Ready for more MMA, fight fans? I hope so, because the UFC is following up last night’s entertaining TUF 20 finale with it’s annual mid-December FOX card. And this card will last from mid-afternoon into the night. Unlike the finale, there will be no title fight. Heck, the main event is not even a title eliminator! However, the main card consists of three Heavyweight bouts likely to end early, and the prelims, like any FOX slate, is chock full of fun matchups.
In last night’s TUF 20 Finale, I managed a decent 7-3 record, with a no contest. That pushed my overall record to 293-130-1, with a no contest. Hopefully, my string of mediocre records will end tonight.
Fight Pass Prelims (3:30/2:30c, UFC Fight Pass)
Anthony Birchak (11-1) vs. Ian Entwhistle (8-2)
The opening bout of the day is a Bantamweight matchup almost guaranteed to end in a finish. Entwhistle is a kill-or-be-killed submission fighter, who got smashed by Daniel Hooker in his late June UFC debut. Meanwhile, Birchak enters the UFC after winning the MFC title in October. He is on a five-fight winning streak, and while he has been submitted once, has won six times in that fashion. I see Entwhistle pouncing for an opportunity early, before getting pounded away by Birchak, before succumbing to a nasty choke. Prediction: Birchak via submission, round 2.
Henry Cejudo (6-0) vs. Dustin Kimura (11-2)
The next fight is a Bantamweight matchup in which Henry Cejudo finally makes his octagon debut. An Olympic gold medalist in wrestling, Cejudo’s commitment to the sport came under heavy scrutiny after he consistently missed weight and was unable to fight at UFC 177, so he is finally returning to Bantamweight.
Cejudo’s opponent, Dustin Kimura, is a submission machine. However, despite boasting eight submission wins, he is coming off a tough decision loss to George Roop. He has gone 2-2 in the UFC, and a loss would have him at 1-3 in his last four. He needs the win, but I see Cejudo tossing his way to a decision. Prediction: Cejudo via decision.
David Michaud (7-1) vs. Garrett Whiteley (7-2)
The final fight on Fight Pass is a Lightweight matchup where each fighter needs a win. Michaud lost his UFC debut in May, while Whiteley’s lone losses have come in the UFC. Both fighters have finishing ability, but are struggling. I do not think Michaud deserves to be the favorite like everyone seems to view him as, but I do not think Whitely is ready for the UFC. Neither is Michaud, but Whiteley will be the first to get a pink slip. Prediction: Michaud via decision.
Televised Prelims (5/4c, FOX)
Joe Elleberger (15-1) vs. Bryan Barbarena (9-2)
In the first televised fight of the day, Jake Ellenberger’s younger brither takes on an intriguing prospect. Both guys are finishers, with Bargarena only going the distance twice, while Ellenberger boasts twelve finishes. I must admit that I’m not sure either fighter will garner much success in the UFC. But, Ellenberger is faster, a better finisher, and has a better gas tank. So, I’ll just go with him. Prediction: Ellenberger via unanimous decision.
Ed Herman (22-10, NC) vs Derek Brunson (12-3)
As is the case with every FOX prelim slate, there is always a Middleweight bout that could be boring, and has little relevance. Ladies and gentlemen, this is that fight. Brunson has gone 3-1 in the UFC, with his lone loss being a comeback victory for Yoel Romero. Meanwhile Herman has been with the UFC for over eight years, Everyone is expecting him to lose, but I see him putting on a good showing, en rout to a win. Prediction: Herman via decision
Jamie Varner (21-10-1, 2NC) vs. Drew Dober (14-6)
Up next is a fight that Jamie Varner needs to win. He has lost three straight and four of five, with the lone win coming in a split decision against current WSOF fighter and former UFC mainstay Melvin Guillard. He is a thoroughly exciting fighter who has fought in 24 finished fights, going 18-6 in them. His opponent, Drew Dober, has lost his two UFC fights, and tonight should earn him a pink slip. Prediction: Varner via unanimous decision.
Joe Riggs (50-14, NC) vs. Ben Saunders (17-6)
Ladies and gentlemen, this fight should be fireworks. Both fighters have had multiple UFC stints, and are exciting finishers. Riggs has seen 48 fights end early, and has won six straight, while Saunders has finished 17 fights, and his only losses since his initial UFC release came against current Bellator Welterweight Champion Douglas Lima, and a decision to Bryan Baker. Oh, and he returned to the UFC with the first omoplata victory in promotional history.
