Jorge Masvidal (Rob Tatum/Combat Press)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC on ESPN+ 5 Preview and Predictions

The UFC travels across the pond this weekend when the Octagon touches down in London and the O2 Arena. The main event is a clash between top-10 welterweights Darren Till and Jorge Masvidal.

Till is coming off a title loss to former champion Tyron Woodley. It was the first professional loss of his career. Meanwhile, Masvidal is on a two-fight skid after suffering losses to Demian Maia and Stephen Thompson. Masvidal’s fight with Thompson had much more action than Till’s fight with the “Wonderboy,” as the Brit respected Thompson’s sneaky karate style and striking power. Both fighters like to move forward and separate their opponent’s head from his body.

The co-headliner is another welterweight fight, continuing what seems to be a trend of the UFC featuring the division over the past several events. Gunnar Nelson takes on Leon Edwards in “Rocky’s” home country. Edwards would like to extend his current winning streak to seven. Nelson bounced back from a TKO loss to Santiago Ponzinibbio and submitted Alex Oliveira in his most recent fight after slicing Oliveira’s face open with vicious elbows. For these contenders, it could come down to who controls where the fight takes place. Edwards is the superior striker, whereas Nelson has the advantage on the mat.


The event also has an important bout in the light heavyweight division, where Volkan Oezdemir squares off against undefeated Dominick Reyes. This fight is Oezdemir’s attempt to show that he still belongs near the top of the rankings at 205 pounds. Reyes is out to take another giant step toward a shot at the title and reigning champion Jon Jones.

The event kicks off on ESPN+ at 1 p.m. ET with the preliminary card. The action continues on ESPN+ for the main card at 4 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Matt Petela preview the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

The top two fights in the lineup feature welterweight contenders. In the headliner, it’s Darren Till against Jorge Masvidal. In the co-main slot, Gunnar Nelson clashes with Leon Edwards. Which two fighters post impressive performances and emerge with the victories?

Huntemann: Both Till and Edwards will enjoy some home cooking and emerge victorious in their backyard.

Even though he was choked out by former UFC champion Tyron Woodley in his last fight, Till is still undeniably a hard-hitting 170-pounder. Even though Masvidal has shortcomings on the ground, it’s pretty much a given that the grizzled veteran will not look to take the fight to the mat. Masvidal has developed an affinity for stand-up battles, which unfortunately hasn’t worked in his favor lately — he is coming off two straight losses. Till fought for a title before he was truly ready, but that experience will make him a better fighter. He’ll fight smarter going forward, and he will outwork Masvidal to take home a convincing decision win.

Edwards’ ascension up the welterweight ranks will continue as well. He has already fought and defeated some of the toughest guys around, including Donald Cerrone, Bryan Barberena and Vicente Luque. Nelson is extremely skilled on the ground, as evidenced by his last three submission wins. If Nelson can take Edwards down, it will be a long day for the Brit. However, it’s more likely that Edwards uses his striking and range to keep Nelson at bay and will know to stuff takedowns. Edwards will outstrike and outpoint his opponent for a win.

Petela: I only agree with my colleague on one of these fights. Edwards will come away with a win over Nelson. In somewhat of a striker-vs.-grappler match-up, this fight doesn’t strike me as one that will have fans on the edge of their seats. Edwards will spend most of his time attempting to thwart Nelson’s takedown attempts. If he gets an opportunity to stand and bang, though, then the Brit should have a clear advantage. By the third round, Nelson will be exhausted from trying to bring the fight to the mat. Then, Edwards will be able to pick Nelson apart late in the fight to secure a decision victory.

Now, for the fight where my colleague and I differ. I believe Masvidal will actually play the ultimate spoiler and give Till his second consecutive loss inside the UFC. I don’t take much stock in “Gamebred” dropping his fight against Maia, and the fight against “Wonderboy” was far more entertaining than the contest between Till and Thompson. Till has the ability to crack Masvidal and end the fight quickly, but it has been over a decade since Masvidal was knocked out for the first and only time in his career. Masvidal’s durability against the striking prowess of Till should provide for quite the scrap. Neither man has a ton of five-round experience — Till’s only five-round fight was against the aforementioned Wonderboy, and Masvidal only has two five-rounders in his career. Masvidal will use his wealth of experience to outlast the “Gorilla” in a “Fight of the Night” contender.

Also on the main card, Dominick Reyes gets his biggest test yet when he takes on Volkan Oezdemir. Will Reyes score another big win?

Petela: Reyes is undefeated and has steadily seen the level of his competition rise as he has amassed a 4-0 record in the UFC. He has all the skills to beat the top contenders at light heavyweight, but he won’t get the job done this weekend against Oezdemir.

