Welcome to week three of a nine-week slate where the UFC will hold an event! Kicking off with UFC 202 a few weeks ago and followed up by last week’s UFC on FOX card, the UFC will now hold an oversees fight night that has quite a bit of potential to be a fun, throwback-style event.
That becomes all the more likely because the headliner features a pair of former UFC champions who are both still capable of throwing down, in the twilights of their careers, and are major fan favorites. The co-main event features a well-loved brawler in Alexander Gustaffson who’s been relatively quiet since his 2013 classic championship fight against Jon Jones, as he faces Jan Blachowicz, while a pivotal Light Heavyweight matchup between stalwart Ryan Bader and fan favorite Ilir Latifi will also be on the main card. The prelims are pretty interesting too, and only five of the 22 fighters on the card don’t have a WIkipedia page, which might be a record low for European Fight Pass cards.
The card has been dealt a few blows from the injury bug, primarily “Karate Hottie” Michelle Waterson being removed from the card, but it still has the potential to be quite a fun card that can serve as a combat sports contrast towards the early and mid-afternoon college football games. Or, you can watch games on tv while watching this card on Fight Pass, like I will. It should be a blast, and here are my picks for the entire 11-fight slate.
Fight Pass prelims (11:45 am/10:45 am CT)
Rustam Khabilov (19-3) vs. Leandro Silva (19-4-1, 1NC)
Opening up the card is a fight that deserves a much better placement than it’s getting. I don’t know why the UFC hates Khabilov, but they keep burying him on Fight Pass, against opponents who also deserve better placement. I get that Khabilov isn’t the most exciting fighter, but he deserves so much better than to be buried consistently like this.
An International Master of Sport in both Sambo and hand-to-hand combat, as well as a black belt in Gaidojutsu, Khabilov has 10 decision wins, four knockouts and five submissions to his credit. He’s 5-2 inside the octagon, has won two straight since a two-fight losing streak, and is partaking in his third fight of 2016.
Silva is tough as nails, showcasing his black belt Brazilian Jiu Jitsu skills en route to 10 career submission and eight decision wins. All three of his loses have been decisions too, including both his UFC losses. I think he’s pretty decent for a UFC Lightweight, but I think Khabilov is better than him. Whereas Silva might be in the top 30, Khabilov is at least in the top 20. I think Khabilov will win, and hopefully it’s not a boring fight. Prediction: Khabilov via decision.
Scott Ashkam (14-2) vs. Jack Hermansson (13-2)
Here’s Ashkam’s UFC career in summary; either he’ll win via electrifying knockout, or lose via decision. Both his losses have come inside the octagon, each one coming via decision. In contrast, his two UFC wins came by first round head kick or punches/knees combos. The former BAMMA Middleweight champion has won nine times via knockout, and really pushes the pace early.
As for Hermansson, the Swede has won eight times via knockout, three times via submission, and also loves to push the pace early. He’s got wins over UFC journeymen Karlos Vemola and Norman Parasy, but also has the ability to finish late. I think it will be a close fight, and while I’m giving the edge to Ashkam, I expect it to be a great fight. Prediction: Ashkam via tko, round 2.
Jairjs Danho (6-1, 1NC) vs. Christian Colombo (8-1)
Up next is the first of two Heavyweight contests tonight, as a pair of prospects take each other on. The Syrian “Man Mountain” has finished all of his wins (4 knockouts, 2 submissions,) while his only loss came in his UFC debut via technical decision after Danho was unable to continue. This is his second UFC fight, and a loss here could spell a release for him.
Standing in Danho’s way is Denmark’s Christian Colombo. Having won six straight since suffering his only loss agaisnt fellow UFC fighter Viktor Pesta in September 2012, Colombo has six knockout wins to his credit as he makes his way into the octagon for the very first time. He also has a decent gas tank, and has won twice via decision.
I honestly have no horse in this race. Both men can be exciting, but have flaws in their game. Danho isn’t very technically sound, and this bout does have the potential to get ugly. I’ll go with him anyways, because it would suck to possibly see a guy getting cut after just two fights, one of which was a technical decision. Prediction: Danho via tko, round 2.
