After a thrilling night last week at UFC 295, the promotion keeps the show rolling with UFC Fight Night: Allen vs. Craig. The main event pits two middleweight title hopefuls against each other as they both look to climb towards the top of the division. Sitting at No. 10 and No. 13 in the division, respectively, Brendan Allen and Paul Craig are both one big win away from finding a single-digit number next to their names at 185 pounds.
Allen has won five straight contests, finishing four of those five by rear-naked choke. Should he get past a grizzled veteran like Craig to improve that streak to six consecutive wins, it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear him call for a rematch against current middleweight champion Sean Strickland, who defeated Allen just over three years ago.
Craig will be making his second straight walk down at middleweight after spending the bulk of his career at light heavyweight. After a TKO win over Andre Muniz in his last fight, defeating someone of Allen’s caliber would prove that Craig is someone to be feared in his new home division.
The co-main event is a showdown at welterweight by two fighters who still haven’t celebrated a 30th birthday. Jake Matthews has shared the cage with some high profile fighters over his career, including Kevin Lee, Diego Sanchez, and Sean Brady. Despite mixed results, Matthews remains a significant threat and is ever-improving as a mixed martial artist. Michael Morales is Matthews’ opponent this weekend and the undefeated prospect has the opportunity to improve to 16-0 as a professional fighter. Just 24 years old, Morales is jumping into the deep end this weekend against Matthews and a win would be a major statement for the up and comer.
UFC Fight Night: Allen vs. Craig airs live in its entirety on ESPN+ starting at 2 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Dan Kuhl and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Brendan Allen hasn’t lost since late 2021; can he extend his winning streak to six and defeat submission ace Paul Craig?
Kuhl: Not only is Brendan Allen on a five-fight winning streak, but in the last six years, he is 14-2, and his only two losses in that time were to Chris Curtis and current middleweight champ Sean Strickland. And, while his next opponent Paul Craig may be more well-known as a submission ace, Allen and Craig both hold 13 career wins by submission, and Allen won his last three UFC fights by rear-naked choke.
The fact is, these guys are very similar fighters, but everything Crag does, Allen does just a little bit better. And, in the striking department, Allen holds a clear upper-hand. In fact, while Craig has only been to decision once, as he lives and dies by the sword, Allen went the distance with some standout grapplers in BJJ black belt Kyle Daukaus and NCAA Division III All-American wrestler, and Judo brown belt, Punahele Soriano. Needless to say, he will more than be able to handle Craig’s outstanding grappling.
The biggest challenges Craig will bring to Allen are his experience, his previous light heavyweight career and the fact that he’s tough as nails. Craig’s strength of schedule is much more impressive than Allen’s. While this fight will be the Scotsman’s second bout as a middleweight, as a light heavyweight, he holds wins over former title contender Magomed Analaev and former champion Jamahal Hill. Since joining the UFC, he has earned eight performance bonuses to Allen’s two. He also has global experience, having fought in eight different countries. And, as previously mentioned, Craig has no intention of trying to take a fight the distance.
At the end of the day, fights start standing, and that’s where Allen will shine. Craig has made the move down to 185 pounds, and, despite his impressive middleweight debut TKO of Andre Muniz, we don’t really know how his body will respond to each weight cut. If he needs to heavily dehydrate to make weight, he will be more prone to a knockout, and I see Allen clipping him en route to a TKO victory before the midpoint of Round 2.
Petela: When it comes to any Paul Craig fight, I don’t bother checking the odds, because it seems like it’s always a toss-up on how it will play out. Either Craig will get his head blasted through the canvas and somehow miraculously recover to submit his opponent off of his back, or he will get his head blasted through the canvas and lose consciousness long enough for the referee to call a stop to the fight. I can’t honestly remember the last fight that Craig won that I didn’t, at some point in the fight, think he was surely going to get knocked out. His style is dangerous and borderline reckless, but it sure is fun for spectators.
Brendan Allen is a rising star, and I don’t think he’s all that far away from being a threat to the title at middleweight. He can really do it all – stand and trade with the best strikers, as well as out-wrestle and out-grapple elite submission artists. This one isn’t going the distance, and I don’t think we see another miraculous comeback from Craig in this one. Allen will hurt him badly on the feet and avoid letting “BearJew” work his magic on the ground. Once Craig is hurt, Allen will deliver a devastating follow-up shot that ends the fight in devastating fashion. Fighters at the top of the middleweight division are going to be a lot more hesitant to take on Brendan Allen after this performance.
Michael Morales has never been beaten in a mixed martial arts fight; how does he handle his toughest test to date in Jake Matthews?
Petela: Michael Morales looked good in his last fight, which was against veteran fighter Max Griffin. Not to besmirch Griffin, but, even in his absolute prime, he was never a true contender that people thought could make a run at the title. That’s not the case with Morales’ opponent this weekend. Jake Matthews has the potential to make a hard charge at title contention, and he’s only 29 years old. He is still getting better, and I think this will be the best version of Matthews that we have ever seen.
With that in mind, I think Matthews is going to be too much for Morales right now. The 24-year-old Morales is definitely the real deal and it’s more likely than not that he will have a single-digit ranking next to his name before too long. Morales is a dynamic striker, and he’s going to have some success forcing Matthews backwards with his lightning fast hands. However, Matthews has been in the cage against very talented fighters before, and he won’t be rattled by taking some shots early. Eventually, Matthews is going to get this fight where he wants it, and he will turn this into a grappling match with punches and be able to wear down Morales. An exhausted Morales will be less crisp with his striking in the second half of the fight, after fighting his way back to his feet, and he’ll leave himself vulnerable to a big counterpunch by Matthews that drops him and leads to the old-fashioned club-and-sub win for Matthews.