Sadly for Riggs, who almost lost his life to a shooting accident recently, has been finished 12 times. Against a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt who has knockout power, I see him losing. Prediction: Saunders via sub, round 2.
John Moraga (15-4) vs. WIllie Gates (11-4)
The next bout is sure to entertain. Gates is making his UFC debut after ending five straight fights, and seven of eight, within 96 seconds. Meanwhile, Moraga has gone 4-2 in the UFC, with only one of those fights going the distance. This is a fight in which the UFC is hoping to find out whether or not Gates is a contender, and while I believe his future is good, I’m going with the former UFC challenger. Prediction: Moraga via split decision.
Claudia Gadelha (12-0) vs. Joanna Jedrzejzcyk (7-0)
The top prelim bout of the card is the consensus UFC WOmen’s Strawweight title eliminator, with the winner expected to face newly crowned, and former Invicta Strawweight Champion Carla Esparza. Jedrzejzcyk is a terrific fighter who I believe has a bright future, but Gadelha was the one who was expected to get the next Invicta shot at Esparza last July, and she will reclaim her title challenger status tonight. Prediction: Gadelha via decision.
Main Card (8/7c, FOX)
Matt Mitrione (8-3) vs Gabriel Gonzaga (16-8)
The first fight of the main card features two journeymen Heavyweights. Mitrione is a former football player best known as a knockout artist with zero takedown defense, while Gonzaga is perhaps the most underrated Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt in UFC history. He is a 4th degree, and has submitted nine opponents. Sure, he’s been knocked out six times, but has done the same to seven fighters. He has been fighting for 11 years, and deserves more respect. For everyone to be picking Mitrione is nothing short of disrespectful, and I see Gonzaga wrecking him. He’ll take “Meathead” down, and choke him out. Prediction: Gonzaga via submission, round 1.
Alistair Overeem (37-14, NC) vs. Stefan Struve (25-6)
The next fight is yet another Heavyweight bout between fighters who’ve seen better days. Overeem is the better, more skilled, and more accomplished fighter. But, he has constantly floundered after hot starts in his last few fights. That said, Struve hasn’t fought since March 2013, and is coming off a health condition that kept him from returning sooner. I know better than to pick Overeem nowadays, but in this case, I can’t help it. Prediction: Overeem by idk.
#14 Nate Diaz (17-9) vs. #3 Rafael dos Anjos (22-7)
In the co-main event of the evening, the younger Diaz brother returns to the octagon after a year-long absence from the sport. His hiatus cost him his #6 ranking, and he was just placed back into the rankings after this matchup was announced. It’s very faulty, I know. Anyways, he’s had trouble inside the cage lately, losing two straight before finishing what is left of Gray Maynard last November.
Meanwhile, dos Anjos has fought three times since Diaz’s last fight, following up an April 2014 loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov with a pair of knockouts against Jason High, and a stunning one of former UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson in August. A win for him could put him in a potential title eliminator against the winner of January’s Donald Cerrone/Miles Jury matchup.
As for the fight, both fighters are Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belts, each known for winning by submissions, as well as attaining four knockout victories apiece. They both also have lost the majority of their bouts by decision. While I am weary of picking against the faster, craftier Diaz, I believe ring rust may be a factor, and dos Anjos will likely mix takedowns with crisp boxing, en route to a decision victory. Prediction: dos Anjos via unanimous decision.
#2 Junior dos Santos (16-3) vs. #4 Stipe Miocic (12-1)
In the main event of the evening, we have a bout that will determine whether Stipe Miocic is a legit contender or not. That’s because his opponent, dos Santos, might just be the most elite gatekeeper in all of MMA. So long as Cain Velasquez is the Heavyweight champion, it’s hard to see JDS get another title shot anytime soon. But, if Velasquez winds up getting stripped due to inactivity, a win over Miocic could earn him a shot at interim champion Fabricio Werdum, whom he knocked out in his late 2008 UFC debut.
Miocic has fought twice since dos Santos’ last fight, decisioning Gabriel Gonzaga and finishing Light Heavyweight Fabio Maldonado in 35 seconds. Miocic and dos Santos were expected to fight in the main event of the TUF Brazil 3 Finale on May 31, but a JDS hand injury postponed the bout until now.
The way to beat dos Santos is to outbox him and wear him down. Oh, and you have to be named “Cain Velasquez”. Unfortunately for Miocic, none of those three seem likely to apply. I see this fight being competitive, before Miocic gets rocked in the second stanza. Welcome back Cigano! Prediction: dos Santos via tko, round 2.