UFC on ESPN 23: Reyes vs Procházka Predictions & Results

In a battle which could decide the next challenger to Jan Blachowicz’s belt, Dominick Reyes and Jiri Prochazka are set to duel for a five-round striking war.

UFC on ESPN 23: Reyes vs Procházka Predictions & Results

One week after the knockout spectacle that was UFC 261, the premier MMA organisation returns to the smaller Apex arena in Nevada. In a fight card that isn’t jam-packed with the usual fifteen fights of dross, UFC on ESPN 23 is a twelve-fight breeze that features perhaps two fights of significance. When the preliminary card features more fighters without a Wikipedia page, it raises a red flag over the quality of the evening’s entertainment.

Dominick Reyes will be keen to put on a show after enduring a two-fight slide, including an emphatic knockout loss to the current champion, Jan Blachowicz. While a rematch between the two would be an interesting affair, for Reyes to earn a title shot, he will need to produce a stoppage that attracts the headlines and forces Dana White’s match-making hand. Ridiculously flamboyant Czech meme striker, Jiri Prochazka, is the man who stands in the way of Reyes. After shuttiColares wing out Volkan Oezdemir’s lights half a year ago, Prochazka leapfrogged the Light Heavyweight rankings and is likely only one fight away from a title shot.

Veteran Cub Swanson gives Giga Chikadze his first taste of the main event spotlight, while Ion Cutelaba will be aiming not to end up in the shadow realm during the first round once again. Takedown smesher, Merab Dvalishvili, faces a stern test on the ground against the grinding, Cody Stamann, while Sean Strickland and Krzystof Jotko will undoubtedly engage in a luke-warm striking affair.

After the premature stoppage to their first fight, Ion Cutelaba was put to bed by Magomed Ankalaev in under five minutes the next time they met.

Main Event

Light Heavyweight (205)

Dominick Reyes (12-2) vs Jiri Prochazka (27-3-1)

King of the stationary bike, Dominick Reyes, is perhaps the greatest cardio machine the Light Heavyweight division, nay, the entirety of the UFC has ever seen. Memes aside, Reyes and his strangely long torso represent one of the top Light Heavyweight strikers in a fairly barren division. After dragging Jon Jones to a decision during his first title shot, in a fight that many felt Reyes had done enough in the early rounds to win, Reyes was expected to bounce back against a competitor and pip Jones in a rematch. Enter, Polish Power. Jan Blachowicz, the now LHW champion, bulldozed Reyes in an awkward striking affair and handed the Californian his first stoppage loss. Most comfortable fighting in a clean kickboxing battle on the outside, Blachowicz’ unorthodox angles and strange combinations left Reyes gun-shy and eventually a sitting duck for the Polish hammer.

Towering at 6’4″, Reyes slides along the border of the octagon and peppers opponents with straight shots and kicks. Frequently using a leg kick, Reyes tends to target the inside of the calf as a mask before an eventual head kick. Even when the kicks land on the arms and elbows of opponents (as they did against Jones), Reyes’ power softens the guard and forces opponents to reactively sit on the back foot. Although Reyes jab is quite awkward, it is still thrown frequently enough to keep track of the striking distance and bide time before he lunges in with his powerful lead hook. As a southpaw counter-striker, both Reyes and Prochazka will have huge areas of opportunity to throw their deadly kicks – yet Reyes’ greater volume will likely take the most advantage.

Former RIZIN champion and successful UFC debutant, Jiri Prochazka, has already gathered quite the vocal following as a result of his high-octagon, high-risk, high-reward style. With a clear desire to end fights as soon as possible, securing six first-round finishes in his last seven RIZIN fights, Prochazka perhaps could be forgiven for his utterly atrocious striking defence during his UFC debut. After being worked by the superior tactician in Volkan Oezdemir, Prochazka garnered all of his freak athletic brilliance to walk Oezdemir down and throw a barrage of punches before a strong right ended the night. Constantly shifting stances and keeping his hands low, Prochazka’s defensive issues are clearly explained by his tendency to leave his chin exposed and never quite understanding which counters he can throw based on stance. Instead, Prochazka’s elite offence carries his every fight. Regularly parrying with ridiculous hand feints in front of the opponent’s face, Prochazka hides his strikes further by throwing uppercuts at strange 45degree angles and overextending into every punch. The Czech’s power means that it only takes one to end a fight, and while he throws caution to the wind when chasing a finish, his hand speed often means Prochazka comes out victorious during 50/50 exchanges.

