UFC 294 predictions: Early ‘Prelims’ undercard preview | Islam vs. Volkanovski 2
The patchwork mess that is UFC 294 staggers into Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, this Saturday evening (Oct. 21, 2023) for the first of two massive pay-per-view (PPV) events in a three-week span. The main event sees Featherweight kingpin, Alexander Volkanovski, step in on just 11 days notice to rematch Lightweight kingpin, Islam Makhachev, while former Welterweight roost-ruler, Kamaru Usman, likewise answers the call on short notice to battle the returning Khamzat Chimaev.
UFC 294 features a hefty eight “Prelims” undercard bouts this time around, but perhaps because of the early afternoon start time (2 p.m. ET), they’re all on ESPN+ instead of being split among places like Fight Pass and ESPN. Nevertheless, check out the first four below:
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC
155 lbs.: Mike Breeden vs. Anshul Jubli
Though he managed to last the distance on a severely compromised leg, Mike Breeden (10-6) ultimately fell short in his Contender Series clash with Anthony Romero. He picked up a pair of wins on the local circuit before making a short-notice UFC debut in 2021, resulting in the first of what’s now three consecutive losses in the Octagon.
Eight of his professional wins have come via knockout.
Anshul Jubli (7-0) edged out Kyung Pyo Kim to claim a spot in the “Road to UFC” finals. There, he took on Indonesian knockout artist Jeka Saragih, ultimately finishing him with ground-and-pound midway through the second.
“King of Lions” gives up an inch of reach despite standing two inches taller than Breeden.
I’m a lot more torn on this than I’d expect from a fight with a -400 favorite. Yes, Breeden’s lost three straight and been absolutely obliterated in two of them, but Alex Hernandez, Natan Levy, and Terrence McKinney are all levels above Jubli. Jubli barely got past Kim in Road to UFC and was having issues with Saragih on the feet before taking over with his wrestling, and though Breeden did give up nine takedowns to Levy, he also took over that fight in the third round.
I think that’s where I’m at: Breeden snowballs late in fights unless you can blow him out in the opening minutes, which Jubli lacks the means to do. Jubli will control things for a while with his jab and takedowns, but once he starts to slow down, my gut says Breeden can hunt him down and batter his way to an upset.
Prediction: Breeden via third round technical knockout
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
135 lbs.: Nathaniel Wood vs. Muhammad Naimov
A 1-2 skid prompted Nathaniel Wood (20-5) to move from Bantamweight — where “The Prospect” had spent virtually his entire career — to Featherweight. The move paid dividends, as he’s won three straight to up his UFC record to 7-2.
He’s knocked out seven professional opponents and submitted another six.
Things went from bad to worse for Muhammad Naimov (9-2) when he followed his unsuccessful Contender Series bid with a decision loss to Olivier Murad. “Hillman” bounced back with three straight wins, then scored a massive upset in his short-notice UFC debut by smashing Jamie Mullarkey to earn “Performance of the Night.”
He’ll enjoy three inches of height and one inch of reach on Wood.
As with most of Wood’s fights, he’ll win as long as he avoids any lapses. Naimov is a heavy hitter, but he generally either starts so aggressively that he’s gassed after a round or paces himself to the point where he barely punches. Wood’s usual blend of technically sound kickboxing and sneaky takedowns should work a treat.
Wood is, however, still very easy to hurt. It wouldn’t be all that surprising to see a repeat of Naimov’s fight with Mullarkey, where “Hillman” dropped the first round and was on his way to losing the second before smoking Mullarkey with a perfect counter right. Wood minds his P’s and Q’s better than Mullarkey, though, so I trust his slickness and wrestling to win the day.
Prediction: Wood via unanimous decision
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
115 lbs.: Viktoriia Dudakova vs. Jinh Yu Frey
Viktoriia Dudakova (7-0) grappled her way to an upset decision victory over Maria Silva on the Contender Series. She ultimately made her UFC debut 11 months later, defeating Istela Nunes via stoppage after Nunes injured her arm defending a takedown.
She’s ended six of seven fights inside the distance, four of them via submission.
An winless (0-2) UFC start gave way to two straight wins for Jinh Yu Frey (11-9), tying her longest win streak since 2016. It wasn’t to last, as she subsequently dropped three straight to Vanessa Demopoulos, Polyana Viana and Elise Reed.
She faces two-inch disadvantages in height and reach.
With all due respect to Frey, this shouldn’t be particularly difficult for Dudakova; she’s bigger, younger, and a sufficiently strong grappler to exploit Frey’s weak bottom game. Frey does have the better hands, but between Dudakova’s wrestling and Frey’s tendency to throw fights away through passivity, odds are Dudakova won’t be in too much danger between takedown attempts.
Even if you treat the Demopoulos fight as a win, Frey’s only UFC victories came against deeply flawed fighters with weak wrestling. Dudakova, though a bit one-note herself, has the right tools to punish Frey’s longstanding weaknesses. She grinds her way to a comfortable decision win.
Prediction: Dudakova via unanimous decision
Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC
185 lbs.: Shara Magomedov vs. Bruno Silva
Shara Magomedov (11-0) racked up four wins on the Chinese circuit before returning to Russia, where he thrived in organizations like AMC Fight Nights and RCC. His four-fight 2022 saw “Bullet” score three knockouts and, at one point, win two bouts in the span of eight days.
Seven of his 10 knockouts have come in the first round.
Bruno Silva (23-9) bounced back from back-to-back losses with a first-round wipeout of Brad Tavares to earn his third “Performance of the Night” bonus. The hits kept coming, though, as )“Blindado” succumbed to Brendan Allen’s rear-naked choke just two months later.
He sports 20 knockout wins of his own.
Silva’s durability is the lynchpin of his success. When he can’t just club opponents into submission right off the bat, he relies on outlasting them until his ugly haymakers start finding the mark. The two knockdowns he’s suffered in his last three fights suggest that his eponymous “Armor” is starting to crack, and considering he’d have a nightmare of a time with “Bullet” even at his best, that’s more than a little worrying.
Magomedov is far too fast and fluid for Silva to handle when both men are fresh and Silva no longer has the chin to drag him into deep waters. Even if he did, the hard three-rounder Magomedov fought in Dec. 2022 suggests that he can hold his own in the later rounds. He won’t have to, though, because he will flatten Silva in the opening minutes.
Prediction: Magomedov via first round technical knockout
Four more UFC 294 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including a Bantamweight banger pitting Javid Basharat against Victor Henry. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
LIVE! Watch UFC 294 PPV On ESPN+ Here!
MASSIVE ’SUPER’ FIGHT REMATCH! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) makes its highly anticipated return to Sydney, Australia, for the first time in five years on Sat., Sept. 9, 2023, with a 185-pound world title fight inside Qudos Bank Arena. In the ESPN+-streamed pay-per-view (PPV) main event, Middleweight roost-ruler, Israel Adesanya, plans to silence No. 5-seeded contender, Sean Strickland. In UFC 293’s hard-hitting Heavyweight co-main event, No-6-ranked fan favorite, Tai Tuivasa, locks horns with towering Russian, Alexander Volkov (No. 8).
Don’t miss a single second of EPIC face-punching action!
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 294 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. ET, before the pay-per-view (PPV) main card start time at 10 p.m. ET (also on ESPN+).
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