Tai Tuivasa, Australia’s Heavyweight hopeful, faces his stiffest test to date this Saturday (Dec. 1, 2018) when the unbeaten Shoey welcomes former Heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos to Adelaide “Down Under.” Local favorites Mark Hunt and Tyson Pedro get top billing as well, squaring off with Heavyweight prospect Justin Willis and the legendary Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, respectively.
Seeing as we’ve got a packed weekend (Bellator 210, TUF 28 Finale and Wilder vs. Fury), we’re cramming all of UFC Fight Night 142’s “Prelims” undercard predictions into one post. Gotta keep things efficient, you know.
170 lbs.: Alexey Kunchenko vs. Yushin Okami
Russia’s Alexey Kunchenko (19-0) successfully defended his M-1 Welterweight title four times before making the jump to UFC in September, taking on Thiago Alves in Moscow. Despite a strong effort from the former title challenger, “Wolverine” took home a unanimous decision, snapping a two-fight knockout streak in the process.
He has knocked out 13 opponents as a professional.
Yushin Okami (35-11) returned to the Octagon after four years away in Sept. 2017, moving up in weight to face Ovince Saint Preux on short notice. Though he succumbed to “OSP’s” signature Von Flue choke, “Thunder” successfully returned to Welterweight in April with a decision over Dhiego Lima.
He is four inches taller than the 5’10” Kunchenko.
I’ve been an Okami faithful for many years now, but there’s a lot of mileage on those tires. “Thunder’s” wrestling and southpaw jab have lost their potency and he’s more fragile than ever. Even if this wasn’t a nightmarish style match up, I’d be worried about him.
Unfortunately, it’s a nightmarish style match up.
Kunchenko is a close-quarters bruiser whose punching power far exceeds Okami’s ability to withstand it. Okami’s only area of superiority is his top game, but he’ll need to engage Kunchenko on the inside to do it, which will end extremely poorly. Kunchenko blasts him out midway through the first.
Prediction: Kunchenko via first-round technical knockout
125 lbs.: Wilson Reis vs. Ben Nguyen
A 5-1 run at Flyweight earned Wilson Reis (22-9) a crack at Demetrious Johnson, who handed the Brazilian the first submission loss of his career. He went on to fall to Henry Cejudo’s punches, then lost a competitive decision to John Moraga in April.
He is one inch shorter than Ben Nguyen (17-7), though their reaches are identical.
“Ben 10” rebounded from his loss to Louis Smolka with wins over Geane Herrera and Tim Elliott, the latter of which earned him “Performance of the Night.” He couldn’t do the same to Jussier Formiga, who clipped him with a spinning back fist and finished him off with a rear-naked choke.
Eight of his 13 wins have come by (technical) knockout.
Nguyen’s issues with Formiga — a stud grappler with sneakily good striking — paint a grim picture of his chances against Reis, another stud grappler with sneakily good striking. That said, Reis struggled to implement his grappling against Moraga, a notoriously poor defensive wrestler, and his habit of getting dropped once a fight bodes ill against one of the division’s hardest punchers.
Moraga overcame Reis with aggression, speed and power, all of which Nguyen has in spades. Reis just doesn’t have the durability to bully his way through Nguyen’s power shots to bring his jiu-jitsu to bear. Reis hits the deck early, as he usually does, but Nguyen won’t let him back up.
Prediction: Nguyen via first-round technical knockout
170 lbs.: Keita Nakamura vs. Salim Touahri
It took him seven years, but Keita Nakamura (33-9-2) made his Octagon return in 2015 after an unsuccessful first run, submitting Li Jingliang to earn “Fight of the Night.” He has since alternated losses and wins, most recently dropping a decision to Prelim headliner Tony Martin in Atlantic City.
He will have one inch of height and reach on Poland’s Salim Touahri (10-2).
Touahri rode a five-fight win streak, which included four knockouts, into his short-notice UFC debut against TUF: “Brazil” veteran Warlley Alves. “Grizzly” struggled to get his offense going against the Brazilian, ultimately losing a unanimous decision.
This will be his first fight in more than one year, as injury scrapped a planned May bout with Brad Scott.
Nakamura is maddeningly inconsistent, but his grappling is no joke. Aside from his back-and-forth battle with Elizeu Zaleski, which could have gone his way, his issues have come against big, physical grapplers. Against Touahri, a striker without the firepower to crack Nakamura’s jaw, “K-Taro” should have considerably more success.
