Are you ready for some more fights? You damn well better be, since they are coming whether you like it or not after a whirlwind three days last weekend, the likes of which may never be seen again. With only a mere week to digest all of the previous happenings, the UFC provides us with a UFC on Fox event that hasn’t been receiving the attention it deserves in the wake of Conor McGregor and Luke Rockhold staking their title claims among other events.
So what do we have? Donald Cerrone tries to avenge his most recent loss against champion Rafael dos Anjos and stake his claim as the world’s best lightweight. A fight four years in the making between Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem finally comes to fruition. And the ever-controversial Nate Diaz returns to try and right the ship against Michael Johnson.
As for my assignment, there are some fights worth paying attention to on the prelims. Charles Oliveira and Myles Jury have the highest profile match, one which should be highly entertaining. A talented women’s bantamweight has a serious chance to turn heads against a divisional staple. And one of the most hyped prospects in any division in Kamaru Usman looks to continue to cash in on his promise.
Charles Oliveira vs. Myles Jury (Featherweight)
What’s at Stake: The winner puts them in position to be the dark horse contender of the featherweight division as Jury makes his divisional debut.
The Fighters: Oliveira suffered a freakish esophageal tear in his highly anticipated fight against Max Holloway, ending things just mere minutes into the fight and bringing a screeching halt to Oliveira’s momentum. Known as an exceptionally BJJ, Oliveira is one of the few who genuinely deserves the accolades that he gets as his long limbs make him anaconda-like with a wide variety of submissions like armbars, triangles, and all sorts of chokes. Where he doesn’t have the respect that he deserves is in his continually improving standup. Doing a great job of using his length there as well, front kicks serve as his range tester as opposed to a jab, with the clinch being the most dangerous aspect of his striking, with knees and elbows from there that are absolutely brutal.
Jury scratched and clawed his way to the top 10 of the lightweight division only to be forcefully turned away by Donald Cerrone at the beginning of the year, prompting him to drop down to 145 lbs. He wasn’t exactly a small lightweight, so how well his weight cut goes bears watching, especially with the IV ban in effect. A well-rounded fighter, Jury takes the fight where his opponent is weakest in order to exploit them. Not a high volume striker, Jury picks and chooses his spots well with sound footwork and mechanics to avoid getting hit himself. Just like his striking, Jury’s wrestling and grappling is technically sound even as it lacks flash. What limits Jury more than anything is his lack of natural athleticism as it has been his grit and determination more than anything that has gotten him this far.
The Expectation: About as good of a preliminary headliner as you’re going to get, Oliveira has faced a higher level of competition than Myles while holding his own in the process. Jury is comparable to past Oliveira opponent Nik Lentz, and while he should provide more of a challenge than Lentz, expect him to suffer a similar fate. Oliveira via submission in the second round
CB Dollaway vs. Nate Marquardt (Middleweight)
What’s at Stake: The long journey for one of these two longtime UFC middleweight staples will likely come to an end with a loss.
The Fighters: Dollaway had finally hit his stride, winning four of five (with the lone loss being highly controversial) to earn his shot at the divisional elite, only to fall short to the likes of Lyoto Machida and Michael Bisping. Despite no longer being just a brawler on the feet, Dollaway is still limited as he still largely relies on a power shot to rattle his opponent as he throws limited boxing combinations mixed in with leg kicks. Wrestling was his bread and butter upon his inception and it still is both offensively and defensively as Dollaway has proven among the most difficult in the division to take to the mat. He isn’t much of a submission threat outside of scrambles, but has made himself a sound positional grappler with potential fight ending GNP.
How Marquardt is still hanging around the UFC is one of the great mysteries of the sport as he has lost five of his last six fights while appearing more lethargic with each passing fight. He can’t take punishment the way that he used to in addition to a shorter gas tank. Marquardt is still dangerous early within the fight before the wear and tear begins to show as he possess occasional power in his boxing complimented by his kicks. Problem there is his quickness has eroded as well, making more hittable than he once was. That leaves Marquardt’s long underrated wrestling as his greatest weapon as he has long been able to efficiently blend his wrestling with his BJJ skills to make him a threat both on the top position as well as off of his back.
