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UFC Belfast: Mousasi vs. Hall 2 Breakdown

Dan Tom

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Gegard Mousasi (40-6-2)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’1″ Age: 31 Weight: 185 lbs Reach: 76″
  • Last Fight: TKO win / Vitor Belfort (10-8-16)
  • Camp: Red Devil International (Netherlands)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Good

Supplemental info:
+   Former Strikeforce & Dream Champion
+   Amateur Boxing Champion
+   8-0 as a Pro Kickboxer
+   Black Belt Judo
+   23 KO victories
+   10 Submission wins
+   29 first round finishes
+   Manages distance well
+   Active & accurate jab
+   Solid defensive fundamentals
+   Underrated Wrestling ability
^   Well-timed reactive shot
+   Good ground strikes and submissions
+   Crafty guard retentions & sweeps

 

Uriah Hall (12-7)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’0″ Age: 32 Weight: 185 lbs Reach: 79.5″
  • Last Fight: TKO loss / Derek Brunson (9-17-16)
  • Camp: Team Tiger Schulmann (Las Vegas, NV)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Moderate

Supplemental info:
+   TUF 17 Finalist
+   2x Ring of Combat Champion
+   Regional Muay Thai Titles
+   10 KO victories
+   1 Submission win
+   6 first round finishes
+   KO Power
+   Fast hands & feet
^   Counters & reads well
+   Dynamic kicking arsenal
^   Accurate/deadly spinning attacks
+   Underrated Grappling ability
^   Strong defensive instincts
+   74% Takedown defense

Summary:

The main event in Belfast is a rematch in the middleweight division as Gegard Mousasi meets Uriah Hall for the second time. Turning a new leaf since his defeat to Hall in September of last year, Gegard Mousasi will now seek redemption for a loss that he considers a fluke. Out to prove him and the oddsmakers wrong, Uriah Hall will look to show he is not a one-trick pony in this showcase spot.

Considering the fashion of defeat Mousasi suffered, Uriah Hall may have an inherent mental edge coming into this fight. However, Hall has struggled since their last meeting–dropping his last two fights in comparison to Mousasi’s three straight victories. Not only has Gegard had more success since their first bout, but he also shed his skin as Mousasi is much more outspoken and honest. This evolution of Mousasi’s mentality has also translated into his fighting game as the Dutchman is visibly more aggressive in his approach. The once listless and lackadaisical expressions of Mousasi would now be a look of disdain as he carried out his objectives in his last three fights.

Although this marriage of aggression and technical-sharpness may serve Mousasi well in this match, the Dutchman will still be playing with fire whenever engaging Hall. Despite often being associated with his dynamic striking offense, it is within the countering realm that Uriah makes his money. Whether it is the counter crosses we saw Hall utilize against Leben & Stallings or even his high-flying aerial assaults, it is Uriah’s ability to read and react that makes his game so special. We saw this in his first fight with Mousasi as he intercepted Gegard with a jump-spinning-sidekick off the smallest of tells.

Usually using more jabs and feints in his approach, Mousasi lacked the cover-fire to disguise his intentions as he changed levels for his attack. Given Gegard’s stance, he would naturally dip to his right side which is directly in the wheelhouse of Hall’s spinning assaults. Considering that a similar threat still looms in this rematch, it will be interesting to see what adjustments Mousasi will make. Since that fight, we have seen Gegard get back to utilizing feints to facilitate his jab and subsequent offense. I suspect he will continue that trend for this opponent as feints are fantastic for drawing out kicks and counters.

Seldom throwing himself out of position, Mousasi’s jab also serves as a solid launching point for level changes as the Dutchman hits reactive shots on the drop of a dime. Considering that it only took one takedown to earn Mousasi over 4-minutes and 30-seconds of control time in their first fight, the takedown will probably be Gegard’s best threat against Hall. Although Mousasi’s jab can dictate a fight, establishing it on Uriah may not be as easy as it seems. An excellent manager of distance himself, Hall uses his foot speed and lateral movement to make his opponent’s reach on their shots. Once successful in getting is opposition out of position, Uriah packs a precise counter cross that may see some light in this fight.

