The UFC returns to Sweden with some of the country's native talent and certainly a bevy of other European talent. The event is headlined by a welterweight clash of established veteran Rick Story and top prospect Gunnar Nelson. While title talk is premature, the winner of the bout establishes themselves as a certified welterweight contender.
What: UFC Fight Night 53 (UFC Fight Night: Nelson vs. Story)
Where: Ericsson Globe Arena, Stockhom, Sweden
When: Saturday, the five-fight Fight Pass preliminary card starts at 12:10 p.m. and the four-fight Fight Pass main card card kicks off 3 p.m.
This is a close fight. It's not like a pick in either direction is hard to justify. That said, I'm going to side with Nelson. He might start slow and surrender territory early, but I suspect he'll win out in the long run. Story has to take away Nelson's space and control him, which he could do and will certainly try, but I don't know how effectively. The other issue is Story will mix in takedown attempts with his strikes even when he doesn't need to. I suspect that will be problematic as he'll either get stuffed or have his back taken. That could happen standing or on the mat (especially the latter).
It's all possible Story will limit Nelson's movement, box him up on the feet and either threaten the takedown or establish a top presence that's base-heavy with strong submission defense. But I just feel like something's going to give sooner or later. That's especially true against a patient fighter like Nelson.
Akira Corassani vs. Max Holloway
Holloway always had talent, but was sometimes physically over matched or wasn't able to string all of his tools together long enough to really showcase them. I don't think that's the case anymore. Maybe he's not as physically strong as Corassani, but he's arguably better everywhere. Holloway should be able to light the Swede up on the feet and if he can't stop the takedown (which he should be able to do), he'll work his excellent guard for a sweep or stand-up.
Ilir Latifi vs. Jan Blachowicz
I'm not particularly high on either of them. I also struggled with this pick as a result. Latifi has some positive attributes: strength and a grappling game centered around it, first and foremost. He also has big power. But he doesn't have a ton else. Blachowicz isn't elite either, but has more striking combinations and more footwork fluidity. He's also better at passing and holding the back from ground and pound. For those reasons, I'll give a nod toward the Polish side of things.
Niklas Backstrom vs. Mike Wilkinson
If I'm wrong, it certainly wouldn't be the first time, but Backstrom appears to be a better fighter in every respect. Plus, he bulldog choked Tom Niinamaki, which is about as sublime a submission as you're ever going to see.
From the preliminary card:
Magnus Cedenblad def. Scott Askham
Nico Musoke def. Alexander Yakovlev
Dennis Siver def. Charles Rosa
Gasan Umalatov def. Cathal Pendred
Krzysztof Jotko def. Tor Troeng
Mairbek Taisumov def. Marcin Bandel
Ernest Chavez def. Zubaira Tukhugov