fight, then, is a traditional clash of styles. While Pena’s ground game is excellent, her striking is rudimentary at best, and she’s up against a genuinely world-class kickboxer here in De Randamie. ‘The Iron Lady’ has a ludicrous kickboxing record – 46-0 – and not only is she a pinpoint striker, but she also hits extremely hard.
She knocked out Aspen Ladd in 2019, for instance, and also badly hurt Holly Holm in their fight on numerous occasions. As previously mentioned, her ground game isn’t great, but she is tricky to take down. That’s largely because she’s very dangerous with strikes inside the clinch, as Raquel Pennington found out in 2018.
Overall, this is a tricky one to pick. De Randamie hasn’t beaten many fighters with Pena’s style in the UFC, and although she TKO’d Ladd, Ladd was very depleted due to a terrible weight cut. Pena, on the other hand, has fought strikers before in the UFC. And while none have been as decorated as de Randamie, she’s tended to win.
I’d say this could go either way, but I’m banking on Pena getting an early takedown and dominating ‘The Iron Lady’ on the ground en route to a TKO in the first or second round.
The Pick: Pena via second-round TKO
#4 UFC Middleweight Division: Tom Breese vs. Roman Kopylov
Sometimes, high-level prospects don’t always pan out in the UFC. Sometimes it simply takes them a little longer to get into their groove. Right now, Breese could go either way in that sense, and that’s why this fight is pretty intriguing.
A native of Birmingham, England, Breese came into the UFC as an undefeated prospect back in 2015. He destroyed his first two UFC opponents – Luiz Dutra and Cathal Pendred – with strikes, and then edged out Keita Nakamura via decision before coming up slightly short against Sean Strickland.
Since then, it’s been a frustrating career for the Englishman. Injuries have restricted him to just two fights since 2016 – a TKO of Dan Kelly and a TKO loss at the hands of Brendan Allen. There’s no shame in a loss to Allen – a top prospect in his own right – but there’s no denying that Breese’s injury history is worrying.
Overall, he’s withdrawn from four fights in the UFC, one of which came due to a panic attack suffered in the build-up to the clash.
So what does he offer? Well, he’s a big guy, even at 185lbs. Under coach Firas Zahabi, he’s developed a cerebral, patient style that usually sees him set up his strikes with a heavy, consistent jab while also looking to take his opponents down to unleash a heavy top game.
Thankfully for the Englishman, this fight looks like a relatively straightforward one for him. Kopylov debuted in the UFC back in November 2019 with a reputation as a knockout artist. The native of Russia was bringing in an 8-0 record, with seven wins coming by KO or TKO.
However, on the big stage against Karl Roberson, he simply didn’t look up to the task. He tried hard, but Roberson was always a step ahead of him on the feet, and when Kopylov got wild late on, he was opened up for a takedown. From there, Roberson – hardly a notable grappler – was able to choke him out.
This is a good test for Breese to see exactly where he’s at after that loss to Allen. If he’s at his best, then I think he wins this comfortably, probably by using his jab to pick Kopylov apart before taking him down for a finish. If he’s gunshy, though, he could find himself in trouble.
At 28 years old, though, Breese should be reaching his athletic peak, and this should give him the chance to get back into the winner’s circle. I’m taking him by second-round submission.
The Pick: Breese via second-round submission
#5 UFC Middleweight Division: Dequan Townsend vs. Dusko Todorovic
On rare occasions, the UFC will put together fights that sound quite clearly like a showcase for one of the fighters. It’s harsh to say it, but it’s true. This is one of those fights, at least on paper. It pits a journeyman in the 21-11 Townsend against an undefeated 9-0 prospect in Todorovic.
A graduate of Dana White’s Contender Series, Serbia’s Todorovic dominated Teddy Ash on his appearance on the show, but hasn’t fought since – a layoff of over a year – following various injuries. Overall though, he’s a heavy striker with a penchant for plenty of KO’s and TKO’s, with five on his ledger thus far.
Townsend, on the other hand, has struggled in the UFC since debuting there as a late replacement last year. His debut saw him crushed by the uber-athlete Dalcha Lungiambula, and he’s since been comfortably outpointed by both Bevon Lewis and Devin Clark.
