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UFC Zagreb: Rothwell vs Dos Santos Breakdown

Dan Tom

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Rothwell2

Ben Rothwell (36-9)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’4″ Age: 34 Weight: 263 lbs Reach: 78″
  • Last Fight: Submission win / Josh Barnett (1-30-16)
  • Camp: Rothwell MMA (Kenosha, WI)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Switch-stance / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Undefeated in IFL run (9-0)
+   Finished 33 out of 36 victories
+   28 first round finishes
+   20 KO victories
+   13 Submission wins
+   KO Power
+   Improved footwork
^   Will switch stances
+   Excellent pressure fighter
^   Draws counters well
+   Dangerous left hook-right uppercuts
+   Underrated submission game
^   Devastating chokes
+   Effectively uses cage/gets up
+   Granite chin / Physically durable
+/-Takes damage to give damage

 

JDS1

Junior Dos Santos (17-4)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’4″ Age: 32 Weight: 242 lbs Reach: 77″
  • Last Fight: TKO loss / Alistar Overeem (12-19-15)
  • Camp: American Top Team (Florida)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Boxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Former UFC HW Champion
+   BJJ Black Belt
+   13 KO victories
+   4 first round finishes
+   1 Submission win
+   KO Power
+   Accurate left hook
+   Active jab
+   Devastating right hand
+   Underrated counter wrestling
^   80% takedown defense rate
+/-Heavily reliant on head movement
^   Low hands(especially off the break)
^   Counter availabilities
–    Takes damage in victory or defeat
^   Hurt/dropped in 4 of last 5 fights

Summary:

The main course for Zagreb will feature two of the division’s most dangerous combatants as “Big” Ben Rothwell takes on the former champion Junior “Cigano” Dos Santos. Riding a four-fight win streak, Rothwell will look to parlay his recent momentum into a bid for the title with a victory here. Dos Santos, on the other hand, is coming off a TKO loss to Alistair Overeem last December, as Cigano will look to right his ship and return to the form that got him to the title.

Given each fighter’s shown stylings, I suspect the majority of this bout to contest and likely be decided on the feet. Although Rothwell has more motive to ground this fight, Junior possesses the consistent takedown defense and get-up ability that generally ensures upright action throughout his matches. There, the former champion will use his patented crisp boxing technique to pick apart his opposition at range. Although limited in his shown arsenal of attacks, Junior’s accurate left hooks, and overhand rights may see the light of day with Rothwell’s often upright head position.

Although he may not be as pretty on his feet, Don’t let Rothwell’s standing demeanor fool you. Utilizing pressure in an awkward but intelligent fashion, Ben will stalk forward while baiting his opposition to initiate exchanges. Most fighters who play this game, ultimately end up paying due to Rothwell’s incredible durability and devastating power. If an opponent doesn’t have answers such as a Cain Velasquez-like transition game, then we often see Rothwell force frantic footwork & bad decisions. In fact, Ben’s pressure fighting is where this path clears the forest for me as I believe it will be a key factor in this fight.

As seen in his bouts with Miro Cro Cop & Mark Hunt, Cigano can outstrike technically superior opponents if allowed enough space to conduct the dance. However, when facing pressure fighters like Cain Velasquez or Stipe Miocic, we see Junior succeed space and struggle in all areas as a consequence. Even if Dos Santos comes in top form and finds his timing early, five rounds is a long time to play keep away with Rothwell should he not find a finish. I do not mean that disrespectfully to Junior, but close quarters will be the worst scenario for him in this particular matchup.

Though Ben is very dangerous inside with hooks & uppercuts, it is Junior’s defensive tendencies that trouble me the most about exchanges. Although demonstrating natural instincts and head movement through most of his career, Dos Santos is arguably a bit too reliant on his reactive speed. Accompanied by a slightly-low standing guard, this trend has been troubling as Junior has been hurt and or dropped in 4 of his last 5 fights. This defensive liability is especially apparent when Cigano exits exchanges, as most incidents occur off breaks or when Junior’s back is to the cage.

Should Dos Santos gain momentum and get Ben to the fence, he will still need to be sensible in his engagements. We have seen Rothwell hurt early in his fight with Schaub, only to come back and decimate Brendan moments later. I do not want to come off as discounting Dos Santos here, as I would likely find myself on the other side of things if this match were five years ago. But after seeing Junior’s physical & emotional demeanor fluctuate throughout these wars, I find it hard to confidently back one of the most fun & friendliest fighters in our sport. Who is confident, however, is Ben Rothwell as I see him earning a title shot before the final bell.

