By Nick Stavas
The UFC rolls on as it prepares to stage its third event in the span of eight days. Fight Island in Abu Dhabi plays host to another Fight Night card with several intriguing matchups. Headlined by a flyweight championship rematch between Deiveson Figueiredo and Joseph Benavidez, this lineup has a lot to offer for fight fans. A preview for that bout and more is below as we get you ready for another exciting night of fights from the island.
Main Card (8 P.M. ET on ESPN+)
– #1 Deiveson Figueiredo vs. #2 Joseph Benavidez – UFC Flyweight Championship
– #6 Jack Hermansson vs. #7 Kelvin Gastelum – Middleweight Bout
– Marc Diakiese vs. Rafael Fiziev – Lightweight Bout
– Ariane Lipski vs. Luana Carolina – Women’s Flyweight Bout
– #4 Alexandre Pantoja vs. #7 Askar Askarov – Flyweight Bout
Prelims (5 P.M. ET on ESPN)
– Roman Dolidze vs. Khadis Ibragimov – Light Heavyweight Bout
– Grant Dawson vs. Nad Narimani – Catchweight Bout
– Joe Duffy vs. Joel Alvarez – Lightweight Bout
– Brett Johns vs. Montel Jackson – Bantamweight Bout
– Malcolm Gordon vs. Amir Albazi – Flyweight Bout
– Davi Ramos vs. Arman Tsarukyan – Lightweight Bout
– Carlos Felipe vs.. Serghei Spivac – Heavyweight Bout
Deiveson Figueiredo (-210) vs. Joseph Benavidez (+180)
In the UFC, fighters are always telling each other that they want to “run it back,” but it usually takes a good amount of time and sometimes even a few fights in between before a rematch comes to fruition. That isn’t the case here, because these two guys just fought.
It has only been five months since Deiveson Figueiredo knocked out Joseph Benavidez in a vacant flyweight title bout back in February. You’re probably asking, “wait, if that was a title bout, then why isn’t Figueiredo the champion?” Well, it’s quite simple: he missed weight. It is clearly stated in the UFC rulebook that if a fighter misses weight for a championship fight, he is ineligible to win the belt. So back in February, when these two men met for the first time, Benavidez was the only one that could’ve won the flyweight strap. Before reading this pick I suggest you go watch that first fight here.
In watching the first meeting, it’s pretty clear that Benavidez was simply outmanned by the much bigger and more powerful Figueiredo, and I don’t expect anything different this time around. Benavidez has gotten three flyweight title shots in his career and has yet to become champion. Granted, he has faced a gauntlet of opponents, but given that he’s now 35 years old, it’s hard to say how much he has left in the tank. Benavidez is an extremely quick fighter who uses lightning fast combinations and speedy level changes to present a variety of challenges for his opponents. He’s a good wrestler, but as we saw in the first fight, Figeuiredo holds a pretty significant advantage on the ground, considering he almost submitted Benavidez via armbar in the first two minutes.
Figueiredo has a very large frame for the flyweight division, which is likely the main reason he always struggles to make weight. He also packs unrivaled power for a man that weighs 125 pounds, loading up on his punches and landing bombs from all angles. His boxing power coupled with his dangerous submission game makes him far and away the best fighter in the flyweight division.
I would rarely say this in a betting preview, but Figueiredo as a -200 favorite is an absolute bargain. Not only is he the stronger fighter, more powerful striker and better jiu-jitsu grappler, but Benavidez just got tagged five months ago. In the UFC, it’s highly unusual, and somewhat unhealthy for a fighter to take that much damage to his head and come back five months later ready to fight, let alone against the same opponent that just knocked him out. All signs point toward Figueiredo in this one and there’s a good chance it ends before the final horn again.
Best Bet: Figueiredo ML (-210)
Value Bet: Figueiredo inside distance (-125)
– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)
Jack Hermansson (-115) vs. Kelvin Gastelum (-115)
Even though the main event is a title fight, this middleweight clash is the most exciting bout on the card. It wasn’t long ago when Kelvin Gastelum went toe-to-toe with current undefeated champion Israel Adesanya for the interim middleweight title back in April 2019. Gastelum’s stock went up after that fight, and while he ultimately lost in a decision, he was able to piece up Adesanya at times and steal a few rounds from him. Six months later he faced Darren Till in what was a highly anticipated pseudo-title eliminator. Gastelum looked solid from start to finish and many fans thought he’d done enough to earn the victory, but he ended up losing in a split decision.
