The events are coming thick and fast and the next pit stop is in Chicago, for UFC on Fox 20. The headliner is a showdown between former women’s Bantamweight champion Holly Holm and Russian slugger Valentina Shevchenko, victory for either woman could put them in line for a title shot in a division that has already had four champions in less than a year. Holm will be keen to erase the memories of her first loss inside the octagon, back in March at UFC 196, that same night Shevchenko also lost out to current champion Amanda Nunes, which adds extra spice to this match up, as both women will be anxious not to record consecutive losses. In the co-main event, Edson Barboza will be looking for back-to-back wins for the first time since 2014 when he takes on Gilbert Melendez who is on a two fight skid and in desperate need of a victory. The final two fights on the main card include heavyweight beasts Francis Ngannou and Bojan Mihajlovic, while women’s Strawweight contender Felice Herrig takes on the ever exciting Kailin Curran. The undercard is also littered with thrilling bouts, most notable; Alex Oliveira vs. James Moontasri, Darren Elkins vs. Godofredo Pepey and Frankie Saenz vs. Eddie Wineland. This card is tucked up in between UFC 200 and UFC 201 and could easily slip under the radar but it could potential be the sleeper card of the year so make sure you don’t sleep through it and miss out.
As always, I will now break down all the main card fights, give my predictions and, of course, put my own “Armchair Expert” title on the line.
HOLLY HOLM vs. VALENTINA SHEVCHENKO
There has been a lot of hype regarding this fight, if you were to believe the rumours then it seems this is a fight to “punish” Holly Holm’s manager and if you look closely you can see why. This isn’t going to be an easy fight for Holm, Shevchenko is a dangerous opponent; out of 77 fights between boxing, kick boxing and MMA she has only lost 6. Shevchenko is an under rated fighter in the women’s division, she possesses smooth boxing, lethal kicks and is slick on the mat. But to defeat the former champion she will need everything to click because Holm is one of the finest athletes around. Since her transition into MMA, “The Preachers Daughter” has become the complete mixed martial artist, Holm’s over all game has drastically improved, her takedown defence now matches her wrestling and she knows how to pace a fight to take control and of course she also owns some of the crispest boxing skills in the business. The key factor here is where this fight takes place, it will be interesting to see weather Shevchenko shoots for a takedown or chooses to trade with Holm. If Holly keeps this fight standing, I expect her to outwork Shevchenko, I think Holly is too well rounded to lose here. By no means will it be an easy fight but I think there is too much riding on this fight for Holm not to win. I expect a late stoppage.
Holm by KO.
EDSON BARBOZA vs. GILBERT MELENDEZ
Barboza can’t string wins together and Melendez just can’t get a win. Melendez has lost his last two fights, albeit against a former champion and the current champion, but nonetheless he can’t seem to get the results to go his way. Third time’s the charm, they say, but this is no easy task. Barboza has some of the classiest knockouts in the sport, out of his 17 victories, 10 of them have been by knockout. Every time his foot leaves the canvas it’s with bad intentions, his leg kicks are some of the nastiest in the sport, he has so many weapons in his arsenal that it makes him so unpredictable, but he comes up against a man who has never been knocked out. Melendez is a gritty fighter who likes to out wrestle his opponent; he takes them down and frustrates them by keeping them there. He also has some heavy hands of his own, having knocked out 11 of his 27 opponents, including 7 in his first 8 fights. The pressure is really on Melendez to turn things around, since joining the UFC he has only won once in four fights, another loss here could be devastating for his career. I’ve gone back and forth on who I think the winner will be in this one and I think I’ve finally settled for the skill of Barboza being enough to see him through.
Barboza by decision.
FRANCIS NGANNOU vs. BOJAN MIHAJLOVIC
I just can’t see this fight going the distance. Mihajlovic can throw what he wants but I don’t see anything stopping Ngannou. In his 8 fight career, Ngannou has heard the final bell once, and that was his sole loss, the other 7 fights haven’t even made it to the third round, finishing his opponents by knockout 4 times and 3 times by submission. Mihajlovic will have to be at the peak of his game and have a solid defence to cause Ngannou any problems but as I’ve said before, I don’t see it happening. Ngannou has far too much power in his hands and I predict that he will demonstrate that early in the first.
Ngannou by knockout.
FELICE HERRIG vs. KAILIN CURRAN
This is another exciting women’s fight, this time in the Strawweight division. Both women have had mixed starts to their UFC careers and both hold losses to future starlet Paige Van Zant. Curran joined the UFC in 2014 having gone 3-0 in other promotions and making her octagon debut at 23, a big future was expected for her but back to back losses put a halt to that hype train. She got back to her winning ways in her last outing, defeating Emily Kagan by rear naked choke and she will want to follow up that performance with a big victory over Felice Herrig. “Lil Bulldog” as Herrig is known, is an experienced fighter, having competed 28 times in kickboxing bouts and another 16 times in MMA. After winning her UFC debut, Herrig then lost a decision to Van Zant, her last contest over a year ago but even in losing, she still caused PVZ plenty of trouble. Herrig will look to get in the face of Curran and not let her get any rhythm into her game; Curran will need to overcome this by constantly throwing combinations and keeping her at bay. Curran is a talented fighter but is still rough around the edges and still has a lot to learn. I think experience pays of here and Herrig gets the nod from the judges.
Herrig by decision.
Best of the Rest.
Frankie Saenz vs. Eddie Wineland
Saenz to win.
Darren Elkins vs. Godofredo Pepey
Elkins to win.
Kamaru Usman vs. Alexander Yakovlev
Usman to win.
Michel Prazeres vs. J.C Cottrell
Prazeres to win.
Alex Oliveira vs. James Moontasri
Oliveira to win.
Jim Alers vs. Jason Knight
Alers to win.
Luis Henrique vs. Dmitry Smolyakov
Smolyakov to win.
Bet of the Day.
The adventurous bet: all 11 predictions in an accumulator is about 97/1
The conservative bet: Holly Holm to win by either KO or submission is 15/8
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