UFC Orlando Predictions

Author: Cain Miller

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Main Card (Fox)

Valentina Shevchenko vs Julianna Pena:

In our main event of the evening we have lethal striker Valentina Shevchenko and Ultimate Fighter winner Julianna Pena in a matchup that is likely going to determine the next challenger for the 135lbs title. After starting off her UFC run going 1-1, Valentina Shevchenko most recently picked up the biggest win of her career when she defeated Holly Holm via unanimous decision back in July. When it comes to striking, Shevchenko is one of the most technical fighters in her division. Shevchenko holds many accomplishments in both professional kickboxing and Muay Thai, and her abilities have transferred well into mixed martial arts. “The Bullet” has good, accurate punches and is quite skilled at attacking with elbows and knees from a closer distance. While her striking is top notch, Shevchenko’s grappling is still her main weakness. In her scrap with Amanda Nunes back at UFC 196, Shevchenko proved to be fairly susceptible to takedowns and once she’s put on her back she seems to struggle to mount any form of offense. Shevchenko’s grappling will likely be tested in this matchup so it will be interesting to see if she can make the needed adjustments in order to get her hand raised and set herself up for a rematch with Nunes.

After winning The Ultimate Fighter 18 back in 2013, Julianna Pena has amassed a 4-0 record in the UFC including notable wins over the likes of Jessica Eye and Cat Zingano. Pena’s strongest area is without a doubt her ground game. Pena is good at swarming her opponents and planting them on their backs where she will batter them with ground and pound and look for submission openings. By implementing a heavy pace, Pena has the ability to wear down her opponents and overwhelm them with her constant pressure. While Pena’s pressure is good, it often takes away from her technical skills. Pena has shown bad habits of getting too aggressive with her offense which leads to her leaving openings in her defense. Her chin has held up well thus far but if she keeps leaving herself exposed then it will be difficult for her to eventually capture championship gold.

This is a pretty interesting matchup given how these fighters stack up. Shevchenko will without a doubt want to keep the fight standing while Pena will probably want to use her grappling. Shevchenko definitely has the edge on the feet with her superior technical striking but her weaker ground game is something to keep in mind. If Pena implements her smothering pressure and capitalizes with her takedowns throughout the fight then she can likely win the decision or possibly even find a submission along the way. With that in mind, the main person who we’ve seen dominate Shevchenko on the ground was Amanda Nunes who is a far more technical grappler than Pena. Shevchenko struggled to deal with the technical takedowns from Nunes who has an impressive Jiu-Jitsu pedigree that exceeds what Pena brings to the table. From that perspective, it’s more likely that Pena will struggle to get her opponent down. Given that Pena’s takedowns are more based on strength and grit rather than technique, Shevchenko will probably have an easier time keeping the fight standing. Pena should be able to score some takedowns throughout the fight but Shevchenko’s better striking will be the key deciding factor. Expect Shevchenko to use a sprawl and brawl gameplan to get the better of Pena and win a competitive decision.

Valentina Shevchenko via Unanimous Decision

Donald Cerrone vs Jorge Masvidal:

In our co-main event of the evening we have a fascinating matchup between Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Jorge Masvidal. After suffering a rough TKO loss to Rafael dos Anjos for the lightweight title back in late 2015, Donald Cerrone’s decision to move up to 170lbs has greatly helped his career. Cerrone is currently riding a four-fight winning streak with all of his victories being finishes. Cerrone most recently picked up an impressive head kick knockout over Matt Brown just back in December which further cemented him as a contender for the welterweight belt. Cerrone has remained a fairly similar fighter over the course of his career, at least in terms of his style alone. With a hefty amount of professional kickboxing experience, Cerrone has strong striking skills and is fantastic a stringing his combinations together. “Cowboy” uses his kicks to equally chop down his opponent’s legs and body as well as dealing out punishment to the head in an attempt to finish the fight. On top of that, Cerrone has a high level of Jiu-Jitsu as well, particularly out of his guard. When he’s on his back, Cerrone is great at throwing up his legs to search for triangles and armbars, or he’ll look to sweep and take his opponent’s back where he is equally as dangerous.

