The UFC returns to Singapore this weekend for the first time since June 2018, and like that show – which was main evented by a fight between Leon Edwards and Donald Cerrone – this one isn’t the strongest card overall.
Here are the predicted outcomes for UFC Fight Night 162: Maia vs. Askren.
#1 Demian Maia vs. Ben Askren
Not only should this be one hell of a match between two of the UFC Welterweight division’s premier grapplers, but it could also have severe ramifications for both men. Maia is on a two-fight winning streak, but at 41 years old, there’s always the question of exactly how much he’s got left in the tank, and Askren is definitely the best fighter he’s had to take on since his loss to Kamaru Usman last year.
For Askren, meanwhile, practically everything is on the line. A semi-expensive acquisition to the UFC – for those who’ve forgotten, he was traded to ONE FC in exchange for former Flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson last autumn – Askren was never UFC President Dana White’s favourite fighter, but his 18-0 record meant he almost had to be given a shot in the UFC.
Since arriving though, results have varied. He was almost KO’d by Robbie Lawler in his debut, only to somehow rise from his grave to submit the former champ with a bulldog choke – although it was controversial as Lawler never actually tapped. His second fight, however, saw him hit with a flying knee from Jorge Masvidal, and this time there was no rising up – he’d suffered his first career loss in an embarrassing 5 seconds.
If he can beat Maia this weekend, the Masvidal KO won’t be forgotten, but there’ll be no suggestion that Askren doesn’t belong at the UFC level. If he loses, though? It wouldn’t be a complete surprise to see Dana cut him from his contract and throw him under the proverbial bus at the same time. So can Askren win?
I actually think this is a good fight for him. Obviously, Askren’s big strength is his wrestling and funky grappling style; his weakness is clearly his striking as he looks a bit robotic and while his chin isn’t necessarily bad, the fact that his defense isn’t great means he’s often wide open to get hurt. But this time he’s not against a dangerous striker, he’s against a fellow grappler.
Can Maia strike? Sure, he’s improved dramatically over the decade plus he’s been with the UFC, and he now throws combinations well, has a semi-decent jab, and isn’t terrible with his kicks either. But he’s also largely slow for a Welterweight, doesn’t really carry KO power, and tends to gas out in fights that see him strike for extended periods of time.
But like Askren, Maia is far more recognised for his grappling skills. He’s a very different grappler to Askren in that he’s more jiu-jitsu and submission based than ‘Funky Ben’, but that shouldn’t matter here – I just wouldn’t expect a lot of striking to take place, unlike Maia’s most recent losses.
Askren is undoubtedly the better wrestler here, but that doesn’t mean he’ll look to copy the blueprint to beat Maia used by fellow excellent wrestlers Tyron Woodley, Colby Covington and Kamaru Usman. All three of those men – powerful wrestlers with strong striking to back it up – looked to stand with Maia, using their wrestling in reverse to stuff the submission ace’s takedowns and beat him up standing.
Askren, on the other hand, is more likely to dive right into Maia’s wheelhouse. Is that dangerous? Sure, but it’s not like it hasn’t been done before. Jake Shields, for instance, was able to outgrapple Maia across five rounds for a surprising decision without really using his striking, and Rory MacDonald played in the guard of Maia for two rounds and had few issues there either.
For me then this should likely come down to the question of whether Askren can use his funky wrestling style – which relies heavily on scrambles, risky moves that involve giving up position at times and unorthodox takedowns – to wear out Maia without landing in a submission.
Given that the majority of Maia’s submissions happen from him taking the back, particularly in this later stage of his career, and the fact that we’ve also seen him gas out on numerous occasions, even in three-rounders (vs. MacDonald) and in five rounders he was winning (vs. Ryan LaFlare), I’m willing to bet that Askren can take those risks and wear Maia out for either a late TKO or more likely, a decision win.
The Pick: Askren via unanimous decision
#2 Muslim Salikhov vs. Laureano Staropoli
Okay, so by ranking and experience this has to be up there with the very worst semi-main events in UFC history. Obviously both men have a certain amount of talent and potential – Staropoli is 2-0 in the UFC thus far, Salikhov 2-1 – but with five UFC fights between them and no wins over truly top-level opponents, they just don’t belong in this kind of position in my opinion.
With that said, this should be a hugely entertaining fight. Staropoli showed a wild striking game in his May victory over veteran Thiago Alves, and reminded me in a lot of ways of a larger Yair Rodriguez – throwing wild combinations at Alves but always with pretty solid fundamentals and some impressive defensive skills, too.
Salikhov meanwhile is coming off a pair of knockouts in brutal fashion, and prior to his UFC career, he took out the likes of Melvin Guillard and Ivan Jorge with spinning kicks and hook kicks, all low-percentage moves. ‘The King of Kung Fu’ has tremendous timing in everything that he throws, and while his UFC career hasn’t been perfect, he’s clearly a very dangerous man.
