Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to Russia this Saturday (April 20, 2019) with a wealth of mixed martial arts (MMA) experience in tow. The main event inside Yubileyny Sports Palace in Saint Petersburg pits Alistair Overeem against fellow veteran Aleksei Oleinik, who steps in for Alexander Volkov on short notice. Other main card highlights include Islam Makhachev against top prospect Arman Tsarukyan, the Octagon debut of undefeated Ivan “Ural Hulk” Shtyrkov (16-0-1), and the latest from Antonina Shevchenko.
Three UFC Fight Night 149 “Prelims” remain to preview and predict (check out the first batch here), featuring some elite prospects. Let’s have a look:
145 lbs.: Movsar Evloev vs. Seung Woo Choi
Movsar Evloev (10-0) has spent the entirety of his career in the M-1 promotion, claiming its undisputed Bantamweight title in 2017 with a decision over Pavel Vitruk. He went on to submit Sergey Morozov and knockout Rafael Dias in his two title defenses.
His seven stoppage wins include four by rear-naked choke.
South Korea’s Seung Choi (7-1) racked up five victories, including three by knockout, before falling to countryman Jae Woong Kim in just 36 seconds. He went on to score a 93-second knockout in his next bout and starch Kim shortly thereafter to reclaim the TFC Featherweight title.
He steps in for Muin Gafarov, who ran into contract issues with One FC, on one month’s notice.
Evloev has sky-high potential thanks to his downright beautiful grappling, but like fellow top prospect Petr Yan, he’s got a dangerous Korean puncher to deal with early in his Octagon career. Though Choi has a few bad habits on the feet, he’s got some real thump in his hands and some sneaky elbows to go along with them.
Those won’t be all that useful once Evloev plants him on his back, though, and Choi’s aggression leaves him open to both Evloev’s underrated power and his excellent chain wrestling. Choi’s edge on the feet isn’t significant enough to make up for the huge disparity on the ground, and I don’t anticipate it taking Evloev long to find his way to Choi’s back and put on the squeeze.
Prediction: Evloev via first-round submission
170 lbs.: Sultan Aliev vs. Keita Nakamura
Russia’s Sultan Aliev (14-3) has fought just three times since joining UFC in 2015, pulling out of three separate bouts because of injuries. He’s 1-2 in the Octagon, most recently suffering some gruesome eye swelling against Warlley Alves in May 2018.
Ten of his professional victories have come via (technical) knockout.
Keita Nakamura (34-9-2) returned to UFC after seven years away back in 2015 and has since alternated wins and losses, putting his overall Octagon record at 4-6. His current run includes a bonus-winning comeback submission of Li Jingliang and upsets over Kyle Noke and Alex Morono.
All but two of his 17 professional submissions have come by rear-naked choke.
Have I mentioned that I hate picking fights that will be determined exclusively by takedown defense? Because I hate picking fights that will be determined exclusively by takedown defense. Aliev is weirdly terrible on the feet despite a ton of (technical) knockout finishes, leaving him at the mercy of Nakamura’s decent boxing, but all Aliev needs to do is hit a single takedown a round.
Nakamura’s a slight favorite at the moment and this is probably just my brain clinging to that to break a deadlock, but his superior striking and submission skills have me leaning his way. Aliev starts strong, but his inability to generate offense from on top will allow “K-Taro” to offset the control time with submission attempts and punches.
Prediction: Nakamura via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Alexander Yakovlev vs. Alex da Silva
Alexander Yakovlev (24-9-1) punched his ticket to the Octagon with an upset of Paul Daley to cap off an 8-1-1 run in 2013. Things haven’t quite panned out since for the part-time rapper, as he’s gone just 2-4 in UFC.
This will be his first fight in 29 months.
Alex da Silva (20-1) — who turned 23 years old in February — has seen the judges just once as a professional, racking up 13 (technical) knockouts and seven submissions. Following a narrow loss to Jakub Kowalewicz in Germany, “Leko” came back to score two finishes in a combined four minutes.
He replaces the injured Teemu Packalen on three weeks’ notice.
First off: da Silva’s record is padded to Hell, as is standard for Astra Fight Team members, but he’s a terrific young talent with skills on both the feet and the mat. Though his takedown defense isn’t great, which would be a red flag against the grinding Yakovlev, the Russian has been out of action for so long and is so outgunned in the striking that I’m leaning toward the Brazilian.
Yakovlev can certainly win this fight if he gets his takedowns going — da Silva’s got some nice sweeps and submissions, but they’re not enough to win him a fight off of his back. Further, Yakovlev has an excellent chin that has kept him TKO-free for 15 years. I just see the speed, athleticism and striking variety of da Silva being too much for a man 10 years his elder. In short, da Silva scrambles out of a few bad spots to chew up Yakovlev at range.
Prediction: da Silva via unanimous decision
Well, at least UFC Fight Night 149 leaves your evening open for all the boxing, I guess. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 149 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. ET, before the main card start time at 1 p.m. ET (also on ESPN+).