Jimi Manuwa vs Corey Anderson
In a main event which was has come under a lot of criticism, two top ten ranked light heavyweights do battle as Corey Anderson takes on hometown favorite Jimi Manuwa at London’s O2 Arena.
With the hometown crowd in his favor, “Poster Boy” Jimi Manuwa will look to come out aggressively and push forward as he usually does with heavy low kicks and powerful punches. Possessing devastating power in both hands and feet, Manuwa will look to attack the legs of his opponent in an attempt to close range and deliver lethal hooks to either the body or head, much like we seen in the second round of his last outing against Ovince St. Preux.
Corey Anderson, a skilled boxer in his own right, prefers to employ a more calculated strategy which relies heavily on volume and movement as opposed to landing single heavy shots. With a clean jab and a snapping right straight to go along with it, “Overtime” will look to land an accumulation of straight shots from bell to bell, sometimes doubling up on the jab in an effort to set up his right and mask his takedowns. Whilst boxing may be Anderson’s biggest strength on the feet, he has also showcased powerful low kicks, particularly to the inside leg of a southpaw fighter. Despite the fact that Manuwa is not a southpaw, the utilization of low kicks could pay dividends for the American as he will look to stifle the forward momentum of “Poster Boy”.
With 14 finishes by way of KO or TKO, the power advantage is most certainly in the corner of Manuwa, something which could prove pivotal to his success on Saturday night. Despite being a fundamentally sound boxer, it is Anderson’s tendency to get hurt which has cost him dearly in the past. One need only cast an eye back to his 2016 bout with Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua, a fight in which ‘Overtime’ was enjoying great success, only to end up on the canvas at the end of rounds 1 & 2 after eating hard counter shots from the Brazilian, and end up on the losing end of a split decision. Should Manuwa get the opportunity to land cleanly on Anderson, it could spell the end for the American.
The wrestling of ‘Overtime’ could prove key in this bout as we have seen Manuwa taken down in the past. A decent defensive grappler “Poster Boy” will look to either get to the fence in an effort to get back to his feet or choose to lock his half guard down and wait for the referee to stand things up. The far superior wrestler, Anderson has an excellent double leg which he masks well with strikes and level changes. Once on top, the American will look to land strikes from half guard or side control, much like we seen in his most recent bout with Sean O’Connell. Expect ‘Overtime’ to land takedowns early in the fight as he looks to put ‘Manuwa’ on his back and neutralize the Brit’s colossal power.
The major question mark surrounding this fight will be whether or not Corey Anderson can withstand the offense of Jimi Manuwa for all five rounds, something which I feel he can not. I expect Anderson to dominate the early portion of this fight with superior wrestling, but feel that Manuwa will land at some stage and send the English crowd into raptures.
Pick: Jimi Manuwa Inside the Distance
Gunnar Nelson vs Alan Jouban
Iceland’s favorite son makes his return to the octagon this Saturday night as Gunnar Nelson takes on Alan Jouban in the co-main event of the evening. With both men coming off victories in 2016, this is a high-stakes bout which will have serious implications on the upper end of the 170-pound division.
A grappler of the highest order, Nelson has compiled a 6-2 record since joining the UFC. With 5 of them coming by way of submission it is no great mystery as to where his biggest strength lies. A well rounded and intelligent fighter, Jouban is at his most comfortable on the feet where he can utilize his sharp muay-thai, despite being a technically gifted striker, “Brahma” has a thirst for violence which he often looks to quench by engaging in wild brawls, a habit which has earned him successes and failures alike.
The 11 submission victories on the record of “Gunni” may lead you to believe that he is but a one trick pony, this, however, is not the case at all. With a karate base, the Icelander has a lightning quick right straight which he lunges forward with to close the distance and a serviceable kicking game to accompany it. Defensively, Nelson does tend to leave himself exposed, as he keeps his hands very low, relying on reflexes and speed as opposed to a more conventional method of defense. This can cause him problems as the fight progresses, which we saw against Rick Story, as Gunnar ate shots aplenty when he became tired in the latter rounds. Although the right hand of Nelson is a formidable weapon, his reliance on it can also become a hindrance when he fails to set it up, Story was able to time the right hand and return fire with multiple counter shots time and time again, something which was key to his victory. The addition of a left hook is something which Nelson has benefited greatly from in recent fights as it proved pivotal in victories over Brandon Thatch and Albert Tumenov, both of whom are dangerous strikers in their own right.
