We are spoiled for choice when it comes to interesting match-ups at UFC 271. The pay-per-view event, headlined by the current and former middleweight champions, has an undercard loaded with prospects and veterans.
Kicking off the main card we have a battle of strikers as young lightweight standout, Nasrat Haqparast, takes on formidable veteran scrapper, Bobby ‘King’ Green’. With more than double the professional fight experience, Green fights with an air of confidence, which manifests in a hands-down, trash-talking style that can make the fight and break the opponent.
Representing the famed Tristar Gym in Montreal, Haqparast is still developing as a young athlete. At 26 years old, he is nine years the junior of his opponent and very much at the beginning of his elite level career.
Green will be a stiff test for Haqparast, as he’s a natural power-puncher, and his confident gunslinger style might catch Haqparast on his way in to attack. Hands low does put a lot of reliance on reaction time and speed, which does fade as fighters get older, and Green is in his mid-thirties. His vast experience may be his main asset though, having seventeen bouts inside the UFC’s Octagon, which matches Haqparast’s total professional experience.
Green could play a patient game and draw Haqparast in. Fight out of a good defence and counter once he’s got a read on his timing and chosen attacks. Defend any takedown attempts, as I’m sure he will realise the threat of developing grappling skills on his opponent’s part, and look for the fight-changing punch.
For Haqparast this is a test of patience and technical discipline. If he gets overzealous he will rush onto a counter shot. Alternatively, he could keep swinging for Green and missing, due to Green’s good defensive head movement, and exhaust himself. Green won’t be easy to read, hit, or take down.
If I had to pick one though, I feel like the younger man will prevail based on good fundamentals, and a strong team to prepare him. I pick Haqparast by unanimous decision.
Nasrat Haqparast by decision - 12/5
There is a lot of anticipation for this next one, as two explosive bantamweights collide, and attempt to add one another to their highlight reel.
Kyler Philips is nicknamed ‘The Matrix’ for a reason. His game is dynamic at every range. He is as well-rounded as he is unpredictable, and he trains at The MMA Lab, alongside greats like the Pettis brothers, and Benson Henderson.
He is still a raw talent but shows huge promise, and with eleven fights as a professional, we can see big developments from one fight to the next. He’s tasted defeat twice, and both times it was razor-thin on the scorecards. All good learning experiences for a young athlete like Philips, who is sure to wow us with some new facet to his game.
His adversary for this evening will be the battle hardened, 24-fight veteran, Marcelo Rojo. The Argentinian has yet to realise victory in the Octagon, with his debut ending unfavourably less than 30 seconds before the final bell.
He is a worthy test for Philips though, with plenty of first-round finishes coming by way of strikes or submissions. Rojo has a penchant for armbars, and can attack with them from a multitude of positions. He is also partial to the occasional big slam, so don’t be surprised if the floorboards of the Octagon are rattled a couple of times.
This should be a real tussle, and I think Rojo might be able to push Philips around a little. With that being said, I expect Philips to be able to do enough to win on the scorecards. I could see him hurting Rojo and perhaps wrapping him up in a couple of close submissions.
Kyler Phillips by decision - 12/5
To warm us up for the middleweight main event, third and fourth ranked Jared Cannonier and Derek Brunson will battle for their place in line for the title.
Brunson, a reckless power-puncher with a strong wrestling game to back it up, will likely want to start fast and test Cannonier early. He will be faced with strong takedown defence and a good ability to scramble back to his feet, and a single-punch power that can change any fight.
Formerly a heavyweight, Cannonier has made his way down through the light-heavyweight division, and has settled in amongst the top middleweights in the world. What he brings to the table is heavyweight power in a frame that can move as fast as a welterweight.
The challenge here will be to remain on his feet and not get drowned by Brunson’s wrestling. If he finds himself grounded and smothered, he will become frustrated and potentially expose his back for Brunson to sink in a rear naked choke.
If Cannonier is lucky then Brunson will stand and trade for a while with him, as Brunson has stopped several former opponents with his powerful straight left hand. He may feel like he can catch Cannonier clean and have an early night. Trying to take him down will be a great effort, but most likely the safest route to victory for Brunson.
I happen to be sold on the power of Cannonier though, and think that as long as he defends the first two takedowns, he will be able to get Brunson’s timing and knock him out.
Jared Cannonier by stoppage - 6/5
It would be fair to say that the co-main event is very much a case of whoever lands first goes home the winner.
Derrick Lewis is the knockout king. This is a title which he has claimed, has tattooed into his skin, and is proven on the statistics. Of the twenty-six victories on his record, twenty-one opponents took a nap after eating a couple of punches from Lewis. He tops the scale at the heavyweight limit, and still throws high kicks and flying knees on a regular basis. He is also more and more difficult to take down or control in any way.
His weakness however, is fatigue and we have seen him vulnerable when tired. On the other side of the Octagon stands another knockout artist, who has an equally high knockout ratio, but over fewer fights.
Tai Tuivasa is a phenomenon within the heavyweight division. Much like Lewis is in his own right. What we may be witnessing here is not only the two biggest characters in the division, but also the two most lethal punchers.
Tuivasa is an animal, and he relishes in that fact. He plays the party boy and the brawler, but he also works incredibly hard to improve his striking skills as well as his grappling abilities to support. I expect this to be an absolute banger of a fight, and I think that they will both test each other’s chins.
Tuivasa is smarter than he lets on, and although Lewis is expected to score the knockout, I feel like we might see a clever approach from Tuivasa win the day. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see a full fifteen minutes but I do think Tuivasa will take the victory.
Tai Tuivasa by decision - 8/1
The main event is one of the most intriguing match-ups we’ve seen in MMA. Former champion Robert Whittaker, takes aim for the second time at Israel Adesanya.
This time though, it is Adesanya who is the undisputed champion, and Whittaker coming in as the challenger. In their first encounter, Whittaker was defending his throne against the interim champion who had risen to the top whilst Whittaker was out dealing with injuries. Adesanya handed out a second-round knockout with ease, upon a far too aggressive Robert Whittaker. This time I feel as though the former champion won’t be so keen to rush in, now that he has felt the striking prowess of Adesanya first-hand.
We have also seen Adesanya grounded in his last couple of fights, and feel like Whittaker may try to implement that into his game plan. The test will be for Whittaker to keep his cool and not give Adesanya any openings to catch him with a sniper-like shot and leave with the belt still around his waist. It will be hard not to fall into the various traps that Adesanya will be setting, but playing his cards right and not being in too much of a hurry might be the remedy to get Whittaker his belt back.
With a patient first two rounds and an incremental increase in wrestling to keep the defending champion guessing. Over five rounds I feel like Whittaker might be able to out-point and out wrestle Adesanya to become the champion again, and set us up for a trilogy for the ages!
Robert Whittaker by decision - 9/2