However, the danger with speed advantages is that Hall can be too dependent on his head and trunk movement when defending or moving away from strikes. Keeping low hands like many traditional martial artists, we have seen Hall get caught in his evasive efforts as he would circle out unprotected. Not only did this burn him in his last fight with Derek Brunson, but it also costed him his first professional loss to Chris Weidman early in his career. If this is something Hall has not addressed, then this may be an avenue Mousasi will look to exploit anytime he can corral Uriah along the fence.

Even though Mousasi’s punches are potent anytime his opponent is against the cage, his takedown game may fair better out in the open. Already possessing an excellent base and balance, Hall has shown improvements to his takedown defense from the cage. Should this fight hit the floor, it will likely be accomplished by one of Gegard’s aforementioned reactive shots. Although Mousasi should have a distinct advantage in ground fighting, Uriah proved in his last outing that he is no slouch defensively. Despite having limited success, I was impressed with Hall’s grip and positional awareness as he displayed small nods that showed he was keen to Gegard’s intentions.

Although Mousasi earned a massive amount of control time in that opening round, he would ultimately lose multiple opportunities on the floor due to the impatient nature he demonstrated in that fight. Unlike his bout before with Costas Philippou, Gegard lacked the usual staging for advancements as he looked to overcorrect his last performance with aggression. Hall, on the other hand, stayed poised and composed as he timed his bridges and explosions perfectly with Mousasi’s transitions. That said, Uriah failed to capitalize on those windows with any reversals or re-wrestling efforts as he was ultimately grounded for the rounds remainder.

With Mousasi seemingly hungry to make a point with his performances, I will be curious to see if the emotion of revenge gets the better of him here. Even though Hall is coming off of two disappointing performances, he is the type of fighter who is always dangerous, especially when his back is against the wall. Training with multiple camps in Las Vegas, Uriah is certainly making all the efforts he can to continue improving his game. However, it is the mental triggers that will remain the question for Hall until he can prove otherwise. Despite the outcome their first time around, I feel that Mousasi should still be a justifiable favorite. That said, the numbers on this line screams of a possible trap fight as I caution any heavy plays.

Official Pick: Mousasi – Inside the distance

 

Ross Pearson (19-12)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’8″ Age: 32 Weight: 155 lbs Reach: 69″
  • Last Fight: Decision loss / Jorge Masvidal (7-30-16)
  • Camp: Alliance MMA (Australia/CA)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Moderate

Supplemental info:
+   TUF 9 Lightweight Winner
+   Regional MMA Titles
+   Black Belt Tae Kwon Do
+   Blue Belt BJJ
+   7 KO victories
+   5 Submission wins
+   6 first round finishes
+   Good slips & head movement
^   Looks to slip & counter
+   Accurate left hook
+   Excellent pocket awareness
^   Favors uppercuts off crouch
+   Improved takedown defense
^   Shows getup initiative & technique
+/-2-3 against UFC southpaws

 

Stevie Ray (19-6)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’10” Age: 26 Weight: 155 lbs Reach: 70″
  • Last Fight: Decision loss / Alan Patrick (9-24-16)
  • Camp: Higher Level MMA (Scotland)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Southpaw / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Moderate

Supplemental info:
+   Former BAMMA Lightweight Champ
+   Former Cage Warriors Lightweight Champ
+   Regional MMA Titles
+   Blue Belt BJJ
+   6 KO victories
+   8 Submission wins
+   9 first round finishes
+   Accurate left cross
^   Heavy R. hook follow-ups
+   Hard left body kick
+   Solid top game
^   Strong shoulder pressure
+   Improved wrestling transitions
+   Effective ground striker
+   Good chin / physically durable

Summary:

The co-main event in Belfast is a fireworks fight in the lightweight division as Ross “The Real Deal” Pearson battles Stevie “Braveheart” Ray. Coming off of a hard-fought two-fight skid, Ross Pearson will look to right his ship as he faces off with Scotland’s finest. A champion of both BAMMA and Cage Warriors, Stevie Ray has done his homeland proud as he has gone 3-1 since coming to the UFC. Suffering his last loss on the road in Brazil, Ray will now have a shorter trip for redemption as he enters Belfast hungry for the upset.

Even though I suspect that the majority of this fight with contest standing, I would not be surprised to see Stevie Ray attempt to ground Pearson as I believe he is the man with more motive to do so. Despite losing his last fight in the grappling department, Ray was facing a well-trained black belt in Alan Patrick who was able to play it smart positionally. Whatever struggles Stevie may or may not have from the bottom, the Scotsman does an excellent job when operating from the top position. Demonstrating a solid understanding of shoulder pressure for pinning and passing purposes, Ray is an effective smotherer who has shown improvements on transitioning with his strikes.

