Jeremy Stephens (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC on Fox 28 Preview and Predictions

On Saturday night, the UFC makes its way back to the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., for the third time. UFC on Fox 28 showcases a stacked card covering almost all of the promotion’s weight classes.

The headliner is a featherweight bout featuring top-10 contenders Josh Emmett and Jeremy Stephens. Emmett is coming off a first-round knockout win over Ricardo Lamas in December. The veteran Stephens scored a TKO victory over Doo Ho Choi last month. Both men are riding a two-fight winning streak, and the winner will be one step closer in the title hunt.

The co-main event features a women’s strawweight battle between second-ranked Jessica Andrade and fifth-ranked Tecia Torres. Andrade, a former title challenger, lost to then-champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk before coming back with a “Fight of the Night” victory over Claudia Gadelha in September. A win for Andrade will certainly give her a shot at new champion Rose Namajunas. Torres, on the other hand, has had few shots at top-of-the-division opponents, but her only loss was to Namajunas almost two years ago. Both ladies have a lot on the line in this contest.


The main card is rounded out by a light heavyweight showdown between Ovince Saint Preux and Ilir latifi and a welterweight battle between Mike Perry and Max Griffin. While there is a tremendous size difference between Saint Preux and Latifi, both men are known for dazzling finishes. Perry is quickly building a name for himself as a force to be reckoned with, while Griffin is currently 1-2 in the UFC and badly needs a win.

The UFC Fight Pass preliminary card begins at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, Feb. 24, followed by the Fox prelims and main card starting at 6 p.m. ET and 8 p.m. ET, respectively. Combat Press writers Dan Kuhl and Bryan Henderson get you ready for the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Josh Emmett shocked plenty of UFC fans with his knockout victory over perennial top-10 featherweight Ricardo Lamas in December. Can he pull off another big win when he meets Jeremy Stephens in the evening’s headliner?

Henderson: Where Lamas flashed consistency in his UFC tenure — his only prior losses came to top dogs José Aldo, Chad Mendes and Max Holloway — Stephens has a history of ups and downs. In fact, since his first UFC appearance a decade ago, “Lil’ Heathen” has never won more than three consecutive UFC fights. He’s a gatekeeper who has developed into a more solid threat in recent years, but he’s still not a guarantee to get in the cage and win on any given night.

Emmett has been steady thus far in his own 14-fight career. The Team Alpha Male product suffered his only loss to Des Green, but the defeat came at lightweight and Emmett has since moved down to the 145-pound weight class. He’s already scored wins over Felipe Arantes and the aforementioned Lamas since dropping in weight. While his win over Lamas came via a spectacular knockout, that isn’t Emmett’s usual route to victory. The up-and-comer has seen the scorecards eight times thus far in his career. He knows how to use his wrestling and striking to outpoint his opponents.

Stephens, who used to be touted for his knockout power, has only scored two finishes since the start of 2014. The veteran combatant has improved his game-planning in that time to allow him more success, but he still loses just as often as he wins. Emmett, a skilled former college wrestler, is more than capable of neutralizing Stephens en route to another judges’ nod. It won’t be as stunning as Emmett’s win over Lamas, but it’ll move Emmett further up the featherweight ladder all the same.

Kuhl: I’m going to have to go the other direction in this one.

Stephens may have a lot of miles on his chassis, but, at only 31 years old, he still hits very hard, and he still has a lot of time to put his 40-plus fights’ worth of experience to work in a run at the top.

Emmett missed weight in his last featherweight appearance, which is not good for only his second featherweight cut. There could be a stamina issue if he does come in on point. It’s true that Emmett is not exactly known for his knockout power, and when you combine that with the fact that he may have issues getting to 145 in the first place — and the fact that Stephens has a lot more experience than most fighters his age — if this one makes it the distance, which it very well could, Stephens takes it.

Jessica Andrade couldn’t beat Joanna Jędrzejczyk for the UFC women’s strawweight title, but she has defeated every other strawweight thrown her way, including Jessica Penne, Joanne Calderwood, Angela Hill and Claudia Gadelha. Her next opponent is longtime contender Tecia Torres, who is 1-1 against current champ Rose Namajunas but has never had a crack at the belt. Which fighter moves a step closer to a title bid?

Kuhl: Andrade is the clear favorite in this fight. Since dropping to strawweight, she is 4-1, and her only loss in the division was a five-round title fight. She came down from the bantamweight division, where she also had a winning record. She is a tough brawler with a nasty submission game, and the one area where she is constantly improving is her stand-up game, as she showcased in her win over Gadelha.

Torres is a former Invicta strawweight standout who has fared very well in the UFC. Her background is primarily in traditional striking arts, and she utilizes her kicks in nice combos to frustrate her opponents. However, while she did get her first career stoppage victory by submission over Juliana Lima last summer, she needs to be careful about closing the distance with the Brazilian. Andrade has a high takedown success rate, and with seven submissions and five knockouts, she is a finisher as well.

Torres is good at controlling distance with her striking, but Andrade is not going to let her stay on the outside. Torres is super tough and has a bright future in the division, but Andrade is a hard-pressing brawler who wants another shot at the title. I’m guessing she will be next in line after the Namajunas-Jędrzejczyk rematch.

Andrade by submission.

