The lightweight division is one of the most talent-rich in the whole of the UFC. Fight fans are in for a treat this month, with five bouts containing ranked opponents coming up over a short period. Here are my brief breakdowns of the fights followed by my UFC lightweight rankings predictions.
Al Iaquinta (#11) vs. Paul Felder
When & Where:
Saturday, April 7 UFC 223 in Brooklyn, New York. This is the opening bout on the main card.
Iaquinta (13-3-1) has a strong wrestling background but has greatly improved his stand up since transitioning to MMA. This was evident in his brutal KO of the legendary Diego Sanchez at UFC FN Nashville, Iaquinta’s most recent fight, almost a year ago. He is on a 5 fight winning streak. However, the 5 bouts have taken place over the course of 3 years due to Iaquinta’s numerous problems with injuries.
Felder (15-3-0) is a 2nd degree black belt in Taekwando and a black belt in Karate. He has become infamous for his savage ground and pound finishes and excellent utilisation of elbow strikes. Felder is on a 3 fight winning streak, all by KO or TKO due to elbows. In his most recent bout, against Charles Oliviera, Felder came through a tough opening round, where he was almost submitted, to get the finish in the 2nd.
I think Iaquinta’s troubles with injury and subsequent inactivity over recent years will land him in trouble against Felder, who had 3 fights in 2017 compared to Iaquinta’s 1. I predict another KO from Felder in this bout, stretching his win streak to 4 and stealing Iaquinta’s #11 spot in the Lightweight rankings.
Michael Chiesa (#9) vs. Anthony Pettis (#12)
When & Where:
Saturday, April 7 UFC 223 in Brooklyn, New York. This bout takes place on the main card.
Chiesa (14-3-0) is a Brazillian Jiu Jitsu purple belt with 10 submission wins on his MMA record, 8 of which are rear naked chokes. He was on a 3 fight winning streak before his most recent bout – a (somewhat controversial) submission loss against Kevin Lee at UFC FN Oklahoma in June last year
Pettis (20-7-0) is an exciting, unpredictable striker that has a number of highlight reel KO’s on his record. He also has 9 submission victories, meaning he is almost as deadly as Chiesa on the ground. Pettis is an ex-UFC Lightweight Champion but has struggled for consistency since losing his belt. He has lost 5 of his last 7 fights.
It’s clear to see that Pettis’ striking isn’t what it once was. This is backed up by the fact that he hasn’t won by KO or TKO in 5 years (9 bouts). There’s no doubt Pettis has had an incredible career, but his best years may be behind him. I believe Chiesa will secure a take down relatively early on in the fight and his superior jiu jitsu will result in a submission win.
Max Holloway vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov (#2)
When & Where:
Saturday, April 7 UFC 223 in Brooklyn, New York. This bout is the main event of the evening.
Holloway (19-3-0) steps into this bout on less than a weeks notice, making the transition from Featherweight for the first time in his UFC career. He is renown for his relentless output, high pace fighting style and world class striking. Holloway won the Featherweight title at UFC 212 and subsequently defended it at UFC 218. Both bouts were against former Featherweight champion Jose Aldo
Nurmagomedov (25-0-0) is a world class wrestler that has showcased some of the most brutal ground and pound ever seen in the UFC. His two most recent bouts, against Michael Johnson and Edson Barbosa, demonstrated how far ahead he is of the other top 10 contenders in the division. Khabib is on a 25 fight win streak, although only 9 have occurred in the Octagon.
This section previously paid homage to my excitement at seeing Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov. Some things just aren’t meant to be. Now there’s just an empty space…
Holloway hasn’t fought at Lightweight in the UFC before, however he certainly has the height and reach to be successful in the division. This fight is a baptism of fire for Holloway, and I don’t think he’ll be able to get the win against Khabib. I believe Khabib is too strong. I think he will be able to get the takedown early on in the fight and tire Holloway, diminishing his infamous high output that usually he relies on. Huge props to Max for stepping up and saving the event, though, and I hope I’m wrong here as I’m a huge Holloway fan.
Dustin Poirier (#5) vs. Justin Gaethje (#6)
When & Where:
Saturday, April 14 UFC Fight Night Glendale. This bout is the main event of the evening.
Poirier (22-5-0, 1NC) is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu brown belt that possesses knockout power. He has found a new lease of life at Lightweight, winning 6 of his last 8 fights since moving up from Featherweight. In his last 2 fights, Poirier has looked impressive against former UFC Lightweight Champions in Anthony Pettis and Eddie Alvarez. He won via TKO against Pettis and should have arguably been handed a victory against Alvarez after the bout was stopped due to illegal knees (Alvarez) to a downed opponent (Poirier). The bout was instead ruled a no contest.
Gaethje (18-1-0) is a violent striker with a wrestling background. He joined the UFC undefeated (17-0-0) and won fight of the night and performance of the night bonuses in his debut victory over Michael Johnson. Gaethje is entering this bout on the back of his first loss in his MMA career, a devastating knockout at the hands of Eddie Alvarez.
There’s no way Gaethje can ever be in a boring fight, his fight style is so confrontational and aggressive that it simply isn’t possible. However, he leaves so many openings as he marches forward looking for the knockout finish. As a result of this, I believe the precise and technical striking of Poirier will get him the win via KO/TKO.
Edson Barboza (#4) vs. Kevin Lee (#7)
When & Where:
Saturday, April 21 UFC Fight Night Atlantic City. This bout is the main event of the evening.
Barboza (19-5-0) is an explosive Muay Thai striker that has arguably the best kicks in the division. He has 2 losses in his last 6 bouts, they are to Ferguson and Nurmagomedov. Barboza’s most recent fight, against Khabib, was a unanimous decision loss in which he took a lot of damage. He usually keeps opponents at bay with vicious leg kicks, allowing him the time to pick shots carefully and either out-score his opponent or knock them out.
Lee (16-4-0) is a high level boxer with good wrestling and jiu jitsu. He has won 9 of his 12 fights since joining the UFC and finished his last 4 opponents (1 TKO, 3 submissions) before being submitted by Ferguson at UFC 216 for the interim title. Lee has 4 wins by rear-naked choke in the UFC.
Barboza got taken down 4 times against Khabib, but I don’t think Lee’s wrestling is on the same level. Both of these fighters are high level strikers, so I predict this being a cautious contest that Barboza will win by decision. I believe he’ll be able to frustrate Lee and keep himself just out of range using his kicks to prevent Lee from rushing in.
How do you think these fights go down? Do you agree with any of my predictions or do you think I’m way off the mark? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Drop a comment and let me know.