After losing perhaps the only fight of significance (Sandhagen/Dillashaw), Marina Rodriguez and Michelle Waterson has been bumped up to main event privileges this Saturday.
UFC on ESPN 24: Rodriguez vs Waterson Predictions & Results
It is time for us to dry our eyes, wipe away the tears and accept that the Sandhagen/Dillashaw fight is not taking place this Saturday night. Kind of ironic that a notorious sparring thug received a cut from a headbutt in training that forced him to pull out of his first pay day since serving his two-year suspension for EPO, but hey, karma is a strange mistress. Strangely, the UFC is adamant that Dillashaw will face Sandhagen in his return, and so the main event is now a potential snoozefest between Marina Rodriguez and Michelle Waterson.
Worse yet, Donald Cerrone has been forced once again to accept a last-minute opponent (Alex Morono) after Diego Sanchez was cut from the organisation. It is a shame to see the company man, and once-beloved fighter, be forcibly removed from the UFC rather than amicably parting – but as anyone who has been following the Joshua Fabia saga knows, the UFC had to act before the Sanchez time bomb exploded. Ideally, Sanchez will never participate in combat sports again, having already weathered a lot of damage and showing worrying signs of mental deterioration.
Still, even with the lack of match-making effort and distinct lack of star power, there are a few fights that might tickle some fans pickle. Neil Magny vs Geoff Neal is a banger of a fight that will skyrocket either Welterweight up the rankings. After COVID troubles, Gregor Gillespie returns against Diego Ferreira after a two-year hiatus. Finally, demolition man Phil Hawes returns in a decent stylistic challenge against the underrated Kyle Daukaus.
Women’s Flyweight (125)
Marina Rodriguez (13-1-2) vs Michelle Waterson (18-8)
At thirty-four, Marina Rodriguez effectively saved her career last time out when she silenced the Amanda Ribas hype train with a second-round stoppage. Although Rodriguez has always looked a top contender at Strawweight, a majority decision draw to Cynthia Calvillo and a split decision loss to Carla Esparza represented roadblocks that could have been fateful on her rise towards a title shot. A long-time athlete, Rodriguez is an impressive figure in the UFC as she only took up Muay Thai in 2013 and lacks the lengthy combat sports background that many boast.
Rodriguez’s footwork was exceptional against the endless pressure of Amanda Ribas. Perhaps a little naïve of Ribas to solely plod forward, yet Rodriguez constantly slid around the border of the octagon and was never caught with her back against the cage. Through maintaining a comfortable striking distance, Rodriguez stopped Ribas with hard straight shots whenever Ribas attempted to close the distance. Rodriguez does struggle, however, with her TDD and especially her (in)ability to get off the mat. Markos, Calvillo, Esparza, and even Ribas during the first round of their fight, were all able to grind out huge amounts of control time with relatively limited effort from top position. Against fighters unwilling or unable to move the fight to the mat, Rodriguez forces opponents to fight to her pace while also using her reach to out-strike opponents. While Rodriguez’s hands are surprisingly heavy for a 115lb-er, the Brazilian would benefit from targeting the body with her boxing too rather than only utilising knees for the midriff.
Oh Michelle Waterson, just as everyone had pretty much written you off as a boring decision fighter with a horrendous feinting system, you go and have a five-round banger with Angela Hill. Although it was most likely Hill that forced Waterson to engage at an uncomfortable range and entertaining pace, the Karate Hottie still showcased her durability, underrated grappling chops and deep gas tank. Yes, Waterson may have only secured one takedown out of eighteen attempted shots against Hill, but the constant wrestling threat forced Hill to fight behind her boxing while limiting the dangerous kicking game. Waterson’s issue has always been that she fights well above her natural weight, as a result of the UFC’s refusal to open up an Atomweight division. Waterson is at her sparkling best on the feet when she forces an opponent back with a swarming combination before ending with a head kick. Regardless of whether it lands, it demands respect from opponents and enables Waterson to regain breathing room in the centre of the octagon.