Predicted Result: Reyes TKO Round 4

Reyes thrives in clean kickboxing matches that favour his natural athleticism (as king of the stationary bike) and freakish length. Jiri Prochazka will be more than happy to keep the feet standing, yet his unorthodox angles, low hands and ‘offence is the best form of defence’ style means that Reyes will struggle to keep a lid over his Czech opponent. While Prochazka’s freak one-punch power has attracted all the limelight during the build-up to this fight, Reyes’ kicking game has been sorely looked over. Prochazka keeps his lead leg extended well before him, and while he constantly changes stances throughout the fight, Reyes will be able to pepper the calf of his opponent. Oezdemir wobbled the Czech during his debut, and although he was able to recover fast, Reyes has shown a greater aptitude for finishing fights. Both men carry a decent gas tank, but Reyes is more likely to land consistently during the earlier rounds and can bank decent work to the body and legs that will pay dividends during the championship rounds. The leaky striking defence of Prochazka, relying almost solely on sharp head movement, may bait Reyes into the one hard shot that Prochazka needs but it probably will be the downfall of the meme machine.

Poor old Volkan Oezdemir and his sparkling technical ability was sadly no match for the freak power of Jiri Prochazka.

Result: Prochazka def. Reyes // KO (spinning back elbow) Round 2 4:29

Winner ❌ // Method ❌ // Round ❌

Co-Main Event

Featherweight (145)

Cub Swanson (27-11) vs Giga Chikadze (12-2)

As much as I love me some Cub, it’s important to remember that the thirty-seven-year-old veteran hasn’t been facing the cream of the crop for the past two years – despite compiling himself a decent little run of form. Before the Kron Gracie war of attrition, Swanson had ridden a four-fight slide against Ortega, Edgar, Moicano and Burgos. There is a considerable amount of miles on the Californian, but as he proved last time out against Daniel Pineda, he has more than enough quality to see off rowdy upstarts. Swanson will need to tighten up his kick checking, however, as Chikadze’s supreme kickboxing background will be targetting an area that Pineda was able to exploit during the first round.

Swanson’s heart can never be doubted, and his gas tank and hand speed don’t seem to have declined much with age. Even while Pineda was chewing up Swanson’s lead leg, Cub was still able to catch his opponent with hard counter straights or catching the kicks into awkward takedowns. No doubt, Swanson will be aiming to utilise Chikadze’s kicking game against him in a similar fashion. On the mat, Chikadze hasn’t been tested by a solid grappler, and despite Cub’s numerous submission losses, he is a legit grappler who can punish the Georgian. Sure, Swanson will still be carrying the physical and mental ghosts of his ACL and Meniscus tear sustained during the Jake Shields grappling bout, but the vet has a clear advantage on the mat.

It is finally time for Chikadze to make the big step-up into the main event card. Despite operating as a classy, polished kickboxer, Chikadze’s repeated failure to secure stoppages has left him toiling away in the murky waters of the undercard. Sure, Chikadze stopped Jamey Simmons in the first round last time out, but that was a last-minute opponent with a less than stellar record. Always attempting to make a read on his opponent, Chikadze maintains a LONG striking distance that aims to keep his kicking game effective and hide his somewhat luke-warm boxing. Patiently waiting for opponents to press forward, Chikadze doesn’t offer much off the front-foot outside single shots that keep him ticking over on the scorecard (or in the case of the Simmons fight, knock out a regional fighter). Against a pressure fighter, such as Irwin Rivera, Chikadze was able to showcase his diverse striking arsenal that incorporated heavy use of intercepting knees. Moreover, Chikadze’s low hands play into his solid TDD and will prevent Swanson from simply blindly hunting the takedown.