The Expectation: Marquardt still has the ability to win in the UFC against those with subpar wrestling as he would be able to neutralize the damage taken. That doesn’t describe Dollaway at all. Dolloway will either pound out Marquardt on the ground or land a bomb on the feet to put Marquardt on ice. Dollaway via TKO in the third round
Sarah Kaufman vs. Valentina Shevchenko (Women’s Bantamweight)
What’s at Stake: Longtime bantamweight staple Kaufman needs a win to get back on track, while Shevchenko hopes to shock the MMA world with a short notice upset.
The Fighters: Five long years have passed since Kaufman reigned as queen of the bantamweight division, with all appearances indicating the elite of the division have passed her by. While that may be the case, she is still an ideal gatekeeper for anyone looking to enter the top of the division. Possibly the most technically sound boxer this side of Holly Holm in the division, Kaufman works at an incredibly fast pace with slick and short combinations often punctuated by short leg kicks. What is often baffling is how little Kaufman choses to use her excellent wrestling skills as she is difficult to take down while also proving top heavy with great GNP skills. Perhaps that is due to the holes in her submission defense in addition to the lack of a threat she herself poses to submitting her opponent.
Perhaps Kaufman will be willing to put those wrestling skills to use as Shevchenko’s combat career started in kickboxing where she went 60-2 in addition to multiple Muay Thai titles. Primarily a counter striker from the outside, Shevchenko is an extremely patient fighter who will pick her opponents apart with leg and body kicks if they hesitate too long on the outside while possessing extremely fast hands. The obvious question is how her ground skills have progressed since she started placing a heavier emphasis upon MMA the last few years. She is willing to go to the ground, using a variety of trips with strong elbows and punches from the top. Her wrestling still leaves something to be desired defensively and there hasn’t been much of a sign of competent submission game as her competition has improved.
The Expectation: Many are picking Kaufman simply because they recognize her name. While I agree that Kaufman should be favored and I am picking her to win, I will not be surprised if Shevchenko shocks the world with a highlight reel victory over longtime veteran Kaufman. Kaufman has a lot of mileage on her tires, but should still have enough to win over the short notice Shevchenko. Kaufman via decision
Josh Samman vs. Tamdan McCrory (Middleweight)
What’s at Stake: Can these two still be considered prospects? Whatever they are, the winner will be set up for a rise into the upper echelon of the division.
The Fighters: Samman was forgotten about after a 20 month absence only to come back in force by scoring finishes in both fights since his return while also gaining respect in the MMA community for his journalistic prowess. An underrated athlete with some serious striking skills, Samman is pretty much comfortable anywhere on his feet whether it be at distance, in the pocket, or in the clinch. He can be reckless at times as he has a love for the KO shot. His kicks in particular have a lot of power, and I’m not just referring to the switch kick he landed on Eddie Gordon. Though he has also shown some sound grappling chops, his wrestling is by far the biggest thing that could keep him from becoming a contender as he has struggled mightily to stop opposing takedowns on the highest level.
McCrory is very much a mystery at this point as he made a comeback to MMA after a five year absence last year in Bellator yet has only 87 seconds of fight time in his two fights since making his return. He fought at welterweight in his original UFC run, but his 6’4″ frame couldn’t handle the cut anymore, thus why he makes his way to middleweight. McCrory had some issues going deep into fights at 170 lbs, but I can’t help but believe that should be rectified since he is no longer depleting himself to make weight, while the move seems to have amplified his power. He prefers fighting in the clinch despite his length as he has a good variety of trips and throws to where he can take the fight to the ground. Though McCrory is a talented grappler, he has been caught himself on occasion.
The Expectation: Though Samman has gotten most of the love from fans, this is harder to pick than what most people realize as McCrory is as scrappy and tough as they come… the type of fighter that Samman has had problems with. I don’t necessarily pick this in confidence, but McCrory has struggled most with wrestlers and slick grapplers which isn’t quite Samman. McCrory via decision
Nik Lentz vs. Danny Castillo (Lightweight)
What’s at Stake: This is Castillo’s last chance to remain in the UFC’s employment while Lentz looks to reestablish himself in his old stomping grounds at 155 lbs.
