The UFC always matches the best fighters at the best moments for the best possible outcome should either fighter win. This Fight Night is no different in the matchup of Brazilian juggernaut Thiago Santos wanting to hammer the nail that is Russian brute Magomed Ankalaev.
The Apex Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, has a tendency to produce Fight of the Year contenders, and this weekend sees fighters capable of ‘bringing the heat’.
Check out all the picks below, including in depth analysis into the main and co-main event.
Sunday 13 March
Betting supplied by Hollywoodbets
Main Event – Thiago Santos 37/10 vs Magomed Ankalaev 2/13 (Light Heavyweight)
In all honesty, after Jon Jones vacated the light heavyweight title, a true champ has yet to be established. Every fighter in the division has been found scrambling for the opportunity to get their chance at glory. Thiago Santos forged out a path to face the former undisputed champ but fell short, while longstanding light heavyweight competitor Magomed Ankalaev lost his first UFC appearance, but never gave up, grinding out a seven-fight win streak in three years. Let’s dig a little deeper into this potential title eliminator…
When you think about Santos (22-9) it has to be all about the sledgehammer power. Explosive and dangerous, yes, but surprisingly athletic, Thiago’s transition from the middleweight to light heavyweight division foreshadowed success. When stepping on the scales, he looked a healthier and happier version of himself. The performances were testament of the presumptions with three straight victories all by way of knockout.
His debut in the division was a third-round stoppage of Eryk Anders earning him Fight of the Night, followed by a round two finish of Jimi Manuwa with a Performance of the Night, and finally, his biggest win over Jan Blachowicz which earned him a shot at challenging Jon Jones for the title.
Since his rise to the top, facing the cream of the crop has not fared well with three straight losses to Jon Jones, Glover Teixeira and Aleksandar Rakic. More recently, he found himself in a matchup against another Brazilian prospect in Johnny Walker. Nobody expected the fight to go all the way to decision, but a new and improved Santos showed composure and calculation, earning his first win in two years.
The longest active win streak (7) in the UFC’s light heavyweight division belongs to Magomed Anakalaev (16-1). Quietly going under the radar, Anakalaev has defeated some of the lesser stars but undoubtedly put in the work deserving of bigger opportunities.
When he stepped into the UFC in March of 2018 to make his debut, the “BearJew” that is Paul Craig wrapped him up in a triangle with seconds to spare and spat him out. To be fair, the Russian dominated the fight, and had he shown better awareness, particularly to the clock, he would have still had a ‘0’ next to his 16 wins.
Nevertheless, Magomed picked himself up and dusted off the head of Marcin Prachnio’s shoulders with a devastating head kick to bounce right back into the win column. 2018 and 2019 saw much more convincing wins, but 2020 saw his name really capture some headlines when he squared off against Ion Cutelaba. A controversial TKO in favour of Ankalaev left fans and fighters bewildered and left nothing else but a rematch to take place with a lot of anticipation.
This time, Cutelaba was properly disposed of in destructive fashion leaving no question as to who the better fighter is. The Dagestani fighter then slowly went about his business climbing the ranks with unanimous decision victories over Nikita Krylov and Volkan Oezdemir.
Verdict: Ankalaev (2/13)
In the blue corner Magomed Ankalaev is calculated and measured, however, does have tendencies in getting caught up in a fire fight. Generally, he is out striking people while he circles until he has the right footing to attack or counter attacking on the back foot to great success. Being a southpaw, Magomed will have the option to use his kicks from range to the body of orthodox Thiago Santos. Santos might be seen as just a brute with raw power but has shown his ability against the best of the best, and now under American Top Team, is a more refined version of himself. The best Ankalaev gets is a victory via decision.
Co-main – Marlon Moraes 37/20 vs Song Yadong 37/100 (Bantamweight)
The co-main event sees a bantamweight matchup between No.10 ranked Marlon Moraes looking to get back to winning ways against No.14 ranked Chinese fighter, Song Yadong. In the red corner, the former title challenger is in desperate need of a victory, while Yadong has bounced back emphatically.
