Dominick Cruz was set to make his long-awaited return from injury (it would have been 28 months!) at this show and succumbed to... you guessed it, another injury. As a result, he was stripped of his title and Renan Barao was made the official bantamweight champion (about damn time!) and Urijah Faber was called upon to take Cruz's spot in the title showdown. While I do feel badly for Cruz, this is the best thing for the viewers and him (not the injury). The fans get to see a fighter who has been red-hot go for the belt as opposed to one who last fought even before the Dallas Mavericks received their championship rings (oh yeah... they did win the title) and Cruz will be able to make his comeback against a more logical opponent. Who really believes he would have been ready for Barao?
Other prominent fights include Jose Aldo defending his featherweight title against Ricardo Lamas in the co-main event and Frank Mir and Alistair Overeem clash in a battle to determine which heavyweight has lost all relevancy. Oh yes... and John Linekar and Ali Bagautinov clash in what should have large implications in who receives the next flyweight title shot.
Lets break it down!
(C) Renan Barao (31-1, 1 NC) vs. #1 Urijah Faber (30-6), Bantamweight
There are a lot of people who are not exactly thrilled with this title match. No one is denying the fact that Faber has been scorching, fighting 4 times in 2013, winning them all and finishing 3 of those fights. But Barao earned the title of interim champion by disposing of Faber in a disappointing bout (in terms of entertainment) in the summer of 2012 in which he beat Faber to the punch in every way. And now that Faber is older he gets another shot? What may be unbeknownst to many is the fact that Faber suffered a broken rib early in the bout which severely hampered his performance. Give him credit for going all five rounds if nothing else. I can guarantee this bout will be better.
Before explaining what Barao does well it is easier to say what he doesn't do well: Nothing. Barao can do it all. Striking? He picked apart Faber using boxing and leg kicks in their first bout and has done so to Scott Jorgensen, Eddie Wineland, Brad Pickett... basically almost everyone he has faced under the Zuffa banner. He mixes in more diverse strikes as well such as front kicks, spinning back kicks, jumping knees, head kicks... he is as creative and smooth as anyone not name Anthony Pettis.
Submission grappling? 14 of his wins have come via submission and a number of them have been impressive. While it is true that his submission of Pickett was largely set up by strikes, the transition into the RNC was as smooth (see that word again?) and beautiful as transitions come. Same with his transition to an arm-triangle choke against Michael McDonald. He'll get ya if you rest for just a second.
Wrestling! He can't be great at wrestling... he's Brazilian! While I wouldn't say he is world class, he isn't a slouch. He hasn't been taken down since 2010 and when he decides he wants to implement takedowns into his strategy he can usually get them. Ask Cole Escovedo. His grappling control isn't the best and certainly wouldn't be advisable to try to use against Faber, but I doubt he'll go that route anyway.
So while Barao doesn't really have a major weakness, it can be stated that Faber has an advantage in wrestling. He has a collegiate background which has very successfully transferred over to MMA. Normally he seems to take his opponent down at will but has struggled to do so when his opponent has a decided speed advantage... such as when he faced Barao or Dominick Cruz. Hmm...
Faber will have a power advantage in this fight too. Even with that in mind, it might surprise some to note that he doesn't own a TKO/KO victory under Zuffa. He doesn't have the explosiveness that Barao possesses in his striking, but his striking technique has looked much tighter since Duane Ludwig came aboard Team Alpha Male (just like the rest of the camp). It could serve as an X-factor in this bout.
With the stat of his lack of KO's in mind, it is worth noting that he often looks for a RNC or guillotine after he rocks his opponent. Team Alpha Male is known as Team Guillotine for a reason. If Faber can sink in a choke on Barao I have a hard time believing that the fight won't be over.
Game plans will be simple. Barao will look to dart in and out utilizing boxing, leg kicks, and the occasional explosive strike hoping to finish things. Faber will want to get the fight to the ground and use his strength and size to weaken Barao for a choke or simply ground him out. And ya gotta believe that both are going to have some success (remember Faber's broken rib last time out). Both have proven to be very durable as well so a decision can likely be expected. BUT... my gut is saying otherwise. Faber has made adjustments (i.e. Ludwig) since the last time these two met and has looked beastly. Michael McDonald looked like an amateur against Faber and he had Barao in trouble a few times in their bout. I know its unpopular, but I smell an upset. I would also say its about time Team Alpha Male gets to play the bride instead of the bridesmaid. So... Faber by Submission 4th Round.
