UFC 239 predictions: ‘Jones vs Santos’ ESPN ‘Prelims’ undercard preview

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Two champions look to cement their claims as all-time greats this Saturday (July 6, 2019) when Jon Jones and Amanda Nunes defend their titles inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Jones face Thiago “Marreta” Santos, who has knocked out seven of his last nine opponents, while Nunes squares off against the ever-persistent Holly Holm. Meanwhile, over at Welterweight, Ben Askren and Jorge Masvidal attempt to settle their score and Diego Sanchez looks to keep his resurgence going against Michael Chiesa.

We’ve got three UFC 239 “Prelims” under card bouts left to analyze (check out the first batch here). There might be four by the time this goes up, but Marlon Vera doesn’t have a replacement opponent yet, so I’m working with what I’ve got.

145 lbs.: Gilbert Melendez vs. Arnold Allen

Gilbert Melendez (22-7) came agonizingly close to becoming the first Strikeforce champion to claim a UFC title, only to come out on the wrong end of a split decision against Benson Henderson. “El Nino” followed that up with a ludicrously entertaining victory over Diego Sanchez, but has yet to taste victory since, losing his next four bouts.

This will be his first fight since Sept. 2017.

Arnold Allen (14-1) pulled off a bonus-winning comeback submission of Alan Omer to kick off his UFC career, which has seen him go perfect (5-0) over four years. His run includes another impressive comeback finish of Brazilian jiu-jitsu standout Mads Burnell, which earned him his second Performance of the Night bonus.

“Almighty” will give up two inches of height and three inches of reach to Melendez.

If I knew for certain that Melendez would fight to the best of his abilities, I’d pick him in a heartbeat. Allen has struggled with takedown defense before and “El Nino” is an expert at blending his wrestling with his striking. Unfortunately, Melendez hasn’t hit a takedown in more than four years and has struggled to consistently bring it to the mat since making the move from Strikeforce.

Melendez could still win this on the strength of his jab, especially considering his height and reach advantages. The odds are definitely too wide at the moment, but a young, red-hot Allen looks like a likelier victor than an aging Melendez (especially when Jeremy Stephens and Edson Barboza revealed an easy path to victory via leg kicks). Allen outworks him on the feet to take a competitive decision.

Prediction: Allen via unanimous decision

135 lbs.: Marlon Vera vs. Nohelin Hernandez

A standout on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Latin America” who had to withdraw with a skin infection, Marlon Vera (13-5) has won six of eight since opening his Octagon career 1-2. His current three-fight win streak has seen him score finishes of Wuliji Buren, Guido Cannetti and Frankie Saenz.

He has submitted seven opponents and knocked out another four.

Nohelin Hernandez (10-2) — who is 6-1 in his last seven and currently riding his own four-fight win streak — picking up wins in Tachi Palace Fights, Bellator, and LFA. The American Kickboxing Academy product, whom Tapologi lists as one of the top Bantamweights outside the UFC, stands two inches taller than Vera at 5’10.”

He replaces two-time United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) victim Sean O’Malley on four days’ notice.

I expected Vera to have all kinds of issues with O’Malley, but beating Hernandez seems more doable. “Suave” is a decent, lengthy boxer burdened with subpar striking defense and a tendency to get dropped. Vera, on the other hand, has never been stopped or even visibly hurt by fearsome punchers like John Lineker and Douglas Andrade.

“Chito’s” more versatile striking attack and submission skills make it hard to envision Hernandez successfully staying on his feet for 15 minutes. Vera drops him early and chokes him out soon after.

Prediction: Vera via first-round submission


115 lbs.: Claudia Gadelha vs. Randa Markos

Claudia Gadelha (16-4) put her second loss to Joanna Jerdzejczyk behind her with a pair of dominant victories, including a bonus-winning submission of Karolina Kowalkiewicz. She has since lost two of three, a split decision over Carla Esparza sandwiched between decision losses to Jessica Andrade and Nina Ansaroff.

Seven of her nine stoppage wins have come by submission.

Randa Markos (9-6-1) has yet to taste consecutive victories in her 11-fight Octagon career, going 5-5-1 over her 4.5-year run. Her last two fights have seen her battle prospect Marina Rodriguez to a draw and submit Angela Hill with an armbar to earn “Performance of the Night.”

All four of her professional finishes have come by armbar.

You know, I really thought Gadelha would have moved to Flyweight by now. She’s got one of the best-rounded skillsets in the women’s divisions, but can only execute for seven or eight minutes before her cardio issues force her into survival mode until the final bell. It’s a distressingly predictable pattern, one more and more opponents are taking advantage of.

Still, she’s the better boxer and wrestler of the two, and Markos is inconsistent as they come. Expect a traditional Gadelha fight as she dominates the first round, arguably takes the second, then loses the third to set up a split decision.

Prediction: Gadelha via split decision

135 lbs.: Alejandro Perez vs. Song Yadong

The guillotine loss Alejandro Perez (21-7-1) suffered at the hands of Patrick Williams in his second Octagon appearance gave way to a seven-fight unbeaten streak that saw him beat the likes of Iuri Alcantara and Eddie Wineland. His run came to an end at the hands of Cody Stamann, who stepped in for the injured Song Yadong (13-3) on short notice to beat Perez by decision at UFC 235.

He has knocked out nine professional opponents and submitted another five.

Team Alpha Males’s Song, who turns 22 this upcoming December, got off to a red-hot UFC start with bonus-winning finishes of Bharat Khandare and Felipe Arantes. A subsequent decision over Vince Morales set up a March bout with Perez, only for Song to pull out with a knee injury.

He stands two inches taller than “Turbo” at 5’8,” though both have 67-inch reaches.

I’ve long since given up on trying to analyze Perez — dodgy decisions aside, he keeps finding ways to win despite having a well-rounded but unmemorable fight style. Heck, he doesn’t even lose like he’s supposed to. I picked Stamann to beat him on the strength of the former’s wrestling, but Perez wound up losing a three-round decision without surrendering a takedown.

Obnoxious.

Song looks to be the faster of the two by a fair margin and, despite having fewer finishes to his credit, is likely the more aggressive as well, setting him up to outwork Perez and connect with more eye-catching shots. So long as he can maintain his output from bell to bell, he should be able to land more telling blows and ultimately walk away with a clear decision.

Prediction: Song via unanimous decision

UFC 239 is not the most stacked card I’ve ever seen, but Jones vs. Santos and Askren vs. Masvidal ought to be wild while they last. See you Saturday, Maniacs!

Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 239 fight card this weekend, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:15 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the pay-per-view (PPV) main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 239: “Jones vs. Santos” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

Current UFC “Prelims” Prediction Record for 2019: 88-45




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