UFC on ESPN 45: Quick picks and prognostications

MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom breaks down the UFC’s top bouts. Today, we look at the main card for UFC on ESPN 45.

UFC on ESPN 45 takes place Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The card airs on ESPN and streams on ESPN+.

Last event’s results: 3-2

Overall picks for UFC main cards in 2023: 45-40-3

Welcome to MMAJunkie’s Quick Picks and Prognostications, where I’ll be giving brief, fight-day breakdowns for UFC main cards.

With that in mind, I hope these write-ups don’t come off as curt or dismissive, as my goal here is to offer quick picks and analysis in a digestible format. All odds listed are provided by Tipico Sportsbook.

If you’d like more detailed analysis from me, then feel free to check out my weekly show, The Protect Ya’ Neck Podcast.

So, without further ado…

Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos (-105) vs. Abubakar Nurmagomedov (-115)

In spite of another lightweight opener getting kicked to the curb prior to this card shuffle, I’m happy to see the matchmakers give Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos a main card spot after being criminally relegated to the prelims for a majority of his UFC career.

The battle-tested Brazilian draws Abubakar Nurmagomedov, who is a combat sambo practitioner who came up under the legendary Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov.

That said, I’m not sure if this Nurmagomedov has the fighting chops or the athleticism to stay afloat with a proven killer like dos Santos.

I’ll take dos Santos to survive the initial grappling storms in order to find a finish by the third round.

Karine Silva (-210) vs. Ketlen Souza (+175)

Filling out the main card is a women’s flyweight affair between Karine Silva and Ketlen Souza.

Souza seems like a fun action fighter who will provide some entertaining fights in the future, but her propensity to throw herself out of position could cost her against another athletic finisher in Silva.

Add in Silva’s solid technique and fundamentals, and I’ll side with her to find a finish from the front-headlock position somewhere within the first round.

Jim Miller (-275) vs. Jesse Butler (+210)

Serving as a solid offering for the “O.G. fight fans” is a fun lightweight attraction between Jim Miller and Jesse Butler.

It’s a shame that the UFC can’t seem to book Miller in more veteran affairs that involve proven professionals who can make it to fight day, but I’m happy we get to see him do his thing on the main card.

The fan-favorite draws newcomer Butler, who is stepping in on just 3 days’ notice due to the organization (and athletic commission) irresponsibly booking a recently-concussed fighter in Jared Gordon.

Butler, akin to the previously-mentioned Souza, appears to be a fun action fighter who will bring some solid entertainment to the octagon. That said, he seems to have a habit of surrendering bad positions in order to build his way into the fight.

Against someone like Miller, one tease of your neck may be all it takes. The pick is Miller by first-round submission.

Tim Elliott (-185) vs. Victor Altamirano (+150)

Keeping the flyweight representation strong is a fun fight at 125 pounds between Tim Elliott and Victor Altamirano.

Despite Elliott being the listed southpaw, Altamirano arguably fights from that stance more.

Altamirano, like Elliott, is also a very awkward fighter in his own right, which can make him deceptively difficult to deal with. However, I still suspect that wrestling – as it often does in Elliott fights – will be the deciding factor here.

Add in the chaotic encouragement of the smaller cage, and I’ll side with Elliott to secure a second-round submission.

Alex Caceres (-175) vs. Daniel Pineda (+140)

The co-main event in Las Vegas features a fantastic featherweight fight between Alex Caceres and Daniel Pineda.

Although Caceres has a better record inside of the UFC Apex (5-1 as opposed to Pineda’s 1-1-1), I suspect that the smaller octagon will still favor Pineda from a stylistic perspective.

Not only is Pineda a proven Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, but the 37-year-old is also the better wrestler of the two.

I’ll pick Pineda to win via first-round submission, but no one should be shocked if Caceres makes “The Pit” pay for his dipping propensities with a solid southpaw kick from his power side.

Kai Kara-France (-110) vs. Amir Albazi (-110)

The main event on ESPN features the first non-title flyweight headliner since 2017 as ranked combatants Kai Kara-France and Amir Albazi do battle.

As stated in my in-depth breakdown, this is a deceptively tough fight to call.

Although Kara-France deserves to be favored as the more proven product, I find myself semi-reluctantly siding the other way.

No one should be shocked if Kara-France is able to bring Albazi back down to earth with some hard counters and underrated defensive wrestling chops, but I suspect that the smaller octagon could give a slight stylistic edge to the grappling aggression and striking power of Albazi.

The pick is Albazi by third-round TKO.

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