Canada is getting their first UFC card of the new year with a Fox Sports 1 show headlined by rising heavyweight contender Derrick Lewis and the struggling Travis Browne. Co-headlining will be Johny Hendricks moving up to middleweight to take on the dangerous Hector Lombard. Previews and predictions for the entire card follow, starting with the UFC Fight Pass early prelims:
UFC Fight Pass Early Prelim (6:30 p.m. EST / 3:30 p.m. PST)
Gerald Meerschaert (25-8) vs. Ryan Janes (9-1) – Middleweight Bout
The opener for Halifax’s UFC Fight Night will feature two rising middleweights who both won their first UFC bouts. Gerald Meerschaert is the definition of a journeyman with his huge record and long road to the UFC. His wins and losses both come from submissions mostly, with 18 of his 25 wins from it and 7 of his 8 losses by it as well. His works out of Roufusport so his striking is improving, but his losses come mostly from rear-naked chokes which often happen by getting hurt on the feet and being open to having your back taken. Ryan Janes had a long road to the UFC due to his first two UFC bouts being canceled with some bad luck, but finally getting his chance and victory against Keith Berish. Janes is also adept on the ground, with 7 of his 9 wins stemming from submissions. Meerschaert is susceptible to the rear-naked choke and most of Janes’ victories come from it. Janes should look pretty solid in his second UFC bout and is durable enough to not be finished so expect a finish of Meerschaert.
Prediction: Ryan Janes via submission Round 2
Fox Sports 1 Prelims (7 p.m. EST / 4 p.m. PST)
Jack Marshman (21-5) vs. Thiago Santos (13-5) – Middleweight Bout
Jack Marshman is getting a nice step up in competition here against the previously ranked Thiago Santos. The striking of Marshman is his strongest area and he really showed it off against Magnus Cedenblad in his debut of November of last year. Marshman can get wild, but his style is fairly technical and he is relentless when someone is rocked. Thiago Santos has the power to cause trouble for anyone, but his striking has looked slow and sloppy lately. His toughest opponent he beat was Elias Theodorou, but he has suffered successive losses to Gegard Mousasi and Eric Spicely, by KO and submission respectively. This should be a fun stand up war between two strikers, but Marshman should take this fight with relative ease.
Prediction: Jack Marshman via TKO Round 1
Aiemann Zahabi (6-0) vs. Reginaldo Vieira (14-4) – Bantamweight Bout
In his home country of Canada, Quebec’s Aiemann Zahabi will be looking to impress against the BJJ based fighter Reginaldo Vieira. Zahabi has finished every opponent he has faced within the first round, as he should as only two of his six opponents have had a winning record. This is quite common for new fighters and it bodes well that he could finish them all quickly, showing that they don’t belong in there with him. His striking and submissions have proven to be helpful for him and he will be taking his first fight in nearly a year against the dangerous Vieira. 1-1 inside the UFC, Vieira will likely need a victory here to keep his place, and he will likely be looking for the takedown early and often. Vieira submission skills are fairly high level, but he has shown his vulnerability to submissions as well. Although far less experienced, Zahabi trains with Tri-Star and his skills should be far better than his low amount of experience shows. Zahabi gets the finish before the bell due to Vieira’s four finishes in four losses.
Prediction: Aiemann Zahabi via Submission Round 1
(#3) Carla Esparza (12-3) vs. Randa Markos (6-5) – Women’s Strawweight Bout
Top contender Carla Esparza is taking a second opponent in a row who just isn’t close in skill to where she is at in Randa Markos. Esparza is near the top of the division because her only loss is to Joanna Jedrzejczyk, but she isn’t fighting fighters in the top 10. There were reports of Esparza vs. Claudia Gadelha, but word is that Esparza’s camp turned down those fights, which is a shame as her high level wrestling would prove an interesting test for some other top 5 opponents. Esparza’s striking leaves something to be desired, but her wrestling may be some of the best in the strawweight division. Randa Markos has some decent wrestling and striking, but doesn’t do amazingly in any area. Markos will likely be taken down early and will have trouble keeping the fight upright. Esparza wins a dominant decision.
