Robert Whittaker vs. Ikram Aliskerov prediction, pick: Can ex-champ get back in hunt at UFC on ABC 6?

MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom goes in depth to break down the biggest fights in the UFC. Today, he takes a closer look at the UFC on ABC 6 main event between former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker and short-notice opponent Ikram Aliskerov.

Robert Whittaker UFC on ABC 6 preview

Robert Whittaker

Staple info:

  • Record: 25-7 MMA, 16-5 UFC

  • Height: 6’0″ Age: 33 Weight: 185 lbs. Reach: 73.5″

  • Last fight: Decision win over Paul Costa (Feb. 17, 2024)

  • Camp: Gracie Jiu-jitsu Smeaton Grange (Australia)

  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing

  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info:
+ Former UFC middleweight champion
+ Hapkido and karate black belt
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt
+ Australian National Wrestling Championships gold medal
+ 10 knockout victories
+ 5 submission wins
+ 6 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Consistent pace and pressure
+ Good footwork and distance management
^ Quick blitzes and deceptive tempo changes
+ Accurate jabs and hooks
^ Coming forward or off the counter
+ Excellent wrestling ability
^ Defensively and offensively
+ Improved overall grappling

Ikram Aliskerov UFC on ABC 6 preview

Ikram Aliskerov, UFC 294

Staple info:

  • Record: 15-1 MMA, 2-0 UFC

  • Height: 6’0″ Age: 31 Weight: 185 lbs. Reach: 76″

  • Last fight: TKO win over Warlley Alves (Oct. 21, 2023)

  • Camp: KHK MMA Team (Russia)

  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing

  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info:
+ Combat sambo world champion
+ Multiple sambo titles (European and world)
+ Amateur MMA accolades
+ 6 knockout victories
+ 5 submission wins
+ 7 first-round finishes
+ KO power
^ Naturally heavy hands
+ Accurate jab
+ Solid sense of range
+ Strong inside the clinch
^ Competent takedown chains
+ Excellent wrestling ability
^ Defensively and offensively
+ Good transitional grappler
^ Dangerous with kimuras

Robert Whittaker vs. Ikram Aliskerov point of interest: Jabbers, not jobbers

Feb 17, 2024; Anaheim, California, USA; Robert Whittaker lands a jab against Paulo Costa during UFC 298 at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The main event in Saudi Arabia features an impromptu middleweight matchup between two talented fighters who aren’t afraid to use their jab.

Coming from a traditional martial arts base, Robert Whittaker has developed into one of the most unique striking stylists at 185 pounds.

Using a combination of speed, accuracy and a fluid economy of movement, the Australian will deceptively blitz off different angles. Like many karate-based strikers, Whittaker will feint or show a certain speed to draw his opponent into a false sense of security, only to disrupt the perceived timing with off-beat strikes.

As we’ve seen in multiple fights, Whittaker often will assert himself through rear-legged front kicks that he uses to launch himself into variations of left hooks and shifting overhand shots. The former champ also has no issue when it comes to sticking to his fundamentals, building offense off of deceptive jabs and feints.

That said, Whittaker is not beyond being taxed for his sometimes low-handed approach and will need to be on his best behavior opposite a competitor like Ikram Aliskerov.

Despite coming from an extensive sambo background, Aliskerov has steadily been improving his striking for those paying attention.

Smartly prioritizing his lead hand, Aliskerov plies a deceptively effective jab at range. The 31-year-old will occasionally play off his jab, offering up change-ups in the form of hook-cross combinations.

When feeling in Stride, Aliskerov will attach kicks or knees to his combos, working particularly well off his lead side. Although Aliskerov’s offerings off of the lead side should serve him well on paper, the Dagestani’s A-game is arguably on the ground.

Robert Whittaker vs. Ikram Aliskerov breakdown: Potential grappling threats

Ikram Aliskerov def. Warlley Alves, UFC 294

Considering Aliskerov’s grappling prowess, no one should be shocked if the Dagestani fighter attempts to take this party to the floor this Saturday.

A world and European champion in sambo, Aliskerov is no stranger to closed-quarter combat. Like many high-level operators out of Dagestan, Aliskerov does his best work from the clinch – a place where he can chain to and from takedown attempts.

Whether Aliserkov is working from bodylock positions or single-leg variations, the 12-year pro doesn’t seem to be short on ideas in this space. Aliskerov also keeps solid reactive takedown shots in his back pocket, which could come in handy against a blitzing “Bobby Knuckles.”

That said, Whittaker has proven to be much more difficult to ground than many presumed.

Aside from the fact that Whittaker’s footwork makes it difficult for his opponents to set up their shots, the Australian also shows the small technical intricacies that make him hard to ground or hold down when grasped.

For example, while most fighters are reliant on more traditional defenses such as sprawls or battles for under-hooks, they typically end up losing out to superior grapplers since these defensive tactics involve a commitment to contact (which in turn begets more grappling).

Whereas Whittaker, though capable of using those defenses, does not rely on them. Instead, “The Reaper” prefers to head off takedown attempts at the pass.

Already possessing a strong base and balance, Whittaker’s hip and grip awareness also have improved through the years.

Not only does Whittaker utilize grip breaks and wrist controls, but the 33-year-old is also disciplined about consistently circling out to his opponent’s weak side, which helps dissuade re-shots and takedown chain adjustments from his foes. Even Romero had difficulty grasping or chaining off his initial attempts due to Whittaker’s persistence to fight hands.

What is even more impressive is Whittaker’s ability to go from thwarting takedown attempts to striking off the breaks, something that will also likely keep Aliskerov honest in exchanges with him.

Still, if Whittaker does find himself on the bottom in this fight, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt will need to be extra careful with his propensity to look for underhook getups given Aliskerov’s knack for finding kimuras.

Robert Whittaker vs. Ikram Aliskerov odds

Despite the oddsmakers opening this fight at a pick’em, public money has come in the former champion, listing Whittaker -154 and Aliskerov +120 via FanDuel.

Robert Whittaker vs. Ikram Aliskerov prediction, pick

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 17: Robert Whittaker of New Zealand celebrates defeating Paulo Costa of Brazil in their middleweight fight during UFC 298 at Honda Center on February 17, 2024 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Considering that Whittaker is a much more proven product on paper, I can completely understand the early enthusiasm for bettors backing the Australian in this spot.

That said, I stand by my initial feeling that Aliskerov is a deceptively trickier task than Whittaker’s original opponent – Khamzat Chimaev – from a stylistic perspective.

Don’t get me wrong: Chimaev offers a hell of an early storm to weather on paper, but Whittaker has traditionally done well against aggressive, grapple-heavy fighters.

Aliskerov, however, offers a much different ask given that the Dagestani fighter is more fundamentally sound than Chimaev and appears to be able to fight at a solid pace for three rounds. Moreover, Aliskerov is among the handful of decent jabber in the division, which could pay some potential dividends considering the success Costa had when jabbing in Whittaker’s last fight.

But between Aliskerov’s inexperience at this level and the fact that last week’s shakeup affects him more with the multiple weight cuts compounded with travel at hand, I can’t help but side with the speed and savvy of Whittaker.

I believe that Whittaker can have success with his kicks at distance and timing change-ups in close, potentially producing his first finish since 2017. The pick is Whittaker by knockout in Round 3.

Prediction: Whittaker inside the distance

Robert Whittaker vs. Ikram Aliskerov start time, where to watch

As the main event, Whittaker and Aliskerov are expected to make their walks to the octagon at approximately 5 p.m. ET. The fight broadcasts live on ABC and streams on ESPN+.

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC on ABC 6.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie