UFC Fight Night 148, set for Saturday night in Nashville, should be another fun card that gives some lesser-known talent a turn in the spotlight and features a thrilling kickboxing-centric main event.
The last time UFC visited the Music City, in 2017, exciting young fighters such as Mike Perry and Al Iaquinta delivered highlight-reel knockouts. This weekend's event has more of a contender-vs.-pretender feel to it.
Stephen Thompson (14-3-1) vs. Anthony Pettis (21-8), welterweight
For fans of MMA fights that involve little to no wrestling, Thompson-Pettis is a dream match. Thompson, a two-time title challenger known as "Wonderboy," is one of the slickest strikers the sport has ever seen. He comes from a karate background that emphasizes feints and striking from unorthodox angles. Pettis, a former WEC and UFC lightweight champion, earned the nickname “Showtime” for his high-flying, acrobatic kicks. He was groomed in taekwondo and jiu-jitsu, and evolved a unique style that combines technical mastery with a splash of swagger. Since Pettis lost the UFC title back in 2015, he seems content with putting on crowd-pleasing performances rather than staying disciplined and picking apart his opponents. Thompson, 36, remains in the title mix in the loaded welterweight division with a No. 3 ranking. Pettis is a tough out, but expect Thompson to break his streak of judges' decisions with a dominant performance.
Prediction: Thompson, via third-round TKO
Curtis Blaydes (10-2) vs. Justin Willis (8-1), heavyweight
The top five spots in the heavyweight division after champion Daniel Cormier are up for grabs (there's a similar situation at light heavyweight behind Jon Jones). Blaydes, ranked No. 3, is looking to show he's capable of more than beating past-their-prime greats and is a serious title contender. Willis is looking to extend his winning streak to five fights and garner some headlines. Blaydes, 28, has been quiet coming off a vicious knockout loss to Francis Ngannou in November. Willis’ approach to fight week has been the opposite: The confident 31-year-old brawler said he has been waiting for this moment. Expect Blaydes to use his high-level wrestling to avoid brawls and get back into the win column.
Prediction: Blaydes, via unanimous decision
Luis Pena (5-1) vs. Steven Peterson (17-7), featherweight
Pena, from the same team as UFC champions Khabib Nurmagomedov and Daniel Cormier, is looking for a foothold in the featherweight division. His first opponent will be the scales: He has to get under 145 pounds on a 6-foot-3 frame. Peterson has not won consecutive fights in nearly three years. Pena has the tools to get the victory, but who knows how much he’ll have left in the tank?
Prediction: Pena, via split decision
Maycee Barber (6-0) vs. J.J. Aldrich (7-2), flyweight
A great test for a pair of Denver fighters. The 20-year old Barber recorded five finishes (three knockouts and two submissions) in six fights while rag-dolling her opponents at strawweight (115 pounds), and now is moving up to 125 pounds. J.J. Aldrich is no pushover and has rattled off three straight wins, but Barber may be too much for Aldrich to handle. Look for Barber to out-muscle her and push the pace beyond Aldrich's comfort.
Prediction: Barber, via unanimous decision