Marlon Moraes (23-9-1) has been through the mill despite being only 33 years old. A success in the World Series of Fighting, which feels like a decade ago, Moraes was dominant with clean technique and slick footwork defending his title five times before carrying over his hype into the UFC. A warm welcome split decision loss to Raphael Assuncao meant a rocky start, and life didn’t get any easier when his second fight was also judged split decision, fortunately in his favour over John Dodson. Moraes then settled in, unequivocally dispatching of current bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling with a solid knee, followed by a head kick to get rid of Jimmie Rivera in round one, and then a redemption matchup defeating Assuncao via submission to earn his chance at the title.
Enter Henry “CCC” Cejudo, someone everyone in the bantamweight division wanted to beat, and Moraes had his chance but failed like many others. This spelled a downward spiral for Moraes despite picking up another split decision victory shortly after against a legend like Jose Aldo, and now Marlon has lost three straight fights by KO to Cory Sandhagen, Rob Font and Merab Dvalishvili.
Chinese fighters in the UFC continue to impress, and among them, Song Yadong’s (18-6-1) rise to the top has been one of the standouts. A debut to remember in Shanghai, China with a big overhand right landing followed by a standing guillotine to end the night the trajectory for Yadong could only be onwards and upwards. Wins over Felipe Arantes, Vince Morales, and Alejandro Perez meant Cody Stamann was on the agenda. Unfortunately, an illegal knee in round one led to a point deduction for the Yadong with the fight being judged a majority draw. He then picked up a big win and Fight of the Night performance in a unanimous decision victory over Marlon Vera but failed to dispatch of Kyler Phillips earning the first blemish on his UFC record. A quick bounce back against Casey Kenney and Julio Arce means he gets his first co-main event.
Verdict: Yadong (37/100)
I have gone back and forth so often on my prediction for this fight, as both fighters possess excellent technique in striking ability alongside a well-rounded grappling and jiujitsu game. The department where I feel one fighter can edge it is in the ability to take a punch and Song Yadong takes that all day. Marlon Moraes has great footwork and ability to avoid and engage so quickly, but when the exchanges do happen Moraes gets the short end of the stick. Back the Chinese fighter to finish the fight.
Fight of the Night
The opening fight of UFC Fight Night 203 has a big hitter, in Alex Pereira, that is gunning for Israel Adesanya’s name, and rightfully so, followed by all out action to the co and main event with names like Drew Dober, Khalil Rountree Jr. and Super Sodiq Yusuff. The preliminary card is bound to produce in the smaller octagon at the UFC Apex Arena, but no fight will live up to the stylistic matchup of Marlon Moraes and Song Yadong. Quick technical bantamweights that have the ability to knock each other out in spectacular fashion, oh, and added motivation from either corner.
Full card predictions
Main Card: 02:00 CAT, Sunday 13 March
Light Heavyweight Thiago Santos (37/10) vs. Magomed Ankalaev (2/13): Ankalaev
Bantamweight Marlon Moraes (37/20) vs. Song Yadong (37/100): Yadong
Featherweight Sodiq Yusuff (38/100) vs. Alex Caceres (18/10): Yusuff
Light Heavyweight Khalil Rountree Jr. (97/100) vs. Karl Roberson (15/20): Rountree
Lightweight Drew Dober (51/100) vs. Terrance McKinney (27/20): McKinney
Middleweight Alex Pereira (57/100) vs. Bruno Silva (27/20): Pereira
Prelims: 23:00 CAT, Saturday 12 March
Welterweight Matthew Semelsberger (4/10) vs. AJ Fletcher (17/10): Fletcher
Flyweight (W) JJ Aldrich (1/1) vs. Gillian Robertson (72/100): Robertson
Bantamweight Trevin Jones (23/20) vs. Javid Basharat (63/100): Basharat
Featherweight Damon Jackson (17/20) vs. Kamuela Kirk (17/20): Kirk
Flyweight (W) Sabina Mazo (n/a) vs. Miranda Maverick (n/a): Maverick
Middleweight Dalcha Lungiambula (15/20) vs. Cody Brundage (97/100): Lungiambula
Bantamweight Guido Cannetti (23/20) vs. Kris Moutinho (62/100): Moutinho
Light Heavyweight Tafon Nchukwi (14/10) vs. Azamat Murzakanov (5/10): Nchukwi
Previewed by Joshua Gaillard