The Ultimate Fighting Championship hits the big screen on Fox for a 13th time with a stacked card of hard-hitting heavyweights and exciting match-ups. At the headline, Junior dos Santos fights to solidify his spot among the elite in the heavyweight division as he takes on rising star Stipe Miocic who has his mind focused on the upset. Also on the card is a high-stakes battle at 155 pounds as Rafael dos Anjos and Nate Diaz put their hard-fought win streaks on the line to produce another top contender in the stacked lightweight division. This all goes down tomorrow, Saturday night, when the UFC plants its feet in Pheonix, Arizona for the very first time. Starting on the prelims:
Anthony Birchak vs. Ian Entwistle
The night’s action starts off at 135 pounds as the rising prospect, Anthony Birchak, meets the Brit, Ian “Enty” Entwistle. Birchak was originally scheduled to meet Joe Soto in his UFC debut, but Soto obviously opted out to face TJ Dillashaw when Renan Barao failed to make weight. Now, Anthony Birchak finally gets his chance to put his skills on display under the UFC banner. Birchak is a very well-rounded fighter with finishing capabilities in his striking skills, but also some really slick submission skills. Birchak likes to get wild and aggressive, but throws tons of power and looks to finish his opponent every step of the way. Speaking of his opponent, Entwistle is a phenomenal grappler, but was recently exploited in his UFC debut against Dan Hooker.
Look for Birchak to keep this fight on the feet for as long as he can. Entwistle is going to be the bigger, stronger fighter seeing as how he usually fights at 145 lbs, so Birchak is really going to have to either stay mobile on the feet, or make Entwistle really respect his power. If Ian can get the takedown and secure top control, look for Entwistle to roll for leg locks and other submissions. With that said, Birchak has a good ground game as well, and should for the most part be able to keep himself out of danger. Because Entwistle doesn’t offer much on the feet, look for Birchak to eventually land his power on the feet; he might get taken down and have to fight off some submission attempts, but his opportunity will come. I’m predicting a second round TKO for Birchak.
Henry Cejudo vs. Dustin Kimura
The long-awaited UFC debut of Olympic wrestler, Henry Cejudo, finally materializes tomorrow night. Cejudo was originally meant to face Scott Jorgensen, but had to pull out on short notice because of his failure to make the weight. Cejudo has had a bad record of missing weight, but to combat this, he has moved up to 135 pounds and is facing off against the talented twenty-five year old, Dustin Kimura. Cejudo obviously is going to want to take this fight to the ground, and for the most part nobody has been able to stop him. Cejudo is unbeaten in MMA, but him moving up to 135 worries me and makes me think that this fight could really be difficult for him. Even though Cejudo is the favorite in this bout, Dustin Kimura is no joke and has skills to pull off the upset.
Kimura is a talented grappler with some sharp striking as well to his credit. Even though he stumbled against George Roop in his last bout, he won’t be forced to fight against a size disadvantage here – in fact, Kimura should have a size advantage and be the bigger fighter against Cejudo. This is going to make it harder for Cejudo to take Kimura down, but even harder to hold him down. Look for Kimura to not worry so much about stuffing the takedown, but rather worry about being offensive off his back. Like I said, Kimura is a talented grappler and has 2 solid submission wins in the UFC.
I’m expecting Kimura to land some good offense on the feet, but eventually be forced back against the cage. The crucial point here is that Kimura can’t get stuck trying to fight off the takedowns because Cejudo will just keep coming as he is relentless. If Kimura tries to out-wrestle Cejudo then he is going to fall behind on points, but if he can deal with getting taken down, thwart Cejudo’s own offense in top position, then Kimura should be able to look for submissions off his back. This is all much easier said than down however, and I think Cejudo is just going to be too much for Kimura. Look for Kimura to have some success though, especially on the feet against a green Henry Cejudo, but ultimately he’s going to get suffocated. I think it’ll be a closely contested match-up however, so I’m taking Cejudo by a hard-fought split decision.
David Michaud vs. Garrett Whiteley
This lightweight contest features two fighters looking for their first wins inside the Octagon. Michaud dropped a close fight to Jingliang Li back in May while Whiteley has gone 0-2 in the UFC with losses to Patrick Alves and Vinc Pichel. Because both of these guys are most likely fighting for their grasp on their UFC contracts, expect some fireworks as both fighters take off the breaks and look to deliver a memorable performance.