Despite gaining a reputation as a brawler, Jouban turned in a very mature performance last time out, as he put his feud with the brash Mike Perry to bed and emerged victorious via unanimous decision back at UFC on Fox 22. Although his slow starts have gotten him in trouble in the past, when allowed to settle into the rhythm of a fight “Brahma” is a threat with his diverse repertoire of kicks and left straight from the southpaw stance, a punch which caused Perry a great deal of trouble and even left him on the canvas at one point. This could be an important weapon against Nelson as he primarily fights from an orthodox stance, meaning the opportunity to land the straight punch will be there for Jouban, just as it will be “Gunni”. Where Jouban excels is when he is given the opportunity to unload with strikes against an opponent with their back on the cage, much like we seen during his demolition of Brendan O’Reilly.
In terms of technical striking, Alan Jouban would appear the more diverse and dangerous, yet Nelson’s constant improvement on the feet leave a cloud of doubt over who may hold the advantage.
When debating who may have the advantage in the grappling department, things become a great deal clearer. Gunnar Nelson is one of the finest grapplers to ever grace the sport, as his record would suggest. Few are superior when it comes to MMA grappling than the stoic Icelander, eclipsed only maybe by Demian Maia, a man who handed him only his second career loss just two fights ago. Despite being on the losing end of a lopsided decision, Nelson gave a great account of himself when the success Maia has had since then is taken into account. For “Gunni” to take the fight south, he will attempt to bait Jouban forward, where he will then look to hit a reactive takedown by establishing a body-lock, and then looking for either an inside or outside trip. Although the American is a competent grappler who has never been submitted, his habit of starting slow coupled with Nelson’s grappling prowess could spell major trouble here.
Look for Nelson to get the takedown early, pass to mount, and soften Jouban up with strikes as he patiently awaits any opportunity to pounce on a submission.
Pick: Gunnar Nelson by Submission
Brad Pickett vs Marlon Vera
As the curtain closes on the career of Brad Pickett, few could have imagined a more fitting send-off for a true pioneer of the sport as he gets a chance at one last victory in front of an adoring home crowd. Standing in the Londoner’s way is a fighter at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of experience, at just 24 years of age Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera is still a developing prospect, but a win in enemy territory on Saturday night would do wonders for his progression.
The style of Brad Pickett is one which relies heavily on his boxing fundamentals, as the nickname “One Punch” would suggest. Often looking to incorporate a low calf kick as a set-up, the Londoners best weapons are his hooks to the body and head. Where the Brit has struggled most in the past has been at range, sometimes finding it difficult to get inside on the longer fighter, this was glaringly obvious in his bout with Cisco Rivera. Despite getting the nod from the judges, Pickett was forced to fight on the outside for large portions of the bout as Rivera kept him on the end of his straight shots. This inability to get inside can sometimes frustrate Pickett and force him to push forward in a reckless manner, something which has caused him a lot of trouble in recent fights as he can become quite hittable.
The range could be a key factor in this bout, as the preferred strategy of Marlon Vera on the feet is to sit on the outside and throw kicks in an effort to fully capitalize on his length. “Chito” will enjoy a 2.5” reach advantage over the Brit and as we have seen in the past, keeping Pickett at range is key to stifling his offense. Although Vera has looked a far more comfortable kicker than puncher in his UFC career so far, Pickett has been susceptible to counter hooks in the past, so it would be no surprise if we see an improved punching game from Vera on Saturday Night. “Chito” does tend to leave his back to the cage however though as he looks to strike from the outside, this could spell trouble against a puncher like Brad Pickett as it will allow him to cut the cage off and get inside on the taller man.
Offensively, the Englishman would appear the superior wrestler, should the fight hit the ground, though, Vera is notoriously tricky from his back as his long legs allow him to threaten with triangles and arm-bars. Despite being the better wrestler, Pickett may struggle to mount any substantial offense on the mat, as the Ecuadorian is very good at avoiding damage on the bottom by breaking the posture of his opponent and constantly threatening with submissions and sweeps. There is always the possibility that Pickett will grind out a decision by remaining busy on top, but against a grappler as tricky as “Chito” I feel that is an unlikely outcome.
