Good morning everyone. Sadly, for NFL fans, it’s anything but a good morning, in the aftermath of the senseless killing of former Saint Will Smith.
For MMA fans, however, it’s the first UFC event in three weeks. It’s a Fight Night card, but has the Fight Pass feel to it. It’s a heavy Eastern European card, which makes sense, since it’s taking place in Croatia. Therefore, there’s several unknown fighters on the card.
It is also capped off by four straight Heavyweight bouts. Sounds fun, right? Well, seeing how the last time a card like this took place (UFC Krakow 364 days ago) was one of the worst cards in UFC history, there’s fear that this one will also be a colossal bore. Hopefully, the card winds up being a great one.
Fight Pass Prelims (10:30/9:30am CT, UFC Fight Pass)
Alessio Di Chirico (9-0) vs. Bojan Velickovic (13-3)
The first fight pits a pair of UFC debutants Italian Di Chirico is a finisher with four submission and knockout wins apiece. His first five fights ended within a round, and he has terrific killer instinct. Serbia’s Velickovic is a submission specialist with eight submissions to his credit, as well as a 4-1 record with RFA, arguably the top regional promotion in America. He has fought current rising UFC contender Krystof Jotko and TUF 17 contestant Gilbert Smith, but lost both fights via decision. Because of his experience edge, well-roundedness, and competition, I think he’ll win a decision here. Prediction: Velickovic via decision.
Jarod Cannonier vs. Cyril Asker (7-1)
Up next is the first of five (that’s right) five Heavyweight bouts on the card. Asker is a good wrestler who’s making his UFC debut, coming from the infamous EFC. Meanwhile, Connonier is also 7-1, and while his competition wasn’t much better, and he got annihilated by Shawn Jordan in his UFC debut early last year, I’ve got him winning via early KO. Predction: Cannonier via ko, round 1.
Lucas Martins (15-3) vs. Robert White (12-3)
I’ll be honest, I love this fight. It saddens me that it’s not on the main card. Admittedly, Lucas Martins is one of my favorite lesser known fighters. The knockout artist always brings it, and with two straight losses, he needs a win to stay with the promotion. He’s got ten knockout and four submissions, with a 3-3 UFC record. Meanwhile, Whiteford is 2-2 inside the octagon, with almost as many knockouts as decisions. If he can avoid a flush shot, he has a chance. I think he’ll get rocked, and succumb to the blows late in the first round. Prediction: Martins via tko, round 1.
Televised prelims (Noon/11:am CT, FS1)
Filip Pejic (10-1-1) vs. Damian Stasiak (8-3)
The first televised fight of the day is a solid one. Pejic, making his UFC debut, has six knockouts and three submission wins, eight first round finishes, and his only loss came in his third career fight four years ago. Meanwhile, Stasiak is fighting for the first time since losing a decision to Yaotzin Meza in last year’s dreadful Krakow card. I know a lot of people are picking him, but for the sake of entertainment, I’ll go with the newcomer. Prediction: Pejic via tko, round 2.
Mairbek Taisumov (24-5) vs. Damir Hadzovic (10-2)
Making his UFC debut, Hadzovic has five knockout and three submissions to his credit. Krzysztof Jotko and Andreas Stahl, a pair of UFC fighters. Well, I believe Taisumov is better than both of them. He’s a machine who’s finished 23 of his 24 victims, thirteen via knockout, ten via submission. He’s 4-1 inside the octagon, has finished three straight opponents, has just two losses since 2010, and deserves a lot more recognition. Hadzovic may be able to stay afloat for a round, but I see Taisumov dominating and finishing him in the second. Prediction: Taisumov via tko, round 2.
Ian Entwhistle (9-2) vs. Alejandro Perez (16-6)
Bantamweights take the stage next, in what should be a fun fight. Perez is was the Bantamweight winner of TUF: Latin America back in November 2014. He’s 1-1 inside the octagon since, besting Scott Jorgensen due to an injury in his last fight. He’s got seven knockouts, four submissions, and is the better fighter. But, he’s been submitted three times. Entwhistle is basically a nice guy version of Rousimar Palhares,so somehow, someway, I see him finishing the fight with yet another leg lock. Prediction: Entwhistle via leg lock, round 1.
Nicholas Dalby (14-0-1) vs. Zak Cummings (18-4)
The prelim headliner is, simply put, a good fight. Dalby is a terrific prospect, while Cummings is a veteran with nine submissions, nine first round finishes, five knockouts, and a 3-1 UFC record. The winner could earn a ranking soon after this fight. Everyone seems to be picking Dalby, and being as I am, I’ll differ. Dalby is good, but not great in my book. His two UFC fights ended via split decision and draw. He’s got seven decisions, and while he’s got potential to boot, I see Cummings continuing to play his role as a spoiler, reeling off a late submission to lead the card out of the prelims. Prediction: Cummings via submission, round 3.
