The UFC makes its return to Colorado with a card that looks much different in the end than it did in the beginning. The result is a main event between hometown hero and surging contender Brandon Thatch opposite former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson, who moves up to welterweight for the first time. Thatch is looking to make a name for himself while Henderson is trying to not lose three UFC fights in a row.
Will Thatch get the biggest win of his career or is Henderson ready to snap his losing streak? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for Saturday's fights.
What: UFC Fight Night: Henderson vs. Thatch
Where: 1st Bank Center, Broomfield, Colorado
When: Saturday, the Fox Sports 1 preliminary card starts at 8 p.m. and the six-fight Fox Sports 1 main card card kicks off 10 p.m. ET.
Benson Henderson vs. Brandon Thatch
The size differential is one of many factors affecting this fight and perhaps not the most important one, but it's certainly unavoidable. Thatch seems monstrous in stature relative to Henderson. Whether he uses that effectively or not, we don't know, but it is a weapon should he choose to make it one.
My best guess is Thatch is going to press Henderson hard into reacting to him, making a mistake and then finding a quick opening to either finish it or cause some sort of complication. Henderson might engage this some of the time, but I suspect he'll also want to work at distance from the outside. On that count, I favor Henderson the longer this goes. Thatch's explosive offense works better early rather than late. In the end, I'm going to side with the bigger man. Henderson's experience is as good as it gets, but he doesn't have any experience that can reliably prepare him for this.
Max Holloway vs. Cole Miller
When Conor McGregor hangs up his gloves, it might end up being the case Holloway was one of the better fighters he ever faced. I don't say that necessarily because the two went the distance opposite one another. McGregor was injured in that bout. I say it because of the steady improvement Holloway seems to show. He does so many things well. His combinations are fluid, footwork is precise. timing is sensational and array of offensive weapons vast. He can't hang with Miller on the mat, but that presumes he's going to willing engage with him there rather than simply doing everything possible to negate it. Miller's not a bad striker himself by any means, but Holloway's ability there is superb. His takedown defense is also enough to keep the fight on those terms.
Neil Magny vs. Kiichi Kunimoto
The American simply has too much ability for 'Strasser'. It's not that Magny's takedown defense is airtight, but it is good. It's especially good against the cage, the very place where Kunimoto attempts most of his offense, if not merely his takedowns. This will likely be trouble for Magny early, but he'll eventually stuff and separate enough to out strike Kunimoto at distance.
Dan Kelly vs. Patrick Walsh
I was really impressed with the assertiveness of Kelly in his last bout. More than that, the particulars of his submission game - from the positioning of his weight to the comprehensiveness of the submission's mechanics - were eye opening. Walsh is a serviceable heavyweight and while Kelly is a little older, he has a certain polish to his game Walsh cannot match.
Michel Prazeres vs. Kevin Lee
The upset here entices me. These two are really evenly matched, but Prazeres' size might be the x-factor. He's a formerly unsuccessful welterweight and not quite possessive of the athletic dynamism of Lee, but also doesn't make as many mistakes. He also has a much more straight ahead game plan that he sticks to without change. Lastly, he doesn't spend a lot of time reacting to his opponents looking for counters. Lee does and that often forces him to fight out of deficits. Against a credible grappler like Prazeres, that could be too big of a mistake to overcome.
Ray Borg vs. Chris Kelades
get the strong sense Borg is going to win this and likely handily. There's nothing really obvious in Kelades' game that's clearly superior to Borg's. In fact, Borg's quicker, a better wrestle-scrambler, can likely strike as much as he he needs to and, while it may not mean much in the end, Kelades failed to (initially)* make weight. I expect Borg to force enough offense onto Kelades to force a mistake either by defensively shelling or over committing on a counter. Either way, this is Borg's fight to lose.
From the preliminary card:
Rodrigo de Lima def. Efrain Escudero
Chas Skelly def. Jim Alers
Zach Makovsky def. Tim Elliott
James Moontasri def. Cody Pfister