The sophomore affair on UFC’s “Fight Island” comes just a few short days after the inaugural event.
The evening’s headliner is a clash between top-10 featherweights looking to vault themselves into title contention, as Massachusetts’ Calvin Kattar squares off against the Hawaiian-born Dan Ige. Kattar is coming off a remarkable second-round stoppage over Jeremy Stephens. Meanwhile Ige looks to add to his current six-fight winning streak with a victory in the five-round main event.
The co-headliner features a pair of flyweight veterans. The Ultimate Fighter 24 champion and former title challenger Tim Elliott tries to break a three-fight skid when he meets Ryan Benoit, who is coming off a split-decision loss to Alatang Heili in December. In a division always looking for the next contender, the winner of this fight could catapult up the rankings with an impressive performance.
The card also includes a pair of unbeaten fighters facing stiff competition. Lerone Murphy squares off against Ricardo Ramos in a featherweight clash, while Jack Shore takes on the streaking Aaron Phillips as the latter makes his Octagon debut.
The preliminary action gets underway at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN+, followed at 10 p.m. ET by the main card. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Dan Ige’s last loss came in his UFC debut, but he’s only managed split decisions in his two most recent victories. Will Ige’s good fortune run out when he meets Calvin Kattar in the evening’s headliner?
Petela: Ige’s most recent split-decision win over Edson Barboza in his last fight was controversial. Many viewers thought Barboza deserved the nod. It was also a tough measuring stick, because it was the first time fans saw Barboza cut down to 145 pounds. Prior to that affair, the biggest name on Ige’s resume was Mirsad Bektić, a quality opponent but not a fighter at the top tier in the featherweight division. Furthermore, this will be the first time Ige finds himself in a five-round fight. Suffice it to say that the step up in competition on top of the pressure and physical demands of a five-rounder point to this fight being a stumbling block for Ige.
This will also be the first time Kattar is in a five-round fight, though not the first time his name will be up on the marquee. He recently fought Zabit Magomedsharipov in the main event of the UFC’s last trip to Moscow, but because it was moved into the main-event slot on short notice, the fight was only scheduled for three rounds. Kattar made a good showing in that fight and was the far fresher man in the final round, putting the pressure on Magomedsharipov and clearly winning the frame by a large margin. He rode that momentum into his next bout against Jeremy Stephens at UFC 249, where he finished the veteran Alliance MMA product with a violent elbow in the second round. Kattar currently sits at sixth in the divisional rankings and is on track toward a title shot if he strings a couple more wins together. A decisive victory over Ige in a high-profile bout will give Kattar exactly what he needs to crack the top five and move one giant leap closer to a championship tilt.
Sumian: Ige and Kattar is a spectacular main event to highlight the first “Fight Night” on Fight Island. Both men have looked increasingly better over their last few UFC outings and continue to gain popularity with every visit to the Octagon.
This bout will take place mostly on the feet, where Kattar should hold the distinct striking and power advantage. Kattar has finished just over half of his opponents by some form of knockout, and his finish of Stephens was nothing short of impressive. Kattar averages 5.29 significant strikes per minute, but he also absorbs 6.46 significant strikes per minute. Thus, he takes a lot of damage in order to dish out damage, which has worked well for him thus far. Is that sustainable against the division’s best? We’ll see.
Ige is a top-10 featherweight in the making. The native Hawaiian, who is only 28 years old, is on a six-fight winning streak and boasts an extremely well-rounded fight game. Yes, his last fight against a very game and experienced Barboza had a controversial outcome, but it was also one of those fights that would have received criticism no matter who won. People are focusing on the decision instead of praising Ige’s ability to stand and battle with one of the most experienced and talented strikers that has ever graced the Octagon. Ige, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, has a very bright future. However, he won’t take the next step on July 15.
Kattar is the stronger, bigger and more experienced featherweight contender at this point in their respective careers. Ige’s best chance at winning this fight is to get it to the ground. This is unlikely due to the strength and size advantage he will give up. Kattar will blast his way to a decisive win on the scorecards and move into the top five.
This lineup has been devastated by positive tests for the coronavirus, but it still features a number of promising prospects, including two who still sport undefeated marks — Lerone Murphy and Jack Shore. Which of these men will post the most impressive performance on Wednesday night?
Sumian: Murphy is 8-0-1 as a pro and is one the most talented prospects coming out of England. He joined the promotion and made his UFC debut against the vastly more experienced Zubaira Turkhugov. The bout delivered a wildly entertaining back-and-forth affair that ended in a draw. Murphy recovered from being dropped in the first round and started to land clean strikes in the second round and beyond. His most noteworthy moment was a supreme straight-right/power-kick combo that visibly affected Turkhugov. Now, Murphy is fighting a very dangerous Ricard Ramos, who is 14-2 overall and 5-1 in the UFC. The company certainly has a lot of belief in the talented Brit to give him an opponent with such a resume, and Murphy will not disappoint them. He’ll get a first-round TKO of Ramos and begin his campaign in the UFC’s featherweight division.
Shore might have an even more impressive resume. The 25-year-old has already compiled a 12-0 record. The Wales native has finished 92 percent of his opponents via submission or knockout. He is extremely well rounded and is a taller bantamweight, standing at 5-foot-9 with a 71-inch reach. He made his UFC debut in September when he submitted Nohelin Hernandez. Shore will meet Aaron Phillips, who is making his UFC debut while riding a five-fight winning streak. Shore will put on a dominant performance and secure a lopsided unanimous decision over the UFC newcomer.
