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UFC Tampa predictions

Michelle Waterson (pictured) fights Joanna Jedrzejczyk in the strawweight main event of UFC Tampa on Saturday
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The reports of Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

After much ado about the former strawweight champion potentially struggling to make weight earlier this week, Jedrzejczyk hit the scales at 115.5 pounds on Friday to officially set up her UFC Tampa main event clash with Michelle Waterson. Even mired in a 1-3 slump and with her doubters swirling above like buzzards, Jedrzejczyk remains one of the toughest outs in the division and a test of whether Waterson is truly ready for a shot at a UFC title.

Another veteran looking for redemption is UFC and WEC lifer Cub Swanson. The 35-year-old is winless in his last four and the matchmakers seem determined to add to those woes if a matchup with unbeaten submission specialist Kron Gracie is any indication. Can Swanson capitalize on Gracie’s inexperience or is he being used as a stepping stone to accelerate Gracie’s development?

In other main card action, Niko Price welcomes James Vick to the welterweight division, Mackenzie Dern fights for the first time since becoming a mother this past June when she meets Amanda Ribas in a strawweight bout, lightweights Matt Frevola and Luis Pena collide, and Eryk Anders returns to middleweight to fight Gerald Meerschaert.

What: UFC Tampa

Where: Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla.

When: Saturday, Oct. 12. The entire card will air on the ESPN+ streaming service with the eight-fight preliminaries beginning at 5 p.m. ET and the six-fight main card starting at 8 p.m. ET.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Michelle Waterson

The timing has never been better for Michelle Waterson to grab the brass ring and fulfill what has been a 12-year journey to a championship opportunity in the UFC. Unfortunately for Waterson, one of the greatest fighters of all-time is standing in the way of that goal.

It would make for a great story for Waterson to topple Jedrzejczyk, given her much-publicized campaign to become the first woman to become a UFC champion after giving birth and the three-fight win streak that she capped off with an impressive performance against Karolina Kowalkiewicz. In the past, Waterson has proven to be a risk-taker and a fight finisher, something that even the great Jedrzejczyk cannot claim despite her dominance inside the Octagon.

More likely, if Waterson wants to get the win Saturday, she’ll have to be the crafty, tactical veteran she’s been in her last few fights, making the most of her 25 minutes with Jedrzejczyk to probe for cracks in the armor while smartly mixing in takedown attempts. Even then, it’s unclear if she has the standup skills to out-strike Jedrzejczyk.

The former champion has always been relentless in her striking game and if she sets the tone early, it will take a lot for Waterson to make a comeback. Once Jedrzejczyk gets an opponent on the backfoot, it usually means they’re about to be on the receiving end of her trademark “death by a thousand cuts.”

If Waterson can use her speed effectively, that will go a long way towards throwing Jedrzejczyk off. However, given the chip that Jedrzejczyk has on her shoulder, it’s fair to assume she’ll be laser-focused on fight night, and that’s bad news for “The Karate Hottie.”

Expect this to be a competitive fight, with Jedrzejczyk still taking a clear-cut win on the scorecards.

Pick: Jedrzejczyk

Cub Swanson vs. Kron Gracie

It’s reductive to call this simply a striker vs. grappler matchup, because it’s not as if Swanson is some fish out of water on the mat. Yes, he’s susceptible to submissions, but he’s also been in the cage with the best-of-the-best and...

Who are we kidding? This is a striker vs. grappler matchup.

Even given Swanson’s own BJJ black belt credentials, Gracie is simply on another level when it comes to ground fighting and it’s hard to imagine Swanson lasting long should he give up top position or back control to Gracie; that said, Gracie’s striking is also largely unproven and as we’ve seen in bouts like Tatiana Suarez vs. Nina Ansaroff, predicting that grappling specialists will become world beaters when they haven’t shown they have high-level standup is a recipe for disaster.

