Sat. Jul 13th, 2024


Alex Pereira and Jiri Prochazka are running it back sooner than expected.

No, Conor McGregor isn’t returning Saturday, but fans have had plenty of time to come to grips with that, and thanks to Dana White and company’s matchmaking wizardry, UFC 303 ended up with a main event with far greater stakes as Pereira defends his light heavyweight title in a rematch against Prochazka. Their first fight thrilled for as long as it lasted, though a slightly early stoppage left us wanting more. Now, we get the reprise just seven months later.

Not only that, we’ve also been served an unexpectedly delightful co-main, with Brian Ortega and Diego Lopes stepping up to replace Jamahal Hill vs. Khalil Rountree Jamahal Hill vs. Carlos Ulberg Anthony Smith vs. Carlos Ulberg … uh, to replace a light heavyweight co-main event. There have been some regrettable pre-fight shenanigans, as Ortega reportedly struggled to make 145, precipitating a move up to lightweight for both men, but on paper this matchup is still a banger.

In other main card action, Anthony Smith fights Roman Dolidze in an light heavyweight bout that came out of nowhere, recent bantamweight title challenger Mayra Bueno Silva looks to fend off Macy Chiasson, and Ian Machado Garry takes on longtime Bellator welterweight contender Michael “Venom” Page.

What: UFC 303

Where: T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas

When: Saturday, June 29. The four-fight early preliminary card begins at 6 p.m. ET, followed by a four-fight preliminary card at 8 p.m. ET, all on ESPN and ESPN+. The five-fight main card begins at 10 p.m. ET and is available exclusively on ESPN+ pay-per-view.


(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings and Pound-for-Pound Rankings)

Alex Pereira (1, P4P-2) vs. Jiri Prochazka (2)

When these two first tussled, I confidently picked Alex Pereira because of the one-touch knockout potential and, wonder of wonders, I was correct even if he didn’t exactly flatten Jiri Prochazka. That was very much a “vibes” pick, as Jed Meshew would say, and so is this: Prochazka evens the score.

Pereira and Prochazka’s styles aren’t remotely alike and yet somehow they’re so evenly matched. I truly believe that if these two ran it back 100 times, neither guy would win a significant majority of the contests. Such is their level of striking and their potential to end any fight in a flash.

There are clear advantages Pereira has, which we saw play out in the first fight. Pereira took advantage of Prochazka’s poor leg kick defense and when he found an opening, he rifled in one of those KO punches that he’s famous for. But let’s not forget that Prochazka had his moments too. He’s a gifted striker capable of generating power from unconventional angles, so no one would have been surprised if the finishing sequence was reversed. They shouldn’t be surprised if it happens Saturday either.

You have to be a special kind of psycho to volunteer to step into a cage with Pereira more than once, but that’s exactly what Prochazka is and he’ll benefit from having faced “Poatan” once already. As reductive as it sounds, Prochazka has a stronger sense now of Pereira’s speed and power, and that familiarity could be what redeems him in the rematch.

In a game of inches, Prochazka makes it 1-1 with a knockout of his own.

Pick: Prochazka

Brian Ortega (5) vs. Diego Lopes (14)

There are some ugly shades of last week’s Kelvin Gastelum debacle in the Brian Ortega-Diego Lopes weight class switch, so I can understand why fans aren’t too pleased with Mr. Ortega right now. This situation feels less sinister because it sounds like Ortega might have attempted to make weight this week (emphasis on “might have”) but when his team realized he couldn’t, they reached out to Lopes’ team late Thursday evening to request a lightweight bout.

On the other hand, Ortega had to have known it would be difficult to hit 145 on short notice especially since he’d been gearing up for a potential lightweight move before getting the call to face Lopes. So they should have negotiated a different poundage then, not less than 48 hours before fight night. Bad look.

How this affects the fighters tonight is anyone’s guess, though it certainly can’t hurt Ortega and I can’t imagine it’s good for Lopes. Apparently Lopes was on schedule to make 145 before getting told around 3:30 a.m. he’d be competing at lightweight instead. So he could be a little drained, which is an issue when you’re facing an opponent who’s known for being extra dangerous in the third round.