(C) Jose Aldo (23-1) vs. #2 Ricardo Lamas (13-2), Featherweight
With all of the talk of Barao, Faber, and Cruz, it seems that this TITLE match is getting somewhat forgotten. Hard to believe with Aldo being a top 2 or 3 pound-for-pound fighter. Perhaps if Aldo were to learn English and play to the American crowd his profile might raise a bit. Not trying to be racist or elitist... I'm just saying its amazing how many casual fans don't even have a clue who he is whereas Chael Sonnen is almost a household name. Look what talk can do for ya Jose! I'm suggesting this for your sake!
Maybe it has something to do with Lamas as well though... Yep, it does. Is Lamas a quality fighter? Your damn right he is! But he fought once in 2012 and once more in 2013. Two fights in two years with those victories being over Hatsu Hioki and Eric Koch (neither of whom have won again since) doesn't do a lot to get you on fans radar. I'll shut up about that at this point.
Aldo is Jon Jones top competition to be MMA's top pound-for-pound king at this point. He has defended his WEC/UFC belt 7 times at this point and none of the bouts were close. The Book of Obvious on Aldo states that he is a deadly striker with the best leg kicks in the game (just ask Urijah Faber) and he is large for a featherweight who will likely end up in the lightweight division sooner rather than later.
Now that the obvious is established, lets look deeper. When he was in the WEC he had a reputation as a smaller version of Wanderlei Silva with his penchant for quick and violent endings to his fights but has begun to take a more methodical approach to his fights as 3 of his 5 UFC defenses have gone the 25 minute distance. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as the approach worked very well in his last fight with Chan Sung Jung who prefers to brawl. Aldo was patient, picked his spots, and capitalized when Jung was hurt. He didn't show any appearances of gassing either which has been a problem in the past (think Mark Hominick). I would say this is due to him pacing himself more than anything. To sum it up, he is becoming a smarter fighter even with all of his talent. Bad news for any future opponent.
While Aldo's control wrestling is questionable, he usually is able to get his opponent down when he wants and is one of the most difficult fighters to take down. Considering Lamas comes from a wrestling background (wrestled in college), it is likely he will try and get Aldo down. This will likely be the most telling statistic of the match. If Lamas gets Aldo down consistently, an upset could be in the making.
The other mysteries with Aldo are his grappling and conditioning/endurance/weight cut. Very little has been seen of Aldo's jiu-jitsu game though he is a black belt. Problem with that is there are some black belts that seem to be so only on paper. Lamas will likely test this area if the opportunity is given. His submission of Cub Swanson was a beautiful exhibition of what a smooth transition can do as he went from Swanson's back to smoothly sinking in an arm-triangle choke. As for Aldo's conditioning, if his weight cut goes well this won't be a factor until the championship rounds when Aldo usually slows down. Don't believe me? Watch his fight with Frankie Edgar again. Aldo dominated the first 2 and a half rounds before slowing down and letting Edgar back into the fight.
The book on Lamas has somewhat been discussed. Aside from his wrestling some fans questioned his killer instinct and thought of him as a lay and prey fighter after his victory over Hioki. He showed true killer instinct against Koch in one of the years more violent KO's via GNP. Many of those fans questioning that never saw him decapitate Matt Grice either in his UFC debut. He may not have the explosive power of Aldo, but he does have a killer instinct.
Aldo is going to keep the fight standing... not because Lamas sucks in his stand up. Lamas is an orthodox kickboxing centric striker who has underrated head kicks (again, ask Matt Grice whom Dennis Bermudez couldn't put away in their spectacular brawl) and is above average. But Aldo is unworldly good, maybe the best in the MMA world. His boxing gets overshadowed by how good his leg kicks are, but it is fantastic as well.
