Germaine de Randamie (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC on ESPN+ 13 Preview and Predictions

On Saturday, July 13, the UFC touches down in Sacramento, Calif., for its latest offering, UFC on ESPN+ 13. The show is headlined by a pair of women’s bantamweight fighters with title aspirations.

Germaine de Randamie steps back into the cage eight months after her last performance, a unanimous decision victory over former title challenger Raquel Pennington. Fresh off inking a new six-fight deal with the UFC, “The Iron Lady” will fight at 135 pounds for the second time since winning the inaugural women’s 145-pound championship, a belt she would ultimately have stripped from her due to her refusal to take on Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino.

De Randamie squares off against the undefeated Aspen Ladd, who returns to action less than two months after a second career victory over Sijara Eubanks. Ladd, 24, is an up-and-comer looking to march her way toward a title shot. In addition to her pair of wins over Eubanks, Ladd has also proven superior in fights against Lina Länsberg and former Invicta FC titleholder Tonya Evinger.


The co-main event is sure to have the arena rocking. Urijah Faber, Sacramento’s favorite son, from retirement in a three-round fight against Ricky Simón. Faber announced his retirement in late 2016 after defeating Brad Pickett in Sacramento. Now, he tries to find some of that hometown magic and put an end to Simón’s eight-fight winning streak. Meanwhile, Simón attempts to bolster his resume by adding a legend to the litany of fighters he has defeated.

Other members of Faber’s Team Alpha Male — all featherweights — will make their way to the Octagon in Sacramento. Josh Emmett takes on Mirsad Bektic, Andre Fili squares off against Sheymon Moraes, and Darren Elkins meets leg-lock specialist Ryan Hall.

The event airs exclusively on ESPN+, with the action kicking off from inside the Golden 1 Center at 5 p.m. ET with seven preliminary bouts. The main card follows at 8 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Matt Petela preview the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Will Aspen Ladd get past Germaine de Randamie and move one step further up the women’s bantamweight ladder? If she beats de Randamie, how close is Ladd to a title shot?

Huntemann: I guess we’re just going to ignore the elephant in the room? This fight is a main event on a UFC card, which really provides no better proof of just how watered down the product is and how there are entirely too many fight cards nowadays. But hey, ESPN needs to fill the time somehow.

If Ladd were to defeat de Randamie, then she should be the top contender at bantamweight. Ladd is undefeated and has already beaten some notable names in her UFC career, including a former champion in Tonya Evinger and someone who was supposed to fight for a UFC title in Sijara Eubanks. Ladd is tenacious and seems to improve with each fight. If she beats a former champion — yes, the women’s featherweight title counts, even though de Randamie never actually defended it while ducking Cyborg like few fighters have ever ducked a fight before — then it should merit a title shot.

However, the fact that Ladd and de Randamie are fighting for a probable title shot also speaks to how shallow the women’s bantamweight division is at the moment. No disrespect to either of them, but does anyone think either Ladd or de Randamie have any shot whatsoever at dethroning Amanda Nunes, especially after the Brazilian’s performance at UFC 239 and her previous finish of de Randamie? If you ask me, Nunes has cleaned out both the women’s bantamweight and featherweight divisions.

Petela: I’m not sure the bantamweight division lacks depth, but rather that Nunes is in a league all her own. This just makes the rest of the division look lackluster. This match-up should determine the next challenger for the Brazilian’s bantamweight strap, but neither lady will give the champion a tough test.

Ladd has indeed looked better and better each time she steps into the Octagon. This is her toughest test to date. While de Randamie’s legacy is tarnished forever in my eyes since she openly refused to face Cyborg, she proved she is still a high-caliber fighter when she defeated Raquel Pennington. De Randamie will prove to be too much, too soon for Ladd. We’re looking at a rematch between Nunes and de Randamie, unless “The Iron Lady” backs out of another fight she knows she can’t win.

Urijah Faber is set to end his retirement after two-plus years outside the cage. Can the legendary former WEC champion find a win over Ricky Simón?

Petela: Well, this is a head-scratcher. The two and a half year layoff for Faber, combined with him looking to have lost a step in his last few fights, does not instill confidence in how close to a prime “California Kid” we will see this weekend.

Simón has fought eight times since Faber’s retirement. He has gone 3-0 with the UFC. Simón was on his way to losing his promotional debut against Merab Dvalishvili until securing a mounted guillotine near the end of the third round and winning by a very controversial technical submission when the referee determined that Dvalishvili had lost consciousness despite having been kicking his legs all the way through the final bell. The official did not immediately wave the fight off, leaving fans and the announcers to believe the contest was in the hands of the judges.

Simón’s other two UFC wins came against Montel Jackson and Rani Yahya. Jackson was making his UFC debut on only 11 days’ notice, and Yahya is essentially a one-trick pony with one incredibly impressive trick. Yahya wasn’t able to get the fight to the mat, where he could have used his world-class jiu-jitsu skills, and Simón outstruck him over the duration of their fight.

