DALLAS, TEXAS – UFC 277 is here and the undercard is full of strong favorites. Check ‘em out below.
-213 Brandon Moreno (19-6-2: 3 KOs, 11 SUBs) vs. +175 Kai Kara-France (24-9: 11 KOs, 3 SUBs)
With Deiveson Figueiredo on the sidelines, enter Kai Kara-France taking on Brandon Moreno for the UFC flyweight interim title. These martial artists have elite MMA boxing skills, combined with never-ending gas tanks. On the mats, there's a clear advantage for Moreno who has tangled with the division's best and has come out on top. There will be many pulling for KKF to get the upset as the City Kickboxing trained (Adesanya, Volkanovski) is a fan favorite, but Moreno's championship experience will be the difference. The first Mexican-born champion has handled ridiculous amounts of adversity in his career. I see Moreno maintaining composure and securing his fourth fight against Figueredo by using his extraordinary boxing to outpoint New Zealand's Kara-France over five rounds of frantic action.
Selection: Moreno wins via Unanimous-Decision
-125 Sergei Pavlovich (15-1: 12 KOs) vs. +104 Derrick Lewis (26-9: 21 KOs, 1 SUB)
The Black Beast returns to the cage to face Russia's Sergei Pavlovich after falling flat in his last fight. Since losing to MMA legend Alistair Overeem back in 2018 (debut), Pavlovich has been on a tear, notching three consecutive knockouts! This fight against Derrick Lewis is a huge step up in competition for the Russian as he will be trying to take out the all-time UFC knockout king in Lewis' home state of Texas, which is a pretty tall order. It's tough to ever have a finger on the gauge of Lewis' focus entering a fight, but after losing two straight fights back in 2018, the Houston native went on to win four straight. With his back against the wall on top of facing an opponent who's confident and willing to engage in the pocket, I got Lewis getting back in the win column with a respectable performance.
Selection: Lewis wins via Split-Decision
-175 Alexandre Pantoja (24-5: 8 KOs, 9 SUBs) vs. +145 Alex Perez (24-6: 5 KOs, 7 SUBs)
This fight has the No. 1 contender spot written all over it as well-rounded flyweights Pantoja and Perez finally get to tango after previous cancellations. Both men are not afraid to take part in a knife fight as well as a chess match. On the feet, I give the edge to Pantoja as he possesses more power and fluid kickboxing ability. Pantoja has also worked on getting his cardio conditioning to a respectable level as it's a prerequisite to be able to floor it as a flyweight, but Perez is no slouch. The former title challenger had a no-show in his lone chance to claim gold back in 2020. Perez looks to stay in the moment and use his devastating low kicks and slick grappling. I expect Pantoja to game plan for said low kicks and either close the distance with his wrestling or stay on the outside with his long boxing. The scary part of this fight is whether Pantpoja can pass himself from too many consecutive explosive movements in order to stay in the driver's seat. With a title shot looming, I expect the Brazilian to put together one of his best performances to date. This fight is a sure banger as title implications linger largely.
Selection: Pantoja wins via Split-Decision
-500 Magomed Ankalaev (17-1: 8 KOs) vs. +380 Anthony Smith (36-16: 19 KOs, 14 SUBs)
For me, outside of the main event, Ankalaev vs. Smith is the most intriguing fight on this fully-stocked card. Smith, a former challenger to Jon Jones, is on a nice groove lately, winning three straight and now he finds himself once again knocking on the door of a title shot. Standing in front of him is Magomed Ankalaev, another purely talented fighter reigning from the MMA hotbed better known as Dagestan. Similar to Pavlovich, Ankalaev has shown the ability to bounce back from a UFC debut loss to rattle off a bunch of wins (9) and put himself within striking distance of a title shot. Technically speaking, Smith has strong boxing, elite jiu-jitsu and above all other attributes, a humongous heart. I can't see a scenario where Ankalaev finishes Smith as the Dagestani has traded in highlight reel finishes for strategically breaking down his opponents. Ankalaev, a master of sport in sambo, would be wise to avoid the floor with Smith, as the Denver native is a jiu-jitsu wizard when it comes to sweeps, positional control and submissions. Ankalaev's ceiling is high, no doubt about it, but to say he's going to run through Smith is a bit of a long shot. With that being said, I got Ankalaev getting the nod on the judges' scorecards by rinsing and repeating his distance-controlling style of kickboxing.
Selection: Ankalaev wins via Decision