Updated: Sep 14, 2019
The UFC is back in action this Saturday for a major card in Abu Dhabi that features a main event Lightweight title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Dustin Poirier. The event has eight preliminary fights with some big names being featured before the main card. Russian middleweight Omari Akhmedov hopes to make it two in a row against the talented Zak Cummings, Zubaira Tukhugov returns from a long layoff and Joanne Calderwood faces off against Andrea Lee in a top ranked women's Flyweight fight. I will be breaking down the fights in the preliminary card before giving my predictions for each fight.
Lightweight: Don Madge (8-3-1, 1-0 in UFC) vs. Fares Ziam (10-2, UFC Debut)
The opening fight on the card has two young Lightweight prospects going head-to-head in a fight that should produce a stoppage victory. Don Madge jumped into the UFC last fall when he won by head kick knockout over Te Edwards and the South African looked really good throughout the fight threatening with submissions and strong striking. The long layoffs haven't seem to hurt Madge as he has only fought twice since the start of 2017 while his opponent this Saturday is 5-0 since 2017. 22 year old French fighter Fares Ziam is making his UFC debut after winning his last fight in February by 3rd round submission over Yassine Belhadj. Ziam has three of his last five fights ending by knockout and he is comfortable fighting a stand-up fight with Madge.
Prediction: Don Madge looked very strong on the feet in his UFC debut against Edwards and even in his grappling Madge was always attacking with submissions and looking for the finish. I expect this fight to provide some fireworks but I see Madge finishing it in the second round.
Don Madge wins by 2nd round TKO
Middleweight: Omari Akhmedov (18-4-1, 6-3-1 in UFC) vs. Zak Cummings (23-6, 8-3 in UFC)
Two former Welterweights who have both made the switch back up to Middleweight will be battling off in a fight that should place the winner near the top 15 of the division. They both haven't lost in their two fights since joining Middleweight as Omari Akhmedov is 1-0-1 with a draw against Marvin Vettori and decision victory over Tim Boetsch while Zak Cummings is 2-0 with victories over Trevor Smith and Trevin Giles. Omari Akhmedov is a strong grappler from Dagestan with decent striking as his last fight against Tim Boetsch was a striking match where Omari landed the heavier shots. Zak Cummings is a dangerous fighter on the ground with 12 of his 23 victories coming by submission including three of his past four victories. The 35 year old has a very similar style to Akhmedov but Zak is arguably a better striker that uses his grappling once his opponent gets hurt.
Prediction: Both fighters have very impressive resumes during their careers without being featured in the rankings and it's so hard to separate these two fighters. I think Omari Akhmedov will be in his element fighting so close to home but Zak Cummings is a roll in his last few fights so I have to go with Zak getting the victory by submission.
Zak Cummings wins by 3rd round submission
Welterweight: Nordine Taleb (15-6, 7-4 in UFC) vs. Muslim Salikhov (13-2, 1-1 in UFC)
Nordine Taleb is a solid Canadian fighter that is entering the tail-end of his career as the 38 year old is 1-2 in his fights since 2018 with his most recent fight in May a decision victory over Kyle Prepolec. He really mixed up his striking on the feet to earn the decision victory but it was surprising to see the Canadian not utilize his wrestling as he can sometimes get caught up in unnecessary striking matches with his opponents. Taleb has knockout power with two finishes in the UFC over Danny Roberts and Erick Silva but he needs to be careful going against Muslim Salikhov. The Dagestan fighter is 35 years old and entering his third fight with the UFC after winning his last contest by second round knockout over Ricky Raine in April of 2018. Salikhov is a 5 time Wushu Sanda World Champion and he has won 185 Kickboxing fights in his career with 76 knockouts. His weakness in MMA has clearly been grappling as his two losses have come by submission but Salikhov has won 12 of his fights by stoppage.
Prediction: Nordine Taleb isn't a world class Jiu-Jitsu practitioner but he has solid wrestling and he could really test Salikhov on the ground during this fight but as I mentioned before Taleb is a big fan of striking. I see Salikhov winning this fight in dramatic fashion in the 1st round.
Muslim Salikhov wins by 1st round KO
Welterweight: Belal Muhammad (15-3, 6-3 in UFC) vs. Takashi Sato (15-2, 1-0 in UFC)
The 31 year old Belal Muhammad gives Takashi Sato another big test as the Japanese fighter is trying to capitalize on some momentum after his knockout victory over Ben Saunders in his UFC debut earlier this year. Belal Muhammad is a really smart fighter and fans saw that in his last fight against Curtis Millender as he forced the striker to fight a ground fight. Belal is a strong distance striker in terms of technic but he doesn't really have knockout power and he does a good job scoring points on judges score cards with his strikes and occasional takedowns. Takashi Sato is the complete opposite as the Japanese fighter is looking to end the fight quick with 10 knockouts in his career and his last six fights all ending by knockout. His UFC debut saw him land a nice right hook on Ben Saunders that dropped him followed by some brutal elbows and ground strikes before the fight was called.
Prediction: Belal Muhammad is always a safe bet but I'm tempted to pick Sato given his fearless approach to fighting. I think Belal turns this into a comfortable distance striking match where he relies on his jabs and leg kicks to get the victory while Sato attempts to get inside and land a big shot.
Belal Muhammad wins by unanimous decision.
