The long absence of UFC-event weekends is officially coming to a close this Saturday. On top of that, the UFC returns to Europe, this time making their debut in Sweden. That's important because it's the home of headliner and rising MMA contender Alexander Gustafsson. He'll lock horns with American Top Team's Thiago Silva, who returns to action for the first time since being suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for PED-related test infraction. Silva also took the time to heal from a nagging back injury.
Can the Swede make good on the promise of expectations? Will he be the first fighter other than former UFC light heavyweight champions Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida to defeat Silva? Or can the ATT light heavyweight stalwart return to form after a lengthy layoff.
We'll attempt to answer those questions and more as we predict the winners at UFC on FUEL TV 2.
What: UFC on FUEL TV 2: Gustafsson vs. Silva
When: Saturday, the Facebook fights begin at 12:30 PM ET, the main card on Fuel begins at 3 pm ET.
Where: Ericsson Globe Arena, Stockholm, Sweden
Predictions on the six television fights below.
As I've previously discussed, there could be a path to defeating Silva that uses a healthy mix of takedowns and strikes. Either way, though, I don't think we're going to see Gustafsson have too much trouble. He isn't a blitzkrieg fighter, which is a good thing. He is more patient with his opportunities and I think either striking or with offensive grappling he's going to pressure Silva into a mistake. I also cannot ignore the time lost Silva had both in his suspension and with his back injury. Silva's talented and not beyond defeating virtually anyone in the division, but I just don't see him controlling Gustafsson en route to a decision like he did with Vera or blasting him out as he did with Jardine.
Stann has had a number of issues in this camp relating to family issues he had to attend to. As a result. he had to relocate it and had to communicate with coaches Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn over the phone, sending video tapes back and forth, and more. It's not clear what this will do to his performance, but suffice it to say Stann didn't get the best camp he's ever had.
Still, I like him to beat Sakara. Stann's offensive striking style - power heavy, combination punching, head focused without being head hunting - is just the sort of style that gives Sakara all sorts of problems. Stann won't want to revert to his old WEC days and charge forward, but if he can pressure Sakara back and do what he does best he emerge the victor.
Bahadurzada is a talented fighter, but I tend to believe he's going to come up short here. Thiago's not a dynamic takedown machine, but he's got enough submission grappling credentials - especially from the clinch - to lord those skills over the Afghan. Bahadurzada obviously has more than a puncher's chance, but I see Thiago's striking as potent even if it's not as dangerous as Bahadurzada's. Between than and the clear superiority of Thiago's grappling game, it's hard for me to pick against the Brazilian.
Nunes is the more active of the two inside the cage, but does he really put that activity to effective use? I'm not convinced. Nunes doesn't get enough credit for his defensive skills. He's hard to hurt and is respectably talented elsewhere in terms of slowing down or stopping his opponents. But his offense is all over the place. He isn't a combination or power puncher. He isn't a dynamic offensive grappler. He can strike, yes and he's good on the ground, yes. But against a more thoughtful and direct striker like Siver - and one who can fight at range - Nunes is going to have a tough road.
I'm not really sure what to make of either of them given the lack of well-rounded skills and questionable competition. Johnson should win this fight, but I've got a feeling Maguire might be able to dictate fight location and complexion if not for a finish then a decision win. I'll be honest and say I'm not sure Maguire is the guy to exploit Johnson's weaknesses grappling, but if we are measuring liability against liability I'll tip my hat to the European.
I'll take the Brit over the American, which is not something I often say. Page is a live dog here, but gets himself out of position with his wild attacks. I don't know if I see Pickett jumping guillotine to seal the win and Page has tremendous power punching. But the New Mexico-native can be controlled over the course of the fight. Pickett's wrestling is actually pretty solid. And Page is no Renan Barao who can both fight technically and with a sense of urgency when an opponent is hurt.