Thursday, August 18, 2022

UFC 277 Predictions: Expert Picks By The MMA News Staff

UFC 277 is closing in, and we’ve got our staff predictions ready to get you even more hyped up for one of the biggest rematches in UFC history!

Of course, that rematch will be the UFC women’s bantamweight championship bout between champion Julianna Peña and the firm consensus WMMA GOAT, Amanda Nunes. The co-main event will be another rematch, the interim flyweight championship bout between Brandon Moreno and Kai Kara-France.

The remainder of the main card is also not lacking in must-see scraps. “The Black Beast” Derrick Lewis is never one to be missed, as the KO king is always one bomb away from sleeping his opponent. The #11-ranked Sergei Pavlovich will surely have a different ending in mind for the sole heavyweight bout on the main card.

Additionally, top-10 flyweights Alexandre Pantoja (#4) and Alex Perez (#6) will also be going at it. And the main-card action kicks off with a light heavyweight scrap that could carry major title implications when top-5 contenders Magomed Ankalaev (#4) faces Anthony “Lionheart” Smith (#5).

The UFC 277 takes place this Saturday, July 30, 2022. The main card will be available exclusively on ESPN+ pay-per-view and begins at 10:00 PM ET. The ABC/ESPN preliminary card kicks off at 8:00 PM. The early ESPN+ preliminary card starts at 6:00 PM. The event will take place from the American Airlines Arena in Dallas, Texas.

Staff Predictions for UFC 277: Peña vs. Nunes

MMA News is the place to be for all the latest UFC 277 updates. Harvey Leonard, Andrew Starc, and Drew Beaupré have provided their picks for you below.

Here is the full main card for UFC 277: Peña vs. Nunes

  • UFC Women’s Bantamweight: Julianna Peña (c) vs. Amanda Nunes
  • UFC Interim Flyweight Championship Bout: Brandon Moreno vs. Kai Kara-France
  • Heavyweight: Derrick Lewis vs. Sergei Pavlovich
  • Flyweight: Alexandre Pantoja vs. Alex Perez
  • Light Heavyweight: Anthony Smith vs. Magomed Ankalaev

Magomed Ankalaev vs. Anthony Smith

Magomed Ankalaev, Anthony Smith
Magomed Ankalaev, Anthony Smith (Image Credit: Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Harvey Leonard: So far in his UFC run, we’ve not seen any weaknesses in Ankalaev’s game — barring some complacency against Paul Craig, which you wouldn’t expect him to repeat. And though he’s tended to rely on his technical striking more, by all accounts, he’s got a wrestling game worthy of his Dagestani origin.

With that in mind, it’s hard to see where Smith can excel in this fight. Beyond pure heart and grit, “Lionheart” will likely be outworked in all departments. As well as not being as sharp and technical on the feet, Smith has also struggled in the past when put on his back. Whether by repeating his Oezdemir performance on the feet or putting his wrestling game on display, I expect Ankalaev to throw his name into title contention. Smith needs a dogfight, but I can’t see him getting one. (Prediction: Magomed Ankalaev)

Andrew Starc: Having torn through almost every opponent he’s faced in the UFC, Magomed Ankalaev was truly tested during his last outing against Thiago Santos in March. That was his eighth consecutive win since losing via submission in literally the last second of his UFC debut against Paul Craig in 2018. 

Anthony Smith, veteran of 52 fights, is on a streak of his own, having won his last three including his first-round submission of Ryan Spann in September last year. I think Ankalaev will be tested once again against Smith, but ultimately his phenomenal wrestling and powerful technical striking will see him get the win. (Prediction: Magomed Ankalaev)

Drew Beaupré: I’ll be the first one to admit that I had completely forgotten Anthony Smith has actually won his last 3 fights, even if the best name during that stretch was Jimmy Crute and the win was due to a leg injury. A victory here could put “Lionheart” right back in the light heavyweight title picture, but Magomed Ankalaev will almost certainly be positioned for a title shot if he wins.

That being said, the 30-year-old could definitely benefit from doing something impressive to help make people forget how lackluster his win over Thiago Santos was. Smith has continually proven that he can make fighters pay for underestimating him, but I’ll go with Ankalaev to extend his lengthy winning streak. (Prediction: Magomed Ankalaev)

Consensus: 3-0 Ankalaev

Alexandre Pantoja vs. Alex Perez

Alexandre Pantoja, Alex Perez

Harvey Leonard: While we look set for some flyweight violence in the co-main event, we may well get just as much in this one. Pantoja is a BJJ specialist, but he isn’t afraid to strike, and against a 125lber with genuine KO power in Perez, this one could be explosive for as long as it’s on the feet.