Aldo is a VERY heavy favorite in this match. And why shouldn't he be? Lamas two losses came via strikes to Yuri Alcantara (now fighting at bantamweight) and Danny Castillo, neither one of which is considered to be power punchers much less in the same universe as Aldo. Lamas has tightened up his striking defense since then, but it won't be enough. Aldo is due to put an opponent out early (he seems to every third fight or so), so I don't think it'll last long. I gotta believe Aldo might be feeling some disrespect at being co-main event. Aldo by KO 2nd Round
#9 Alistair Overeem (36-13, 1 NC) vs. #10 Frank Mir (16-8), Heavyweight
Just two short years ago these men were at the top of the heavyweight rankings and even took turns holding the title of being named #1 contender (thanks to Overeem's high testosterone levels). Now they are fighting to stay employed in the UFC. To give them credit their losses haven't exactly been against scrubs (Bigfoot Silva and Travis Browne for Overeem; Junior Dos Santos, Daniel Cormier, and Josh Barnett for Mir; all in the top 6). But when you have the reputation (and salaries) of these two men you can't just slide into mediocrity.
To make this simplistic, Overeem wants to keep it standing and Mir wants it on the ground. But when put that way it sells them short in each of their opponents strengths. That isn't to say that they can compete with each other in those areas, but you don't get elite status by being a one trick pony anymore.
Overeem is a K-1 kickboxing world champion. That should be enough said... but of course I'll state more. Most kickboxers have more of a darting in and out style whereas Overeem is more prone to stalk his opponents down. Think of his match with Brock Lesnar where he was hunting for the kicks to the mid-section. As he stalks he keeps his power hand ready to do damage as he rarely throws a jab out there.
Mir on the other hand throws a lot of jabs. His striking isn't designed so much to finish the fight as it is to set up a takedown. It is more than serviceable though as he outboxed Minotauro Nogueira in their first bout (whether Nogueira was sick or not, it is fact) and floored Cheick Kongo with an overhand left to set up the guillotine choke. He has bulked up over the years adding strength to his frame and it has shown. He'll look to use his standup to go to the ground... and survive Overeem's barrage whenever it comes. Something that is overlooked with Mir though: It is commonly stated that he has continued to add to his repertoire over the years but sometimes it isn't completely stated what he has added. If Overeem presents a chance (which is likely due to Overeem preferring close quarters rather than maintaining distance), look for Mir to utilize some judo to get the fight to the ground. Don't believe me? Go watch his bout with Roy Nelson again.
On the other hand Mir is a world-class jiu-jitsu practitioner. He has broken the arms of two men (Nogueira and Tim Sylvia) within the Octagon due to his abilities, including one whom was (notice the past tense, which was Nogueira) considered the supreme heavyweight grappler, and owns the only toe hold submission in UFC history as well. If Overeem leaves anything hanging out for Mir to grab, Mir will capitalize.
To give Overeem credit more than half of his victories have come by submission. But as he has bulked up (and in the process I'd say lost some flexibility) over the years he has utilized that option less and less. His last submission outside of a guillotine was a kimura on a well past his prime Gary Goodridge over five years ago. I don't see Overeem winning by submission outside of a choke hold. He is sound enough to know how to keep himself out of bad situations though.
Overeem's overconfidence is always an issue as it cost him against Silva. Some are beginning to question his chin as well now that he has lost twice in a row by KO. But Mir doesn't have the striking prowess of the opponents that put away Overeem and Mir's chin has been questionable as well. If fights started on the ground I'd probably go with Mir. But they don't... and since Overeem has lost any reason to be overconfident (fighting for your job will do that) I'll say Overeem by KO 1st Round
#5 John Lineker (23-6) vs. #7 Ali Bagautinov (12-2), Flyweight
Linekar would undoubtedly be the next contender for Demetrious Johnson's title if he could only make weight which he has failed to do in 3 of his 5 UFC bouts. Now he needs to make weight AND continue to win fights. And Bagautinov is his biggest challenge yet.
Almost half of Lineker's W's have come from KO/TKO, including his last 3. He utilizes mostly boxing and with good reason as he has a lot of power in his hands. The worst thing his opponents can do is stand in front of him. Ask Phil Harris about that. His last three opponents have all fallen by punches (including Harris) and actually brings his winning streak to 4 wins. Lineker does a solid job of mixing things up and attacking both the body and the head as well as mixing in lighter punches with the KO blow.