Should Stevie elect to take a page out of Even Dunham’s playbook, we may see Ray engage in grappling anytime he can corral Pearson to the cage. However, it will not be an easy task as Ross has excellent footwork and shows improved takedown defense. Even when taken down, Ross is a relentless scrambler and displays a good get-up urgency as I suspect most grappling stanzas will be brief. Given the takedown threat and pressuring approach of Ray, Pearson will likely elect to stick and move as he shown to do that more as his career has progressed.

Although the Scotsman should have a size and power edge over Ross, I feel that the Brit will be more potent inside of the pocket, especially when looking at how these two line up. Often utilizing a crouch variation to set up his uppercuts and right hands, Pearson also possesses a precise left hook follow-up. Considering that Ray has a tendency to keep a low-lead hand or revert to a shell defense, Pearson’s uppercuts and left hooks to the head or body will be worth looking out for in this fight. However, Pearson will have things to look out for as well given the offense of Ray.

Even though Stevie does keep an aforementioned low-lead hand, he uses it to counter from deceptive angles as he wields a check hook that is in a similar spirit to Luke Rockhold’s. Utilizing it to counter effectively, Ross will need to be on his utmost awareness whenever entering the pocket to attack. Stevie also throws an excellent body kick that could see some light in this fight. Not only does Ray’s southpaw stance facilitate a nasty liver shot, but Pearson tends to dip to his right side which could further fuel the impact of kicks to his body, head, and arms.

Despite my soft spot for Scotland, I agree with the oddsmakers here in making Pearson a slight favorite. Even though Ross had a rough time out in his last bout, the Brit has been one of the more consistent warriors in the UFC’s deepest division. Although the durable Scotsman will be a live threat throughout the contest, I suspect we will see Pearson take a competitive and entertaining decision on the scorecards.

Official Pick: Pearson – Decision

 

Kyoji Horiguchi (17-2)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’5″ Age: 26 Weight: 125 lbs Reach: 66″
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Neil Seery (5-8-16)
  • Camp: American Top Team (Florida/Japan)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Switch-stance / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Moderate

Supplemental info:
+   Black Belt Karate (2nd degree)
+   Multiple Shooto Titles
+   9 KO victories
+   1 Submission win
+   5 first round finishes
+   KO Power
+   Fast hand & foot speed
^   Superb blitzes & lateral movement
+   Solid pocket awareness
^   Moves head well
+   Dangerous left hook & switch kicks
+   Improved wrestling & scrambles
+   Devastating ground striker
^   Postures & positions well
+/-Keeps hands low

 

Ali Bagautinov (14-4)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’4″ Age: 31 Weight: 125 lbs Reach: 65.5″
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Geane Herrera (6-18-16)
  • Camp: Fight Nights Team (Dagestan, Russia)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Moderate

Supplemental info:
+   Master of Sports in Sambo & Wrestling
+   Multiple Combat Sambo Titles
+   5 KO victories
+   4 Submission wins
+   6 first round finishes
+   KO Power
+   Dangerous cross-hook combo
^   Improved kicks on follow-up
+/-Aggressive in approach
^   Tends to headhunt
+   Strong clinch/clinch takedowns
+   Solid top game
^   Devastating ground striker
–    Traditionally open to body kicks
+   Good chin / never stopped

Summary:

In a fun flyweight affair, Kyoji Horiguchi squares off against Ali Bagautinov. Despite losing to the champion early in his career, Kyoji Horiguchi is still widely regarded as one of the division’s few dark horses. Challenging for his top-5 spot is another former title challenger in Ali Bagautinov. Part of the Dagestani invasion that has gotten the attention of the MMA mainstream, Bagautinov will attempt another ascension to the top as a win here would make for a strong statement.

Starting off on the feet, we essentially have a dangerous power puncher in Bagautinov, who will be looking to land on an elusive Karate stylist in Horiguchi. Considering that both men tend to favor fighting on the outside to stage counters and blitzes, it will be interesting to see which man decides to lead. Although Ali has shown he is flexible enough to play the bull or the Matador, I do not believe he has the speed nor footwork to dictate this dance. Heavily emphasizing on power, Bagautinov tends to load up on his shots which may provide cues for the man with an inherent distance advantage.

