The UFC heads to Chicago this weekend for an action-packed event headlined by a women’s bantamweight clash between former champion Holly Holm and seventh-ranked Valentina Shevchenko.
Holm is coming off a fifth-round submission loss to Miesha Tate in her first title defense and is eager to get back in position to challenge for the belt again. Shevchenko is looking to rebound from a loss to now-champion Amanda Nunes, and despite her ranking, can propel herself into the title conversation with a win over Holm.
The co-main event features an exceptional scrap between lightweight contender Edson Barboza and former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez in a bout that has Fight of the Night written all over it.
As we gear up for the exciting event, let’s a take a closer look at all four fights on the UFC on FOX in Chicago main card and make some predictions.
Two of the best strikers in the women’s bantamweight division face off in the main event as former 17-time boxing champion Holly Holm battles former 10-time Muay Thai titleholder Valentina Shevchenko.
This fight has very little chance of hitting the canvas, and it’ll be interesting to see which contrasting striking style emerges victorious.
Holm lands 3.46 strikes per minute (UFC average = 2.5) but only lands her significant strikes at a 35 percent clip (42 percent). Like many successful boxers, however, Holm has become extremely efficient at not getting hit. “The Preacher’s Daughter” has been able to fend off 67.9 percent of the strikes thrown her way.
Shevchenko is a pretty prolific striker herself. The Russian fighter racked up a 61-2 kickboxing record and has built a reputation for herself in the UFC due in part to her precise and dynamic striking. Through two UFC bouts, she’d laded 54.1 percent of her thrown-significant strikes.
Holm will need to use her exceptional footwork and two-inch reach advantage to find her range and keep Shevchenko from working the fight into the clinch. If she can do that, I foresee Holm winning the striking exchanges, thus the fight.
Prediction: Holm by unanimous decision
Like the main event, the co-main event fight between Barboza and Melendez features two of the best strikers the division has to offer.
Barboza, known for his dynamic ability on the fight, is statistically better than Melendez in strikes landed per minute, striking accuracy and defense. He is coming off a real confidence builder against Anthony Pettis, where he landed 73 significant strikes, the second-most ever landed against the former champion.
But Melendez is no slouch.
“EL Nino” has thrown down with the best of them, often coming away victorious. He finished nearly half of his 22 wins and has no problem standing and trading with anyone.
Melendez hasn’t fought in a year, however, and hasn’t won since a unanimous decision over Diego Sanchez in 2013, and that worries me.
I think Melendez keeps it interesting in the first but Barboza pulls away in the second and third rounds.
Prediction: Barboza by unanimous decision
Aside from Derrick Lewis, Francis Ngannou might be the scariest up-and-coming heavyweight on the UFC roster.
Ngannou’s two fights inside the Octagon — both second-round stoppages — have been pure violence, and he makes his UFC main-card debut against UFC newcomer Bojan Mihajlovic.
Mihajlovic has won 10 straight fights since 2006 after losing his first three fights. Three of his last four wins have come by way of first-round knockout.
I’m sure Mihajlovic is game, but Ngannou and his five-inch height, 10-inch reach and 15-pound weight advantage should have no problem on Saturday night.
Predictions: Ngannou by first-round knockout
The first fight of the UFC on FOX in Chicago main card pits two scrappy strawweights against one another, both eager to crack the top 15 rankings.
Herrig, a Chicago native, is 1-1 inside the Octagon and is looking to get back in the win column after sitting on the sidelines for more than a year following a loss to Paige VanZant. Herrig’s output inside the Octagon has been low, as evidenced by her just 1.56 strikes landed per minute but is one of the division’s most accurate strikers (59 percent).
Her struggles, however, are Curran’s strengths.
The “Lil’ Bulldog” only defends 26.8 percent of strikes thrown her way, which will pose a problem against Curran, who has average accuracy (45 percent), but throws punches in bunches (3.68 strikes landed per minute). Herrig also has a tough time defending takedowns during her time in the Octagon while Curran has thrived on getting her opponent to the canvas, landing eight over three fights in the UFC.
This is a close one, but like the rest of the fights on the main card, should be a fun one for fans.
Prediction: Curran by split decision