Trying to see Saturday’s main event strictly within the context of the game itself is crazy.
First and foremost, Walt Harris’ headlining heavyweight fight against Alistair Overeem marks his first fight since the murder of his stepdaughter Aniah Blanchard, a nightmare that began with his disappearance last October . The tragedy postponed an initial reservation with Overeem to be held in December, and after some additional scheduling changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the fight landed on a UFC card on ESPN in Jacksonville, Florida.
Harris is looking to continue his climb in the rankings, which has been reinforced by two KOs of 50 seconds or less in his two previous outings. One can only imagine the emotional weight he will carry with him during the night of combat and how much the simple fact of having the chance to start again to do what he likes could lighten this load.
Add to the fact that the headliner on Saturday will close the third UFC card in a week while the promotion will resume after a series of cancellations and postponements related to the coronavirus pandemic in March and April, and you have the feeling that many demons will be exorcised when the show ends in Jacksonville.
In another main card action, Claudia Gadelha seeks to contain the ubiquitous straw scrapper Angela Hill, Dan Ige welcomes longtime lightweight competitor Edson Barboza in the featherweight division, Eryk Anders meets veteran Krzysztof Jotko in a bout of middleweight, and bantam contenders Song Yadong and Marlon Vera make a one-off featherweight move for a foolproof banger.
What: UFC on ESPN 8
Or: VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.
When: Saturday May 16. The entire event will be broadcast on ESPN and ESPN +, with the preliminaries of six fights starting at 6 p.m. ET, and the main card for five fights starting at 9 p.m. ET.
Alistair Overeem vs. Walt Harris
Walt Harris said Alistair Overeem is a fighter whom he has admired throughout his career, and this is evident in their shared calm in the cage.
Don’t be fooled by his story of knockouts and you missed out, Harris is a patient hunter. He will most likely rush against opponents with lower standup skills, but against an attacker of Overeem’s caliber, you can expect a more measured approach. Overeem is in the same way, having made a career by analyzing the weaknesses of his opponent before crushing them with a burst of precision. He knows what Harris is capable of and he is not going to play with him.
It could mean that we see stretches of inactivity here as the two heavyweights come in and out while using a lot of feints to coax an error from their opponent. Keep in mind that there will be no restless crowd to push the fighters into action. When members start to fly, significant damage will be caused.
It’s such a prediction to throw coins for me, because every fighter is able to land at any time. Overereem’s experience is still a factor, but his well worn chin too, and it’s because of this history of knockouts that I have to go with Harris here.
Even if the MMA gods are anything but sentimental, Harris wins one for Aniah here.
To choose: Harris
Claudia Gadelha vs. Angela Hill
Against talented attackers, Claudia Gadelha has sometimes weakened. Her rival Joanna Jedrzejczyk has beaten her twice, and her last two losses have been against confident stand-up fighters Nina Ansaroff and Jessica Andrade. However, that only matters if Angela Hill can continue this fight.
I am skeptical about Hill who stops eliminating Gadelha for three rounds. “Overkill” improves with each fight, but his fight remains a question mark, and against a relentless wrestler like Gadelha, this area has not yet evolved enough to prevent Gadelha from imposing his will. It will not facilitate the task in Gadelha at the beginning, because its techniques of muay Thai will make it possible to reconstitute Gadelha. But it’s only a matter of time until Gadelha puts it back on the table.
On the ground, little straw weight can hang with “Claudinha”, so there is no shame in being manipulated by her there. A budding competitor, Hill will learn why Gadelha has been a pillar in the top 10 for years.
Gadelha finds submission in the first or second round.
To choose: Gadelha
Edson Barboza vs. Dan Ige
As great as Ige has seen him in his five-game winning streak, I have to apply the Edson Barboza rule here: I don’t think anyone can beat Barboza before I see him.
That is, whenever Barboza is involved in a fight which should take place mainly on the feet, I will choose him (the only time I broke this rule is when he fought Justin Gaethje – rightly so, as it turned out). That doesn’t mean he can’t be hit. In fact, he lost a close split decision in a back-and-forth battle with Paul Felder in his most recent bout. It takes almost perfect performance from your opponent to do it.
Ige has a solid position, he just doesn’t have the speed or versatility of Barboza. However, he could benefit from the fact that Barboza has to cut an extra 10 pounds for this featherweight start, as it is unclear what light weight will look like for life down a division. Ige will also have the advantage on the field if he goes, which is easier said than done since Barboza only had a hard time stopping the shots of the elite wrestlers.
I expect that Ige will go the distance with Barboza here and make a good effort that does not measure up to the judges’ dashboards.
To choose: Barboza
Eryk Anders against Krzysztof Jotko
Congratulations Eryk Anders, you are at the heart of the middleweight peloton now, and breaking through means having to pass astute veterans like Krzysztof Jotko.
With its long limbs, versatile play and durability, Jotko is one of the most difficult outings at 185 pounds. He will frustrate Anders of his ability to score from a distance, and the exchanges on the ground could lead to exhausting jostling for the two men. If neither finds a finish in the first round, expect it to become a bit of a slog in the second half.
Given his athleticism, it can be frustrating to see how simple Anders is with his strike. He’s confident with his hands, but that only takes you so far when you start to meet opponents with Jotko’s defensive capabilities. If Anders does not pace, he will become vulnerable to body shots later in the fight which will further undermine his reserves.
Anders is still a threat to catch a slower opponent with that heavy left hand, he just hasn’t proven that he can still do it regularly. I’m going with Jotko to win a decision.
To choose: Jotko
Song Yadong vs. Marlon Vera
Normally, I would say it is too early for a prospect like Song Yadong, who turned 22 only in December. But stylistically, it’s a great match for him.
The song turned out to be a load on the feet. It is light and elastic, elusive when necessary, and a devastating puncher once it has found scope. He has a lot of room to grow up in the strike department, but that is already scary.
He faces a first-rate finisher at Vera. Vera’s last five wins have all been achieved by knockout or submission and he has emerged victorious in various ways, sometimes crushing his enemies early and other times battling adversity with astounding ferocity. “Chito” does everything in his power to avoid the scoreboards, which is logical since his five losses have been decided.
I see Song becoming the sixth fighter to beat Vera. These two will brutalize each other for three rounds, and unless Vera can get close enough to trip Song on the ground where he will have a distinct advantage, it is Song who should constantly punch Vera to the punch.
A close victory against a dangerous fighter like Vera is exactly what Song needs to continue his development.
To choose: Song
Matt Brown beats. Miguel Baeza
Anthony Hernandez beats. Kevin Holland
Giga Chikadze beats. Irwin Rivera
Mara Romero Borella beats. Cortney Casey
Nate Landwehr beats. Darren Elkins
Don’Tale Mayes beats. Rodrigo Nascimento