Jorge Masvidal is also a former lightweight fighter who has had recent success at 170lbs. After losing two close decisions to Benson Henderson and Lorenz Larkin, Masvidal most recently picked up wins over the likes of Ross Pearson and Jake Ellenberger. Masvidal’s strongest area is easily his striking. Masvidal has some of the best pure boxing skills in the division thanks to his impressive movement and fast hand speed. Masvidal is great at darting in and out, lighting up his opponents with his fluid combinations and then escaping before they have a chance to retaliate. On top of his stand up, Masvidal’s grappling has also been improving over the years. Masvidal has developed some pretty good wrestling abilities, as well as a tricky submission game which he showcased in his d’arce choke win over Michael Chiesa. The main area where Masvidal has always been his weakest is when he takes his foot off the gas pedal and makes his fights closer than needed. As seen in his split decision loss to Al Iaquinta, Masvidal started off strong, even managing to hurt his opponent early, but eventually took his foot off the gas pedal and didn’t put forth the same level of offense as he did in the first round. For Masvidal, he’ll need to tighten up his mental game in order to live up to his potential.

This is a close fight given how these men stack up. On the feet, Masvidal has better fluidity with his hands but Cerrone has more diversity due to his kicks. Both men have shown good chins all throughout their careers so their durability will make them challenging to put away. While his chin is good, Cerrone has shown a weakness to body shots so it would be smarter for Masvidal to target the midsection and have some success there. However, Masvidal has shown a tendency to get dropped in his fights, as seen in his scraps with Michael Chiesa, Daron Cruickshank, and Rustam Khabilov. Masvidal has shown good recovery skills but the fact that he gets dropped fairly often is always a concern. On the ground, Masvidal should have the wrestling edge but Cerrone’s guard might give him trouble. Of all the people that Masvidal has wrestled, none of them have been as deadly as Cerrone is off of his back and that could very well put him in some dangerous situations. Overall, this is going to be a close fight that will likely come down to the wire. The main deciding factor is Masvidal’s moments of inactivity. Cerrone always has a high output with his offense so if Masvidal begins to coast at any point in the fight, he’ll probably be on the receiving end of some vicious combinations. Expect both men to exchange early but Cerrone will eventually find his striking rhythm and use his stronger arsenal of striking to edge out the decision.

Donald Cerrone via Split Decision

Andrei Arlovski vs Francis Ngannou:

Taking the action up to the heavyweight division we have former heavyweight champion Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski taking on rising prospect Francis Ngannou. After a successful string of victories that began in his UFC return back in 2014, Andrei Arlovski now finds himself having lost three straight fights with all of them being finishes. Arlovski is one of the most seasoned fighters in the heavyweight division with a professional career that dates all the way back to 1999. Arlovski is a striker first and foremost. He’s always been good at pressuring his opponents with his movement and swarming them with a barrage of punches. He likes to stalk his opponents and look for opportunities to connect with his powerful hands. While Arlovski has shown scary power all throughout his career, his chin has hit a decline over the years. Arlovski has been guilty of taking a punch in order to deliver a strike of his own and that style has taken a toll on his durability. Nine of Andrei’s thirteen losses have come by way of knockout so it’s definitely questionable as to how much longer he can compete in the sport.

With a 4-0 UFC record, Francis Ngannou has skyrocketed to being one of the brightest prospects in the heavyweight division. Ngannou has knockout victories over the likes of Luis Henrique and Bojan Mihajlovic, though he most recently defeated Anthony Hamilton by way of kimura back in December. Ngannou’s ground game has shown to be improving but his biggest strength is still his boxing. Ngannou has highly technical striking for a man his size and he’s quite skilled at looking for openings and connecting with well-timed shots in order to put his opponents away. While he has looked good thus far, Ngannou has yet to face a truly elite heavyweight. He has faced a respectable variety of competition in the UFC, but this will be his first big step up.