Prediction: Carla Esparza via Unanimous Decision
Nordine Taleb (11-3) vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio (24-3) – Welterweight Bout
Tough welterweights will be facing off, trying to break into the top 15 when Nordine Taleb fights Santiago Ponzinibbio. Both of these men will throw down and love to strike. Nordine Taleb has only lost to Warlley Alves within the organization, but has beaten some stiff competition besides that and is looking to keep a second winning streak going after knocking out Erick Silva in his last bout. Santiago Ponzinibbio will have a better overall game with being a black-belt in BJJ. Taleb might be the better wrestler so this fight is really good matchmaking and should be a tough and even battle. My gut says to go with Ponzinibbio as he has beaten Sean Strickland, Court McGee and Zak Cummings who are very tough and veteran UFC fighters.
Prediction: Santiago Ponzinibbio via TKO Round 3
Fox Sports 1 Main Card (9 p.m. EST / 6 p.m. PST)
Paul Felder (12-3) vs. Alessandro Ricci (10-4) – Lightweight Bout
Fireworks will happen during the opening main card bout Sunday night. Paul Felder loves to stand and trade and will put it all on the line to do so. Felder’s chin has held up fairly well and he will stand and trade with anyone. He actually showed a bit of his ground game off when he submitted Daron Cruickshank. Alessandro Ricci looks to rebound from a loss to Jeremy Kennedy in his UFC debut and has no problem trading with Felder. The bout should be back and forth, but Felder might be the more decorated striker in the octagon. Ricci has never been finished, but Felder should be able to control the bout.
Prediction: Paul Felder via Unanimous Decision
(#7) Sara McMann (10-3) vs. Gina Mazany (4-0) – Women’s Bantamweight Bout
The best wrestler in the women’s bantamweight division should have been facing Liz Carmouche on Sunday night. Sara McMann is now taking on replacement fighter Gina Mazany. McMann’s plan is always to get in, takedown her opponent and either grind out the victory by beating them up, or get the submission when they don’t wanna be beat up anymore. She should have almost zero resistance when trying to do this to Mazany. McMann is taking a risk here by fighting a relative unknown, and Mazany has everything to gain with a good performance here. Mazany has a punchers chance, but she doesn’t bring anything to the table that McMann hasn’t seen before.
Prediction: Sara McMann via Submission Round 1
Elias Theodorou (12-1) vs. Cezar Ferreira (12-5) – Middleweight Bout
Elias Theodorou had a 11 fight winning streak broken by Thiago Santos in December 2015, but is young enough at 28 to make some adjustments to his game and keep improving. The strengths of Theodorou are his wrestling, Muay Thai and BJJ, he has a fairly distinct style, and against lower competition he will demolish them. Cezar Ferreira has gone 3-0 since returning to the middleweight division. Vitor Belfort is the mentor to Ferreira, and his experience and knowledge of mixed martial arts has allowed him to soak in information. Ferreira’s troubles come from his chin not being as strong as he would hope, suffering four knockouts in his five losses. If Theodorou is on point, he can very well knockout Ferreira, but otherwise Ferreira has looked much more improved lately. A hard choice, but the pick should lean towards the more active fighter in Ferreira.
Prediction: Cezar Ferreira via Unanimous Decision
Sam Sicilia (15-7) vs. Gavin Tucker (9-0) – Featherweight Bout
Sam Sicilia needs to get the win here if he wants to remain on the UFC roster, he will be facing Canada’s prospect Gavin Tucker. Sam Sicilia has heavy hands and some good submission skills, but his defense is almost non-existent. If he gets in trouble he will be knocked out or taken down and submitted. Gavin Tucker is 30 years old, but is undefeated and has finished all but one fight in his career. Versatile on the feet and the ground, Tucker should prove to be a very tough fight for Sicilia. Tucker will likely wobble Sicilia and then finish the fight on the ground.