A solid athlete who’s a decent jack-of-all-trades, the truth is that despite some talent, ‘The Tarantula’ probably isn’t quite a UFC level fighter. Not that there’s any shame in that, of course. But the question here is whether Todorovic is on that level.
If that’s the case, then the Serbian should find a way to win this one relatively comfortably. If he isn’t, then Townsend could definitely pick up his first UFC win.
It’s honestly hard to say based on the lack of footage and lack of name opponents for Todorovic. But based on the little I have seen, I’m willing to bet that he’s got enough in his arsenal to take out ‘The Tarantula.’ UFC debut jitters may mean the fight goes the distance, but Todorovic simply looks like the better fighter in this one.
The Pick: Todorovic via unanimous decision
#6 The Prelims: UFC on ESPN+ card
Although we don't have an official announcement yet, it looks like this weekend's seven prelims will be shown on the ESPN+ streaming service.
At the top of that preliminary card sits a Welterweight bout between veterans Carlos Condit and Court McGee. A few years ago, this would've made the main card for sure, but the truth is that both men have fallen on seriously hard times.
Incredibly, you've got to go all the way back to 2015 to find the last time Condit won a fight. 'The Natural Born Killer' took over a year off between 2016 and 2017, but since his return, he just hasn't looked like the dangerous fighter he once did. The likely explanation is the fact that he's simply taken too much punishment over the years.
A grinder by nature, McGee last won a fight in 2018, but he's still 1-4 in his last five. For me, this fight should come down to whether Condit can get his offense going. If he can, then McGee is definitely beatable. But if he can't, then 'The Crusher' can grind him down. I feel sad in saying it, but I'm picking McGee via decision.
In the Middleweight division, Jordan Williams faces Nassourdine Imavov. Known as 'The Russian Sniper,' Imavov looks like a dangerous prospect, with wins via KO and submission, and he appears to have a high athletic ceiling. Williams, meanwhile, is a striker fighting out of David Terrell's Nor-Cal Alliance camp.
This one is a tricky fight to pick as both men are somewhat unproven at this level. But I'm leaning towards the slightly more experienced Williams to outwork Imavov for a decision.
At Featherweight, Charles Jourdain takes on Josh Culibao. This, to me, is one of the easiest fights to pick on the card. Australia's Culibao didn't appear to offer a lot in his UFC debut, a one-sided loss to Jalin Turner. Jourdain, on the other hand, has shown tremendous potential at times, even KO'ing Doo Ho Choi, in a wild fight last year. Sure, 'Air' has lost two of his UFC fights, but his experience and punching power should allow him to KO Culibao here.
In a Bantamweight bout, Kyler Phillips takes on newcomer Cameron Else. This is a late-notice UFC debut for Else, an English fighter renowned for his pinpoint striking to the point that he's been nicknamed 'Camchida.' This could be a tricky fight for him, though. Phillips can strike, but he's also a highly dangerous grappler, and Else has been stopped on three occasions before. I'm going with Phillips via submission in this one.
At Strawweight, Loma Lookboonmee faces Jinh Yu Frey. Thailand's Lookboonmee is simply inexperienced in MMA – she's had just six fights, two of which came in the UFC, while Frey is a former Invicta champion. Both women are more used to fighting at 105lbs, so this should be a fair fight in that sense. This one's hard to pick, but I think Lookboonmee will outwork Frey for a decision.
In the Bantamweight division, Casey Kenney takes on Heili Alateng. A Chinese talent, Alateng has looked excellent in the UFC thus far and most recently edged out tricky veteran Ryan Benoit. Kenney, though, is a high-level prospect with plenty of talent. He's 3-1 in the UFC and has wins over Ray Borg, Manny Bermudez, Louis Smolka, and hot newcomer Brandon Royval.
I expect Alateng to make a real fight of this one – he's an excellent athlete who can hit hard – but I think Kenney is slightly too good for him and will edge out a decision.
Finally, Jessin Ayari takes on Luigi Vendramini in a Lightweight clash. Italy's Vendramini hasn't fought in two years and suffered a bad TKO in his UFC debut, while Ayari – more of a grinder – is 1-2 in his UFC career thus far and hasn't fought since 2018 either. This one probably depends on who can return from such a long layoff best, but I think Vendramini is the better athlete, so I'm going with him via decision.