Which undercard fights on UFC Fight Night 88 are you most interested in seeing, and why?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
For a card that doesn’t feature any real big names, it’s full of meaningful and potentially exciting match ups. It’s a great event for checking out some up and coming talent, and I fully expect a couple of these fighters to challenge for a title at some point in their career.
Speaking of titles, former champion Renan Barao makes his return to the cage after getting blitzed for the second time by T.J. Dillashaw. It wasn’t so long ago that the Barao was riding an insane 33 fight unbeaten streak, and was being mentioned as possibly the top pound for pound fighter in the world. Things have changed drastically for him since then, but at 29 years old he still has plenty of time to make some noise at 145 pounds. Barao was so dominant it’s not out of the question he could be a title contender again in his new division. The prospect of a fight with teammate Jose Aldo only adds to the potential intrigue of Barao’s move up in weight. Jeremy Stephens is a live dog in this fight, and his dangerous power makes him a legitimate threat to end Barao’s night early. Whether or not Barao takes a first step toward another title, or continues the descent that started with Dillashaw is one of the more fascinating things to watch in this event.
Another fighter whose career seemingly took a hard turn for the worse is Rick Story. Story was on quite the roll in the UFC, winning six straight and being the only fighter at the time to beat future champion Johnny Hendricks. It seemed all but guaranteed we’d be seeing him in a title fight shortly. A stunning loss to last minute replacement Charlie Brenneman put Story’s career into a spiral he’s only just now showing signs of life of recovering from. Story has gone 5-5 in his last 10 fights, but he’s currently on a two fight winning streak, including a solid win against Gunner Nelson. His opponent, Tarec Saffiedine, has been a bit of an enigma. The last man to hold the Strikeforce Welterweight title has gone 2-1 in his UFC career, but those three fights have been spaced out over more than three years. Losing to Rory MacDonald is hardly anything to be embarrassed about, but whom he has beaten hasn’t given us a real indication of how high he can go in the division. This fight could go either direction, and the winner will be taking an important step forward toward contender status.
Paul Felder is an exciting fighter who was sporting a perfect 10-0 record before dropping two straight to Edson Barboza and Ross Pearson. The Irish Dragon got one back when he choked out Daron Cruickshank, and he’s got another stiff test ahead of him in veteran Josh Burkman. Burkman is fighting his second career fight at 155 pounds, but he’s likely not going to be more than a high level gate keeper for the division at this stage in his career. That’s exactly the type of fight Felder needs. Although relatively young in his MMA journey, Felder is already 32 years old, and he needs to start making a hard push toward a title now if it’s ever going to happen. Burkman is an exciting fighter who isn’t afraid to throw down. Combined with Felder’s ability to throw a vast array of unorthodox and spinning strikes, this fight could definitely end up a Fight of the Night candidate.
Aljamain Sterling recently re-upped with the UFC and is only a fight or two away from a scrap for the belt. A perfect 13-0, the 26 year old has been dominant in his UFC run so far, finishing three of his four opponents in the organization. While Bryan Caraway may be better known as the significant other of Meisha Tate, he’s no slouch himself. Number 6 in the UFC Bantamweight Rankings, Caraway needs a big victory over a highly ranked opponent to further his own title aspirations. A win over Sterling would be huge for his career, and could potentially set up the first card where a couple involved in a relationship are both in title fights. This bout is the most meaningful of any in the entire event, and should not be missed.
RICH HANSEN, MMATORCH COLUMNIST
I suppose that logically I should start off by choosing Aljamain Sterling vs. Bryan Caraway, seeing as how Sterling has a sterling 13-0 record and Caraway looked to be ready to go on a nice little run after beating Eddie Wineland last summer. And he is on a nice little run; he ran from Faber, he ran from Dodson, and he ran from Almeida. But, since I don’t have Fight Pass and am not going to shell out the $10 to subscribe, I guess I’m really not that interested in seeing this fight after all, am I? But here’s what I am interested in:
I’m interested to see if Erik Koch will actually fight. I’m interested to see what injury that he won’t disclose will keep him out of the fight. I’m interested to see if he has anything left.
