The UFC comes to Atlanta, Georgia for the first time in four years this weekend for an intriguing pay-per-view line-up. Robbie Lawler defends his welterweight title for the third time against Tyron Woodley, who holds wins over Kelvin Gastelum and Carlos Condit.
The event was set to be co-headlined by a flyweight title fight between Demetrious Johnson and Wilson Reis but Johnson was forced to withdraw through injury. Reis has remained on the card and will take on promotional newcomer Hector Sandoval.
The main card also features intriguing clashes between women’s strawweight contenders Rose Namajunas and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, a welterweight showdown between sluggers Matt Brown and Jake Ellenberger and exciting bantamweights Francisco Rivera and Erik Perez.
Now it’s time to break down these fights and see where they will be won and lost!
Fight Pass Prelims
Lightweight – Cesar Arzamendia (7-2) vs Damien Brown (15-9): Both of these men lost their UFC debuts and neither are likely to be challenging the top 15 anytime soon but this should be an intriguing clash. Arzamendia has some of the most awkward looking stand-up I have ever seen and whilst Brown is not a power-puncher or a volume striker, he has a solid jab and his striking is effective. The Australian has better wrestling than Arzamendia and should be able to secure top control and score with ground-and-pound. Prediction: Brown via unanimous decision.
Welterweight – Michael Graves (6-0) vs Bojan Velickovic (14-3): In his UFC debut this past April, Velickovic used some effective striking against Alessio Di Chirico but took a lot of shots and was forced to rely on his wrestling to get the decision. That will not work against Graves, who is the better wrestler and poses a significant submission threat. On the feet Graves is a much better kicker and will be able to box with the Serb, helping to secure a decision and improve his UFC record to 3-0. Prediction: Graves via unanimous decision.
Fox Sports 2 Prelims
Flyweight – #7 Wilson Reis (20-6) vs Hector Sandoval (12-2): It must have been hard for Reis to change his camp from preparing to fight Demetrious Johnson to fighting Sean Santella and now Hector Sandoval. Sandoval has a relatively impressive record on the regional scene, with notable wins against Ryan Hollis and Eloy Garza, whilst his defeats have come against former UFC fighters Ulysses Gomez and Willie Gates. Sandoval has five career finishes but seems to lack the stopping power that would be needed to beat Reis on short notice, but does throw sufficient volume to cause his opponents issues. However, Reis looked phenomenal against Dustin Ortiz in January and will have too much for Sandoval. Prediction: Reis via unanimous decision.
Heavyweight – Anthony Hamilton (14-5) vs Damian Grabowski (20-3): Grabowski got pummelled in his UFC debut against Derrick Lewis but held up pretty well against the American’s heavy hands. Hamilton is nowhere near Lewis in terms of power and is a very ho-hum fighter in general, with average wrestling and a mildly impressive submission arsenal. The ‘Polish Pitbull’ is the much more imposing fighter and will be able to take Hamilton down and control him on the ground, eventually overwhelming ‘Freight Train’ with his submission skills. Prediction: Grabowski via second round submission.
Welterweight – Ross Pearson (19-11, 1NC) vs Jorge Masvidal (29-11): British fighter Pearson took this fight on short notice, replacing Siyar Bahadurzada. Masvidal’s penchant for seeking a brawl often means his fights are close – he has four defeats via split decision. Masvidal’s path to victory is, in theory, obvious – utilise his wrestling advantage to take Pearson down and control him. Given that Pearson has previously fought at featherweight, Masvidal should have a size advantage to compliment his wrestling edge. However, ‘Gamebred’ rarely does the obvious and therefore this could be much closer than it should be. Prediction: Masvidal via unanimous decision.
Light Heavyweight – #11 Nikita Krylov (20-4) vs Ed Herman (22-11, 1NC): Somehow Krylov has won four straight and a win here could see him take on a top 10 opponent before the year is out. Krylov rushes in with his head high, something that the veteran Herman has the ability to punish. Herman has heavy hands and a very effective clinch game but he is very flat footed and that will be an issue against Krylov, who is much more athletic and has 13 career submission wins. The American may have some success early on and will probably rock ‘The Miner’, but I expect Krylov to pull through and secure another submission victory. Prediction: Krylov via second round submission.
