The women’s Featherweight title makes a rare appearance this Saturday (June 6, 2020) when double champ Amanda Nunes squares off with Canadian submission artist Felicia Spencer in the main event of UFC 250, live from the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada. Ten pounds south, Cody Garbrandt and Raphael Assuncao look to rebound from their recent struggles at each others’ expenses, Aljamain Sterling throws down with Cory Sandhagen to determine the division’s next title challenger, and Sean O’Malley looks for another dominant performance against veteran Eddie Wineland.
UFC 250 features four “Prelims” undercard bouts on ESPN/ESPN+ (check out the early “Prelims” match ups here), which will set the stage for that pay-per-view (PPV) main card. Here’s what’s in store on the worldwide leader of sports:
145 lbs.: Alex Caceres vs. Chase Hooper
It’s been six years since Alex Caceres (15-12) capped off a five-fight unbeaten streak with a submission of Sergio Pettis, and the man they call “Bruce Leeroy” now finds himself 3-4 in his last seven. He does enter the cage on a win, though, having taken a narrow decision over Steven Peterson last July.
He’ll give up two inches of height and reach to Chase Hooper (9-0-1).
A gutsy decision win on the Contender Series earned the then-18-year-old Hooper a developmental contract, which brought him to the Octagon after a submission of Luis Gomez in Titan FC. He wasted no time in his December debut, pounding out Daniel Teymur for his fifth first-round finish.
He has submitted four professional opponents and knocked out another three.
Hooper still has a lot of work to do before he’s ready to challenge even mid-tier UFC Featherweights, but this is a favorable stylistic match up if I’ve ever seen one. Caceres has never been a big hitter, meaning Hooper’s shoddy striking defense isn’t a major issue, and if Caceres’ fight with Kron Gracie is anything to go by, even Hooper’s substandard wrestling should be sufficient to get it to the mat.
As slick as Caceres’ jiu-jitsu can be, we’ve seen him struggle with superior grappling technicians too many times to trust his ability to hold his own here. Whether by takedown or guard pull, Hooper gets him to the ground in the early going and rains down GNP until the ref intervenes.
Prediction: Hooper via first-round technical knockout
185 lbs.: Ian Heinisch vs. Gerald Meerschaert
“Hurricane” Ian Heinisch (13-3) burst onto the Middleweight scene with a destructive finish on the Contender Series and a pair of solid Octagon victories over Cezar “Mutante” and Antonio Carlos Junior. He failed to keep up the momentum, dropping consecutive decisions to Derek Brunson and Omari Akhmedov in his most recent efforts.
He is the shorter of the two by two inches and gives up nearly a half-foot of reach.
A 4-1 Octagon start gave way to two straight losses for Gerald Meerschaert (31-12), who tapped to a Jack Hermansson guillotine before losing a narrow decision to Kevin Holland. He has since won two of three, the loss a questionable one to Eryk Anders.
Twenty nine of his professional wins — including all of them since 2013 — have come inside the distance.
It’s become clear that Heinisch struggles when the easy takedown isn’t there, as his striking still relies more on aggression than technique. That’s a serious issue against Meerschaert, who’s both a menace on the mat and coming into his own as a withering volume striker. It’s hard to see a clear path to victory for Heinisch besides an uncharacteristically conservative “lay and pray” approach.
One thing going in “The Hurricane’s” favor is that Meerschaert is far less elusive than Brunson or Akhmedov. Indeed, “GM3” is there to be hit and Heinisch can absolutely thump. That said, Meerschaert’s shrugged off everything short of a Thiago Santos carpet bombing in the past, so it’s unlikely Heinisch can dent that chin. Meerschaert takes over the stand up with high output before punishing an ill-advised shot in the second.
Prediction: Meerschaert via second-round submission
145 lbs.: Cody Stamann vs. Brian Kelleher
After defeating Terrion Ware in his Octagon debut, Cody Stamann (18-2-1) upset top prospect Tom Duquesnoy and took a decision over veteran Bryan Caraway before running afoul of Aljamain Sterling. He bounced back with a win over Alejandro Perez, but had to settle for a draw against another elite up-and-comer in Song Yadong.
Six of his eight professional stoppage wins have come by submission
Brain Kelleher (21-10) picked up two “Performance of the Night” bonuses in his 3-1 Octagon start, only to suffer stoppage losses to John Lineker and Montel Jackson. Though he missed all of 2019 with injury, he’s made the most of his 2020, finishing prospects Ode Osbourne and Hunter Azure (watch it) in bonus-winning efforts.
He takes this fight on less than one month’s turnaround.
Kelleher’s success against Azure should give him confidence against another strong wrestler, but this looks to be a significantly taller task. Stamann is far more seasoned than Azure, has comfortably stood up to heavy hitters in the past, and can take care of himself on the feet. Kelleher won’t be able to grit his way to victory, especially since Stamann’s successful takedowns against a grappling powerhouse in Aljamain Sterling suggest that he can drag Kelleher to the mat whenever things get hairy.
Though “Boom” is never out of a fight and is unlikely to get stopped, Stamann’s grappling edge and experience against aggressive striking look to be decisive. Stamann cruises to a comfortable victory.
Prediction: Stamann via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Charles Byrd vs. Maki Pitolo
Charles Byrd’s (10-6) two “Contender Series” submissions brought him to the Octagon, where he choked out Welsh knockout artist John Phillips for his fourth consecutive finish. He’s yet to repeat that success, suffering knockout losses to Darren Stewart and Edmen Shahbazyan in consecutive bouts.
“Kid Dynamite” will have a one-inch reach advantage.
Maki Pitolo’s (12-5) “Coconut Bombz” felled Justin Sumter on the “Contender Series,” setting up an Oct. 2019 debut opposite Callan Potter in the latter’s native Australia. Pitolo struggled with the smaller man’s striking and wrestling en route to a submission defeat, after which a failed weight cut scrapped a matchup with Takeshi Sato.
Half of his professional wins have come by form of knockout.
It feels mean to call this a clash of disappointments, but I definitely expected a lot more out of these two. That said, Pitolo’s struggles are more damning — Byrd was comfortably beating Stewart before getting clipped and Shahbazyan has proven to be a blue chip prospect. Pitolo, meanwhile, got dominated by a smaller and technically inferior foe essentially from bell to bell.
Byrd looks to be the more versatile of the two and Potter showed that threatening takedowns can stifle Pitolo’s potent boxing. A mix of long-distance potshots and regular level changes carry Byrd to a comfortable victory.
Prediction: Byrd via unanimous decision
The women’s G.O.A.T. and three top-notch Bantamweight tussles make for a quality evening. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 250 fight card on fight night, starting with the ESPN+/Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN+/ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.