Predicted Result: Waterson Decision
Michelle Waterson is a technically polished striker, with a disgustingly underrated clinch game, but her size may prove an issue in this fight. While both women are career Flyweights, Rodriguez is best primed to benefit from the fight being at 125, as Waterson already fights above her natural weight due to the lack of Atomweight division in the UFC. The Brazilian is a tall striker with strong footwork that forces opponents to chase her laterally around the border of the octagon, rarely backing herself against the cage. Rodriguez struggles to work herself up off the mat when she is forced onto her back, however and often drains out rounds by staying safe in guard. Waterson’s wrestling isn’t stellar, but her deep gas tank and ability to mix shots with kickboxing combination suggest the American will eventually take the fight to the ground.
Result: Rodriguez def. Waterson // Decision (unanimous – 48-27, 49-46, 49-46)
Winner ❌ // Method ✔️ // Round ✔️
Donald Cerrone (36-15) vs Alex Morono (18-7)
We could very well be seeing the end of Cowboy. A similar narrative emerged during 2017 after Cerrone endured a punishing three-fight slide against Jorge Masvidal, Robbie Lawler and Darren Till. In typical Cerrone fashion, the adrenaline junkie rode a 4-1 train into what was effectively a title contender fight against Tony Ferguson. This time, however, Cowboy is on a 0-4-1 decline that includes three punishing stoppages to Ferguson, Justin Gaethje and Conor McGregor. Moreover, Cerrone has not fought in the octagon for almost a year – an unprecedented break for a fighter most used to last-minute call-ups and quarterly appearances.
Still, if there is a fighter able to bounce back from such a slide, it would be Donald Cerrone. Moreover, I felt that Cowboy offered enough during the Pettis rematch that he should have deserved the nob on the scorecards. Although Cerrone may have dropped a pace since his prime, he still looks like an elite striker once he spends a round to establish range. A tall fighter, Cerrone excels on the outside where his average boxing is concealed and instead he can utilise his devastating high kicks within creative, fluid combinations. Moreover, just like the main eventer Michelle Waterson, Cowboy is an under-appreciated wrestler. Prioritising the double leg, Cerrone has mixed in his wrestling well throughout his UFC career – as seen against Rick Story during the early days and then most recently in the Pettis rematch. Morono’s best shot of beating Cowboy, if he hasn’t declined horrendously over the COVID-induced break, would be to put Cerrone on his back. Cowboy has sharpened his TDD immensely since the dark old days of the WEC, however. Not only is Cerrone stronger at defending the shot, but his intercepting knees are also a stark threat that can end fights early (i.e. Alexander Hernandez).
Alex Morono is a well-rounded, grinder at Welterweight but he lacks the exceptional athletic ability necessary to carry him high into the rankings. Morono has feasted amongst the murky unranked waters of Welterweight, largely only dropping decisions to experienced veterans who have been able to stuff Morono’s wrestling and force him to keep the fight standing. A weird, herky-jerky striker, Morono bounces into his combinations but often fails to set his feet so rarely lands with much power. Instead, the unorthodox movement and pressure play into Morono’s momentum and pressures opponents against the cage. From there, Morono looks to secure the back and work with light strikes that rack up control time.
Predicted Result: Cerrone Decision
This fight could come down to just how far Cowboy has regressed. At thirty-eight years old, and owner of a 0-4-1 slide, Cerrone is also a momentum fighter that has been forced to stay on the sidelines for nearly a year. Still, the time off may also prove beneficial to fully recuperate any injuries that Cowboy sustained over 2019-2020. As long as Cerrone hasn’t declined sharply, this is an ideal stylistic match-up. Morono is a well-rounded grinder who utilises unorthodox herky-jerky striking to pressure opponents against the cage and eventually work his way to the back. Cerrone is a master of distance, however, and won’t struggle to keep a longer range where he can land his demolition kicks within creative combinations. Moreover, Cerrone’s intercepting knees and sharpened shot defence will stop Morono from blindly wrestling from the opening minute.
