19 Apr - 
Diggin’ Deep on UFC St. Petersburg: Main card preview

Get the scoop on the UFC main card action out of Russia this weekend, featuring Khabib Nurmagomedov’s teammate, Islam Makhachev, welcoming vaunted prospect Arman Tsarukyan to the UFC.

The main card of UFC St. Petersburg isn’t complete crap by any means. In fact, given it’s a morning card for those of us in North America, I like what it has to offer. However, I do believe it could have been better, nor am I recommending anyone go out of their way to catch the card.

Much of what you spouted, you say on a regular basis. However, you rarely say it could have been better. What do you mean by that?

Islam Makhachev, a crony of Khabib Nurmagomedov, is in the co-main event. Despite not being ranked, Makhachev is worthy of that type of slot on a card like this, riding a four-fight win streak coming into the event. However, instead of getting a ranked opponent or someone else on the fringes of the UFC rankings, he’s getting a debuting fighter.

A debutant? Is it an injury replacement?

No, which is an indication of one of two things. Either the UFC has extremely high hopes for Arman Tsarukyan or they just want to get Makhachev another win.

What do you think it is?

Most likely the former. Having high hopes for Tsarukyan seems more likely. While a win only helps Makhachev’s standing, a win over a debutant only helps so much. Plus, why set up Tsarukyan up for a probable loss if they are high on him? This was poor matchmaking from a circumstantial point of view, thus where I believe this card could have been better. Maybe the UFC couldn’t get a decent opponent for Makhachev to come to Russia. That’s about the only thing I can think of, especially given the amount of debutants on the card in general.

What do they do well?

Both are primarily wrestlers. Tsarukyan may be a bit more technical, but that may be negligible given Makhachev’s brutish strength. Neither are that clean on the feet, Makhachev more of a straightforward brawler while Tsarukyan is willing to throw in the occasional flashy maneuver. Perhaps I’d like this contest more a few years down the road, but Makhachev’s track record makes it impossible to favor Tsarukyan. I’m not saying he can’t pull off the upset, but he hasn’t shown he can’t beat someone of Makhachev’s caliber yet.

You mentioned there are several debutants on this card. Though you mentioned a few on the preliminary preview, I’m guessing there are more on the main card….

You’re quite intuitive. The one that caught the insiders attention most was light heavyweight Ivan Shtyrkov. Known as the Ural Hulk, one look at him is all you need to understand the nickname as he’s completely bricked up. As you’d expect from someone who looks like him, he’s powerful, but stiff and slows down rapidly when any sort of a pace is pushed. Nonetheless, Shtyrkov has his smothering wrestling he can fall back on if he is unable to put his opponent to sleep. He faces the far more athletic Devin Clark. Clark pushes a hard pace with an improving boxing game and active wrestling. However, the American also suffers from a questionable chin that Shtyrkov is sure to test.

Your pick?

Out of all the newcomers on this card, Shtyrkov is the most tested by far with wins over several UFC and Bellator veterans. He doesn’t always get the finish, but I think he can against the uber aggressive Clark.

Any other debutants?

Just one more: Alen Amedovski. The undefeated Macedonian is undefeated with KO/TKO finishes in every single contest. However, his competition is questionable, though not quite as bad as those on the prelims. Regardless, the heavy-handed boxer will be welcomed by Krzysztof Jotko, who was knocking on the door of the top ten before his present three-fight skid. He was thought to be a durable counter puncher up to that point, only to be finished twice with punches in that stretch. Given Amedovski’s power, look for Jotko to return to his roots, pinning the newcomer against the cage and looking for trip takedowns rather than have his suddenly questionable chin tested.

Do you have confidence in Jotko’s chin?

In a word, no.

Hmm. So what’s left?

I haven’t discussed the most intriguing main card bout yet, a women’s flyweight contest between Roxanne Modafferi and Antonina Shevchenko, sister to flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko.

Could Antonina be on her sister’s level?

I have my doubts – Valentina is very good – but I won’t rule it out. Antonina is actually the elder of the two sisters, though women do seem to have a longer fighting shelf life than their male counterparts. Perhaps her age is a moot point. Nonetheless, I don’t rule out Antonina getting to her sister’s level as Antonina is taller and longer and just as technical of a striker. However, Antonina’s ground game is untested which is where Modafferi excels. The big question is whether Modafferi can get the contest to the ground as Antonina has shown solid takedown defense. Modafferi’s career revival continues to defy her physical limitations, her emphasis on technique as well as the bevy of tricks of the trade she has picked up over her 15-year career has allowed her to remain competitive. This is Antonina’s fight to lose – the UFC is attempting to set her up to be a player – but there’s a part of me that expects Modafferi – the perpetual underdog – to find a way to outwit the older Shevchenko sister.

Is that all?

There is a heavyweight contest between prospects Sergey Pavlovich and Marcelo Golm. This could be a lot of nothing in the long term or a turning point for one of them to develop into a future contender. The ability is there for both, it’s just dragging out the performance from them. The big difference between the two is Pavlovich has paid his dues while Golm is still very inexperienced. Pavlovich has faced solid competition on the regional scene, is a good athlete, and has an extremely long reach. Golm’s talented enough he could pull off an upset without too much of a surprise, though counting on that would be foolish.

Having gone over all the contests, what’s your overall assessment of the card?

I could see this being a notable card a few years down the road with hindsight. Makhachev is the most likely to become a player, but Pavolvich, Shevchenko, Tsarukyan, Evloev, and Fiziev (the final two are on the prelims) could all become notables down the road too. However, that’s just a possibility and for now, there are no major tremors to be produced in the immediate.

Predictions

Islam Makhachev over Arman Tsarukyan via Decision

Sergey Pavlovich over Marcelo Golm via TKO of RD2

Ivan Shtyrkov over Devin Clark via KO of RD1

Roxanne Modafferi over Antonina Shevchenko via Submission of RD3

Alen Amedovski over Krzysztof Jotko via TKO of RD1