Predictions! UFC 246 ESPN ‘Prelims’ Preview

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The 2020 mixed martial arts (MMA) season begins this Saturday evening (Jan., 18, 2020) inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, when Conor McGregor and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone headline UFC 246, live on ESPN+ pay-per-view (PPV). Also on tap are a pivotal Bantamweight clash between Holly Holm and Raquel Pennington, a big-boy tussle between Aleksei Oleinik and Maurice Greene, and a Lightweight crossroads bout pitting Anthony Pettis against Diego Ferreira.

ESPN hosts the latter four “Prelims” undercard bouts (check out the ESPN+ batch here), which we’ve yet to dissect. Let’s fix that below:

115 lbs.: Roxanne Modafferi vs. Maycee Barber

Roxanne Modafferi (23-16) bounced back from her loss to Nicco Montaao in The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 26 finals with a ground-and-pound finish of Barb Honchack, finally earning her first UFC victory nearly five years after her initial exit from the promotion. “The Happy Warrior” has gone 1-2 since, though that one win saw her score a massive upset of Antonina Shevchenko in St. Petersburg.

She’ll have two inches of height and four inches of reach on “The Future.”

Maycee Barber (8-0) went undefeated (4-0) in LFA before pounding out Jamie Colleen on “Contender Series” to secure a UFC contract. She’s been similarly destructive in the Octagon itself, scoring three finishes in three fights and most recently thrashing fellow up-and-comer Gillian Robertson.

Five of her seven stoppage wins have come via (technical) knockout.

Modafferi is easy to root for and deceptively skilled, which is why it pains me to say that Barber is going to brutalize her. We’ve already seen Barber easily deal with strong top control courtesy of Gillian Robertson, and Modafferi is nowhere near the wrestler “The Savage” is. Modafferi will have to win this on the feet, either at range or in the clinch; however, considering what Barber can do in both areas, that’s heinously unlikely.

Modafferi faces gargantuan disparities in physicality and stopping power that look near-impossible to overcome. The only avenue of victory she has is through getting on top of Barber and she just doesn’t have the tools to do so. Barber mauls her at close range for another destructive finish.

Prediction: Barber via first-round technical knockout

145 lbs.: Andre Fili vs. Sodiq Yusuff

Andre Fili (20-6) spent his first eight UFC fights alternating wins and losses, starting with an impressive knockout of Jeremy Larsen and ending with a shock upset loss to then-unknown Calvin Kattar. He’s since bucked the trend with four wins in his last five, including a bonus-winning knockout of Sheymon Moraes in July (watch it).

“Touchy” stands two inches taller than the 5’9” Sodiq Yusuff (10-1) and boasts a three-inch reach advantage.

Yusuff followed up his breakout “Contender Series” win over Mike Davis by blowing up Suman Mokhtarian in one round, earning “Performance of the Night” in the process. A back-and-forth war with Sheymon Moraes followed, after which he returned to his finishing ways with a come-from-behind sparking of Gabriel Benitez.

Four of his six knockout victories have come in the first round.

Yusuff appears to have hit the point where raw power and speed aren’t enough. Indeed, he was neck-and-neck with Moraes before scoring a critical knockdown and Benitez had him badly hurt in the early going of their match. He absolutely needs to tighten up his boxing and stop just swinging for the fences with every blow, especially with the fact that his chin nearly failed him dangling over his head.

The Yusuff that fought Benitez loses this fight. Fili’s has the length and kickboxing skill to repeat the Mexican’s efforts and badly frustrate “Super Sodiq.” Then again, the same could be said of Davis, and that ended poorly for “Beast Boy.” Then again again, Fili’s only stoppage loss due to strikes was from a shin upside the head — no fist has yet felled him. It’s a toss up, is what I’m saying. Fili scrapes out a controversial points win.

Prediction: Fili via split decision

155 lbs.: Drew Dober vs. Nasrat Haqparast

Drew Dober (21-9) went from opening his UFC career 1-3 (1 NC) to winning six of his next eight, three of them by first-round knockout. The latest of them came in June, smashing heavy hitter Polo Reyes in just 67 seconds.

He’ll give up two inches of height and reach to Nasrat Haqparast (11-2).

Haqparast answered the call when Marcin Held needed a short-notice foe, dropping the Pole several times but ultimately failing to overcome his wrestling attack. He enters the cage this Saturday having won three straight, however, earning bonuses for his battles with Thibault Gouti and Joaquim Silva.

All but two of his professional wins have come by form of knockout, six of them in the first round.

In a division constantly choked with top-notch talent, Haqparast stands out with his speed and destructive punching. He’s young, bursting with potential, and fighting out of one of the sport’s most storied gyms in TriStar, but Dober is a very real test. The Elevation product is insanely durable, succumbing to strikes just once in more than 30 professional fights, and has the technical boxing to hold his own in a prolonged firefight. There’ll be no early finish for Haqparast, and if he turns out to be a frontrunner, this could go pear-shaped very quickly.

Luckily for Haqparast, his edges in speed, height and reach should all prove extremely useful. Plus, even if his shots aren’t likely to knock Dober cold, the judges can appreciate concussive force when they see it. Haqparast’s more telling blows win a hugely entertaining stand up war.

Prediction: Haqparast via unanimous decision

145 lbs.: Chas Skelly vs. Grant Dawson – Canceled (Details)

Conor McGregor vs. Donald Cerrone and a ton of well-matched scraps sound like as good a way as any to ring in the new decade. See you Saturday, Maniacs.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 246 fight card this weekend RIGHT HERE, starting with the Fight Pass/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 246: “McGregor vs. Cerrone” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

Final UFC “Prelims” Prediction Record for 2019: 183-100-1

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