Bagautinov is similar to Lineker in the sense that he has KO power, a rarity in the flyweight division. Bagautinov has a tendency to wear himself out as he throws all he has into his punches hoping to put them out. If they don't go out, he ends up in a little bit of trouble. He is a bit more diverse than Linenker with his striking as he will throw kicks and knees as well. Between these two the standup is almost a wash... it will largely depend on who can land the KO blow.
There is a significant difference on the ground. Lineker has shown excellent takedown defense, but its safe to say that he hasn't faced someone with the grappling background of Bagautinov. Bagautinov is a Russian champion in wrestling, sambo, and jiu-jitsu (I don't know what the Russian jiu-jitsu championship is worth, but he's got it). He's done a solid job of utilizing this to his background and is very smooth on the ground with no wasted movement. Half of Lineker's losses have come by submission so I very much expect him to do all he can to avoid going to the ground.
As for Lineker's ground game, very little has been shown in the confines of the Octagon. I won't lie and claim he either sucks or his great cause I really don't know. He showed great strength in muscling up to his feet when Jose Maria got him to his back and seemed more exhausted than anything when Louis Gaudinot submitted him. Can't say much outside of that.
These are both heavy hitters and both have solid chins as neither has ever been KO'd. If Bagautinov wins convincingly he could end up with the next title shot (Lineker would need to make weight at least one more time in my book... and win). Even though they both hit hard, I think this one goes the distance with Bagautinov's better all-around game being the difference. Also... anyone else notice Lineker doesn't have a victory over anyone in the Top 15? Bagautinov by Decision
Jamie Varner (21-8-1) vs. Abel Trujillo (11-5, 1 NC), Lightweight
We know what Varner is at this point of his career: a solid lightweight gatekeeper. What we don't know about is Trujillo. He was absolutely ragdolled by Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 160, but looked like a killer his last time out against Roger Bowling. This bout should be the most accurate telling of where he is at.
Varner is first and foremost a wrestler. If he is able to take you down and grind you out, he is going to win. Its how he picked up both of victories on his return to the UFC over strikers Edson Barboza and Melvin Guillard. Over half of his victories have come by submission as he is very adept at sinking in a choke but is just as capable of ending a fight with GNP. It all depends on what his opponent gives to him.
Trujillo has had trouble stopping takedowns as he was at the receiving end of Nurmagomedov's UFC record 21 takedowns. Roger Bowling had little trouble getting him down in their first contest as well. This spells trouble for him as that falls right into Varner's bread and butter. He got up a number of times against Nurmagomedov... but what good does that do if you allow your opponent to just take you down again?
If Trujillo is going to win this fight it will be on the feet. He is a whirlwind of violence with some solid boxing, but his knees are his primary weapon which he has effectively used them in his victory over Marcus LeVesseur and (before landing an illegal one to Bowling's head) his first match with Bowling.
Varner has serviceable boxing that rarely overwhelms anyone and is unlikely to do so with Trujillo. But it is solid enough that he should be able to hang in there with Trujillo. His chin is rock solid (never been KO'd) and he has faced a number of solid strikers such as Barboza, Guillard, and Donald Cerrone. The bigger question facing Varner is his gas tank as he slowed against Joe Lauzon which cost him the W in the end.
Trujillo ran roughshod over Bowling in his last match, but Bowling has never been known as a smart fighter. Varner on the other hand has shown a solid ability to put together a good game plan since his return to the UFC. He'll know what he needs to do with Trujillo and he'll do it. Varner by Decision
John Makdessi (12-2) vs. Alan Patrick (11-0), Lightweight
This is the preliminary headliner? Well, that is what I told myself before I looked at the rest of the prelims and realized it was some slim pickings. I shouldn't bitch though. Its not like we'll be watching Kimbo Slice beating up a bum.
Makdessi is a devastating striker with a black belt in taekwondo and a further background in kickboxing. He is relatively short for a lightweight which does limit his range. Still, his spinning back-fist finish of Kyle Watson has been a highlight reel for a few years now showing his explosiveness. The ironic thing is that he is best known for his kicks (rightfully so) but his finishes have come with his fists.
Patrick is a fairly lanky lightweight who could give Makdessi problems with his 6 inch reach advantage. A southpaw, Patrick is more than willing to take chances with spinning kicks, elbows, and punches. He is a capable counter puncher as well which led to his finish of Garett Whiteley in his UFC debut.
