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UFC Fight Night: Namajunas v Cortez Predictions

Former two-time strawweight champion Rose Namajunas squares off against rising star Tracy Cortez in a pivotal flyweight main event showdown at UFC Denver on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

UFC

Former two-time strawweight champion Rose Namajunas squares off against rising star Tracy Cortez in a pivotal flyweight main event showdown at UFC Denver on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

Welterweights Santiago Ponzinibbio and Muslim Salikhov battle it out in the co-headliner at the Ball Arena, while Drew Dober squares off against Jean Silva at lightweight in the featured bout.

The main card also includes a second welterweight bout between Gabriel Bonfim and Ange Loosa, a featherweight fight between Julian Erosa and Christian Rodriguez and a middleweight match-up between Abdul Razak Alhassan and Cody Brundage.

MAIN CARD (from 4 AM Sunday SA time):

Rose Namajunas (1.45) v Tracy Cortez (2.80) (Flyweight)

She’s your favourite fighter’s favourite fighter. She’s one of the biggest names in women’s mixed martial arts history. She’s a former two-time strawweight queen and a bona fide future Hall of Famer.

Yet, “Thug” Rose Namajunas (12-6) remains hungry. The decorated American is as driven now as she was when she first made a name for herself on season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter 10 years ago.

Her goal now is to conquer a second division, a mission she started last year. Since making the move ten pounds north to 125 pounds, she’s lost one and won one, bouncing back from a defeat to Manon Fiorot with a victory over Amanda Ribas in March to climb to sixth in the rankings.

She was originally set to battle Maycee Barber, but the fourth-ranked contender was forced to withdraw due to injury, opening the door for highly-touted prospect Cortez (11-1) to come in on short notice.

It’s a massive fight for Cortez, ranked 11th, as it’s her first main event and highest calibre opponent to date. She’s shown plenty of upside and remains undefeated since joining the UFC in 2019.

Her lone loss, to Cheri Muraski by submission, came in her professional debut back in 2017. She’s won 11 straight since, including five inside the Octagon (all by decision), and most recently outpointed Jasmine Jasudavicius.

Namajunas is the total package. She’s a sharp, slick and fearless striker whose speed, footwork and technique are top-tier and she’s a highly skilled grappler.

She’s finished seven of her 12 wins (two knockouts and five submissions) but her last stoppage win was her title triumph over Zhang Weili in 2021. She’s a seasoned headliner to boot, having gone five full rounds on five occasions and won four of those fights.

Cortez isn’t as dangerous as her distinguished foe with just one TKO and submission outside of the UFC to her name. She’s a busy and balanced tactician, but with this being her first five-round fight, it remains to be seen how she adjusts her pacing, especially given her short-notice entry into the main event.

Cortez is one to keep an eye on but she doesn’t have the knockout power or strong wrestling to control Namajunas. Namajunas, in turn, is faster on her feet and both the better striker and grappler.

There is a chance she catches Cortez in a submission, but the most likely scenario is for Namajunas to win on the scorecards. 

Prediction: Namajunas by decision.

Best Bet: Namajunas by decision at 2.10.

Alternative Bet: Namajunas by submission at 9.00.

Santiago Ponzinibbio (1.52) v Muslim Salikhov (2.60) (Welterweight)

Battle-hardened veterans collide in the co-main event. Ponzinibbio (29-7) is 37, while Salikhov (19-5) is 40 and the former is by all accounts the much sharper of the two at this late stage of their careers.

Entertaining and hard-hitting strikers, the pair have 29 knockouts between them (16-13 in Ponzinibbio’s favour), so expect a good old-fashioned fistfight. Ponzinibbio stopped Alex Morono in December 2022 but lost his only fight last year to top 15 mainstay Kevin Holland.

Salikhov, meanwhile, is on a two-fight skid for the first time in his career with a decision defeat to Nicolas Dalby followed by a knockout loss to Randy Brown in February. “The King of Kung Fu” has undoubtedly lost a few steps and isn’t as durable as he once was, so I expect “The Argentine Dagger” will get the job done in style.

Prediction: Ponzinibbio by knockout.

Best Bet: Ponzinibbio by KO/TKO/DQ at 2.65.

Alternative Bet: Ponzinibbio at 1.52.