Lightweight: Ottman Azaitar (11-0, UFC Debut) vs. Teemu Packalen (8-2, 1-2 in UFC)
One of my personal favorites in Ottman Azaitar finally makes his UFC debut with a perfect 11-0 record including 7 knockout victories and 8 first round stoppage wins. I previously wrote an article about Azaitar and while watching all his fights I couldn't help but see a resemblance to a young Diego Sanchez as Azaitar seems to throw caution to the wind as he loves to get into brawls. My concern with Ottman is that he doesn't have a granite chin and he has been hurt a few times in his career but he generally has the power in his hands to finish his opponent before that matters. Teemu Packalen is a wrestler with a strong submission game as six of his victories have come by submission including his only UFC victory over Thibault Gouti. People are definitely overlooking Packalen in this fight as the 32 year old hasn't fought since his 2017 knockout loss to Marc Diakiese but Packalen is still extremely dangerous on the ground.
Prediction: I have to pick Ottman Azaitar as I think he comes into the 1st round firing with wild shots before connecting with Packalen and finishing him with ground strikes. However, I could easily see this fight going south for Azaitar if he doesn't connect cleanly and Packalen takes the fight to the ground.
Ottman Azaitar wins by 1st round KO
Women's Bantamweight: Liana Jojua (7-2, UFC Debut) vs. Sarah Moras (5-5, 2-4 in UFC)
The women's Bantamweight division is trying to recruit more prospects to eventually challenge Amanda Nunes as the division really lacks depth. Sarah Moras is on a three fight losing streak and this could be it for the Canadian as she takes on UFC newcomer Liana Jojua in a must-win fight. Moras was a contender on the Ultimate Fighter season 18 where she reached the semi-finals before losing to Julianna Pena and since then her career hasn't looked good including her recent skid of going 0-3 since 2018. She has decision losses against Lucie Pudilova and Talita Bernardo with a recent knockout loss in May to Macy Chiasson. Sarah Moras is definitely in her element during a grappling match and luckily for her the UFC matched her up with Liana Jojua. The 24 year old fighter has five victories by submission with four of her past five fights ending by first round submission. Jojua hasn't fought since early 2018 and this long lay-off leaves a lot of question marks but I'm expecting a high level grappling match from both these women.
Prediction: Sarah Moras will welcome the grappling as she hasn't lost by submission in her professional career while it's still a mystery as to how good Jojua is in terms of grappling. I'm going with Sarah Moras as I believe the Canadian does enough to earn a decision victory as she is fighting for her job with the promotion.
Sarah Moras wins by unanimous decision
Featherweight: Zubaira Tukhugov (18-4, 3-1 in UFC) vs. Lerone Murphy (5-0, UFC Debut)
The long awaited return of Khabib's teammamate and friend Zubaira Tukhugov who hasn't fought in the Octagon since May 2016 as he takes on Lerone Murphy on Saturday. Zubaira received a two year suspension back in 2016 for testing positive for ostarine and just as his suspension was being lifted in 2018 he was suspended one year for his involvement in the post fight brawl at UFC 229. The 28 year old Chechen fighter has had a rough few years but he was a promising prospect in the Featherweight division before his suspensions and it'll be interesting to see if he can return to form. He is a strong wrestler but he hasn't been dominant on the ground like Islam Makhachev or Khabib Nurmagomedov as he seems very comfortable to stand and strike with his opponent. His last fight was a close split decision loss to Renato Moicano and during that fight Moicano really challenged Tukhugov on the ground. Lerone Murphy is a Bristish prospect with a 5-0 record entering his first UFC fight with three of his victories coming by first round knockout. There isn't much to look at in Lerone Murphy's record but the UFC granted him with a great opportunity in this fight against a well known fighter in Tukhugov.
Prediction: Zubaira Tukhugov is a good fighter and if his work ethic is similar to his teammates, I imagine he spent the time off competition training heavily and working on his craft as a martial artist. I don't think this is a good first fight to take for Lerone Murphy as Zubaira is entering the Octagon with a lot to prove.
Zubaira Tukhugov wins by unanimous decision.
Women's Flyweight: Joanne Calderwood (13-4, 5-4 in UFC) vs. Andrea Lee (11-2, 3-0 in UFC)
A competitive women's Flyweight fight as the 5th ranked Joanne Calderwood takes on the 6th ranked Andrea Lee with an opportunity to get closer to a title shot against Valentina Shevchenko. I was disappointed with the final decision in Joanne Calderwood's last fight in the Octagon as Calderwood out-landed her opponent Katlyn Chookagian in every round with a total of 112-82 significant strikes and she landed 3 key takedowns in the final two rounds. Joanne is a powerful Kickboxer that pushes a high pace on her opponents with her striking and she has grown significantly with her grappling over the past couple years. Andrea Lee is undefeated in the UFC as the American fighter known as "KGB" has fast hands in striking and good scramble ability in grappling. Lee is more than comfortable to keep this fight on the feet as she has been able to dominant her first three opponents in the striking department including her last victory in June over Montana De La Rosa.
Prediction: Both fighters are well-rounded with underrated ground games and submission skills but Calderwood and Lee both prefer a striking fight. I still think Joanne is the better striker and her experience will be key as she gets a close decision victory over Lee.
Joanne Calderwood wins by unanimous decision