Every year around this time, the UFC hosts an overseas Fight Night on Sunday. As a result, fans in the states are treated to Sunday morning/afternoon of MMA action, on a day where there’s no football to be had. The end result is usually a gratifying card, and a Sunday well spent.
Tomorrow is just that. Headlined by a pair of consistent contenders in the UFC’s Light Heavyweight division for the past half decade, the main card is a pretty damn good one for an overseas Fight Night card. The co-main event features two other top ten Light Heavyweights, in what should be a very interesting bout. Also on the main card is a bout between a pair of veteran grapplers who’ve been in the UFC for quite some time, a bout between a brutal knockout artist and a man who will pose as his litmus test, an unbeaten newcomer against a fighter who’s refined his game, etc. It should be a fairly entertaining slate, and here are my predictions for the entire main card.
UFC Fight Night 109 Main Card (1pm/Noon CT, FS1)
Jack Hermansson (14-3) vs. Alex Nicholson (7-3)
A pair of middleweights open up the main card, as Sweden’s own Jack Hermansson takes on Alex Nicholson. Hermansson, the former Cage Warriors Middleweight champion, had won nine straight before losing his last fight via second-round arm triangle choke against Cezar Ferreira last November. That was only the second time he’d been finished, and first time since 2013. He’s a finisher with 11 finishes in 14 wins, including eight knockouts. All but five of those finishes have come after the first round, so he has a pretty solid gas tank to boot.
As for Nicholson, it’s still a bit tough to figure him out. He’s finished all seven of his wins, including six via knockout and in the first round. And yet, since coming to the UFC, he’s best known for proposing to his girlfriend at the weigh-ins before his promotional debut, getting choked out in said debut, and for being racist in the corner of teammate Mike Perry during Perry’s debut against Hyun Gyu Lim. That’s not exactly the best legacy and now, he’s 1-2 in the UFC to boot. A loss would likely see him getting cut, if not at least being on the verge of being let go. Of course, he can end the fight at any given point in time, so you can’t count him out at all in this one. I just feel like Hermansson is better, and will wind up getting the win after tiring Nicholson out. Prediction: Hermansson via tko, round 2.
Oliver Enkamp (7-0) vs. Nordine Taleb (12-4)
Originally, Taleb was supposed to take on Emil Weber Meek. However, Meek got injured, and Stockholm’s own Oliver Enkamp will step up on short notice to make his UFC debut in Meek’s place. Enkamp is unbeaten with five finishes, including four submissions. His last fight was his lone first round finish, and was less than two months ago, so he is fresh. Despite winning most of his fights via submission, Enkamp is a volume striker. He’s also smaller, less versatile and less experienced than Taleb is. Add in the fact that he’s taking this fight on short notice without a camp, and he’s got the odds high up against him. He’s playing with house money, so a loss won’t hurt him. In the end though, as cool as an upset would be, I just don’t see Enkamp defeating a man who gave Santiago Ponzinibbio and Warlley Alves a tough time, especially on short notice. Even then, it should be a good fight at the very least. Prediction: Taleb via decision.
Omari Akhmedov (16-4) vs. Abdul Razak Alhassan (7-0)
Up next, unbeaten knockout artist Abdul Razak Alhassan will take on a gritty veteran in Omari Akhmedov. Akhmedov is an International Master of Sports in Combat Sambo, as well as a 2nd dan black belt in Hand-to-Hand Combat. He’s finished 12 of his 16 wins, and while he’s just 4-3 in the UFC as opposed to 12-1 before entering the promotion, he’s been a mainstay within the company since 2013, and a very tough test for anyone he faces. Granted, all of his losses have come via finish, but the only man to finish him before the third round was Gunnar Nelson.
Trying to become the second man to finish Akhmedov early will be none other than Abdul Razak Alhassan. At 7-0 with all of his wins coming via knockout in the opening two minutes, Alhassan is as scary as anyone in his weight class at the moment. That said, how will he do against someone who has only been finished once outside the third round in 20 fights, good grappling and well-rounded ability? Either he gets another early finish, or this fight gets very ugly. I hope it’s not the latter, but you never know. Prediction: Alhassan via first round tko, or Akhmedov via grinding decision.
Ben Saunders (21-7-2) vs. Peter Sobotta (16-3-1)
Want to see a unique grapplefest? Then this is the fight for you. Sobotta is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt with ten submission wins, only one knockout and submission loss apiece, and a 3-1 record in his second UFC stint. Saunders is also a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, has seven submission wins, and has never been submitted in 30 career bouts. “Killa B” also has great power as evidenced with his nine knockout wins. He went 7-3 in Bellator after getting cut from the UFC in mid-2010, with two of those losses coming to current Bellator Welterweight champion Douglas Lima, and the only other men to finish him other than Lima were Mike Swick and Patrick Cote, a pair of well-renowned UFC fighters. He’s got an insane rubber guard, as evidenced by his omoplata win in his UFC return against Chris Heatherly in late 2014, and is 5-1 since returning to the UFC.