The main setback for Ngannou in this fight will he his inexperience. As stated before, Arlovski is one of the most well traveled heavyweights on the roster and his expertise could aid him well. That being said, Arlovski also has more wear and tear because of his much lengthier career. A possible gameplan for Arlovski could be to draw his opponent into a firefight in order to take away his technical striking. If Arlovski can force Ngannou to brawl with him then he actually has a better chance of finding the fight-ending shot given his power. With that in mind, Arlovski’s chin might not hold up too well if that tactic takes place. Arlovski’s brawling style could backfire on him and he could wind up getting knocked out himself. Ngannou will likely look to use his superior technical striking to avoid heavy exchanges with Arlovski in the first place. Ngannou will probably look to stay on the outside and search for openings to connect with his accurate punches. Provided that Ngannou can avoid getting into a brawl, he should be able to avoid Arlovski’s haymakers and use hs sharper boxing to pick his opponent apart and eventually find the finish.

Francis Ngannou via Knockout (Round 1)

Alex Caceres vs Jason Knight:

Kicking off the main card we have Alex “Bruce Leroy” Caceres taking on hot prospect Jason Knight. After back to back decision wins over the likes of Masio Fullen and Cole Miller, Alex Caceres most recently dropped a split decision to rising contender Yair Rodriguez back in August. Caceres has had a fairly interesting UFC career over the years. When he debuted on The Ultimate Fighter as a lightweight all the way back in 2010, Caceres was primarily a Jiu-Jitsu artist who used his lanky frame to wrap up his opponents in submissions. However, Caceres has developed a unique striking game in the last couple of years. Caceres now has a striking pedigree which allows him to mix up a wide array of attacks and allows him to pursuit his opponents from unpredictable angles. Now that Caceres possesses a well rounded game, we might see him put it all together and gain some momentum in his division.

After losing a decision to Tatsuya Kawajiri in his UFC debut, Jason Knight has since picked up two impressive wins over the likes of Jim Alers and Dan Hooker. While he’s not an expert in any specific area of martial arts, Knight has shown to be dangerous wherever his fights go. On the feet, Knight likes to stalk his opponents and look to land his strings of boxing combinations that carry a good amount of power behind them. On the ground, Knight has shown to be scrappy with his transitions, particularly out of his guard. Another notable factor for Knight is his constant pressure. From the start of the fight until the very last seconds, Knight is constantly moving forward looking to have success with his offense, which generally wears down his opponents towards the end. Being only 24 years old with nearly twenty professional fights, Knight is definitely an athlete to keep an eye on over the next few years.

This should be a fun fight between two exciting guys. The most challenging part for Knight will be dealing with Caceres’ tricky striking. As mentioned before, Caceres is difficult to read on the feet which allows him to strike his opponents with unorthodox attacks. If Knight is too intent on charging at his opponent looking to land bombs, then he could fall right into Caceres’ game and get picked apart from a distance. That being said, Caceres has shown tendencies to get hit in his fights, as seen in his 21-second knockout loss to Francisco Rivera, and that’s a concern against a relatively heavy hitter like Knight. On the ground, there should be some pretty fun scrambles. Both guys are good at finding openings for submissions but Knight has the better top control which will aid him in overpowering his opponent. This will be a close scrap but Knight’s pressure and strength advantage should help him get the win. Provided that he can avoid getting caught in one of Caceres’ quick submissions, then Knight should be able to get the better of his opponents on the feet and out-muscle him on the ground in order to edge out the decision.

Jason Knight via Split Decision

Televised Prelims (Fox Sports 1)

Nate Marquardt vs Sam Alvey:

In the featured prelim of the night we have former title challenger Nate Marquardt taking on “Smilin’” Sam Alvey. After suffering a brutal knockout to Thiago Santos at UFC 198, Nate Marquardt retaliated with an impressive victory over Tamdan McCrory back in October. In that fight, Marquardt was able to showcase his well-rounded set of skills by wearing his opponent down with his grappling before eventually finishing him with a second round head kick. Despite this win, Marquardt has still looked pretty questionable as of late. Marquardt has lost six of his last nine fights, four of which have been by way of knockout or TKO. While Marquardt has picked up some nice wins in his UFC return, his durability has definitely been in question over the past few years. Marquardt is still an athletic fighter but his continuation to take punishment will add up and keep wearing on him.