I’d expect Perez to push the pace and force the action, perhaps to segue into his takedowns, which will come easier if he can get the Brazilian throwing off his back foot. In what looks to be a tight matchup, the result may well come down to the third round, which usually sees the fresher fighter taking over. While “gas out” might be a strong term, Pantoja certainly fatigues early when pushed at a high pace. I’d back Perez’s tank to have more in it come the final frame, especially if he puts “The Cannibal” on his back. (Prediction: Alex Perez)

Andrew Starc: With KO power and submission skills, Alexandra Pantoja is the flyweight division’s dark horse. He’s won his last two, having most recently defeated Brandon Royval via rear-naked choke in August last year. 

Alex Perez, meanwhile, hasn’t been seen in the Octagon since he was choked out by Deiveson Figeiredo in their November 2020 title bout. I think it’s too long between innings for Perez and predict Pantoja will get a submission win. (Prediction: Alexandre Pantoja)

Drew Beaupré: Two flyweight fights on a PPV main card is a rare treat, even if the UFC presumably included this bout to have a backup fighter for the interim flyweight title fight. This will be Perez’s first fight in nearly 2 years after a failed bid for the flyweight title against Deiveson Figueiredo in 2020, while Pantoja has long been one of the UFC’s top flyweights without ever challenging for the title.

Figueiredo will already have his next fight booked once the dust settles between Brandon Moreno and Kai Kara-France, but I think Pantoja gets it done here and puts himself on the short list for a flyweight title shot after the belts are unified. (Prediction: Alexandre Pantoja)

Consensus: 2-1 Pantoja

Derrick Lewis vs. Sergei Pavlovich

Derrick Lewis and Sergei Pavlovich
Derrick Lewis, Sergei Pavlovich

Harvey Leonard: When Lewis said he was targeting fun fights and fun fights only, he meant it. After the Tuivasa loss, he’s set to face another heavy hitter in what could be a similar fight; I fear both in terms of action and outcome for “The Black Beast.”

The Russian can be wild in exchanges, often squaring up and leaving his open to counters — it feels strange to say that and not back Lewis — but with a speed advantage and lengthy reach edge, I’d expect Pavlovich to use range well to land at a high volume, while Lewis throws little and heavy. As long as he doesn’t get drawn into constant phone-booth brawl, Pavlovich should win this, perhaps in a similar but messier fashion than Gane did. (Prediction: Sergei Pavlovich)

Andrew Starc: Having lost two of his last three, including his interim title bout with Cyril Gane, I think Derrick Lewis will enter the Octagon with something to prove against Sergei Pavlovich. While Lewis has been taking on the heavyweight division’s best, Pavlovich has been racking up wins against those far further down in the rankings.

The last (and first) time the 30-year-old Russian faced a top-ten opponent was way back in 2018, losing via first-round TKO to Alistaire Overeem. Yes, Pavlovich has improved since then, but he’s going in against the man who holds the UFC record for most knockouts. I predict a TKO win for Lewis. (Prediction: Derrick Lewis) 

Drew Beaupré: This feels like a classic Derrick Lewis matchup where “The Black Beast” might struggle for a considerable part of the bout before ending things with one huge shot. Lewis admittedly hasn’t had a ton of experience with fighting off rising prospects during his time as a top UFC heavyweight.

Tai Tuivasa announced himself as a legit contender when he stopped Lewis in their last fight, and there’s no doubt Sergei Pavlovich will be looking to do the same in this matchup. Pavlovich returned from a considerable layoff earlier this year and stopped Shamil Adburakhimov for his third win in a row, but I think the 30-year-old will have to wait a little bit longer to crack the UFC’s heavyweight Top 10. (Prediction: Derrick Lewis)

Consensus: 2-1 Lewis

Brandon Moreno vs. Kai Kara-France

Kai Kara-France, Brandon Moreno
Kai Kara-France, Brandon Moreno

Harvey Leonard: This is probably the closest to a coin flip on the card. Whichever way it goes, it’s going to be a dogfight. The question is, how much of one? Their previous meeting was exciting, but a case of measured violence, which benefitted the technical and polished striking of Moreno.

If Kara-France is to win this, he needs to make it more chaotic. A technical boxing match won’t favor him, but a brawl could. Though “Don’t Blink” did hurt the Mexican early in their 2019 clash, Moreno pushed through that, as he did through knockdowns against arguably the hardest hitter in the division in Figueiredo. With that said, I’d back Moreno’s always-improving striking over Kara-France finishing the former champ for the first time. (Prediction: Brandon Moreno)

Andrew Starc: Since his decision loss to Brandon Moreno in 2019, New Zealand’s Kai Kara France has resurrected his flyweight title hopes. In his last bout, Kara-France defeated Askar Askarov, a man many thought a likely future champ, handing him the first loss of his career. That win was preceded by first-round knockouts of Rogerio Bontorin and Cody Garbrandt.

