The UFC has been developing quite a knack for improving the quality of pay-per-views as a result of unforeseen circumstances. This weekend’s UFC 295 main card is no stranger to that phenom, receiving a boost to the co-main event as Tom Aspinall and Sergei Pavlovich step in for the injured Jon Jones. Unchanged is the promise of a striking spectacle between Jiri Prochazka and Alex Pereira, with either fan favourite to be crowned the Light Heavyweight champion in Madison Square Garden.
Pintsized’s pick of the main card is a true hipsters choice of Matt Frevola and Benoit Saint-Denis. Both men have won over diehard fanbases for polar opposite approaches in the octagon. On Sunday night, we shall receive our answer as to whether Frevola’s heavy-hitting knockout power is enough to overcome Saint-Denis’ legendary chin.
Jiri Prochazka vs Alex Pereira
It was last November that news began circulating of Jiri Prochazka’s shoulder injury which would force him to vacate his Light Heavyweight title. Jamahal Hill would be the next to claim the belt at the expense of Glover Teixeira in Rio de Janeiro, but such is the division’s curse, Hill would be forced to relinquish the belt just six months later due to an Achilles injury. Prochazka now has the opportunity to immediately reclaim his belt, becoming a two-time UFC champion in just four fights.
Obviously, it is difficult to estimate how much ring rust will play a factor in Sunday’s title fight. The Czech striker has built his career around his freak explosivity, utilising a wide array of strikes to catch opponents off guard from unorthodox angles. If we are to assume that we will once again witness the Jiri of old, then we can expect long, single-strike straight shots and front kicks. Rather than expend energy to push opponent’s against the cage, they themselves often back themselves up in anticipation of a power shot.
This may be case when facing an equally fearsome striker in Alex Pereira. At range, neither fighter owns a considerable advantage in height or reach, suggesting that Pereira’s ramrod job could dictate early proceedings. Although the Brazilian shocked Israel Adesanya with a takedown in their first UFC fight, it is unlikely that Poatan threatens such a look – regardless of how much trouble Teixeira caused Prochazka in their title fight.
Rather, the key battleground on Sunday will take place in the clinch. Prochazka’s long limbs can be punished when he attempts dirty boxing, however, it is his elbows that punish opponents. Pereira has shown that he is willing to engage in the pocket, creating a possible avenue for Jiri to wrap up the Brazilian and drain his opponent. Additionally, while it would be foolish to write off Pereira’s powerful combinations up-close, Jiri could replicate Adesanya’s knockout with an explosive counter.
Prochazka vs Pereira Prediction: Prochazka TKO Round 4
Sergei Pavlovich vs Tom Aspinall
There is a gruesome feeling ahead of the UFC 295 co-main event that Sergei Pavlovich may stop the Tom Aspinall hype train before it has even left the station. Pavlovich isn’t the freak Robocop that he has been portrayed across his six-fight knockout streak – the Heavyweight division is too shallow for it to mean anything beyond he carries his power. Yet, the Russian is also no longer the flawed one-trick pony that was exposed by an aged Alistair Overeem back in 2018.
The 31-year-old possesses the strongest finishing instinct in the 265lb division, stopping the durable Tai Tuivasa in under a minute before crushing Curtis Blaydes‘ title ambitions in just over three minutes. The same could be said of Salfordian Tom Aspinall, though, who has never seen the final bell in his career. Unfortunately for Aspinall, we do not yet know if he is the same fighter athletically as the one who submitted Alexander Volkov in the first-round back in 2022. Since blowing out his knee against Curtis Blaydes, Aspinall has fought just once, wiping away the pedestrian wrestle-boxing of Marcin Tybura.
In any other division, Pavlovich’s refusal to jab would have been long punished before he could step up for an interim title fight. This is Heavyweight, however, and the Russian’s use of the right hook to initiate exchanges has bamboozled top-ranked opponents. He is not the fighter to cover up into a shell against, yet he does stand incredibly square-on when chasing a finish. Aspinall’s chin has not been tested against elite power, but if he can weather the early stages of Pavlovich’s combination, he will find ample opportunity to shoot at the hips of a stationary target.
Pavlovich vs Aspinall Prediction: Aspinall Submission Round 1
Jessica Andrade vs Mackenzie Dern
Have we reached the end of Jessica Andrade‘s time in the UFC? The Brazilian is only 32-years-old, but has been finished in all three of her last fights in increasingly bleak displays. As she nears her fortieth career fight, the miles on her body are all the more glaring for her stylistic base in power and speed. Andrade’s once granite chin was cracked by Xiaonan Yan, while her submission threat on the ground was neutralised with ease by Tatiana Suarez and Erin Blanchfield.
The killers row for Andrade does not stop on Sunday, as a rejuvenated Mackenzie Dern enters the octagon off the back of her most impressive career victory. The grappling wizard dominated UFC veteran Angela Hill, not simply on the mat, but also surprisingly edging Hill on the feet. Dern isn’t a reborn striker – she remains heavily reliant on head-hunting and her natural power. Yet, there was greater thought in using her physicality. With both Andrade and Dern equally fast starters, I expect Dern to hold her own early before punishing her fading opponent late.
Andrade vs Dern Prediction: Dern Submission Round 2
Matt Frevola vs Benoit Saint-Denis
It takes a mighty punch to fell the legendary chin of Drew Dober. Matt Frevola wasn’t quite able to shut Dober’s lights out back in May this year, but he still sent shockwaves through the Lightweight division when he finished his opponent in the first round. The ‘Steamrolla’ currently sits on a 3-fight first-round finish spree since his seven-second demise to Terrance McKinney. Pressure is the key to Frevola’s success, constantly bouncing along the border of his striking range in order to keep opponent’s guessing. A particular favourite combination of Frevola is throwing a naked body kick, stepping back, and then catching his opponent with a lunging right overhand as they attempt to press forward.
Although it is a tendency that better fighters will adapt to, Benoit Saint-Denis may just chance his chin regardless. The Frenchman’s stock has skyrocketed since his one-sided debut beatdown at the hands of Elizeu Zaleski in 2021. Saint-Denis is looking for his fifth consecutive stoppage victory on Sunday, having last beat the brakes off of Thiago Moises in a ‘Performance of the Night’ display. Of particular surprise was the ease in which Saint-Denis bullied his decorated grappling opponent in the clinch, landing powerful strikes against the cage and on the mat.
Frevola vs Saint-Denis Prediction: Saint-Denis TKO Round 2
Pat Sabatini vs Diego Lopes
Pat Sabatini and Diego Lopes will open the UFC 295 main card with a bang, with both wrestlers entering off submission victories. Sabatini is a strong wrestler with a competent top control, however, he lacks basic defensive fundamentals on the feet. While the American will often choose to give up his back rather than engage in a stand-up battle, he will likely look to avoid offering Lopes an advantage on the mat.
Owing to his early 2000s emo haircut, Lopes has garnered serious fanfare in the UFC. While he will face a similar game plan as he did against Mosvar Evloev, it will not be to the same technical level. An extended period of time on the mat feels inevitable considering Lopes’ 33% takedown defence, but as seen in his triangle armbar submission against Gavin Tucker, the Brazilian will ferociously pursue submissions.
Sabatini vs Lopes Prediction: Lopes Submission Round 3