Michaud is going to look for takedowns and top position in this fight. His stand-up is okay, but he really has success when he is taking his opponent down and beating them up from top control. Michaud will however look for submissions, and makes his opponents pay when they leave themselves exposed amidst transitions. Whiteley on the other is a very explosive striker. He likes to throw from range, and has a lot of power in his punches and kicks. His main problem is staying upright long enough to do any real damage. Because Whiteley is 0-2 and can’t afford another loss, look for Whiteley to come out aggressive and try to use his size advantage to thwart takedowns.
If Whiteley can’t finish Michaud in the first round, then look for Michaud’s takedown game to eventually sway the momentum of the fight. David might have to weather the early storm, but if he does then he should have an easier time grinding the bigger man down once fatigue sets in. In fact, because Michaud is so good at snatching things during transitions, I think he can latch onto a choke of some sort late in the fight.
Joe Ellenberger vs. Bryan Barbarena
Set to make his second UFC appearance, Joe Ellenberger, the younger brother of UFC welterweight fighter Jake Ellenberger, takes on UFC newcomer Bryan Barbarena in what should be an explosive affair. Ellenberger drew a lot of heat after his controversial split decision win over James Moontasri. Ellenberger took a lot of damage and didn’t look his best, so definitely expect Ellenberger to show up way more prepared after narrow escaping a costly reality check. His opponent, Barbarena, is a big lightweight who packs a lot of power in his punches, but also his wrestling game at the same time. Barberna likes to dominate his opponents with takedowns, but then look to put them away with thunderous ground and pound that also transfers to his stand up.
Neither fighter has the most technical hands, but they both are skilled wrestlers who with dangerous ground and pound. As much as Ellenberger is expected to win because of his name, I’m actually expecting Barbarena to pull off the upset here. He is the bigger fighter, the more powerful fighter, and because they’ll be spending a lot of time locked up and fighting for takedowns, I think it’ll be Barbarena who finds himself ontop. Ellenberger has proved he is tough to put away however, so expect Ellenberger to make it another gritty fight. Maybe Joe will get another gift decision, but my money is on Barbarena to pull off the upset by decision.
Derek Brunson vs. Ed Herman
Explosive athlete Derek Brunson puts his 3-1 UFC record on the line against the tough and gritty UFC veteran, Ed Herman in this middleweight contest that a lot of people are pegging as a real snoozer of a fight. There is undeniable potential in Derek Brunson who packs a lot of explosive power in a huge frame, but the skill set hasn’t always been there. This fight against Ed Herman I believe is going to really give us a show case of what Brunson is capable of.
Herman is a notoriously unathletic guy who uses his heart, determination, and serious submission skills to pull off wins in the UFC. Against the bigger athlete however, Herman is going to have a real hard time getting anything off. Herman is aggressive on the feet and might have some success there, but Brunson is going to hold a speed advantage that he should be able to use to put Herman on the mat in the blink of an eye. Expect a dominant decision here for Brunson who is just too powerful and too quick for Herman to stay competitive with. Herman might land some shots on the feet, but he doesn’t have the power to make them sting, and once he’s on his back he’s going to have too much difficulty trying to move to even worry about setting up a submission.
Jamie Varner vs. Drew Dober
Once regarded as a perennial lightweight contender, Jamie Varner finds himself with his back against the wall as he is on the losing end of three straight fights. His opponent, Drew Dober, is also heading into his last chance at a UFC career tomorrow night as he has dropped his last two fights as well. Like the Michaud/ Whiteley fight, expect both fighters to take off the breaks and try to put on a memorable performance that might save their careers when they square off tomorrow night.
Varner is known for his powerful wrestling skills that he used to win the WEC lightweight title several years ago. Even though he has stumbled quite a bit throughout his career, he has had memorable performances – especially when he KO’d current lightweight contender Edson Barboza. Varner has some serious knockout power in his hands, and he throws tight combinations. This is very much the opposite of Drew Dober who stresses more of a volume striking style, but uses his punches to set up possibilities on the ground for submissions.
The way I see it, Varner is going to be the stronger, more powerful fighter. On the feet, look for Varner to cut through Dober’s rangy volume striking and land bombs. If Varner can’t find the chin, then he’ll have to resort to takedowns and his suffocating wrestling game. Either way, I see Varner winning and getting back to the win column. I think Varner knocks Dober out in the second round, or takes a decision with his wrestling.