Prediction: Gavin Tucker via Submission Round 2
(#10 WW) Johny Hendricks (17-5) vs. Hector Lombard (34-6-1, 2 NC) – Middleweight Bout
A last ditch effort for Johny Hendricks to remain relevant comes in the form of moving up to the middleweight division to take on the lethal Hector Lombard. Hendricks is 1-4 in his last five, with losses to Robbie Lawler, Stephen Thompson, Kelvin Gastelum and Neil Magny and a lone win over Matt Brown. The wrestling of Hendricks is his best weapon, but he sometimes just likes to hold against the cage and it loses him fights. Hendricks can stand and trade, but after his two fights with Lawler and the TKO to Thompson he has gotten very wrestle heavy again. Missing weight twice in a row also has led to Hendricks moving up a division..
Hector Lombard has had a less than stellar UFC career after so much hype, only going 3-4 and 1 NC. Lombard is on a current three fight win-less streak with two TKOs in a row. His last bout saw him basically finish off Henderson in the first, but it went to a second round and he was dropped by Henderson in brutal fashion. This bout will likely stay on the feet with Lombard’s solid Judo that should stifle the wrestling of Hendricks. Both men hit incredibly hard, but Lombard is quicker and should be stronger, but it just depends on who lands first.
Prediction: Hector Lombard via KO Round 1
(#8) Derrick Lewis (17-4, 1 NC) vs. (#9) Travis Browne (18-5-1) – Heavyweight Main Event (5 Rounds)
Two potential heavyweight contenders will face off on Sunday in the main event and try to push themselves closer to the top 5. Derrick Lewis is some fresh blood in the UFC’s heavyweight division and is looking to get his biggest win yet over veteran contender Travis Browne. This could be a changing of the guard and some valuable fight experience for Lewis moving forward. It’s hard to count out Browne though with his huge frame and athleticism.
Derrick Lewis is riding a five fight winning streak with wins over Viktor Pesta, Gabriel Gonzaga and Roy Nelson in that streak. His most recent win over Shamil Abdurakhimov was a trying one, where he lasted four rounds before finally finishing him off. The experience of going into the championship rounds was good for him and he was hard on himself for a semi-boring performance prior to the finish. Lewis will most likely keep improving when he is hard on himself like that even in victory. His striking is good and he has amazing power. His wrestling is getting better with every match up and he is making strides in getting up if he is taken down. His ground and pound is also some of the scariest I’ve ever seen.
At one point in time Travis Browne was looking like he would win a title, but two losses to Werdum and Velasquez have slowed down his hype. The most detrimental loss was a TKO to Andrei Arlovski. Browne’s striking is solid and he makes good use of his elbows and kicks. The height and reach Browne possesses really makes him a hard bout for many potential opponents. The worst thing that has happened to Travis Browne is that he began to train with Edmond Tarverdyan. Mr. Tarverdyan has been blasted as one of worst coaches in mixed martial arts today and it is shown with his cornering advice. When Holly Holm was beating Ronda Rousey badly in the first round, in between round he said good job, keep doing what you are doing when she was doing nothing well in that first round. There really hasn’t been anything more detrimental to Browne’s career than deciding to train with him.
The fight could go one of two ways, Browne’s height could let him get the advantage in the stand up and give him a solid chance to pepper strikes on Lewis before finishing him off as he has been TKO’d twice before. The more likely scenario is that Lewis gets his best win yet, with a brutal KO of Browne and goes on to bigger and better things. Browne was TKO’d by Arlovski and I’m going to guess a hard, clean shot from Lewis might hurt just a bit more. The ground game could go either way, but if Lewis takes down the taller fighter, he will be hard to get off the top of him too. No matter where the fight goes, if Lewis fights smart he should come out with the win.
Prediction: Derrick Lewis via KO Round 2