Taylor Lapilus (10-2) vs. Leandro Issa (13-5)
Following the Heavyweight contest is a Bantamweight tilt between a pair of submission specialists. Six of Lapilus’ wins have come via submission, while Issa has a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which has helped him win nine fights via submission. Issa is 2-2 inside the octagon and has not fought since last August, while Lapilus is 2-1 and hasn’t fought since last November. Both might be a bit rusty, but I believe Issa will lock in a submission come round three, en route to his tenth such win in his career. Prediction: Issa via submission, round 3.
Ashlee Evans-Smith (4-1) vs. Veronica Macedo (5-0)
Originally, this card was going to feature two women’s bouts: Aisling Daly vs. Michelle Waterson, and Evans-Smith vs. Germaine de Randamie. Sadly, three of those women sustained injuries, so Evans-Smith will now take on Venezuelan debutante Veronica Macedo.
Macedo has won three of her five career fights via decision, and the 20-year-old is still pretty green. Meanwhile, Evans-Smith is best known for slaying the hype of Fallon Fox in just her second fight in 2013, and also has a win in WSOF, along with a pair of UFC bouts to her credit. She has won twice via knockout, twice via decision including a very controversial one against Marion Reneau in her latest fight, and her lone loss was a heartbreaking last-second submission against Raquel Pennington at the end of round 1 in late 2014. She’s got the experience edge, won’t have any octagon jitters, and has more ways to win. A win for Maced won’t be shocking, but I’m definitely not going to predict it. Prediction: Evans-Smith via unanimous decision.
Peter Sobotta (15-5-1) vs. Nicolas Dalby (14-1-1)
Polish-German veteran Peter Sobotta will take the stage next, as he looks to improve upon his 2-1 record since returning to the octagon. The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt has finished all but one of his victories, ten of them via submission. That said, Dalby is much better at imposing pace, has a much better gas tank, and I think that will pose a problem for Sobotta. Dalby has finished seven of his wins, has never been finished, and has gone the distance in nine of his 16 career fights. He’s 1-1-1 inside the octagon, suffering his first career loss in his last fight against the tenacious and underrated Zak Cummings in April. He’ll surely bring it more in this fight, but I don’t think he’ll risk getting finished. It won’t necessarily be a fun fight, but it should be a good win on Dalby’s record if all goes as expected. Prediction: Dalby via decision.
Jessin Ayari (15-3) vs. Jim Wallhead (29-9)
By golly, Jim Wallhead is finally in the UFC! Sure, it may be because Ayari’s initial opponent, Emil Weber Meek got hurt and Wallhead got the call on short notice, but it’s finally happening! The black dan in Judo has ten knockout and submission wins apiece, 16 of which have come in the very first round. He’s fought a who’s who of notable names, including longtime UFC mainstay Dennis Siver, Frank Trigg, Lyman Good, Rick Hawn, Che Mills, Igor Araujo, Joey Villasenor, and current rising UFC prospect Danny Roberts. He’s been in the business for 11 years, and will finally be in the UFC!
Ayari is very good, with eight submissions and three knockout victories to his credit. He’s also got four decision victories. The German “Abacus” has won six straight fights, with his last one being against former UFC fighter Mikael Lebout, and has never has a losing streak. That said, he has been finished three times, twice via knockout. He’s also had each of his losses follow a winning streak. I’m not just picking against him because he might be due for a loss, but also because I think Wallhead might genuinely be better. Prediction: Wallhead via tko, round 2.
Main card (3/2c, UFC Fight Pass)
Nick Hein (13-2) vs. Tae Hyun Bang (18-9)
Opening up the main card is a fight that I think should’ve been on the prelims, in place of Ayari/Wallhead or Ashkam/Hermansson. Alas, Hein is a German MMA veteran, and Bang tends to bring it, so it could be a solid fight. Bang is a boxer with nine knockout wins, but 15 of his 27 fights have gone the distance. The Korean has alternated wins and losses in his last eight, and won his last bout, so he’ll likely lose here if patterns are to be trusted.
Hein is 3-1 inside the octagon, but doesn’t excite anyone. Eight of his wins have come via decision, and eight of his last ten fights, including his last five, went the distance. This will likely go the same way, and hopefully it’s not a boring fight. Prediction: Hein via decision.