Predicted Result: Swanson Decision

It is time for us all to accept that Cub isn’t the fighter he was a decade ago, having engaged in several wars and suffering career-altering injuries (such as the torn ACL/Meniscus against Jake Shields). Still, as proven in his last outing, Cub has the experience and technical ability to adapt inside the octagon and find the winning formula. While Chikadze could target Swanson’s lead leg in a similarly devastating manner that Daniel Pineda managed, the Georgian will likely be unwilling to risk the possibility of Swanson catching the kick and taking the fight to the mat. Swanson is capable of out-working Chikadze at a boxing range, yet Chikadze excels against pressure fighters and if Cub blindly closes the distance then he will play directly into Chikadze’s hands. Swanson’s optimal game plan would be to force Chikadze to press the action, use counter strikes as a vehicle to the takedown, and test the unproven grappling chops of the Georgian.

After suffering a barrage to his lead leg during the first-round, Swanson eventually cracked Pineda’s chin in the second and secured a career-reviving victory.

Result: Chikadze def. Swanson // TKO (body kick and punches) Round 1 1:03

Winner ❌ // Method ❌ // Round ❌

Main Card

Light Heavyweight (205)

Ion Cutelaba (15-6) vs Dustin Jacoby (14-5)

Ion Cutelaba isn’t going to be challenging for the Light Heavyweight title any time soon, but the Moldovan is a fun fighter who brings the action from the opening bell knowing that he has a limited gas tank. After the first round, Cutelaba’s chances of winning fall off the face of a cliff, but those first five minutes are usually a crazy flurry of explosive power shots. Cutelaba may have experienced career limbo for the past two years as he and Magomed Ankalaev attempted to bury the hatchet since their first fight, but the twenty-seven year old still has time to enter his prime. Light on the feet, Cutelaba swarms opponents with long combinations of hooks that either knock opponents down or shell them up to the point where the takedown is effectively free. From the top, Cutelaba may struggle to hold control of opponents, but this is in large part due to the vicious ground and pound which rains elbows and punches in volume. Worries about Cutelaba’s chin are often overplayed, however, as Ankalaev is a sleeper elite competitor at LHW.

Dustin Jacoby has thrown himself back in the mix in MMA after his long stint in Glory and other kickboxing promotions. While the first-round stoppage of Ledet perhaps looks better on paper after Ledet’s colossal career collapse, a dominant decision over the very experienced Maxim Grishin is a wonderful scalp to own. Jacoby showed quality grappling defence as he battled his way out of several disadvantageous positions against Grishin, proving almost impossible to tie down. As such, Jacoby has been able to comfortably fight in clean striking affairs in the centre of the octagon where he can utilise his 78″ reach. Frequent head kicks keep opponents guards high which allows Jacoby to attack the calf and eventually root opponents for boxing combinations later down the line.

Predicted Result: Jacoby TKO Round 3

Cutelaba is an exciting one-round gas tank brawler, and there is a great chance that the Moldovan simply bulldozes forward and cracks Jacoby clean on the chin during one of his explosive barrages. Jacoby, reborn after his stint across various kickboxing promotions, has always shown a stellar chin, however. Moreover, Jacoby’s strong TDD and grappling defence against the experienced Maxim Grishin last time out, indicate that Jacoby has the tools to keep the fight standing. If Jacoby can withstand an early blitz, he will be able to pick apart the tired power puncher during the later rounds.

Result: Draw (split – 28-29, 29-28, 28-28)

Winner ❌ // Method ❌ // Round ❌

Middleweight (185)

Sean Strickland (22-3) vs Krzysztof Jotko (22-4)

Sean Strickland is one of the better feel-good stories to come about in recent years. Following his horror motorcycle injury that left his leg almost severed, Strickland secured an easy tune-up against Jack Marshman before surprising Brendan Allen with a composed display of boxing. An excellent wrestler in the past, there has been little need for Strickland to shoot in recent bouts – yet there remains the question of whether Strickland’s wrestling chops are still as capable after the injury. Tightly compact in his guard, Strickland remains calm in the pocket as he picks away at his opponent’s guard. Although Strickland drops his right hand constantly, Strickland’s chin has so far managed to handle the power of decent contenders at Middleweight.

Ugh, Jotko just isn’t a fun fighter to watch unless he’s on the losing end of exchanges. Sure, the Pole may be on a three-fight rise, but his best victory is over a weathered Eryk Anders. Jotko is a clean counter-puncher that is difficult to tie down with sheer strength or pressure alone. Sadly, Jotko prefers to out-score opponents and rarely commits to hard shots. In such an exciting division filled with entertaining match-ups, there is nobody out there crying for Jotko to fight a ranked opponent.

