The UFC puts its mark on Super Bowl Weekend with one of the most anticipated fight cards of year that will feature a monumental middleweight showdown between Anderson Silva and Nick Diaz. While the headliner has definitely been receiving the most amount of attention, that’s not to say the rest of the card isn’t epic in its own proportions. This really has the makings to be one of the best fight cards in recent memory. But before we can dig into the meat of the card let’s take a look at the 7 preliminary fights that will help warm the crowd up in Vegas.
Thiago Santos vs. Andy Enz
Middleweights Thiago Santos and Andy Enz are in desperate need of victory this Saturday as they only have a single UFC victory in their records combined; however, both of these fighters have shown some decent upside in their outings. Santos is known for his dynamic Muay Thai approach that features a full arsenal of powerful kicking techniques. Santos is physical specimen as well, which should help him in keeping his opposing counterpart off of him. Andy Enz is primarily a submission fighter as he has 5 of his 7 wins by way of tap out. On the feet, Enz is known to be a volume striker with a sturdy chin.
This whole match up is going to revolve around Andy Enz’s wrestling skills. If Enz can push forward, be aggressive, and relentlessly pursue the takedown then he will avoid being shark chum. Santos has good movement and a whole lot of power though and his physical strength will give him a great edge when stuffing takedowns. Enz’s style could definitely pay off for him later in the first, but in the early-goings expect Santos to light the Alaskan counterpart up with vicious kicks and combinations. Santos has the power to end things, and I think he’ll get the job done in the second round as a frustrated Enz will just take too much punishment without any reward. The pick is Thiago Santos by TKO in the second round.
Richardson Morreira vs. Ildemar Alcantara
Another middleweight affair will take the stage in this contest between two Brazilians; Morreira and Alcantara. The TUF Brazil 3 contestant, Morreira, will be seeking his first taste of victory in the UFC by taking on former welterweight competitor Ildemar Alcantara, who is a 5-time UFC veteran. Alcantara will be making his middleweight debut in this fight, so look for size to play a huge factor. Both fighters like to lock up with their opponents to test their grappling skills as well, so expect some explosive grappling sequences in this bout.
Morreira is a hulk at 185 pounds whereas Alcantara will be a meak middleweight. The size definitely favors Morreira in the early-going, but three round fight would definitely favor the more economical build of Alcantara. Neither fighter excels in the stand up department, so expect a lot of measuring up and a lot of willingness to clinch. It should be Morreira who dominates the grappling via takedowns early on, but once his gas tank runs out it will be Alcantara will be the busier of the two. The question is whether or not Morreira can his damage early, or perhaps finish the fight. Alcantara is an experience fighter so I think he makes it out of the first round, and comes back to win a very close split decision victory in what could be a fairly lackluster bout.
Diego Brandao vs. Jim Hettes
This featherweight exchange will feature two of the division’s best grapplers as the TUF 14 winner, Diego Brandao, faces the tough and durable American, Jim Hettes. Both fighters have had their ups and downs in the UFC, and both are looking to get back into the win column as Brandao was last seen being overwhelmed by Conor McGregor, and Hettes was last seen being completely outmatched by Dennis Bermudez. This is an exciting contest between two very different fighters – this one has the potential to be a real barn burner.
While both fighters are known for their submission skills, how they go about it is completely different. Brandao is an explosive fighter who is most dangerous in the first 5 minutes of the fight. He has powerful takedowns and can snatch a submission out of nowhere whether he’s on his back or on top. When striking, Brandao throws winging shots that pack a whole lot of power, but aren’t the most economical. This is why Brandao best chance to win this fight will be in the first 5 minutes. Hettes on the other hand is much more economical with his approach. He is a volume striker on the feet who puts his iron chin to the test just about every single fight. While Brandao prefers explosive takedown attempts, Hettes is more an inside-guy who likes to use sneaky trips and sweeps to get his opponent to the mat. Once the fight is there, Hettes is a proven finisher.
Because both of these guys are so skilled on the mat, I really don’t see either of them besting one another without the help of some external variable. I could see Brandao hurting Hettes on the feet, and following it up with a submission on the ground, but I could see Hettes gassing Brandao out and getting the submission late in the fight. This is a very fun, intriguing fight that I think could be real fireworks. Hettes is known for sticking his chin out and trying to lure opponents in, and Brandao is exactly the type of guy to bite. Look for Brandao to dominate early, but Hettes will dominate late. All in all, I think it’ll be Brandao who gets a close unanimous nod.
Rafael Natal vs. Tom Watson
Middleweights once again return in these prelims as the Brazilian, Rafael “Sapo” Natal, meets England’s own Tom “Kong” Watson. Natal shares twice as much UFC experience as Watson does, but both men are still looking for a breakthrough performance to get their name out there. Natal is known for his suffocating grappling approach while Watson is known to be more of a hit-or-miss knockout artist. This could be a particularly interesting match up.
Natal does his best work when he can lock up with his opponents and drag them down to the mat. From the top position, Natal has a suffocating grappling game, but isn’t necessarily known to be one who finishes fights. Natal will definitely look to make this a slow-paced grappling affair – one that he would no doubt dominate. Watson, when he isn’t knocking opponents unconscious on the feet, spends his time being taken down fairly easily and controlled from the top position. This is a very black-and-white match-up which will see whether or not Watson can land the big punch or kick before he gets taken down and smothered.
