UFC returns to Abu Dhabi for the first time in four years with UFC Fight Night: Abu Dhabi or UFC Fight Night 39. The card features a series of mid-range UFC talent with two bouts at the top of the card heavier in stakes. Featherweights Clay Guida and Tatsuya Kawajiri are looking to become featherweight contenders while in the main event, Antonio Rodrigo 'Minotauro' Nogueira and Roy 'Big Country' Nelson, look to stay relevant in the heavyweight division.
Will Big Nog prove he still has more gas in the tank or is Nelson's KO power and chin too much to deal with? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for UFC Fight Night 39.
What: UFC Fight Night 39
Where: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
When: Friday, the four-fight Fight Pass card starts at 12:15 p.m. ET, the four-fight Fight Pass main card starts at 2 p.m.
This is a close one, but I'm going to side with the American here. He might get outwrestled and positionally controlled in a similar way to how he lost to Frank Mir, but I'm betting Nogueira stands with him long enough get banged on at least a bit. I also think Nelson has enough submission defense to avoid any stoppage, to say nothing of his iron chin. If it ends early, it's because Nelson stopped Nogueira, which I also acknowledge isn't the likeliest of outcomes. In the end, it stands to reason Nelson should still have just enough power punching to keep the Brazilian on the defensive.
I might be overestimating where Guida still is in his career, but I'm betting he's got enough to control the takedown and therefore the fight. That's not say to Kawajiri isn't a good wrestler. He most certainly is, but the question is whether he can stand up to the pace of Guida. If the Jackson-Winkeljohn product elects to fight conservatively, it's anyone's bout. Should he stay proactive on offense, however, Kawajiri simply won't have enough answers to keep Guida off of him.
LaFlare is a surprisingly good find by UFC scouts and matchmakers. He's willing and able to engage just about anywhere, can wrestle well and sticks to a workable strategy. He's got good cardio, pocket courage and has performed very ably inside the Octagon against credible challengers. Howard might have the edge in the stand-up, strictly speaking, and is by no means a bad wrestler, but I doubt he's going to win the takedown or scramble battle against a goer like LaFlare. Howard might threaten a time or two, but I expect LaFlare to have another strong outing.
In what might be the UFC's first Arab vs. Persian match-up, I'm going to have to side with Iran. Nijem is a very underrated wrestler, but isn't the best at absorbing damage. Dariush excels in that department. Despite being Persian, he is not the better (proven) MMA wrestler of the two, but is certainly the better grappler and submission threat. Between the chin issues, and Dariush's other finishing skills, I have to side with him.
From the preliminary card: