UFC 225 goes down this Saturday and it’s easily the best card of the year. We have two of the greatest middleweights of all time, Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero, battling for the title in the main event in an incredible match-up. In the co-main event, we have the biggest heel in MMA, Colby Covington getting a big step up to fight former lightweight champion and arguably Brazil’s best fighter – which just happens to be the country Covington has openly insulted for months now – Rafael dos Anjos for the interim welterweight title. Should be interesting.
The rest of the card is also stacked with exciting and important match-ups, right down to the Fight Pass Prelims.
Before we dive in, it’s important to note that these are just my predictions, and they are not indicative of my premium bets for this event. If you would like to tail my proven long term winning bets, you can sign up or found out more here.
Fight Pass Prelims
Clay Guida (+130) vs Charles Oliveira (-150)
Longtime veteran of the sport Clay Guida draws the always fun Charles Oliveira in a lightweight bout, who is stepping in on short notice for Bobby Green. Guida is coming off a quick (but sad) knockout victory of Joe Lauzon back in November, while Oliveira is coming off a knockout loss to Paul Felder back in December.
Guida, despite being 36 years old is still looking like a solid fighter since moving back up to lightweight. He’s pretty much the same fighter he always was – on the feet he will vigorously bounce around and occasionally jump in with a combination of punches. On the ground is where he really shines, though. He still has great takedowns and is absolutely relentless. He also has an endless gas tank and is very durable, with his only knockout losses in 51 fights coming to one of the hardest hitters at featherweight, Chad Mendes, and a perfect knee by Brian Ortega.
Charles Oliveira is one of the best offensive grapplers in the sport today. He is very opportunistic and can snatch a submission in an instance if he’s given the smallest of openings. He doesn’t mind being on his back for this reason, but he actually has some solid takedowns himself when he goes for them. He’s also a nightmare in the clinch. On the feet he’s solid offensively, he will stand in a Muay Thai stance and fire off straight punches and kicks. His defence is a problem, though, he’s open to punches in the pocket and has never reacted well to getting hit. His cardio isn’t good either, which is something to watch since he’s coming on on short notice, plus he often falls apart if things don’t go his way.
Prediction: If Guida comes in with a similar gameplan he had against Ortega, where he mostly boxed and didn’t attempt many takedowns due to the submission threat, he can win. However, while he’s fresh, Oliveira is most likely going to be a nightmare for him. Any clinch or grappling exchange will be dangerous, so Guida has to be really careful. Oliveira has always crumbled against powerful strikers, but Guida (despite a knockout win in his last fight over a shot Lauzon) has never been a big puncher with just 5 knockouts in 34 wins, so he should be fine in that regard. It’s likely going to come down to if Guida can avoid Oliveira’s early onslaught, and I slightly lean towards him not being able to, but without much confidence. Regardless, my pick is Charles Oliveira via first round submission.
Joseph Benavidez (-250) vs Sergio Pettis (+210)
The perennial #2 of the division Joseph Benavidez returns against the young prospect Sergio Pettis in a flyweight bout. Benavidez is returning from an ACL injury he suffered since his last win over Henry Cejudo back in December of 2016, while Pettis is coming off a dominant loss to Cejudo a year later.
Benavidez is an elite, well rounded fighter. On the feet he throws a sharp combination of punches, and will fire off fast, strong kicks both high and low. His footwork is excellent, and he will switch stances often to stay unpredictable. He is also a high level grappler and one of the best scramblers in the division. His front choke series is especially dangerous. He would be a longtime flyweight champion right now if it wasn’t for Demetrious Johnson.
Pettis at 24 years old is still an unfinished product. He’s long for the division and a technical striker, but his lack of power, grappling and fight IQ has held him back. On the feet he will stay at range and throw crisp straight punches and fast kicks, but that’s about all he can do. His takedown defence, like his brother’s, is still bad and he’s not very physical. When he’s taken down, he doesn’t offer much off his back. He will go for guillotines and submissions, but he’s still yet to even come close to finishing anyone in the UFC. His durability has looked questionable at times, too. He’s at an age where he can make big improvements, though.