Moreno, of course, has spent the last two years fighting one man—Deiveson Figueiredo—winning the title last year, before losing it in January. That razor-thin defeat was his first in eight fights, and I think he’s going to bounce back with a win against Kara-France. (Prediction: Brandon Moreno)

Drew Beaupré: Whatever your opinion may be on the UFC’s choice to book an interim title fight at flyweight, this matchup is one that fans can get excited about. Moreno took a unanimous decision in their 2019 meeting, but I think the developments Kara-France has shown since then could make this a very different fight.

Moreno has improved a lot in that time as well, but he’s also gone more than 10 rounds with the division’s hardest hitter in Deiveson Figueiredo. I wasn’t opposed to the idea of a fourth fight between Moreno and Figueiredo, but I think Kara-France will spoil the prospect of that for the time being and claim the UFC’s interim flyweight belt. (Prediction: Kai Kara-France)

Consensus: 2-1 Moreno

Julianna Peña vs. Amanda Nunes

Amanda Nunes, Julianna Peña

Harvey Leonard: If Nunes truly is at her best, I don’t think a first-round finish is out of the equation. But against my expectations, Peña weathered the storm last December, and I think she could do it again. As well as a level of strength and wrestling that will cause Nunes problems, Peña’s striking — her jab, in particular — looked massively improved last time out. If she can push a pace that forces a high output, both on the feet and during grappling exchanges, we’ll likely see Nunes fatigue again, leading to a very familiar culmination.

The champ does leave the kind of openings with her slips and movement that should allow a patient and fresh Nunes to connect on the feet, where she’ll want to keep things. Last time out, the Brazilian gassed out after grappling early, which she’ll do her best to avoid this time round. But that hesitancy should see Peña take up the opportunity to force her wrestling pedigree onto the “Lioness.” (Prediction: Julianna Peña)

Andrew Starc: After her shocking upset defeat to Julianna Peña in December last year, it almost seemed like everyone forgot just how good Amanda Nunes is. Her aura of invincibility has vanished, but her record stands alone in women’s MMA. Prior to that loss, Nunes was on a 12-fight win streak, during which time she captured both the featherweight and bantamweight titles, defeating the likes of Valentina Shevchenko, Cris Cyborg and Holly Holm.

Did Nunes underestimate Peña? And was she lacking motivation after being so dominant for so long? If these were true before their first encounter, they’re surely not now. So as much as Peña poses a stylistic threat to Nunes, I don’t see her getting the better of the GWOAT in this rematch. (Prediction: Amanda Nunes)

Drew Beaupré: Even the storyline of this rematch wasn’t enough to make the most recent season of The Ultimate Fighter particularly entertaining, but I’m excited for both women to finally get in the cage and settle things. While the UFC has made a fairly regular habit of awarding champions immediate rematches when they lose their belts, Nunes is about as deserving of this fight as you could ask for given her success as bantamweight champion.

I’m not interested in the narrative that Peña’s win in the first bout was any sort of fluke; she clearly came to fight at UFC 269, and Nunes just never really looked like she got going. “The Venezuelan Vixen” deserves a lot of credit for that win, but I think Nunes will enter the rematch considerably more motivated than in their first meeting. (Prediction: Amanda Nunes)

Consensus: 2-1 Nunes

That’ll do it for our UFC 277 staff picks! What do you think? Do your picks look similar? Let us know in the comments section! Also, you can check out the UFC 277 undercard below.

UFC 277 Preliminary Card (8:00 PM ET, ESPN / ABC / ESPN+)

  • Welterweight: Alex Morono vs. Matthew Semelsberger
  • Lightweight: Drew Dober vs. Rafael Alves
  • Heavyweight: Don’Tale Mayes vs. Hamdy Abdelwahab
  • Lightweight: Drakkar Klose vs. Rafa García

UFC 277 Early Preliminary Card (6:00 PM ET, UFC Fight Pass/ESPN+)

  • Welterweight: Michael Morales vs. Adam Fugitt
  • Women’s Flyweight: Ji Yeon Kim vs. Joselyne Edwards
  • Light Heavyweight: Nicolae Negumereanu vs. Ihor Potieria
  • Welterweight: Orion Cosce vs. Blood Diamond

Be sure to keep it right here on Saturday for all the results, highlights, and updates on UFC 277!

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