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UFC Fight Night: Whittaker v Aliskerov Predictions

Former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker faces dangerous dark horse Ikram Aliskerov in the main event of the first-ever UFC Fight Night card in Saudi Arabia on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.


Former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker faces dangerous dark horse Ikram Aliskerov in the main event of the first-ever UFC Fight Night card in Saudi Arabia on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

Top-five heavyweights Sergei Pavlovich and Alexander Volkov will rock Riyadh’s Kingdom Arena in the co-headliner, while former interim middleweight title challenger Kelvin Gastelum gets down to business against Daniel Rodriguez in the featured bout.

Muhammad Naimov faces Felipe Lima in a featherweight fight and elite light heavyweights Johnny Walker and Volkan Oezdemir kick off the main card.

MAIN CARD (from 9 PM Saturday SA time):

Robert Whittaker (1.64) v Ikram Aliskerov (2.30) (Middleweight)

Former 185-pound king Whittaker (27-5) was preparing to go to war with undefeated juggernaut Khamzat Chimaev before being dealt a massive curveball last Friday when news broke that “Borz” was forced out of the fight after falling “violently ill.”

The much-anticipated showdown was a likely title eliminator with Whittaker third in the rankings and Chimaev having plenty of hype behind him. Instead, “The Reaper” will now square off against highly-touted prospect Aliskerov (15-1), who was originally set to face Antonio Trocoli in the co-main event of last weekend’s UFC Vegas 93.

One of the best middleweights of all time, Whittaker’s the epitome of a complete fighter and has little to no weaknesses. He’s been at or near the top of the division for close to a decade with his only losses in the last nine years being to former titleholder Israel Adesanya and current king Dricus du Plessis.

Fast, slick and cerebral, the Australian ace bounced back from his defeat to the fighting pride of South Africa with a decision win over Brazilian powerhouse Paulo Costa in February and as a consummate professional who’s confident in his skills, he had no hesitation accepting the late change in opponent.

As athletic as he is intelligent and marrying magnificent striking with excellent footwork and solid grappling, Whittaker has nine knockouts and five submissions to his credit. 

Seeking to skyrocket into title contention, Aliskerov is a former combat sambo world champion who burst onto the UFC scene in style last year, scoring first-round stoppage wins over Phil Hawes and Warlley Alves.

The lethal Russian boasts six knockouts and five submissions in all and has solid experience outside of the UFC, with his lone defeat coming to the man he replaces this weekend, Chimaev, back in 2019.

However, as he’s spent less than five minutes inside of the Octagon, it’s tough to gauge just how good the 31-year-old is. He’s the real deal, but this is such a sudden and massive step up in competition that it remains to be seen if he’s ready right now.

Whittaker has never taken an opponent lightly and with a lot to lose in this fight, he won’t start now. Since Aliskerov has never seen a fourth round and Whittaker’s a master of five-round main events, the decorated veteran will likely push the pace and put the pressure on the first-time headliner to test his poise and conditioning.

Whittaker has the elite experience, speed, crisp striking and takedown defence to win by either TKO or decision, so I’m happy talking the moneyline.

Prediction: Whittaker by TKO.  

Best Bet: Whittaker at 1.64.

Alternative Bet: by KO/TKO/DQ at 2.80.

Sergei Pavlovich (1.42) v Alexander Volkov (2.95) (Heavyweight)

Two of the biggest, baddest and best heavyweights on the planet will trade leather in the co-main event.

The all-Russian rumble promises to be violent as neither man works by the hours. Third-ranked Pavlovich (18-2), in particular, is a terrifying powerhouse on the feet who’d rattled off six straight first-round finishes before suffering his first defeat inside the Octagon against Tom Aspinall in their interim title fight last November.

A 6’3″ tank of a man with massive mitts, Pavlovich has 15 knockout victims, among them being two-time title challenger Derrick Lewis, Tai Tuivasa and Curtis Blaydes, the latter of whom will be challenging Aspinall for the interim belt in July.

The towering Volkov (37-10) is still chasing an elusive UFC title shot. The former Bellator heavyweight champion has won three in a row, knocking out Jair Rozenstruik and Alexander Romanov before submitting Tai Tuivasa last September, and a win over Pavlovich would certainly put him in the title picture.

