It's not the strongest UFC card ever in terms of star power, but it is one filled with rising prospects and middling talent that need to take a step in a direction, one way or the other. At UFC Fight Night 31 (or UFC Fight for the Troops 3, as it's also called), the UFC has put together a card that almost seems as if the matchmaker had a lot of unsettled questions about how good their talent is and used this event as a way to get some answers.
That's less true for the main event, although that bout also has some relatively modest implications for the middleweight division. Will Tim Kennedy get a win in front of the partisan crowd of soldiers? Will Rafael Natal play spoiler to the Army's hopes for Kennedy? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for Wednesday's event.
What: UFC Fight for the Troops 3: Kennedy vs. Natal
Where: Fort Campbell, Kentucky
When: Wednesday, the four-fight Facebook card starts at 3:10 p.m. ET, the four-fight Fox Sports 1 card begins at 5 p.m. ET and the main starts at 7 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.
Natal is a bit of a wild fighter. That's less true on the floor, but even then he's a bit of a risk taker with passing and changing position. Generally speaking, he's a bit of a risk taker. That might be enough to given Kennedy problems in spots, but the American is defensively well-rounded enough and patient enough in his offense to slowly whittle Natal down to either a TKO stoppage or decision victory.
Liz Carmouche vs. Alexis Davis
Carmouche might have some issues with the slippery, technical proficiency of Davis on the floor, but as long as this fight stays standing, it should be Carmouche's to win. She's the much better athlete of the two, far better striker and heavier hitter. If Davis can drag things to the mat, she's got a chance to tie Carmouche up and make things difficult, at least in terms of executing offense. Over time, however, I have a bit of a hard time seeing how Davis accumulates enough offense to really win the bout.
I'm really not sure what to make of this bout. Both of these guys are horses for the weight class. Romero is the better athlete, but not nearly as well-rounded as Markes. He's also considerably older. Markes can make things boring with a clinch fest and by wearing Romero down, a man whose gas tank I still don't trust. I can also see Romero putting Markes in uncomfortable spots with improved cardio and training now under his belt. Ultimately, I don't know what to expect, but the results will tell us a lot about both competitors. Coin flip time.
Jorge Masvidal vs. Rustam Khabilov
This one is another really difficult pick. It's a clear step up for Khabilov, a fighter with some impressive tools, but no real track record of being able to use them against next-level opposition. That's where Masvidal comes in. He's easily the best fighter Khabilov has faced, so this is as much a fight as fact-finding mission. My worry for Masvidal is he can fight both up and down to competition. I don't know if he's serious, but he said he didn't even watch tape on the Russian for this bout. That worries me. My gut tells me Masvidal is capable of beating Khabilov, but won't because he took Khabilov too lightly as a potential threat.
Colton Smith vs. Michael Chiesa
Smith is dropping to lightweight, although under the watchful eye of a master of weight manipulation. Still, one wonders if the cut makes sense in terms of advantages gained, real or perceived. I'm going to side with Chiesa. He's surprisingly lethal with jiu-jitsu transitions and submissions and highly proactive on offense. Smith might try to slow it down and he'll probably have some success with it, but I don't see him being able to do that long enough to really win a decision or put Chiesa away.
From the preliminary card:
Bobby Green < James Krause
George Roop > Francisco Rivera
Dennis Bermudez > Steven Siler
Amanda Nunes > Germaine de Randamie
Chris Camozzi < Lorenz Larkin
Yves Edwards < Yancy Medeiros
Neil Magny < Seth Baczynski
Derek Brunson > Brian Houston