After a fortnight’s break, the UFC returns to Buffalo for the first time in 21 years with a decent card, headlined by Daniel Cormier making the second defence of his light heavyweight title against the man he beat to win it, Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson.
Since their original meeting Cormier has only fought twice, beating Alexander Gustafsson in October 2015 and then Anderson Silva on short-notice last summer at UFC 200. Rumble has been slightly busier, securing three consecutive knockout victories over Jimi Manuwa, Ryan Bader and Glover Teixeira, the most recent of those coming in just 13 seconds.
Amongst the 13 fights scheduled at present, the card will feature three debuts, the most interesting being that of former WSOF flyweight champion Magomed Bibulatov.
Although it may be lacking some star power, the main event is legitimately one of the best match-ups available in the entire UFC at the moment and the co-main event between Chris Weidman and Gegard Mousasi is a real people’s main event – two exciting fighters in a fight that will have huge ramifications, regardless of outcome.
Also interesting to note, and I’m aware this may be jinxing it, but as yet no one has pulled has to had to pull out a fight and therefore this card is completely intact. I don’t remember the last time that happened, so that’s at least one positive for new owners WME-IMG. That said, they get a big thumbs down on that poster, which is absolutely awful.
Anyway, here are my fight predictions!
Fight Pass Prelims
Flyweight – Jenel Lausa (7-2) vs Magomed Bibulatov (13-0): Lausa, who holds a 7-0 boxing record, surprised a lot of people in his debut last November, demonstrating some pretty good takedown defence and incredibly crisp striking. He still figures to be a top prospect at 125, but Bibulatov is on another level. He has incredible wrestling, fantastic submissions and can probably go toe-to-toe with the Filipino on the feet for as long as he wants to. Expect them to have some fun exchanges on the feet before Bibulatov takes him down and makes a statement. Prediction: Bibulatov via first-round submission.
Women’s Bantamweight – Katlyn Chookagian (8-1) vs Irene Aldana (7-3): This is an interesting one. I was quite high on Aldana before her debut in the UFC and then she was outworked by Leslie Smith. Smith is no slouch but if Aldana is elite, she wins that fight. She still possesses great Muay Thai and clinch work but I can’t see her beating Chookagian. The American is lighter on her feet and cuts amazing angles, which should allow her to get in, land and get out without taking much damage. Prediction: Chookagian via UD.
Lightweight – Josh Emmett (11-0) vs Desmond Green (19-5): Green is a proper journeyman and I’m quite keen to see him in the UFC. He has decent wrestling and good top control and on the feet he should be able to hang with most UFC lightweights. Emmett moves well on the feet and has nifty takedowns that will be key against an opponent like Green, but he also has a tendency to load up on his punches. Green is the bigger man, boasting height and reach advantages, and I expect him to use them on the feet and land enough takedowns to nab a close one. Prediction: Green via SD.
Lightweight – Gregor Gillespie (8-0) vs Andrew Holbrook (12-1): Holbrook has done absolutely nothing for me in his UFC run thus far – I had him losing to Ramsey Nijem in his debut, he got flattened by Joaquim Silva and whilst he beat Jake Matthews, I thought the Australian considerably underwhelmed. He’s not bad but he’s also nothing special in my opinion. Gillespie, on the other hand, is very special and he has a bright future ahead. His relentless takedowns will be the difference. Prediction: Gillespie via wide UD.
Fox Sports 1 Prelims
Light Heavyweight – #12 Patrick Cummins (8-4) vs #12 Jan Blachowicz (19-6): How these two are ranked the same I’ll never know but there again, the UFC rankings suck, so who cares? My head says Cummins wins this – he has good wrestling, Blachowicz has notoriously limited takedown defence. However, I can’t shake the image of Cummins getting stopped by Lil’ Nog. Getting hit, let alone stopped, by a man who should have retired years ago is not a promising sign and is the main reason I’m pick against him. I think Blachowicz tags him a couple of times to nick a decision. Prediction: Blachowicz via UD.
Featherweight – Shane Burgos (8-0) vs Charles Rosa (11-2): My dark horse for Fight of the Night. Burgos made a great start to his UFC career against Tiago Trator in December and Charles Rosa is a similar type of opponent – someone willing to stand and trade. Rosa is competent but Burgos hits harder and a 15-month layoff is hard to overcome unless you’re the very best, which Rosa isn’t. Prediction: Burgos via second-round TKO.