Joe Riggs vs. Ben Saunders
It’s a real throwback fight here as both Joe Riggs and Ben Saunders find themselves back in the UFC after both having promising careers under the banner years ago. Since their initial UFC stints, Saunders has displayed some serious Muay Thai skills in Bellator, most noticeably his head kick KO of Raul Amaya and his vicious TKO over Brian Warren where he used his Thai clinch. Saunders actually made his reappearance already when he pulled off the very first omoplata in a submission of the year performance over Chris Heatherly. Riggs on the other hand has journeyed through Strikeforce, Bellator, and Rage in The Cage knocking several of his opponents out throughout his exodus from the UFC.
I’d have to say that Saunders has faced the stiffer competition in his drawn out Bellator stint than Riggs, and that initial success that he experienced against Heatherley will really put him at an advantage. Even though Riggs is an extremely powerful wrestler with one-punch KO power, Saunders’ massive reach advantage and dangerous submission skills will just about nullify Riggs’ bruteforce style. Look for Saunders to land crisp kicks and punches on the outside while avoiding Riggs’ attempt to close the distance. If Riggs does, he’s going to find himself fending off submission after submission. Look for Saunders to wrap up a choke late in the fight after a frustrated, desperate and fatigued Riggs tries to get the fight to the ground.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Claudia Gadelha
With The Ultimate Fighter Season 20 wrapping up to crown the first ever women’s strawweight champion, it’s easy to forget about the other women strawweights who didn’t go through the show to make their name known. Both Joanna and Gadelha find themselves 1-0 in the UFC and will be taking each other on to crown a potential number one contender to the incoming title. Gadelha is a serious athlete out of Brazil who uses her extreme physical advantages to beat her opponents up on the feet, in the clinch, and on the ground. No matter where you go with Gadelha, she makes it a punishing experience. Gadelha also holds several wins by submission, which shouldn’t be a surprised considering she trains out of Nova Unaio.
Jedrzejczyk, hailing from Poland, is one of the division’s best strikers. She uses her crippling kicking attacks to set up punches in bunches. She is extremely aggressive and also has some solid takedown defense that will most certainly be tested against Gadelha. I’m expecting this fight to really be a closely contested fight between two the division’s most skilled strawweights who didn’t go on to The Ultimate Fighter.
I’m expecting the size and length of Jedrzejczyk to play a huge factor in whether or not Gadelha can get the takedown. I certainly think she can put Jedrzejczyk on the mat, or at least up against the cage, but I don’t think she’ll be as dominating of a force as we’ve seen her. Look for Joanna to pick Gadelha apart with counter-strikes while worrying about takedowns. Of course, Gadelha could use the threat of her takedown as an advantage to land stunning overhand rights, but I think Gadelha is going to really try to get Jedrzejczyk to the ground. It should be an extremely close contest and could come down to the smallest of details, but if Gadelha is the one pushing the pace, then it will most likely be her who edges on the scorecards.
John Moraga vs. Willie Gates
Stepping into the cage as a massive underdog is Willie Gates, the UFC newcomer who is going to try to rise to the occassion and upset former title-challenger, John Moraga, who is coming off of a submission victory over Justin Scoggins. Gates is a very tall flyweight who uses his reach well by staying on the outside and punishing his opponents with kicks and knees. He is also very well-versed with submissions with four to his credit, but his grappling defense on the other hand has been exploited throughout his 11-4 career. Moraga is fighting to get back into title contention after being stopped by John Dodson, and narrowly escaping with a decision against Dustin Ortiz before that. His most recent win over Scoggins definitely helps, but unfortunately he doesn’t really have anything to gain here by beating the newcomer other than just more experience. This is really going to be a fight to give the newcomer a chance to propel himself into the top of the division.
Willie is going to be battling Octagon jitters, which is bad, but doing this against a champion-level caliber fighter in John Moraga is going to be even worse. Even though Gates will be the longer fighter, Moraga is pretty long at 125 as it is, so look for Moraga to get off with some shots while Gates fights to get comfortable. Neither fighter really has much in terms of wrestling skills, but if I had to give an edge it would be to Moraga who mostly uses his wrestling to stay upright. Both have good submission skills, but again Moraga has the edge for sure. When you really break things down, Gates has a puncher’s chance against the more-skilled fighter in Moraga. Look for Gates to maybe have some success, but it should be Moraga who out-classes him with swifter striking, and the ground game if he needs it.