Official Pick: Rothwell – Inside the distance

 

Gonzaga4

Gabriel Gonzaga (17-10)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’2″ Age: 36 Weight: 258 lbs Reach: 76″
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Konstantin Erokhin (12-11-15)
  • Camp: Squared BJJ (Massachusetts)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   BJJ Black Belt
+   Multiple Grappling Accolades
+   10 first round finishes
+   8 KO victories
+   8 Submission wins
+   KO Power
+   Improved boxing technique
+   Devastating kicks
^   Head & legs
+   Competent takedown ability
^   Favors attempts against the fence
+   Heavy top game
^   Active passes/positionally sound
+/-Leans heavily forward
^   Accentuates this upon entries
^   Counter availabilities

 

Beast1

Derrick Lewis (14-4)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’3″ Age: 31 Weight: 264 lbs Reach: 79″
  • Last Fight: TKO win / Damian Grabowski (2-6-16)
  • Camp: Silverback Fight Club (Texas)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Boxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Regional MMA Titles
+   All wins via stoppage
+   6 first round finishes
+   13 KO victories
+   1 Submission win
+   KO Power
+   Dangerous right hand/uppercuts
+   Underrated kicks
+   Devastating ground striker
+   Developing ground game
+   Improved positional awareness
^   Underrated scrambling ability
+/-Limited tools shown from back
^   Times get-ups/explosions well
+/-Aggressive engagements & choices
^   Counter availabilities

Summary:

Croatia’s co-main event features a face-off between two of the deadliest finishers in the heavyweight division, as Gabriel “Napao” Gonzaga meets Derrick “The Black Beast” Lewis. Originally slated to face Ruslan Magomedov, Gabe Gonzaga will now take on the dangerous Derrick Lewis. Though taking this fight on short notice, Lewis will have had a few weeks to prepare as he was actively campaigning for this matchup. Looking to thwart the black beasts ascension, Gonzaga will seek to maintain his relevancy with a vintage performance.

Looking at this match on paper, Gonzaga is clearly the more experienced and technically refined fighter. With realistic paths to victory standing or on the mat, an argument in his favor is certainly defensible as he is a live dog here. That said, I feel the stylistic edge standing will go to the hard-hitting Lewis.

Although Gabe has made clear efforts in refining his Boxing technique, he loads his weight heavily on his front foot and will lean his head slightly forward and to the left. This tendency is only accentuated upon his entries, as Gonzaga will often lead with said head position. Oddly enough, there is a method to his madness as Gabriel will use this body language to draw out strikes and create counter opportunities. These forward moving, low-leaning feints will often draw Gabe’s opponents attention low, opening up over the top/right-hand hooks as seen in his fights with Dave Herman & Shawn Jordan.

With that being said, this style has also gotten Gonzaga consistently countered since those fights. Not to mention that leaning forward and to the left will put Gabe’s head directly in Derrick’s high traffic zones. Wielding dangerous right hands and uppercuts, Lewis may have a chance to demonstrate his favorite strikes in style should Gabriel not mind his engagements. Derrick has also been making noted improvements to his striking, as he has been displaying hard kicks in addition to more refined technique.

The most impressive fight-to-fight improvements shown by Lewis is in his counter wrestling, as this will likely be the key factor in this fight. Although Derrick’s aggression has traditionally got him taken down in the open, he has shown intelligent hip awareness in recent fights with displaying proper weight positioning and use of over/under hooks. Since Gonzaga has a low success rate with shots in the open, it is likely his best chances in grounding Lewis will be against the fence.

If Gonzaga can get Lewis to the floor, his heavy top game could contain the explosive get-up ability of Derrick. In fact, Gabe could very well pass & destroy once this fight hits the floor, and we would have no right to doubt him in doing so. That said, I do not feel we are looking at the same Gabe Gonzaga of old. From the shown tentativeness of his last fight with Erokhin to his lack of aggression on top of a hurt Cro Cop, the black beast is the last man he will want to let back into the fight.

As seen in his bout with Viktor Pesta, Lewis is very accustom to being forced to grapple early and still having the ability to come back late. With only five fights going the distance between both men’s career, I suspect the under will be worth a look at no matter who you are favoring here. Ultimately, I will be siding with youth & momentum to take the right-of-way in this crossroads matchup.

Official Pick: Lewis – Inside the distance

 

Francis1

Francis Ngannou (6-1)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’4″ Age: 29 Weight: 250 lbs Reach: 83″
  • Last Fight: KO win / Luis Oliveira (12-19-15)-15)
  • Camp: MMA Factory (France)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Regional MMA Accolades
+   3 KO victories
+   3 Submission wins
+   3 first round finishes
+   KO Power
+   Physically imposing
+   Accurate left hand
^   Actively jabs & hooks
+   Developing uppercuts
+   Hard knees inside clinch
+   Improved counter wrestling
^   Deceptively agile hips
–    Struggles from his back

 

Blaydes2

Curtis Blaydes (5-0)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’4″ Age: 25 Weight: 265 lbs Reach: 82.5″
  • Last Fight: TKO win / Luis Cortez (2-19-16)
  • Camp: Strong Style Fight Team (Ohio)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   NJCAA National Heavyweight Champ
+   Amateur MMA Accolades
+   All wins via Knockout
+   2 first round finishes
+   KO Power
+   Deceptive speed
+   Explosive power-double
^   Changes levels well
+   Strong inside the clinch
^   Favors double-legs & suplexes
+   Solid control from top
^   Active strikes & passes
+/-Developing stand up game

Summary:

Croatia will have no shortage of heavyweight showdowns as prospects, Francis Ngannou and Curtis Blaydes are set to collide. Coming off a devastating knockout win over Henrique Oliviera last December, Francis made his presence known in the division with his Octagon debut. Facing the Frenchman is the 2012’s NJCAA Heavyweight National Wrestling Champion, as this will be Curtis Blaydes first step on the big stage in his MMA career.