Grappling-wise, Lopes is a match for Ortega on the ground, so much of this battle should come down to winning scrambles and holding positions. I like Lopes more on the feet from a technical standpoint, though Ortega has finishing power in his strikes.

Last week, I went with Gastelum, but only because that would have been my pick with or without the weight snafu. I’m sticking with that logic here as I was leaning Lopes for the original featherweight booking and don’t think the late change spoils his chances that much.

Pick: Lopes

Anthony Smith (13) vs. Roman Dolidze

Mutant matchup time!

That’s right, Jamahal Hill and Khalil Rountree were originally set for the UFC 303 co-main event until Rountree received a suspension for a positive drug test, then Carlos Ulberg was called in to fight Hill, but Hill withdrew due to a knee injury, then Anthony Smith stepped in to fight Ulberg, and then Ulberg bowed out with an injury. All of those matchups had title contender implications in the thin light heavyweight division.

The same can’t be said for the fight we ended up with, Smith vs. Roman Dolidze, though credit to Dolidze for stepping up here and doing so after competing at 185 pounds in his past two fights.

I’m fascinated by how Dolidze does back at 205 because he was actually undefeated in that weight class before making the drop, which was probably a wise move to avoid future matchups with much larger opponents. Unfortunately for the Georgian, we saw his ceiling at 185 as he lost to a couple of ranked fighters and now ends up back at light heavyweight anyway.

Smith isn’t particularly large for the division, though he should have the strength advantage here having made the weight class his home. He’ll look to grapple with Dolidze and wear him down early while looking for openings to land his own shots later. Stylistically, this fight is made for a finish, and I favor the more battle-tested Smith to beat Dolidze to the punch and become the first fighter to put him away inside the distance.

Pick: Smith

Mayra Bueno Silva (3, P4P-16) vs. Macy Chiasson (8)

Macy Chiasson is always this close to a breakthrough and she gets another opportunity to assert herself as a top contender when she fights Mayra Bueno Silva.

Ready for more storytime? Silva’s stock has fluctuated wildly over the past year as she won our hearts by ending Holly Holm’s reign of terror, then had that result erased when she popped for ADHD medication, then ended up getting a shot at the vacant bantamweight title anyway, and then put on an utterly forgettable performance in a loss to Raquel Pennington. Suffice to say, she’s not exactly an overwhelming favorite here despite the number next to her name.

Chiasson is so impressive at her best and women’s 135 is in such dire need of fresh blood that it’s easy to root for her. However, it’s been discouraging to see her struggle with the scale and lose fights to the upper echelon of the division, which is where Silva currently resides. She has the physical tools and experience now to get over the hump. She just has to prove it.

I’ve been fooled by Chiasson before, but I’m going out on a limb here and predicting that UFC 303 is the start of something big for her. Chiasson by decision.

Pick: Chiasson

Ian Machado Garry (8) vs. Michael Page (T13)

Brace yourselves. This fight might suck.

I realize that’s unkind, but this style matchup doesn’t scream barnburner to me. Ian Machado Garry and Michael Page are highly skilled and no stranger to knockouts, but they’re also smart and unlikely to force the action if there’s the slightest chance that it gives their opponent an edge. Like it or not, this is going to be a chess match.

Who blinks first? My guess is Page. The younger Garry projects to have more pep in his step and if it goes to the judges, he’ll get credit for the rare instances where he pushes forward and lets his hands go. Page has been involved in some gnarly split decisions in his day, so let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Nothing would be funnier than Page unleashing one of his highlight-reel techniques and making Garry go viral, but it’s a lot to ask for. So I have Garry winning a tepid three-rounder on the scorecards.

Pick: Garry

Preliminaries

Joe Pyfer def. Marc-Andre Barriault

Cub Swanson def. Andre Fili

Charles Jourdain def. Jean Silva

Payton Talbott def. Yanis Ghemmouri

Gillian Robertson (13) def. Michelle Waterson-Gomez

Martin Buday def. Andrei Arlovski

Carlos Hernandez def. Rei Tsuruya

Ricky Simon def. Vinicius Oliveira




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