The second of two UFC events in one day takes over the evening on Saturday as the UFC makes its Halifax debut. The card is headlined by a clash of top welterweights while the co-main event features bantamweights on the short list for a future title shot. Canadian prospects of a variety of levels fill out much of the rest of the event.
What: UFC Fight Night 53 (UFC Fight Night: Nelson vs. Story)
Where: Scotiabank Center, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
When: Saturday, the two-fight Fight Pass preliminary card starts at 7 p.m. ET, the four-fight Fox Sports 2 preliminary card kicks off 8 p.m. and the six-fight main card starts on Fox Sports 1 at 10 p.m. ET.
Rory MacDonald vs. Tarec Saffiedine
This should be a tight contest, but the difference for me is the ability for MacDonald to fight more fully in all phases of the game. Saffiedine is a nightmare at range with his punishing leg kicks. He's also got very capable takedown defense, but MacDonald is not going to fight in such a way to cater to his opponent's strengths. The Canadian has very high fight IQ and exhaustive preparation. Does that mean MacDonald will fight in the clinch or test the takedown defense of Saffiedine to work top control? Perhaps. Maybe he'll just fight in tight boxing range. Whatever the case, he won't fight fire with fire, which is a strategy only available to him given just how well-rounded he actually is.
Raphael Assuncao vs. Bryan Caraway
Caraway might not be a fan favorite, but it'd be wrong to disparage his game. He's a quality grappler and the kind who doesn't try to launch offense from every position, but the kind that creates favorable conditions to make overall offense easier. That said, I have a hard time believing he's a better grappler - MMA or pure jiu-jitsu - than Assuncao. Moreover, Assuncao has dramatically improved as both a wrestler and striker, making the blend of his game a force to be reckoned with. I'm not sure how he gets it done against Caraway, but he does.
Chad Laprise vs. Yosdenis Cedeno
I'm not sure what to make of this contest, but I'll go with Laprise. He's not the power striker or kicker Cedeno is, by any measure. But he does something against fighters like that which could work here, namely, chip away at them. Laprise's striking style is about slowly crescendoing where Cedeno is about making immediate impacts. It's a very close contest, but I expect the Canadian to chip away at him en route to a better third round than a first where he ultimately takes a decision win.
Elias Theodorou vs. Bruno Santos
Spartan's game is infinitely more dynamic than Santos, who will want to slow, limit and control the Canadian. Want to know who is winning? Just look for activity or a lack thereof. For me, the option to hold Theodorou for three rounds is a path fraught with peril. Whether in the clinch, outside or on top after a scramble, Theodorou is trying to score. He might give up positions at times, and that could cost him. But all things being equal, Theodorou should be able to escape long enough to win rounds.
Nordine Taleb vs. Li Jianglang
The UFC is going to give its Chinese fighters real challenges, but ones they are capable of over coming. Taleb's place in the UFC is questionable save for use in fights like this. Jianglang isn't a world-class fighter, but is proactive on offense and decent to good on both sides of the grappling game. Provided he doesn't counter fight here, this is his bout to lose.
Mitch Gagnon vs. Roman Salazar
Flat out, Gagnon is a better fighters. Yes, it's MMA and anything can happen, but short of some weird act of nature, Gagnon should win this handily. He's a better athlete, far better grappler and infinitely more experienced against much better opposition.
From the preliminary card:
Daron Cruickshank def. Anthony Njokuani
Olivier Aubin-Mercier def. Jake Lindsey
Jason Saggo def. Paul Felder
Patrick Holohan def. Chris Kelades
Albert Tumenov def. Matt Dwyer
Pedro Munhoz def. Jerrod Sanders