With this bout bordering a classic “Striker vs. Grappler” theme, it is strongly reminiscent of Cain Velasquez’s fight with Cheick Kongo. We have a dangerous, rangy striker in Ngannou, who fights slightly upright(common in European kickboxers) but applies a serviceable takedown defense. Opposing that is a National Wrestling Champion, who shows an equal tenacity for striking with a solid transition game to boot.

Being the more technically refined striker standing, Ngannou should pose the most consistent threat from range. An active jab helps pave the way for his power shots, but it is largely his left hand that is the accurate and effective conduit. Although he is not as polished on the feet, Blaydes demonstrates natural abilities to move and understand space. Despite throwing sometimes wild techniques, he does a good job of keeping his hands high and changing his level when necessary. Blaydes’ power double-leg in particular, should serve him well as wrestling will be a key factor in this fight.

Although Francis displays decent under-hook & guard awareness, he still demonstrates fundamental positional struggles when put on his back. If Curtis can successfully change levels or get in on Ngannou’s hips through a clinch, the Frenchman may be in for a three-round wrestling clinic. But if Blaydes fails or overstays his welcome in close quarters, Francis wields hard knees and unforgiving uppercuts that can change the course of this fight. Like most heavyweight affairs, I recommend strong caution in backing either party.

Official Pick: Blaydes – Decision

 

Tim1

Timothy Johnson (9-2)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’3″ Age: 31 Weight: 265 lbs Reach: 78″
  • Last Fight: Decision loss / Jared Rosholt (8-8-15)
  • Camp: Academy of Combat Arts (Fargo, ND))
  • Stance/Striking Style: Southpaw / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Regional MMA Titles
+   Div. 2 All-American Wrestler
+   6 KO victories
+   7 first round finishes
+   3 Submission wins
+   KO Power
+   Accurate check right hook
+   Good feints / moves well
+   Strong inside clinch
+   Dangerous in close quarters
^   Hard knees & uppercuts
+   Solid wrestling / scramble ability
+/-Aggressive pace & pressure
^   Counter availabilities
+   Durable with deceptive cardio

 

Marcin4

Marcin Tybura (13-1)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’3″ Age: 30 Weight: 249 lbs Reach: 77″
  • Last Fight: TKO loss / Ante Dellja (9-20-15)
  • Camp: United Gym (Poland)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Moderate

Supplemental info:
+   M-1 HW & Grand Prix Champion
+   Brown Belt BJJ
+   5 KO victories
+   9 First round finishes
+   6 Submission wins
+   Solid scramble ability
^   Actively looks for back
+   Excellent rear mount control
+   Effective ground striker
+   Competent takedown game
^   Favors attempts from barrier
+   Fundamental kickboxing approach
+/-Decent head movement
^   Head dips low when fatigued
–    Gas tank bares watching

Summary:

In the first of four heavyweight affairs featured on the main card, Timothy Johnson welcomes UFC newcomer Marcin Tybura. A former M-1 Heavyweight Champion, Poland’s Tybura will look to test his skills on the highest stage of competition. From serving in the Army to wrestling at a division-2 level, America’s Johnson will be aiming to make a statement overseas as he attempts to spoil the party.

Although primarily a grappler by trade, Tybura has steadily developed a fundamental kickboxing game. Prodding with an active jab, Marcin will casually add his right hand with the occasional mid-to-low kick finish. Although he mainly uses his strikes to mask his clinch entries, he does show good head movement and strike awareness. However, he does display a tendency to dip his head dangerously low, especially when he begins to tire. This habit could be costly against a heavy hitter like Johnson, who just so happens to have a mean uppercut.

Do not let Johnson’s physique fool you, as he moves very well with surprising speed and deceptive cardio. Timothy will often circle to the outside, only to feint and explode his way inside like a lightweight. Though this has cost him his fair share of bumps on the way in, Johnson demonstrates durability and a solid sense of things inside the pocket. Facilitating these transitions is Timothy’s right hook, as he will effectively use it offensively forward, or defensively as a check.

With striking stanzas often being a dice roll at heavyweight, I do give Johnson a slight edge based on his size and staying power. That said, it is inside the clinch where both men prefer to get their games going, making this the key factor for this fight. Lacking the traditional wrestling background or applications, the BJJ brown belt Tybura will lean heavily on clinch engagements to score takedowns. With this being his first bout in an actual cage, it remains to be seen to what effect the Octagon barriers will play on Marcin’s takedown game.

