UFC Fight Night 217 takes place on Saturday night and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
UFC Fight Night: Strickland vs. Imavov Main Card
Nassourdine Imavov vs. Sean Strickland
The headliner for the UFC’s first event of 2023 underwent a sudden switch at the start of fight week with the news that Kelvin Gastelum had withdrawn due to needing emergency dental work following a training room accident, resulting in Sean Strickland stepping in on short notice to fight Imavov.
Strickland actually headlined the last event of 2022 as well, coming out on the wrong end of a split-decision verdict against Jared Cannonier. That marked his second loss in a row, so it seems he’s eager to get back into the Octagon in 2023 and try to get back to the form that had previously seen him win six fights in a row.
It’s certainly not an easy fight to come into with little preparation though as the 26-year-old Imavov I seeking is fourth win in a row and is a well-rounded fighter who works well from range with his technical striking, has good footwork and isn’t easy to hit in return, while he can also go for takedowns and has solid grappling ability.
While Imavov has good output there are signs that his cardio can suffer the longer the fight goes and that’s something that Strickland will take note off as he usually has very good cardio and likes to use that to his advantage as he steadily applies pressure and tries to break the will of his opponents over the course of a fight.
It’ll be interesting to see how much the 31-year-old can really push the pace here though given his lack of preparation and the fact he’s taking the fight up at 205lbs, having confirmed in his pre-fight interview that he’d essentially taken the last few weeks off to enjoy Christmas and was planning a snowboarding trip prior to his call-up.
Meanwhile, Imavov has a full training camp behind him and is a big middleweight, so he will likely wear 205lbs fairly well, and I think his striking style can match up well too with what’s become a fairly predictable and a little stale jab-focused output from Strickland, while he might also be able to mix in some takedowns too against his underprepared opponent on his way to a decision victory.
Dan Ige vs. Damon Jackson
In the co-main event Ige needs to find a route back to winning ways after losing four of his last five fights, while Jackson is hoping to extend his current four-fight unbeaten stretch.
Ige’s poor form doesn’t tell the fully story though as he’s been going up against tough Top 10 ranked opposition throughout that period, and has emerged from it still having never been stopped inside the distance in his career.
So Ige shouldn’t be overlooked and remains a well-versed boxer who doesn’t have the biggest stopping power, but even pulled off a split decision win over Edson Barboza in 2020, and though his takedown defense isn’t bullet-proof he can also mix things up on the mat with wrestling and a submission threat.
Jackson hasn’t been facing the same murderer’s row of competition as Ige, but he is an experienced campaigner with two separate stints in the UFC in addition to fighting for the likes of Bellator, PFL and LFA. He is likely to be outgunned on the feet here, and that’s a concern as he’s got 3 KO losses on his record. Nonetheless, he’s well-rounded with better wrestling and strong submission ability that accounts for 15 of his 22 career wins.
It’s clear Jackson would be best served getting this fight to the mat, but he’s going to have to wade through Ige’s aggressive offense to do so and I think that could give him some real problems, leading to a second round TKO finish.
Punahele Soriano vs. Roman Kopylov
Soriano shook off back-to-back losses with a KO victory against Dalcha Lungiambula last July, leaving him with a 3-2 run overall so far in the UFC, and now takes on Kopylov, who is in a similar spot, having lost in his first two visits to the Octagon, before claiming a knockout finish against Alessio Di Chirico in September.
Soriano isn’t the most technical striker, but he’s athletic and certainly carries a lot of power, with six stoppages via strikes from nine career wins, including all three of his victories in the UFC so far. The 30-year-old’s foundation is his wrestling though and he’s also a capable player in that regard.
Kopylov is primarily a striker and like Soriano he’s a proven finisher, stopping all but one of his opponents in his nine career wins to date and has good speed.
He’s not the best defensively though and has been hurt on the feet at times, while his ground game is questionable, so I feel Soriano could have some success with wrestling, but may well look to slug it out on the feet and will land the heavier punches to produce a second round TKO finish.
Ketlen Vieira vs. Raquel Pennington
Meaningful women’s bantamweight action here with Vieira being on the verge of title contention as the No.2 ranked fighter after beating former champ Holly Holm last time out, while Pennington is trying to forge her path back to a title shot after compiling a four-fight winning streak.
Vieira is comfortable striking with a steady rather than pectacular style and was able to edge out Holm last time out in the stand-up exchanges, but really she’s at her best with her assured grappling ability on top, while she also has solid trips and throws to get the action to the mat in the first place.
Pennington is a compact boxer who will look to apply pressure and get into close quarters to land her punching combinations as well as employ a more grinding style working from the clinch in particular, while also having some wrestling and submission ability.
In the end I feel Vieira is the superior grappler here and is the more likely of the two to land takedowns of one kind or another, which will help her on the way to a win on the scorecards.
Umar Nurmagomedov vs. Raoni Barcelos
The 26-year-old Nurmagomedov comes from a decorated family, with recently crowned Bellator lightweight champ Umar being his brother, while ex-UFC lightweight great Khabib is his cousin, and he lives up to the lineage with an undefeated 15-0 record, including three wins in the UFC so far.
That being said, the 35-year-old Barcelos is a very good fighter in his own right too, and while he did suffer back-to-back losses not so long ago, he is now coming off a decision win over Trevin Jones and holds a 6-2 UFC record overall.
Nurmagomedov is relentless with his takedowns and is dominant as both a wrestler and grappler, with a very good submission game being his best weapon in terms of finding a finish. He is comfortable on the feet too though and makes good use of kicks from range that make him tricky to deal with.
Barcelos will certainly be eager to test just how good Nurmagomedov is on the feet though as he’s a fast, talented and aggressive muay thai striker who has shown fight-ending power in the past, including early on in his UFC run, though not so much in recent years. However, that doesn’t tell the full story as Barcelos has more strings to his bow with a good pedigree in both wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and has strong takedown defense.
Nevertheless, I still favor Nurmagomedov here as it’s very hard for anyone to stop him from continually chaining together takedown attempts until he lands one, and his control on top will be stifling, while I think it’ll prove hard for Barcelos to close the distance on him in the small periods of time that will be afforded to him on the feet. I’ll take Nurmagomedov by decision.
UFC Fight Night: Strickland vs. Imavov Prelims
(Predicted winners in bold)
Abdul Razak Alhassan vs. Claudio Ribeiro
Mateusz Rebecki vs. Nick Fiore
Javid Basharat vs. Mateus Mendonca
Allan Nascimento vs. Carlos Hernandez
Daniel Argueta vs. Isaac Dulgarian
Jimmy Flick vs. Charles Johnson
Priscila Cachoeira vs. Sijara Eubanks