So who takes this one? A lot of it could depend on the range in which the fight takes place. Staropoli is two inches taller than Salikhov and will have a reach advantage, and that was something he used to great effect against Alves, as he was able to keep the veteran at the end of his strikes while largely avoiding shots from ‘The Pitbull’.
It must be noted, though, that Alves is shorter than Salikhov and doesn’t throw as many long strikes as the Dagestani, preferring a more traditional Muay Thai attack.
Could either man take the fight to the ground? Potentially, but I think it’s somewhat doubtful; Salikhov has a couple of submissions on his record and appears to have a decent grappling game, but then he also looked vulnerable on the mat in his UFC loss to Alex Garcia and of course, you don’t get a nickname like ‘The King of Kung Fu’ by choking people out. Staropoli meanwhile is a huge question mark on the ground.
This one then is super-hard to pick as we just don’t know enough about the strengths and weaknesses of either man against higher level opposition to really have a clear-cut favourite.
I think I’m favouring Salikhov slightly purely because he seems to be a better finisher and appears to have more power in his strikes. Throw in the fact that Staropoli’s style is one that saps energy, and I suspect he’s more likely to leave himself open to eating something nasty.
The Pick: Salikhov via third round TKO
#3 Ciryl Gane vs. Don’tale Mayes
To say this one likely won’t make the third round would be an understatement. These two Heavyweights are massively inexperienced – Gane has just 4 fights to his name, Mayes has 8 – but what they lack for in experience they make up with sheer power and aggression.
Gane made his UFC debut back in August, and being a native of France as well as a huge athletic specimen – he’s 6’5” and 265lbs – he immediately drew comparisons with Francis Ngannou. His pre-UFC fights showed a fighter not as polished as Ngannou, hardly surprising given he was just 3-0, but he showed himself to be more than a simple power-puncher when he submitted Raphael Pessoa with a first-round arm-triangle choke.
Mayes meanwhile is another huge guy at 6’6” and 262lbs and judging from his footage, it’s clear that he hits very hard. He’s also a rarity in that he’s appeared on Dana White’s Contender Series three times, being KO’d by Allen Crowder but also picking up a pair of knockout victories of his own.
‘Kong’ does have a pair of decision wins on his record, meaning he’s definitely got the experience edge here, but will that serve him well? I’m not so sure. The fact that Gane was able to surprise everyone by submitting Pessoa tells me a lot; he’s clearly not a total neophyte on the ground and so any idea that Mayes may have had of simply outwrestling him should be out of the window.
Throw in the fact that Mayes was beaten down by Crowder and appears to be a slower, plodding Heavyweight in comparison to Gane, who is all explosive athleticism and speed, and I like the Frenchman’s chances here.
He’s got to be careful as anyone with Mayes’ power can knock an opponent out in one shot, but I think ‘Bon Gamin’ comes out on top and gets over with the crowd in this one.
The Pick: Gane via first-round KO
#4 Michael Johnson vs. Stevie Ray
I’m surprised the UFC hasn’t positioned this one in the semi-main event as Michael Johnson has main evented shows before and is a known commodity, but really it doesn’t matter too much.
Last time we saw ‘The Menace’ was in his odd fight with Josh Emmett. The pace was relatively slow but there was no doubt Johnson was picking Emmett apart using his speed and movement – until ‘The Grim Reaper’ landed a huge shot on him to knock him silly.
It was a bad loss for Johnson – enough to send him back up to 155lbs – but really he didn’t look bad in the fight, he simply got caught. For me this is a good chance for him to bounce back as I feel like he’s one step ahead of the tough Scotsman Ray in basically every area.
Ray has been around a long time – he’s been fighting professionally since 2010 and debuted in the UFC back in 2015, going on a strong run of 5-1 before a loss to Paul Felder derailed any hopes he had of making it into a ranked position. A contract dispute followed before Ray returned in 2018, but since then he’s only gone 1-2, and was most recently KO’d by grappler Leonardo Santos.
The best word to describe Ray would be “workmanlike”. He’s not the best wrestler in the 155lbs division nor is he the best striker, he doesn’t hit remarkably hard and he isn’t incredibly fast, but he’s tough, can take a shot and puts everything together well with some strong cardio.
For me though, that won’t be enough to take him past Johnson. The TUF veteran is somewhat chinny and definitely inconsistent – meaning Ray has a puncher’s chance here – but at his best, he’s one of the most fleet-footed strikers in the division, even taking the fight to Khabib Nurmagomedov standing before he fell victim to the inevitable takedown.
And it’s not just speed that Johnson has, either. He throws his combinations from sneaky angles, cutting inside to deliver rapid punches that land with impressive power, too – as Dustin Poirier found out when Johnson knocked him out in 2016.
Johnson can be drawn into a brawl – another weakness that’s stopped him becoming a title contender – but only foes who draw heavily on emotion, like Justin Gaethje and Nate Diaz, have been able to get that from him.