Should Tybura fail in grounding the All-American wrestler, I suspect it will be a long night for Marcin. Not only does Johnson have solid takedown defense, but is also comfortable being up against the fence as he thrives from this position. Even when his back is to the cage, Johnson does a good job of creating space to fire off knees & punches or reverse the situation. Tybura has a strong transition game and can test Timothy should he find his back, but Johnson’s positional awareness may shut that down being that he is a similarly minded scrambler. Regardless of who you favor in this one, I suspect both men’s staying power will make the over well worth looking at here.

Official Pick: Johnson – Decision

 

Jan2

Jan Blachowicz (18-5)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’3″ Age: 33 Weight: 205 lbs Reach: 79″
  • Last Fight: Decision loss / Corey Anderson (9-5-15)
  • Camp: United Gym (Poland)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Moderate

Supplemental info:
+   KSW Light-Heavyweight Titles
+   Muay Thai Accolades
+   Brown Belt BJJ
+   6 First round finishes
+   5 KO victories
+   7 Submission wins
+   KO Power
+   Will switch stances
+   Heavy head & body kicks
^   Favors switch kicks to liver
+   Deceptive uppercuts
+   Strong inside clinch
^   Strikes well off the break
+   Underrated ground game
+   Granite chin
–    Gas tank bares watching

 

Pokerjack1

Igor Pokrajac (28-12)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’0″ Age: 37 Weight: 205 lbs Reach: 74″
  • Last Fight: Submission win / Zauri Maisurardze (10-22-15)
  • Camp: American Top Team (Florida/Croatia)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Regional MMA Titles
+   Wrestling Base
+   Purple Belt BJJ
+   21 first round finishes
+   15 KO victories
+   8 Submission wins
+   KO Power
+   Strong inside clinch
^   Good dirty boxing
+   Solid pressure against cage
^   Favors takedowns from fence
+   Strong on top
+/-Conservative on bottom
+/-Willingness to trade
^    Aggression allows counters
–    Dropped or stopped in 4 of last 6 fights

Summary:

Making his return to the UFC, Igor Pokrajac will get to fight in front of his hometown of Zagreb as he draws the dangerous Jan Blachowicz. Since losing his last three fights with the organization, Igor has put together local wins at a lower-level to earn his way back to the big stage. Looking to avoid three consecutive losses himself, Blachowicz will attempt to play the spoiler in Croatia so that he can get back in the mix at light-heavyweight.

Given both fighters aggressive nature on the feet, I suspect this fight may be decided in the striking department. With Pokrajac being the more forward moving of the two, look for him to initiate the engagements as he often favors a blitzkrieg of punches to enter the clinch. Once inside, Igor will mix in healthy doses of dirty boxing with the occasional takedown attempt when against the fence. Although this style could wear down Blachowicz, the fashion in which Pokrajac enters and exits space could cost him in this match up.

Often when punching his way inside, Igor’s head will stay on center as he retracts his hands low off strikes. This habit has traditionally opened him up to counter strikes, as Pokrajac has been significantly hurt and dropped in 4 of 6 of his last fights. Igor has also demonstrated delayed guard retractions in clinch breaks that have cost him badly in past bouts. With Jan excelling from elbows to high-kicks off the break, I would not be surprised to see the amateur Muay Thai Champion capitalize in these spots.

Blachowicz is also the taller, rangier man, who employs a much more active jab. Mixing in healthy doses of deceptive shovel hooks & uppercuts, Jan fires a nasty switch-kick to the liver that he favors finishing his combinations with. These attacks, in particular, could expose the sometimes non-committal hand positioning of Pokrajac. That said, Blachowicz will have to manage his output should he not find the finish.With Jan showing stamina issues in recent bouts, Igor could push this issue if he can get inside and force grappling exchanges.

Even if Pokrajac fails on takedown attempts, making Blachowicz defend could pay dividends later in the fight. However, Jan is no slouch when it comes to counter wrestling or grappling. Wielding an underrated guard game, Igor will have to mind his manners when playing on top. That said, Pokrajac possesses similar sensibilities on the mat that could create stalemates on the floor. Although I don’t want to discount a fighter due to their age, it is hard to overlook Igor’s recent level of performances & opposition at this stage of his career. Should Blachowicz operate near his potential, I doubt the judges scorecards will be needed.

