UFC Fight Night: Santos vs. Ankalaev Preview

The UFC returns for the sixth straight week when top Light Heavyweight Contender Thiago Santos will attempt to turn back surging prospect Magomed Ankalaev in the headlining bout. The main card is filled with other intriguing matchups which could also yield some eventual top contenders across numerous divisions.

Thiago Santos vs. Magomed Ankalaev

Former UFC Light Heavyweight title challenger Thiago Santos looks to continue his climb back up the divisional rankings. Since his move to the Light Heavyweight division in 2018, Santos has been on quite a roller coaster. He immediately picked up three KO/TKO victories over notables Eryk Anders, Jimi Manuwa, and eventual Light Heavyweight Champion Jan Blachowicz. He was then one point away on one scorecard from dethroning then-champion Jon Jones, losing that contest via split decision. The fact that he pushed Jones to a split decision while on an injured knee seemed indicative of high prospects for his fighting future at the weight class. Unfortunately for Santos, subsequent losses to future-champion Glover Texeira and Aleksandar Rakic prior to his most recent rebound win over Johnny Walker have thwarted any immediate discussion of Santos in a title bout. Santos has always relied on his kickboxing prowess and immense power to carry him to victory, and there is no reason to think that will be any different against Ankalaev. With five rounds to work, look for Santos to constantly attack the body with kicks from the southpaw stance to chip away at Ankalaev’s body and forearms. Should he land a clean kick or a wild hook, he may pounce for a finish.

Magomed Ankalaev is arguably the most promising prospect in the Light Heavyweight division. Debuting in the UFC in 2018, Ankalaev has gone 7-1 in the promotion and was literally one second away from being a perfect 8-0. In his UFC debut, Ankalaev fought Paul Craig and dominated the entirety of the contest before getting caught in a triangle choke in the waning seconds of the bout. Ankalaev submitted with one tick remaining on the clock for his lone loss in MMA competition. Since then, Ankalaev has dominated all of his opponents with his measured striking approach and positional grappling. He has notched victories over the likes of Ion Cutelaba (twice), Nikita Krylov, and most recently former UFC Light Heavyweight title challenger Volkan Oezdemir. Look for Ankalaev to play at range with Santos, however, should he experience adversity at range, he will likely look to close the distance and utilize his superior grappling prowess to pick up his eighth straight victory in the UFC.

Marlon Moraes vs. Song Yadong

Former WSOF Bantamweight Champion and former UFC Bantamweight title challenger Marlon Moraes looks to recover from a three-fight losing streak this Saturday. Moraes’ fall from grace has been rather quick, suffering a wheel kick KO loss to Cory Sandhagen, a boxing brutalization at the hands of Rob Font, and a hellacious beatdown by Merab Dvalishvili. At this stage of his career, Moraes appears to be far removed from the surging contender that took blistering stoppage victories over current UFC Bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling, Jimmie Rivera, and Raphael Assuncao. At present, Moraes has proven to be competitive in the opening stanzas of his bouts before succumbing to conditioning issues. Moraes has heavy hands and a very tight guillotine choke and will undoubtedly be looking to utilize those weapons early to dispatch of Yadong.

At just 24 years of age, Song Yadong looks to have a very bright future in the UFC Bantamweight division, having already put together a 7-1-1 record in the UFC. Under the tutelage of Team Alpha Male, Yadong has already picked up high quality wins over Marlon Vera and Casey Kenney thus far in his career. A win over Moraes would firmly establish Yadong amongst the division’s elites. Yadong is very versatile, having power in his hands and kicks as well as strong wrestling abilities. His best path to victory against Moraes is simply to weather the storm. If Yadong can make it through the opening portion against Moraes without being clipped by a big punch or getting caught in a guillotine, he should be able to impose his will. Look for Yadong to put the pressure on Moraes early and try to tire his foe with quick boxing and clinch work before turning the pressure on as the contest continues in search of a later finish.

Sodiq Yusuff vs. Alex Caceres

Following a very entertaining victory over Mike Davis on season two of Dana White’s Contender Series, Yusuff was awarded a UFC contract and went on to rack up four straight victories right out of the gate. These victories were highlighted by a TKO over The Ultimate Fighter Latin America season one veteran Gabriel Benitez and a decision over Team Alpha Male standout Andre Fili. Unfortunately for Yusuff, in his last bout he met fellow prospect Arnold Allen where he found himself on the wrong end of a decision. Yusuff now has an opportunity to get back on track with a victory over a well-established veteran in Alex Caceres. Look for Yusuff to utilize a speed advantage over Caceres in order to traverse a reach disadvantage and uncork heavy strikes on the rangy veteran. Caceres has only been stopped via strikes once in his career, so Yusuff may need to pace himself over the course of 15 minutes to secure a decision victory if the opportunity for a finish doesn’t materialize.