Petela: This fight card is actually not set up to have either man, Murphy or Shore, walk away with a perfect record intact.
Murphy is walking into a buzzsaw in Ramos in a fight more fans should be talking about leading into the showdown. Based on experience inside the UFC and the overall caliber of opponents through both men’s respective careers, it’s Ramos who will have his hand raised in that fight.
Shore has a more winnable fight against Phillips, but the debuting Louisiana native will take the win and bounce the Welsh fighter from the ranks of the unbeaten. The last time Phillips was defeated came due to an injury, and that fight was in 2015 against TUF veteran Chris Gutierrez, who is now 3-0 during his time inside the Octagon as he prepares to fight Luke Sanders on August 1.
All in all, this will be a tough night for the undefeated fighters.
Mounir Lazzez, Modestas Bukauskas and Andreas Michailidis — do we need to know these names?
Petela: Lazzez has just one pro loss and is one of the most highly touted welterweights to come out of the Middle East. His last three wins have all come by knockout, as have eight of his nine victories overall. He is poised to make a big splash in the UFC, but he has a daunting task ahead of him in his UFC debut. Abdul Razak Alhassan is as dangerous as they come, and he, like Lazzez, is a finisher. Alhassan has stopped every single one of his opponents by knockout or TKO in the first round. This fight will likely be another early knockout for Alhassan, but don’t let that make you think that Lazzez isn’t the real deal.
Bukauskas comes out of Cage Warriors, a promotion that has produced a number of high-level fighters, including Michael Bisping, Conor McGregor and Dan Hardy. The Lithuanian-born fighter has rattled off six wins in a row. He takes on fellow UFC newcomer Michailidis. Bukauskas is five years younger than his Greek foe and comes out of a higher-profile international promotion. He should have the advantage in this match-up, and he is the one to watch of these two debuting light heavyweights.
Sumian: Lazzez does have a very difficult debut opponent ahead of him. After what Alhassan did to Niko Price, it is hard to imagine the newcomer getting it done on July 15. Lazzez will get another chance, though, and a tamer opponent for his sophomore appearance.
Bukauskas, who holds a distinct size edge over Michailidis, will take this one by second-round finish. The 6-foot-3 Lithuanian moves surprisingly well. He is capable of powerful flurries and utilizes devastating elbows to batter his opponents until he gets the finish. The addition of Bukauskas to the light-heavyweight division is certainly welcome and the number of potential bouts for his next appearance will be intriguing.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Sumian: It must be Tim Elliott. He is awesome for being willing to fight so often, but the reality is that the No. 13-ranked UFC flyweight is winless through his three recent UFC bouts in a division that is pretty weak. If he loses convincingly to Ryan Benoit, then his time in the UFC might be up.
Petela: Agreed. It was a mild surprise when Elliott wasn’t cut after his most recent loss to Brandon Royval, but, in the unprecedented times we are living in, his willingness to fight has given him a longer leash. He desperately needs a win over Benoit, but he won’t find it.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: Ricardo Ramos and Lerone Murphy.
The 24-year-old Ramos is 5-1 in his six fights inside the UFC, with his lone setback coming against Said Nurmagomedov in early 2019. Since then, he has put together consecutive wins and now looks like he could be the future of the featherweight division.
Murphy fought to a draw against Zubaira Tukhugov in his UFC debut at UFC 242. He remains unbeaten through nine fights, with eight wins and a draw. The 28-year-old could be another rising star at 145 pounds.
The winner of this fight will be in position to climb toward the top 15, while the loser will take a step backward and have to prove themselves against lesser-known fighters for a little longer.
Sumian: Jimmie Rivera and Cody Stamann take the cake.
This fight was just recently announced, but it has the making of a fast-paced contest that will involve both men pushing each other for three straight rounds using their wrestling and powerful striking. Neither is known for being a consistent finisher, but their similar styles will cancel out and in turn lead to an all-out brawl.
Pair this card with…
Sumian: Gym shorts and a comfortable tee. This card comes a few days after possibly one of the most memorable events, UFC 251. While some may be “UFC’d out,” the hardcore fans will get home after work, unload into comfortable clothes, grab a quick dinner and whatever beer/drink is in the fridge, and watch a lineup that is made for MMA enthusiasts. This card has been hit top to bottom by positive COVID-19 tests and has a lot of names that are not going to be recognized by casual fans. However, those who make the commitment to watch the middle-of-the-week event will be rewarded by a number of awesome fights and memorable finishes.
Petela: Readers may recall that Wednesday night is pizza night in the Petela house, and once again that is the perfect pairing for this fight card. My advice is to try a local pizza place instead of a big chain restaurant. You’ll likely be pleasantly surprised, just as most fans will be pleasantly surprised with the quality of the fights we are in store for in this mid-week show.
Main Card (ESPN and ESPN+, 10 p.m. ET)
FW: Calvin Kattar vs. Dan Ige
FlyW: Tim Elliott vs. Ryan Benoit
FW Jimmie Rivera vs. Cody Stamann
Women’s FlyW: Molly McCann vs. Taila Santos
WW: Abdul Razak Alhassan vs. Mounir Lazzez
Preliminary Card (ESPN and ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)
MW: John Phillips vs. Khamzat Chimaev
FW: Ricardo Ramos vs. Lerone Murphy
LHW: Modestas Bukauskas vs. Andreas Michailidis
FW: Jared Gordon vs. Chris Fishgold
Women’s FlyW: Liana Jojua vs. Diana Belbiţă
BW: Aaron Phillips vs. Jack Shore
LHW: Jorge Gonzalez vs. Kenneth Bergh
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