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UFC London predictions

The UFC’s second London trip of 2022 has all the makings of a proper sequel.

For English stars Tom Aspinall, Paddy Pimblett, and Molly McCann, the stakes are higher, the challenges greater, and the spotlight is shining brighter on them than ever before. Aspinall headlines Saturday’s show in heavyweight tilt against Curtis Blaydes that could have major title implications with champion Francis Ngannou still out of the picture, Pimblett could see his hype train derailed by the quirky Jordan Leavitt, and McCann has to deliver a worthy follow-up to one of the greatest knockouts in the history of women’s MMA.

If any of those three stumble, it will undoubtedly cast a pall over the proceedings; if all three lose, the UFC’s British fans could find themselves experiencing the lowest of lows just four months after a Fight Night that was widely hailed as one of the best cards of the year in no small part to the success of its local talent.

On the other hand, should one or all of those three put on another memorable performance, don’t be surprised if the next time you see them it’s in a big spot on pay-per-view.

In other main card action, short-notice replacement Chris Curtis looks to take Jack Hermansson’s spot in the middleweight rankings, Nikita Krylov welcomes three-time UFC title challenger Alexander Gustafsson back to the light heavyweight division, and Paul Craig puts a six-fight unbeaten streak on the line against one-time light heavyweight title challenger Volkan Oezdemir.

What: UFC London

Where: The O2 in London

When: Saturday, July 23. The eight-fight preliminary card begins on ESPN+ at 12 p.m. ET, followed by a six-fight main card on ESPN+ at 3 p.m. ET.

(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting Global Rankings)

Curtis Blaydes (5) vs. Tom Aspinall (7)

For all we know, Tom Aspinall could be the next Francis Ngannou.

Aspinall has been booked perfectly so far. Five finishes in five UFC appearances against escalating competition. A mix of equally experienced peers and name veterans. And the veterans he’s finished are as sturdy as they come. Alexander Volkov hadn’t been submitted in over a decade before running into Aspinall, and even the shopworn Andrei Arlovski has proven to be remarkably sturdy over the past five years. Since being finished by Ngannou in 2017, Arlovski has only failed to go the distance twice in 16 fights: one of those times was against Aspinall. What does this mean for his chances of toppling Curtis Blaydes from his perch in the top 5?

On paper, it’s easy to see why Blaydes is willing to put his number on the line against one of the division’s fastest-rising fighters. Aspinall is a high-level grappler, but we’ve yet to see if he can deal with the elite top pressure that Blaydes brings to all of his fights. That’s not to mention Blaydes’ always improving striking. If this one stays standing, I give Aspinall the edge, but not by much.

The biggest factor in my eyes is that I need to see how Aspinall fares on the defensive. If he can’t get off to a fast start, can he bounce back from a bad round or two? On the other side, Blaydes has to avoid slipping on the proverbial banana peel that felled him in pivotal matchups against Ngannou and Derrick Lewis.

I’m going Blaydes by decision, only because I don’t see Aspinall finishing him and Blaydes has an unblemished record when going to the scorecards. I expect Blaydes to do a lot of damage with ground-and-pound, allowing Aspinall to show his heart in the later rounds en route to a loss.

Pick: Blaydes

Chris Curtis vs. Jack Hermansson (12)

Chris Curtis is about to break into the MMA Fighting Global Rankings.

“The Action Man” has been one of MMA’s best stories. The 35-year-old veteran finally got his shot in the UFC after 12 years in the business and he hasn’t looked back since, rattling off three straight wins inside the octagon against a varied set of opponents. Overall, Curtis has won eight straight fights and looked more like a contender than a Cinderella story. The good times will continue to roll on Saturday.

With respect to Jack Hermansson, a stalwart of the 185-pound division, he just lost a decision to Sean Strickland and I consider Curtis to be a superior version of Strickland, who he happens to train with. He has a more diverse arsenal on the feet, better finishing instincts, and his takedown defense is just as stout. That last factor is going to hurt Hermansson in this fight because his best chance of winning is to take this fight to the ground. Curtis has always had great submission defense though, so even this feels like a dead end for “The Joker.”

Hermansson is tough and he’ll keep Curtis on his toes for 15 minutes, but this will be the fight where Curtis erases any doubt that he is a legitimate UFC middleweight contender.