Drew Dober (1.90) v Jean Silva (1.90) (Lightweight)

Dober (27-13) welcomed a new opponent after his original foe Mike Davis was forced out through injury. An equally game Silva (13-2) answered the call and will move up a weight class just two weeks after knocking out Charles Jourdain at UFC 303.

That victory stretched the Brazilian’s win streak to 10. However, just two of them were in the UFC. Not only is he making a step up in weight, but he’s also making a step up in competition. With 10 knockouts to his credit, it’s no secret he’s a danger on the feet.

Denver native Dober is an all-action fighter with 20 stoppage wins (14 knockouts and six submissions). He’s a tank of a lightweight who attacks all areas of the body and is looking to bounce back after being outpointed by Renato Moicano in February.

The homecoming hero has a granite chin and it remains to be seen how Silva’s power translates to 155 pounds. Odds are he won’t have the pop to stop Dober. On the flip side, he’s sure to feel the fire coming his way and could tire if the fight goes long, or Dober could pick him apart to win on points. Therefore, I’m taking Dober outright.  

Prediction: Dober by decision.

Best Bet: Dober at 1.90.

Alternative Bet: Dober by decision at 5.50 or KO/TKO/DQ at 2.75.

Gabriel Bonfim (1.29) v Ange Loosa (3.70) (Welterweight)

A backlash is expected from Bonfim (15-1) after his unbeaten streak was ended by Nicolas Dalby in November.

The Brazilian prospect has never gone the distance and has a dozen submission wins to his name. He gassed out badly in the loss to Dalby, but his jiu-jitsu wizardry makes him the biggest favourite on the main card.

Loosa (10-3) deserves a bit more credit than he’s been given by the bookies as he’s a solid wrestler with good takedown defence, having stopped nine out of 10 attempts from opponents to put him on his back inside the Octagon.

His game plan will surely be to try to extend the fight to test Bonfim’s questionable gas tank. Offensively, though, he could put himself in dangerous positions with his wrestling. 

I can’t see him pulling off the upset and the fact that he’s never been submitted leaves me leaning toward Bonfim winning by decision rather than submission.

Prediction: Bonfim by decision.

Best Bet: Bonfim by decision at 3.75.

Alternative Bet: Bonfim by submission at 2.20.

Julian Erosa (2.70) v Christian Rodriguez (1.48) (Featherweight)

Rodriguez (11-1) has proven himself to be a prospect killer so far in the UFC. He’s beaten three previously undefeated fighters in a row in Paul Rosas Jr, South Africa’s Cameron Saaiman and Isaac Dulgarian, all by decision. 

This match-up is thus particularly intriguing as it pits the rising star against a veteran in Erosa (29-11), who snapped a two-fight losing streak with a submission win over Ricardo Ramos in March.

Rodriguez isn’t the most exciting fighter, valuing points and positions over going for finishes, whereas “Juicy J” is the polar opposite with 24 of his wins coming via stoppage (11 knockouts and 13 submissions).

Erosa can get himself in trouble with his wild style, but it can also pay off for him and against a less-dangerous opponent like “CeeRod”, I fancy the seasoned southpaw as an underdog.  

Prediction: Erosa by knockout.

Best Bet: Erosa at 2.70.

Alternative Bet: Erosa by KO/TKO/DQ at 12.00.

Abdul Razak Alhassan (1.60) v Cody Brundage (2.40) (Middleweight)

The main card gets underway with a pair of middleweight finishers aiming to rebound from submission losses.

Alhassan (12-6), who was tapped out by Joe Pyfer last October, is a tremendous striker with all of his wins coming by knockout. Plagued with inconsistency, “Judo Thunder” is 6-6 in his last dozen fights and is up there in age at 38, but the Ghana-born banger remains a threat on the feet.

Brundage (10-6), who was submitted by the unbeaten Bo Nickal in April, is a powerful grappler and will shoot for takedowns early and often. The 30-year-old is 2-4 in his last six fights, mostly because of his defensive vulnerabilities and glass jaw, which should lead to Alhassan getting him out of there.

Prediction: Alhassan by knockout.

Best Bet: Alhassan at 1.60.

Alternative Bet: Alhassan by KO/TKO/DQ at 1.83.

Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at SARugby.com and senior staff writer at Rugby365.com, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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