Initially making waves on The Ultimate Fighter season 12 back in 2010, “Bruce Leeroy” has been a staple of the UFC ever since. Since debuting in the UFC, Caceres has put together a 14-10, 1 NC record in the promotion. He currently rides a five-fight win streak – the longest in his UFC career. Once consistently prone to submission losses, Caceres has shored up his takedown defence and utilizes his range with precision. Caceres has a great jab and lead leg side and hook kicks that have carried the majority of his striking offence in his recent run. Caceres is also a dangerous submission threat utilizing a quick triangle choke from guard and opportunistic RNCs against vulnerable opponents – including in his last bout against South Korean prospect Seung Woo Choi. Look for Caceres to use his length against Yusuff in an effort to outpoint him over the duration of the bout. If Caceres is able to rock Yusuff with a straight punch, like Allen was able to do at various points, Caceres may jump on a choke in order to secure a finish.

Khalil Rountree Jr. vs. Karl Roberson

The runner-up of the 23rd season of The Ultimate Fighter, Khalil Rountree looks to thwart the Light Heavyweight return of Karl Roberson. Rountree has exhibited thunderous power in his hooks as well as his leg kicks. These powerful striking techniques have led him to notable victories over Paul Craig, former Glory Kickboxing Light Heavyweight Champion Gokhan Saki, and Eryk Anders. In his last bout, Rountree secured a bizarre TKO when he performed an oblique kick at opponent Modestas Bukauskas’ leg which damaged his knee – showing that Rountree’s striking arsenal runs very deep. Against Roberson, it will come as no surprise that Rountree will engage in a kickboxing match with the intention to finish the fight violently. Should the finish not materialize, Rountree has demonstrated an ability to go the distance as long as he is the one controlling the action and pace of the bout.

A veteran of the Glory Kickboxing organization, Karl Roberson made his way into the UFC with a 15-second KO over Ryan Spann on season one of Dana White’s Contender Series. Since then, Roberson has struggled to find consistency going 4-4 in the promotion. Roberson comes into this bout on a two-fight losing streak and up a weight class from where he normally competes. Despite Roberson’s kickboxing background, both of his UFC finishes have come by submission. Conversely, all four of his UFC losses have also come via submission, though against Rountree this likely will not be a concern for Roberson. Due to Rountree’s kickboxing specialization, if any fighter in this bout is likely to switch things up and seek a takedown, it will likely be Roberson. Roberson will likely look to test the waters with striking early, but will likely end up changing levels in an attempt to get Rountree to the mat and exert control from top position.

Drew Dober vs. Terrance McKinney

Drew Dober will be attempting to break a two-fight skid on Saturday when he takes on short-notice replacement Terrance McKinney. Dober debuted in the UFC in 2013 and has put together a 9-7, 1 NC record in that nearly nine-year period. Dober was recently on a roll, securing three-straight stoppage victories over Polo Reyes, Nasrat Haqparast, and Alexander Hernandez before falling to Islam Makhachev and Brad Riddell in his last two. Against McKinney, Dober faces a dual threat as McKinney has demonstrated both KO power and a strong wrestling pedigree. Dober has a granite chin and does his best work when he’s boxing with his opponents in close range. Therefore, look for Dober to accept the KO threat from McKinney and attempt to sprawl and brawl his way to victory.

Following a loss to Sean Woodson via brutal flying knee on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2019, Terrance McKinney put together a 3-1 record to secure a UFC opportunity. McKinney made the most of that opportunity, needing just seven seconds to KO Matt Frevola. McKinney then followed that victory up with a quick RNC submission over Fares Ziam to set up this quick two-week turnaround against fringe contender Drew Dober. McKinney has demonstrated that he is a dangerous finisher, however, question marks still remain as to his ability to go the full distance. Expect McKinney to put together a well-rounded attack on Dober with the ultimate goal of securing top position. Dober is very durable, so there is a good chance that the question marks surrounding McKinney’s cardio will be answered come Saturday.

 Alex Pereira vs. Bruno Silva

Former Glory Kickboxing dual-champion Alex Pereira looks to replicate former foe Israel Adesanya’s quick ascent in the UFC. Pereira made quite the statement in his UFC debut last November with a flying knee KO over Andreas Michailidis. Unsurprisingly, Pereira will most likely look to KO every opponent that he faces moving forward given his lengthy experience in kickboxing. The real question revolves around whether his takedown defence is strong enough for him to remain on his feet against higher levels of competition. Against Bruno Silva, Pereira can take some solace knowing that Silva has no submission victories in 22 professional MMA victories. Aside from a Silva takedown and follow-up ground-and-pound, this bout could play nicely into Pereira’s hands.

Bruno Silva was likely specifically picked for this bout. In 22 victories, he has secured 19 of them via strikes and none of them via submission. In his UFC career, Silva has picked up three-straight KO victories over Wellington Turman, Andrew Sanchez, and Jordan Wright. Silva likely won’t shy away from early exchanges with the former Kickboxing Champion, however, should he face significant adversity, it wouldn’t be a complete surprise to see him look for a takedown in order to unload ground-and-pound on Pereira.

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