UFC Fight Night: Aspinall vs. Blaydes: We get a delightful afternoon card full of fighters from the European circuit and a handful of Americans trying to play spoiler. Check out the solid slate of undercard fights below.
-115 Jack Hermansson (22-7: 11 KOs, 6 SUBs) vs. -105 Chris Curtis (29-8: 16 KOs, 1 SUBs)
Chris Curtis aka “The Action Man”, has been on an action-packed ride since joining the UFC in November of last year with three fights and three wins. Curtis is facing a talented grappler in Jack Hermansson, who’s been extremely hot and cold over the last three years. In his latest win, Curtis showed confidence and skill when dealing with world jiu-jitsu champion Rodolfo Vieira. That same game plan must be applied versus Hermansson: avoid the ground and keep the fight on the feet where Curtis can pick apart the majority of middleweights with his expert-level shovel hooks and shots to the body. It will be a raucous environment, but seeing how Curtis handled his UFC debut in Madison Square Garden goes into my pick for this bout. What’s being overlooked is the fact that Hermansson was just dismantled by Curtis’ teammate Sean Strickland over five rounds. I see Curtis implementing a similar game plan (control striking distance, pick apart from range) as his teammate and going on to get his fourth win in the UFC.
Selection: Curtis wins via Decision
-270 Paddy Pimblett (18-3: 6 KOs, 8 SUBs) vs. +215 Jordan Leavitt (10-1: 1 KO, 6 SUBs)
Without a doubt, Paddy Pimblett is one of the UFC’s brightest rising stars. The UK native will be a big reason why The O2 Arena will be sold out as he brings a massive amount of eyeballs into his fights. Pimblett takes on fellow grappling specialist Jordan Leavitt. While both men can hang on the feet, their bread gets butter with their work on the mat. Leavitt is very comfortable in uncomfortable positions and calmly skates past danger. Pimblett is more of a power jiu-jitsu practitioner, applying big movements and searching for dominant positions such as back mount. And though Pimblett hasn’t been truly tested over the course of a three-round UFC scrap, I see this being a huge learning experience for the polarizing star. There may be moments of stalling, but this will be a great example of two hungry grapplers fighting for the same bone. Using his momentum and energy of the home crowd, I got Pimblett to edge out a decision.
Selection: Pimblett wins via Decision
-190 Nikita Krylov (27-9: 11 KOs, 15 SUBs) vs. +155 Alexander Gustafsson (18-7: 11 KOs, 3 SUBs)
Out of retirement, former two-time UFC light-heavyweight title challenger Alexander Gustafsson returns to the octagon against UFC veteran Nikita Krylov. On their best days the sure pick would be Gustafsson, but the unknown of the Swede’s commitment to make another run at the title is a major reason why Krylov has my vote in this one. Yes, Gustafsson is most-likely inspired by teammate and superstar Khamzat Chimaev’s meteoric rise inside of the UFC over the last two years, but again, Gustafsson’s retirement is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. It won’t be easy either, but I see Krylov having just enough wherewithal to not get caught with a huge shot and being the bigger dog when this fight goes into deep waters. Gustafsson will come out of the gate hot with his dangerous boxing, but Krylov will weather the storm to ultimately edge out a gritty decision victory.
Selection: Krylov wins via Decision
-400 Molly McCann (12-4: 5 KOs) vs. +300 Hannah Goldy (6-2: 1 KO, 1 SUB)
Though these fighters have a very similar compact build, Goldy and McCann possess widely different skill sets and mindsets. Goldy is mild-mannered and handles adversity well; either dealing with getting dropped to then end the round on top or being planted underneath her opponent, she can pull off a submission from her guard. For McCann, she is a marauding force that builds momentum by scoring points with her technical - but aggressive - boxing. McCann is also very dangerous on her home turf. The Liverpool native is 3-1 in the United Kingdom since joining the UFC. I really like McCann to use the cross, her best weapon, to tag Goldy over and over. Goldy is durable, but is susceptible to crisp boxing. McCann also sports a much higher caliber of opponent over the course of her career.
Selection: McCann wins via Decision
-165 Volkan Oezdemir 17-6: 12 KOs, 1 SUB) vs. +136 Paul Craig (16-4-1: 3 KOs, 13 SUBs)
Scotland's Paul Craig is on a four-fight submission victory streak and now faces a man in Volkan Oezdemir who has been submitted only once in the last eight years. Craig is extremely dangerous on the mat, but Oezdemir [when focused] can compete with any light-heavyweight on the planet. Just a few years ago Oezdemir was a must-watch, now he’s in a must-win fight against a confident Craig. Oezdemir is a slick kickboxer with knockout power. He glides into the pocket with deceptively quick jabs and inside leg kicks. Craig on the other hand, is looking for one means to an end which is entangling his legs around his opponent for a sub or as a way to maneuver to a dominant position. It may get just a bit scary for Oezdemir, but the Switzerland native should stay focused on his defense and his offense will naturally rise to the surface … otherwise he may be looking for work elsewhere.
Selection: Oezdemir wins via 2nd-Round KO