“No Time” is coming off two losses, first to Daniel Cormier for the light heavyweight belt and then to the most recent title challenger, Anthony Smith, via submission. With his back against the wall, Oezdemir will come into this contest ready to make the point that he is not a gatekeeper but rather a title threat at 205 pounds.

Reyes has a smooth flow to his strikes, whereas Oezdemir puts world-rocking power into his punches. This should be a fun fight to watch, but Oezdemir’s power will be the difference and will bring an end to the night in favor of the Swiss fighter. It certainly won’t be the last we see of Reyes, but it’s not quite his time yet.

Huntemann: There is quite a bit of buzz surrounding Reyes, and it appears to be well deserved. The undefeated upstart is coming off a big win over former title contender Ovince St. Preux. He won the fight by decision, but his previous six fights ended in a finish. The UFC’s light heavyweight division is in dire need of some fresh blood, and Reyes seems to fit the criteria perfectly.

Oezdemir is a tough match-up, but the Swiss fighter appears to be well on his way to the sunny shores of Gatekeeperville. This fight should be a good litmus test to see if it’s time to start taking Reyes seriously as a potential title contender. If Reyes beats a former title challenger like Oezdemir, then he’ll have passed the test with flying colors. The dynamic Reyes will pull off a convincing win.

Nick Negumereanu and Mike Grundy — do we need to know these names?

Huntemann: Besides having a last name that’s both impossible to pronounce and spell, Negumereanu has collected all nine of his wins via finish. The records of all his previous opponents don’t exactly inspire confidence — one guy held a 12-41 career record; how does that even happen? — and this is a big step up from competing on the regional circuit in Romania. However, Negumereanu’s debut on the big stage will work out quite well in his favor.

Petela: Grundy is on an eight-fight winning streak on the regional scene. For his Octagon debut, he gets a match-up with fellow Brit Nad Narimani. Grundy is a skilled fighter with eight victories by submission. He could be part of some exciting fights in the featherweight division, but it’s going to be a long, bumpy road for him to try to get his name mentioned among the elite fighters at 145 pounds.

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

Petela: Mark Diakiese and Joe Duffy.

Diakiese is on a three-fight skid, which means he could face a pink slip with another loss. Duffy, on the other hand, hasn’t fought in over a year. In his last fight, Duffy was knocked out by James Vick. These are two fighters who will be hungry for a win and looking to prove that they belong in the UFC. This has all the makings for a fight full of fireworks.

Huntemann: Curses! I was going to pick that fight. Diakiese and Duffy is a perfect match-up of two guys who perfectly fit the description of “What Could Have Been.” But I digress.

The preliminary bout between Tom Breese and Ian Heinisch should be a fun battle as well. Breese is coming off a first-round knockout of sentimental favorite Dan Kelly in his last fight and has only lost once in his UFC career (and overall). Heinisich’s background is truly extraordinary — seriously, read this guy’s story — and he also only has one blemish on his resume.

A highlight finish for either guy in this fight could make for quite the coming-out party.

Pair this card with…

Huntemann: Since this card falls on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, I recommend pairing it with going stone cold sober. Shocking, I know. MMA and alcohol go together like peanut butter and jelly, or like the Diaz brothers and a marijuana dispensary. But it’s important to pace yourself, folks! While saving your energy for the Sunday Funday of St. Paddy’s Day may not be the most exciting of choices, I promise you will hate yourself less come Monday morning.

Petela: That’s solid advice, but I’ll be making a full weekend of the festivities. For a card in London with a number of British fighters, I’ll be doing my part to support the home team with some London Pride ale. Nothing makes me feel worse than seeing a fighter take an L in front of their home crowd. I’ll pace myself a little bit, knowing St. Patrick’s Day is the next day, but my superstition of drinking a local beer in the spirit of the local fighters lives on.

Fight Picks

Fight Huntemann’s Pick Petela’s Pick
Main Card (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)
WW: Darren Till vs. Jorge Masvidal Till Masvidal
WW: Leon Edwards vs. Gunnar Nelson Edwards Edwards
LHW: Volkan Oezdemir vs. Dominick Reyes Reyes Oezdemir
BW: Nathaniel Wood vs. Jose Alberto Quiñones Wood Wood
WW: Danny Roberts vs. Claudio Silva Silva Roberts
MW: Jack Marshman vs. John Phillips Phillips Marshman
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 1 p.m. ET)
FW: Arnold Allen vs. Jordan Rinaldi Allen Allen
LW: Marc Diakiese vs. Joe Duffy Duffy Duffy
LHW: Saparbeg Safarov vs. Nick Negumereanu Negumereanu Safarov
MW: Tom Breese vs. Ian Heinisch Heinisch Heinisch
FW: Dan Ige vs. Danny Henry Ige Ige
Women’s FlyW: Priscila Cachoeira vs. Molly McCann Cachoeira McCann
FW: Nad Narimani vs. Mike Grundy Grundy Grundy