UFC Fort Lauderdale presents a unique serving of fights. Originally expected to be an ESPN card – as opposed to ESPN+ — the original main event was scrapped and it was decided to move the main card to ESPN+. However, that still leaves four contests on ESPN and three others beforehand on ESPN2. Between those prelims, there are three contests worth keeping an eye on. There’s some former champions and a contest that may surprise some that I’ve decided to highlight it. Hopefully, you’ll understand where I was coming from after the contest goes down.
The early prelims on ESPN2 begin at 5:30 PM ET/2:30 PM PT. The later prelims begin at 7:00 PM ET/4:00 PM PT.
Carla Esparza (13-6) vs. Virna Jandiroba (14-0), Women’s Strawweight
Esparza is far out of the title picture at this point – and unlikely to get back into it – but the inaugural UFC strawweight champion is still an ideal gatekeeper at this point for those who hope to knock on the door. Jandiroba, who was the Invicta strawweight champion before getting her call to the UFC, is one of the best grapplers in WMMA. The issue is whether she’ll be able to get Esparza, a former collegiate wrestler, to the mat. It isn’t impossible to get Esparza on her back, though it is difficult to keep her down and Jandiroba’s wrestling has never been anything special either. Look for Esparza to use her pocket boxing to piece up Jandiroba, whose standup has been lacking. Regardless of who wins, expect a split decision. Esparza via decision
Andrei Arlovski (27-17, 2 NC) vs. Augusto Sakai (12-1-1), Heavyweight
I’m not mentioning this fight simply because Arlovski is a former champion. That was all the way back in 2006. This contest is worth watching as Sakai has an outside chance of being a major difference maker in the heavyweight division. You wouldn’t guess by looking at the pudgy Brazilian, but he can push a hard pace – for a heavyweight – and has some power. Though Arlovski’s glass chin has been well documented, he has been able to avoid being KO’d in his last six contests. However, his improved defense and technique has also come with a lack of aggression, resulting in tepid point matches. Arlovski still presents a test of sorts, but it’s the type of test where no one will be interested should the participant fail. I think we’ll still be interested in Sakai. Sakai via TKO of RD2
Gilbert Burns (14-3) vs. Mike Davis (7-1), Lightweight
I’m sure it’s catching a few people by surprise that I’m highlighting this contest, but hear me out. Burns entered the UFC with one of the most impressive set of grappling credentials. It’s been nearly five years since he entered and though his striking hasn’t caught up to his BJJ, it has become a formidable weapon he’s been more than willing to test it against… well, anyone. Davis better hope that’s the case as that’s the only way he stands a chance. The newcomer has a varied background in combat sports, boxing and muay thai contests on his resume as well. Davis is durable and relentless, his lone loss coming to the rapidly rising Sodiq Yusuff. Davis has a good chance of securing an upset in his UFC debut while this contest is by favorite to deliver the goods on the prelims. Burns via submission of RD3
And the rest….
- A Bloody Elbow favorite, Ben Saunders has long been fun to watch with his clinch game and active guard. Unfortunately for him, his chin is fading as he steps into the Octagon for the 18th time. He welcomes Takashi Sato, a newcomer from the Pancrase organization. Oddly enough, this serves as the featured prelim… though I don’t know if the featured prelim is still a thing. Sato via TKO of RD2
- Everyone loves Jim Miller, but he’s near the end of the line. No surprise as he’s extending his record of UFC appearances to 32. While he probably isn’t relevant any more, he can keep his roster spot if he can continue to turn away lower talents like Jason Gonzalez. Gonzalez is a large lightweight, but Miller has seen it all. Expect the vet to get back on the winning track. Miller via Submission of RD1
- Angela Hill steps in for injured teammate Jessica Penne on short notice, hoping to turn away undersized bulldog Jodie Esquibel. Esquibel may be dogged – see what I did there? – but the natural atomweight has struggled to find her footing thanks to her lack of size. Hill’s size advantage should prove the difference in almost all areas. Hill via decision
- Former TUF winner Court McGee – making his 15th UFC appearance – looks to extend his run against Dhiego Lima, the younger brother of former Bellator champion Douglas Lima. The younger Lima has struggled to keep wrestlers off him. McGee isn’t a great wrestler, but he’s a relentless one and durable to boot. McGee via decision