Prediction: Unless the ACL injury and layoff has caused Benavidez to regress massively, and Pettis has made huge improvements since the loss to Cejudo, it’s hard to see him lose this fight. He’s better everywhere, especially on the ground. On the feet Pettis’ long range game may give him trouble, but if it does, he should be able to resort to takedowns and have no problem getting them. He should be able to maul Pettis on top or at the very least get the better of the scrambles without any trouble. Joseph Benavidez wins a dominant decision.
Anthony Smith (-310) vs Rashad Evans (+255)
Former champion Rashad Evans hopes to break a four loss streak against Anthony Smith, who is making his light heavyweight debut. Evans is coming off a split decision loss to Sam Alvey last August, while Smith is coming off a brutal KO loss to Thiago Santos just 4 months ago.
If this was the Evans from 10 years ago, he would starch Smith. Smith isn’t a great fighter, he has 8 knockout losses and all four of his UFC wins have came from him surviving early trouble to come back and beat a gassed opponent. Evans obviously isn’t close to the fighter he once was, though. He’s now 38 years old, is beyond injury plagued and has already started losing to low level fighters. He doesn’t pull the trigger in fights anymore and has also said he may retire even if he wins.
Prediction: Evans still has a path to victory, and that’s to wrestle. He didn’t do too badly in that department against Alvey, who has much better takedown defence than Smith. However, I’m not sure if his body is even capable of doing that at this point. Smith will be way bigger in the cage and will likely just outvolume a hesitant Evans at range, or even catch him with something and knock him out. Smith is also dangerous in the clinch, and one elbow or knee is likely all it will take to put Evans out these days. I’m not confident in this pick just because Smith’s takedown defence is so bad and he’s not that good, but I’m going to go with Anthony Smith to win via knockout in the third round. Hopefully Evans hangs ’em up win or lose.
Ricardo Lamas (+210) vs Mirsad Bektic (-250)
The veteran Ricardo Lamas meets the prospect Mirsad Bektic in a featherweight bout. Lamas is coming off a brutal KO loss to Josh Emmett last December, while Bektic is coming off a brutal KO win over Godofredo Pepey last January.
These fighters match up nicely, and it should be a great fight. Both fighters are good everywhere but Bektic is the sharper, more powerful puncher while Lamas is the better kicker, with nasty calf kicks especially and dangerous, flashy spin kicks. Bektic is the better athlete with more explosive takedowns, while Lamas is the much better submission grappler. Both fighters have had trouble with durability.
Prediction: This is a tough one to call, I think there’s a bit of recency bias in the odds and it should be lined closer. However, I do favour Bektic. Despite issues with his fight IQ and chin, he still has huge potential in the division and at 36 years old Lamas isn’t done, but his time at the top is limited. I’m not counting out Lamas, he can very well win via knockout or submission here, but I think more often than not Bektic has success with his wrestling and has the slight edge on the feet with his boxing. With that being said, I won’t be surprised if Bektic starches Lamas either. Without too much confidence, I’m going with Mirsad Bektic to win via decision in a fun, back-and-forth fight.
Claudia Gadelha (-525) vs Carla Esparza (+415)
Former champion Carla Esparza draws Claudia Gadelha in a women’s strawweight bout. Gadelha is coming off a three round beating to Jessica Andrade last September, while Esparza is coming off an upset win over Cynthia Calvillo back in December.
Gadelha has some of the best pure Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the division, and is also one of the best wrestlers. Her takedowns, especially her double leg, is excellent and she’s very physically strong. Her striking is improving and she packs decent power for a 115’er. Her only problem has been her cardio, which was highlighted in her loss to Andrade where she gassed out after a high paced first round. She also could have won the belt against Joanna in their rematch, but her cardio completely failed her after she won the first two rounds.
Esparza is also a wrestler, and she’s got a good top game, but I don’t think it’s on Gadelha’s level – as evidenced by the fact Maryna Moroz, who has some of the worst takedown defence in the division, managed to stuff eight of her takedowns. She does have a suffocating top game, though. However, she’s still not comfortable on the feet. She throws decent enough boxing combinations, but she reacts badly to getting hit. When she’s losing, she gets very predictable and desperate with her takedowns.