This fight is going to be very interesting. Two Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belts, one of whom has terrific knockout ability, both of whom have just one loss apiece since returning to the UFC. If this fight stays standing, Saunders likely wins. If it becomes a grapplefest as many hope, I still think Saunders wins. And yet, Sobotta cannot be counted out. I’ll pick Saunders to win, but this should be a really interesting fight regardless. Whether it winds up being fun or not, it should warrant a watch by pretty much every true fan of grappling. Prediction: Saunders via decision or late finish.
(7) Misha Cirkunov (13-2) vs. (5) Volkan Oezdemir (13-1)
In the co-main event of the evening, newly re-signed Misha Cirkunov will begin his new contract against a man who, despite having only one UFC fight to his credit, is somehow ranked higher than him. I don’t care who he is, Oezdemir shouldn’t be top-five in his division after just one fight in the UFC-that being against an overranked Ovince Saint Preux who had lost two straight before that bout. That said, Oezdemir is very good. At 13-1 with nine knockout wins, his only loss came against Kelly Anundson via submission in early 2014. He’s got great power, and has very good potential in the UFC.
That said, I can’t see Cirkunov losing here. Sure, maybe he gets caught with a shot, but other than that, this should be Cirkonov’s fight. A black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with seven submission wins and four knockout wins, Cirkunov has won eight straight fights since losing his last fight in early 2012. He’s 4-0 in the UFC with four finishes, and should be in the top five in the division for sure. Granted, maybe the UFC wants him to prove it some more, but it’s still nonsensical for him to be ranked lower than Oezdemir. Surely that’ll add fuel to his fire, and I see Cirkunov getting the win at the end of the day. Prediction: Cirkunov via submission, round 1 or 2.
(1) Alexander Gustaffson (17-4) vs. (2) Glover Teixeira (26-5)
In the main event of the evening, the two top Light Heavyweights not named Daniel Cormier, Jon Jones or (recently retired) Anthony Johnson will take each other on. Both these men have lost to the other three, but have somehow never faced each other. Ever since UFC rankings became a thing in January 2013, both men have been ranked in the top six of this weight class. Now, the winner will most likely get a title shot against the winner of Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones’ title unification bout that’s scheduled for July 29th.
Gustaffson began his career 15-1, including a 7-1 UFC record to earn a title shot against Jon Jones in September 2013. Many thought that Gustaffson would get mauled, despite his reach. To the shock of many, Gustaffson was great that night, leading the fight through three rounds, and nearly won the fight that turned out to be the toughest MMA fight of Jon Jones’ career. His next fight was a dominant second-round knockout victory over Jimi Manuwa in March 2014 but since then, he’s only fought three times. First, in January 2015 in Stockholm, Gustaffson got dominated and finished in the first round by Anthony Johnson. Despite that, he got a title shot against Daniel Cormier in October 2015, and just like the Jones fight a couple years earlier, Gustaffson fought great, yet just fell short again. In his only fight since, Gustaffson won a tepid fight against Jan Blachowicz, fighting safer than ever. If he fights that way against Texeira, it won’t go nearly as well.
Speaking of Teixeira, the second degree Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt has been fighting for 15 years, finishing 22 of his 26 wins, including 15 via knockout. He has great grappling, elite caliber knockout power, and continues to be a force in this division. After beginning his career with a 2-2 mark, Teixeira won a whopping 20 straight bouts, including 18 via finish, that extended five fights into his UFC career. That streak came to a screeching halt against Jon Jones in April 2014, when Texeira got dominated in a thoroughly one-sided championship title loss. Texeira followed up by losing a decision to now Bellator Light Heavyweight champion Phil Davis that October, before reeling off three straight wins against Ovince Saint Preux, Patrick Cummins and Rashad Evans, all via finish. That led to a top contender bout against Anthony Johnson, against whom he got knocked out in 13 seconds. His latest bout was a one-sided decision win against Jared Cannonier at UFC 208 in February, and like Gustaffson’s bout against Jan Blachowicz, it wasn’t well received.
Now, Gustaffson and Teixeira will finally face each other, despite being so highly ranked for so long. Both men had recent losing streaks for the first time in their careers, both won boring, one-sided bouts in their last fight, and want to prove they’re worthy of a title shot with a win tonight. Everyone seems to be picking Gustaffson due to his size advantage, and I get it. It’s the logical choice, and the reasoning makes sense. Plus Teixeira turns 38 this year, we all saw what happened to him against Jon Jones in 2014, and it’s fair to say that Teixeira might be a very, very high-level gatekeeper for the division now. I think he’ll fight better than people expect, and him winning should shock nobody. I foresee this being a potentially great fight, and even though it won’t necessarily be a classic, I expect Teixeira to put on a good showing that he’s still got it. I’m still picking Gustaffson, but Teixeira should and likely will have his moments as well. Prediction: Gustaffson via decision.