Training in martial arts since the age of 5, Kyoji Horiguchi shows the preternatural understanding of combative ranges you only see from years of emersion. Effectively circling on the outside, Kyoji will masterfully blitz once finding an angle to his liking. What makes Horiguchi an above average Karate striker is his superb pocket awareness and lateral movement as I see this being a key factor in this fight. Rolling exceptionally well underneath hooks, Kyoji may have ample opportunities here given the looping nature of Bagautinov’s assaults. Incorporating rolls into his lateral exits, Kyoji will then look to plant and counter once getting under or offline of the oncoming punches.

Favoring a devastating left hook, Bagautinov will have to be especially mindful as he tends to retract his right-hand low. That said, the Dagestani’s counter right hand will be his most potent punch against the in-and-out aggression of Horiguchi. However, Ali has traditionally shown a body shot availability both at range and inside the clinch. Not only was Demetrious Johnson able to score with repeated success, but so was likes of John Lineker and Joseph Benavidez. Against the devastating body kicker in Kyoji, the Dagestani’s durability could be tested should a liver kick land. Where Bagautinov has the edge on paper, is within the submission fighting realm.

An accoladed Sambo practitioner, Ali is more than proven on the floor as the resilience displayed in his last fight shows he is not an easy man to handle. Should Horiguchi exercise his growing wrestling ability, he will need to be careful when engaging Bagautinov. Often relying on his athleticism, Kyoji has a tendency to give his neck on his takedown entries as this has gotten him caught in precarious Guillotine positions in 5 of his last 7-fights. Although Ali only has one official win by Guillotine choke, this will be something to worth watching for as I assure you that an opportunistic Bagautinov will not be shy.

That said, I feel that Ali will be the one looking for takedowns. Despite showing a solid reactive shot, Bagautinov prefers to make his money like most Dagestani fighters, inside the clinch. However, Ali may find both avenues of approach difficult considering how hard Horiguchi can be to catch. The Japanese fighter also demonstrates an excellent base and balance that makes him difficult to take down. Even if Ali is successful in getting him down, keeping him there presents another challenge as Kyoji possesses an explosive getup ability. Regardless, the Japanese fighter will need to mind himself whenever on the bottom as Ali is an aggressive ground striker.

If Horiguchi can make his way on top, he also presents potential problems for his Dagestani counterpart. Although not applying a typical grappling pressure topside, Kyoji shows a solid understanding of framing and positional awareness. From his subtle knee & foot placements to his overall hip positioning, Horiguchi will smoothly advance to a perfect cruising altitude that is appropriate for bomb dropping. The space given in this approach can usually allow for room & reactions to stand, but Ali will need to be careful in these transitions as Kyoji is a custom to punishing opponents on their way up and off of the breaks.

Although Ali is a dangerous opponent for anyone in the Top-10, I feel that this will be an unfavorable styles match for him as I see Horiguchi’s speed giving him problems. Ultimately, I feel good about Koji’s chances, especially that he has been spreading out his training to American Top Team. In a fight with back and forth potential on paper, I expect Horiguchi to take a clear decision, if not find a late finish.

Official Pick: Horiguchi – Decision

Main Card Predictions:

  • Mousasi def. Hall
  • Pearson def. Ray
  • Johnson def. Volkov
  • Ishihara def. Lobov

Preliminary Card Predictions:

  • McCall def. Seery
  • Cedenblad def. Marshman
  • Horiguchi def. Bagautinov
  • *Lee def. Mustafaev
  • Cooper def. Elmose
  • Ledet def. Godbeer
  • Cummings def. Yakovlev
  • Reneau def. Dudieva
  • Kwak def. Johns
  • Alhassan def. Ward

For the complete analysis of future & past UFC events visit MixedMartialAnalyst.com and for future breakdowns & your latest in worldwide MMA news, stay tuned & follow @MMALatestnws MMALatestNews.com

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UFC 216 Breakdown: Tony Ferguson vs. Kevin Lee

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As a fight fan, you can’t ask for a much better match up than Tony Ferguson vs Kevin Lee.

This match up is easily one of the most fascinating ones of the year, and with the interim lightweight title on the line, the stake doesn’t get much higher. But the bigger meaning of the fight lies in that fact that a clear number one contender will be determined to virtually guarantee a future opportunity at the current champion, Conor McGregor.