Main card (2/1c, FS1)
Maryna Moroz (6-1) vs. Cristina Stanciu (5-0)
Hooray! A women’s bout! What better way to kick off the main card? Both fighters are fun, with Moroz winning five fights via submission, including a shocking outclassing and submission of Joanne Calderwood in one of the few good fights from last year’s dreaded Krakow card. She then lost a tough decision to Valerie Letourneau last August, in a fight that many thought would garner her a title shot had she won. Now, to get back on track, she has to face Stanciu. Stanciu, nicknamed “Barbie,” has three submission wins, and four of her five victories have come in the opening round. That said, Moroz has five first rounders of her own, and is a Master of Sport in Boxing and Kickboxing to boot, and combined with her submission prowess, I just think she’ll be too much for the Romanian “Barbie” to handle. Prediction: Moroz via submission, round 2.
Igor Pokrajac (28-12, 1NC) vs. Jan Blachowicz (18-5)
Igor Pokrajac is back in the UFC? Well, seeing how he’s from Zagreb, the host city of this card, and has won three straight since his UFC exit, that’s not too surprising. He does have 24 finishes to his credit, and his opponent, Jan Blachowicz has looked far from promising lately. But, Pokrajac was a mediocre 4-7 with a no contest in his first UFC tenure from September 2009 to December 2014, and some of those losses came against competition subpar from Blachowicz. Add in the fact that Jan needs a win desperately, and I see the former KSW Light Heavyweight champion winning via decision or late finish. Let’s root for the stoppage. Prediction: Blachowicz via tko, round 3.
Marcin Tybura (13-1) vs. Timothy Johnson (9-2)
Marcin Tybura is finally in the UFC! If you look solely at his credentials, it’s understandable why. He’s a KSW veteran, with five knockouts, six submissions, and nine total first round finishes. Also, it’s the first of four straight Heavyweight fights to cap off the card! Should be a great right?
Not so fast! Tybura is basically a Heavyweight Ben Askren, while Timothy Johnson is a poor man’s Ben Rothwell, as in the version that got starched by Cain Velasquez years back. Either Tybura grinds his way to a boring decision, or Johnson succumbs to exhaustion first. I’ll go with the latter. Hopefully, it’s not a completely painful and boring viewing experience. Prediction: Tybura via submission, round 2.
Curtis Blaydes (5-0) vs. Francis Ngannou (6-1)
While the last fight is predicted to be a bore, this one likely won’t be. Blaydes is a power wrestler with each fight ending via knockout. He may not be the most entertaining fighter, but he sure knows how to seal the deal. Meanwhile, Ngannou is a power striker. He’s won his last five, is an absolutely ferocious striker, and won via tko in his UFC debut last December. He has three subs and three knockouts to his belt. SUre, conventional wisdom points towards Blaydes. That’s the smart way to go. But, I’m picking Ngannou to land a flush shot. Even if he doesn’t he does have submission ability, so I’ll go with him. Prediction: Ngannou via tko, round 2.
Gabriel Gonzaga (17-10) vs. Derrick Lewis (14-4, 1NC)
I like Gabriel Gonzaga. He’s one of the best submission fighter to ever step foot inside the octagon, and his unforgettable upset win over the legendary Mirko Cro Cop will live on forever. But, the 4th degree Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt has basically abandoned his ground game, been knocked out eight times, has lost six of his last nine UFC bouts, including three of four, and is facing “The Black Beast” who’s only way to win (13 of 14 times) is via brutal KO. If Gonzaga doesn’t go for or fails to get the takedown, he’ll get starched here, and will either have to retire, or get released from the UFC for good. My heart roots for him, but I think he’s too stubborn to stick to his roots. That’d be the smart thing for him to do, but I see him not doing that, and getting annihilated in the process. Prediction: Lewis via sheer brutality, round 1.
Junior dos Santos (17-4) vs Ben Rothwell (36-9)
The main event of the card will likely be a tearfest. JDS is a legend. He’s a gentle giant. The dude’s made a career out of being a ferocious knockout artist inside the octagon, but is basically a giant teddy bear outside of it. However, Cain Velasquez took his soul in the final two bouts of their trilogy, in late 2012 and 2013. Since then, he looked like a shell of himself a year after the third bout, in a five round FOX headliner against Stipe Miocic, before being controversially tko’d by Alistair Overeem last December. Basically, he fought once in each of the past few years, and looked sad each time.
Now, he faces the surprisingly surging Ben Rothwell. Ranked fourth in the division, Rothwell is finally being viewed as a legit threat. Long viewed as an average fighter with padded stats, he’s finally showing up. With 20 career knockouts and 13 submissions, including being the only man to ever submit Josh Barnett back in January, Rothwell has won four straight, two straight via the rare gogo choke, and a win may earn him a title shot.
I’ll be honest, I like Ben Rothwell, He’s quirky, skilled, and deserves all the attention he’s getting. He should, and likely will finish this fight. But, I hate sob stories. I never cry, but if JDS loses here, I may indeed shed a tear. For the sanctity of manhood, I’ll pick JDS to unleash a fury he hasn’t been able to do in over three years now. Prediction: JDS via flash KO, round 1.