Henderson: Torres was on fire in Invicta before the UFC added its own women’s strawweight division. Not only did she notch a victory over future UFC champ Namajunas, but she topped the likes of future UFCers Paige VanZant and Felice Herrig as well. However, she seemed to hit a wall when she joined the cast of The Ultimate Fighter 20 and lost fights to Randa Markos and Carla Esparza. She’s performed much better in official UFC competition, where she lost to Namajunas but defeated the aforementioned Hill and Lima as well as Angela Magana, Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger, Bec Rawlings and Michelle Waterson. Still, many of these fights were close bouts that went the distance.

Andrade has been a beast since moving down to 115 pounds, and she definitely seems like the type of fighter who can press the action against Torres. This is a fighter who went the distance with Gadelha and Jędrzejczyk. Unless Torres finds a rhythm and outpoints the Brazilian, which is highly unlikely, this should be another close fight in which Andrade dictates the tone.

My colleague’s suggestion of a submission finish is a bit optimistic, however. Torres is a scrappy fighter who doesn’t tend to get finished — all of her losses have come by decision — and she’s skilled enough to avoid Andrade’s submission attempts. This will be a hard-fought affair that lasts the full three rounds, and Andrade takes the decision. I do agree with my fellow panelist’s suggestion that the Brazilian will be next in line for a title shot.

Marcin Prachnio and Manny Bermudez — do we need to know these names?

Henderson: This is a small, but rather impressive freshman class.

Let’s start with Bermudez. This guy has been destroying opponents for a while now — mid-2015, to be exact — in the Northeast regional scene. He’s somehow never been a titleholder under the Cage Titans or CES MMA banners, but he’s been a constant winner for both promotions. Much of his early career was spent at featherweight, where he topped the likes of Dan Dubuque, Rodrigo Almeida and Saul Almeida. He’s fought down at bantamweight for his last three appearances and scored victories over Tony Gravely, Bendy Casimir and Seth Basler. Eight of Bermudez’s 11 victories have come via first-round submission. He’s tacked on one knockout and two decision nods. So, yeah, let’s say he’s definitely a name to know.

The 29-year-old Prachnio is a little less known, at least on U.S. shores, but the Polish fighter has posted an impressive 13-2 mark since debuting in 2013. His two losses came early in his career, but he still lacks much in the way of notable opponents. However, Prachnio is a banger — he has 10 knockout victories, many coming in the first round — who has been paired up with Sam Alvey, a veteran UFC banger. Even if Prachnio doesn’t last in the UFC, his battle with Alvey could be a fun fight worthy of attention.

Kuhl: Bermudez is a killer submission specialist, and while he has fought at heavier classes, he will certainly be one to keep an eye on in the UFC at 135 pounds.

Prachino, on the other hand, is an absolute beast. The Polish fighter is big, mean, and has a very realistic chance of putting the hurt on Alvey in his UFC debut.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Kuhl: I love the fight between high-level grapplers Gilbert Burns and Olivier Aubin-Mercier. Burns is a second-degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Aubin-Mercier is a black belt in judo and a brown belt in BJJ. Both of these guys are sick submission artists. This means both of these guys are looking to showcase their striking, and, whether it goes to the ground or not, this one could end in a nice finish.

Henderson: This card actually has a lot of sleeper possibilities. Manny Bermudez’s Octagon debut is one to watch. Marcin Prachnio and Sam Alvey have the power to put on a complete firefight that ends in a big knockout. Burns and Aubin-Mercier could indeed deliver a great display of grappling. However, I’m still a sucker for a good flyweight pairing, so count me in on Eric Shelton and Alex Perez. Shelton was a surprise on The Ultimate Fighter 24, but he’s had a few setbacks since joining the official UFC roster. Perez made a successful UFC debut in his last fight, and the kid has some submission savvy of his own. This one could be fun.

Pair this card with…

Henderson: An HD antenna. Those of us who have cut the cord suffer most when it comes to live sports. This means a solid card that mostly airs on broadcast television is a welcomed change from the usual Fox Sports 1 fare that forces fans to either head to the local sports bar or seek out a shady online stream (which, of course, we’re not condoning here). So, for cord-cutting MMA fans out there, switch over to your HD antenna and enjoy eight free fights to close out the February UFC schedule.

Kuhl: It’s going to be time to cozy up, get warm, and enjoy an exciting night of fights. This late-February card screams hot chocolate, marshmallows, and, of course, peppermint schnapps to keep it loose. With a lot of commercial downtime, a good selection of snacks will also be in order.

Fight Picks

Fight Henderson’s Pick Kuhl’s Pick
Main Card (Fox, 8 p.m. ET)
FW: Jeremy Stephens vs. Josh Emmett Emmett Stephens
Women’s StrawW: Jessica Andrade vs. Tecia Torres Andrade Andrade
LHW: Ovince Saint Preux vs. Ilir Latifi Latifi Saint Preux
WW: Mike Perry vs. Max Griffin Perry Perry
Preliminary Card (Fox, 6 p.m. ET)
BW: Renan Barão vs. Brian Kelleher Barão Barão
Women’s BW: Sara McMann vs. Marion Reneau McMann McMann
Women’s StrawW: Maryna Moroz vs. Angela Hill Hill Moroz
WW: Alan Jouban vs. Ben Saunders Jouban Jouban
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 4 p.m. ET)
LW: Gilbert Burns vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier Burns Burns
LHW: Marcin Prachnio vs. Sam Alvey Prachnio Alvey
BW: Rani Yahya vs. Russell Doane Yahya Yahya
FlyW: Alex Perez vs. Eric Shelton Perez Perez
BW: Manny Bermudez vs. Albert Morales Bermudez Bermudez