After a tough loss to Elias Theodorou back in June, Sam Alvey has retaliated with three straight wins including a decision victory over Alex Nicholson in his last outing. Alvey is a pretty straightforward fighter stylistically. Alvey likes to stalk his opponents and look to land his heavy hands to put his opponents away. While Alvey has dangerous power in his fists, his inactivity can definitely cost him in his fights. Alvey often times waits a good deal of time in order to land his finishing shot, so when he’s unable to find an opening then his hesitation often costs him due to his opponent being more active. Alvey has the power to finish practically anyone on his division but if he were more active then he could likely climb the rankings even faster than he’s already doing.

This is a winnable fight for both fighters. Marquardt would be wise to use his grappling here. If Marquardt uses his takedowns and capitalizes on Alvey’s inactivity then he could very well grind out a decision or even secure a submission along the way. However, Marquardt’s declining chin is definitely a concern in this matchup. If Alvey manages to even roughly connect with one of his lethal punches then he should be able to score the knockout. The main deciding factor could very well be Alvey’s activity level. If Alvey holds back too much then he could simply lose the decision because of his refusal to engage. However, if Alvey actually uses his time wisely and look for openings, then he will likely be able to score with his strikes sooner or later. Alvey might have a slow start but he should eventually be able to ease into the fight and land one of his devastating shots before too long.

Sam Alvey via Knockout (Round 1)

Raphael Assuncao vs Aljamain Sterling:

Up next we have an interesting bantamweight matchup between Raphael Assuncao and impressive prospect Aljamain Sterling. After winning seven straight fights in a row, Raphael Assuncao most recently lost a unanimous decision in his rematch with TJ Dillashaw at UFC 200. Assuncao has good Muay Thai and Jiu-Jitsu skills which he blends together quite well. The problem with Assuncao recently seems to be the fact that he’s faced a two-year layoff due to injuries prior to the Dillashaw fight and this has greatly slowed him down from making a title run. Hopefully Assuncao has put his ring rust behind him after his last fight so that he can continue his dominance that he started all the way back in 2011.

After putting together an impressive 12-0 professional record throughout his career, Aljamain Sterling most recently lost a disappointing split decision to Bryan Caraway back in May. While that fight showed that Sterling might not be the contender that we initially thought he was just yet, he remains one of the best prospects in his weight class. Sterling has an excellent ground game thanks to his wrestling background. When he gets his opponents to the ground, Sterling is great at using his strength to manhandle his opponents as catch them in suffocating submissions, such as his guillotine over Johnny Eduardo and his unorthodox arm triangle over Takeya Mizugaki. While his ground game is impressive, Sterling’s striking still needs improvements because he can occasionally be rather tentative on the feet. With that in mind, at just 27 years old, Sterling still has a good amount of time to continuously improve his striking game.

This should be a good fight that will allow one of these men to get back in the win column. Assuncao is known for his Jiu-Jitsu skills but he would probably be smarter to keep the fight standing. Assuncao is crisper on the feet thanks to his Muay Thai so if he can remain upright then he should be able to pick his opponent apart. However, that will be challenging due to Sterling’s forward pressure. Sterling can be relentless with his takedowns and that could make it difficult for Assuncao to get into his striking rhythm. On the ground, Assuncao has the better pure Jiu-Jitsu but Sterling’s strength and top control will make it hard for Assuncao to find many openings. Provided that Sterling can successfully clinch up with Assuncao, then he should be able to score with takedowns and use his relentless pressure to wear down his opponent and sway the judges in his favor.

Aljamain Sterling via Unanimous Decision

Bobby Nash vs Li Jingliang:

Taking the action to the welterweight division we have promotional newcomer Bobby Nash taking on the heavy handed Li Jingliang. With an 8-1 professional record, Bobby Nash will be making his promotional debut riding a six-fight winning streak, including a TKO victory over UFC and World Series of Fighting veteran Lewis Gonzalez. Nash has some good striking skills along with decent wrestling to boost. Nash packs good power in his hands and strong chokes when his fights hit the ground, though his overall game still developing. Nash’s movement and defense can get a bit sloppy at times which leaves him open to being countered, which is an obvious concern considering that he’s facing a powerful striker in his UFC debut.