Result: Morono def. Cerrone // TKO (punches) Round 1 4:40
Winner ❌ // Method ❌ // Round ❌
Neil Magny (24-8) vs Geoff Neal (13-3)
The true banger of the card, Neil Magny and Geoff Neal is the perfect Welterweight fight to give either man the necessary push towards title contention. Magny is a colossus in the octagon, standing at 6’3″ and able to make the most of his jab – able to secure shut-outs against Robbie Lawler and Jingliang Li from behind the jab. Moreover, Magny pushes out a high volume, which in addition to solid conditioning, ensures later rounds are banked on the scorecards. Unfortunately, last time out, Magny ran an infuriating game plan which aimed to bully Chiesa against the cage but simply closed the distance to allow Chiesa to operate his strongest game. Magny has a very strong top game and is a nuisance when he secures the back due to his size and long limbs, but he should have fought the smart fight at range and exposing Chiesa’s poor gas tank in the championship rounds.
Handz of Steel is still a monster at Welterweight, despite his schooling at the hands of Stephen Thompson last time out. MMA fans are fickle, and most have already forgotten Neal’s crazy tear-up which saw him finish every one of his UFC fights except one (a banger of a decision against Belal Muhammad). At-fault against Wonderboy for neglecting the leg kick, Neal was unable to stop Thompson’s liquid movement and as such, failed to effectively cut off the octagon. Neal is at his most dangerous during the opening rounds as his frantic bouncing footwork drains the gas tank fast but also serves to mask his offensive advances. Although Neal can fall into his boxing, Neal’s head left leg is a potent threat that is deadly accurate when thrown high. It is a shame that there is almost no feinting game to write about, that would create more frequent opportunities to land his powerful left.
Predicted Result: Neal TKO Round 2
In a five-round fight, Magny would have to be favoured as his exceptional conditioning and underrated wrestling would allow him to take over a powerful but fleeting Neal. In a three-rounder, Neal’s solid TDD (as seen against Belal Muhammad) will allow him to keep the fight standing and push Magny on the feet. At 6’3″ and operating behind a strong jab, Magny can keep the fight at an uncomfortable range, but his striking defence is leaky. Moving backwards in a straight line will allow Neal to free reign over the centre of the octagon, as well as ample to land his heavy hands.
Result: Magny def. Neal // Decision (unanimous – 29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Winner ❌ // Method ❌ // Round ❌
Maurice Greene (9-5) vs Marcos Rogerio de Lima (17-7-1)
Big Maurice Greene is a decent gatekeeper at Heavyweight because he offers a threat on the mat that very few of the brawlers which dominate 265 can offer. Sure, Greene has a kickboxing background but it wasn’t exactly a decorated career after he finished at Glory with a 1-3 record. On the feet, Greene largely throws explosive, high-risk kicks in the safety that if an opponent wants to close the distance then he can secure the clinch or shoot for the hips. Greene occasionally uses a nice jab, masked by his long-range hand fighting, but with his reach, he desperately needs to use it more. Greene looks for submissions on the mat, and his high-risk BJJ has seen him fall to more polished ground technicians (Aleksei Oleinik, Juan Espino).
Rogerio de Lima is a first-round all or nothing kind of fighter. Never destined to be anything outside of a heavy-handed challenge to Heavyweight prospects. De Lima has filthy hard leg kicks, but it also leaves him unbalanced for the takedown. This is an issue as de Lima has horrendously leaky TDD. While the Brazilian can work his way back up, at times through sheer strength alone, his full power striking often leaves him exposed to yet another takedown.