Prediction: It’s hard to see a clear path to victory for Esparza. Her wrestling won’t be good enough to get Gadelha down consistently, and Gadelha is physically much stronger. On the feet, Gadelha should be able to get the better of the striking exchanges. Gadelha’s cardio is still suspect, but Esparza doesn’t push even 5% of the pace Andrade does, so she should be fine as long as she fights at a measured pace and doesn’t gas herself out. Claudia Gadelha wins a dominant decision.
Alistair Overeem (+155) vs Curtis Blaydes (-175)
Another veteran vs prospect match-up closes out the FS1 prelims as Alistair Overeem takes on Curtis Blaydes. Overeem is coming off one of the most brutal KO losses in UFC history last December, while Blaydes beat Mark Hunt by decision back in February.
Coming off his now 14th knockout loss, it’s impossible to predict how Overeem will look on Saturday. It wasn’t just the fact he got knocked out brutally, but it was how he looked before that happened which is the biggest concern for me. After spending a few seconds in the clinch, he totally panicked and then basically gifted Francis Ngannou a knockout win by running in recklessly and brawling in the pocket, when the obvious gameplan was to do everything he can to avoid that.
Still, he’s levels above Blaydes as a striker, historically has always had good takedown defence, and he’s got one of the nastiest clinch games in MMA history. Not only that, but he has a very good ground game too. So on paper, a wrestler with underdeveloped striking would seem like a good match-up for Overeem. However, it doesn’t take much to hurt Overeem or make him panic and shell up, and Blaydes – although very raw – actually landed some hard punches on Hunt that I think would most likely put Overeem in big trouble.
Not only that, but Overeem hasn’t faced a wrestler like Blaydes in years. Blaydes is absolutely massive and as strong as a bull, so although it may not seem like a good idea to enter the clinch with someone as dangerous as Overeem, it wouldn’t at all surprise me if Blaydes got takedowns and put Overeem out cold with ground and pound. On the other hand, it wouldn’t surprise me if Overeem put Blaydes out cold with a knee either.
Prediction: I have no idea what’s going to happen in this fight, and anyone that does is fooling themselves. Ultimately, without any confidence, I’m going to lean Overeem’s way. Alistair Overeem wins via TKO.
CM Punk (+185) vs Mike Jackson (-225)
*sigh*. CM Punk meets Mike Jackson in the welterweight division. Both fighters are coming off beatings to Mickey Gall and look to get their first win in the Octagon.
Look, it’s impossible to predict this fight. Everyone who has picked Punk to win thinks the fight will be fixed, which is just ridiculous. If the UFC were going to fix a Punk fight, they would have done it in his debut. There is no point fixing a fight for someone who has looked laughably bad already, because everyone knows they’re laughably bad now. Regardless, they wouldn’t risk the integrity of their 4 billion dollar company on fixing a pointless freakshow fight anyway.
With that out of the way, the only tape available on Punk’s skills is the first 3 seconds of his debut, where he weirdly marched straight towards Gall, telegraphed an arm-punch from space and got taken down. That’s it.
Jackson’s tape isn’t that much better, but at least he has real experience in fights. He knows what it feels like to go 3 rounds. He knows what it feels like to get hit clean in a real fight. Punk doesn’t, and ultimately that’s what makes me side towards Jackson in this fight. He’s shown he has some resemblance of striking technique, and he’s capable of knockouts while Punk has shown nothing. However, maybe Jackson has absolutely no grappling and Punk worked on his during the layoff and manages to take him down. Maybe Punk gets starched in 17 seconds. No one knows.
Prediction: Props to both guys for actually having the balls to step inside the UFC Octagon, but obviously neither of them should be anywhere near it. It’s completely impossible to predict this fight, so don’t risk your money on it on either side. Just enjoy the freakshow and the potential laughs it will bring. The King Of Pop wins via knockout, I guess.
Andrei Arlovski (+200) vs Tai Tuivasa (-240)
Yet another veteran vs prospect match-up as Andrei Arlovski faces Tui Tuivasa. After breaking his five loss streak, Arlovski is now coming off back-to-back decision wins. Tuivasa is also coming off back-to-back wins to start off his UFC career, with both of them coming by first-round knockout.
