Preview. Picks. Betting Tip – UFC on Fox: Shevchenko vs. Pena

It’s back to the original home of the UFC this Saturday night as the mile high city of Denver, Colorado hosts a phenomenal UFC on FOX card.

In the main event, the next challenger for the women’s bantamweight title will be decided as Valentina Shevchenko takes on gritty up-and-comer Julianna Pena.

A multiple time kickboxing world champion, Shevchenko started her MMA her career with a series of stoppage wins in 2003. And although it went well to start, it took 12 years for her hit to the bigtime due to inactivity in the art of 8 limbs.

A consistent run of wins after that stint in Fusion FC and Legacy FC saw her signed by the UFC in 2015. Since then Shevchenko has had three fights in the UFC and impressed on each occasion. A loss to current champion Amanda Nunes is sandwiched between wins over Sarah Kaufman and, last time out, Holly Holm.

Pena, on the other hand, started in 2009 and in short order took her career to the next level – but not before a few setbacks. Four wins in 18 months had her on a steep upward trajectory but a couple of losses in a row quelled that for a while.

That run was followed by a an opportunity in the ultimate fighter house and was quickly forgotten as Pena emerged victorious from a pretty strong season. A horrendous knee injury meant Pena has only had three fights in as many years since, but taking out Jessica Eye and Cat Zingano in her last two instantly made her a contender.

As a fight this is an appropriate throwback to the early days of the UFC with a hard-nosed wrestler taking on a slick striker.

Shevchenko is a hard hitting, technical, muay-thai based stand-up practitioner with extremely good defence. Her MO is to keep her hands up and make you fight her at close quarters. She finds that range with well timed footwork and wins there with her jab, cross and head movement. Her takedown defence has also improved a lot while her clinch game and elbows are very dangerous.

Pena is the polar opposite. Everything she does is to get the fight to the ground. Usually, she does that with brute strength. A combination of four or five strikes gets her into a range where she can clinch up. From there she will either power throw her opponent from a high clinch, work on a double leg or use her foes’ own weight to pull her down before turning over the position. Her striking defence prior to all of that is a big worry but her ability to keep it on the floor and cause damage almost makes it worthwhile.

As the betting lines suggest, this is a real pick ’em fight. If Pena can get it to the floor multiple times, which she can do, she will win. If Shevchenko can go large portions of rounds without being on her back, she will certainly win. It’s about as simple as that.

For me, If Shevchenko can stop even one or two takedowns, the defensive deficiencies of Pena on the feet become more important than anything else in this fight. Give her the opportunity, and Valentina Shevchenko will chew Pena up on the feet. Over five rounds, it’s hard to see her not getting that opportunity.

Outside of that there are some great fights like the bantamweight contender match of Raphael Assuncao vs. Aljo Sterling and the guaranteed fireworks of Alex Caceras vs. Jason Knight but two fights really stand out over the others.

Firstly, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone meets Jorge Masvidal in a long talked about scrap. Previously, Cerrone was seen as a slow starter while Masvidal got out of the gates quickly before tending to fade; but both of those stereotypes have dwindled into insignificance in recent times. Wins over Ross Pearson and Jake Ellenberger have Masvidal in good form while Cerrone is undefeated, and has stoppages, in four welterweight fights.

Expect this one to be a pulsating affair from start to finish. Both men love to throw well, hard and often. Masvidal mixes it up with his boxing which should be interesting up against the upright, muay-thai based attacks of Cerrone. In theory, without much of a takedown threat, Cerrone’s elite kicking game should help him in this situation and might just be the X-factor which gets him the win.

And secondly, a rambunctious pair of heavyweight bangers go head to head as former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski takes on the hottest prospect in the division, Francis Ngannou.

Currently on a three fight skid, this is both a huge risk and a massive opportunity for Arlovski against the man with four finishes in the UFC from an many fights. Although if you were to draw up a cost/benefit analysis chart, it would likely be skewed in the negative for the Belarusian.

Ngannou, simply put, is a phenom. He is that rare breed of rising heavyweight that blends speed, power, intelligence and athleticism in equal measure. Arlovski will need all of his veteran savvy in this one – and it still probably won’t be enough. This is the first big test of Ngannou’s career, but he should pass it with flying colours.

FIGHT PICKS

Valentina Shevchenko vs. Julianna Peña – Shevchenko stops enough takedowns to get the finish
Donald Cerrone vs. Jorge Masvidal – Cerrone wins a tough battle
Andrei Arlovski vs. Francis Ngannou – Big win for Francy
Alex Caceres vs. Jason Knight – I’m taking Caceres over three rounds

Nate Marquardt vs. Sam Alvey – Marquardt
Raphael Assunção vs. Aljamain Sterling – Assuncao
Bobby Nash vs. Li Jingliang – Li
Luis Henrique da Silva vs. Jordan Johnson – Johnson
Eric Spicely vs. Alessio Di Chirico – Spicely
Marcos Rogério de Lima vs. Jeremy Kimball – Lima

Alexandre Pantoja vs. Eric Shelton – Shelton
Jason Gonzalez vs. J.C. Cottrell – JC

BETTING TIP

Shevchenko via KO or Submission at 11/4

START TIMES

Early Prelims – 9pm on Fight Pass

Prelims – 10pm on Fight Pass and BT Sport

Main Card – 1am on BT Sport

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook Facebook.com/seansheehanmma