For the first time in FUEL's history, they're going to air live and exclusively a UFC title defense. Sure, it's only an interim championship, but with champ Dominick Cruz sidelined due to injury, Barao and McDonald might be the two best bantamweights on the planet.
Is Michael McDonald the next big thing among the lighter weight fighters? Can he become the youngest champion in UFC history? Is Renan Barao the best bantamweight there is with or without Cruz in the division? I try to answer these questions and more with my predictions for Saturday's fights.
What: UFC on FUEL TV 7
Where: Wembley Arena, London, United Kingdom
When: Saturday, the five-fight Facebook card starts at 12:00 p.m. ET and the six-fight Fuel card starts at 3:00 p.m ET.
Renan Barao vs. Michael McDonald
Just how good is McDonald? We don't really know. We know he's 'very good', but what does that really mean? The truth is, we know a lot more about the strengths and limits of Barao than we do McDonald at this point. For that reason, I have to side with the (interim) champ.
We know McDonald has serious power at this weight class. We know his game is well rounded and that he isn't worn down by the tax the game places on a fighter. His hand is healed and he's underrated as an athlete. The problem for me is that at times (not every time) McDonald has been a slow starter. I'm also not convinced he can put dimensions of the game as fluidly together as Barao can. The Brazilian can throw a combination involving hands and feet, rock his opponent, hit an arm drag to take the back in a scramble and sink a rear naked choke almost in one motion. I'm not sure McDonald is ready for that sort of challenge.
But here's to the kid making it interesting. I'm taking the Brazilian, but I'm hoping to learn a lot more about McDonald in the process.
Cub Swanson vs. Dustin Poirier
I've agonized over this prediction. Ultimately, I'm going to side with the fighter who has the hot hand and go with Swanson, but what a fun, difficult fight this should be. They aren't exactly mirror images of each other, but they aren't hugely different either. The key for me is pressure and of the two at this point in their careers, Swanson is probably better at exacting it. I suspect if something wild doesn't happen early, he'll push Poirier on his heels and force him to make a mistake.
Jimi Manuwa vs. Cyrille Diabate
I actually think this bout is closer than the oddsmakers do. In a MMA striking bout where both fighters are strikers who either are incredibly precise or powerful and explosive, suggesting one outcome is inevitable seems incredibly foolish. And if this fight goes to the floor, I'm not exactly the world's biggest believer in Manuwa's ground game. That said, Diabate might find the speed and power differential difficult to deal with.
Gunnar Nelson vs. Jorge Santiago
Maybe I'm underselling Santiago here. If the fight with Kazuo Misaki proved anything, it's that he's tougher than he's ordinarily given credit. At this point, he's certainly battle tested. But I also think he's a touch shopworn. Nelson still has plenty of hurdles to climb and isn't necessarily as quick as Santiago, but should be able to take the fight to the floor where his smothering top or back control will earn him a decision victory.
Jimmo is famous (absent his UFC debut) for never really engaging with his opponents. I don't know if Te Huna is going to let him get away with that. It's a big Octagon, which leaves space to disengage, but I get the feeling Te Huna is going to force Jimmo to fight back, get in his face early and often, and that's not a space where Jimmo's typically comfortable working.
Pick: Te Huna
This fight is probably the hardest to predict of all of them and that's due entirely to Matt Riddle. Riddle isn't necessarily the world's most talented welterweight, but he's got a significantly more well-rounded game than Mills. Here's the problem: there isn't much indication he'll use it. I've accused him of that in the past and he ultimately employed enough of his wrestling to get the wins. The problem here is that Mills, for all his shortcomings, has the capacity to make someone like Riddle pay more quickly than previous opponents so long as the fight stays standing. I'm going to side with Riddle, but there's no telling what he's going to do.
From the preliminary card:
Terry Etim > Renee Forte
Paul Sass < Danny Castillo
Andy Ogle > Josh Grispi
Tom Watson > Stanislav Nedkov
Motonobu Tezuka < Vaughan Lee
Phil Harris < Ulysses Gomez