Makdessi's losses in the UFC have come against larger lightweights with a size and length advantage. Anthony Njokuani was able to outbox him and limited the strikes he got off while Dennis Hallman took him down and grounded him out until he got him to submit. This could be bad for Makdessi as Patrick may not have the traditional boxing skills to do the same thing Njokuani did, but he should be able to keep his distance and score some flashy strikes and he is strong enough to control Makdessi on the ground even if his technique isn't as sound as Hallman's.
To Makdessi's credit, he didn't have any issues with Renee Forte, another larger lightweight, in his last bout. But Forte hasn't shown the ability to effectively use his size against opponents.
This match really could go either way. Makdessi is a proven dangerous striker and could end the fight at any moment. But I feel Patrick has the tools to give him fits and even pull the upset. Its a good test to see if Makdessi has grown as a fighter. In a competitive back-and-forth bout, Patrick gets outlanded in significant strikes by Makdessi, but ends up controlling him enough on the ground to pull out the victory. Patrick by Decision
#9 Chris Cariaso (15-5) vs. Danny Martinez, Flyweight
Cariaso was originally supposed to fight Kyoji Horiguchi, but Horiguchi suffered an injury about 2 weeks before the fight resulting in Martinez getting a late call. Don't expect Martinez to be a walk in the park for Cariaso; he has never officially been finished and has faced some tough opponents (with tomato cans mixed in there).
Cariaso was part of the WEC crossover into the UFC and dropped to flyweight shortly after the division was introduced due to being an undersized bantamweight. He is a well-rounded southpaw, but not great in one area. His striking is aggressive and centered around a Muay Thai attack that usually doesn't result in a finish (his last fight with Iliarde Santos is his one Zuffa exception), but a lot of strikes. He'll mix in takedowns and does a lot of work on the ground.
Martinez is somewhat of a brawler with a lot of haymakers in his repertoire. But more than anything he uses his striking to set up his takedowns. He comes out aggressive and waits for an opening once his opponent has opened up. He does attack the body as well as the head, but it is hard to remember him throwing a kick or a knee.
There is little to either fighters ground game aside from GNP. They own a combined 5 submission victories, all by either RNC or guillotine. I would say that Martinez owns the stronger GNP, but he is prone to losing his position as he will go buck wild and allow his opponent to slip out. Cariaso is more technically sound, but doesn't have the wrestling pedigree of Martinez. If this turns into a grappling war (doubtful), Martinez will likely win by controlling Cariaso.
Cariaso could be thrown off due to having prepared for Horiguchi, primarily a striker, to Martinez who is a wrestler. But he has fought some top opponents (Jussier Formiga, Michael McDonald, Renan Barao) and aside from Barao held his own against them. Martinez has faced some good names too (Formiga, Joseph Benavidez), but hasn't faced top-flight competition in about 3 years. Plus, he is too one-dimensional. Cariaso struggles to finish fights (10 decision wins), so this one goes all the way. Cariaso by Decision
Nick Catone (9-4) vs. Tom Watson (16-6), Middleweight
Catone returns to the middleweight division after his excursion to the welterweight division resulted in a hospital trip caused by dehydration from his weight cut. Considering he has lost two in a row and his last win was almost 3 years ago, this is likely his last opportunity to stick around the UFC. And Watson is a very formidable challenge for him.
Catone comes from a wrestling background (collegiate at Rider University) that is his bread and butter. He'll try to get his opponent down and at the UFC level has had the most success pounding them out. He isn't lost at submissions either as he is a brown belt in jiu-jitsu under Ricardo Almeida and Renzo Gracie. Half of his losses have come by submission which does raise some concern about his defense... but I wouldn't be worried about submission defense with Watson.
Watson has one victory by submission and doesn't have a successful takedown in the UFC. Not that he has attempted many. Simply put, he isn't going to be looking to go to the ground. That isn't to say he doesn't know what he is doing down there... he survived 15 minutes with renowned submission artist Thales Leites despite being taken down many times. He knows how to survive on the ground even if he doesn't want to be there. His takedown defense could use some work as he has been taken down 5 times in each of his UFC fights... including Leites who isn't exactly known for his abilities to get his opponents on the ground.
