The UFC keeps their Memorial Day weekend routine alive, but not with a pay-per-view. Instead, the UFC brings its Fight Night series to Las Vegas. The card features a number of prospect and contender match-ups, no more so than in the bantamweight division.
What: UFC Fight Night: Almeida vs. Garbrandt
Where: Mandalay Bay Events Center, Las Vegas, Nevada
When: Sunday, UFC Fight Pass has two fights starting at 6 p.m. ET; FOX Sports 1 has rest of card starting at 7 p.m. ET with the main card at 9 p.m. ET.
Thomas Almeida vs. Cody Garbrandt
What a tough, close fight to call. On the one hand you've got Garbrandt, who can wrestle while being deadly at boxing range. On the other, you have a multi-dimensional striker like Almeida. What and who will give first? Perhaps that isn't the right question if we are trying to determine who will win. Almeida is a bit of a slow starter who gets better as gets warmer. Garbrandt, for his part, stays relatively consistent. Forced to make a pick, I'll side with the Brazilian. He does have that early fight liability that's impossible to overlook, but he also has more tools, particularly in the striking department where this fight is likely to take place. If he can overcome an early knockdown (and potentially worse), he should be able to adapt to Garbrandt's boxing-range striking. Garbrandt has shown a sturdy chin, but the ability to be tagged as well. If Almeida can find it over time, he can emerge the top bantamweight contender.
Renan Barao vs. Jeremy Stephens
This is highly speculative, but I'm just not sure what's left of Barao after the beatings Dillashaw gave him. I'm sure he'll love the extra weight he gets to carry in terms of what was required to cut. Beyond that, I really wonder what sort of competitor we're going to see here. Stephens is a heavy puncher and big for the weight class. Barao obviously has a plethora of skills himself, but it's not clear to me this move up in weight is going to yield the kind of career success he expects. Maybe it will. No one can say for certain, but one has to wonder if all the weight cutting and punishment Barao absorbed will dramatically effect who he is going forward.
Tarec Saffiedine vs. Rick Story
This is an incredibly tough call, especially since Story hasn't fought in two years. Will he be able to pressure Saffiedine backwards and score with his boxing? Or will Saffiedine be able to use the right distancing, pacing and leg kicks to slowly chip away at Story? It's really anyone's guess. I'm going to side with Story for reasons even I'm not particularly sure of. I guess I suspect Story won't be kept at bay long enough not to land the more damaging shots, but this one is going to be interesting to see who emerges as the more potent offensive threat.
Chris Camozzi vs. Vitor Miranda
Miranda has been incredibly impressive of late. His takedown defense is just patient enough to not get in the way of his overall hustle. He is deadly in the clinch and can strike at range, too. Camozzi always fights incredibly tough opponents, so there's a measure of credit he's owed, but Miranda just has too many tools to overlook.
Jorge Masvidal vs. Lorenz Larkin
On the feet, this is relatively even, although I'd lean somewhat Larkin. On the ground, it's an unequivocal advantage for Masvidal. The problem is I'm not sure it's going to get there. Larkin is light on his feet at welterweight and possesses really thorough takedown defense. I also think Masvidal could end up giving away rounds early, only to make a comeback late. This is one of those cases where I'll pick against the fighter who has more ways to win in Masvidal. He does have a ton of ability, but doesn't always bring it to bear. For all of Larkin's limits, he usually fights up to them in contests. Given the angles and hand speed he uses, plus the quick footwork to evade pressure, I'll side with him.
Josh Burkman vs. Paul Felder
If Burkman shows some offensive discipline and employs a steady stream of takedown attempts or even wrestling tie-ups, he could sneak in a victory here. He has veteran experience and despite the occasional over commitment, still has a ton of tools. For me, though, Felder should be able to take this. If he can mind his distance and shut down any shot or clinch along the fence, this is his fight to lose. He can do more at different ranges than Burkman, and do so with more precision. This could be competitive, but Felder has more than enough of what it takes to win.
From the preliminary card:
Jessica Eye def. Sara McMann
Abel Trujillo def. Jordan Rinaldi
Jake Collier def. Alberto Uda
Shane Campbell def. Erik Koch
Aljamain Sterling def. Bryan Caraway
Adam Milstead def. Chris De La Rocha