Official Pick: Blachowicz – Inside the distance

 

Moroz1

Maryna Moroz (6-1)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’7″ Age: 24 Weight: 115 lbs Reach: 67″
  • Last Fight: Decision loss /Valerie Letourneau (8-25-15)
  • Camp: YK Promotion (Ukraine)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Boxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Ukraine National Boxing Team
+   Master of Sports: Kickboxing
+   Master of Sports: Boxing
+   5 Submission wins
+   1 KO victory
+   Manages distance well
^   Will switch stances
+   Hard left hook-right hand
+   Solid lead leg kicks
+   Dangerous Arm-bars
+/-Will pull guard
+/-Very aggressive
^   Counter availabilities

 

cristina_stanciu_new

Cristina Stanciu (5-0)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’4″ Age: 22 Weight: 115 lbs Reach: 63″
  • Last Fight: Sub win / Renata Cseh-Lantos (12-14-15)
  • Camp: Absoluto Bucharest (Romania)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Wushu Sanda/Kickboxing Titles
+   Multiple Grappling Accolades
+   Purple Belt BJJ
+   5 Submission wins
+   1 KO victory
+   Solid footwork
+   Accurate front kick
+   Hard hooks from both sides
+   Strong & active hips
^   Excellent arm-bar instincts
+   Competent takedown ability
+/-Very aggressive
^   Sometimes throws self out of position

Summary:

Kicking off the main card is an exciting strawweight scrap as Maryna Moroz meets Cristina Stanciu. As their striking credentials would suggest, both women are well-equipped to indulge in their taste for trading. With each fighter carrying a high finish rate, expect a tight contest as these two tough individuals will play for keeps.

Starting off on the feet, I feel Maryna is a more technical striker, albeit slightly. Darting in-an-out off her rear leg, Moroz accentuates her length with straight punches accompanied by hooks & uppercuts when appropriate. Maryna also has underrated kicks off her lead leg that could help corral or keep her shorter opposition at bay. If Moroz can establish her jab early, her range management and aggression could take over the fight. Maryna will, however, have to show improvements in her head movement against the dangerous strikes of Stanciu.

Coming from a Wushu Sanda background, Cristina has the striking variety to counter from many angles. Although Stanciu is not as technically sound in a traditional sense, she should have an advantage in firepower coming in from a higher weight class. Cristina also has solid footwork that she will need to lean on in order to get inside. Possessing hard hooks from both sides, Stanciu could create chaos in her favor should she not get beat to the punch.

Cristina may also create grappling opportunities inside, as I feel she should have the wrestling/takedown edge. Moroz traditionally shows little priority in defending takedowns, as she will often oblige her opposition by pulling guard. Despite Maryna’s dangerous armbar game, she may have her strength canceled out being that the armbar is also Cristina’s go-to move. Even though Stanciu has the on-paper advantage in the grappling department, it will be interesting to see how she fairs against the active game of Moroz should she not find a finish.

It will also be interesting to see how Cristina’s debut in the UFC and at straw-weight will affect her stamina as she has shown fatigue issues in her lone 3-round fight. With the low sample size and propensity for growth from each fighter, the intangible level will be high going into this bout. Although I strongly caution heavy plays here, I feel the length & aggression of the Ukrainian will ultimately pay off.

Official Pick: Moroz – Decision

Preliminary Card Predictions

  • Dalby def. Cummings
  • Entwistle def. Perez
  • Hadzovic def. Taisumov
  • Pejic def. Stasiak
  • Whiteford def. Martins
  • Asker def. Cannonier
  • Di Chirico def. Velickovic

Recommended Plays

Fantasy MMA Picks

High Tier Picks:

-Ian Entwistle
-Ben Rothwell
-Derrick Lewis

Low Tier Picks:

-Robert Whiteford
-Timothy Johnson
-Filip Pejic

Pieces for your parlay:

-Ian Entwistle
-Jan Blachowicz
-Nicolas Dalby

Props worth looking at(5Dimes.eu):

-Timothy Johnson – by Decision: +455
-Jan Blachowicz – Inside the distance: -115
-Rothwell/Dos Santos – Under; +125

Fights to avoid:

-Mairbek Taisumov vs Damir Hadzovic
-Filip Pejic vs Damian Stasiak
-Alessio Di Chirico vs Bojan Velickovic

For the complete analysis of future & past UFC events visit MixedMartialAnalyst.com and for future breakdowns & your latest in world-wide MMA news, stay tuned to MMALatestNews.com


For the latest MMA news, live event coverage and more follow @mmalatestnws on Twitter.

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breakdown

GLORY: Redemption – Breakdown and Predictions

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Glory returns to pay-per-view today with a stacked card, featuring some of their greatest fighters. Among them are reigning champions Rico Verhoeven and Alex Pereira, as well as the return of former title holder Nieky Holzken.

In the main event, Rico puts his heavyweight title on the line against the very dangerous Jamal Ben Saddik, who defeated him 6 years ago. Rico comes into the fight riding an impressive 14-fight Glory winning streak.

The co-main event features a rematch of the 2016 Fight of the Year between light heavyweight veterans Michael ‘The Dreamcrusher’ Duut and Danyo ‘Dibuba’ Ilunga. The card is a must-see for kickboxing fans, as well as those who just love a good scrap. And with that out of the way, here’s a breakdown of some of the more interesting fight’s on Saturday’s super-card. Enjoy.