The Fighters: No coincidence that Lentz returns to lightweight after the IV ban after three years at featherweight. Sure, he won’t have the size advantage he often enjoyed at 145 lbs, but he isn’t a tiny lightweight by any means either. Often times it wouldn’t make much of a difference as he is a very technically sound wrestler who typifies the “embrace the grind” dynamic Mike Goldberg so often refers to as he is always looking to drag his opponent to the mat and wear them out. Well… that was the book on Lentz in his initial stay at lightweight. Since moving down, Lentz picked up some competent boxing accentuated with short punching combinations while complimented by kicks. Durability is another calling card as his only KO/TKO losses came by doctor stoppage.
A longtime staple at Team Alpha Male, Castillo has run into some tough luck with three straight losses entering the fight. At 36, time is running out for him to right the ship. Ironically enough, Castillo’s stylistic trajectory is very similar to Lentz in that he came into the UFC largely as a grinder before finding a footing in his striking. Far from being the same fighter, Castillo offers a bit more of a dynamic approach to his striking with occasional KO power while also showing less durability. Castillo offers a bit more oomph in his wrestling too as opposed to Lentz’s drag-down style, but he has struggled to implement it with any success as of late. Part of that is due to his gas tank running short at times, but also due to his newfound love of his striking.
The Expectation: While these two match up very well in all areas, I very much favor Lentz. He throws at a greater volume while offering a deeper gas tank and durability to boot. Castillo certainly has the power advantage and Lentz is pretty damn hittable which gives him a fair chance, but I’m guessing Lentz’s chin will continue to hold out. Lentz via decision
Cole Miller vs. Jim Alers (Featherweight)
What’s at Stake: Jobs can be had for both if they put on an exciting show, but the loser could be unemployed if they put on a stinker.
The Fighters: Well… Miller will probably be safe with a loss, but a lot of that has to do with Miller’s reputation as an exciting fighter anyway. Injuries have plagued Miller as of late as this is only his second fight in the last 22 months. Hopefully rust won’t be a factor. Primarily an outside striker as he looks to accentuate his long reach, Miller throws a lot of jabs with the occasional short combination and front kick to mix things up. Miller’s real wheelhouse is his brilliant scrambling ability as he has snagged four Performance bonuses via submission as he tends to get creative if unable to score his signature RNC. What hurts Miller has been his willingness to get into a dogfight as well as his lack of wrestling skills. His guard passing skills are sound, but do him no good if he can’t get the fight to the floor.
Alers is in a bit more of a desperate state than Miller as he enters his third UFC fight as he doesn’t have the long and well-deserved reputation Miller owns as an action fighter. A hot prospect not all that long ago, a lack of activity coupled with his loss to Chas Skelly have cooled many on Alers. It’s easy to see why many have been high on him as he is primarily a boxer with occasional pop, a strong and occasional powerful wrestler, and usually sound grappling skills. The issue is that while Alers is good in all of these areas, he isn’t great at anything while exhibiting poor striking defense, subpar footwork, and questionable fight IQ. These are correctable problems and he has the physical talent to become more dynamic in the other areas as well.
The Expectation: I get the feeling it is up to Miller how this fight goes. If he allows Alers to drag him into a firefight, Alers should walk out victorious. Otherwise, this should be pretty easy for Miller to pull out. Look for Miller to catch Alers in a scramble. Miller via submission in the first round
Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman (Welterweight)
What’s at Stake: A through and through striker vs. grappler match between these two prospects looking to continue their ascension.
The Fighters: Very much the underdog in this match, Edwards makes his North American debut in this fight. You will find very few better athletes than Edwards in the sport (not just the UFC) with a great variety of strikes in which he can attack. Edwards can be far too patient at times as he looks for the opening whether on the offensive or countering, leading to a lack of volume and problems in currying the judge’s favor. Regardless if it is his fists or his feet, he has serious KO power as he rounds out the rest of his game. While he has tried to implement wrestling without much success into his offense, he has shown good takedown defense as well as surprisingly good grappling defense. Edwards still has time to develop some grappling offense as he is only 24.
