After a rare week without an event, the UFC is back in full force. UFC 264 promises to be one of the most exciting cards of the year, headlined by a much-anticipated rubber match between the ‘Notorious’ Conor McGregor and Dustin ‘The Diamond’ Poirier.
However, it is not only the main card that has fans looking forward to the event. Both the prelims and early prelims are stacked from top to bottom with exciting fights between some of the UFC’s top fighters.
UFC 264 Early Prelims
Jennifer Maia vs. Jessica Eye
The featured early prelim sees two former title challengers face off in an intriguing matchup that will put the winner right back on track for another shot at the belt.
Jenifer Maia is a high-level jiu-jitsu player who is coming off an unsuccessful attempt at taking the belt from Valentina Shevchenko. However, prior to that loss, Maia had submitted top contender Jojo Calderwood in only one round. Whilst Maia’s striking leaves something to be desired, should the fight hit the mat her threat level will rise exponentially.
Comparatively, whilst Maia is a specialist in one facet of MMA, Jessica Eye is effectively an all-rounder. Her greatest strength is arguably her boxing. She is currently coming off back to back decision losses against Jojo Calderwood and Cynthia Calvillo. It is also notable that during that time, Eye also competed twice on Submission Underground. Both times she was submitted via armbar.
If Eye is able to keep the fight on the feet she may have success utilising volume striking, with a decision victory more likely to be on the card considering her lack of KO power. Alternatively, if the fight goes to the ground you would have to favour Maia, especially with Eye’s recent susceptibility to armbars in mind.
Omari Akhmedov vs. Brad Tavares
Yet another pair of ranked fighters hidden on the Early Prelims. Omari Akhmedov currently sits at 13th in the UFC’s middleweight rankings, whilst Brad Tavares is placed at 15th.
Akhmedov is coming off a dominant submission victory over Tom Breese and has only lost once in his last 8 fights. As well as Breese, Akhmedov has picked impressive wins over the likes of Ian Heinisch, Zac Cummings, and Abdul Razak Alhassan. Akhmedov has a smothering wrestling game that often sees him dominate his opponents for the full three rounds, maintaining top position and landing ground and pound.
Tavares is the complete opposite to Akhmedov, preferring to keep the fight on the feet and letting his hands go. He does have three losses in his last eight fights. However, they were all against incredibly high-level opposition, in Robert Whittaker Israel Adesanya and Edmen Shahbazayen. More notably is the fact that Tavares was able to overcome Antonio Carlos Junior in his fight. Carlos Junior was one of the highest level submission fighters in the middleweight division and Tavares defended the majority of his takedowns with ease.
Whether Tavares’ takedown defense will be as effective against Akhemdov’s Russian-style wrestling is another matter entirely. However, it certainly adds an intriguing facet to this striker vs wrestler matchup.
Zhalgus Zhumagulov vs. Jerome Rivera
Both Zhalgus Zhumagulov and Jerome Rivera are yet to pick up a win in the UFC octagon. Zhumagulov is coming off back-to-back losses against Amir Albazi and Raulian Paiva, and whilst both fights were competitive, this is a must-win for the Kazakstahn flyweight.
This is, even more, the case for Jerome Rivera, who is now on a three-fight losing streak inside the UFC, after being knocked out by both Ode Osbourne and Tyson Nam, as well as dropping a unanimous decision loss to Francisco Figueiredo.
Both men are relatively well-rounded but neither have any aspect of their game that particularly stands out. It is likely that whoever loses this fight will be likely cut from the UFC, which may act as an extra incentive from both men to leave it all in the octagon and put on the best of performances of their career to date.
Hu Yaozong vs. Alen Amedovski
UFC 264 opens with a middleweight bout between China’s Hu Yaozong and Macedonia’s Alen Amedovski. Yaozong has not competed in the UFC since 2018 when he picked up a decision loss to Rashad Coulter. Yaozong only has five pro MMA fights on his record, with three wins and two losses. His three victories all came by way of stoppage though he has never had his hand raised in the UFC.
The same can be said of Alen Amedovski, who has been defeated in both his UFC appearances, by Krzystof Jotko and John Philips. However, prior to those losses, Amedovski was an undefeated fighter who competed for Bellator MMA. He has first-round KO stoppages over Will Fleury and Ibrahim Mane.