Nieky ‘The Natural’ Holzken – Credit: GLORY Kickboxing

Nieky Holzken vs Alim Nabiyev

Nabiyev came into Glory with a decent amount of steam behind him, but following his bout against short-notice opponent Jimmy Veinot, I honestly don’t see it. Nieky’s reign as champion was one of the best, and despite two close losses to the equally talented Cédric Doumbé, he’s still one of the best welterweights in the world today. With wins over Raymond Daniels, Joseph Valtellini, and current champion Murthel Groenhart, it’s hard to imagine Nieky having much of a problem with Nabiyev.

Expect plenty of pressure from Holzken early on. Coming off two straight losses Nieky will want to make a statement, and prove that he’s still the man to beat at 170. The liver shot will do it. Holzken will just be too much for Alim. Nabiyev has  potential and could be a contender in the future, but right now Holzken is on a whole ‘nother level. Nieky is back, and he wants that title.

Prediction: Nieky Holzken by 1st Round TKO

 

Alex 'Po Atan' Pereira

Alex ‘Po Atan’ Pereira – Credit: GLORY Kickboxing

Alex Pereira vs Yousri Belgaroui

Pereira’s win back at Glory 46 came as a shock to me. Simon Marcus has proven himself to be one of the best fighters in the division, and while Pereira is a solid kickboxer in his own right, I fully expected Marcus to win that one pretty easy. I was wrong. Pereira was the better man, and is now the Glory middleweight champion. But don’t expect it to last. Yousri completely shut Pereira down in there last meeting at Glory 40. And based on his last performance, a first round TKO over former champ Jason Wilnis, he’s only getting better.

Pereira’s path to victory is pretty simple, strike hard and strike early. The deep waters are not a place where Alex thrives. His cardio has been questionable in the past and his vaunted knockout power diminishes as the fight goes on. If Pereira can’t put Yousri on the back foot early it’s hard to see him taking this one.

The last fight was a fairly decisive win for Belgaroui. Alex was unable to score on Yousri and was picked apart after gassing out late into the fight. Pereira is a talented striker with some serious power, but Belgaroui’s well-rounded game and superior cardio should be enough to win him the championship.

Prediction: Yousri Belgaroui by Unanimous Decision

 

Michael Dreamcrusher Duut

Michael ‘Dreamcrusher’ Duut – Credit: GLORY Kickboxing

Michael Duut vs Danyo Ilunga

Last year these two stole the show, putting on one of the greatest fights of the year, maybe of all-time. But can they do it again? It’s hard to say. Consistency is not a strong suit for either of these men. Following his thriller with Ilunga, Duut went on to lose his next Glory contest by disqualification due to excessive clinching, then later won a contender tournament in less than a minute (48 seconds to be exact).

Duut’s incredible power and brawler style make him a dangerous fight for just about anyone in the light heavyweight division, but his lack of defence make him an easy target. Unfortunately, Ilunga hasn’t hit a bullsye in quite some time.

Danyo comes into this fight on a whopping 7 fight losing streak, and hasn’t won a fight in Glory since 2014. On the bright side, all 7 losses have come by decision so his chin has held up. Plus Duut isn’t the most durable guy in the world, so it’s possible that Ilunga could knock him out. But I don’t see that happening. Duut is just too powerful and Ilunga isn’t the same fighter he used to be. Hopefully the fight is as great as the last one was, but don’t expect it to go to a 4th round this time. Ilunga’s on a slippery slope, and Duut’s about to cause an avalanche.

Prediciton: Michael Duut by 3rd Round KO

 

Rico The King of Kickboxing Verhoeven

Rico ‘The King of Kickboxing’ Verhoeven – Credit: GLORY Kickboxing

Rico Verhoeven vs Jamal Ben Saddik

Despite being the main event this was one of the easier fights to pick. Rico has looked unstoppable lately, and as much as people hate to give him credit for anything, he really is the best heavyweight in the world right now. That doesn’t mean a whole lot considering how weak the division is at the moment, but Rico is champion for a reason.

The rest of the heavyweights just aren’t on his level. ‘Big Ben’ included. Jamal’s last fight against Guto Inocente was a total snoozefest, and if not for his rivalry with Rico he probably wouldn’t even be in the title picture. Badr Hari better get his act together cause Rico’s running out of opponents.

The only advantage I see Jamal having is his power. Rico is faster, more precise, and his striking is more diverse. Again, this is a heavyweight contest so anything can happen, but Jamal hasn’t KO’d a world-class opponent since he fought ‘Braddock’ 2 years ago. Since then, Rico has knocked-out Benjamin Adegbuyi, ‘Braddock’, Bigfoot Silva, and broke Badr’s arm earning him a TKO victory. Rico’s the better fighter, simple as that. And no amount of chest hair is going to change that.

