The French Nordine Taleb has been fighting in Canada for his entire MMA career and this weekend faces off against Argentinian Santiago Ponzinibbio. Nordine Taleb is a dangerous Muay Thai style fighter with powerful kicks, a stiff jab and a solid right hand. He’s 12-3 as a professional and 4-1 in his five fights in the UFC.
His opponent, Santiago Ponzinibbio, has looked excellent ever since losing to Lorenz Larkin in June 2015. He’s 3-0 in the three fights after that and has managed to defeat recognisable names of Court McGee and Zak Cummings. Ponzinibbio brings forth a high-pressure style of fighting and will look to swarm Taleb, close the range, and make it difficult for Taleb to make this a Muay Thai fight.
Taleb has slick Muay Thai abilities and works his kicks and Thai clinch to slow down opponents and keep them at range. The question that will decide the outcome of this fight is whether Ponzinibbio can push past the distance control of Taleb and sneak into range, crowd him and make this fight a brawl. Ponzinibbio is a huge favourite and I’m not totally convinced he should be as Taleb can look to engage in the Thai clinch as he sneaks forward and land crisp elbows to the face of Ponzinibbio.
Carla Esparza is well-known for being the first UFC Strawweight Champion and the first Invicta FC Strawweight Champion. She defeated Rose Namajunas in December 2014 for the vacant title to close The Ultimate Fighter Season 20. Esparza has an insane ground game and can seriously dominate opponents on the ground.
Randa Markos steps up as the challenger for Carla Esparza in Halifax this weekend. Markos has managed a 2-2 record in the UFC with losses to two talented opponents in Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Cortney Casey. This will be her toughest test yet as she will strive to defend the takedown attempts of Esparza.
Carla Esparza is an absolute freak of nature on the ground, and it’ll take an incredible performance from Randa Markos to keep Esparza from taking her down. Once there, Esparza will straight-up frustrate Markos with her control and bully her for the course of the fight. There’s massive value on Esparza to win in Round 3 – let’s take a shot at it!
Aiemann Zahabi will be pushed to the limits for the first time in his MMA career as he makes his UFC debut against Reginaldo Vieira. Previously fighting in local Canadian promotions, Zahabi had managed an impressive 6-0 professional record by stopping all of his opponents in the first round. Aiemann is the younger brother of Firas Zahabi, who was one of the main components behind the success of Georges St. Pierre and Rory MacDonald at Tristar Gym.
Reginaldo Vieira is a brawler who likes to bait his opponent into a back-and-forth punching contest. He’s now 1-1 in the UFC after losing to Marco Beltran in July 2016. Vieira is relentless in his attack and often leaves many openings available for an opponent as he comes forward with pure aggression.
Zahabi’s grappling is too good for Vieira and should be what gets him over the line. He is active on the ground and will continually look for submissions – this is especially important against the mistake-prone Vieira. This one won’t make the distance, and it’s likely that Zahabi stops Vieira in round two or three.
Jack Marshman kicked off his UFC career perfectly by stopping Magnus Cedenblad in the second round via TKO. Marshman entered the UFC on a six-win streak, and six of his last seven fights have ended up in a stoppage victory in the first two rounds. Marshman likes to fight standing up and will rely on his pressure and fast-paced style to overwhelm opponents.
Thiago Santos is on a two-fight losing streak after losing first to Gegard Mousasi in July 2016 and then losing to Eric Spicely in September. Santos lost both of these fights in the first round and didn’t look like he was ranked as a top-15 fighter, especially in the fight against Spicely. Santos packs enormous power and can knock his opponent out in a variety of ways.
Santos has a multitude of striking attacks and hits like a truck. While his last fight against Spicely was lost on the ground, this one against Marshman should remain standing up for the entirety. Santos is the slightly better striker and should cause problems for Marshman in what will resemble somewhat of a Muay Thai / kickboxing event.
Nordine Taleb vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio
Nordine Taleb to Win
Monday 20th February, 03:00 GMT
Odds: +310 – Ladbrokes
Carla Esparza vs. Randa Markos
Carla Esparza to win in Round 3
Monday 20th February, 02:30 GMT
Odds: +1200 – BetVictor
Aiemann Zahabi vs. Reginaldo Vieira
Aiemann Zahabi by Submission
Monday 20th February, 00:00 GMT
Odds: +400 – BetVictor
Jack Marshman vs. Thiago Santos
Thiago Santos by KO/TKO
Monday 20th February, 00:30 GMT
Odds: +100 – Ladbrokes