The talks of McGregor next facing rival Nate Diaz next have been circulating for the past few weeks, but once this fight between Ferguson and Lee concludes, and someone walks out of the arena on Saturday with that interim championship around their waist, they will be very hard to deny for McGregor.

Although this fight is a very exciting match up, on paper, it may deceive some people as a mismatch, since Lee’s resume of wins doesn’t include too many top contenders. His biggest win was against Michael Chiesa in June of this year, Chiesa was ranked 6th at the time. But let’s look deeper into it and see what makes this one a must-see fight.

Where Ferguson Flourishes

Ferguson and Lee may be stylistically two completely different fighters, but their ground games and grappling are both extremely high level, possibly the top 3 in the division, a list that can’t leave out Khabib Nurmagomedov. In the grappling department, it is hard to decide a winner here.

Even about five months ago, I would have leaned towards Ferguson, but watching Lee take control against a high level grappler like Chiesa the way he did was beyond belief to be honest. Ferguson will have his hands full if the fight hits the canvas, and likewise for Lee. However, if there is one thing that Lee needs to watch out against Ferguson, it is the unorthodox style he brings, even in the grappling.

“El Cucuy” is a bizarre fighter, but in a good way. Watch him fight against Edson Barboza and do a couple of imanari rolls. Watch him roll while on the bottom against dos Anjos. It is mind-blowing how good he is with such peculiarity and Lee can’t overlook that.

With that being said, advantages for ‘El Cucuy’ are quite clear: Stand-up, cardio and experience. Ferguson showed time and time again what a well-rounded fighter he is, and his record shows it too. Out of 17 finishes on his win column, 9 of them are by knockout and 8 are by submission. He really is a fighter who can do it all.

Tony Ferguson defeated Rafael dos Anjos via Unanimous Decision in November of 2016 at UFC Mexico City.

We also know that his cardio is exceptional, this was displayed in his fight against Rafael dos Anjos, where he went five hard rounds with the former champion in Mexico City, at an altitude of 7,382 feet. Just to give an idea of how high that is, Colorado’s altitude is 6,035 feet.

Ferguson knows what it is like to be in the deep waters. But when a fairly young fighter such as Lee reaches the later rounds, nobody knows how he will respond to the situation, so Ferguson has his advantages in the experience department laid out clearly.

Don’t Count Out Kevin Lee

‘The Motown Phenom’, on the other hand, is a completely different fighter with different strengths. He possesses advantages in the physical department, career mileage, and in the fact that he has less pressure going into the fight. The physical advantage is the most obvious one for Lee. He has spoken before on the fact that he cuts from about 180-pounds, where Ferguson has talked about him being capable of making 145-pounds.

Ferguson may be taller, but it is not difficult to see that Lee is bigger when they stand next to each other. Lee’s second advantage comes from the fact that he is not as battle-tested. In a way, it could be a disadvantage, but he has taken considerably less amount of damage throughout his career compared to Ferguson. The last advantage for Lee listed was explained more specifically on my article ‘Tony Ferguson can’t afford to lose at UFC 216’. Feel free to go and check it out.

Kevin Lee defeated Michael Chiesa by first round submission (rear-naked choke) at UFC Oklahoma City in June 2017.

Now that both guys’ assets are laid out for this fight, it’s time to make a prediction.

Time and time again leading up to this fight, I’ve heard people say that this fight is going to end in a submission, and most say it’s going to come from Ferguson. I would agree with that but here’s one thing. As previously mentioned, Lee’s grappling is top-notch and he is brilliant defensively. This was evidenced when he was on the bottom against Michael Chiesa, a position in which he was easily able to escape.

I don’t believe Lee is a fighter that can be easily submitted. But here’s what I agree with most on: I also see Ferguson winning, because of his experience, cardio, and definitely unpredictability. Kevin Lee, while he is a very talented fighter, I believe it is just a tad bit too early for him at this moment.

Prediction: Tony Ferguson def. Kevin Lee via TKO (punches) in the 5th round.

 

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UFC 216 Breakdown: Demetrious Johnson vs. Ray Borg

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If Demetrious Johnson is able to defend his flyweight title this Saturday at UFC 216, it will be an attempt to break a major record, as he will then have defended his belt for the 11th consecutive time.