Prediction: Rico Verhoeven by 5th Round KO

All images used in this article are accredited to GLORY Kickboxing

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UFC 218: Holloway vs Aldo 2 Main Card Predictions and Analysis

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The passing of the torch. A usual occurrence in combat sports. There comes a time when the old guard has to step down and let the new generation take its place. UFC 218 is all about the passing of the torch. Holloway-Aldo 2, Overeem-Ngannou, Alvarez-Gaethje, the card is chock full of young hungry fighters looking to make a statement against their aging counterparts. But don’t expect the old lions to give up without a fight. Aldo is still a world-class striker and Eddie’s still got some tread on the tires. And at the age of 37, Overeem is still one of the most dangerous heavyweights in the world today.

Max Holloway is a perfect representative of the new generation. He’s scrappy, well-rounded, and will fight whoever you put in front of him. He’s got the fire. So do Ngannou, Gaethje, and the rest of the young guys. Aldo hasn’t had that fire in a long time. Sure he’s still a great fighter,‌ but in his last few fights, he’s lacked that burning passion he used to have. Aldo has all the tools to beat Holloway, but does he have the drive? Does the fire still burn, or was it put out long ago? That’s what we’re going to find out come Saturday.

 

Tecia Torres vs Michelle Waterson

This is such a weird fight. Torres’ climb to the top has been impressively mediocre. She has wins over quality opponents like Angela Hill, Felice Herrig, and Paige VanZant. However, with just a single finish to her credit, Tecia hasn’t given the fans a reason to pay attention to her. Waterson is the complete opposite. She has only gone to decision twice and is one of the more popular fighters in the division. However, injuries and losses have prevented Waterson from gaining any real momentum.

As far as the fight goes I really don’t know what to expect. Waterson is fairly inconsistent and Torres is so consistent it hurts. My assumption would be that Waterson has the better ground game, so if anyone’s going to take it to the mat it will be her. Torres has the better overall stand-up game but doesn’t possess the same finishing ability of the Karate Hottie. My guess is that this one stays on the feet with Torres pushing the pace early, then getting caught by a powerful strike from Waterson that puts her down for good.

Prediction: Michelle Waterson by 2nd Round TKO

 

Eddie Alvarez vs Justin Gaethje

How the hell did Cejudo-Pettis get billed higher than this? Alvarez vs Gaethje has the potential to be the Forrest-Bonnar of the modern era. Both men are aggressive brawlers on the feet and strong wrestlers on the mat. I’d give the submission edge to Eddie, but that’s about it. Gaethje’s striking game is more diverse than Eddie’s is, and his youth is definitely something to consider. With 34 fights to his credit, Alvarez is certainly no spring chicken. He’s not nearly as durable as he used to be, and against a dangerous scrapper like Gaethje, that’s not a great quality.

I really wanted to go with Alvarez on this one, but facts are facts. Gaethje is younger, tougher, and most importantly, better for business. Eddie already lost to the biggest draw in the game. Money-wise he doesn’t have much to offer. Gaethje, however, is a promoters wet dream. He’s durable, dangerous, and damn fun to watch. Basically, everything Eddie used to be. Why does any of this matter? Because the judges work for the UFC. If the UFC brass wants Gaethje to win, then he will. Simple as that. Is it right? No, but business is business. And Justin Gaethje is good for business.

Prediction: Justin Gaethje by Split Decision

 

Henry Cejudo vs Sergio Pettis

This feels like too big a step up for Sergio, which is weird considering he’s ranked #4 and Cejudo is ranked #2. After Cejudo’s fight with Mighty Mouse, I wrote him off as nothing more than a sacrifice to the flyweight king. But his close fight with perennial #1 contender Joseph Benavidez and his vicious knockout over veteran submission artist Wilson Reis have shown me that Cejudo is more than just a big-headed wrestler. Henry is one of the best. If anyone in the division is taking the belt off Mighty Mouse it’s him.

Sergio is a talented kid, no doubt. Give him a few more years to develop and he could be champion one day. Unfortunately for him, the UFC doesn’t have time for that. They need flyweight contenders. If that means a few prospects have to bite the dust then so be it. I just hope Sergio doesn’t get completely outclassed and is able to make a good showing, but against a guy like Cejudo, I’m not holding my breath.

Prediction: Henry Cejudo by Unanimous Decision

 

Alistair Overeem vs Francis Ngannou

Call me crazy, but I’m still not completely sold on Cheick Kongo with dreadlocks. His only quality win is a knockout over what’s left of Andrei Arlovski. Overeem, on the other hand, has fought nothing but quality contenders in his climb back to the top, with his only loss coming against reigning champion Stipe Miocic (although some would argue they saw the tap). On paper, this is Overeem’s fight to win. Unfortunately, paper is what Overeem’s chin is made of.

Ngannou may not be as technically sound as Overeem is, but he hits just as hard, maybe harder. One good shot from the Predator and Overeem could drop like a sack of horse meat. Combine that with Overeem’s uber-cockiness and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Picking Overeem is always a gamble, but I’m willing to roll the dice on this one. It’s not gonna be pretty but Overeem’s in-and-out kickboxing and “run like hell” defensive style should be just enough to win this.