The experience of Brad Pickett could serve him well here; I do however expect to see great improvements from Vera here as he proves too dynamic for the aging Brit.
Pick: Marlon Vera via Decision
Arnold Allen vs Makwan Amirkhani
Two of featherweights finest prospects do battle as we kick off the main card with a much-anticipated bout between Arnold “Almighty” Allen and “Mr. Finland” Makwan Amirkhani.
A man with no shortage of confidence, the exuberant Makwan Amirkhani quickly captured the attention of fans and fighters alike as he burst on to the scene with an impressive eight-second victory over Englishman Andy Ogle. Hoping to fare better than his countryman this time out is Arnold Allen, who had a tricky task in his premiere UFC outing as he faced the experienced Alan Omer. Despite emerging victorious in the end, many believed he was well on his way to being handed a debut loss before locking up a guillotine in the final round. Both men have continued their winning ways since then and remain undefeated in the promotion, something which will stay true for only one come Saturday night.
With good boxing fundamentals and a solid kicking game, Arnold Allen is undoubtedly the cleaner of the two on the feet. Often looking to counter from Southpaw after slipping shots, “Almighty” has been susceptible to right straights in the past from opponents in the Orthodox stance, this was visible during his debut bout with Alan Omer as he ate a lot of straight shots early on. Although he did adapt well as the fight progressed by slipping and countering, it is still something of which to be wary. The threat of a right hand from Amirkhani will be almost non-existent, as he fights from a southpaw stance and uses his striking purely as a means of taking the fight to the floor. Should “Mr. Finland” get the fight to the ground, that is where he excels, something which his UFC career to date has highlighted.
The wrestling of Arnold Allen has looked much improved since making the move to Tri-Star, in the past “Almighty” has struggled when pressed against the cage, as he was held there for large portions against Alan Omer and Marcin Wrzsozek. This hole in his game seemed slightly remedied in his most recent outing against Yaozin Meza, as he was able to defend the takedowns of Meza on numerous occasions. Offensively, the Englishman is a competent wrestler who will use trips to take the fight to the canvas, but against a wrestler of the caliber of Amirkhani, it is doubtful he will seek any form of takedown.
So far in his UFC career, Makwan Amirkhani’s modus operandi has been simple, get the fight to the ground and use his superior wrestling to get the victory. Looking to take the fight south from the first bell, “Mr. Finland” will take any opportunity to shoot or grab a leg in what is a predictable yet effective offensive strategy. This has proved fruitful so far in his UFC career as both Masio Fullen and Mike Wilkinson have fallen victim to the Finns dominant wrestling. Most effective when on top, Amirkhani is a very patient and fluid grappler who will often wait for his opponent to move before committing himself. When in side control, he will often look for a crucifix or pass to mount. Although Allen has shown a good ability to get up in the past, he may struggle against a ground game as smothering as Amirkhani’s.
Should this one stay on the feet, Arnold Allen will likely enjoy great success as the technically superior striker, the big question mark, however, will be whether he can fend off the takedown attempts of “Mr. Finland”. Amirkhani tends to get caught in guillotines as he is shooting for takedowns, and as we have seen from Allen in his UFC debut, he needs just one opportunity to latch on to a neck. I do feel however though that the technical top game of Amirkhani will prove too much for the young brit, as he picks up the victory via decision.
Pick: Makwan Amirkhani via Decision
Joe Duffy vs Reza Madadi: Joe Duffy*
Francimar Barroso vs Darren Stewart: Darren Stewart
Daniel Omielanczuk vs Timothy Johnson: Timothy Johnson
Vicente Luque vs Leon Edwards: Vicente Luque
Marc Diakiese vs Teemu Packalen: Marc Diakiese
Tom Breese vs Oluwale Bamgbose: Tom Breese*
Ian Entwistle vs Brett Johns: Brett Johns*
Scott Askham vs Brad Scott: Brad Scott
Lina Lansberg vs Lucie Pudilova: Lina Lansberg*