With all the chop and change occurring at the top of the UFC 294 fight card, little light has been shone on the eight-fight-deep undercard which kickstarts Saturday’s PPV at the Etihad Arena, Abu Dhabi.
In fairness, there’s an unbelievable Main Event storyline as Alexander Volkanovski receives a late-notice shot at rematch redemption in the Main Event against Islam Makhachev. Moreover, the past two days have seen a whirlwind of speculation following a disputed injury sustained by late-notice Co-Main Event call-up Kamaru Usman during his open workout with teammate Justin Gaethje.
Whatever the case, more love needs to be shown to the UFC 294 prelims which boasts several gems. Flyweight’s biggest prospect, Muhammad Mokaev, faces his first meaningful challenge in savvy veteran Tim Elliot, while fellow Brit Nathaniel Wood returns to the fray as he looks to build towards a Featherweight title shot. Interestingly, Wood’s fight against Muhammad Naimov on Saturday marks his third fight in Abu Dhabi, also making it his fifth fight outside of the USA – having last fought across the Atlantic in 2020.
Tim Elliott vs Muhammad Mokaev
Competing in the Flyweight division at the age of 36 is a remarkable achievement for Tim Elliott, especially now that he continues to secure victories. After enduring a concerning three-fight slide from 2019 to 2020, the Kansas fighter regrouped by taking on unranked opponents. In his recent appearances on the undercards, Elliott has abandoned the kill-or-be-killed approach that once defined his early career, instead opting for a dominant grappling strategy.
While Tagir Ulanbekov and Victor Altamirano are formidable on the mat, Elliott faces a different challenge in the form of Muhammad Mokaev. The 23-year-old British fighter is a two-time ADCC UK gold medalist and has defeated opponents like Malcolm Gordon, Cody Durden, and Jafel Filho in the UFC. While Mokaev hasn’t displayed the same dominance in recent bouts as he did on the regional scene, he holds a significant athletic advantage in this matchup. Despite a potential crap shoot on the feet, Mokaev is the favoured pick at this stage of Elliott’s career.
Elliot vs Mokaev Prediction: Mokaev Decision
Mohammad Yahya vs Trevor Peek
Former UAE Warriors Lightweight champion Mohammad Yahya makes his highly anticipated UFC debut this Saturday. Having spent most of his career in the Middle East, Yahya has faced a questionable range of opponents. While Yahya’s boxing skills appear solid on the tape, the former UAE soldier has not encountered an opponent as aggressive on the front foot as Trevor Peek.
Despite giving up a 3-inch reach advantage, Peek will fearlessly press forward and wail his overhand hammer fists with impunity. The 28-year-old is all heart and athleticism, with his sloppy striking explained by his entry into the sport through unsanctioned fights as a teenager. The ship may have passed for Peek to ever embrace the fundamentals, but his high pace and conditioning mean he is a fan favourite all the same.
Yahya vs Peek Prediction: Peek TKO Round 2
Javid Basharat vs Victor Henry
Aside from owning the most incredible name to say out loud, Javid Basharat is a slick striker who has silenced many of his critics since joining the UFC in 2022. The Snow Leopard fights tall and possesses nimble footwork that punishes opponents with frequent teep kicks. In his three decision victories in the UFC, the undefeated Afghan has outstruck his opponents in every round with a remarkable 60% strike accuracy.
Against an opponent like Victor Henry, a fighter who has not attempted a single takedown in his three UFC fights, we can safely assume that striking will be on the menu. Henry, despite being 36 years old, is a relentless pressure fighter who has overwhelmed quality opponents with his volume like Raoni Barcelos. This fight is a true toss-up, but Basharat’s effective kicks could be the deciding factor.
Basharat vs Henry Prediction: Basharat Decision
Abu Azaitar vs Sedriques Dumas
Abu Azaitar, best known for violating COVID safety protocols on Abu Dhabi’s Fight Island card, is no longer a force in the Middleweight division. Having fought just once between 2016 and 2020, Azaitar was already on the ropes before the pandemic. Now, at 37 years old, he returns from another extended layoff following a brutal knockout loss to Marc-Andre Barriault.
Sedriques Dumas, despite experiencing issues with his striking and wrestling defence in the UFC, should be expected to weather Azaitar’s early storm. Captain Morocco will come out swinging from the first bell, especially with his career on the line, but it’s a puncher’s chance at best.
Azaitar vs Dumas Prediction: Dumas TKO Round 1
Mike Breeden vs Anshul Jubli
Mike Breeden enters the (King of) Lion’s den with his UFC career hanging by a thread. The 34-year-old has struggled with a 0-3 record since joining the organisation in 2021, facing stiff opposition like Terrance McKinney and Alexander Hernandez. With a paper-thin chin and a porous TDD, it seems like Breeden can only win late on paper.
That isn’t to say that undefeated Indian fighter Anshul Jubli is a definite lock, however, The undefeated fighter made history as the first Indian to win a UFC fight, but his performance in meaningful bouts has been inconsistent. The 28-year-old possesses a solid skill set but lacks any standout qualities besides a consistent jab.
Breeden vs Jubli Prediction: Jubli Decision
Nathaniel Wood vs Muhammad Naimov
After enduring a challenging period between 2020-2022, Nathaniel Wood has surged to a three-fight win streak at Featherweight. The former carpenter always puts on a show and his relentless wrestle-boxing style keeps him and his opponents in the firing line at all times.
Muhammad Naimov, a Tajiki fighter, demonstrated his knockout power with a stoppage victory over Jamie Mullarkey last time out. Wood is far more defensively sound than the Aussie, but Naimov’s early-round aggression poses a test for any ranked Featherweight. The Brit is capable of handling Naimov in any direction the fight takes, although the scars from John Dodson’s KO still loom large to this day.
Wood vs Naimov Prediction: Wood Decision
Victoria Dudakova vs Jinh Yu Frey
There is a lot to love about Jinh Yu Frey… at Atomweight. Since joining the UFC’s Strawweight division in 2020, the former Invicta Atomweight champion has struggled physically. Owner of a 2-5 UFC record, Frey’s technical qualities have shone against Ashley Yoder and Gloria de Paula, yet has been (wo)manhandled on the mat by deeply inferior opponents like Vanessa Demopolous.
Victoria Dudakova, being significantly younger by the tune of 14 years, may find this the easiest fight of her fledgling UFC career. Her grappling skills were on display in her debut victory, albeit due to a 14-second arm injury sustained by Istela Nunes. The undefeated Russian brings a strong grappling game well capable of matching an ageing Frey, however.
Dudakova vs Frey Prediction: Dudakova Decision
Sharabutdin Magomedov vs Bruno Silva
Bruno Silva buzzer-beater knockouts go brrrr. The Brazilian meme machine is a passive punchbag in fights until he pulls out the most incredible stoppage victories. Although his recent luck has waned, he remains a potent force in the octagon.
Sharabutdin Magomedov, an undefeated debutant, comes with an impressive knockout record across the Chinese and Russian regional promotions. When Silva inevitably grasps for the Hail Mary in the later rounds, Magomedov’s speed should prove the difference. Oh, and the UFC newboy is doing it all with just one eye.
Magomedov vs Silva Prediction: Magomedov