Set your alarm clocks early North American fight fans, because there’s a major welterweight bout going down in the wee hours of the morning on Saturday.
In what will either be a grappling fan’s dream or a kickboxing fan’s nightmare, Demian Maia and Ben Askren meet in the main event of UFC Singapore. The fight has legitimate stakes for both men, with Maia looking to maintain his reputation as the UFC’s preeminent master of all things jiu-jitsu and Askren needing to prove that he’s more than just a five-second man with a big mouth. Should “Funky” redeem himself, you can expect him to have a list of names ready to call out post-fight.
In other main card action, veterans Michael Johnson and Stevie Ray clash in the lightweight co-headliner, lightweights Beneil Dariush and Frank Camacho meet in what could be a potential barnburner, unbeaten heavyweight Ciryl Gane looks to stay perfect against Don’Tale Mayes, and “King of Kung Fu” Muslim Salikhov takes on Laureano Staropoli in the welterweight opener.
What: UFC Singapore
Where: Singapore Indoor Stadium in Kallang, Singapore
When: Saturday, Oct. 25. The entire card will air on ESPN+, with the six-fight preliminary card beginning at 5 a.m. ET and the five-fight main card starting at 8 a.m. ET.
Demian Maia vs. Ben Askren
Call me an optimist, but I see this playing out in the best possible way: Five rounds of back-and-forth grappling, with expertly-timed takedowns, brilliant scrambles, and narrow submission escapes. If we’re getting up in the wee hours of the morning for this one, there better be at least a taste of that kind of action!
Until proven otherwise, Demian Maia is still the man to beat when it comes to ground fighting. The formula for beating him is simple: keep it on the feet, you’re golden; get taken down, you’re toast. Even Ben Askren, one of MMA’s most effective offensive wrestlers should think twice about putting his mat skills up against Maia’s. The best grappler he’s faced is Japanese legend Shinya Aoki, and while he made short work of Aoki, he also had a considerable amount of size on “Tobikan Judan.” The Maia matchup will be the opposite as Maia projects to have a size and strength advantage.
In the worst-case scenario of this turning into a 25-minute kickboxing match, the edge still goes to Maia. He’s shown more of a willingness to strike as he’s progressed in his career, mostly out of necessity, and though he may want to take it easy on the kicks lest Askren catch one and dump him to the canvas, his striking arsenal is more varied than what little we’ve seen from Askren throughout his career.
Cross your fingers that these two are allowed to put their best foot forward as opposed to having to rely on any secondary skill sets to pull out a win.
Maia by submission.
Michael Johnson vs. Stevie Ray
As odd a choice as this bout seems for a co-main event (is there a large contingent of Michael Johnson fans in Singapore that I’m not aware of? A national Stevie Ray fan club perhaps?), it should be a fun one given that Johnson and Ray have fan-friendly styles. Just as importantly, both are coming off of knockout losses and they need a win to avoid sinking further into the depths of the lightweight rankings.
This is actually Johnson’s return to 155 pounds and it’s easy to forget how competitive he’s been in this weight class. Yes, his wins over Dustin Poirier, Edson Barboza, and Tony Ferguson feel like they happened ages ago, but he always shows up against the division’s elite and that experience will be a major factor against Ray. Scotland’s Ray has a solid counter-striking game and sharp kicks, so he could definitely take Johnson out if “The Menace” is unfocused.
Also in Johnson’s favor are his hand speed and wrestling ability, the latter of which he doesn’t always take advantage of. If he can mix in the occasional takedown, it will further keep Ray off-balance. This one will probably go all three rounds, with Johnson taking the decision.
Frank Camacho vs. Beneil Dariush
Speaking of potentially fun fights, how about this matchup between the hard-headed Frank Camacho and the talented, if inconsistent Beneil Dariush?
If Camacho can drag Dariush into a slugfest, anything is possible. “The Crank” is a strong puncher with heart for days and he’ll test Dariush’s ability to score on the defensive. He’s also capable of pushing the pace in the later rounds, should the fight last that long.
However, I see Dariush actually finishing this one in the first or second round. It will take him time to get into a rhythm and figure out the best way to tackle Camacho without getting his face smashed, but when Dariush gets his grappling game going that will be the beginning of the end for Camacho. The potential for entertaining standup exchanges is there, it’s just that Dariush should be smart and flex his submission skills. He has more ways to win this fight, which is bad news for Camacho.
Ciryl Gane vs. Don’Tale Mayes
Like a lot of young heavyweights with a solid physical profile, Don’Tale Mayes wants to slug it out and he’ll have a willing dance partner in Ciryl Gane; unfortunately, he’ll also have a dance partner that is also more well-versed than him in the striking department.
It’s heavyweight so anything can happen, but Gane has advanced coordination for a big man and good Muay Thai fundamentals. Add onto that a high level of maturity for such an inexperienced fighter and one can understand why he’s been projected as a can’t-miss prospect. He’s not just a headhunter, he’ll chop Mayes down with leg kicks if Mayes’s defense isn’t up to snuff.
Mayes has some creativity on the feet and Gane will let him get his spinning stuff out of his system before wearing him down from distance and pouncing for a finish in the second or third round.
Muslim Salikhov vs. Laureano Staropoli
Muslim Salikhov is an absolutely explosive specimen, an expert at footwork and feints who competes with surgical patience. He’s always going to have problems winning decisions due to his lack of raw volume, but that doesn’t matter much when you’re finishing everyone who steps into the cage with you.
The counter-right of Salikhov is what Laureano Staropoli will have to keep an eye out for as he attempts to close the distance. That said, if “Pepi” can take a few hits, he’s going to give Salikhov plenty of problems with his pressure game. This could be a classic cat-and-mouse scenario, though there aren’t a lot of mice who can hit like Salikhov.
I’m bullish on Salikhov so I’m picking him to score another finish here, but if Staropoli’s high-volume game is for real, this win could peg him as a legitimate dark horse in the welterweight division.
Randa Markos def. Ashley Yoder
Rafael Fiziev def. Alex White
Enrique Barzola def. Movsar Evloev
Sergey Pavlovich def. Maurice Greene
Loma Lookboonmee def. Alexandra Albu