Predicted Result: Greene Submission Round 2
This is a real-toss up between two gatekeepers at Heavyweight with massive holes in their game. Greene is a high-risk striker with almost no striking defence, throwing ridiculous head kicks while biding his time to engage in the clinch. De Lima possesses heavy hands and filthy leg kicks, by throwing full power in every shot he regularly leaves himself exposed to takedowns. Greene’s durability may be enough to see him through a rocky first-round, and eventually, expose a tiring de Lima on the mat.
Result: de Lima def. Greene // Decision (unanimous – 30-27, 30-26, 30-26)
Winner ❌ // Method ❌ // Round ❌
Diego Ferreira (17-3) vs Gregor Gillespie (13-1)
Diego Ferreira may have lost his five-year undefeated streak to old rival Beneil Dariush, but the Brazilian was still able to showcase his tightened kickboxing and exceptional grappling. One of the strongest BJJ specialists at Lightweight, Ferreira is a nuisance for anyone at 155. Dariush attempted to bully the Brazilian with his sweltering top control, yet Ferreira consistently threatened with submissions to transition to more favourable positions. When pressed on the feet, Ferreira has papered over his weak TDD by throwing counter shots in volume.
Four-time All-American wrestler, Gregor Gillespie, has been out of the octagon for almost a year and a half. While Gillespie was an undefeated 13-0 fighter with a huge finish rate, it is the first-round knockout loss to Kevin Lee that many know Gillespie. It is a shame that the fans never had the chance to witness Gillespie’s first real test on the mat, and how his wrestling chops would fare against a similarly skilled opponent on the mat. Fully recovered from the broken jaw sustained, Gillespie’s ring rust may come back to bite him but Covid-related cancellations cannot be helped.
Predicted Result: Gillespie Decision
One of the top BJJ specialists at Lightweight, Ferreira has tightened his kickboxing over his UFC tenure to the level that he is no longer reliant solely on the ground game. Porous TDD has plagued Ferreira, and against a four-time All-American wrestler, Gillespie has the athletic and technical ability to keep Ferreira pinned on his back. If this was solely a wrestling/BJJ toss-up, then Gillespie has to favoured to bank the rounds based on his dominant top control, submission defence and gas tank. After a year and a half layoff, it will be a far closer affair with sprinklings of striking that may see the Brazilian pull ahead on the scorecards.
Result: Gillespie def. Ferreira // TKO (punches) Round 2 4:51
Winner ✔️ // Method ❌ // Round ❌
Women’s Strawweight (115)
Amanda Ribas (10-2) vs Angela Hill (13-9)
The Amanda Ribas hype train ended rather swiftly in January this year when her leaky striking defence was exposed by a powerful Marina Rodriguez hook. Ribas is an active striker that lacks a jab, often leading with a straight right before landing a flurry of hooks. There aren’t any feints to talk of, and her defence is largely restricted to parrying. Also, Ribas keeps her chin well extended in the air. Regardless, Ribas is a strong wrestler with wonderful positioning on the mat where she wears opponents down before looking for submissions.
Angela Hill is one of the best, if not the PPV striker at Strawweight. Throwing a huge amount of volume, Hill lacks lights out power but makes up for it with fluid combinations and relentless pressure that forces opponents to fight at an entertaining pace. Despite sharpening her TDD, Hill still struggles with ending up on her back and will have to ensure she doesn’t overextend against the potent wrestling of Ribas.
Predicted Result: Hill TKO Round 3
Ribas is a strong wrestler with a wonderful ground game, seemingly the kryptonite of Angela Hill. Hill, however, has sharpened her TDD over the past couple of years and stuffed several attempts by Claudia Gadelha and Michelle Waterson. While Ribas’ wrestling is likely a level above, her atrocious striking defence is not. With little head movement on offer, no nuance to her advances, and a lack of jab to sit behind, Ribas had been lucky to progress so far in the UFC without her chin being checked before the Rodriguez fight. Hill isn’t a one-shot lights out fighter, but she can throw consistent volume throughout the fifteen minutes that will crack Ribas’ chin as long as she remains disciplined on the feet.
