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UFC St. Petersburg predictions

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Alistair Overeem and Aleksei Oleinik are among the most experienced fighters in all of MMA and they’re being tasked with headlining a UFC Saint Petersburg rife with fresh faces.

The matchup pits a pair of heavyweights with a combined 131 pro bouts between them and that’s not even including Overeem’s extensive kickboxing career and Oleinik’s grappling competitions. They’re also both proven finishers, with Overeem having 39 in total and Oleinik having 45 just counting his submissions. Oleinik is stepping in on short notice for Alexander Volkov and it’s hard to imagine the matchmakers finding a more exciting replacement for Saturday’s main event.

Islam Makhachev leads the lightweight co-main, where he welcomes 22-year-old prospect Arman Tsarukyan to the Octagon. One of the lightweight division’s best kept secrets, Makhachev, will have to be at his sharpest to avoid the upset and snag his fifth straight win.

In other main card action, Sergey Pavlovich and Marcelo Golm meet in a heavyweight bout, unbeaten light heavyweight Ivan Shtyrkov debuts against Devin Clark, veteran flyweight Roxanne Modafferi fights Antonina Shevchenko, and former ranked middleweight Krzysztof Jotko looks to right the ship against newcomer Alen Amedovski.

What: UFC St. Petersburg

Where: Yubileyny Sports Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia

When: Saturday, April 20. The six-fight preliminary card begins at 10:15 a.m. ET and will air on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes. The six-fight main card begins at 1 p.m. ET and will stream live on ESPN+.

Alistair Overeem vs. Aleksei Oleinik

Here’s what I wrote about Aleksei Oleinik’s most recent fight against Mark Hunt, in which I predicted that Oleinik would lose:

Obviously, Mark Hunt will want to keep this one standing and Aleksei Oleinik should get this one to the mat where he can work for his 47th submission victory. But Hunt is no longer the sitting duck that he used to be, having shored up both his takedown defense and survivability on the mat, and Oleynik has shown himself to be a willing striker during his time with the UFC.

Now, replace Hunt’s name with Alistair Overeem, change 47th to 48th, and tweak the comments to reflect that Overeem’s ground game is better than Hunt’s, and you pretty much have my prediction for Saturday’s main event.

But again, I predicted Oleinik to lose and he ended up submitting Hunt before the end of round one. Could the same fate befall Overeem, who has only tapped out once in his career? You can’t rule out anything with Oleinik, especially since he’s shown that he can snag a choke from almost any position. In the UFC alone, he’s twice turned being fully mounted into his trademark Ezekiel choke submission.

However, as mentioned above, Overeem is a far more competent grappler than Hunt and a better athlete as well. He also matches up better physically with “The Boa Constrictor”. In the striking department, it’s no question that Overeem will have the advantage.

All signs point to an Overeem victory, and while Oleinik has been able to navigate his way past many talented kickboxers in the past, Overeem’s well-rounded game will be too much for him this time around.

Pick: Overeem

Islam Makhachev vs. Arman Tsarukyan

This is probably too much too soon for Arman Tsarukyan, but don’t count out the 22-year-old Armenian’s chances of being a contender in the future. Tsarukyan already holds wins over ex-UFC fighters Felipe Olivieri, Junior Assuncao, and Takenori Sato, which may explain why matchmakers felt confident enough to book him for Saturday’s de facto co-main event.

It feels like this should be a showcase bout for Makhachev though, given how consistent he’s been in his six UFC appearances. He’s an elite grappler who also hits hard and rarely makes any major errors. Makhachev is as technically solid as anyone on the roster.

Tsarukyan is actually incredibly advanced at his age and uses a lot of the same techniques Makhachev does: A stiff overhand right, good trips in the clinch, and a fast double leg. It’s just that Makhachev is more polished at this point in his career. Still, expect Tsarukyan to go three hard rounds with Makhachev before losing a decision.

Pick: Makhachev

Sergey Pavlovich vs. Marcelo Golm

Facing the far more experienced Alistair Overeem in his maiden UFC outing, Sergey Pavlovich didn’t get the chance to show what he’s capable of. He’s a fast starter who had some glaring defensive wrestling deficiencies exposed. This time he’s matched up with Marcelo Golm, another heavyweight prospect that has had issues dealing with grapplers.

Should this remain a standup affair as expected, Pavlovich’s enormous reach and strength advantage will play a major part in him possibly putting Golm away early. Even if he can’t, he’s shown that he’s capable of going a full five rounds and pulling out a victory while Golm is 0-2 in matchups that go the distance.

Standard disclaimer: At heavyweight, anything can happen, but Pavlovich should make the most of his second chance to make an impressive first UFC impression in his home country.

Pick: Pavlovich

Roxanne Modafferi vs. Antonina Shevchenko

Make no mistake, Roxanne Modafferi absolutely has the tools to pull off an upset here against the relatively untested Antonina Shevchenko. It would require “The Happy Warrior” to get a few lucky breaks that would lead to Shevchenko being put on her back, because if Modafferi can get into top position she can do serious damage from there.

Shevchenko has solid takedown defense, though she’s never faced an opponent with the grappling vocabulary of Modafferi. She has to be prepared to defend not just against an initial takedown, but the cage pressure and trips that follow. Once Modafferi gets a hold of Shevchenko, she’s going to hold on for dear life and try to get this one to the ground.

Obviously, Shevchenko is the better striker and she’s going to piece Modafferi up as long as this one stays standing. This will be a major test for Modafferi, who has never shied away from taking damage, but that hasn’t always translated into wins. If she lets Shevchenko dictate where this one goes, Modafferi is toast.

I see this as being a closer call than a lot of pundits are predicting and I’m even going to go out on a limb and say Modafferi will turn this into a ground fight and put a halt to the Shevchenko hype train.

Pick: Modafferi

Krzysztof Jotko vs. Alen Amedovski

Krzysztof Jotko is fighting for his UFC life here and that may precipitate a safe game plan. He can’t play around with Alen Amedovski, an undefeated Macedonian fighter with absolute hammers for hands. Stepping in on less than one month’s notice, Amedovski is going to be hungry and eager to end this one early.

I can easily see Amedovski catching a slumping Jotko here and adding him to his impressive list of first-round KOs; on the flipside, I can also see Jotko using intelligent counters to keep Amedovski at bay and timely takedowns when he overextends. In the latter scenario, Jotko cruises to a decision.

Amedovski is just so untested on the ground, it’s hard to pick him against someone with the versatility of Jotko. Those KOs don’t come as easily when you’re up against a UFC veteran, and I expect Amedovski to take his first loss here.

Pick: Jotko


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