It is a remarkable record that he attempts to break, which is currently being held by Johnson and the former middleweight champion Anderson Silva, at 10.

When this fight was first announced for UFC 215, the reactions from the fans were not exactly what the UFC hoped it would be. There were two possible reasons for this, and maybe even both:

1) The talks of Johnson defending his title against T.J. Dillashaw was roaming around at the time, which got fans excited, only to disappoint them in the end when it wasn’t finalized.

2) Ray Borg is not necessarily a fighter that fans are dying to see yet, mainly because he is not the most marketable fighter and he is very young, which made us ask, “Is he ready for this opportunity?”

However, there is one thing we must keep in mind when looking at a fight between a dominant champion and a young rising contender: Expect the unexpected. We saw it last December when Dominick Cruz fought Cody Garbrandt at UFC 207. Who would have ever thought that Garbrandt would be able to outclass Cruz the way he did?

Cody Garbrandt provided yet another shock title change when he defeated Dominick Cruz at UFC 207 in December of 2016.

But don’t get it mistaken. ‘Can’ doesn’t mean ‘will’. And although Borg could shock the world in this fight, it is way more reasonable to lean towards Johnson. After all, if we are being honest, ‘Mighty Mouse’ is the closest thing to a perfect fighter. The only times he lost was to Brad Pickett, which was seven years ago, and to Dominick Cruz, who unlike ‘DJ’ is a natural bantamweight.

This is a tough fight for Borg. The only way for him to win is either catch Johnson with a big shot and finish him or keep up a ridiculous pace for 5 rounds straight and outmatch the champion with skills.

Borg is at a couple of disadvantages here, one being his cardio. “The Tazmexican Devil” has previously shown that he often has a tough time making the 125-pound weight limit, and if you add that to the fact that he never fought past three rounds, his cardio is in question. Whether he will be able to keep up with Johnson, who can put on a ridiculous pace for 25-minutes straight, remains to be seen.

Also, we never know what is going through a fighter’s head, so it will be interesting to see how Borg performs under pressure. He’s never had a title shot, and Johnson has been in the same spot 12-times in his career, so experience also goes to Johnson.

Ultimately, I’m leaning towards the champion in this fight. I do like Borg and what he brings to the table, however, too many questions are unanswered about Borg at this point to pick him over Demetrious Johnson.

Prediction: Demetrious Johnson def. Ray Borg via Unanimous Decision.

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UFC 215 Main Card Breakdown

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The UFC makes its return to Canada as current flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson looks to break the record for most successful, consecutive, title defenses, against Ray Borg. Also on the card is a women’s bantamweight title fight between champion Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko, Gilbert Melendez makes his featherweight debut against power puncher Jeremy Stephens, Ilir Latifi looks to bounce back against Tyson Pedro, and Rafael dos Anjos looks to continue his welterweight journey against Neil Magny. Let’s take a look and see how it each fight plays out.

Jeremy Stephens vs Gilbert Melendez

Gilbert Melendez is a fighter who has built his career on being a talented boxer and being incredibly strong both in the clinch and the ground. For years he has been a monster for most lightweights to deal with. However, since having joined the UFC from Strikeforce he has gone just 1-4. In his last couple of fights, he has found himself slowed down due to unchecked leg kicks and opponents who are quicker than him. In an attempt to resurrect his career ‘El Nino’ has dropped down to featherweight and will meet former lightweight, himself, Jeremy Stephens. Stephens has made a career out of hitting hard, knocking opponents out with either hands, legs, or even his knees. Stephens is a fighter who excels in the pocket and has the durability to stand toe to toe with almost any opponent. In his last five fights, he has gone 2-3 due to his opponents being quicker than him and keeping him on the end of their punches.

How the fight will go

Gilbert will come into the fight as the stronger fighter with the better grappling game and better control of the Octagon. His excellent boxing will match-up well with Stephens. However, Stephens will come in as the faster fighter, harder puncher, and will already be used to cutting down to 145. Melendez will need to gain control of the Octagon early and keep Stephens against the cage both in the clinch and on the ground, in order to tire out “Lil Heathen”. If he can use his boxing to keep Stephens at the end of his punches, control the Octogan, and stay out of the pocket, it’s his fight to lose. Stephens does his best work in the pocket and although he’s slow for a featherweight he will have the advantage speed wise in this match-up. If he can keep his back off of the cage, gain control of the Octagon, land his powerful leg kicks, and mix up his powerful strikes, then he will have a dog in this fight and can very well pull off the upset.