At this point, Arlovski is just a grinder. He knows that he can’t really take damage anymore, so has resorted to grinding out wins against the cage. He still has solid cardio and is physically strong, and you can never count out his power either, but at 39 years old with 11 KO losses, the end is definitely near.
Tuivasa at 25 years old is extremely young for the heavyweight division. He’s short, stocky and has cement blocks for fists like his idol Mark Hunt. He’s also quick and athletic for a big man. However, his grappling is bad and his fight IQ is questionable. In his UFC debut, he went for a lateral drop which ended with him on bottom in side control, which is something you just can’t do in the UFC and he better cut out immediately. It’s also worthy to mention that he actually has a KO loss to Peter Graham, an old veteran kickboxer, that’s not on his record due to it being a custom rules bout, although he was just 21 years old. In that fight, he gassed out very quickly and got KO’d pretty brutally.
Prediction: I’m not sold on Tuivasa yet. He’s got two nice KO wins and is at the age where he can improve at a rapid rate, but it wasn’t that long ago where he was in a sloppy, back-and-forth fight with James McSweeney where he simply looked abysmal everywhere. With how bad his cardio is, he’s likely a round 1 KO or bust type of fighter. I’m leaning towards him getting it again, but without any confidence at all. Tai Tuivasa wins via first round knockout.
Holly Holm (-225) vs Megan Anderson (+185)
Former bantamweight champion Holly Holm faces former Invicta featherweight champion Megan Anderson in a featherweight bout. Holm is coming off a respectable decision loss to Cris Cyborg in December, while 18 months has passed since Anderson’s knockout win over Charmaine Tweet. Anderson was scheduled to fight Cris Cyborg for the UFC featherweight belt, but pulled out due to undisclosed personal issues.
Holm’s career hasn’t gone too well since she dethroned Ronda Rousey. In her first title defence, she got submitted by Miesha Tate in the last two minutes after dominating most of the fight. In the fight after, she lost a wide decision to Valentina Shevchenko. After that, she dropped a competitive decision to Germaine de Randamie, where she was on the wrong side of some questionable refereeing after GDR got away with punching after the bell twice. She rebounded with a brutal head kick KO win over Bethe Correia after. In her last fight, she became the only fighter to last the distance with Cyborg in a decade, but ultimately lost a wide decision.
We know what we’re going to get with Holm at this point. She’s shown that she’s a striker that very much prefers to counter. She has great footwork and a solid game off her backfoot. She’s quite predictable (mostly due to her annoying “kiai’s”), but when she’s firing on all cylinders and in a good stylistic match-up, she has great oblique and side kicks, as well as a good left straight that packs some power. She’s also always capable of ending the fight with a head kick. When she’s forced to lead, though, she’s not great. She becomes hesitant and hits the air a lot.
Luckily for her, Anderson has shown that she can only do one thing, and that’s coming forward recklessly. She is huge for the weight class, but what she makes up for in size, she lacks in speed and explosiveness. She’s very slow and clumsy, and seems to not have a fast twitch muscle fibre in her body. When she lands she does damage, but her defence is abysmal. She is very flat footed and doesn’t move her head off the center line. Because of this, she’s been rocked in 3/4 of her Invicta fights against extremely low level opposition. Her grappling has looked even worse, although she has dangerous knees in the clinch. She has also slowed down as early as the first round in multiple fights, so that’s something to keep an eye on with her coming off an 18 month layoff.
Prediction: Anderson has shown nothing that makes me believe she can beat someone on Holm’s level. She’s struggled with and has even been badly rocked by very low level fighters, and is likely KO or bust. Considering Cyborg, arguably the hardest hitter in WMMA history couldn’t hurt Holm, it’s just hard to see a slow, reckless fighter like Anderson pulling it off. I think if that was to happen, Holm would have to randomly look like a complete shell of herself. Holly Holm wins via a dominant decision, with the possibility of a stoppage.
Colby Covington (-130) vs Rafael dos Anjos (+110)
The biggest heel in MMA Colby Covington meets former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos in a welterweight interim championship bout. Covington is coming off a beatdown of Demian Maia back in October, while RDA is coming off a dominant decision victory of Robbie Lawler back in December.