In the end I see this one going a lot like Johnson’s wins over Artem Lobov and Gleison Tibau – ‘The Menace’ simply darting in and out to pick off a slower opponent while avoiding Ray’s counter-strikes. It might not be without a scare or two, particularly if Ray can catch him cleanly, but unless he makes a real error, for me this is Johnson’s fight to lose.
The Pick: Johnson via unanimous decision
#5 Beneil Dariush vs. Frank Camacho
There’s some curious booking behind this one that I don’t really understand; Beneil Dariush is a borderline top-fifteen contender at Lightweight, and after a trio of disappointing performances that saw him go winless, he seems to be back to his best now, recently submitting Drew Dober in a fantastic showing.
Frank Camacho meanwhile is coming off a win – a KO of Nick Hein – but he’s also lost more UFC fights than he’s won and while he’s exciting to watch, there’s nothing to suggest that he’ll ever become more than a fun brawler inside the Octagon. With that in mind, this just seems like a gimme fight for Dariush in my eyes.
Dariush is one of the strongest grapplers in the Lightweight division; a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, he’s been able to submit the likes of Anthony Rocco Martin and Dober, and comfortably outgrappled good mat-workers in their own right such as Diego Ferreira, Jim Miller and Thiago Moises.
On the feet, he’s steadily improved too – he packs a lot of power, as we saw when he KO’d James Vick, and under Rafael Cordeiro he’s developed a strong pressure kickboxing game. Dariush’s main weakness is a lack of natural athleticism – he’s just not the quickest or most explosive fighter, and that’s gotten him into trouble before, most notably in his losses to Edson Barboza and Alexander Hernandez.
I don’t see that as an issue for him in this fight, though. Camacho is a tough brawler, but he’s not the kind of explosive athlete that Barboza is and I’d actually suggest he’s no quicker than Dariush, either. Dariush’s chin has been cracked before which gives Camacho a puncher’s chance, but the fact that he struggled in the grappling portions of his own fight with Dober should mean Dariush will have few problems with him on the mat.
As long as Dariush can avoid being drawn into a brawl here – Camacho’s chin is stronger than his and he hits hard – then this should be his fight to lose. Focus on the takedown as much as he did against Dober and I think it should be a routine first or second-round submission for him.
The Pick: Dariush via first-round submission
#6 The Prelims: ESPN card
The show’s preliminary fights will be shown on the full ESPN network, and at the top of that portion sits a Strawweight clash between Randa Markos and Ashley Yoder. I like Markos in this one; she’s an excellent grappler and a solid striker too and in all honesty, with more consistency she’d be a title contender.
Yoder is tough and is on a two-fight win streak, but she hasn’t fought the calibre of opponents that Markos has and I think if ‘Quiet Storm’ can get her to the ground, she can outwork her for a decision.
At Lightweight, striker Alex White faces fellow striker Rafael Fiziev in a fight that’s somewhat tricky to pick. White has KO power and a strong chin, but he’s shown vulnerability in all areas before, and while Fiziev has less experience, he looked like a prospect worth keeping an eye on when the UFC signed him earlier in the year. I’m taking Fiziev by decision but could be miles out in this one.
Enrique Barzola does battle with Movsar Evloev at Featherweight in what should be an interesting fight. Evloev defeated Sung Woo Choi in his UFC debut last April, but didn’t completely impress; his takedowns and top control were phenomenal but he ran out of steam somewhat, too.
Barzola meanwhile is super-tough, puts on a ridiculous pace and is a stout grappler in his own right. This should come down to control; if Barzola can stop Evloev’s takedown then I think he can win, and based on his UFC experience I think he can. I’ll take Barzola by decision.
At Heavyweight, Sergei Pavlovich faces TUF veteran Maurice Greene. Greene is on a surprising 3-fight win streak but I think that ends here; a heavy hitter who has a lot of size and power, he’ll be bigger than Pavlovich, but will be giving up speed, and the Russian is also a hell of a boxer and has tons of power himself. I feel like Pavlovich could still be a contender in this division – he was unlucky to draw Alistair Overeem for his UFC debut – and he’ll win this one with a violent KO.
At Strawweight it’s a battle of inexperienced fighters, as Loma Lookboonmee takes on Aleksandra Albu. Albu has actually been with the UFC since 2015 but has only managed 3 fights in that time in a curious statistic. In all honesty this one could go either way, I just don’t know enough about either fighter and there’s just not that much footage to make a clear pick. I’m taking Albu by decision but who knows really.
Finally, Heavyweights Raphael Pessoa and Jeff Hughes open the card. Hughes is a classic regional Heavyweight; not the best cardio, not the best grappling but he hits hard and he can clearly take a shot, as we saw in his aborted fight with Todd Duffee.
Pessoa meanwhile looks flashier and is the better athlete, but there are questions over his durability and grappling. I can see Hughes taking some heavy shots early here, but he’s tough enough to hang in there and I think he’ll turn the tide and grind out the Brazilian for a late stoppage.