Due to the UFC holding UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi, the early prelims begin in the morning. While the UFC has several events that begin in the AM’s in North America – we had one just last week in UFC Shenzhen – it’s a rarity an actual PPV kicks off around the time most Americans are sipping on their coffee. For some, there’s nothing better than kicking off the day with fights and a cup of joe. For others, the question is whether they should wait for more consequential contests to kick in. Is there anything worth potentially thwarting a normal Saturday morning routine for traditionalists? Well… Don Madge is capable of some exciting highlights and Takashi Sato may already be the best Japanese fighter on the UFC roster. Is that enough? I’m inclined to say no, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be watching.
The early prelims begin at 10:15 AM ET/7:15 AM PT on Saturday.
Belal Muhammad (15-3) vs. Takashi Sato (15-2), Welterweight
I wasn’t joking when I said Sato may be the best Japanese fighter on the UFC roster, though I will admit that has more to do with the current state of Japanese MMA than it is a fiery endorsement. Nonetheless, if things are going to change, more fighters like Sato are needed as the 29-year old scored an impressive stoppage in his UFC debut over Ben Saunders and should still be improving.
That hardly means Sato is impervious. He’s average at best defensively, isn’t a top notch athlete, and nobody has accused Saunders of having a decent chin in years. Nonetheless, Sato is an accurate puncher with a steady jab that he keeps in the face of his opponent throughout the contest. He isn’t powerful enough to finish the job with one shot, but he is relentless enough in his pursuit of the finish on the ground with his striking that he usually tends to get the job done once he stumbles his opponent.
He’ll have a harder time putting away Muhammad. A technically sound volume striker who is also highly reliant on a jab, Muhammad tends to mix in a fair amount of takedowns into the equation. Possessing even less power than Sato, Muhammad relies on pressure and a pace that tends to exhaust his opposition, relying on sharp angles to exploit the openings provided by his opponents. He’s also proven to be difficult to put away, only a streaking Vicente Luque having succeeded in stopping the Chicagoan before the time limit expires.
For those who enjoy the nuance of the sport, Muhammad is a favorite as he has gone further than his physical talents would indicate. Sato will make it difficult for Muhammad at times given his southpaw stance and slight reach advantage, but Muhammad is a fantastic student of the game. He’ll do what is needed to edge out Sato, even if just barely. Muhammad via decision
- If you forgot Muslim Salikhov was a member of the UFC roster, you’re forgiven as it has been 17 months since the 35-year old last stepped in the Octagon. The King of Kung Fu is best known for his flashy spinning attacks, but it was a more traditional approach that saw him find success in his last appearance, scoring on a counter left that crumpled Ricky Rainey. He’s welcomed back by longtime stalwart, Nordine Taleb. Even though Taleb scored a victory in his last appearance, it looks like the 37-year old is slowing down on multiple fronts. Most notably, the typically durable Frenchman experienced his first stoppage loss to strikes prior to his recent win. If his chin is still solid, Taleb should be able to use his enormous frame for 170 to grind out Salikhov and expose his questionable ground game. However, if it is in decline, Salikhov is slick enough to expose it. It’s a bit of a coin flip, so I’ll give the edge to Salikhov based on the intangible of less travel required for the Dagestani. Salikhov via TKO of RD2
- It’s a bit comical that middleweights Zak Cummings and Omari Akhmedov still rely so much on physicality given both used to cut all the way down to 170. Now plying their trade at 185, you’d think no longer possessing the size advantage they once owned at welterweight would alter their style. Nope. Given both have a propensity for the clinch, there is a good chance they cancel each other out in close quarters. Thus, this contest likely comes down to other areas. Cummings is still glacially slow, but his hand speed and timing on the counter make him an effective standup fighter, provided his opposition isn’t technically superior on the feet. That doesn’t describe Akhmedov by any means, though the Russian has evolved past winging heavy hooks from the outside. Still, I doubt it will be enough for him to outslick his American counterpart. Cummings via decision
- When Don Madge was signed last year, he was an afterthought for most analysts as none of the previous UFC signings from the South African circuit had found meaningful success. Instead, Madge not only upset a heavily favored Te Edwards, Madge styled on him in a way that immediately had prognosticators excited for his future. Unfortunately, it has been almost a year since Madge dazzled with his head kick KO of Edwards and, thanks to oversaturation, it has fled from the memories of most. No doubt, he’s hungry to remind everyone who he is again. Originally scheduled to combat Magomed Mustafaev, an injury forced Mustafaev from the card and 22-year old Fares Ziam is stepping up. Ziam is a good-sized lightweight prospect with some talent, but the battle tested Madge feels like too much, too soon for the Frenchman. The former Muay Thai champion probably secures another highlight reel finish on a green opponent. Madge via TKO of RD1