Prediction

Gilbert Melendez fights very similarly to the way he fought in the Pettis fight. He keeps Stephens’ back against the cage and forces him to the ground every chance he gets in order to tire him out. Stephens occasionally finds success using his speed and power in the pocket but eventually finds himself too tired to stop the stronger Melendez from imposing his game plan. Assuming Gilbert’s first cut 145 goes well, he beats Stephen’s via a close but clear decision to put his career back on track and start his journey at featherweight on the right foot.

Ilir Latifi vs Tyson Pedro

Ilir Latifi is coming off of one of the most brutal knockout losses of 2016. He ate a huge knee from Ryan Bader in the second round of their fight and has not returned to the Octogan since. The Swedish ball of muscle looks to bounce back against the undefeated Australian Tyson Pedro. Tyson Pedro is a fighter who has never experienced anything beyond a first round stoppage win, his fight against Latifi represents his biggest test yet. Latifi is a fighter with a game centered around his incredible strength and power. He is a fighter who brings a calm energy in the cage and an interesting physique. He is only 5’10, the same height as former featherweight Anthony Pettis, what he lacks in height he makes up for with muscle. His muscle alone makes him one of the strongest and most powerful fighters in the UFC. Pedro is one of the tallest fighters in his division, coming in at 6’3 he’s used to being the stronger, taller fighter and likes to smother his opponents both on the ground and in the clinch.

How the fight will go

A lot of Pedro’s advantages come from being the taller, stronger fighter. He likes to keep his opponents at range, eat them up with oblique kicks, clinch up, take them down and find the stoppage. Latifi’s strength means clinching and takedowns won’t be easy. He can over power most opponents and avoid trouble in those areas. Latifi does have a tendency to get stuck on the outside and eat leg kicks, his tendency to rush in can lead to counters, like in the Bader fight. Latifi is an excellent wrestler but has trouble taking his opponents down, often expanding a lot of energy in the process. Pedro has been hurt before by his lack of head movement and that can lead to him taking big shots, Latifi can always find a big shot early on and take the Australian out.

Prediction

This fight will all depend on how the first round goes. If Latifi can find his range early on he can land the knockout shot and finish the Australian. If he can’t, he will find himself on the outside where Pedro will pick him apart with body kicks and oblique kicks and hold him against the fence where the Swede will tire himself out. If Pedro stays patient he can tire out Latifi and score the finish. Pedro scores the upset and finishes an exhausted Latifi in the third round by TKO.

Neil Magny vs Rafael dos Anjos

Rafael dos Anjos looks to win his second fight at welterweight as he faces long time contender Neil Magny. Dos Anjos is coming off of a well-fought decision win against Tarec Saffiedine in a fight that helped him discover how he stacked up against a real welterweight and how his body would hold up. He brings into this fight excellent body and leg kicks that he uses to break down his opponents and slow down their movement. He has a game that is perfectly suited for his height as he uses a lot of pressure and forward movement to make sure he stays on the inside. His excellent ground game has carried over to 170 as he uses his top pressure to smother his opponents. Neil Magny last fought against Johny Hendricks in a fight where he used his long range better and showed a new technique with his kicks to create range. Magny’s game uses excellent cardio, as well as good footwork and movement. He’s starting to better understand how to use his long and tall body. He also uses his long legs to create triangle attempts from the bottom.

How the fight plays out

If Magny can use his height and reach correctly he can leave Dos Anjos stuck on the outside, as well as using his footwork to ensure he doesn’t take too many shots. His cardio will keep him fresh throughout the three rounds and he can use that to his advantage if dos Anjos tires out. Dos Anjos will look to use his leg kicks to stop Magny’s footwork as well as use his powerful body kicks to sap his cardio. Dos Anjos’ pressure based game could very well negate Magny’s reach advantage and his smothering top game would keep Magny from using his reach.

Prediction

Although Magny has the tools to beat dos Anjos, the Brazilian remains an elite fighter even at welterweight. Dos Anjos uses his leg and body kicks to slow down Magny as well as using his wrestling to tire the American out. Dos Anjos has fought tall opponents in the past and knows how to use his forward pressure to remove the reach advantage, as he did against Donald Cerrone and Nate Diaz. The former lightweight champion takes a decision win and moves to 2-0 at welterweight.

