After a so-so week of predicting last time around, hopefully I have a more successful week this week. There’s only 1 card (for boxing) worth predicting this weekend, but at least it’s a good one:
ESPN+/BT Sport card
This card will take place in London this Saturday, with a main card start time of 2pm and a main event start time of 6pm (both times in ET).
Joe Joyce (15-0, 14 KO) vs Zhilei Zhang (24-1-1, 19 KO): This fight is scheduled for 12 rounds, and puts Joyce’s Interim WBO Title on the line, which could earn the victor of this bout a title shot against Oleksandr Usyk to unify his WBO belt and the interim strap. Joyce enters this contest as a ridiculously heavy favorite, with current DraftKings betting lines posting him as a -1100 favorite to Zhang’s +600. Honestly, this fight should be considered way closer than that. Zhang is easily the toughest opponent that Joyce has ever faced, and he has not seen a fighter who fights like him. On the flip side, Flip Hrgovic fights a very similar style to Joyce: always moving forward, utilizing a heavy jab, and big time power but no speed. Zhang was robbed the decision against Hrgovic, and while I think Joyce is better than Hrgovic overall, I do think the game plan aspect of training for this fight has to benefit Zhang. 2 straight camps of very similar fighters style-wise. If Zhang wants to win this fight, he needs to establish his power early, like he did with Hrgovic. Zhang has some very quick hands and is a very accurate and powerful counter puncher. Joyce is easy to hit but has a granite chin. If Zhang can’t earn his respect early on in the fight and keep his relentless pressure at bay, then it’ll probably be over for the ‘Big Bang.’ After all, Joyce is seemingly the more powerful man of the two, despite Zhang’s big time pop, and Zhang is equally easy to hit. I could see Zhang starting off hot, as he often does, and winning rounds early before gassing out (again, as he often does) and succumbing to the never-ending forward pressure from ‘The Juggernaut.’ I don’t think I’ve kept it a secret that I’m a huge fan of Zhang. He’s one of my favorite fighters in the sport right now. But I just don’t see much of a pathway to victory for him against the heavily-favored man UNLESS he can prove that he has a 12 round gas tank. That has not shown true yet, and at 39 I’d doubt his cardio is improving. But that’s his only way to win; Joyce can go 12 easily. All Joyce will need to do is “ride the wave” for the first 3-5 rounds, Zhang will likely gas out, and then Joyce will have his way with him. And, for the sake of conjecture, I know I mentioned a potential unification of the WBO straps with Usyk in the near future for the winner of this fight, but how much do you want to bet that the winner (whichever one it is) calls out AJ?
Official Prediction: Joe Joyce via Unanimous Decision
Other good fights on the card
Denzel Bentley vs Kieran Smith (12, Middle): Bentley via Decision
Sam Noakes vs Karthik Sathish Kumar (12, Light): Noakes via KO/TKO round 8
Sonny Ali vs Richard Helm (6, Welter): Ali via KO/TKO round 5
Moses Itauma vs Kostiantyn Dovbyshchenko (6, Heavy): Itauma via KO/TKO round 2
UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs Allen
Like all UFC Fight Nights, this fight will be on ESPN+ and is NOT a pay-per-view, which makes this the perfect card to watch for those of you who are looking to get into MMA. Some notable names, a deep card, and a main event that’ll mostly feature boxing make this Saturday’s fight night a good trial run for you boxing fans hoping to see some similar action in the octagon. The Prelims for this Fight Night start at 5:30pm ET, with the main card looking to start around 8:30pm.
Main Event: Max Holloway vs Arnold Allen (Featherweight): Max Holloway is my favorite UFC fighter, so I am a bit biased in this prediction. But the former champ and best boxer in MMA should be the favorite coming into this one. I mean, his professional record of 23-7-0 isn’t great by boxing’s standards, but MMA handles losses better, and it’s a damn good record against word class opposition. Holloway has wins against names like Jose Aldo, Yair Rodrigues, Calvin Kattar, and Frankie Edgar, among others, and have only been defeated by elite names like Alexander Volkanovski (3 times), Dustin Poirier (2 times), and Conor McGregor. On the other hand, Arnold Allen comes into this fight on a 12 fight win streak, with 10 of those fights being in the UFC. However, the names aren’t as good, with only 2 notable wins against Calvin Kattar and Dan Hooker. What’s interesting is that in both fighter’s victories over Kattar, they fought and beat him in a very similar fashion: No grappling, no wrestling, just essentially kickboxing (and really just boxing) and target the head. 75% of Allen’s shots that landed on Kattar were head shots, and 63% of Holloway’s were the same. Allen TKO’d him in 2 rounds despite not knocking him down, while Holloway cruised to wide 5 round unanimous decision. What’s going to make this fight fun is that both of these men are very similar in terms of style. Neither of them are very likely to try anything on the ground (They combine an average of 1.64 takedowns per 15 minutes), and are both high-volume, high-intensity strikers that make every fight they’re in a good time. Holloway is definitely more of a volume puncher than Allen, landing more strikes per minute (7.24) than even double what Allen lands (3.4). However, Holloway is also more apt to take more than double the punishment, absorbing nearly 5 (4.89) shots per minute to Allen’s 2.25. There is a lot on the line for both men, as well. It’s not secret for anyone who follows the UFC that Holloway will not get a fourth shot at Volkanovski for the belt, but with a rumored move up to lightweight for Volk following his defense and unification agains the current interim champ Yair Rodriguez, that belt will be open and could be Holloway’s again with a win, which would definitely give him the vacant title shot. Allen, on the other hand, would definitely be in line for a title shot with the win over Holloway even if Volk sticks around as the champ, and he’d more than likely be the next one to get the shot following the Volkanovski-Rodriguez fight this summer. The future implications of this fight and the clash of similar styles should make this fight super entertaining and very intense for as long as it lasts. But who wins it? In my eye, despite the incredible and well-deserved hype following Allen entering this fight, I think Max Holloway is going to get it done this Saturday. Yes, he’s the older fighter, and yes, Allen is coming in on a ridiculous win streak, but Holloway has proven time-and-time again that he’s the #2 guy in this weight class, he just can’t beat Volkanovski. I think he’ll re-cement himself in that #2 spot again with the win, where I do think that Arnold Allen will have success and cement himself in the top of this weight class, and may get a title shot with another fight soon after this one, assuming he wins that next one, of course.
Official Prediction: Max Holloway via Decision
The rest of the card (that’s interesting)
Edson Barboza vs Billy Quarantillo (Featherweight): Quarantillo via Decision
Dustin Jacoby vs Azamat Murzakanov (Light Heavyweight): Murzakanov via KO/TKO
Tanner Boser vs Ion Cutelaba (Light Heavyweight): Boser via Decision
Pedro Munhoz vs Chris Gutierrez (Bantamweight): Gutierrez via KO/TKO
Clay Guida vs Rafa Garcia (Lightweight): Garcia via Decision
Bill Algeo vs TJ Brown (Featherweight): Algeo via Decision
Brandon Royval vs Matheus Nicolau (Flyweight): Royval via super close Decision (maybe the best undercard matchup of the weekend, super good fight against 2 top 5 Flyweights on the PRELIMS of this fight night card. Madness, could have been a co-main event on a weaker Fight Night card)
Lando Vannata vs Daniel Zellhuber (Lightweight): Zellhuber via Decision
Aaron Phillips vs Gaston Bolanos (Bantamweight): Bolanos via KO/TKO