Result: 🚫 FIGHT CANCELLED 🚫
Ben Rothwell (38-13) vs Philipe Lins (14-5)
Oh Lord, what have we done to deserve yet another Ben Rothwell fight to grace our screens. Since his return, Rothwell appears to be operating on a five-minute gas tank that aims to melt opponents under pressure and volume or else he will simply drop the remaining two rounds. After a few loopy hooks which land behind the guard, Rothwell then snaps onto the opponent’s neck and lands dirty boxing and knees. Oh, he’s also got a pretty nasty front choke which is his go-to TDD.
It could finally be time to accept that the Philipe Lins experiment just isn’t going to work at the UFC. A small Heavyweight, Lins has been out-struck by opponents while being left stranded on the feet after failing to secure early takedowns. Lins is conservative during the early proceedings and may be most vulnerable to Rorthwell’s early blitz.
Predicted Result: Rothwell TKO Round 1
It is probably time to end the Lins experiment if he is unsuccessful against Rothwell on Saturday night. A small Heavyweight, Lins has been unable to fights to the mat, and as a result, has been picked apart on the feet. Rothwell appears to have regressed since his return to the UFC, now largely a one-round pressure fighter, but he still possesses the TDD and striking volume to walk Lins down.
Result: 🚫 FIGHT CANCELLED 🚫
Phil Hawes (10-2) vs Kyle Daukaus (10-1)
Megatron is one of the more exciting fighters to watch, especially in a division that is rather barren outside of the top ten. After working with Henri Hooft, Hawes’ heavy hands are used not just as a fight ender but also as a vehicle into his powerful wrestling. While the gas tank is questionable, Hawes proved last time out that he can grind out rounds on the mat to secure victory.
A towering 6’3″, Daukaus often fails to utilise his length in favour of rushing into the clinch and wearing down opponents. On the mat, Daukaus postures up regularly to rain down heavy shots, while also rarely losing control of his opponent. The boxing certainly needs to be tightened if Daukaus wants to rise, but his suffocating poses a clear threat already.
Predicted Result: Hawes Decision
Daukaus is a towering 6’3″ Middleweight who may prove a nuisance to get control of in the clinch, but Hawes’ cleaner striking and greater power during the early rounds to bank enough on the scorecards before his gas tank fades. Daukaus can throw up a submission off his back, but Hawes proved last time out that he has the technique in addition to physical athletic excellence to grind out rounds from the top.
Result: Hawes def. Kaukaus // Decision (unanimous 29-27, 30-26, 30-26)
Winner ✔️ // Method ✔️ // Round ✔️
Mike Trizano (8-1) vs L’udovit Klein (17-2)
Ultimate Fighter winner, Mike Trizano, hit his first career speed bump back in mid-2019 when Grant Dawson put him to sleep with a rear-naked choke in the second round. After a two-year hiatus, in part due to injury issues, Trizano returns against one of the UFC’s rising prospects. Before his lay-off, Trizano exhibited a patient kickboxing game that picked opponents apart on the feet with educated single shots and compact defence.
Klein, a head-kicking menace across a variety of European promotions, fittingly secured his UFC debut victory with a powerful head kick stoppage. Questions remain over Klein’s wrestling ability, or whether his power will carry into the later rounds against stronger opposition, but his early fight threat is immense. Hiding his powerful head kick with decent boxing, front kicks and body kicks – Klein will need to continue to work on setting up head kick, but it is a lethal weapon.
Predicted Result: Klein TKO Round 2
Ultimate Fighter winner, Mike Trizano, has been on a two-year layoff since being put to sleep by a Grant Dawson rear-naked choke back in 2019. Trizano was an okay wrestler but he excelled on the feet with patient kickboxing that picked opponents apart with compact defence and educated single shot selection. Klein is an early fight threat with a lethal head kick that is expertly masked with front kicks, body kicks and decent boxing. Based on form and ring rust, Klein should be favoured.
