Written by Kieran Green (@kierlfc12)
The coveted UFC world heavyweight championship is up for grabs at the UFC Apex tonight, in what looks to be the final PPV before fans are welcomed back into attendance.
Despite a featherweight title bout between Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega being removed from the co-main event slot due to COVID-19 protocol, the overall card is still expected to provide fireworks throughout its duration.
As always, I will be giving you the full rundown on the most exciting fights, and what we can expect to see from inside the octagon in Las Vegas this evening.
Sean O’Malley (12-1) vs Thomas Almeida (22-4)
The first featured bout of the evening pits Bantamweight prodigy ‘Sugar’ Sean O’Malley up against the Brazilian Thomas Almeida.
The 29-year-old Almeida was sniffing around the Bantamweight title equation not so long ago, before a barren run of three successive losses would ensure he would not have his hand lifted in victory since 2016.
A reason for Almeida’s cold spell can be attributed to a complex eye surgery that kept him sidelined for over two years, before he marked his MMA return with a decision loss to Jonathan Martinez last October.
He could very well be fighting for his UFC future, with anything but a win putting his spot on the roster in utter jeopardy.
O’Malley meanwhile, is also emerging from a loss, having dropped a first career defeat to Marlon Vera inside the Apex last summer.
With stock in the ‘Suga Show’ remaining high despite his disappointing performance last time out, O’Malley will know that a win over Almeida is vital in reinstating his hype within the 135lb ranks.
O’Malley has shown before that he packs knockout power in his punches, with his versatile striking and fantastic judgement of distance making him one of the best stand-up Bantamweights on the scene.
Playing off his last defeat as nothing more than a fluke, he enters the cage with an undefeated mentality, something that could prove to make him an incredibly dangerous opponent in there.
Almeida has proven that he can deal with strikers relatively well, and effectively dispatched some decent names on a previous streak of 21 wins before his downturn in form.
A huge flaw in his opposition will be the leg weakness that was exposed last time out, and Almeida will be smart to try and create some problems in that area once more.
However, there will be doubts over the strength of his chin after so many losses, and further reservations over his ability to track O’Malley’s movements and range variation.
Because of this, it seems wise to try and take him to the floor, somewhere where he is considerably at his most vulnerable.
My prediction: O’Malley via TKO
Tyron Woodley (19-6-1) vs Vicente Luque (19-7-1)
Despite the fact we may have lost the original co-main event due to unforeseen circumstances, Tyron Woodley and Vicente Luque step up in what is sure to be a fiery matchup at 170lbs.
Woodley takes to the stage having dropped his last three successive fights – being badly beaten by Gilbert Burns and Colby Covington, having already lost his Welterweight title to the reigning champion Kamaru Usman.
The former belt-holder is the underdog in this tie, and for good reason. An extremely gun-shy approach taken to his last few bouts have left fans questioning whether he is the same force that he once was, and another defeat will make it hard to find him a place in the Welterweight rankings at all.
Regardless of the fact that he has openly stated his desire to continue professional MMA as a UFC employee, Woodley could very well be fighting for his future position in the company tonight.
The situation could not be any more contrasting for his opponent.
Vicente Luque has proven himself as an extremely dangerous striker, and will be out to launch himself to the upper end of the rankings with a win over such big name opposition.
His recent displays have given an insight into how well-rounded his skillset is, with ferocious punching power, and decent submission ability tucked into his arsenal.
Regardless of his current form, Woodley must call on his superior wrestling ability to overcome Luque on the mat tonight. If he puts in another timid shift and does not stifle his opponent out with substantial ground control, there is a massive chance of getting knocked out flat.
This is a fantastic striker vs wrestler situation, with both men well equipped to do damage in their own respective ways.
You can never write off a former champion, but Woodley has to re-discover his former mojo in that cage and get on the offence, if he is to stand any chance of winning.
My prediction: Luque via TKO
Stipe Miocic (20-3-0) vs Francis Ngannou (15-3-0)
The scheduled UFC 260 main event will see the current Heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic clash with number one contender Francis Ngannou, in what will be a second bout between the two powerhouses.
Ngannou actually enters the showdown as betting favourite, which seems ludicrous considering Stipe’s masterclass in their first meeting, and his ‘GOAT status’ within the heavyweight division as a whole.
Many are highlighting the series of “adjustments” that Ngannou has supposedly made since his disappointing performance first time out, and how that will contribute to a better performance in the rematch.
Whilst Francis certainly appears a lot leaner and has definitely made changes to his approach inside the cage, it is impossible to discuss what he has changed around given the fact that most of his recent fights have ended very early within the first round.
The extent of Ngannou’s evolution as a mixed-martial artist can only be determined if Miocic takes him out of the first round and into the deep waters, which seems inevitable when analysing the tale of the tape.
Stipe Miocic is no stranger to the championship rounds, with three of this six title defences making their way into the fourth and fifth rounds.
Although a new approach will be needed in order to handle his opponent, it is likely that Miocic will resort to the same gruelling tactics that were utilised in the first fight – wearing out Ngannou through high pressure wrestling and strikes from top position.
This fight is a classic pairing of a total power-puncher and a technical genius, and whilst Miocic is superb at fighting on the back foot, he must avoid being tagged with big shots in the first round. If he can escape the first five minutes unscathed, he is best equipped to emerge victorious.
The key for ‘The Predator’ is to not tire quickly, as early fatigue in a 25 minute fight with Stipe is certain to put him in a lot of trouble on both the feet and canvas.
His goal will definitely be to land that coveted right hand early on, and get Miocic out quickly. We all know how Francis operates, and he will not be wanting to spend any more time than necessary inside the cage tonight.
Overall this fight seems it could take two simple routes. Either Ngannou scores an early knockout and becomes the new champion, or Stipe escapes the first ten minutes and makes him suffer.
Ngannou is a terrifying foe for any UFC Heavyweight, but taking out Miocic is no easy feat, and he lacks the fight IQ to successfully navigate himself through the championship rounds against such an experienced opponent.
My prediction: Miocic via Judges decision
Who are you backing for UFC 260? Head over to @nerve_sport on Twitter and let us know!