Amanda Nunes vs Valentina Shevchenko

Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko meet for the second time after fighting each other at UFC 196. The first fight ended in a close 29-28 decision win for the now champion Nunes. Nunes is a long and rangy kickboxer who likes to fight at range, where she uses her jab and cross keep her opponents back. She has been known to finish most of her fights early on, however, if she fails to do so she has a tendency to get tired, gas out, and get finished herself. Shevchenko, although undersized at 5’5, has been beating her opponents using her ever evolving ground game and her excellent Muay-Thai. Her patience and forcing her opponents to lead has brought her victories over top contenders like Holly Holm and Julianna Pena.

How the fight plays out

Amanda Nunes used her strength on the ground to beat Shevchenko in the first two rounds the last time they fought. Nunes didn’t have a whole lot of success on the feet as she was overpowered in the clinch and found herself having trouble with Shevchenko’s patience and lack of counter opportunities. Nunes’ ground game, while she was still fresh, was very dangerous last time out, nasty ground and pound as well as multiple submission attempts. However in the third round of their fight Nunes gassed and found herself too exhausted to overpower her opponent like she had done in the first rounds and found herself eating a lot of shots on the ground and in the clinch. If early on she can force Shevchenko to the ground and use her strength, she can find a submission or a ground and pound TKO. However, if she can’t, she’ll find herself getting tired in the later rounds and seeing her window for victory closing. This fight, being five rounds, heavily favors Shevchenko and her ever evolving game.

Prediction

Much like in their first fight Shevchenko will stay patient and lose the early rounds. Her lack of activity hurt her last time out as well as Nunes’ aggressive ground game. If Nunes can use her strength early on, she can take Shevchenko down and have her way with her as she looks for the early finish. If Shevchenko can weather the early storm, she can take advantage of her tired opponent and finish her late. Shevchenko will force Nunes to lead and although she’ll have to weather the early storm, her patience will eventually pay off as her opponent tires herself out. Valentina Shevchenko finishes an exhausted Amanda Nunes in the fourth round by TKO to become the new women’s bantamweight champion.

Demetrious Johnson vs Ray Borg

Current flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson takes on Ray Borg in an attempt to break the record for most successful consecutive title defenses. His 11th title defense comes against skilled wrestler Ray Borg and his ever evolving striking. Johnson brings to the Octagon one of the most well-rounded games in all of MMA. His excellent stand up paired with his world class grappling has not failed him at 125. His excellent footwork has always troubled his opponents and his lack of clear weaknesses means it’s difficult to exploit problems in his game. Ray Borg started his career as a world class grappler who would immediately take his opponents down and smother them until the fight was over or he was able to find a submission. His striking used to be a big weakness in his game until he started training with Brandon Gibson.

How the fight plays out

Ray Borg used to start his fights by immediately taking his opponents down and smothering them. Now that his striking improved he’s content with staying on the feet and striking with his opponents. This is where he will have problems against Johnson, Johnson is the much quicker fighter out of the two and will keep Borg on the outside. Borg’s incredibly short reach of 63” means he will need to cover a lot of distance, something he struggles with. Borg is not the quickest of flyweights and is a lot slower than Johnson. While Johnson has the bigger advantage on the feet, the wrestling is where it gets tricky. Borg’s ability to find the takedown and stay on his opponent is something he will need to use to tire out Johnson and force him to make a mistake. Johnson’s patience on the ground means he won’t panic if he goes down with Borg and has shown in the past he can easily get back up or even grapple with the best of them. Borg’s gas tank will be a problem in this fight, as Johnson never seems to tire out and is used to going five rounds. If Borg tires, Johnson will completely take over the fight.

Prediction

Borg starts the first round on the feet and ends up getting frustrated as he finds Johnson too quick and gets stuck on the outside. He eventually finds the takedown and forces Johnson to go through some scary moments. Johnson survives the early storm on the ground and starts to run away with the fight in the third round as Borg starts to tire. Although the fight will be close on the ground, it’s obvious Johnson has all the advantages in the standup. Demetrious Johnson beats Ray Borg by unanimous decision to break the record for most successful title defenses in a row.

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