Flyweight – Ryan Benoit (8-4) vs Fredy Serrano (3-0): Benoit has been involved in exciting fights in all three of his Octagon appearances and this fight is the perfect opportunity to even out his record. Serrano, a former Olympian, is 10 years Benoit’s senior and will have a significant speed disadvantage in this fight. Serrano has also failed to demonstrate very good set-up for his takedowns and that will cost him against the potent striking of Benoit. The American is much faster and will eventually clip his South American opponent with something to end the night early. Prediction: Benoit via first round TKO.
Bantamweight – Francisco Rivera (11-6, 1NC) vs Erik Perez (15-6): This should be a fun one. Francisco Rivera finds himself at a career crossroads, on the back of two defeats in a row and four in his last five. At his best he is a powerful slugger who has some of the best hands at 135 lbs. At his worst he can be sloppy, easy to takedown and someone with a poor gas tank. Erik Perez is a decent striker and has decent wrestling – where he has the biggest advantage. This is must win for Rivera and I expect him to stuff most of the early takedown attempts from ‘Goyito’ and land some heavy shots on the feet. He will fade late but should do enough over the first two rounds to take a competitive decision. Prediction: Rivera via unanimous decision.
Welterweight – #9 Matt Brown (20-14) vs Jake Ellenberger (30-11): When a fighter has a lot of power in their hands, it can often go to their head. This leads them to neglect volume and working the openings that produced those knockouts, and just wind up on power shots. That description nails Jake Ellenberger to a tee. Once tabbed as a title challenger with one-punch knockout power, Ellenberger often froze up, just aiming to counter-strike with one heavy haymaker. This allowed opponents to press him up against the cage, tee off and eventually finish ‘The Juggernaut’. He does have 18 career knockouts to his name but only has one win dating back to 2013. If Ellenberger returned to the fighter of old this fight would be a classic. However, he seems to have past his peak as a fighter and his belief in his power will make him a sitting duck for Matt Brown, a brutal striker who will throw techniques from all angles. Add in Brown’s reach advantage and this becomes academic. Prediction: Brown via first round KO.
Women’s Strawweight – #3 Rose Namajunas (5-2) vs #5 Karolian Kowalkiewicz (9-0): This is arguably the most evenly matched and hardest to call fight on the card. Both of these women have looked amazing in their UFC careers to date, with Namajunas brutalising Paige VanZant and edging out Tecia Torres, whilst Kowalkiewicz put on striking clinics against Randa Markos and Heather Jo Clark. The Polish fighter has the edge in the striking department, but is yet to be really tested in the grappling department, somewhere where Namajunas thrives. This fight is so close and either woman would be a deserved title challenge but I favour Namajunas. If Kowalkiewicz starts as slowly as she did against Clark she will be up against it with a fighter who has stamina for days. Prediction: Namajunas via split decision.
Welterweight Title – (C) Robbie Lawler (27-10, 1NC) vs #4 Tyron Woodley (15-3): Anytime Robbie Lawler is fighting, you know it will be ‘must-see’. His career resurgence is simply remarkable and he is a worthy champion. Without wishing to disparage Woodley, this is the easiest title fight Lawler has faced. Whilst Woodley is great in the early going, an area where Lawler always struggles, he just doesn’t have that ‘X-Factor’ needed to beat Lawler. Woodley’s first five fights all ended in submission but he hasn’t won a fight via submission since 2009 and Lawler’s submission defence is sufficiently improved. Woodley will want to wrestle with Lawler but Lawler has good takedown defence and will be able to punish errant shots. To his credit, Woodley has varied his offence in recent fights and does have an improved striking game. It may not be very high in volume, but it is quite effective and he does pack some power – not enough power to stop the champion though. I expect Woodley to probably nab the first two rounds with his wrestling but his gas tank will let him down. Woodley is just 5-3 in fights that go past the second round and has never fought five rounds before. Lawler heats up as the fight progresses and turns up his powerful and precise striking and he will be able to hurt a fading Woodley. Prediction: Lawler via fourth round TKO.