Natal has been knocked out twice in the UFC, one of those by Tim Kennedy, so it’s safe to say that Natal’s chin isn’t necessarily granite by any means. Watson should definitely have the ability to finish Natal, it’s more or less about whether he can get it done before he gets taken down. While Watson isn’t the best wrestler in the division, we have seen him make some small improvements in rounding out his game. I say we see a much-improved Tom Watson in this match-up as stuffs a few takedowns and blasts Natal in the first round.
Ian McCall vs. John Lineker
Long-time flyweight title contender, Ian McCall, puts his top ranked spot on the line against the surging Brazilian, John Lineker, who is wanting his first crack at the flyweight belt. “Uncle Creepy” has pocketed a 2-0 streak with decision wins over Illiarde Santos and Brad Pickett – a win over Lineker could give McCall the resume needed for a third contest against Demetrious Johnson. Lineker, on the other hand, will need an impressive win against McCall to make his current streak hit 2-0 after he dropped a decision to Ali Bagautinov one year ago.
“Hands of Stone” Lineker is exactly the type of fighter that his nickname would make him out to be. He hits hard, very hard, and is willing to take a punch to deliver one knowing that his come at a level not felt by most flyweights. Lineker targets the body on several occasion and will have to do that to slow McCall down. Mobility is definitely going to be McCall’s biggest weapon in this fight as he’ll have to avoid getting trapped against the cage. A stiff jab, a stream of low kicks, and lots of feints are what makes Ian McCall dangerous on the feet. While he’s going to be one to put Lineker in any trouble on the feet, it is plausible that McCall will look to use his wrestling and submission game to put the fight in a spot that favors him.
Lineker will look to knock McCall’s head off at every chance, but this type of approach will only leave him susceptible to being countered whether it’s by strikes, or by takedowns. Look for McCall to use his movement to avoid the brick-fisted Lineker, and put him on his back whenever he gets too aggressive. Chock it up as a UD win for McCall as he earns a 3-0 win streak.
Ed Herman vs. Derek Brunson
The ultra-experienced UFC middleweight Ed Herman returns to the Octagon to face surging middleweight Derek Brunson, who is 3-1 in the UFC and looking to rack up a two-fight win streak. This match up pits a rather unathletic, hard-nosed grappler in Herman against a hyper-athletic wrestling phenom in Derek Brunson. The stylistic match-up itself heavily favors Derek Brunson as he should be able to use his stellar takedowns and top control to completely nullify Ed Herman’s grappling skills, but if there’s one thing we learn as an MMA fan it’s that you can’t ever fully be sure of what is going to happen.
On the feet, Brunson will be the longer, rangier of the two despite not having any real technical advantage. Both Herman and Brunson have the basic mechanics of striking down, but neither of them are totally confident on the feet. Herman however might come into this fight knowing that Brunson will be able to take him down, which could open the door to the possibility of being aggressive on the feet and an almost “go for broke” mind set. This could spill trouble for Brunson who has had troubles with being overwhelmed on the feet in the past. All in all though, look for Brunson to land takedowns and dominate the fight from top position all while staying safe of Herman’s grappling off his back. Brunson is just too big, too strong, and too good of a wrestler for Herman to find any success against. Brunson by 30-27 UD.
Miesha Tate vs. Sara McMann
The women’s bantamweight division is in desperate need of title challengers, but this bout between Miesha Tate and Sara McMann might just sprout the division’s next challenger ahead of Cat Zingao (who battles Ronda Rousey February 28th in Los Angeles). Both Tate and McMann have suffered losses to the champion, and it’ll be interesting how they both stack up against each other. Tate has arguably given Rousey her toughest tests, but ultimately succumbed to the champion’s vicious signature armbar. McMann on the other hand didn’t get very far in her attempt as a knee to the body stopped the bout just over a minute in. Since their losses, Tate as racked up a 2-0 streak while McMann picked up a split against Lauren Murphy.
Wrestling is McMann’s go-to in all of her bouts. She drives forward, puts her opponent on her back, and dominates the fight from there. McMann stays very active mixing in ground and pound and attempts to better her position, but ultimately focuses on grinding away at the clock. McMann isn’t the most proven finisher, but her approach has opened up the door to ground and pound stoppages as well as a few submissions. Tate on the other hand is much more well-rounded. She is one of the most experienced female bantamweights and has the skills to match. On the feet she throws precise combinations, has good variety, and has the grappling skills to couple that as well. Her wrestling good, however she has been overpowered on the ground before and ultimately overwhelmed by the likes of Rousey as well as Zingano.
McMann is the stronger of the two, and will look to use his size and strength by getting the fight to the ground and dominating it from there. While I think on paper the outcome of the fight definitely favors McMann, Miesha Tate is way too experienced and way too diverse of fighter to let a more one-dimensional fighter like McMann have her way with her. Look for Tate to get the better of McMann on the feet, and then be super active off of her back to make things very difficult for McMann. It should be a fast-paced fight, and a close one that will come down to McMann’s takedowns and control versus Tate’s damage and points scored on the feet and off her back. In the end, I’ll pick “Cupcake” Tate by split decision.