On Saturday, July 25, the final chapter of the UFC’s Fight Island series will come to its conclusion (for now). On the heels of a great month of fights in Abu Dhabi, the promotion has decided to turn this event into a history-making, 15-fight affair with some real bangers on the bout sheet, concluding with a very important middleweight clash between former champion Robert Whittaker and British talent Darren Till. The card gets underway at 5:00 p.m. ET.
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Robert Whittaker ($8,300)
“Bobby Knuckles” may not have the polished striking that Darren Till has, but what he lacks in technique, he makes up for with raw power. He’s a versatile, well-rounded fighter with a solid wrestling base and a diverse striking skillset that incorporates lethal kicks into gorgeous finishing combinations that have put several opponents out. He’s confident and aggressive, and wastes no time getting in the pocket to trade.
Darren Till ($7,900) is the polar opposite, taking a while to warm up and having a pretty low output. During the Tyron Woodley fight, which went almost to the end of the second round, Till didn’t land a single significant strike while Tyron landed 57 of 79 significant strikes. When he fought Gastelum, he was practically timid after taking back-to-back knockout losses to Woodley followed by another at the hands of Jorge Masvidal. Whittaker won’t allow that timidity in his octagon and will likely put him in the hot seat quick with those teeth-jarring head kicks and powerful follow-up hooks.
Alexander Gustafsson ($9,300)
Alexander Gustafsson is making his first foray into the big boy division and is looking to make a statement with a win over notable submission specialist Fabricio Werdum. Gustafsson will have youth, size and conditioning on his side against the 42-year-old Werdum, who’s been looking quite shopworn of late and happens to be riding a two-fight losing skid. Gus has better striking and striking defense, is more agile on his feet and has surprisingly good takedown defense. “The Mauler” does have six total losses on his record, but all were to top five contenders or champions with the exception of Phil Davis (way back in 2009). He gave both Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier a real run for the money, actually taking Cormier to a split-decision. With his striking prowess and superior conditioning, it’s his fight to lose.
Marina Rodriguez ($8,600)
Marina Rodriguez is pretty big for a strawweight, coming in at 5’7”, and uses her size advantageously to bully her opponents around the cage. She possesses very good striking with plenty of power, evidenced by five knockouts on her pristine 12-0-2 record. She’s active, has good footwork and plenty of stamina to match. In her fight with Cynthia Calvillo, she performed well against one of the best wrestlers in the division. She’ll present a big task to Carla Esparza ($7,600), who will be at a five-inch height disadvantage and will also have a two-inch reach deficit. Taking Marina down won’t be easy, especially when she’ll be launching hard knees and punches from the clinch when Esparza shoots in. Rodriguez is possibly facing her toughest challenge yet, but she should be able to rise to the occasion.
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Tom Aspinall ($8,800)
Tom Aspinall comes into the UFC with a lot of hype behind him to accompany his 7-2 record. All seven of his wins have been finishes, with four being inside a minute. He will have a significant size advantage over Jake Collier ($7,400), who hasn’t competed since 2017 due to injury. Tom has real skills with real power and that shouldn’t be overlooked. He isn’t exactly a submission artist, but he does have some grappling chops and does good work off his back. His striking is diverse, and he’s quite active with leg kicks—a nice complement to his heavy hands. Collier has upset the favorite a time or two in past fights (think Ricardo Abreu), but it’s hard to pick against Aspinall considering all the benefits he carries in this contest.
Carla Esparza ($7,600)
Carla Esparza comes into this fight with a pretty extreme size disadvantage, but when has she not been the smaller fighter? What she lacks in size, she makes up for with grit, determination and an unwavering forward assault. She’s an excellent wrestler with an evolving striking game, and while she doesn’t pack much power, she overcomes that deficit with volume. She’s also very aggressive and willing to stand and trade in the pocket. Her takedowns are her bread and butter and she sets them up well with improving kickboxing. Carla is going to be playing the part of David to Rodriguez’s Goliath, but her wrestling could absolutely be the stone that causes Marina to suffer her first defeat.
Jai Herbert ($7,700)
Jai Herbert is a fantastic prospect hailing from Wolverhampton and he cut a swathe of destruction through the lightweight division in Cage Warriors and BAMMA before that. He’s a tall, rangy fighter with a fantastic gas tank and legitimate knockout power. His lone loss came almost four years ago and since then, he’s racked up six wins and a title. His striking at range could prove to be the gamechanger in this contest, especially since the 41-year-old Francisco Trinaldo ($8,500) has had issues in the past getting inside with lengthy opponents that control the distance (see James Vick fight). Herbert isn’t as experienced on the ground as Trinaldo is, but that’s not to say he might not have a trick or two in store for the wily veteran. He does have a submission win on his record, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility. This should be a fun scrap, and Herbert has an excellent chance to upset the favorite.
Mike Grundy ($7,100)
Mike Grundy is a submission artist with a solid standup game to complement his excellent grappling. His lone loss was five years ago, and he’s been on an absolute tear ever since, stringing together nine wins, with six of them being finishes. Grundy has a gnarly blast double, which he used quite well in his fight with Nad Narimani, and his takedown defense is more than capable. Movsar Evloev ($9,100) is a powerful wrestler, but Grundy is a crafty scrambler with smooth transitions, which should come in handy when this fight inevitably hits the ground. He’s got a durable chin and doesn’t panic under pressure, as Narimani had him wobbled shortly before Mike knocked him out. It’s a tall order, but the Team Kaobon prospect has all the tools to get the job done.
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