With McGregor-Khabib’s UFC 229 selling out in just three minutes, we can expect a few more people than usual will be tuning in to UFC Fight Night 135 this weekend just to see what all the fuss is about. As the show comes to Lincoln, Nebraska, new viewers will be treated to performances from some great fighters, albeit not necessarily the biggest names. But if things go as expected, some of these guys will definitely pick up some new fans. Read on for a comprehensive breakdown of all the main card fights, and our tips for who we think is going to have their arms raised when the dust settles.
Justin Gaethje (#7) vs Michael Vick (#10)
Justin Gaethje (pronounced ‘Gay-chee’) is a very, very well-rounded fighter. Take about 25% of Donald Cerrone, with his no-bleeps-given attitude and love for a good scrap. Add a bit of Jose Aldo’s leg-kicks, two teaspoons of DC’s ability to ragdoll his opponents, and then cram all of that into Diego Sanchez’s already half-rabid brain… and you have Justin Gaethje. He has had three fights in the UFC – Michael Johnson, Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier. He lost the last two, but all of them have been Fight Of The Night, and the first was the UFC’s Fight Of The Year for 2017. Even if you’re not betting, this is one to watch anyway.
If you are betting, the question of whether to back him or not is a tricky one. This is a man with 20 fights under his belt, 18 of which he has won. Apart from the numerous times he has picked someone up and dropped them on their head, he has only won by submission once. In the Johnson fight, he knocked his opponent down twice, and walked away when he could have wrestled. If you hit him, you’ll just make him angry, but if you hit him a lot, he’ll give you a big grin and shake your hand. He just straight up loves it. But like Diego Sanchez, who certainly has that same spirit, it means he takes an awful lot of damage. All of his UFC fights have been slugfests, which makes for great entertainment, but it means he does get hit in the head a lot. When Joe Rogan starts worrying about you, you know things are bad. Justin knows this and has said publicly that he only has five fights left in him. This would (we think) be fight number two. He’s playing a dangerous game, burning out rather than fading away, but if he’s intelligent to know that and plan for it, he may already have it all figured out.
James Vick is six foot three and the tallest member of the lightweight division. He uses his height and reach to great advantage, keeping foes at range with explosive flurries and knees to the head that have one hit knockout power. His lanky frame is also instrumental in giving him leverage on the ground for choke submissions. He has had 10 fights in the UFC, another four in other promotions and then four more on The Ultimate Fighter. This gives him a respectable record of 18 wins and two losses. But Justin has faced tougher opponents than Vick. Vick has five decision victories, including his last. Justin has just two, and with his work rate, the fight has a better chance of being stopped because both fighters are exhausted than it does of going the distance. Vick, although going 15 minutes five times, can be knocked out. Beneil Dariush did so on short notice with what we’re sure he would regard as the most perfect punch of his career.
Prediction: It all comes down to how much damage Gaethje can take. Vick might knock him out within the first 20 seconds if he comes out the gate with a flying knee. But if Gaethje can weather the early storm and not get too hurt, we have him stopping Vick toward the end of the second round.
Michael Johnson vs Andre Fili
Michael Johnson, the losing side of the aforementioned Fight Of The Year, is an 18 fight veteran of the UFC. He’s in a bit of a rut at the moment, having taken five losses in the last six. But he is as tough as they come. He won a place on The Ultimate Fighter by sheer persistence, telling them that if they didn’t pick him for the show, he’d come back next year. When they did eventually select him, he came runner up, losing on points to Jonathan Brookings. He went on to face just about everyone in the division and claimed some huge scalps along the way. Sure, he lost to Nate Diaz, Darren Elkins and Khabib Nurmagomedov. But he has beaten Tony Ferguson, Joe Lauzon and Edson Barboza, he knocked out Dustin Poirier in under two minutes, and followed it up with the biggest fight of last year against Gaethje.
Andre Fili, much like Cody Garbrandt, woke up one morning and thought: ‘I know, I’m going to get myself a dirty great tattoo in the middle of my neck, that’ll be cool.’ I try not to judge, but really. Apart from that, he’s a rangy young fighter with excellent counter-punching and great takedown abilities. At 18 victories out of 23, he has a decent record, but has not yet found the form to truly distinguish himself at this level. The few big name fights he has had – Max Holloway, Yair Rodriguez – he has lost.
Prediction: Johnson’s experience is the key to him being the slight favourite here. Neither man is ranked in the top 10 of what is a very crowded division. Johnson, with his recent form, will be looking for a win possibly to save his job. If his spirit holds, he may get the decision after three rounds.
Cortney Casey (#11) vs Angela Hill (#14)
Cortney Casey threw herself into the mix a month ago after Hill’s former opponent, Alexa Grasso pulled out with a knee injury. She is looking to repair the harm done to her reputation after a brush with the USADA. Initially banned for three months after elevated levels of testosterone were found in her sample, subsequent investigations found no wrong-doing on Casey’s part. Her ban was overturned and her victory over Jessica Aguilar, which had been changed to a ‘No Contest’, was reinstated.
Casey is a well-rounded fighter, unafraid to keep moving forward. She has a few tasty moves in her arsenal, including the flying armbar which defeated Rachael Cummins in 2012. However, Cláudia Gadelha was able to take her down almost at will during their meeting at the end of 2016. She’s coming off two losses, to Felice Herrig and Michelle Waterson, respectively.
Angela Hill seems to really enjoy her job, and she’s an excellent ambassador for the sport. She brings her love of cosplay to the weigh-ins, having turned up dressed as various famous video game and anime characters. She has a flawless background as a kickboxer, going 16 fights without a loss. Her UFC record is a bit patchier, with eight wins out of 12, beating Maryna Moroz by decision in her last fight.
