UFC on ESPN 30 looks like an entertaining fight card and I’m excited to see how some of these match-ups play out. Here are my main card predictions from a betting perspective.
Makhmud Muradov vs. Gerald Meerschaert
Despite his athletic disadvantages and limited skill set, Gerald Meerschaert has made a career out of choking dudes unconscious in the UFC’s stacked middleweight division.
“GM3” thrives in chaos and the sloppier the fight gets, the better his chances are of executing a back take or locking in an opportunistic front choke.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t have much of a wrestling game to compliment his BJJ skills and although his striking has improved over the years – he’s still pretty rudimentary on the feet.
On paper, Uzbekistan’s Makhmud Muradov looks like a nightmare match-up for him.
A fleet-footed kickboxer, Muradov has an extensive variety of strikes in his arsenal and great footwork. The Uzbek will have a severe speed and athleticism advantage over his plodding opponent.
Muradov also has solid takedown defense and I just can’t see a scenario where he puts his neck at risk (unless he does something really idiotic and shoots takedowns, which could lead to a reversal).
The only knock on Muradov is that he slows down in the second half of fights, but Meerschaert isn’t the type of guy that can push a pace and exploit that weakness.
There is no value on Makhmud Muradov at -600, but I’m fairly confident he scores an emphatic knockout.
Andre Petroski vs. Michael Gillmore
Despite being 30-years-of-age, Andre Petroski has a raw skill set. The guy is a good wrestler and physical powerhouse, but his striking is extremely basic and his primary weapon is a big left hand that he tries to land while crashing the distance and diving on single legs.
From top position, Petroski isn’t looking to lay and pray. As soon as the fight hits the canvas, he’s trying to submit his opponents or pound them into the afterlife.
He puts a lot of power behind his techniques and his pacing is unsustainable. We saw him go extremely hard in round one against Ryan Battle only to run out of steam and get submitted in the second.
So long as his cardio holds up, he should still steamroll Michael Gillmore.
Training out of Murcielago MMA (the same gym as Dequan Townsend), Gillmore doesn’t have much of a ground game. In fact, he nearly killed one of his recent opponents before diving into a triangle and getting submitted against the run of play.
Gillmore does have some striking skills. He’s a bit stiff, but he throws hard low kicks and has some pop in his right hand.
If he can survive the early onslaught and force Petroski to work for takedowns, I think Gillmore has the potential to catch him and put his lights out – but I wouldn’t say that’s particularly likely.
Andre Petroski is a big favorite for a reason, but he’s too flawed to bet him at -600.
Kevin Lee vs. Daniel Rodriguez
The big problem for Kevin Lee is that he’s stuck between two weight classes. It might be better for his cardio to make his permanent move to welterweight – but he’s going to be giving up some serious size and physicality (which helped him a lot at lightweight).
Lee is a serviceable striker with a nice 1-2 and good front kicks down the middle, but he doesn’t want to get into a kickboxing match with Daniel Rodriguez.
I expect Lee to put on his wrestling shoes for this one and he has one of the best blast double legs in the game.
With Rodriguez standing southpaw, I suspect Lee will want to back him up against the fence in order to get in on his hips – but that is going to be easier said than done.
Rodriguez can be taken down, but he’s a large, physical guy that will to be difficult to bully. “D-Rod” jokes that his street fighting record is 200-0, but many a true word is said in jest.
It’s worth noting Rodriguez is now at Syndicate MMA and recently did a full wrestling-heavy camp in preparation for Abubakar Nurmagomedov. If his defensive grappling looks noticeably improved, it wouldn’t be surprising to me.
Even though he is at a reach disadvantage, Rodriguez is the far more fluid striker. He throws clean straight punches as well as hard body kicks and inside low kicks.
Any time this fight stays standing, I think Rodriguez is live for a KO and I also give him the cardio advantage.
I feel like there is some solid value on Daniel Rodriguez at +130.
Brady Hiestand vs. Ricky Turcios
Fighting out of Sik-Jitsu, it’s obvious that Brady Hiestand takes inspiration from Michael Chiesa’s style.
Hiestand is a tenacious grappler with a brilliant array of takedowns in his arsenal. He likes to overwhelm opponents, muscle them to the mat and advance to a position where he can finish the fight.
He also uses wrestling rides to control opponents and make them carry his weight, which could be useful here.
There isn’t much process to his striking, but it’s functional enough for closing the distance and getting his hands on his foe.
However, Hiestand doesn’t pace himself well and could leave himself vulnerable if he slows down in this fight.
Ricky Turcios is the far more natural striker. He has a dynamic kicking game and throws clean straight punches down the pipe.
While Turcios can be taken down, he’s good at scrambling his way out of danger (as you’d expect training at Team Alpha Male) and he should have a significant cardio advantage.
I cap this as a pick ‘em and I think there is some value on Brady Hiestand at +135.
Ryan Battle vs. Gilbert Urbina
Out of the TUF fighters I’ve checked out for this card, Ryan Battle looks like the combatant most likely to compete at the UFC level. Not to mention, he has a great name for a fighter!
Battle is a skilled kicker, fighting effectively from both stances and targeting the legs, body and head with his strikes. He’s also nasty on the inside with dirty boxing and will land devastating knees when he’s able to secure the Thai clinch.
While Battle can be taken down, his get up game is good and it’s difficult to establish a dominant position against him.
Gilbert Urbina has some BJJ skills and he’s a good back taker, but if he doesn’t lock in the body triangle then I think he’s going to have a hard time keeping Battle on the mat.
Urbina isn’t a bad striker, he throws a lancing jab and has good low kicks – but he throws at a low clip, is supremely hittable and his chin looks very suspect to me.
Watching him getting rocked and knocked out against Tresean Gore was a bad look and I don’t favor his chances here.
I’m picking Ryan Battle to win and there might be some value on him at -170.
Edson Barboza vs. Giga Chikadze
I was skeptical of how Edson Barboza would look when it was announced he would be dropping to featherweight, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. In his mid thirties, Barboza is looking better than ever and is undefeated at featherweight (his loss to Dan Ige was a blatant robbery).
The Brazilian is renowned for his explosive kicking game, but in the past he was vulnerable against pressure fighters who would crowd him out and force him to throw hands.
That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, as his boxing looks vastly improved and he got the better of Shane Burgos with his hands in his last fight – which was surprising to everyone.
Barboza isn’t regarded as a grappler, but he has a brown belt in BJJ and we saw him hit a takedown on a pure striker in Paul Felder in his last fight at lightweight. If there was ever a fight to lean on his grappling skills, this is it!
Like his opponent, Giga Chikadze is a world class kicker and his left liver kick to the body from the southpaw stance is legendary. I wouldn’t say he’s the most fluid boxer, but you still have to respect his hands and he packs some power when he connects.
It will be interesting to see how Chikadze approaches this fight, because this is the one fighter in the division that can give him major problems at his preferred kicking range. Chikadze has good low kicks, but Barboza knows how to check and can return fire with his own.
The biggest weaknesses we’ve seen with Chikadze are his ground game and cardio. I know Barboza has a reputation for slowing down as well, but that doesn’t seem to be the case at featherweight where his physique is noticeably leaner.
I feel that both men will be closely matched at kicking range, but Edson Barboza possesses the superior hands, grappling, and cardio, so I’m picking him to emerge victorious in this main event clash.