The UFC returns to the UK with a fight card that can guarantee fireworks, and some deceivingly important fights between fighters just shy of being on the big stage. While Renan Barao retain the interim title, or will Michael McDonald become the youngest UFC and Zuffa champ in history? Here's where I break it down and tell you what's what.
The interim bantamweight title is up for grabs, and two of the bantamweight divisions hottest prospects are vying for the gold. Barao is the heavy favorite at -325, and has the longest unbeaten streak in MMA today. Going unbeaten in his last 30 bouts, his streak culminated over fan favorite and former WEC champ Urijah Faber at the abysmal UFC 149 card. McDonald has a nice little streak of his own going on, with eight wins (6 stoppages) leading up to this title fight.
McDonald had surgery on his hands and wrists and says he will be at 100% going into this fight. He certainly has a bright future in the organization. Barao has been into a five round bout before and will be looking to take it there again to tire the heavy handed American. However, I think an upset is in order. I believe McDonald will catch Barao early, and blitz him until the ref pulls McDonald away.
McDonald via KO in Round 1.
Cub Swanson vs. Dustin Poirer
In a battle of top contenders at 145, Swanson battles Poirer to see who will be in the suddenly crowded title picture at featherweight. Swanson has a knack for exciting fights, even if he sometimes ends up on the wrong side of the finish. However, last year he went 3 for 3, finishing all of his opponents. Poirer has a little momentum coming into this bout, most recently submitting Ultimate Fighter winner Jonathan Brookins, and winning 6 of his last seven. I feel that while Swanson's standup has improved leaps and bounds, Poirer will keep and calm and poised, and work to submit Swanson with that d'arce choke he's so fond of in a later round.
Poirer via submission in Round 3.
In a battle of European light-heavyweights, British bruiser Manuwa looks to remain unbeaten against veteran French striker Diabate. Technically speaking, Diabate has the far superior striking, and a far greater resume. However, I see Manuwa passing this test with flying colors, and knocking "The Snake" out after a back and forth first round.
Manuwa via KO in Round 1.
Nelson was originally supposed to face Justin Edwards, and gets a leap up in competition against now-welterweight Jorge Santiago. Santiago is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (maybe not with the same pedigree as Nelson) and a wild striker. The undefeated Nelson should stay that way, and grind out a decision or get a TKO victory late. This is a very winnable fight for the unorthodox striker from Iceland, and he'll get it done.
Nelson via decision.
James Te-Huna vs. Ryan Jimmo
Two light-heavyweight prospects are battling for the UFC's attention, and both men have knockout power. Ryan Jimmo made his debut while tying the organizations fastest official knockout, and followed it up with some mad robotic dancing. James Te-Huna ground out a decision victory against former heavyweight Joey Beltran that earned him Fight of the Night. In that fight, Te-Huna dominated early, but tired out in the 3rd, and I see that being where Jimmo takes over. Anything can happen (especially early, and especially at 205), but look for Jimmo to use his grappling to grind out a decision against the powerful Australian.
Jimmo via decision.
Che Mills vs. Matthew Riddle
This fight will go to Mills, but it won't be easy. Riddle is the better wrestler, and is more than capable of grinding out a decision or sneaking a choke in, but one thing worries me about him. He tends to block strikes with his face, and looks to please the crowd a little too much. Against a knockout artist like Mills, I see that backfiring, and Riddle waking up looking at the arena lights.
Mills via KO in round 1.