The UFC returns to Boston for the seventh time this weekend, and for the first time in two years, for their 2018 PPV debut, headlined by two top title fights.

Daniel Cormier defends the UFC Light Heavyweight title against surging contender Volkan Oezdemir, who managed to avoid jail time before this fight, before we get one of the most anticipated fights the UFC can make – dominant heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic against knockout machine Francis Ngannou.

Let’s not mess about here, there is very little to this card outside the two title fights. It’s a promotional gamble by the UFC but one I suspect will pay off. Cormier is a big personality, title fights usually rake in the numbers, and Ngannou is legitimately scary. His knockout of Alistair Overeem still makes me feel uncomfortable, and this could be the night we see the crowning of a man who could dominate the division for years to come.

With six prelims, split two-four between Fight Pass and FS1, and five fights on the main card, this should be a very solid evening of fights. So, without further ado, here are my predictions!

Fight Pass Prelims

Men’s Lightweight – Islam Makhachev (14-1) vs Gleison Tibau (32-12): Dagestani grappler Makhachev has built up a nice 3-1 record in the UFC thus far, although this will be his first fight in 11 months. He has eight career finishes thus far, six by submission.

Brazilian veteran Tibau has been on the shelf for over two years due to a USADA suspension and the 34-year-old is without a victory in his last two UFC appearances. This will be the 27th time he’s made the trip to the Octagon during his lengthy career.

For me, this goes one of two ways. Either Tibau bumrushes Makhachev on his return and takes him out in the first round, or Makhachev grinds him out for an ugly decision. Given Tibau’s long layoff and known stamina issues, the latter seems much more likely. Prediction: Makhachev via unanimous decision.

Men’s Featherweight – Enrique Barzola (13-3-1) vs Matt Bessette (22-7, 1NC): Peruvian standout Barzola won the lightweight bracket in TUF: Latin America 2 and has since gone 2-1 in the UFC proper, although that really should be 3-0 as he definitely beat Kyle Bochniak. He has eight career finishes, although four of his last five wins have come by way of decision.

Bellator and CFFC veteran Bessette was a very late notice replacement for this card, stepping up on nine days’ notice when Arnold Allen was ruled out with visa issues. Unbeaten in seven before his summer bout with Kurt Holobaugh, the Hartford, Connecticut native will have a three-inch height advantage over Barzola.

I like Bessette, I really do. He brings the heat every time he fights and I’m glad he’s finally got his break in the UFC. That said, I can’t see his debut fairing too well. Barzola has looked ever more impressive every time I’ve seen him and I just don’t think Bessette has an answer for his persistent wrestling attack. Prediction: Barzola via unanimous decision.

FS1 Prelims

Men’s Featherweight – Dan Ige (8-1) vs Julio Arce (13-2): A battle of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series alums! Hawaiian grappler Ige secured a victory on week 3 of the show, submitting Cuban Luis Gomez in the third round. He has won six straight since dropping a decision to Taichi Nakajima in 2015, two by submission and two by TKO.

Since dropping a pair of fights to Brian Kelleher, Arce has won five straight, the most recent of which was a second-round TKO of Peter Petties on week 5 of DWTCS. He trains out of Tiger Schulmann’s gym, alongside the likes of Jimmie Rivera, Lyman Good, Shane Burgos and Uriah Hall.

My initial pick was Ige, no issue. Now, however I’m wavering. A rewatch of Arce’s performance against Petties showed a lot of in-fight adjustment from the New Jersey native and he could have enough to shut down Ige’s rather rudimentary set-up. However, I’ll stick with the gut pick and assume that the short notice turn around for Arce works in Dymanite’s favour, allowing him to secure a sub midway through the fight. Prediction: Ige via second-round submission.

OrtizMen’s Flyweight – #10 Dustin Ortiz (17-7) vs #11 Alexandre Pantoja (18-2): Ortiz heads into his 12th UFC appearance on the back of a career-defining performance last time out, stopping Hector Sandoval in just 15 seconds. He has won just two of his last five bouts.

Pantoja made a big impression in the UFC in 2017, securing wins over Eric Shelton and Neil Seery, although this will be his first fight in about six months. Seven of his career wins have come by way of submission.

This is easily the bout I’m most looking forward to out of the prelims, as Ortiz is a lot better than his 6-5 UFC record would indicate and Pantoja looks most likely to make a surge towards title contention in 2018. The Brazilian spent the camp with Henry Cejudo and that leads me to think he’s set for big things here, especially when Ortiz has struggled with grapplers in the past. Pantoja kicks his way to success on the feet before catching a choke in transition late in the fight. Prediction: Pantoja via third-round submission.

