The ludicrously stacked Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight division gives us another terrific title fight this Saturday night (Feb. 9, 2019) when Robert Whittaker looks for his second defense against the ever-dangerous Kelvin Gastelum inside Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia. In UFC 234’s pay-per-view (PPV) co-main event Australia’s own Israel Adesanya challenges the legendary Anderson Silva, while top grapplers Rani Yahya and Ricky Simon duke it out at Bantamweight elsewhere on the main card.
The seven “Prelims” undercard matches are split 3:4 between Fight Pass and ESPN. Let’s see what Fight Pass has to offer first:
155 lbs.: Lando Vannata vs. Marcos Rosa
Lando Vannata (9-3-2) went above and beyond in his short-notice UFC debut, giving Tony Ferguson one of his toughest fights to date and nearly finishing the future interim champ with a head kick. He has since gone 1-2-2, picking up two more “Fight of the Night” bonuses and one “Performance of the Night” along the way.
His eight finishes are split evenly between knockouts and submissions.
Marcos Rosa (6-4) began his mixed martial arts (MMA) career just 2-3, but has won four of five since. His last three victories have all come by stoppage within 2:30.
“Dhalsim” stands at least three inches taller than Vannata, depending on which source you trust.
I feel like UFC is really digging into the bottom of the barrel in its search for someone Vannata can beat. The only things Rosa has going for him are his height, length and uncanny physical resemblance to Anderson Silva. He’s a decent striker, but his nonexistent ground game is a whole virtually anyone in UFC’s Lightweight division can exploit.
Literally all Vannata has to do to win this with ease is use his wrestling. It’s 50/50 between him doing that or brawling his way to another draw. Fingers crossed he actually uses his head this time.
Prediction: Vannata via first-round submission
155 lbs.: Jalin Turner vs. Callan Potter
Jalin Turner (7-4) put on a strong performance on “Contender Series,” forcing Max Mustaki to bow out with a broken foot, but did not receive a contract right away. “The Tarantula” instead stepped up on short notice against Vicente Luque, who knocked out the long-time Lightweight late in the first round.
All of his professional victories have come in five minutes or less.
Callan Potter (17-7) lost two of his first three professional bouts, facing the likes of future UFC competitors Richard Walsh and Jake Matthews along the way. He has now won nine of his last 10, the sole loss coming to dangerous submission ace Marcin Held.
He steps in for injured countryman Alex Gorgees on two weeks’ notice.
Turner had an easy assignment in front of him in Gorgees, and though Potter is a fair bit better than the man he’s replacing, the style matchup still favors Turner in a big way. Potter’s dangerous on the mat, but his striking defense is godawful, leaving him prone to relying on heroic comebacks.
Turner, unfortunately, hits like a truck, and Potter isn’t a good enough wrestler to keep him honest. So long as he stays aggressive and throws in combination, he should find his way around the Aussie’s guard before long and turn his lights out.
Prediction: Turner by first-round knockout
135 lbs.: Wuliji Buren vs. Jonathan Martinez
Wuliji Buren (11-6) entered UFC on a four-fight win streak, but couldn’t make it six against Rolando Dy despite a strong effort. “The Beastmaster” looked solid once again his next time out against Marlon Vera, only to succumb to a nasty body shot at the end of the second round.
He stands two inches taller than Martinez at 5’9.”
The only defeat for Jonathan Martinez (9-2) his first 10 fights came against future The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) and UFC competitor Matt Schnell, whom Martinez hit with an illegal knee to earn a disqualification. He joined UFC on short notice in Oct. 2018, doing battle with Andre Soukhamthath and surviving a heavy knockdown en route to a unanimous decision loss.
He has knocked out five professional foes and submitted another two.
It’s really impressive how far Chinese MMA has come; it feels like yesterday that Tiequan Zhang was their biggest representative, and now even their lower-level guys like Buren are dangerous. This looks like a pick-‘em — after seeing the way Soukhamthath dwarfed Martinez, Buren will have the size advantage. At the same time, Buren looked vulnerable to southpaw striking against Vera and Martinez looks like he can keep up with his wrestling.
Buren’s history of stoppage losses and Martinez’s ability to fight through adversity are the cincher for me. Buren could impose his physicality early, but once Martinez starts landing his body kicks, it’s only a matter of time.
Prediction: Martinez via second-round technical knockout
Four more UFC 234 “Prelims” undercard bouts to preview and predict, including a dynamite Flyweight match up between Kai Kara-France and top prospect Raulian Paiva. Same time as always, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 234 fight card on fight night, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.
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