Watson wants to stand and bang as he has an extensive boxing background, including some amateur awards. Half of his victories have come via KO/TKO, including his lone UFC victory. Watson has a good gas tank and as a result likes to clinch up against the cage, wearing down his opponent and throwing a lot knees and dirty boxing. He's never been KO'd before either showing he has a strong chin.
Catone has serviceable boxing, but nothing that is going to cause Watson any great concern. He's comfortable clinching against the cage as well (this might not be the most exciting affair), but Watson will definitely have the advantage there. Catone was rocked by TJ Waldburger of all people in his last bout which is reason for concern in my book.
I expect this to be a fairly ugly affair between these two. I've been liking what I've seen from Watson as he is showing he is one tough bastard in each fight. Though Catone does well in ugly fights too, I expect Watson to do more in this one that will be very close. Watson by Decision
Al Iaquinta (7-2-1) vs. Kevin Lee (7-0), Lightweight
Ever since Iaquinta lost to Mike Chiesa for the TUF 15 title, he has been looking very good. He outwrestled and outboxed the younger Couture (Ryan) and after a slow start with Piotr Hallman, made some adjustments after the first round and handily took the fight from there. Even better to see from the Hallmann fight was that he overcame some (some is the key word) adversity to get the W.
Generally he mixes up his leg kicks with his boxing relatively well and will occasionally pull out something a little more flashy such as a spinning back kick. His right hand has some power behind it capable of rocking or even putting out his opponent. He occasionally forgets to consistently move his head and body which leads to problems for him. Outside of that he is very fundamentally sound as most Ray Longo trained strikers are.
Lee is more flashy and a lot more wild with his strikes. Though he has little technique behind his punches, there is a lot of power behind them. Even though he doesn't have a KO/TKO victory on his ledger, don't let that fool you. He has effectively used his punches to set up the submission (not just the takedown) in his last couple of bouts. If he tightens up his technique he could start putting people to sleep.
The ground is the wild card here. Iaquinta has a very solid wrestling base and is a Matt Serra purple belt for his jiu-jitsu. Perhaps most telling is the fact that he was able to beat Myles Jury in the TUF 15 tournament largely by resisting most of Jury's takedown attempts and turning it into a standup affair. He did have some issues with Hallmann here, but had the better endurance as the fight went on. On the whole though, he hasn't shown a whole lot of his abilities preferring to strike.
Lee has a nice high school wrestling background and shows a lot of power on the ground as well. He has been able to adapt to MMA and add submissions to his arsenal as well. While he hasn't been fighting cans on the regional circuit, I still question whether they have been at Iaquinta's level on the ground.
Iaquinta still has a lot to prove in the UFC which is why he is getting a promotional newcomer here... and one with a lot of promise. Lee is only 21 years old and has a very bright future ahead of him. But I think Iaquinta's coaching, experience in the bright lights, and sound punching technique will be the difference in this affair. Iaquinta by Decision
Clint Hester (9-3) vs. Andy Enz (10-1), Middleweight
This is a battle of TUF 17 contestants... though many of you may not remember Enz as he was unable to make it to the house. But if you get the opportunity it is worth watching his elimination match with Uriah Hall. He would have made it in but suffered from the luck of the draw.
Hester's boxing background is very well documented as he owns a 3-3 record as a professional boxer. Those boxing skills have translated over and he implemented a nice Muay Thai background of elbows and knees to supplement it. Witness his standing elbow KO of Bristol Marunde as proof. He is extremely explosive and has the power to end the fight with one punch.
Enz striking skills are far from bad, but they don't make your jaw drop the way that Hester's can. Still, don't underestimate him. He throws punches in bunches and mixes in some kicks and knees from the Muay Thai clinch. What may be most impressive is that he continues to come forward even after eating some bombs. His fight with Hall was a great fight (at least what was shown) and he ate some massive shots from Hall to keep going forward. He has a rock solid chin and tons of heart.
Hester will obviously want to keep the fight standing, but that has been a problem for him at times. Marunde was able to get him down multiple times early in the fight and Dylan Andrews did so with ease until he seperated his shoulder. Hester does have explosive power to get back up if his opponent doesn't maintain good position, but has also shown poor submission defense. As he gains experience he should improve here... but there is still issues for now. Outside of GNP, Hester offers no other offense on the ground
Enz on the other hand shows a very offensive guard and has ended the majority of his fights by submission. He has solid GNP but shows a lot of savvy by taking the submission when it opens up rather than expend further energy to put away his opponent.