Swanson has over seven times as many fights as Gracie, which should give him the edge especially if he can stuff a few takedowns early and drain the younger man’s gas tank. There’s plenty of fight in ol’ “Killer Cub” yet and I see him being able to stay out of Gracie’s world and forcing him to show a more well-rounded game, which he might not have yet.

Swanson by late TKO.

Pick: Swanson

James Vick vs. Niko Price

Not sure who James Vick cheesed off to get matched up with the wild and hard-hitting Niko Price.

It’s possible that Vick’s decline at lightweight occurred because of the strenuous weight cut the 6-foot-3 fighter was putting himself through, but it’s also possible that he’s just not great at defending his chin. There’s no shame in being KO’d by Dan Hooker and Justin Gaethje; there is cause for concern though since he’s moving up a division where there are heavier and harder hitting opponents.

Price is one of those opponents. Unorthodox and always hungry for a finish, he’s going be licking his lips when he sees a big target like Vick on the other side of the cage. Then again, that eagerness could work against him if Vick has tightened up his counter-striking and learned to use his range better.

It feels like Vick’s physical gifts will be less pronounced at 170 pounds and that’s going to be a problem when dealing with Price, who is deadly when he closes the distance. Vick is about to receive a rude welcome to his new weight class.

Pick: Price

Mackenzie Dern vs. Amanda Ribas

Were this to turn into one of those lukewarm kickboxing matches that often develop between two jiu-jitsu specialists, I’d be inclined to lean towards Ribas, who has looked like the more competent, mature striker so far. When it comes to raw power though, the advantage goes to Dern.

I do expect this one to go to the ground at some point though and once there, the next-level strength of Dern should give her the edge. She’ll be the bigger fighter when they step in the cage and if we’re talking grappling credentials, few women in the world can match Dern’s achievements.

All that, and you can’t discount “Mama Mackenzie” following in the footsteps of “Dad Cerrone.”

Dern via the power of love.

Pick: Dern

Luis Pena vs. Matt Frevola

Just call him Matt Frevola, giant killer.

For the second fight in a row, Frevola has been matched up with an opponent that looks to be at least six inches taller than him. And for the second fight in a row, Frevola’s wrestling could carry him to victory.

Luis Pena is still searching for that extra gear that will define where he can go as a prospect. Is he going to be a range fighter? A gangly wrestler? A submission hunter? He’s shown strength in all those departments, but he’s not outstanding in any one category yet. Frevola is and he proved that by putting his nose to the grindstone to outpoint the gigantic Jalin Turner.

“Violent Bob Ross” will give Frevola headaches in several areas, just not so much that Frevla will be deterred from his game plan of taking Pena down to his level and keeping him there.

Pick: Frevola

Eryk Anders vs. Gerald Meerschaert

Will this be the bout where Eryk Anders finally gets to show off his jiu-jitsu? Am I going to type this every time I have to predict one of Anders’s fights?

The owner of 21 submission victories, Meerschaert will want to take Anders down at one point if only to test the former Alabama football player’s cardio. Anders is back at 185 pounds for this one and while that should help him, he has had trouble focusing and finishing strong in the past. That won’t be acceptable against Meerschaert, whose grit is unquestionable even if his execution isn’t always flawless.

Meerschaert will take the fight to Anders and end it early if Anders isn’t careful. What Anders will want to do is hunt for that one-shot kill, something he’s capable of doing if he can get into a groove or if he faces a slower opponent with whom he can pick his spots.

Neither man excels in the later rounds, so expect this one to be a banger early on and an ideal main card opener, with Meerschaert scraping out the win.

Pick: Meerschaert


Ryan Spann def. Devin Clark

Mike Davis def. Thomas Gifford

Max Griffin def. Alex Morono

Deiveson Figueiredo def. Tim Elliott

Marlon Vera def. Andre Ewell

Miguel Baeza def. Hector Aldana

Marvin Vettori def. Andrew Sanchez

JJ Aldrich def. Lauren Mueller

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