Predicted Result: Strickland Decision

There is a reason that Jotko isn’t a home brand name and that’s because his fights are almost always garbage to watch unless he is on the losing end. A slick counter-puncher, Jotko is incredibly difficult to tie down against the cage or on the mat, and often picks opponents on the feet with frequent jabs and leg kicks. Sadly, Jotko rarely commits to power shots while Strickland attempts to incorporate a power shot in almost all of his short boxing combinations. Strickland’s career revival since the motorcycle accident has been of the better feel-good stories in MMA. Strickland’s low right hand will leave him open to Jotko’s jab all night, but Strickland’s power will leave Jotko on the losing end of exchanges.

Result: Strickland def. Jotko // Decision (unanimous – 29-28, 30-27, 30-27)

Winner ✔️ // Method ✔️ // Round ✔️

Bantamweight (135)

Merab Dvalishvili (12-4) vs Cody Stamann (19-3-1)

Takedown machine, Merab Dvalishvili, is a decision machine that is ridiculously entertaining to watch. The relentless output that Dvalishvili pours into every round leaves viewers breathless, and despite his inability to keep opponents down, he can brute-force foes to the mat time and time again. Using the overhand as the vehicle for masking and setting up the takedown, Dvalishvili either lands a hard shot of level changes into a clean entry. John Dodson and Casey Kenney are both top Bantamweights, so to dominate them in such a fashion is a clear indication of Dvalishvili’s ceiling.

Another excellent wrestler, Stamann relies upon control time as opposed to the frequency of takedowns. A powerful fridge of a man, Stamann’s awkward stand-up is often saved by his strong gas tank and ability to grind opponents against the cage. Stamann has enough power to keep Dvalishvili from simply committing to naked takedowns, but he often gets his feet tangled when pressured (as seen against Brian Kelleher).

Predicted Result: Dvalishvili Decision

In a match between two excellent wrestlers, Dvalishvili’s four-inch reach advantage will play a major role in the success of taking down Stamann’s fridge-like physique. Although both men operate the solid overhand into takedown pattern that finds wrestlers great success in MMA, Dvalishvili has developed a chopping leg kick that keeps him active on the feet. Stamann carries decent power and can time an accurate counter, but he will struggle with the sheer tenacity and relentless grinding that Dvalishvili is famous for.

Result: Dvalishvili def. Stamann // Decision (unanimous – 29-28, 29-28, 30-27)

Winner ✔️ // Method ✔️ // Round ✔️

Women’s Flyweight (125)

Poliana Botelho (8-3) vs Luana Carolina (6-2)

Botelho is a powerful striker, especially when considering the lack of knockout power at 125, but her un-coordinated style leaves her open to takedowns. At the start of a fight, when most fresh, Botelho is a difficult customer to coerce to the mat, but as she tires Botelho is eventually doomed to spending time on the mat (as seen against Cynthia Calvillo and Gillian Robertson). Botelho has a great heart, however, and will plug away till the final bell with powerful body kicks and uppercuts.

Luana Carolina failed her big step up against Ariana Lipski emphatically – a first-round kneebar that looked excruciatingly painful. Carolina is a long fighter, yet drops both hands when kicking and her chin is wide open if opponents can close the distance. Carolina is fairly average with her kicks, but her boxing is ugly and leaves her vulnerable – even Priscila Cachoeira was able to tag her.

Predicted Result: Botelho TKO Round 1

Carolina has a decent kicking game, and her long frame makes her difficult to deal with on the outside, but her tendency to drop her hands immediately after firing a kick frequently leaves her vulnerable. Botelho is a somewhat un-coordinated striker, she carries power unseen at 125 and can punish Carolina’s awful boxing. Willing to wade into danger and close the distance, Botelho’s chin and heavy hands will make this an early night.