Of course, this is moot if Nakamura just decides to trade on the feet without bringing his grappling prowess to bear. Unwise though it may be, I’ll say he takes the obvious route, dragging Touahri to the mat and ultimately locking up his favored rear-naked choke.
Prediction: Nakamura via second-round submission
135 lbs.: Kai Kara-France vs. Elias Garcia
Kai Kara-France (17-7) — ranked No. 9 on TUF 24 — crushed Terrence Mitchell via 30-second knockout in the opening episode before losing to top-seeded Alexandre Pantoja in the quarterfinals. Though he lost a decision to Tatsumitsu Wada in his first post-TUF appearance, he went on to win five straight and earn a crack at the Octagon proper.
He has scored seven professional knockouts, including five in a row at one point.
Roufusport’s Elias Garcia (6-1) returned from 2.5 years away in 2017 to rattle off three more victories, among them a knockout of TUF veteran Adam Antolin. He made his Octagon debut four months later against Mark De La Rosa, who choked him out in Boise.
He replaces the injured Ashkan Mokhtarian on short notice.
Kara-France had a gimme fight against Mokhtarian, who isn’t anywhere near UFC-caliber, but he should still find success against Garcia. The latter has yet to develop the strong wrestling he needs to implement his excellent top game, and Kara-France has plenty of experience dealing with top-notch grapplers.
That just leaves the striking, where Kara-France’s power and experience far outstrip Garcia’s. Garcia is just too green at this point outside his area of expertise, which Kara-France won’t allow him to implement. Chalk one up for New Zealand as “Don’t Blink” puts away Garcia with an early right hand.
Prediction: Kara-France via first-round technical knockout
155 lbs.: Mizuto Hirota vs. Christos Giagos
Mizuto Hirota (18-9-2) reached The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Japan” Finale, surviving a rough start to fight Teruto Ishihara to a split draw. He has since lost consecutive decisions to Alexander Volkanovski and Ross Pearson, returning to Lightweight for the first time in five years against the latter.
“Pugnus” is three inches shorter and will give up 4.5 inches of reach to Christos Giagos (15-7).
“The Spartan” went 1-2 in his initial Octagon run, then suffered a knockout loss to Josh Emmett upon his return to the regional circuit. He went on to win four of his next five bouts, heralding a return to UFC, but tapped to a Charles Oliveira rear-naked choke in September.
He has knocked out seven professional opponents and submitted another three.
This will boil down to the scrambling and dynamic offense of Giagos against the boxing and clinchwork of Hirota. Giagos has the fancier striking, but a history of submission losses, while Hirota is an iron-tough boxer and takedown artist who’s consistently fallen short against top competition.
Not easy to get a bead on the outcome.
Hirota’s durability may be what decides this, as Giagos constantly has to worry about overcommitting to blows that won’t put away “Pugnus.” This could go either way, but the sentimental part of me says Hirota finally gets a break, eking out a split decision with good punching and top control.
Prediction: Hirota via split decision
155 lbs.: Damir Ismagulov vs. Alex Gorgees
Damir Ismagulov (16-2) — the first Kazakh to enter the Octagon — rides an 11-fight win streak into his Saturday debut. The run saw him knockout Maxim Divnich for the M-1 Lightweight title in 2017 and successfully defend it three times.
He is four inches shorter than the 6’2” Alex Gorgees (7-0).
Representing Australian Top Team, Gorgees went 4-1 as an amateur before joining the pros in 2016. He’s since racked up three (T)KO victories and two submissions, avenging his sole amateur loss along the way. He replaces Joe Duffy on a week’s notice.
Gorgees has the stopping power to back up his arrogant style, but like the Mokhtarian brothers, who run his gym, his record is built on garbage. He’s fought just two opponents with winning records, both of whom were in the midst of slumps. Not so Ismagulov, who’s faced a constant stream of solid competition on the Russian scene.
Like I said, though, Gorgees can hit, and he’ll have the edge in length. Even with that, Ismagulov is just a step too far, and this fight shouldn’t last long once the Kazakh drags Gorgees to the mat and starts punching.
Prediction: Ismagulov via second-round technical knockout
Heads will be knocked at UFC Fight Night 142 this weekend … I can assure you. See you Saturday, Maniacs!
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 142 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the main card start time at 10 p.m. ET (also on FOX Sports 1).