Alistair Overeem (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC on ESPN 8 Preview and Predictions

It’s said that all good things come in threes, and the UFC decided to capitalize on this idea with its third card of the week coming to fans live from Jacksonville, Fla., at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena behind closed doors.

The main event is a heavyweight showdown between No. 8-ranked Alistair Overeem and No. 9-ranked Walt Harris. Both men will be fighting to cement their status in the division and get one step closer to the elusive top-five echelon. With it all but clear who is next for the heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, this fight is crucial for both competitors.

In the co-headliner, straweights collide when Angela Hill takes on Claudia Gadelha. Gadelha picked up some steam after her second loss to then-champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk, but the Brazilian has now alternated between wins and losses in her last four bouts, with her last fight ending in a decision nod over Randa Markos in July 2019. Hill looks to collect her fourth-straight win in just the last eight months.


The remainder of the card features several UFC veterans and some notable names. The main card includes showdowns between Edson Barboza and Dan Ige, Eryk Anders and Krzysztof Jotko, and Marlon Vera and Song Yadong. The preliminary card is headlined by the “Immortal” Matt Brown, who makes his 25th appearance inside the Octagon when he takes on Miguel Baeza.

The festivities get underway at 6 p.m. ET on both ESPN and ESPN+ with the preliminary card. This final piece of the eight-day trio of events continues with the main card at 9 p.m. ET, also on both ESPN and ESPN+. Combat Press writers Matt Quiggins and Dan Kuhl preview the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Walt Harris has decimated his last two opponents in under a minute each. Can he do the same thing to Alistair Overeem?

Kuhl: The short answer is no. I am in no way saying that Harris can’t beat Overeem, but just that he is not going to do so in under a minute against a guy who has 64 MMA fights, none of which have ended in a knockout loss in under a minute. In the almost six years since his lost to Ben Rothwell, Overeem has been knocked out once in a heavyweight title clash with Stipe Miocic, in back-to-back fights with Francis Ngannou and Curtis Blaydes, and then in his last loss to Jairzinho Rozenstruik, where his loss came purely due to a busted lip with four seconds left in a fight he was winning decisively. “The Demolition Man” has beaten eight other heavyweights in that time and has 40 finishes of his own throughout his storied career.

That being said, Harris has definitely been on a tear, with three knockouts and a split-decision win that was overturned after he popped positive for Ligandrol, which is a member of the controversial SARMs family of performance-enhancing drugs. His last two knockouts over Aleksei Oleinik and Sergey Spivak, while quick and impressive, were against opponents who are largely grapplers, which is a favorable match-up for Harris. He hasn’t really faced someone with as accomplished striking as Overeem.

The x-factor for Harris is the recent loss of his stepdaughter. In October, she went missing, which caused the cancellation of Harris’s November 1 battle with Overeem. Later that month, her body was discovered, and her murderer was caught and charged. Due to these tragic circumstances, Saturday will be the first time Harris has been in the Octagon since last July. Ten months is not exactly long enough to call out the potential for ring rust; we have seen many fighters out for that long with medical suspensions or straight-up injuries that perform better than ever upon their return to action. The question here is more about the pent-up aggression over the loss of a loved one and the desire in Harris to win in her name.

All factors considered, Harris has a good shot of winning. However, Overeem is also super pissed about the referee stopping his last fight with four seconds left, when he had a victory clean in the bag. Harris will come out of the gate hot and try to score a quick finish, but Overeem expects this and will take his time, picking his opponent apart and dragging the fight into deep waters, where he either scores a knockout or wins by points.

Quiggins: Agreed. After losing his title bid to Miocic, Overeem was able to rebound with wins over Mark Hunt and Fabricio Werdum before running into the scary power of Ngannou. Then, he suffered a third-round TKO loss to the aforementioned Blaydes. Again, Overeem was able to string together two wins before getting stopped by Rozenstruik. The Dutch kickboxer has something to prove more so than Harris does. Overeem isn’t getting any younger either — he turns 40 the day after this fight.

It’s unimaginable what Harris and his family have gone through in the last year, and it’s going to be a real test for him to channel all that grief into fighting focus, especially given the test in front of him. Harris will look to end this early, but Overeem will take the decision.

Angela Hill fights for the third time in 2020. Given the current circumstances, how impressive is that? Will a win over Claudia Gadelha put her into title contention?

Quiggins: It’s incredibly impressive! To put it into perspective, one of the most active fighters in UFC history, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, has fought three time since September 2019. This will be Hill’s fourth fight in the same amount of time. Hill has shown that her skill set keeps evolving and that she is really ready to fight anytime, anywhere, and against anyone.

Gadelha currently sits in the top 10 of the women’s strawweight rankings and has lost bouts to three of the women ranked above her. Those title losses really changed who she is as a fighter, and that alone will be a huge factor in this bout.

Hill will add a fourth win in a row to her resume.

Kuhl: Is three fights in four and a half months impressive? I guess. A lot of people will take a lot of fights, though, and most people want to fight more often than they get the chance to compete. Sam Alvey has been doing this for his entire career. However, Hill beating Gadelha? We’re getting ahead of ourselves there.

Hill had a win over Ariane Carnelossi in the Brazilian’s UFC debut. While Carnelossi was 12-1 at the time, she had mostly fought people with little-to-no experience and three opponents with losing records. Hill then beat Hannah Cifers and Loma Lookboonmee, neither of whom have really done anything significant yet in the sport.