With a 3-2 UFC record, Li Jingliang has gained a reputation for being one of the most exciting fighters to watch in his division. Jingliang is primarily a Muay Thai fighter who looks to pressure his opponents, cut off the cage, and look to land his thunderous haymakers. Once he’s got his opponents pressured, whether it be against the cage or on the ground, Jingliang is great at swarming them with big punches and ending the fight in the blink of an eye, as witnesses in his quick wins over the likes of Dhiego Lima and Anton Zafir. While Jingliang’s striking is powerful, his aggression can lead him to get sloppy at times. For example, in his fight against Keita Nakamura, Jingliang seemed too eager to finish the fight which ultimately led to his defense being left open and thus caught in a rear naked choke late in the fight.

This will be a fun stand up battle for however long it last. Both men can end the fight quickly though there are a few factors that make Jingliang the more confident pick. On the feet, Nash has good raw power but Jingliang has the better striking technique, as well as more diversity with his kicks. Nash would probably better off using his wrestling because if he manages to put Jingliang on his back then he’ll obviously negate much of his power punches. With that in mind, Nash seems to favor takedowns from the clinch and that could actually be a problem for him here. As said before, Jingliang is good at catching his opponents from a close distance so if Nash tries to get on the inside then he could leave himself open to being countered. Overall, Jingliang has more tools in his arsenal to get the win. Expect some fun striking exchanges between both men but sooner or later Jingliang will find an opening to land one of his flurries which will secure him the finish.

Li Jingliang via TKO (Round 1)

Luis Henrique da Silva vs Jordan Johnson:

Up next we have a light heavyweight matchup between renowned finisher Luis Henrique da Silva taking on UFC newcomer Jordan Johnson. After starting off his UFC career with back to back wins, Luis Henrique da Silva most recently suffered his first professional defeat back in December when he was forced to tap to an armbar against Paul Craig. Silva is a solid Muay Thai fighter who has a wide arsenal of strikes. Silva is skilled at mixing up his punches and kicks in order to equally punish his opponent’s head and body, which constantly keeps them guessing as to where he will attack next. Once he’s entered the clinch, Silva has great knees especially when he targets the torso which greatly deplete the gas tank of his foes. The main glaring weakness in Silva’s game so far has been his grappling. As seen in his last fight, Silva is still fairly tentative when his fights reach the ground which leads him open to being caught with something. In order for Silva to live up to his potential and become a serious prospect, then he’ll definitely need to tighten up his ground game.

A prospect out of the MMA Lab, Jordan Johnson is an unbeaten prospect who has picked up some impressive wins over in RFA before eventually crossing over to the UFC. Johnson has a wrestling background which has given him impressive athletic abilities and good cardio. Johnson has power in his hands but he’s best when he’s planted his opponents on their backs. When he’s in top position, Johnson is great at making his opponents carry his weight and dragging them into deep waters in hopes of locking on a submission. While Johnson’s grappling is dominant, his overall MMA game still needs work. Johnson still doesn’t appear to be too comfortable on the feet, something that is understandable given his relatively short career thus far, though that’s definitely a factor that we could see come into play for this matchup.

Despite Johnson’s inexperience, this stylistic matchup does give him hope to shine. As previously stated, Silva’s ground game is still in need of work so the fact that he’s facing a gritty wrestler could be a bad sign. If Johnson manages to grab a hold of his opponent and control him early on, then there is a good chance that he’ll wear Silva down and either win the decision or secure a submission late in the fight. The main problem that Johnson will have is his inexperiences on the feet. Silva will have a big advantage while on the feet so if Johnson tries to close the distance in an attempt to use his wrestling, he could leave himself open to being caught and ultimately finished. This fight could go either way. Either we’ll see Silva catch his opponent on the feet and get the knockout, or Johnson will successfully implement his wrestling and control Silva throughout the fight. In the end, Johnson’s striking disadvantage is the deciding factor. When Johnson looks to get on the inside, he’ll likely be more open to his opponent’s strikes, especially the knees. Expect Silva to struggle with Johnson’s grappling early on but he should eventually find his striking rhythm and use his Muay Thai to land something significant to get the finish.

