Every year in late January, the UFC holds a FOX card. Tonight, they’re doing just that from Denver, Colorado. The prelim card is solid and full of fun fights, but the main card is all we’ll be discussing today. It’s a very good slate in which three of the four fights will be between ranked opponents, and the opening fight should be a fun one. The main event is essentially a Women’s Bantamweight title eliminator, while the co-main and Arlovski/Ngannou bouts are litmus tests for a pair of potential contenders. Not bad for a FOX card, eh? Well, here are my picks for the main card.
But first, here’s a few prelim card quick picks: Sam Alvey over Nate Marquardt via 2nd round tko, Raphael Assuncao over Aljamain Sterling via decision, Luis Henrique da Silva over Jordan Johnson via tko, round 2.
Main card (8/7c, FOX)
Alex Caceres (12-9, 1NC) vs. Jason Knight (15-2)
The main card opener has one purpose, and that’s to get the crowd hyped. Well, this fight should do just that. Caceres is shockingly 7-7 with a no contest with the UFC, yet still around. Why? Because after losing three of his first four UFC bouts since being a TUF cast member, he won four of his next five. He’s 2-4 since then, so even though he’s fun more often than not, a loss tonight could spell the end of “Bruce Leroy’s” UFC tenure.
The man trying to end Caceres’ UFC run is Jason Knight. A winner in 15 of his 17 pro fights, Knight has nine wins via submission, but five of his last six bouts, including all three of his UFC bouts, have gone the distance. He’ll definitely do what he can to try and take Caceres down and try to submit him. I see this one going the distance though, and while Caceres is fun to watch and always bounces back in the face of adversity, I’ll have to pick Knight here. Prediction: Knight via decision.
(7) Andrei Arlovski (25-13, 1NC) vs. (10) Francis Ngannou (9-1)
How do you follow up a Featherweight fight that might go the distance? With Heavyweight knockout artists, of course! This one feels like a bout where a beloved veteran is being put out to pasture, since that’s basically what this is. Then again, it’s also a litmus test for a surging prospect to see if he can get a known name under his belt, or if he’s up for the moment.
The veteran in this case is clearly Anderi Arlovski-a former UFC Heavyweight champion who turns 38 next week, will be partaking in his 40th fight tonight, has won 17 fights via knockout, but has also been knocked out nine times. Arlovski’s been fighting since 1999, was the UFC champion for almost all of 2005, and after attaining a 10-4 record in the UFC, left the promotion after his contract ran out in March 2008. He won his first two bouts outside the UFC, both via knockout, before losing four straight fights, including three via knockout. This prompted the masses to think he was done. However, after going 6-1 with a no contest in his next eight, he got called back to the UFC, won four straight fights after returning including an epic battle with Travis Browne at UFC 187, and was on the cusp of a title shot. He’s sadly lost three straight since, all three via finish, and looks like he’s in the cusp of retirement now.
As for Ngannou, he’s pretty much the hottest thing on the Heavyweight block right now. UFC president Dana White pretty much called him a future longtime champion, and it’s not hard to see why. He’s huge, scary, and has finished nine of his ten fights. Five of his fights have ended in the first round, and he’s 4-0 inside the octagon, with all wins coming via finish. He fights often, and his last bout was a shocking kimura win over Anthony Hamilton just two minutes into their December 9th bout. He’s incredible, and while I’m a fan of Arlovski too, I just have to pick Ngannou here. Arlovski has the massive experience advantage, but he’s also well past his prime while Ngannou is pretty much at his prime. It should be an interesting fight, but I have to go with the Frenchman tonight. Prediction: Ngannou via tko, round 1.
(5) Donald Cerrone (32-7, 1 NC) vs (12) Jorge Masvidal (31-11)
In the co-main event of the evening, every MMA fan’s favorite cowboy will return to a city where he’s fought very often, to take on a tough, gritty Welterweight in a fight that could be a litmus test to see if Cerrone is indeed a contender in the weight class. Since moving up to Welterweight, Cerrone is 4-0 with four finishes and has won a performance bonus three times. He’s 19-4 inside the octagon as a whole, and in his MMA career, he’s won 16 times via decision, while also winning eight times via knockout and decision apiece. A win tonight against the always game Masvidal will be a major step froward towards title contention for Cerrone, if he can get the job done.
Speaking of Masvidal, the former street fighter is tough, but also a decision machine. All his fights tend to go the same way-he starts early, gets better as the fight gets to round two, then pretty much coasts the rest of the way. That’s why he’s had eight fights wind up being split decisions, and why 25 of his 42 career pro bouts have gone the distance. he has power, and has won 12 times via tko including a fluky win over Jake Ellenberger last month, but a whopping 16 of his last 18 fights have gone the distance. He’s 7-4 inside the octagon, and he’ll pose a stiff test for Cerrone, who’s lost four times via decision. He has the style to frustrate and win a decision over Cerrone so if that happens, nobody should be surprised. That said, I’ll go with Cerrone in what should be a great fight that will likely go into deep waters. If this doesn’t wind up being Fight of the Night, it’ll be a huge shock. Prediction: Cerrone via submission, late round 2/early round 3.
(1) Valentina Shevchenko (13-2) vs. (2) Julianna Pena (8-2)
In the main event of the evening, a pair of female Bantamweights with opposing styles will battle in a title eliminator to see who will be Amanda Nunes’ next challenger. And by opposing styles, I don’t mean just fighting styles. Shevchenko is soft-spoken, very likable, and a great Kickboxer who went 58-2-1 in that discipline, and also has a black belt in Judo, a second degree black belt in Twekwondo, while being a master of sport in many disciplines. She’s a striker through and through, and while she doesn’t knock many opponents out, she’s great with volume and range. She does have more submission wins (5) than knockout and decision wins (4 apiece,) but hasn’t won via submission since 2006. She took a near 5-year break from MMA after her final submission win, and this is her 4th fight since December 2015-the most she’s had in a 13-month span since 2005!
Meanwhile, Pena is brash, outspoken, and is a wrestler who likes to take opponents down, grind on them, and then try to win via ground n’ pound or decision. She’s 4-0 inside the octagon, but the only notable win she has on her record is against former title challenger Cat Zingano, who took Pena on in her first bout since February 2015 last July. Shevchenko is much fresher and less rusty that Cat was, and much harder to take down. Pena will have to pressure her nonstop, which will be tough, since Shevchenko is a striking master who excels at cutting the cage and keeping opponents from getting within distance. This won’t be a very fun fight, and will most likely drag out the full 25 minutes unless one of the two women gasses out. I don’t see that happening though, and as a result, I see this going much like Shevchenko’s bout against Holly Holm last year. Unless Pena can get to her and takes her down, I see Shevchenko jabbing and striking her way to a decision win. Prediction: Shevchenko via decision.