This contest comes down to how much Faber has left in the tank and how much of a step up in competition this fight will be for Simón. Ultimately, my pessimism gets the best of me. I can’t see Faber getting his hand raised at home in Sacramento.

Huntemann: All those outside business interests that Faber shamelessly promoted must not be generating as much revenue as he hoped for, or else maybe Team Alpha Male is in worse shape financially than we thought. Why else would he return? This is why you should always be skeptical when a fighter announces that they are retiring. More often than not, they will come back out of a need to make money, or else they’re just no good at being retired. They should come to talk to me; I’m an expert at knowing how to do nothing.

But I digress. This fight is a huge opportunity for Simón. Even though Faber’s best days are clearly behind him, he is still a marquee name that would look great on Simón’s resume. Simón is a young, talented and pretty well-rounded fighter.

We will see a proverbial passing of the torch here, as Faber will show he should have stayed retired and Simón gets a big name to bolster his profile as he seeks to break into the top 10 in a quickly filling bantamweight division.

Wellington Turman, John Allan Arte and Brianna Van Buren — do we need to know these names?

Huntemann: I’m a big fan of anyone with the name Wellington, because it takes a lot of balls to walk around with a name like that and not get mercilessly made fun of. Turman gets a tough test for his UFC debut, as his opponent has already faced guys like Glover Teixeira, Jack Marshman and Ryan Spann. However, Turman notched a submission win in his last fight that got him called up to the UFC, and he will do the same here for a noteworthy debut.

Petela: None of the newcomers making their promotional debut in Sacramento will become mainstays within the organization. Arte is taking his fight against Mike Rodriguez on short notice after Gian Villante was forced to withdraw; Turman is going up against Karl Roberson, who looked great against Glover Teixeira before getting submitted; and Brianna Van Buren is largely untested, with the only recognizable name on her resume being Kailan Curran, who struggled mightily during her UFC tenure. The experience of fighting under the bright lights is something all three newbies will be able to carry with them throughout their respective careers, but the upside is not very high.

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

Petela: Julianna Peña and Nicco Montaño.

Both of these women won their respective seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, but they have been out of action for quite some time. Peña last fought in January 2017, while Montaño closed out the same year with a December outing.

Peña took time off after being submitted by Valentina Shevchenko and became a mother to her first child. She had built up steam in the bantamweight division by notching wins over Cat Zingano and Jessica Eye before being derailed by Shevchenko.

Montaño’s circumstances for being away from the cage have been far less joyous than those of her adversary. After a victory over Roxanne Modafferi for the inaugural women’s flyweight title, Montaño was slated to take on the aforementioned Shevchenko, but adverse effects of her weight cut forced her out of the fight. She was subsequently stripped of her belt. Less than two months after surrendering the title, she failed a drug test. She was ultimately suspended for only six months because the USADA concluded the failed test was due to a contaminated supplement.

This fight should be a good reintroduction to action for both women and could mark the beginning of a run toward the title for the winner.

Huntemann: Whenever Darren Elkins is listed on a UFC fight card, you have to pay attention. He is a cult favorite among fans, even with that horrible chest tattoo of his nickname, “The Damage.”

Even though Elkins has lost two fights in a row to tough competition in Ricardo Lamas and Alex Volkanovski, his comeback win against Mirsad Bektic at UFC 209 is still fresh in the minds of many people. Elkins comes to fight and should be a decidedly tougher challenge for Ryan Hall than two fighters who were clearly washed up in B.J. Penn and Gray Maynard.

Pair this card with…

Huntemann: There are some mildly intriguing fights on this card, even though the placement of the main event is still such a head-scratcher. I’m usually good at answering this question, but I’m drawing a blank right now. I guess you guys should just keep your smartphones handy, because you will likely find yourself scrolling through it quite a bit during this event.

Petela: This card will surprise many people and deliver high-caliber fights despite not having that many marquee names. So, let’s pair this card with Sam Adams Boston Lager, a beer that I consider to be one of the most underrated beers in the world.

Fight Picks

Fight Huntemann’s Pick Petela’s Pick
Main Card (ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET)
Women’s BW: Germaine de Randamie vs. Aspen Ladd Ladd de Randamie
BW: Urijah Faber vs. Ricky Simón Simón Simón
FW: Josh Emmett vs. Mirsad Bektic Emmett Emmett
MW: Karl Roberson vs. Wellington Turman Turman Roberson
MW: Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira vs. Marvin Vettori Ferreira Ferreira
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET)
LHW: John Allan Arte vs. Mike Rodriguez Rodriguez Rodriguez
FW: Andre Fili vs. Sheymon Moraes Fili Fili
Women’s BW: Julianna Peña vs. Nicco Montaño Peña Pena
FW: Darren Elkins vs. Ryan Hall Elkins Hall
BW: Pingyuan Liu vs. Jonathan Martinez Martinez Liu
Women’s StrawW: Livia Renata Souza vs. Brianna Van Buren Souza Souza
BW: Benito Lopez vs. Vince Morales Lopez Morales