Gadelha, on the other hand, has fought in the Octagon a total of 10 times. The past title contender has lost to former strawweight champs Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Jessica Andrade, as well as Nina Ansaroff, all by decision. Meanwhile, she has earned three performance-bonus accolades. Prior to the UFC, the Brazilian had picked up wins over the likes of highly decorated Japanese competitor Ayaka Hamasaki, future Invicta champ Herica Tiburcio, and UFC and Bellator veteran Valérie Létourneau.

Records aside, Hill’s wheelhouse is in the striking department. Most of her fights go the distance, and she has shown to be vulnerable on the ground. While Gadelha has gone to a decision in more than half of her fights as well, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt has been able to score seven submission wins and two knockouts while never having been stopped. Whether we talk about experience or skill set, I just don’t see this one going well for Hill.

While both fighters have about the same amount of total bouts and Hill is constantly improving, Gadelha has a lot more professional experience. It’s difficult to imagine her dropping this one. Instead, Gadelha takes it by submission.

Rodrigo Nascimento — do we need to know this name?

Kuhl: You better get to know his name, because Nascimento is only 27 years old and will likely be around for a while. The big man, who trains out of American Top Team, is undefeated coming into his official UFC debut against Don’Tale Mayes. After going 6-0 in his native Brazil, Nascimento first fought on American soil on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series in July, when he handed Michal Martinek his first loss in front of the boss. Mayes won a Contender Series outing in July as well, but he came up short against Cyril Gane in October. Nascimento could begin his ascent up the heavyweight ranks with a win over Mayes.

Quiggins: For sure. The heavyweight division has always been one of the shallower divisions in the UFC. Just look at two of the top-five guys in the division right now. Heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic? He’s 37. Daniel Cormier? 41. It’s not to say anything negative about these fighters at all, but a new wave is making its home in the heavyweight division. Francis Ngannou is 33, and Curtis Blaydes is only 29. Nascimento is even younger, and he is a heavyweight fighter with submission skills, which is always a necessary tool to have. Nascimento will weather an early storm from Mayes, take him down and get the submission inside of the second round.

What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?

Quiggins: I would normally have said Darren Elkins, but his fighting style makes him a candidate to get the Dan Hardy or Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone treatment when it comes to a four-fight skid. That leaves Cortney Casey, who hasn’t fought since February 2019 and has lost three of her last four contests, albeit there were two split-decision losses in there. Without a dominant and exciting performance, Casey could be on her way out.

Kuhl: I’m actually going with Elkins. It’s one thing to have losses to current champ Alexander Volkanovski and the mystical Ryan Hall. You also cannot discount a loss to Ricardo Lamas. Those are the three opponents that make up Elkins’ current skid. Yet, in a packed division, a loss to Nate Landwehr, who is a champ outside of the UFC but only 0-1 in the promotion, would not look great. That would put Elkins at 0-for-4. We have seen people bounced for less.

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

Kuhl: Darren Elkins and Nate Landwehr. Many mainstream fans still do not know who Landwehr is, but he is a former M-1 Challenge featherweight champion out of Clarksville, Tenn., who can finish the fight just about anywhere it goes. This pairing against a gritty veteran like Elkins, who went from a six-fight winning streak to a three-fight skid, is a recipe for excitement. Landwehr dropped his UFC debut to hot prospect Herbert Burns in January, so he will be looking for a big win against Elkins. Elkins needs a win to maintain any relevance now that he is in the midst of the longest losing streak of his career. Get ready for a barn-burner.

Quiggins: Marlon Vera and Song Yadong. Vera will be on the hunt for his sixth win — and sixth finish — in a row. After back-to-back losses, he came back a changed man and will do almost anything he can to get the stoppage. If his last five fights are any indication, Vera should end this one with a submission. If it weren’t for an illegal knee in his last bout, Yadong would also be looking for his sixth-straight UFC win. This one could possibly steal the show, unless Elkins and Landwehr do it first.

Pair this card with…

Quiggins: Rest and relaxation. When the final bell rings on May 16, fans will have seen a total of 33 UFC fights in a matter of eight days. That’s a hell of a lot to process. So if you can, grab an Islamorada Sandbar Sunday and order a cheese pizza. Keep it simple.

Kuhl: It’s a Saturday night, and fighters are representing countries all over the world across six weight classes. This sounds like a great time to set up a course of international fondues. Go with a spicy queso-style fondue, served with breads and fruits, for the early fights. Transition to a red wine and beef-broth fondue with surf, turf, and mixed veggies for the entree. Then, finish the night off with a decadent chocolate-amaretto dipping sauce for the main and co-main events, because these are indulgent match-ups. Let’s get fat and happy for an enjoyable night of fights.

Fight Picks

Fight Kuhl’s Pick Quiggins’s Pick
Main Card (ESPN and ESPN+, 9 p.m. ET)
HW: Alistair Overeem vs. Walt Harris Overeem Overeem
Women’s StrawW: Claudia Gadelha vs. Angela Hill Gadelha Hill
FW: Edson Barboza vs. Dan Ige Barboza Ige
MW: Eryk Anders vs. Krzysztof Jotko Anders Anders
Marlon Vera vs. Song Yadong Vera Vera
Preliminary Card (ESPN and ESPN+, 6 p.m. ET)
WW: Matt Brown vs. Miguel Baeza Baeza Brown
MW: Kevin Holland vs. Anthony Hernandez Holland Holland
FW: Giga Chikadze vs. Mike Davis Chikadze Davis
Women’s FlyW: Cortney Casey vs. Mara Romero Borella Casey Casey
FW: Darren Elkins vs. Nate Landwehr Landwehr Elkins
HW: Don’Tale Mayes vs. Rodrigo Nascimento Nascimento Nascimento