UFC 301: Pantoja vs. Erceg Predictions

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UFC 301: Pantoja vs. Erceg Predictions

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UFC 301  takes place on Sunday (AEDT) at the Farmasi Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil  – and we’ve got our UFC predictions for all the fights below and you can place your bets with the best betting sites Australia has to offer!

UFC 301 Predictions

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Alexandre Pantoja vs. Steve Erceg Prediction

Flyweight champion Alexandre Pantoja successfully defended his title for the first time against Brandon Royval in December to take his current winning streak to five fights. Now he’ll take on Steve Erceg, who has unexpectedly been fast-tracked to a shot at the belt after winning his first three UFC fights in a row.

The 34-year-old Pantoja is a very well-rounded fighter who fights with pressure and intensity wherever the fight goes. On the feet he’s a fearless, aggressive striker who will press forward and trade blows with anyone. He’s not necessarily the cleanest technically, but he’ll throw boxing combinations with bad intentions and is helped out by his strong chin, having never been finished inside the distance. In the heat of the moment Pantoja is good at seamlessly transitioning to his very solid wrestling game and will also manufacture scrambling opportunities. He’s adept at taking the back and has a proven record of finishing fights via submission from there. Pantoja can also maintain his high-octane pace for the full 25 minutes, with his cardio being somewhat deceptive given that he looks winded at times.

There’s been very little fanfare or hype surrounding the 28-year-old, 10th ranked Erceg ahead of his out-of-the-blue title opportunity, but he has been quietly impressive so far in his Octagon appearances. He’s certainly not an athletic powerhouse, but he’s proven to be a very capable boxer with good accuracy and respectable speed, while he’ll benefit here from a 3″ height advantage, though only an inch extra in reach. Erceg is confident in his ground game and can wrestle as well as being a talented grappler who, like Pantoja, has a proven knack for finishing fights via chokes.

I like what I’ve seen so far from Erceg, but this is a big step up so early in his UFC run and I feel Pantoja’s intensity and tenacity combined with stronger wrestling and excellent durability will all help him out here as he gradually overwhelms his opponent to set up a third round submission finish.

Prediction: Alexandre Pantoja to win by submission in Rd3

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Jose Aldo vs. Jonathan Martinez Prediction

It’s been nearly two years since Jose Aldo retired from MMA following a unanimous decision loss to Merab Dvalishvili that broke his three-fight winning streak.  Now ‘The King Of Rio’ has opted to stage a comeback to honor the final fight on his deal in the co-main event of UFC 301 against Jonathan Martinez, who has compiled a six-fight unbeaten run in the Octagon.

After retiring from competing in MMA in 2022, the 37-year-old Aldo turned his attention to a long-held ambition to compete in boxing. He’s not necessarily lit up that sport the way he might have hoped though, only managing to fight to a majority draw against Jeremy Stephens (who he’d previously TKO’d in the UFC) in his pro debut. Meanwhile, Aldo’s other two boxing bouts (one being an exhibition bout) came against unheralded opponents who he defeated by unanimous decision.

Almost a year after those boxing bouts it’s not clear yet whether Aldo’s unexpected UFC return will prove to be permanent or just a one-off, but based on his last fights in the UFC he could still have something to offer. There was no shame in losing to Dvalishvili, and unanimous decision victories over Marlon Vera, Pedro Munhoz and Rob Font beforehand proved he was still very much in the Top 10 mix at 135lbs. Aldo was a very highly regarded boxing technician during his UFC run, though the fact that in the later stages of  his run he backed off using the brutal leg kicks that had been such a formidable weapon earlier in his career was a disappointment.  Meanwhile his takedown defense had always been a strong suit and he’s comfortable on the mat. Whether his MMA skills are still as sharp after focusing purely on boxing remains to be seen though, and also at 37 there’s a potential question mark about whether he’s still up for a fast-paced 15 minute fight with a younger opponent.

It’s perhaps a little surprising the 30-year-old Martinez is only ranked No.13 in the 135lb division given his lengthy winning streak, beating some solid opponents like Adrian Yanez, Said Nurmagomedov and Cub Swanson along the way. He’s a skilled striker whose actually proven to be one of the more deadly leg kickers in the lighter weight-classes since that younger version of Aldo, having stopped two of last three opponents with low kicks. In fact, his kicks to all levels are good, while he has fast hand speed, can work knees well too and keeps a good activity level throughout his fights. The ground game isn’t much of a focus for Martinez, but Aldo’s unlikely to be looking to test him there.

It’ll be interesting to see if Aldo can turn back the clock and put on an inspired performance in front of his hometown fans in Rio. He’ll certainly have to perform at a high level to get the better of a younger, fresher and talented fighter like Martinez, and I’m just not entirely convinced he’s still got the hunger, desire and energy levels to do so now. So I’m going to take Martinez to push a higher pace, make good use of his versatile kicking game to prevent Aldo getting into his groove, and emerge with a decision victory.

Prediction: Jonathan Martinez to win by decision

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Anthony Smith vs. Vitor Petrino Prediction

Former 205lb title challenger Anthony Smith has lost three of his last four fights, including being TKO’d last time out and now gets back on the saddle against the undefeated Vitor Petrino, who by way of contrast has won all four of his UFC fights so far since joining from the Contender Series last year.

