AXS TV Fights returns to the airwaves on Friday night with RFA 18, the latest offering from one of the best developmental organizations in MMA. Ed Soares’ promotion will see a title fight in the flyweight division and the return of two notable veterans in the bantamweight division. Matt Manzanares puts his 125lb title on the line against one of the best flyweights in Brazil right now, Alexandre Pantoja. Manzanares was recently passed over for a UFC promotion in favor of Joby Sanchez and a win here would go a long way to earning him a phone call from Sean Shelby. The same goes for Pantoja, who has been just under that level for many years now. This bout should be exciting with Pantoja’s aggressive striking against Manzanares’ slick boxing. In the co-main event, former DREAM veteran Abel Cullum makes his return to MMA after a nearly three-year absence. Cullum was known for his exciting fights but struggled a bit towards the end of his run especially against bigger, stronger fighters. That won’t be an issue against former flyweight Ulysses Gomez, who is a submission grappler first and foremost. Gomez is coming off a year-and-a-half layoff himself, so he could be shaking off the ring rust just like Cullum. The third bout of the evening features a striker versus grappler match as Chidi Njokuani will look to knock out submission artist Steve Hanna. Njokuani seems like he’s been on the brink of making it to the next level, and his eyes have been on joining his brother in the UFC for many years now. A loss to an unproven fighter like Hanna would seriously derail those hopes, while a win would keep him right on track. MMA oddsmaker Nick Kalikas opened the betting lines for the top three fights at RFA 19 over on Several Bookmakers. Check them out: ——————– MAIN CARD (AXS TV, 10pm ET) RFA Flyweight Title Alexandre Pantoja -160 Matt Manzanares +120 Abel Cullum -125 Ulysses Gomez -115 Chidi Njokuani -305 Steve Hanna +225 ——————– Brad’s Analysis: The flyweight title fight is very, very close, but I actually prefer the cleaner striking of Manzanares overall. If I thought Pantoja would pursue more of a grappling heavy gameplan, I’d favor him, but he usually prefers to keep things on the feet and Manzanares will be more than happy to oblige. Across five rounds I expect Manzanares to simply land a higher volume and take home a decision. I wouldn’t go crazy betting it, as the fight is competitive and Pantoja probably holds some value if he gets over +150 as well, but I expect the line to go the other way and Manzanares will be my pick and my play. If Cullum can return to his old form, he should beat Gomez. He’s a bigger fighter, a better wrestler, and has the scrambling and submission defense to avoid Gomez’ submissions. We’ve seen that ‘Useless’ can kind of embody his nickname in striking battles, so Cullum should have the edge on the feet as well. I worry about the layoff, but Gomez’ own layoff mitigates that fear a bit, and if this line flips and you can grab Cullum at a dog price, I think you have to. Njokuani fighting a decent grappler is always a scary proposition, but I think Chidi is safe in this bout. Hanna just hasn’t shown enough explosion in his wrestling to get this to the ground in the middle of the cage. He usually has to push his opponent up against the fence and work for takedowns from there. Njokuani is actually pretty solid at keeping himself up when he’s got his back to the cage, and he can do some damage in tight with his knees and elbows. I think he stuffs the takedowns and puts Hanna away on the feet. Not sure I’d parlay him at 3-to-1, but I do like him as a pick.