Result: Trizano def. Klein // Decision (unanimous – 29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Winner ❌ // Method ❌ // Round ❌
Ryan Benoit (10-7) vs Zarrukh Adashev (3-3)
Ryan Benoit has fought a host of excellent fighters at Flyweight but unfortunately has found himself on the losing end due to his tendency to bank on his power. Far too patient waiting for the perfect counter-strike, Benoit loses his position in the octagon with almost no struggle and as such bleeds rounds on the card.
Kickboxer, Zarrukh Adashev, has had a tough time in the UFC so far. Aggressively shooting forward, Adashev piles on the volume early but his advances are often unmasked. Without feints, Adashev was stopped in his tracks regularly by Su Mudaerji using a single jab.
Predicted Result: Benoit Decision
Adashev could take this fight based on his volume, but his blindly aggressive forward momentum leaves him open for hard counters. Benoit may operate far too patiently, over-waiting for the perfect counter shot, but he still carries huge power while Adashev’s leaky defence offers regular opportunities to land.
Result: 🚫 FIGHT CANCELLED 🚫
Tafon Nchukwi (5-0) vs Jun Yong Park (12-4)
Since moving down from Light Heavyweight, Nchukwi was able to impress over fifteen minutes despite his enormous size. Incredibly heavy-handed, Nchukwi pours early pressure on but eventually sits behind his jab and short Muay Thai combinations. Two red flags remain over Nchukwi’s lack of hand speed and unknown wrestling ability, but Nchukwi looks to be an exciting threat on the feet and in the clinch.
I’m not sure it is possible, but Jun Yun Park stepped down from defeating Marc-Andre Barriault to then beating John Phillips, a man with perhaps the weakest TDD across the entire organisation. Park is a decent boxer, but his bread and butter are securing takedowns and keeping opponents down. To transition to his wrestling, however, Park often relies on his upper hand in the striking department.
Predicted Result: Nchukwi TKO Round 1
This may be too stern a test for Nchukwi so early in his career, and with so many question marks remaining over his wrestling ability, yet the sheer power and size of the Cameroonian will likely be too much at 185. If Park can sail through an early storm, his simple but sharp boxing combinations and solid wrestling should force the fight to the mat or at least against the cage. Whether the fight makes it outside of the first few exchanges, however, is the real question.
Result: Park def. Nchukwi // Decision (majority – 28-28, 29-26, 30-25)
Winner ❌ // Method ❌ // Round ❌
Christian Aguilera (14-7) vs Carlston Harris (15-4)
Christian Aguilera is a heavy-handed wrestler who excels at the age-old, overhand into takedown technique. Aguilera was unable to physically match the elite as seen against Sean Brady, but his tight striking that ended Anthony Ivy in the first round highlights Aguilera’s tactical polish.
A wrestler who has plied his trade across the world, Carlston Harris may be thirty-three but he already has a couple of decent scalps in his record (UFC fighter, Wellington Turman, and Khabib’s sparring partner, Saygid Izagakhmaev). Carlston rushes into his wrestling and attempts to smother opposition, forcing them to panic escape before catching them in a submission.
Predicted Result: Harris Decision
Harris may be thirty-three, but he has a wealth of experience with a couple of decent scalps including Wellington Turman (UFC) and Saygid Izagakhmaev (Khabib’s sparring partner). Aguilera has heavy hands and a decent wrestling game, but Harris relentlessly pursues the takedown. Harris could find a submission, Aguilera could secure the stoppage, but the safest call is Harris grinding Aguilera down against the cage.
Result: Harris def. Aguilera // Technical Submission (anaconda choke) Round 1 2:52
Winner ✔️ // Method ❌ // Round ❌
UFC on ESPN 24
2021 MMA Season
Takeaway comments: Tons of fights cancelled, tons of poor predictions. When it rains it pours.
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