Usman may be one of the few who can claim to be a better athlete than Edwards as he is every bit as explosive while also owning Hulk-like strength. Making his pro debut only three years ago, Usman is still extremely raw, as he has been winning almost exclusively on his natural talent. A division II NCAA champion, Usman relies very heavily on his credentialed wrestling to throw his opposition to the ground, often making it look easy. Usman’s grappling is still developing as he isn’t the best at positioning himself to keep his opponent on the ground or take an advantageous position when offered, but he has made progress. Most of his fights end from his power GNP as he is still very much in developmental stage as a striker, though his power is readily apparent.
The Expectation: Edwards has shown spectacular timing to land an unexpected killshot (and Conor McGregor just reminded us how important timing is), but I still very much favor Usman to manhandle the Brit in either a late stoppage or a decision. Usman via TKO in the third round
Hayder Hassan vs. Vicente Luque (Welterweight)
What’s at Stake: Having fought already in an exhibition bout during TUF 21 that was highly contentious, don’t expect the loser to be brought back.
The Fighters: The star of the season as he won all three of his fights in that time, Hassan surprised many with his performance, as he wasn’t seen as one of the hotter prospects heading into the experimental season. The reason for that is Hassan has a largely one-dimensional game dependent upon convincing his opposition to stand and trade with him. If he can somehow convince them to do that, Hassan is extremely aggressive with serious KO power in his hands. Aside from that, Hassan has struggled with his wrestling and grappling with the best thing to say about those aspects is he is dogged and determined to get back to his feet once he hits the ground. Hassan could use some polish on his striking as well as he can be very wild and open for a counter.
Many felt Luque should have won the original fight against Hassan as he landed his fair share of hard shots in addition to a few takedowns. Luque isn’t the one-dimensional fighter that Hassan is as he can fight just about anywhere and not feel out of place whether that be at range, in the clinch, off his back, or in top position. Luque showed more discipline than Hassan did in their first fight as he strung together some good combinations while mixing in some good knees, but also allowed himself to take some punishment he should have been able to avoid. Perhaps Luque’s biggest problem is that while he isn’t really weak in anything, he doesn’t excel anywhere either. Though he was willing to go to the ground with a tired Hassan, he struggled to get the fight there.
The Expectation: I really, really want to pick Luque here as he has a much deeper bag of tricks than Hassan. But seeing as how he couldn’t take out a banged up Hassan in the tournament, I’m seeing Hassan use his hard to match determination pulling him through this as the loser will probably be cut. Hassan via decision
Luis Henrique vs. Francis Ngannou (Heavyweight)
What’s at Stake: Lots of mystery in these raw debutantes as the UFC throws spaghetti on the wall hoping something (or should I say someone) sticks.
The Fighters: Henrique is very much a mystery as he hasn’t faced competition that would give an accurate assessment of his skill set. A Greco-Roman wrestling champion in Brazil, Henrique hasn’t shown a lot of application of that in the cage as he has preferred to either stay outside in range or to bully his way into the clinch and work over his opponent with knees with little regard for return fire. He hasn’t paid the price for his lack of discipline yet, but he most assuredly will if he continues to fight that way in the UFC. What is most interesting about Henrique is that he has fought all but one of his bouts at light heavyweight, a division in which the UFC is desperate for bodies, yet he’ll be fighting at heavyweight. He’ll be on the smaller end of the division for sure.
Ngannou will look to exploit the size difference between the two of them as it will be expected that he will be carrying an extra 30 lbs. on his opponent as he has weighed in at the 250 lb. neighborhood. Like Henrique, Ngannou hasn’t faced much in terms of quality opponents. With that said it is easy to see that he has considerable athletic physical skills in which to work with as he is explosive with some natural pop. He would be the runaway favorite over Henrique if physical skills were the only thing to go off of, but Henrique has him beat in technique in just about every way and I’ve already indicated that Henrique has a lot of work to do himself. Ngannou has been most comfortable working in the clinch where he can utilize his size and strength on his opposition.
The Expectation: Henrique has a chance if he can keep Ngannou on the outside and pick him apart with his jab, but I haven’t seen the footwork to lead me to believe Ngannou will be able to counter Ngannou’s speed. Ngannou will close the distance and likely ragdoll his smaller opponent, likely sending him to return to light heavyweight. Ngannou via TKO in the first round
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