Three title fights set the stage for a huge night of action in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. While there’s still no fans allowed for UFC events just yet, the intensity will still be at one of its highest in awhile with one of the deepest cards in recent memory.
With high stakes on the line, let’s take a look at how Saturday night may play out at the UFC Apex.
Thiago Santos vs. Aleksandar Rakić
Two thunderous light-heavyweights will kick off the highly-anticipated pay-per-view on ESPN+. Rakić rebounded from a loss to Volkan Oezdemir after defeating Anthony Smith in a three-round decision last August. Rakić brings heavy hands similar to his opponent Saturday night as he’s scored nine TKO/KO victories in his 13 victories.
For Santos, he’s seeking to get back into the title picture. The Brazilian had a huge 2018 with three-consecutive wins in the second half of the year. He earned a title shot in 2019 against former champion Jon Jones, but came up short in a razor-thin decision.
Both will bring the heat to set the tone Saturday. Expect a stiff KO coming in this one.
Prediction: Santos via KO
Islam Makhachev vs. Drew Dober
For all of you betters out there, I’d look at throwing some money on Dober Saturday night. He comes in as a +275 underdog (via Action Network) against the Dagestani, who hasn’t fought since 2019. Dober has won his last three fights and they all came by way of TKO/KO (Alexander Hernandez, Nasrat Haqparast, Marco Polo Reyes). Dober brings high-volume striking game and a favorable ground game, but he will need to stay on the feet to defeat Makhachev and the patented Dagestan wrestling background.
Due to Makhachev’s long absence from the Octagon, I see ring rust playing a factor in this one. Dober pulls off an upset.
Prediction: Dober via decision
UFC Bantamweight Championship: (c)Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling
On paper, this fight is a coin flip. There’s no clear advantage that either fighter has on each other outside of Sterling’s incredibly strong and diverse wrestling background. Last June, Sterling flashed his ground-game brilliance after submitting up-and-comer Cory Sandhagen with a rear-naked choke in under 90 seconds. The win cemented Sterling’s status as one of the top bantamweights in the world and earned his title shot.
Yan will have to fend off Sterling’s ground game with his wicked striking capabilities. Yan earned the bantamweight title last July with a TKO victory over former champion José Aldo.
This fight is as close as it gets, but I believe a new champion emerges in the first of three title fights.
Prediction: Sterling via decision
UFC Women’s Featherweight Championship: (c)Amanda Nunes vs. Megan Anderson
The greatest women’s mixed martial artist of all-time returns to the Octagon to defend the featherweight championship against the lengthy Anderson. What separates Nunes from the rest of the women to compete in the UFC is her diverse skill set. Former champion Ronda Rousey was very one-dimensional with her hip throw to armbar transition. While it was dominant, her striking defense served as her Achilles’ Heel and it showed its ugly side as Nunes took Rousey’s lunch money in a quick, but brutal TKO victory back in Dec. 2016.
Anderson will have to assert herself and be physical with Nunes. She has to make the champ as uncomfortable as possible and potentially get her on her back.
In all honesty, I don’t see a path for Anderson and this will be another walk in the park and another addition to the lengthy, Hall of Fame resume of Nunes.
Prediction: Nunes via TKO
UFC Light-Heavyweight Championship: (c)Jan Blachowicz vs. Israel Adesanya (MW champ)
Adesanya will look to add his name to the history books in the main event Saturday night as he tries to become the fifth double champ in UFC history, joining the ranks of Conor McGregor, Nunes, Daniel Cormier and Henry Cejudo. However, Adesanya will have his hands full with a vicious striker in Blachowicz. When Polish power throws, you know it.
Blachowicz had been working his way to UFC contention for some time, but finally earned a break with a devastating KO victory over former middleweight champion Luke Rockhold. Blachowicz backed up this stunning victory with wins over Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Corey Anderson (KO). Last September, Blachowicz shocked the world again after landing brutal kicks to the body to break down opponent Dominick Reyes, which resulted in Blachowicz finishing Reyes by TKO late in the second round to become a UFC champion.
I offer a challenge to Adesanya. While the MW champ is undefeated in his MMA career through 20 fights, I don’t know where his focus is at. He’s had social media spouts with Jon Jones, which could result in these two clashing down the road. Adesanya, I believe, is underestimating Blachowicz in this bout. I’m calling for the champion to defend.
Prediction: Blachowicz via KO
You can watch UFC 259 on ESPN+ pay-per-view beginning at 10:00 p.m. EST.