Pick: Curtis

Paddy Pimblett vs. Jordan Leavitt

This one is going to be close and that means either Jordan Leavitt or the majority of the fans at the O2 are leaving bewildered and upset. These two are well-matched skill-wise, so I’m not expecting a dominant performance either way.

Leavitt’s whole deal is so unorthodox. Even putting aside his off-beat personality and post-fight celebrations, he’s awkward to deal with in the cage. Leavitt uses his range well, picking his opponents apart with straight punches and kicks, and has a tricky ground game that he utilizes once it comes down to close quarters combat. Paddy Pimblett loves to grapple, but there’s nothing fun about rolling with Leavitt. On the other hand, fans could be treated to some entertaining scrambles if they spend the majority of their time on the mat.

I see Pimblett as having the heavier hands in the standup, but Leavitt rarely gets caught with anything clean. Pimblett could catch Leavitt with some winging punches, I just don’t see him landing consistently enough to swing the bout definitively in his favor. The activity and accuracy of Leavitt is going to take him a long way in this fight.

Again, it’s going to be close, but Leavitt spoils the party with a decision win.

Pick: Leavitt

Alexander Gustafsson vs. Nikita Krylov

It’s been a long time (five years!) since Alexander Gustafsson has had his hand raised, but (hear me out) he’s just a better fighter than Nikita Krylov, isn’t he?

Full disclosure: I clearly haven’t let go of the memory of prime Gus. At his best, Gustafsson pushed Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier to the limit and flat-out beat Glover Teixeira and Jan Blachowicz. That’s four guys who held UFC gold at some point. Again, I understand, the Teixeira fight was a long time ago, but it’s easy to rationalize Gustafsson’s slump:

Fabricio Werdum? Terrible opponent for his first heavyweight fight.

Anthony Smith? Anthony Smith is really good!

Jon Jones? Come on, it’s Jon Jones.

That three-fight losing streak doesn’t look so bad now, does it?

OK, I can tell you’re not convinced. It’s true, Krylov is a proven fight finisher, but that hasn’t been the case against the best at light heavyweight and I truly believe there’s still some remnant of that version of Gustafsson in there. I could be completely wrong and likely am.

Gustafsson by knockout.

Pick: Gustafsson

Molly McCann vs. Hannah Goldy

See what I wrote up there about Gustafsson? I feel the same way about Molly McCann in regards to Hannah Goldy.

There’s no questioning Goldy’s fitness and physical gifts. She’s about as plus an athlete as you’ll find in MMA and she showed real determination in picking up her first UFC win against Emily Whitmire. There’s potential there, but potential isn’t going to get it done against “Meatball.”

McCann’s confidence is through the roof right now, but it’s not just her mental game that’s worthy of praise. She’s made gains in both striking and grappling, attacking with more focused aggression on the feet and sharpening an already solid ground game. Unless Goldy has undergone a quantum leap in development from her last showing, McCann should cruise to a win here.

Pick: McCann

Paul Craig (12) vs. Volkan Oezdemir (15)

Paul Craig is the master of recovering from a bad start. Volkan Oezdemir is a huge threat when he can execute his offense early. Something has got to give.

It’s long overdue that I started giving Craig the benefit of the doubt, so while I fully expect him to get dinged up by Oezdemir, I also have faith that he’ll be able to pull off one of his trademark come-from-behind finishes. It might take longer than usual though. Oezdemir has great technique and has only lost to the best in the division. I think Craig belongs among those names and he’ll prove it Saturday.

Look for Oezdemir to land hard shots on the feet and force Craig into fight-or-flight mode, where he excels. The Scotsman simply has no quit in him and he’ll eventually find an opening to bring Oezdemir into his world. From there, it becomes a jiu-jitsu contest and that’s a fight Oezdemir can’t win.

Craig by submission.

Pick: Craig


Mason Jones def. Ludovit Klein

Marc Diakiese def. Damir Hadzovic

Nathaniel Wood def. Charles Rosa

Makwan Amirkhani def. Jonathan Pearce

Muhammad Mokaev def. Charles Johnson

Kyle Nelson def. Jai Herbert

Mandy Bohm def. Victoria Leonardo

Nicolas Dalby def. Claudio Silva

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