UFC Picks and Predictions: Edson Barboza vs Justin Gaethje
Live from the fighting capital of the world, UFC on ESPN will showcase a main event between two of the sports most brutal strikers, Edson Barboza and Justin Gaethje. Both fighters are in the top ten of the UFC lightweight division and are coming off wins that left their opponents battered. Edson is known around the sport with having one of the deadliest leg kicks in all of MMA. His most well-known knock out was a spinning heel kick that connected so well it literally “turned off” Terry Etim. Barboza enters the cage against a hard-nosed fighter with Justin Gaethje, known simply as “The Highlight” as his knockouts prove. Gaethje is coming into the fight ranked lower than Edson and is stopping at nothing to take his place in the lightweight rankings. This main event is being tailored to be one of most exciting fights of 2019 thus far. And based on the stellar knockouts these two have created in their careers; this is going to be one intense clash this Saturday night.
The co-main event will feature middleweight Gracie Jiu-Jitzu veteran, David Branch, against Norway’s own Jack Hermansson from Frontline Academy. Branch will be thoroughly tested against this Norwegian knockout beast. Just before the co-main event, a redemption fight will take place for #10 ranked featherweight, Josh Emmett, with “The Menace” Michael Johnson. To start off all the action in this fight card, two top ten fighters in the women’s strawweight division will face off, one claiming the other’s spot in the rankings. Karolina Kowalkiewiz versus Michelle Waterson has all the makings to be an exhilarating beginning to an already edge-of-your-seat fight card.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs Michelle Waterson
KOWALKIEWICZ -140 / WATERSON +120
The start of the action will commence with two of the toughest women in the strawweight division, Karolina Kowalkiewiz and Michelle Waterson. Karolina has worked her way to becoming known as one of the elite competitors in the UFC women’s strawweight division. Kowalkiewicz has beaten current champ Rose Mamajunas back in 2016 and went to a title fight with Joana Jedrzejczyk only to lose via split decision. She packs a mean punch with her SlpM of 5.76 while also holding her own, absorbing a mean 5.13 SApM. She’s looking to bounce back from a first-round knockout loss from the #2 ranked fighter in the strawweight division, Jessica Adrade. Karolina will face a tough challenger in Michelle Waterson, a fighter who’s coming from two straight wins in the Octagon. Michelle brings a different challenge to the Polish star fighter not only as a formidable striker but also a dominant submission artist. Waterson owns a better TD average than Karolina by a long shot, but will find it difficult taking her down when Karolina holds a TD def. of 87%. These women are both formidable fighters in the top of their division, but the superior fighter here is Karolina Kowalkiewicz. She has seen tougher opponents in her career and has handled her own under stressful situations against top names in her division. I see both fighters taking this to the distance with Karolina obtaining the decision win.
PICK: Karolina Kowalkiewicz by DEC -140
Josh Emmett vs Michael Johnson
EMMETT -105 / JOHNSON -115
The next talent from Uriah Faber’s Team Alpha Male has been a presence thus far in the featherweight division. Josh Emmett was ranked #4 in the division until he was knocked out by Jeremy Stephens in the second round of a UFC Fight Night main event. Josh can stand and trade knockout punch after each swing, which was evident when he knocked out Ricardo Lamas in the first round right before the Stephens bout. His two losses in the octagon are the Stephens’ knockout and a split decision loss to Desmond Green. Other than that 54% of his wins have come through decision. With only five UFC appearances, Josh wants to make an impression with a win against Michael Johnson, who will be entering in his 20th fight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. “The Menace” Johnson is coming from two straight wins after debuting in the featherweight division for the first time, and hopes to take Josh’s ranking this Saturday night. Johnson has the better TD defense of 78% while also maintaining a better SLpM than Emmett at 4.31. Josh should be standing the majority of the fight and probably take advantage of Johnson’s shaky 58% STR defense. While Johnson has been nothing short of spectacular in his first debut at the featherweight level, he’s going up against someone that can dish it heavily. I see Josh being the biggest challenge for Johnson in his featherweight career thus far. It could go either way, but if I had to put my money on someone, it would have to be Emmett and his superior striking versus Johnson’s weak striking defense.
PICK: Josh Emmett TK/KO Win
David Branch vs Jack Hermansson
HERMANSSON -125/ BRANCH +105
Grizzled veteran and former WSOF Middleweight Champion, David Branch enters the fight following a TK/KO loss to Jared Canonnier in the co-main event of UFC 230 back in November. Branch comes from the decorated school of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu as it shows in his 7-1 submission record. Even though he owns 6 knockouts in his fight record, 83% of his wins were made in decisions and submissions. David may have great jiu-jitsu training on his side, but his opponent can hold his own with his back on the canvas based on his TK/KO win in UFC 224. Jack Hermansson is riding a two fight win streak after savagely getting T/KOed by Thiago Santos back in October of 2017. But since then, he has showed his technical prowess in his win on UFC 224 against Thales Leites. Jack showcased the best defense on an arm triangle choke I’ve seen while suffering a broken rib late in the third round. After defending the arm triangle with every ounce of energy left, he mounted Leites and finished him with a harmonious ground-n-pound earning him the TK/KO victory. I see a tough opponent here for the 37 year old Branch and I mean TOUGH. Jack holds an SLpM of 4.92 while also maintaining a 1.77 SApM which makes him a hard target to hit. Even if David tries to take him down in the early rounds, it’s not going to be easy with a guy that has a 73% TD defense. I don’t see this going the distance as he has shown in his last fight, he can definitely take care of himself if the fight goes to the ground.
PICK: Jack Hermansson by T/KO in the Second or Third Round
Edson Barboza vs Justin Gaethje
BARBOZA -135 / GAETHJE +115
The main event, that will send roars from the audience in Wells Fargo Center, will be between two of the best fighters in the lightweight division. Without a question the favorite entering the arena is the owner of the most vicious leg kicks in the UFC and holder of the most famous round house heel-kick KO of all time, Edson Barboza. Ranked #6 in the lightweight division for good measure, after coming toe-to-toe in a unanimous decision loss with current lightweight champ, Khabib Nurmagomedov back in UFC 219. Since that loss and the stoppage loss between Kevin Lee, he put a leg kicking clinic in his TK/KO victory against Dan Hooker during the third round of UFC Fight Night. What stands out to me about Barboza is that 855 of his 909 Sig. strikes landed were all accomplished while he was standing up! Barboza is a superfluous striker in the UFC and it showed in his last fight against Dam Hooker, which was beautiful to watch. The main event gets even better due to the fact that his opponent is a fighter who’ll take a punch to deal two of his own. Justin “The Highlight” is just that with his absolutely insane fighting style that as earned him, yes, many highlights and an amazing 19-2 record. Gaethje is coming from dominating James Vick in the first round with a two piece and a soda that KOed him in less than two minutes in the first round. Justin literally packs a mean punch stat line of 8.53 SLpM while also taking a beating himself with a grueling 10.54 SApM. Fight fans are going to see two purists of pugilism that should rarely touch the ground. We will witness a battle of supremacy between these two lightweights with Barboza brutalizing Gaethje’s legs in the early rounds, while not shying from the opportunity of letting his fists do some damage. Gaethje will take the kicks and punches from Barboza while attempting to get the knockout early, but it won’t be easy with an opponent like Barboza, who has a higher Sig. Strike defense and a 4.14 SApm.
PICK: Edson Barboza by Third or Fourth Round