Result: Carolina def. Botelho // Decision (split – 28-29, 29-28, 29-28)

Winner ❌ // Method ❌ // Round ❌

Preliminary Card

Women’s Strawweight (115)

Randa Markos (10-10-1) vs Luana Pinheiro (8-1)

Randa Markos finally appears to be on her way out after enduring a weird stop-start, win one-lose one career in the UFC. On a three-fight slide, Markos has been used as a gatekeeper for prospects at 115. Markos is average on the feet and the mat, but she has failed to commit to either over the years and when coupled with allowing opponents to set the pace/area of the fight – it is a losing formula.

DWCS prospect, Luana Pinheiro, is an easy fighter for White to market in regards to her aesthetic as well as her tendency to secure first-round finishes. Hailing from a judoka background, Pinheiro is the superior physical athlete in this affair and will be able to trip Markos to the mat. Pinheiro may struggle to find the finish against such an experienced operator, but Markos has offered little off her back in recent fights.

Predicted Result: Pinheiro Decision

Despite a long string of first-round finishes, Pinheiro faces her first big step-up in competition against the experienced but physically declining, Randa Markos. Pinheiro’s judo background is evident in the ease in which she has tripped opponents to the mat, and while Markos can threaten the occasional submission off her back, she struggled to do anything other than survive in her last fight against Kanako Murata.

Result: 🚫 DQ (Markos landed illegal upkick on Pinheiro) 🚫

Featherweight (145)

Gabriel Benitez (22-8) vs Jonathan Pearce (10-4)

Gabriel Benitez may be entering his twilight, but he is still a damn fun fighter to watch. Hugely experienced in the UFC, Benitez’s move down to Featherweight seems to have been successful as he carried his power down as well as having a reach advantage to compliment his kickboxing. Benitez seems to have metal poles for legs as he CRACKS opponents to the legs and body, in addition to short boxing combinations and knees to counter opponents foolish enough to try and close the distance. Benitez can be ground down against the cage, but an opponent has to be able to eat significant damage to get there.

Jonathan Pearce has the sad black mark on his record of a toe hold submission loss back in 2016. Pearce is a sizeable Featherweight, and he will require every inch of mass to bully Benitez to the mat and stop himself from being on the end of gunshot kicks. Pearce has decent straight shots, owing to his reach advantage at 145, but his slow footwork leaves him stranded at striking range for far too long.

Predicted Result: Benitez TKO Round 2

Both men are sizeable Featherweights, having both moved down from Lightweight, yet Pearce will have the greater frame on the night. Pearce uses simple boxing combinations to work into frequent takedown attempts and can pressure opponents to the cage by offering flying knees and other unorthodox strikes. Benitez is also susceptible to backing himself onto the cage, yet there are too many holes in Pearce’s striking for Benitez’s nuclear kicking game to thrive.

Result: 🚫 Fight Cancelled (Benitez missed weight, Pearce refused fight) 🚫

Featherweight (145)

Kai Kamaka III (8-3) vs TJ Brown (14-8)

After suffering a shock loss to Jonathan Pearce, Kamaka III will be desperate to find his first highlight-reel victory in the UFC. Yes, Kamaka did secure a W against Tony Kelley during his debut, but it was a nip and tuck affair in which the prospect was unable to keep Kelley from pressing forward. Tight boxing and solid TDD/scrambles allow Kamaka to grind out decisions.

TJ Brown may have struggled since being promoted from DWCS, Brown is a fun watch as he continues to plod forward in search of a power shot or (more likely) a takedown. Brown is a reactive striker, but his ability to throw multiple shots off the same side means he catches opponents flush. Brown is relentless but Kamaka is used to fighting in deep waters.

Predicted Result: Kamaka Decision

Kamaka is a tight boxer with decent TDD and scrambles, but he lacks the power to keep guys like TJ Brown from continuing to pressure. Brown’s bread and butter are to shoot and grind opponents on the mat, but his reactive striking and ability to throw multiple times off the same hand catch opponents unaware. Kamaka’s long gas tank and cleaner striking will pip Brown on the scorecards.

Result: Brown def. Kamaka // Decision (split – 27-30, 29-28, 29-28)

Winner ❌ // Method ✔️ // Round ✔️

Women’s Strawweight (115)

Sam Hughes (5-2) vs Loma Lookboonmee (5-2)

Sam Hughes is a physically imposing strawweight, far overmatched in her UFC debut against Tecia Torres. Hughes doesn’t have much striking defence outside of moving backwards in a straight line and leaving her hands extended to parry incoming punches. Hughes’ greatest success is in the grappling department, but she can be dragged into a firefight pretty easily.