This is going to be a better match up then what most fans are thinking. The UFC thinks they have a diamond in the rough in Enz and I see no reason to disagree with them at this point. He is only 22 and should only improve from here. He has a more well-rounded game than Hester and should offer Hester some problems with his reach... a significant advantage Hester is used to owning. I smell an upset brewing. Enz by Submission 2nd Round
Rashid Magomedov (15-1) vs. Tony Martin (8-0), Lightweight
This is a battle of promotional newcomers. Magomedov is part of the UFC's continuing Red Invasion (my own name for the continued Russian imports) and Martin is a young (and green) prospect from Minnesota.
Magomedov's is somewhat of a slow starter. He waits for his opponent to make the first move and takes some time to gauge distance and timing, using kicks as well as punches. While he is a counter puncher, he is aggressive at throwing together combos once his opponent has made their move. Make no mistake though, striking is Magomedov's strength and he'll do his best to keep it standing.
Martin has shown a great amount of improvement in his striking but still has a way to go. He has greater raw power than Magomedov, but a lot less polish. He throws punches and kicks in good volume... but he uses his striking to set up his ground game where he can better implement his size and strength which will clearly be an advantage he has over Magomedov. It appears he has a wrestling background and is very aggressive looking for subs and going for GNP. Though he only has 8 bouts, he is undefeated and 6 have come by way of submission. Also worth noting is that he has commonly fought at middleweight.
Magomedov is a sound grappler, but he isn't going to remind anyone of Khabib Nurmagomedov or Rustam Khabilov. He can be overpowered to get to the ground, but is slick enough to avoid a lot of damage from GNP and submissions and get back to his feet in a hurry. Considering that will be Martin's goal he'd better be ready to do so.
This should be a competitive match between two prospects. There is a very good chance that both could have a long future in the UFC. The question is who will do enough to come away with a victory. Magomedov will oustrike Martin and avoid the ground enough to emerge with the victory. Magomedov by Decision
Neil Magny (8-3) vs. Gasan Umalatov (14-2-1), Welterweight
A tale of two fighters. Magny is on his last chance to stick around long-term in the UFC and Umalatov is making his debut.
Magny is a big welterweight at 6'3 and possess an 81' reach. He isn't spectacular when it comes to using his reach to his advantage, but considering he is still relatively young in his fight career I expect improvement in this area to continue to come... perhaps it might even pop up in this fight. He did show some improvement against Seth Baczynski and gained momentum as the fight progresses... even if it did result in too little too late. He doesn't have KO power as his boxing is similar to the Diaz brothers style of punches in bunches.
Umalatov doesn't always show good technique in his striking. He can start head hunting at times looking for the KO and I would expect Magny to be able to capitalize at those times. But if he stays tight (and he is capable of doing so), he should find his way past Magny's range and land some shots. I'd look for some leg kicks from him as he can land those with a smack.
Magny's strongest suit is actually his ground game, a surprise to most people. Sure, he had problems with Sergio Moraes. But Moraes is a world-class jiu-jitsu artist. Most people have problems against him on the ground. Magny is far from a submission artist, but he is capable of getting his opponents down and delivering some punishment to them.
Umalatov will want to keep things on the feet despite the fact that half of his victories have come by submission. He isn't clueless on the ground by any means, but he gambles at times and allows his opponents to get the upper hand which I don't think he can get away with on this level... even against someone like Magny. If Umalatov does get top position or Magny's back, he'll likley look for a submission as soon as possible.
Overall I liked what I saw out of Magny in his last fight with Baczynski. He took it to him had a deeper tank than Baczynski and that last flurry of success likely got him another fight in the Octagon. Umalatov is a solid test, but he doesn't offer the control wrestling that Baczynski has which Magny struggled with. The big X-factor will be stamina though. Magny has shown no issues with that. Umalatov doesn't seem to either... but he hasn't gone 15 minutes in 4 years and Octagon jitters are a real thing. Magny by Decision
Your thoughts and disagreements are always welcome.
Record for last Card: 7-4
Record for Year: 22-11