Luis Henrique da Silva via TKO (Round 2)

Eric Spicely vs Alessio Di Chirico:

Moving the action to the middleweight division we have Eric Spicely looking to capitalize on a big win over Thiago Santos when he takes on Alessio Di Chirico. After a rough start to his UFC career when he was submitted by Sam Alvey back in July, Eric Spicely bounced back in a big way when he picked up a huge upset over Thiago Santos. In that fight, Spicely was immediately able to negate his opponent’s lethal striking by implementing his high level Jiu-Jitsu skills and lock on a rear naked choke early in the fight. Despite that impressive victory, Spicely is still a fairly one dimensional fighter. As seen in his fight against Andrew Sanchez on The Ultimate Fighter, Spicely is still uncomfortable on the feet which causes him trouble whenever he can’t get his fights to the ground.

After coming up short in his UFC debut, Italian prospect Alessio Di Chirico got back into the win column when he earned a hard fought split decision over Garreth McLellan back in August. Di Chirico is primarily a striker who does a good job of mixing up his stand up attack, though he isn’t afraid to add in some takedowns as well. Di Chirico doesn’t possess a wealth of finishing ability in his strikes, though he can put forth a good amount of output in order to keep his opponents busy. The problem for Di Chirico thus far is that he has yet to face a  high level of opposition so far in the UFC, which makes it difficult to determine how well he’ll fair from here on out.

The gameplans of both fighters should be pretty straightforward. Spicely will want to get the fight to the ground to utilize his superior grappling while Di Chirico would likely prefer to keep the fight standing in order to avoid his opponent’s deadly submission game. While Di Chirico doesn’t carry a ton of power, his technical striking is still good enough for him to have a big advantage on the feet. If Di Chirico can remain on the outside then he should be able to pick Spicely apart from a comfortable distance. If Spicely manages to get the fight to the ground though, then his far better Jiu-Jitsu pedigree will allow him to control his opponent and likely find a submission as some point. It’s a close fight but it’s fairly likely that Spicely will manage to get the fight to the ground at some moment. Spicely should be able to clinch up with Di Chirico and trip him to the ground, at which point he should use his smothering top position to leave his opponent exposed before eventually taking the back and choking him out.

Eric Spicely via Submission (Round 1)

Marcos Rogerio de Lima vs Jeremy Kimball:

Kicking off the televised prelims we have heavy handed Marcos Rogerio de Lima squaring off against promotional newcomer Jeremy Kimball. Marcos Rogerio de Lima has had a successful UFC career so far, more or less, though he has fallen short to some of the more notable fighters in the light heavyweight division. De Lima has scary power in his hands, as witnessed in his devastating knockouts over the likes of Richardson Moreira and Igor Pokrajac, as well as some unassuming Jiu-Jitsu skills which he showcased in his submission victory over Clint Hester. While has has the power to finish practically anyone he faces, de Lima can get sloppy with his offense which degrades his defense and leaves him open to being submitted, as shown in his loss to Nikita Krylov. From what we’ve thus far, de Lima appears to have the skills to beat some of the mid-tier fighters in his division, but tends to struggle when facing some of the slightly higher ranked guys.

Having made some waves on the regional circuit throughout his career, Jeremy Kimball will finally be receiving his UFC shot after having put together a four-fight winning streak. In terms of his style, Kimball is pretty straightforward. Kimball always prefers to keep his fights standing and look to brawl. Kimball has a pretty good tactic of stalking his opponent and then unloading with a barrage of heavy punches. The glaring flaw in Kimball’s game is that his striking is the main factor that he brings to the table, and his grappling has always been a weakness. Whenever Kimball is taken out of his comfort zone and forced to compete on the ground, he tends to come up short and get submitted. While Kimball has good finishing skills, his one-dimensional style is a prominent issue that he’ll likely face now that he’s reached the highest level.

On paper, this seems to be a favorable matchup for de Lima. De Lima has the power to match Kimball, if not more so, and his grappling is far superior. Kimball’s best chance of victory is to look and brawl with his opponent, but even then he’ll leave himself open to getting knockout himself. On top of that, de Lima might play it even smarter and look to use his far superior Jiu-Jitsu to get the win. De Lima is heavy when he’s in top position and can be relentless with his submissions. Overall, de Lima has far too many ways to win here. Provided that he doesn’t get caught on the feet, then de Lima should be able to drag Kimball to the ground, smother him, and find a submission relatively early.