Lookboonmee is a small Strawweight, and really should be fighting in the UFC’s non-existent Atomweight, but the Thai fighter has so far called upon her vast experience to dominate fighters in the clinch and sneak in decent elbows/knees. In the open, Lookboonmee fires hard body kicks – an area that most Strawweights overlook in favour of head hunting.

Predicted Result: Lookboonmee Decision

Eventually, Lookboonmee will be physically dominated at Strawweight. As an Atomweight fighter forced to fight at 115 due to the lack of her natural division in the UFC, the Thai fighter has held herself extremely well at 115. Dominating fighters in the clinch, Lookboonmee lands frequently with knees and elbows and throwing hard body kicks when exiting. Hughes is a physically imposing Strawweight, one that could win this on size alone, yet her leaky striking defence leaves her open to punishment. Hughes can use her size and grappling chops to negate Lookboonmee’s best work in the clinch, but the Thai fighter is hard to tag in the centre of the octagon.

Result: Lookboonmee def. Hughes // Decision (unanimous – 29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

Winner ✔️ // Method ✔️ // Round ✔️

Middleweight (185)

KB Bhullar (8-1) vs Andreas Michailidis (12-4)

It is weird to say that a 6’4″ fighter at Middleweight lacks the athletic talent to compete at the top of 185, but KB Bhullar appears to lack the natural athleticism to deal with the killers at Middleweight. Tom Breese is an average fighter on the UFC roster, yet he was able to bully Bhullar with the jab before eventually dropping him with it. Bhullar’s refusal to set the pace himself, throwing little volume, allows opponents to close the distance without fear of taking punishment.

I like Michailidis, a veteran of the European and regional scene, but he is up against it in the UFC. Returning to his preferred Middleweight, after his unsuccessful last-minute fight against Modestas Bukauskas at LHW which ended in the first round. Michailidis is a competent striker, but he thrives on the mat – an area where Bhullar hasn’t shown much talent in.

Predicted Result: Michailidis Decision

While both men were both finished in the first-round of their UFC debuts, Michailidis was a last-minute call-up in a heavier weight class. Despite Bhullar’s freakish 6’4″ frame for Middleweight, his lack of volume allows opponents to set the pace of the fight and close the distance without risk. While Michailidis is limited to low kicks and hooks on the feet, his grappling is far more proven than Bhullar’s.

Result: Michailidis def. Bhullar // Decision (unanimous – 29-28, 30-27, 30-27)

Winner ✔️ // Method ✔️ // Round ✔️

Featherweight (145)

Luke Sanders (13-4) vs Felipe Colares (9-2)

Cool Hand, Luke Sanders, is best known for his depressing second-round stoppage victory over the former P4P Great, Renan Barao. Sanders carries stupidly heavy hands, and despite his leaky striking defence, his mistakes often open up opportunities for him to land cleanly. A lot of swing and misses, but it only takes one with Sanders.

Felipe Colares is a decent fighter, rounded enough on the feet but excels on the mat. Sadly, Colares struggles to get opponents to the mat and is forced to throw his single-shot strikes. Colares also does the ridiculously stupid rabona leg kick which is a high risk, no reward.

Predicted Result: Sanders TKO Round 2

Colares can hold his own on the feet for periods, but his single-shot offence isn’t enough to keep Sanders from walking him down. While Sanders often swings and misses, he carries ridiculous power and only needs one to wobble opponents. Colares will likely aim to pull guard to stay away from Sanders’ power on the feet, but he has struggled with keeping opponents on the mat.

Result: Colares def. Sanders // Decision (unanimous – 29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

Winner ❌ // Method ❌ // Round ❌

Prediction Accuracy

UFC on ESPN 23

Winner: 4/11

Method: 5/11

Round: 5/11

2021 MMA Season

Winner: 99/168

Method: 85/168

Round: 84/168

MMA Overall

Winner: 290/472

Method: 222/472

Round: 210/472

Takeaway comments: Arise, Sir Jiri Prochazka, the greatest meme striker to be found across the realm.

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