Now on a two-fight skid, the 28-year-old Californian will look to start on the path back to title contention, but he has a ways to go. Gastelum is an elite middleweight boxer with the footwork of a bantamweight. He throws extremely powerful strikes while still being able to slip and defend anything chucked his way. He possesses an overhand left punch that can put anyone to sleep at any given moment. While he typically likes to stay standing, Gastelum’s wrestling and grappling skills are nothing to scoff at. Given the fact that he’s only 5-foot-9, he has a lot of muscle and extra weight in his upper body which makes him very strong in the clinch.
This will likely prove to be vital against his opponent Jack Hermansson on Saturday night. Hermansson is a clinch master, who constantly tries to press his opponent against the fence and force a tie up. His takedowns are fast and once he gets you on your back, good luck escaping. Hermansson is extremely dangerous when on top, constantly working to land strikes and occasionally looking to lock in a submission hold. In fact, of his seven UFC wins, five are either by ground and pound or submission, making him a serious threat if the fight hits the canvas.
As for the odds, this is a pick ‘em fight, and rightfully so. These two men are evenly matched on paper and have each had their fair share of ups and downs over the past few years.
I fully expect Hermansson to try everything he can to get this fight to the ground. However, Gastelum is so powerful that if Hermansson shoots for a takedown there’s a good possibility he gets slept by that nasty left hand. Essentially, Gastelum’s boxing advantage over Hermansson is much more significant than Hermansson’s grappling advantage over Gastelum. The best way for Hermansson to win is by pressing forward early and getting Gastelum up against the cage to wear him out, very similar to what Kamaru Usman did against Jorge Masvidal in the welterweight championship last week. If this were a five round bout I think Hermansson would have a much better chance simply because Gastelum tends to get tired as the fight drags on, thus getting sloppy with his striking. Good news for Gastelum, this is a three round fight, and as long as he’s able to stay in the center of the cage and defend Hermansson’s inevitable takedown attempts, he should be able to pick Hermansson apart with relative ease.
Best Bet: Gastelum ML (-115)
– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)
Marc Diakiese (-160) vs. Rafael Fiziev (+130)
This lightweight scrap is oozing with fight of the night potential. For a fighter who is just 27 years old, Marc Diakiese has had a quite turbulent career so far. He started off his UFC campaign with three straight wins and the MMA world thought he was the next big thing in the lightweight division. Unfortunately for Diakiese, those three wins were followed by three consecutive losses, causing many fans to believe that his time on the UFC roster was over. However, Dana White decided to give him one more chance and Diakiese took full advantage of it, dominating UFC stalwart Joe Duffy for 15 straight minutes. He then nabbed his second straight victory over Lando Vannata last September, which brings us here. Diakiese is one of the most entertaining fighters in the entire UFC, throwing wild spinning attacks and high-flying kicks and Muay Thai combos. Not only is he an exciting and unpredictable striker, but he has built up a solid wrestling game due to his time training at American Top Team in Florida. Diakiese really is the full package when it comes to hot prospects, especially now that he’s been around the block and knows what it’s like to lose.
Diakiese’s opponent is similar to himself in terms of high-flying Muay Thai attacks. Rafael Fiziev is still relatively new to the fight game, at least professionally. After losing his UFC debut in a wild spinning kick finish to Magomed Mustafaev, Fiziev bounced right back with a convincing decision win over Alex White back in October 2019. With just eight pro fights under his belt, Fiziev has yet to face top rate competition and it seems as if this is a massive step up. He clearly has the ability to end fights quickly considering five of his eight pro fights failed to make it out of the first round. However, Diakiese is on an entirely different level compared to the guys Fiziev has faced thus far in his career.
I expect Diakiese to dominate this fight from start to finish. Diakiese’s ability to adjust on the fly, close distance with his kicks and find his striking range early is going to pose a lot of issues for Fiziev. Also, if this fight happens to go to the ground for some odd reason, Diakiese holds a significant advantage there as well. I’m absolutely shocked that the odds are this tight as I assumed Diakiese would be a much heavier favorite. But hey, sometimes the gambling gods give us a gift, so we might as well take advantage of it. Consider Diakiese the lock of the night.
Best Bet: Diakiese ML (-160)
– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)