UFC St. Louis predictions

Even Derrick Lewis isn’t sure why he’s in another main event.

On Wednesday this past week, “The Black Beast” told reporters that he’d much prefer not to headline if only for the fact that he doesn’t want to fight for five rounds if he can avoid it. Besides, Lewis is old hat at this, having previously been featured in 10 UFC main events, a rarity for a non-champion.

Given his history, it’s not likely that Lewis needs the full 25 minutes anyway when he fights the streaking Rodrigo Nascimento at UFC St. Louis on Saturday. Lewis looks to add to his UFC knockout record (14) and halt Nascimento’s four-fight unbeaten streak.

For Nascimento, Lewis represents the biggest name on his résumé to date. After beating Don’Tale Mayes a second time in one of the most unnecessary rematches in MMA history, Nascimento is now out to prove that he’s a legit title contender, and case that gets stronger if he gets past Lewis.

In the co-main event, St. Louis’ own Joaquin Buckley gets his wish to fight in his hometown, but he might regret not having a name to call out after his recent win over Vicente Luque. Buckley defeated a ranked opponent for the first time, which should have earned him another name with a number next to it; instead, he faces the dangerous Nursulton Ruziboev, who is 2-0 in the UFC and has nearly 50 pro bouts under his belt.

Also on the main card, light heavyweight veteran Alonzo Menifield looks to snap Carlos Ulberg’s five-fight win streak, Diego Ferreira returns to fight 19-1 lightweight Mateusz Rebecki, veteran featherweight Alex Caceres takes on Sean Woodson, and Waldo Cortes-Acosta fights heavyweight knockout machine Robelis Despaigne.

What: UFC St. Louis

Where: Enterprise Center in St. Louis

When: Saturday, May 11. The six-fight preliminary card begins at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN+, followed by a six-fight main card at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN+.

Odds: DraftKings Sportsbook


(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings)

Derrick Lewis vs. Rodrigo Nascimento

I feel confident stating that most of you aren’t aware that Rodrigo Nascimento is tied for the longest active win streak in the UFC’s heavyweight division at a scorching three.

I feel even more confident stating that you can’t guess who Nascimento is tied with? Go ahead. Take your time. I’ll be right here.

It’s Alexander Volkov, Karl Williams, and Mick Parkin. Obviously.

All of that preamble is to say that Nascimento can become the hottest heavyweight in the UFC with a win over Derrick Lewis, and considering the modest state of the division, that has to mean something. At the very least, Nascimento should get a fringe top-10 contender with an impressive performance on Saturday.

We must emphasize “impressive,” because if Nascimento dances around Lewis for five rounds and edges out a decision win, it might actually hurt his stock, much like what happened with Jailton Almeida after his uneventful 25-minute smothering of Lewis.

None of that matters anyway, since Nascimento doesn’t have the technical acumen to outpoint Lewis. He needs to look for a finish, something he’s been adverse to in his recent fights, and something Lewis has been doing for a decade. I just don’t like Nascimento’s chances of avoiding a power punch and once one lands, that’s all it will take for the master of swangin’ and bangin’.

Lewis by knockout.

Pick: Lewis

Joaquin Buckley (13) vs. Nursulton Ruziboev

Joaquin Buckley, this is your chance to steal the show.

I correctly predicted last week that Michel Pereira would be the hero of UFC 301 if he styled on Ihor Potieria in Brazil, which he did and he was (OK, Alexandre Pantoja and Jose Aldo were pretty great too). So once again I’m picking a fighter to wow the home crowd, in this case Buckley toppling Nursulton Ruziboev.

The UFC matchmakers did no favors for Buckley outside of letting him fight in his native St. Louis, and he has more to lose than gain. Buckley is coming off of a win against Vicente Luque, his most highly ranked opponent yet. However, instead of moving up the ladder, he has to deal with Ruziboev, who could take the top-15 spot that Buckley has worked so hard to earn.

Ruziboev is a massive welterweight on a ridiculous 10-fight streak of first-round finishes, so this has all the makings of a trap game for Buckley given Ruziboev’s relative anonymity. If fans don’t know who Ruziboev is yet, they’ll jump on the bandwagon quickly if he can finish Buckley inside of five minutes.