Welterweight – #11 Kamaru Usman (9-1) vs Sean Strickland (18-1): Strickland has benefitted from some shocking scorecards to achieve a 5-1 UFC record. He’s very tall but he throws very little and seems unable to make the most of his large frame. He has pretty good takedown defence but he’s also not come up against anyone as good as ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’. Usman’s takedowns are relentless and he’s got suffocating top control. I expect him to make a statement here and get the finish. Prediction: Usman via second-round submission.
Featherweight – Myles Jury (15-2) vs Mike de La Torre (14-6, 1NC): I still don’t think featherweight is the right weight class for Jury, but I guess that’s beside the point. Jury has some good boxing and offensive wrestling, whilst De La Torre always shows up ready for a fight and is good value for money. Jury will never become the elite at 145 or 155 but he will be a good measuring stick and he should have enough to win this one. Prediction: Jury via UD.
Lightweight – Will Brooks (18-2) vs #9 FW Charles Oliveira (21-7, 1NC): Brooks hasn’t really had the rub of the green since his move from Bellator. He edged Ross Pearson in a poor fight and then was held against the fence by Alex Oliveira, who missed weight by five-and-a-half pounds. Oliveira, who has been finished in three of his last four fights, has very good submission skills and his striking has improved, but he’s still too easy to outwork. I suspect Brooks is able to land the takedowns with some regularity and exert enough control to win the fight. Prediction: Brooks via UD.
Welterweight – Thiago Alves (21-11) vs Patrick Cote (23-10): I cannot wait for this one. They 22 KO/TKO wins between them and they both hit incredibly hard. It is therefore somewhat of a surprise that we haven’t seen this fight before. However, this feels like a real crossroads fight. Alves dropping to lightweight was sign of desperation and in the fight before that against Carlos Condit he looked a shadow of his former self. Conversely, despite his defeat to Donald Cerrone, Cote looks in great shape and has been winning on a more regular basis in the last few years. More importantly, they’ve been stoppages against guys with great chins. There will be fireworks whilst this lasts, but that won’t be long. Prediction: Cote via first-round TKO.
Women’s Strawweight: Cynthia Calvillo (4-0) vs Pearl Gonzalez (6-1): UFC management obviously see a lot in Calvillo, with this being her second fight with the promotion and the second on PPV, and it’s no real surprise. She is incredibly talented, very marketable and is also Mexican, which gives the company an all-important potential foothold in the Latin American market. Gonzalez, making her debut here, is no slouch and actually possesses a submission win over Cortney Casey. Four of her wins have come by submission so the ground exchanges between these two should be fun by Team Alpha Male prospect Calvillo is on another level. I expect she locks something up in a scramble early on. Prediction: Calvillo via first-round submission.
Middleweight: #4 Chris Weidman (13-2) vs #5 Gegard Mousasi (41-6-2): This is easily one of the most compelling bits of matchmaking the UFC has put together in months. Former champ Weidman is coming off two brutal stoppage losses and another one here would leave him in no-man’s land. Mousasi, meanwhile, has won six of his last seven, four by stoppage, and has really developed his personality in front of the camera recently, making him must-see. In terms of the fight, it’s a coin toss in my opinion. Weidman’s wrestling is still elite and it arguably had him beating Yoel Romero until the knee from hell switched his lights out, whilst Mousasi’s jab has developed to the point where he is dictating the pace against everyone he’s faced. I’m leaning towards Weidman because he’s got his back against the wall but this really could go either way. Prediction: Weidman via SD.
Light Heavyweight: (C) Daniel Cormier (18-1) vs Anthony Johnson (22-5): Although the spectre of Jon Jones looms large before this one, I’m really excited for this fight. The breakdown for the fight is exactly the same as last time – Rumble has the most punching power in the entire UFC but that is balanced by a dubious gas tank; DC is a phenomenal wrestler with good submissions and the ability to go five rounds. In that sense, it will also probably follow the same logic as last time – if Rumble doesn’t end things early, DC will wear him down and probably submit him in round 3 or 4. However, I think we get a spanner in the works this Saturday in Buffalo as Rumble catches him with one of his monstrous shots and stops Cormier to become the new champ at 205. Prediction: Johnson via first-round TKO.