Prediction: Both ladies are capable of putting on Fight Of The Night-level performances. Casey is a slight favourite with both the height and reach advantage, but Hill will be no walkover. Angela Hill to win best costume at the weigh-ins, Cortney Casey to win the fight by decision.
Jake Ellenberger vs Bryan Barberena
Local favourite Jake Ellenberger’s career may be coming to an end, but he will live on forever in meme history. In the pre-fight build-up to his bout with Stephen Thompson, he was caught on camera chuckling about his opponent’s style. “Karate,” he laughed, “That’s funny.” Thompson knocked Ellenberger out with a spinning hook kick in the first round. Fighting in the UFC since 2009, Ellenberger has had a staggering 45 MMA fights, with 31 wins and 19 coming by way of knockout. He’s faced everyone in the Welterweight division, with wins over Josh Koscheck, Matt Brown and Diego Sanchez, and losses to Rory MacDonald, Robbie Lawler and Mike Perry. He has won just two out of his last 10.
This fight was scheduled to take place in June, but Bryan Barberena was forced to pull out due to an injury. The rapid turnaround in rescheduling might be due to the fact that Bryan made his UFC debut in 2014 when he fought and beat Joe Ellenberger, Jake Ellenberger’s twin brother. Whether Ellenberger is looking to close out his career with retribution for his brother’s loss isn’t clear, but Barberena is not planning on making things easy for him. He’s coming off two losses out of three, to Colby Covington and most recently Leon Edwards in The Netherlands, but is the slight favourite here. His beard is so big, if he were to shave it off, he would probably be able to move down a weight class.
Prediction: Both have had had their fair share of back-and-forth wars. Expect Ellenberger to throw everything at his opponent in front of the home crowd in what is likely to be his last UFC fight. But Bryan is younger, tougher and more resilient. Barberena by TKO in the second round.
John Moraga (#6) vs Deiveson Figueiredo (#14)
As with Jake Ellenberger above, John Moraga is coming toward the end of his UFC journey. A flyweight with the UFC since 2012, this 34-year-old has faced everyone, including Demetrious Johnson, John Dodson and Sergio Pettis (all three of whom beat him). He is putting together what must surely be one last string of wins, having won his last three against Ashkan Mokhtarian, Magomed Bibulatov and Wilson Reis (the latter being an upset that won him ‘Performance of the Night’ honours).
Deiveson Figueiredo is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter with 14 wins and no losses on his record. He’s had three fights in the UFC, two TKOs against Marco Beltran and Joseph Morales sandwiching a decision victory over Jarred Brooks. He undoubtedly has KO power, but it’s his ground game that is especially impressive. He escapes takedowns with ease, scrambling over his opponents and making creative use of his BBJ skills.
Prediction: Both are experienced fighters, but Figueiredo has the momentum and a stronger ground game.
Eryk Anders vs Tim Williams
Former professional NFL player Eryk Anders has already headlined a UFC Fight Night card. He met Lioto Machida back in February 2018 at a fight held in Belem, Brazil. It was not the prettiest fight, but he lasted five rounds and lost to a split decision that many news outlets had scored his way. He’s not the prettiest fighter either, especially compared to Machida’s precision strikes and kicks, but he’s tough as old boots and if you don’t have the power to knock him out early, he’s just going to eat your attacks and keep coming.
Tim Williams looks uncannily like Deadpool. No, not that one. The first Deadpool, the awful one. He has 15 wins, nine by way of submission and 4 losses, all but one of these outside the UFC. This will be his second fight in the UFC, coming after a knockout at the hands of Oskar Piechota in round 1.
Prediction: Both men are big middleweights, so assuming all goes well with the weight cut, expect a short and explosive fight. Anders is a big favourite here, and I’ve seen nothing in Williams’ highlight reel to suggest that he has anything to counter Anders’ power (unless of course he pulls out a sword).
Two welterweight fights, a bantamweight and a middleweight match-up make up the Prelims. Veteran James Krause is coming off a four-fight win streak and will meet Warley Alves who has won his last two. Krause’s experience gives him the slight advantage, and I don’t see this changing. Iuri Alcântara (46 wins, 9 losses) will meet the much younger Corey Sandhagen (8 wins, 1 loss), and the youngster’s speed, aggression and vicious body shots make him the favourite here. Andrew Sanchez was scheduled to face Antonio Braga Neto, but Neto pulled out at the start of the month. Markus Perez steps in as a late replacement, and while the odds have them neck-and-neck, we expect Perez’s ground game will make the difference.
Early Preliminary Fights
It’s a curious thing that the most recognisable names for Fight Night 135 are to be found on the under-undercard, but then that’s what happens when it is streamed live on the UFC’s Fight Pass service. Mickey Gall may have been the man to take down CM Punk in his debut two years ago but he’s not likely to see another PPV event unless he can string something together. George Sullivan might be the first step toward this, the veteran is 11 years older than the favourite Gall and has had a couple of doping violations to his name. Scotland’s own Joanne Calderwood faces off against Brazilian Kalindra Faria in what should be a close and entertaining brawl (national pride demands that we back Calderwood). Jon Tuck, a BBJ practitioner, is up against Drew Dober, a Muay Thai fighter coming off a Fight Of The Night performance in January. And Brazilian veteran Rani Yahya faces Luke Sanders in a Bantamweight fight to open the show, and because Sanders has a top-knot, we will be cheering for his opponent.
Up Next: Liverpool’s own Darren Till challenges Tyron Woodley for the Welterweight Title at UFC 228 on 9th September.