Kuhl: Ecuador’s Michael Morales came into the UFC through the Contender Series, and since he won a unanimous decision over Nikolay Veretennikov in front of the UFC boss, he has gone 3-0 in the Octagon, including two knockouts. He is very much one the newest breed of MMA fighters who are well-rounded and can win a fight anywhere. There is nothing he is truly just a specialist in, which makes him hard to plan for. On Saturday night, he faces UFC veteran Jake Matthews, a BJJ black belt who made his promotional debut in 2014, two months before he turned 20 years old. Will Morales have his toughest challenge yet, as Matt alludes to? I’m not quite sure.
Australia’s Matthews entered the UFC with a 7-0 record, but since then, he has gone 12-6 in the Octagon. And, 11 of his 18 UFC appearances happened in Australia or New Zealand, with another one in Singapore, so he has not had to travel very far from home for most of his career. Also, in the three times he has fought on U.S. soil, all of which were in Las Vegas, he has yet to win. Will this weekend’s bout in Salt Lake City be different? We have yet to see.
As my colleague noted, Matthews would like this fight to be on the ground. However, there is no evidence that Morales is insufficient there. As he also pointed out, Morales is a dynamic striker, and he has the clear advantage on the feet. Between the fact that Morales is more well-wounded, and that he has a seemingly black cloud over his head in U.S. fights, I am leaning toward Morales.
I think Morales comes out quick and slick, and he will be hard to take down. He will hold a one-inch height advantage and a seven-inch reach advantage. I believe he will use his young, strong frame to stuff repeated attempts and frustrate Matthews. In the exchanges, Morales will land countering strikes wearing his opponent down. I think Matthews can hang in for three rounds, but he will lose this one by decision.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Kuhl: Dennis Tiuliulin is coming in as a short-notice replacement to face England’s Christian Leroy Duncan. The Russian is only 1-3 in the Octagon, and all of those fights ended in a stoppage. He’s taking a big risk against Duncan, and, if he loses, he could get cut. The only thing that might save him is the fact that he took this one less than a week out.
Petela: Charles Johnson. If he comes up short against the debutant Rafael Estevam he will probably be looking for a new employment opportunity. This would be his third straight loss and, these days, it seems like the UFC is playing a catch-and-release game with fighters who stumble repeatedly without having any major success in the organization.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: Jonathan Pearce vs. Joanderson Brito. JSP is looking for his sixth straight win inside the UFC after dropping his debut to Joe Lauzon. He’s quickly become a hot prospect in the featherweight division and has another big opportunity this weekend against Brito. The Brazilian also has only one loss inside the UFC, and that too came in his debut. It’s almost a shame that these two are fighting this early in their careers, but, if they both continue to develop and grow as fighters, there could potentially be room for a rematch with much more at stake a few years down the road.
Kuhl: Chad Anheliger and Jose Johnson should put on a banger. Both men came out of the Contender Series with impressive pro records, but, in the UFC, Johnson is 0-1, and Anheliger is 1-1. Both guys need to put on an impressive performance, and this is the time to show up.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Kuhl: While Paul Craig holds the better record in terms of bonuses received, I believe Brendan Allen is going to put in a dominant TKO finish to earn himself some extra cash on Saturday night.
Petela: Chase Hooper. This is a good matchup for the 24-year-old as he takes on Jordan Leavitt. They both are good grapplers and have fun grappling styles so we should see some fun scrambles in this one. I expect Hooper to get the better of the ground action throughout, and, by becoming the second man to finish Leavitt, he puts an extra $50,000 in his pocket at the end of the night.
Pair this card with…
Petela: Sapporo Pure. I recently discovered this light beer and it’s definitely a beer that is on the rise and will eventually be a household name. That’s how I feel about a bunch of the fighters on this card. They are quickly making a name for themselves and this card will highlight their quickly rising skills and abilities.
Kuhl: Brendan Allen was born and raised in the South, trained at Roufusport in Wisconsin for a few years, and has been training in South Florida since 2020. What do all of these locations have in common? Fried food. There is no better way to celebrate his huge win than with some fried alligator bites. The meat is high in protein, the breading should be fatty and crispy, and a good dipping sauce will set off this wonderful finger food. Wash it down with some of Matt’s Sapporo Pure.
Main Card (ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET)
MW: Brendan Allen vs. Paul Craig
WW: Jake Matthews vs. Michael Morales
LW: Jordan Leavitt vs. Chase Hooper
BW: Payton Talbott vs. Nick Aguirre
Women’s StrawW: Amanda Ribas vs. Luana Pinheiro
WW: Uros Medic vs. Jonny Parsons
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 2 p.m. ET)
LW: Nikolas Motta vs. Trey Ogden
Women’s BW: Lucie Pudilova vs. Ailin Perez
HW: Mick Parkin vs. Caio Machado
FW: Jonathan Pearce vs. Joanderson Brito
BW: Chad Anheliger vs. Jose Johnson
FlyW: Charles Johnson vs. Rafael Estavam
FW: Lucas Alexander vs. Jeka Saragih
MW: Christian Leroy Duncan vs. Dennis Tiuliulin
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