Speed kills and Buckley has the edge in that department. Counterintuitively, I think his smaller frame will actually allow him to attack Ruziboev from unpredictable angles, and after a back-and-forth first round, Buckley adds Ruziboev to his highlight reel in spectacular fashion.

Pick: Buckley

Alonzo Menifield vs. Carlos Ulberg

Alonzo Menifield surprised many by out-striking Dustin Jacoby and I think he can do the same to Carlos Ulberg. As much as Ulberg continues to improve, he’s also benefited from catching mid-tier competition at the right time, which won’t be the case when he steps into the cage with Menifield.

We saw a mature, fully formed Menifield last time out, which makes sense since he turns 37 later this year. In the light heavyweight division, age isn’t that much of a hindrance, so Menifield be able to gut it out over three rounds if need be.

This is a real clash of striking styles, with the bouncy Menifield going up against the more traditional Ulberg. Menifield definitely can’t get too cute, lest his head wander right into Ulberg’s range. At the same time, Ulberg can’t be too patient, because if Menifield finds his rhythm, then he can end this one in a flash.

Expect a compelling clash of offensive philosophies that ends with Menifield scoring an upset via strikes.

Pick: Menifield

Diego Ferreira vs. Mateusz Rebecki

Remember what I said about 37 not being an issue at light heavyweight? Well, being 39 at lightweight is definitely an issue, one that Diego Ferreira has to work around if he plans to stay relevant in MMA’s toughest division.

Mateusz Rebecki is a nightmare matchup for Ferreira. An absolute bulldog bursting with Polish power, Rebecki should have little trouble plowing his way through Ferreira’s defenses. There will come a time when Rebecki can’t just Hulk Smash his way to victory, but that won’t be today.

Besides, it’s not as if Rebecki’s success is purely a product of raw toughness and aggression. He has plenty of technique too, and even if Ferreira draws him into a ground battle, Rebeki can more than hold his own.

I have Rebecki bullying Ferreira early en route to a knockout in the first or second round.

Pick: Rebecki

Alex Caceres vs. Sean Woodson

I’ve counted out Alex Caceres in the past when he’s been matched up with a hungry fighter looking to take his spot. I’m not making that mistake this time.

Caceres’ experience and versatility are important assets when dealing with Sean Woodson, a long and lanky featherweight who likes to keep it loose. His goofy taunts have thrown many a fighter off their game, but I’d be surprised if they have any effect on “Bruce Leeroy.”

Saturday marks Caceres’ 30th UFC fight and he’ll celebrate in style by outmaneuvering Woodson for three rounds. Woodson likes to fight at his own pace, which Caceres won’t allow him to set. He’ll mix up his striking and grappling to keep Woodson guessing, and do just enough to eke out a decision win.

Pick: Caceres

Waldo Cortes-Acosta vs. Robelis Despaigne

Let’s be clear here, Waldo Cortes-Acosta is a big, big, big step up in competition from anything Robelis Despaigne has seen inside the cage. It’s entirely possible that the fun-loving “Salsa Boy” is a bridge too far for Despaigne at this point of his career, and that the Olympic taekwondo bronze medalist is in for a rude awakening.

But what’s the fun in making that prediction?

We want to see Despaigne continue to keep crushing fools and that’s what I’m going with. Despaigne is 6-foot-7 and has a ridiculous reach of 87 inches. If he wants to hit Cortes-Acosta, he’s going to, and he’s proven that he’s blessed with a “death touch” that would make Alex Pereira blush.

Here are the times for Despaigne’s past four finishes: 18 seconds, 4 seconds, 3 seconds, and 12 seconds.

You read that right, 4 seconds and 3 seconds.

It’s not as if Despaigne’s opponents are simply running at him and getting caught. He’s the one who engages and then takes advantage of his unfortunate foe’s mistake. There are few heavyweights who can strike with his level of accuracy and impact.

Cortes-Acosta certainly isn’t one of them, so look for Despaigne to stay red hot and score another knockout in less than two minutes.

Pick: Despaigne

Preliminaries

Viacheslav Borshchev def. Chase Hooper

Terrance McKinney def. Esteban Ribovics

Tabatha Ricci (13) def. Tecia Pennington

Trey Waters def. Billy Goff

Charles Johnson def. Jake Hadley

Veronica Hardy def. JJ Aldrich

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