Marcos Rogerio de Lima via Submission (Round 1)

Prelims (Fight Pass)

Alexandre Pantoja vs Eric Shelton:

In the final online prelim we have a pair of top flyweight prospects facing off with Alexandre Pantoja facing off against Eric Shelton. When he first entered the tournament of The Ultimate Fighter 24, Alexandre Pantoja was the number one seed in the house thanks to his extensive success on the regional circuit. Pantoja went on to prove his praises when he won his first two fights in the house before eventually losing a decision to Hiromasa Ogikubo in the semifinals. Pantoja is a Jiu-Jitsu practitioner first and foremost. He is quite good at tripping his opponent to the ground, out-position them, and eventually securing a submission, particularly his dangerous rear naked choke. While Pantoja’s grappling is strong, we’ve seen that he still needs to develop the other areas of his game. On the feet, Pantoja can sometimes get out-struck by more proficient fighters who are comfortable with their stand up. On the ground, if Pantoja is at a wrestling disadvantage then he can get controlled while on bottom and not given the space to find submission opportunities.

On the opposite end, Eric Shelton was the number 15 seed while on The Ultimate Fighter, but quickly proved his worth by having early success and making it all the way to the semifinals before eventually losing a close decision to the eventual winner Tim Elliott. Shelton is a well rounded competitor who has shown to be comfortable wherever his fights go. Shelton’s biggest strength would likely be his wrestling, though he has shown proficiency with his striking and Jiu-Jitsu, as shown in his rear naked choke win over Yoni Sherbatov while on The Ultimate Fighter. Shelton has come through as the underdog before so it will be interesting to see if he can make waves now that he’s officially in the UFC.

This should be a competitive scrap between two impressive guys. There should be no confusion towards what Pantoja will want to do, seeing as how he’ll have the Jiu-Jitsu edge. The problem there is that it might be challenging for him to get the fight to the ground given Shelton’ strong wrestling skills. Shelton has shown good defensive wrestling in the past and that could cause some big issues for Pantoja throughout the fight. This will be an even greater asset for Shelton considering that he has the striking advantage. If Pantoja can get the fight to the ground then he could very well find the submission but he may have a difficult time getting it there. Shelton should be able to execute a sprawl and brawl tactic that will allow him to use his superior striking to get the better of his opponent for three rounds.

Eric Shelton via Unanimous Decision

Jason Gonzalez vs J.C. Cottrell:

Kicking off our night of fights we have Ultimate Fighter 22 competitor Jason Gonzalez taking on J.C. Cottrell. After making it into the Ultimate Fighter house with a TKO victory over MMA Lab member Tim Welch, Gonzalez came up short in his UFC debut when he suffered a first round knockout at the hands of Drew Dober. Gonzalez has good wrestling abilities though he has developed a pretty diverse stand up game, especially with his kicks thanks to his taller frame. Thanks to his long reach, Gonzalez is able to put together fluid strings of combinations and keep his opponents at a comfortable distance. Gonzalez has good potential thanks to his natural athleticism and now that he’s had some time to adjust to the Octagon, hopefully he can showcase his true skills.

Having bounced around from various promotions such as King of the Cage, Bellator, and Legacy FC, J.C. Cottrell was able to amass an impressive professional record before making his UFC debut back in July. Cottrell has a good amount of experience under his belt and he’s faced solid competition throughout his career. He seems to be fairly comfortable wherever his fights go though he’s predominantly good at getting his opponents to the ground and locking on one of his strong chokes. Cottrell has the strengths to have success in the UFC, though he’ll need to better utilize his veteran experience in order to put a win streak together.

This is a close fight between two guys who have yet to show their full potential. Gonzalez has more power behind his strikes as well as a wider arsenal of attacks, but when put on his back he tends to struggle to mount much offense. It would be wise for Cottrell to avoid his reach disadvantage by taking the fight to the ground relatively early and controlling his opponent from top position. This one could go either way but provided that Gonzalez’s wrestling defense holds up then he should be able to keep the fight standing and pick his opponent apart from a distance and either win the decision or find the knockout along the way.

Jason Gonzalez via Unanimous Decision

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