I’m interested to see if Abel Trujillo will ever get cut for being, well, Abel Trujillo.
I’m interested to see who looks worse in the Sara McMann vs. Jessica Eye fight. I’m interested to see if I can figure out who to root against harder (still up in the air).
I’m interested to see if we’ve finally got an opponent low enough for Paul Felder that we can start to not be disappointed every time he takes the cage. I’m interested to see what Josh Burkman to Zuffa has to offer that Ben Askren doesn’t have.
I’m interested to see why Chris Camozzi has gone from EVEN to plus-195 in a matter of days. I’m interested to see if Vitor Miranda might right now be the best Brazilian born fighter born in the ‘70s in the UFC named Vitor.
I’m interested to see Tarec Saffiedine’s cut. I’m hoping to see if not have a negative impact on his ability to kick faces really, really hard.
So, yeah, I’m interested in some of this undercard.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
I’m most interested in seeing Renan Barao vs. Jeremy Stephens and Aljamain Sterling vs Bryan Caraway. There’s other interesting fights on this card as it’s actually quite good and a deep card, but those are the top two fights for me. I want to see what Barao looks like at featherweight and I also want to see how he responds to his recent problems. He’s been completely dominated by T.J. Dillashaw after having been unbeaten in over thirty fights. His confidence is shaken and I want to see how he responds. Stephens is tough. He’s lost three of his last four, but those were against good fighters. I think Barao wins by decision and looks shaky early before gaining some confidence towards the end of the fight.
It’s ridiculous that Sterling vs. Caraway in on UFC Fight Pass because this is one of the best fights on the card. Sterling is shooting towards a title shot in the bantamweight division and should be featured highly on this card. Anyhow, I think he beats up on a tough Caraway and eventually gets the third round submission. I think it’ll be a pretty good fight, but Caraway is dangerous enough to make Sterling hesitate and have to fight a bit methodically.
CASH NORMAN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
I would like to say my most anticipated fight is Jorge Masvidal vs Lorenz Larkin, although, I have my reservations regarding Masvidal. Even though, Masvidal is a talented and well-rounded fighter he has a tendency to coast during bouts and several times this has cost him the victory. I’m hopeful the aggression of Lorenz Larkin will prevent this from occurring and we will have an exciting and entertaining bout between the two.
The other bout I anticipate seeing is Paul Felder vs Josh Burkman. Both Felder and Burkrman are 1-2 in their last fights and more than likely have their backs against the wall, as they’re fighting in the most talent rich division within the UFC. Burkman cannot afford to have any more excuses for a poor performance. In addition, Felder needs to remain focused and execute a game plan rather than resort to his tough man “come at me bro” and “hit me” antics each man has been prone to in their previous fights.
Of the two bouts, I wouldn’t be surprised if Burkman attempts to hold Felder against the fence and took him down to utilize his wrestling as a pathway to victory. Meanwhile, I would expect Masvidal and Larkin to engage in technical and strategic striking battle.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
There are a bunch of fights that interest me on this card, with the Fight Pass headliner between Aljamain Sterling and Bryan Caraway being my favorite by far. Bantamweight is thin up top and the winner of this will likely be a single win away from a title shot. It isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea as both are grapplers, but if you enjoyed Demain Maia’s clinic on Matt Brown in Brazil, this should be right up your alley.
Jorge Masvidal and Lorenz Larkin will likely satisfy the appetites of those who enjoy striking battles as both prefer to stand and trade in what should be the favorite for FOTN… aside from the main event of course. Jessica Eye and Sara McMann is a contest that has largely been forgotten about despite it having high stakes for two of the better known names in the division. It has potential to be a stinker (though it has just as much potential to be a fun one), but I’m very interested to see who comes out on top regardless of its entertainment value.
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