Smith is 35-years-old and has a lot of miles on the clock for his age as he heads into his 57th pro-fight. Keep in mind that by the time he’d reached just 11 fights into his MMA run he’d already been TKO’d five times, and though he’s gone on to have a good career since, he has been finished via strikes 11 times in total, with two of those came in his last four fights. He’s also had bad luck with injuries and ailments in recent years, so it does feel like his best days are behind him at this stage. Despite that Smith remains a dangerous fighter offensively with a strong finishing record, bringing a versatile arsenal of strikes on the feet, from good kicks and solid punches through to knees and elbows,, while he’s had a knack for stopping opponents on the mat via submissions too. Though his chin is an issue Smith will try his best to fight through tough spots, but he eats more strikes than he should and also has surprising poor leg-checking ability.

Nine years younger than Smith, the 26-year-old Petrino is a bit rough-and-ready, but still shows promise. He likes to press forward, and while he doesn’t have a whole lot in the way of volume, he will throw big power shots and is also quite capable on the counter. Meanwhile he’s a solid wrestler with good top control and ground-and-pound along with decent grappling. His tendency to rely on power and strength can put a strain on his cardio though.

This is a significant step up in competition for Petrino, but given that the cracks are really starting to show nowadays for Smith I think it’s the younger man who keeps his winning streak going here via a 2nd round TKO finish.

Prediction: Vitor Petrino to win by TKO in Rd2

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Michel Pereira vs. Ihor Potieria  Prediction

Michel Pereira is on a seven-fight winning streak that began at welterweight, and has continued at middleweight in his last couple of fights. Now he fights Ihor Potieria, who recently dropped down from light-heavyweight and is coming off a decision win, but has only gone 2-3 overall in his UFC run.

The 30-year-old Pereira entered into the UFC as one of the most wildly creative, acrobatic and entertaining strikers the sport has ever seen, having channelled his Capoeira background and athleticism into a style that could at times deliver stunning movie-like finishes. However, while that worked more often than you’d expect on the regional scene, it was tough to replicate against better quality opposition in the UFC and he tended to just gas himself out trying to throw every technique in the book. To his credit though Pereira has managed to tame his entertainer instincts and become a more measured striker with better cardio management, while still having creative flair to go with his speed and power. Pereira is also a surprisingly capable wrestler and even up at 185lbs appears to be big for the weight class.

Middleweight seems like it might be a better place than 205lbs for the 27-year-old Potieria, who is an aggressive, battling striker with power and versatile offense, but has had issues with his defense and cardio in his former weight class.  All three of his losses there came via TKO, but he has shown some signs of improvement to his game over time and he’s more of a physical presence at 185lbs.

This doesn’t feel like a good match-up for Potieria as Pereira is the more skilled, technical and creative striker, has the wrestling advantage and is also not at a size disadvantage despite the two having been two divisions apart not so long ago. I think Pereira picks him apart here until he finds a 2nd round TKO finish.

Prediction: Michel Pereira to win  by TKO in Rd2

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Paul Craig vs. Caio Borralho Prediction

Paul Craig opens up the main card in real need of a change in fortunes after having lost three of his last four fights, while on the other hand Caio Borralho has gone unbeaten for almost nine years, including two Contender Series wins and a further five victories in the UFC so far.

At 36-years-old Craig’s fighting style is well established and unlikely to change. He’s very dangerous on the mat thanks to his uncanny knack for finding submission finishes, even in fights he’s been losing. His triangle choke off his back is particularly deadly and in total he’s won 13 of his 17 career victories via submission. That threat also sometimes opens up opportunities for good ground-and-pound too, but on the feet Craig is far less effective. He’s not a good athlete and his lack of speed and telegraphed wind-ups make him vulnerable against more capable, fluid strikers, while his wrestling also often been a weak point, making it difficult to get the fight to the floor where he’s most effective in the first place.

The 31-year-old Borralho is a confident, athletic and skilled all-rounder who particularly excels on the mat with good takedowns and strong wrestling control, while one the feet he has karate-style striking from range with good speed and accuracy. Borralho isn’t a particularly potent finisher though and is generally happy to just grind down his opponents and win on the scorecards.

You can never count out Craig as he can produce a submission out of thin air, but I think Borralho’s stifling wrestling will make it hard for him, while the Brazilian’s speed and athleticism also gives him the edge on the feet too, leading him to a comfortable decision victory here.

Prediction: Caio Borralho to win by decision

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UFC 301 Prelims

(Predicted winners in bold)

Joanderson Brito vs. Jack Shore
Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Iasmin Lucindo
Elves Brener vs. Myktybek Orolbai
Jean Silva vs. William Gomis
Joaquim Silva vs. Drakkar Klose
Jamie Mullarkey vs. Mauricio Ruffy
Dione Barbosa vs. Ernesta Kareckaite
Ismael Bonfim vs. Vinc Pichel
Alessandro Costa vs. Kevin Borjas

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About Ross Cole

Ross Cole is one of the most prolific mixed martial arts writers in the world, having written more than 17,000 MMA news stories for MMA Insight, which he founded in 2009 as a way to channel his passion for the sport of mixed martial arts, and reaching millions of die-hard MMA fans in the process. You can read more of Ross's work at MMAInsight.com.