His shtick aside, Covington is one of the best wrestlers in the division. A D1 wrestler, he sets a ferocious pace and sticks to his opponents like glue, mixing in a vast array of takedowns and trips against the cage. His top control isn’t amazing, but he’s almost impossible to keep off you for extended periods. If he senses his opponent is broken down, he will pass guard and unload heavy ground and pound. His striking still needs a lot of work. He’s not afraid to throw and get into exchanges, but when he does it’s not pretty. His overhand is sloppy, and he will mostly just spam 1-2’s and kicks that aren’t set up or particularly fast. His gas tank is excellent considering the pace he sets, and his durability has held up against the opponents he’s faced so far.
RDA is an elite, well-rounded fighter. His Muay Thai is excellent. He doesn’t pack any real power in his punches, but his kicks are lightning fast and powerful. He has good takedowns when he has the wrestling advantage, and his top game is as elite and dangerous as it gets in the division. His cardio and durability has looked good so far at welterweight, although he did slow down a bit in his debut at the weight class.
Prediction: Covington seems like a bad match-up for RDA. Don’t get me wrong, if Covington wants to hang out on the feet with RDA he’s going to get chewed up and will be in big trouble. However, RDA has been easy to pressure and has struggled against fighters he couldn’t bully physically in the past. Even in his last fight against a one-legged Lawler, he backed into the cage for extended periods of the fight and that’s where Covington will have success.
Covington shouldn’t have much trouble backing RDA into the cage. RDA is mostly a kicker, doesn’t have the lateral footwork and doesn’t really have the power in his hands either to keep Covington off him for extended periods. Once Covington has RDA against the cage, he will get to work and will most likely get takedowns. He just needs to look out for subs and thwart any sweep attempts. In the end I think RDA needs a finish to win, and the wrestling, pressure and physicality of Covington will ultimately be the difference. Colby Covington wins a decision.
Robert Whittaker (-210) vs Yoel Romero (+175)
The two best middleweights meet again for the title in an incredible match-up. Robert Whittaker hasn’t fought since their first meeting in July of 2017 due to a knee injury and staph infection, while Yoel Romero is coming off a brutal KO win over Luke Rockhold four months ago.
Whittaker, in my opinion, is the greatest middleweight fighter in MMA history skill-wise. That might sound like blasphemy to some, I love Anderson Silva and he got me into MMA, but in this day and age the skill level in MMA has never been higher and Whittaker is about as elite as it gets. His striking is extremely technical and dangerous everywhere, his fight IQ is top notch, and his takedown defence is downright incredible. He’s also got a granite chin since hydrating his body up to middleweight, and his cardio is endless.
Romero is one of the best athletes in MMA history. At 42 years old he’s still one of the most explosive fighters in the UFC and he’s still the clear #2 middleweight. On the feet he can end the fight in any moment with any limb. He will wait, read his opponent and pounce when he gets the opportunity. That also means that he’s not really a round winner, though, so he’s very much KO or bust in 5 round fights. His takedowns are excellent, but he’s always struggled with top control. Also, even in very slow paced fights, he slows down which was his undoing in his first crack at Whittaker.
In the first fight, Whittaker suffered a knee injury around 30 seconds into the first round. He went on to lose the first two rounds, before taking over to win the last three rounds. It was an incredible performance from Whittaker, considering he managed to stuff most of the takedowns from an Olympic wrestler and freak athlete like Romero while having an injured knee. He also still managed to outstrike Romero, although Romero did gas himself out going for takedowns over and over again.
Prediction: In this fight, I expect Romero to have a gameplan to strike. He knows now that he can’t hold Whittaker down, so he will most likely come in with a plan to knock him out like he did against Rockhold. I don’t expect it to work, though. I think Whittaker is too smart and too good to get caught, and will win most of the rounds again or even put Romero out this time. That’s not to say I’m counting Romero out, I wouldn’t be surprised with a Romero KO at all, he’s smart, extremely dangerous and a very good fighter. I just think Whittaker is on another level. Robert Whittaker wins by KO in the later rounds.