A breakdown of the fights on the main card of Saturday’s UFC on Fox 23 card at Pepsi Center in Denver, with picks from the Review-Journal’s Adam Hill and Heidi Fang:
Valentina Shevchenko (13-2) vs. Julianna Pena (9-2)
* Class: Women’s bantamweight
* Line: Shevchenko minus-150
* Storyline: The top contender to Amanda Nunes’ title will be determined in a classic grappler vs. striker matchup. Shevchenko is incredibly patient, but the former Muay Thai world champion doesn’t miss many opportunities to inflict damage when she does attack. Pena is her polar opposite. She rarely stops coming forward, constantly pressing forward in pursuit of taking the fight to the ground, where she is relentless with ground-and-pound and submission attempts. The uglier the fight gets, the more likely Pena is winning. Shevchenko’s performance against Holly Holm in July was almost flawless, but Pena is a completely different matchup. The fight almost certainly will come down to who can keep the action in her comfort zone.
* Hill’s pick: Pena by third-round submission
* Fang’s pick: Shevchenko by decision
Donald Cerrone (32-7, 1 No Contest) vs. Jorge Masvidal (31-11)
* Class: Welterweight
* Line: Cerrone minus-155
* Storyline: Both fighters are solid strikers who moved up from lightweight in the past few years to avoid the brutal weight cuts. The move has worked out particularly well for Cerrone, who has won four straight fights and delivered some of the best performances of his career. Masvidal also has been good at 170 pounds, as his 3-2 record is a bit deceptive because of two split-decision losses. Masvidal is probably a better pure boxer and might have success with his jab against Cerrone, but “Cowboy” has been so effective with his kicks and knees. Masvidal’s biggest problem has been a propensity for getting too conservative and failing to earn the favor of the judges. Cerrone’s activity probably won’t allow Masvidal to stay as patient as he might prefer. That could produce fireworks, which is exactly what Cerrone wants.
* Hill’s pick: Cerrone by decision
* Fang’s pick: Cerrone by decision
Andrei Arlovski (25-13, 1 No Contest) vs. Francis Ngannou (9-1)
* Class: Heavyweight
* Line: Ngannou minus-400
* Storyline: This is classic matchmaking at its finest. Ngannou is a rising star who is being showcased on network TV against a former champion who still has a name and some power but is likely on his way out of the sport. Ngannou has the kind of power to accelerate that process. After three quick knockout wins to begin his UFC career, he recorded a submission victory the last time out against Anthony Hamilton in December. Even that was an exercise in brute strength, as he essentially appeared to be trying to simply rip Hamilton’s arm off his body when he forced the tap. Ngannou is huge, fast and powerful. Arlovski has beaten many of those types of fighters. It’s an uphill battle, though.
* Hill’s pick: Ngannou by first-round knockout
* Fang’s pick: Ngannou by second-round knockout
Alex Caceres (12-9, 1 No Contest) vs. Jason Knight (18-2)
* Class: Featherweight
* Line: Knight minus-155
* Storyline: The UFC career of Alex Caceres has been a roller coaster since he debuted in 2011. Winning streaks have been followed by losing streaks with seemingly no rhyme or reason. Much of the inconsistency probably can be pinned on his lack of interest in the defensive aspects of the sport. He’s aggressive in the standup and on the ground, which has led to getting caught by strikes and submissions. He might be starting to figure things out, though. Caceres moved up to featherweight last year and won two fights before a split-decision loss to rising star Yair Rodriguez. He will meet his match in terms of offensive-mindedness against Knight. Caceres probably would find himself in a great position by letting the fast-starting Knight wear down and trying to take over late, but it’s not his style. Look for Knight to drop Caceres with a shot and finish him on the mat.
* Hill’s pick: Knight by second-round submission
* Fang’s pick: Knight by third-round submission