Ryan Bader (20-5) vs. Ilir Latifi (12-4, 1NC)
Oh boy, here we go: the ultimate head vs. heart matchup. Bader is better, much more experienced and grounded than Latifi. The three-time Pac-10 champion collegiate wrestlier and two-time NCAA All-American won Season 8 of the Ultimate Fighter in 2008, and has amassed a 13-5 record inside the octagon. He was recently on a five-fight winning streak, with each win coming via decision, before Anthony Johnson blasted his chin into outer space just 86 seconds into their January fight. He’s 10-0 in fights that go the distance, but 10-5 in ones that don’t. His last finish win came in January 2013 against Vladimir Matyushenko, which was his first since 2011. Bottom line is, if he wins, it’ll likely go the distance.
As for Latifi, the man has become a massive fan favorite amongst the hardcores. He looks like a butcher, has charisma, fights a fan favorite style, and loves riding horses. It’s a unique combination that makes people fall for him, and I am one of those who has. The Sledgehammer has won five fights via knockout, four via submission and three via decision. He’s 5-1 inside the octagon since accepting a last minute UFC debut fight against Gegard Mousasi in April 2013, with four of those wins coming via finish.
Bader should win this, no doubt about it. He’s better on the ground, has the biggest edge of either man in the fight due to his wrestling, and unless he gets reckless, this should go his way. That said, I can’t pick him because my heart is for Latifi, while me head won’t let me pick Latifi. This is the ultimate head vs. heart pick, and I apologize for that. Head pick: Bader via decision. Heart pick: LatifGod via brutal knockout.
Alexander Gustafsson (16-4) vs. Jan Blachowicz (19-5)
In the co-main event of the evening, former two-time UFC Light Heavyweight title challenger Alexander Gustafsson will return to the octagon almost a year after losing a classic fight against champion Daniel Cormier last October. “The Mauler,” who has ten knockout and three submission wins, as well as an 8-4 record inside the octagon, has lost two straight and three of his last four. That said, three of those fights were fight of the night winners, two of which were championship fights, each being a Fight of the Year candidate. A loss here won’t result in him getting cut, but it will take him out of contention for some time to come, or even result in the 29-year-old’s retirement.
The Swede will try to rebound against the Polish Blachowicz, the former KSW Light Heavyweight champion who began his UFC career with a stunning first round finish of Ilir Latifi, before losing two of his next three fights, with all three fights going the distance. Blachowicz has seven submission and five knockout wins, but also seven decision wins to his credit. That said, I still believe Gustafsson is leaps and bounds ahead if him, and I won’t be shocked if this one ends quickly. Prediction: Gustafsson via tko, round 1.
Andrei Arlovski (25-12) vs. Josh Barnett (34-8)
In the main event of the evening, a pair of legendary former Heavyweight champions will square off to see who has more left in the tank. Both have been fighting for a long, time, amassing 79 combined fights in a combined 36 years.
Arlovski, who was the UFC champion for all of 2005, was considered to be fully washed up come 2011. He had lost four straight fights by that point, and many were calling for the then 32-year-old to hang up his gloves. However, “Pit Bull” went 10-1 with a no contest after that, earning himself a UFC contract and shocking the masses during his extremely unexpected career resurgence. After winning a dreadful split decision against Brendan Schaub in his return back in June 2014, Arlovski followed up with a stunning knockout win over Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva that September, before partaking in arguably the greatest one round fights in Heavyweight history against Travis Browne on Memorial Day weekend 2015. People were calling for a title shot for him after that, which he didn’t get. Since then, he won a boring decision against Frank Mir on Labor Day weekend 2015, and has lost his last two fights via finish. If he loses this fight, it could lead to the knockout artist who has won 17 times and lost nine times in that fashion to retire.
Barnett isn’t much of a knockout artist, but is definitely one of the best submission specialists in Heavyweight history. Twenty of “The Warmaster’s” 34 wins have come via submission, and he does have eight knockouts to his credit. He’s been submitted and decisioned three times, and only been knocked out twice. The former pro wrestler and UFC Heavyweight champion is 2-2 since returning to the octagon in mid-2013, eleven years after winning the title from Randy Couture, before being stripped of it and being cut following a failed drug test.
This fight can go a multitude of ways. If it gets to the ground, then Barnett will have a huge advantage. If it stays on the feet, Arlovski will have the edge. I see this being a very fun fight with a lot of aspects to it, before Arlvoski ends it in the fourth. It should be a crowd-pleasing affair, and a great way to cap off the evening. Prediction: Arlovski via tko, round 4.