Fifth-ranked “Drago” stands 6’7″ and boasts 24 knockouts. He’ll have an advantage on the ground, if he can get his hulking countryman down. While Volkov is the taller man, the anomaly that is Pavlovich will have a four-inch reach advantage and knows how to use it.

Add Pavlovich’s extraordinary first-step explosion and he should bounce back in a big way.

Prediction: Pavlovich by knockout.  

Best Bet: Pavlovich by KO/TKO/DQ at 1.71.

Alternative Bet: Under 1.5 rounds at 1.63.

Kelvin Gastelum (1.42) v Daniel Rodriguez (2.95) (Welterweight)

Welterweights determined to get back on track duke it out in the featured bout.

Since winning season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter back in 2013, Gastelum (18-9) has been a staple in the upper echelons of the welterweight and middleweight divisions.

He holds wins over former champions Johny Hendricks, Vitor Belfort and Michael Bisping and took Israel Adesanya to the limit in their war for the interim 185-pound belt in 2019. However, he hasn’t been the same since that decision loss to “The Last Stylebender”, going 2-5 and dropping out of the top 15.

Submitted by Sean Brady last time out in December, Gastelum needs to show he’s still the well-rounded warrior of old. While he’s been around longer than Rodriguez (17-4), he’s the younger man by five years and at 32, he has plenty of fighting years ahead of him if he can pull things together.

Rodriguez hasn’t reached the heights Gastelum has but was also in the top 15 for a time. Back-to-back stoppage losses to Neil Magny and Ian Machado Garry have seen his stock plummet and he hasn’t fought in over a year, so he could be rusty.

“D-Rod” is a decent striker and has heavy hands, but Gastelum has an iron chin. He’s never been knocked out and has the better balance of stand-up skills and wrestling to dictate terms and get his hand raised.

Prediction: Gastelum by decision. 

Best Bet: Gastelum by decision at 2.00.

Alternative Bet: Gastelum at 1.42.

Muhammad Naimov (1.76) v Felipe Lima (2.10) (Featherweight)

Like the headliner, the second scrap on the main card had to be altered with Naimov’s original opponent Melsik Baghdasaryan pulled from the fight due to injury on Tuesday. Stepping up on extremely short notice is Lima, who’ll look to seize the day in his UFC debut. 

Naimov, who has a record of 11-2, was in a similar position as Lima when he made his short-notice promotional bow and knocked out Jamie Mullarkey a year ago, so he won’t underestimate his new foe. 

“The Hitman” returned to featherweight following his UFC debut and has banked successive victories over Nathaniel Wood (by decision) and Erik Silva (by TKO) to stretch his win streak to six.

Lima hasn’t tasted defeat since losing his pro debut back in 2015. The Brazilian is on a 12-fight win streak and clinched the Oktagon MMA bantamweight belt with a decision win over Jonas Magard in his last bout.

Little tape is available on Lima, but from what I’ve seen, he’s a speedy, snappy striker. Naimov should be able to match him on the feet and his strong grappling gives him the edge in this one.

Prediction: Naimov by decision. 

Best Bet: Naimov at 1.76.

Alternative Bet: Naimov by decision

Johnny Walker (1.90) v Volkan Oezdemir (1.90) (Light Heavyweight)

Top-10 light heavyweights promise to get the main card off to an explosive start.

Seventh-ranked Walker (21-8) was well on his way to a title fight, winning three on the trot before being knocked out by Magomed Ankalaev in the first main event of the year, leaving the lanky Brazilian having to rebuild.

An exciting and aggressive fighter, the popular Brazilian has a 90% finish rate (16 knockouts and three submissions) and has improved since aligning with Conor McGregor’s coach John Kavanagh, using his extraordinarily long limbs more wisely and working behind a spear-like jab.

Former title challenger Oezdemir (19-7) reminded everyone of his class by tapping out Bogdan Guskov last September and hopes to find the consistency he had earlier in his career in what should be an exciting encounter. “No Time” has a 74% finish rate (12 knockouts and two submissions) and will bank on his hand speed.

Walker not only has a seven-inch reach advantage but is unorthodox, unpredictable and dynamic, which should see him see off his Swiss foe.

Prediction: Walker by knockout. 

Best Bet: Walker at 1.90.

Alternative Bet: Walker by KO/TKO/DQ at 3.15.

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 and senior staff writer at, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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