With the beginning of the COVID shortened MLB season, most of America will be watching bats swinging all weekend, but if you want to see some swinging of fists – the UFC has you covered. The conclusion of the four event Fight Island tenure is here, as the UFC puts on an event featuring 15 bouts, one of their longest ever.

Follow along as I walk you through a little backstory of Saturday’s main event, co-main event, and some fighters to keep an eye on. Let’s get into it.

The Main Event

The headlining bout Saturday will be a showdown between middleweight contenders – as former UFC Middleweight Champion Robert Whittaker (20-5 Career, 11-3 UFC) faces off against British striking sensation Darren Till (18-2-1 Career, 6-2-1 UFC).

This fight has major championship implications for the victor. Robert Whittaker is returning from his knockout loss against Israel Adesanya, where he lost his title. He’s still considered the next best middleweight to Adesanya in the world, and prior to losing his crown he had won nine straight fights, including an 8-0 record at middleweight. A win on Saturday would explicitly make him next in line for another championship run.

Darren Till has a lot less experience at middleweight, but tons of hype and danger as he comes to challenge the former champion. Till was a top welterweight who was equally as known for his massive weight cuts as he was his ballistic knockout power. Till was 17-0-1 when he challenged Tyron Woodley for the welterweight title and was defeated in brutal fashion. After being knocked out by Jorge Masvidal in the fight after, he bumped up to 185. In his debut, he won a close decision with Kelvin Gastelum, earning his position against middleweight’s #1 contender. 

How will it go?

I am extremely compelled to how a five round fight will look with these two. Those who have seen Robert Whittaker fight know this: he is perfectly well rounded, in unbelievable condition and has arguably the best chin in the sport. He has been cracked by men with the best power, defended takedowns against grappling specialists, and has no problem going long in fights.

Till’s best trait is how he can end the entire fight at the blink of an eye. He does such a good job of creating space, and his staggering power has put away 10 of his 18 victims by KO.

However, we haven’t seen that in his small sample size at middleweight, and one of the questions raised is – can his power at welterweight translate well to middleweight? Also, can he keep up with Whittaker’s crazy pace for 25 minutes?

My expectations are an aggressive Till being tamed and outexecuted by Whittaker.

The Co-Main Event

In one of the weirder co-main event fights I’ve seen recently, former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Maurício “Shogun” Rua (26-11-1 Career, 10-9-1 UFC) takes on Antônio Rogério Noguiera (23-9 Career, 6-6 UFC) for the third time.

This matchup was extremely bizarre to me because 1. Rarely do you see a third bout between opponents when one fighter has won twice. 2. Both fighters don’t have much to gain going to war at the end of their careers 3. Im not a fight like this was booked this high up the card with very little divisional title impact, unless it’s a farewell fight for both men.

Their first fight was in the PRIDE organization in 2005, where Shogun won a decision in the middleweight Grand Prix. Ten years later, they ran it back at UFC 190 in 2015 where Shogun once again won a decision. I don’t believe there’s some score to settle or any narrative to this, I think it’s simply two legends swapping leather. 

How will it go?

Well, if a fight ends in the same result twice it’s hard to believe it won’t end the same way a third time. Both men have not won a fight since 2018, so I haven’t seen anything new out of them as of recent. Shogun loves a kick heavy offense whereas Noguiera loves to box up opponents and fight off his back if necessary. I’d expect a tactical decision win for Shogun once again. 

Fighters To Watch

Alexander Gustafson 

Alexander Gustafson (18-6 Career, 10-6 UFC) is far from an unknown fighter I’m trying to spread the word about. Gustafson has fought and beat some of the best contenders at 205 lbs. He is most famously known for his first fight with Jon Jones,  narrowly losing a close decision in which many thought he won. As of recent, he lost a rematch with Jones decisively, followed by beating beaten badly by Anthony Smith. So now Gustafson is making the big leap, jumping from 205 to heavyweight on Saturday vs. Fabrício Werdum (23-9 Career, 11-6 UFC).

Gustafsson jumped up to 240 lbs which he wears well on his 6’5 frame. However, he fights a world class grappler and man who matches him in size in Werdum. Gustafson not only looks a lot more comfortable not cutting weight, he has an opportunity that every rugged veteran wants – a change to reinvent himself in a new division with a clean slate.

Khamzat Chimaev 

Does the name Khamzat Chimaev (7-0 Career, 1-0 UFC) sound familiar to you? It will if you are one of the four people who read all of my fight previews (Hi dad!). Chimaev made his UFC debut last Wednesday on fight island where he bludgeoned his way to dominant victory. In his post fight interview, he said he wants to get back in the cage as soon as possible.

This mother fucker wasn’t kidding.

On a 10 day turnaround, Chimaev will be back in the cage against Rhys McKee (10-2-1 Career, 0-0 UFC) on Saturday. If he wins, he will be the fastest win to win turnaround in UFC history if you do not include the tournament era of the organization. 

Chimaev is a grappling phenomenon, smashing power and solid takedowns. The crazy part? He’s dropping down a weight class from last week, so if you thought he had powerful grappling before, now we get to see him in a lower weight class. I expect dominating results.

Predictions:

Main Card – (5pm PST – ESPN)

Robert Whittaker def. Darren Till (TKO)

Maurício Shogun Rua def. Antônio Rogério Noguiera (Decision)

Alexander Gustafson def. Fabrício Werdum (Decision)

Marina Rodríguez def. Carla Esparza (TKO)

Gadzhimurad Antigulov def. Paul Craig (Decision)

Peter Sobotta def. Alex Oliveira (Submission)

Khamzat Chimaev def. Rhys McKee (TKO)

Prelims (5pm PST, ESPN)

Francisco Trinaldo def. Jai Herbert (KO)

Nicholas Dalby def. Jesse Ronson (Decision)

Thomas Aspinall def. Jake Collier (Decision)

Movsar Evloev def. Mike Grundy (Submission)

Tanner Boser def. Raphael Pessoa (KO)

Pannie Kianzad def. Bethe Correia (Decision)

Ramazan Emeev def. Nicklas Stolze (Submission)

Nathanial Wood def. John Castaneda (KO)