Prediction: Alistair Overeem by Unanimous Decision

 

 Max Holloway vs Jose Aldo 2

Holloway TKO’d Aldo about 6 months ago. Max is in the best form of his career. Aldo is taking the fight on short notice. I really can’t think of a good reason to pick Aldo on this one. Sure his striking is still some of the best in the division, but at this point, he’s writing checks his body can’t cash anymore. His chin has degraded significantly and his patented leg kicks are nowhere to be found. It pains me to say this because Aldo is an incredible fighter, but it’s starting to feel as though the sport is passing him by. Aldo is the past, Max is the future.

Despite just winning the title this summer, Holloway has effectively cleaned out the division. Swanson, Lamas, Stephens, Pettis, all fell to the young Hawaiian. Hell, since his loss to McGregor nobody’s even come close to beating Holloway. This doesn’t mean Max is invincible though. Frankie is still a huge threat to Max’s title, and those who sleep on Aldo are often put to sleep themselves. The road ahead of him is not an easy one, but something tells me Max is going to do just fine. It is what it is.

Prediction: Max Holloway by 2nd Round TKO

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GSP vs Robert Whittaker is Easily the Best Fight to Make at Middleweight

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GSP became the new middleweight champion of the UFC this past weekend, and many questions have been asked his way. Is he officially the greatest of all time? Who does he fight next? Does he stay at middleweight?

The G.O.A.T. conversation will never be settled completely. There will always be separation in opinions between Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, GSP, Demetrious Johnson, Fedor Emelianenko, and some even say Conor McGregor is the greatest, simply due to the fact that he is the first ever UFC champion to hold two belts simultaneously. Regardless of how that conversation is driven, the biggest question that should be the only concern at this point is the immediate plans for the new middleweight champion.

Where does GSP go next, and who does he fight?

Well, the fact of the matter is, it would not make sense for GSP to go down to the welterweight division again. 170-pounds is alive and kicking at the moment, with new stars emerging such as Darren Till and Mike Perry, to return of veterans like Carlos Condit, and also new additions to the division like Rafael dos Anjos. St-Pierre would have to stay extremely active in order to keep the division flowing.

At the age of 36 and having just returned to MMA last weekend, St-Pierre is unlikely to stay as active as he used to be when he was the king of the welterweight division. Plus, would it really make much sense for him to get on his old diet again in order to make the welterweight weight limit? He looked massive last night, all bulked up, and even seemed like the bigger fighter against Bisping, who used to fight at 205-pounds.

On the other hand, if he decides to stay at middleweight, which is what UFC president Dana White stated would happen yesterday, then there is one clear path for him to take and based on his statements on his contract, will be forced to take: Robert Whittaker.

Whittaker won the interim middleweight belt earlier this year against Yoel Romero at UFC 213, which was a razor close fight that went to Whittaker at the end of 5 rounds. Since then, Whittaker has been sidelined due to the injury he suffered during the fight, damaging his ligament in the left knee.

4 months later, he has seemed to have healed up perfectly, as he was in the arena for the madness last night and even answered a few questions from the media, stating that he is healthy now. The fight against Whittaker would be the best that the UFC could put on at this point in 185-pounds division on a few different levels.

GSP and Whittaker have a lot in common. Starting with the most obvious, they both used to fight at welterweight. Which means that neither fighter will have a massive size advantage. This brings the match up nearly even as far as physicality is concerned.

Then comes the match up itself. St-Pierre and Whittaker both represent the very definition of being ‘well-rounded’. Whittaker, although not an offensive wrestler, proved that his defensive wrestling was second to none in his fight against Romero, a former Olympic wrestler. And while GSP is not necessarily the best wrestler in pure wrestling, his ability to wrestle in MMA is phenomenal due to his timing and fight IQ, which makes this fight even more intriguing to find out whether Whittaker can defend GSP’s takedown attempts.

This fight also represents the UFC an opportunity to see a birth of a superstar. Whittaker, while not a huge talker, is a very marketable fighter especially over in Australia and New Zealand. If he is able to defeat GSP, who’s arguably the biggest draw in the history of the company, it would boost Whittaker’s popularity up an extraordinary amount. And being only 26 years old, Whittaker has the tools and potential to be a dominant champion, much like St-Pierre in his “prime”.

Booking this fight would also clear up the confusing state of the middleweight division. With Bisping’s reign as the champion coming to an end, some hope was born for other contenders in the division. Fighters like Luke Rockhold, Chris Weidman, Yoel Romero, Jacare Souza were having an extremely hard time getting a hold of Michael Bisping during his reign, and with a new champion now and possible unification of the belts soon, the contenders will have a goal to work for again.

The fight is one of the best fights that UFC could put on for the fans right now and one that can happen as early as February of 2018, which is when the UFC returns to Australia with a PPV. If it can come to fruition, then it will easily be one of the best fights of the year and one that all the fans can count the days down to.

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