Men’s Welterweight – Abdul Razak Alhassan (8-1) vs Sabah Homasi (11-7): Ghana’s Alhassan secured victory over Homasi in their bout in December, but a controversial stoppage by referee Herb Dean means they’re running it back. All eight of his wins have come by way of strikes, and all in the first round.

ATT fighter Homasi is an alum of season 21 of The Ultimate Fighter and is known as an action brawler, with his wins split 8-2-1 between TKOs, submissions and decisions. He is two inches taller than Alhassan but cedes one inch in reach and has been KO’d four times as a professional.

My prediction for this bout is the same as last time – Homasi is tough and gutsy but way too chinny to get past a potent striker like Alhassan. The Ghanaian is faster and lighter on the feet and packs more power, and unless he gasses himself out, should end this one early as well. Prediction: Alhassan via first-round KO.

Men’s Featherweight – Kyle Bochniak (7-2) vs Brandon Davis (8-3): Boston’s own Bochniak really should be 0-3 in his UFC career thus far, but some dodgy judging got him past Enrique Barzola in August 2016. He was last seen in July 2017 getting completely dominated by Canada’s Jeremy Kennedy.

A product of Dana White’s Tuesday night series, Mississipi fighter Davis is 7-1 since opening his career out 1-2, and he has won his last four fights. He will have significant height and reach advantages over “Crash” come fight night, at three and two inches respectively.

I don’t mean to be unkind, but Bochniak is extremely limited. He has all the fundamentals but is a prime example of a fighter who should have been left out in the regional promotions to grow and develop before coming into the UFC. Davis pushed an absurd pace against Austin Arnett and whilst taking that much damage is never good, he’s shown more in that bout than Bochniak has in his three UFC bouts thus far. Davis is unrelenting on the feet and secures a dominant debut decision. Prediction: Davis via unanimous decision.

PPV Card

Men’s Bantamweight –  #10 Thomas Almeida (22-2) vs #14 Rob Font (14-3): Brazilian prodigy Almeida has hit a rough patch of late, going 1-2 in his last three after starting his UFC career with four consecutive victories. This will be his first fight since July 2017 and just his second in 14 months.

Font went 1-1 in 2017, securing a submission over Douglas Andrade before then getting caught by the surging Pedro Munhoz when they met in October. He slightly edges Almeida in both height and reach.

Boy oh boy is this a good fight. Both men love to bang, both can be hit and both back tremendous power. Font has struggled against fighters like John Lineker who push an even more absurd pace than him, whilst Almedia’s questionable defence has been countered by slicker punchers like Jimmie Rivera and former champ Cody Garbrandt. This really is a coin toss for me, but I favour Almeida’s volume and accuracy to win out over three rounds in my pick for fight of the night. Prediction: Almeida via split decision.

Men’s Light Heavyweight – #15 Gian Villante (15-9) vs Francimar Barroso (19-6, 1NC): New Yorker Villante comes into this fight on the back of two consecutive defeats, and four in his last six. Interestingly this will be the first time he is cornered by good friend and former UFC champion Chris Weidman.

Barroso is quite possibly the dullest fighter to have ever fought in the UFC, which is strange considering only one of his first 17 bouts went the distance. After picking up a win over Darren Stewart last March, he comes into this on the back of a defeat against Aleksandar Rakic in September.

In contrast to the last fight, this sucks. And why on earth is it on the main card?!!! Barroso is a very one-dimensional in his approach, namely lay and pray, and knowing Villante, it probably will work. Villante has persistently been his own worst enemy in the UFC and could easily succumb to the Brazilian’s dull offence. That said, I’m backing him to get a big win here, although that’s perhaps more out of hope than expectation. Prediction: Villante via first-round KO.

Men’s Featherweight – Calvin Kattar (17-2) vs Shane Burgos (10-0): Known as the “Boston Finishes”, Kattar made quite the splash in his UFC debut, pushing a tremendous pace to dominate Andre Fili on short notice. He was won 8 straight since a 2010 split decision defeat to Don Carlo-Clauss.

Burgos has also made a significant impression since his December 2016 UFC debut, battering Tiago Trator and Godofredo Pepey to dominant decisions and stopping Charles Rosa in the third round last April. Burgos went 5-0 as an amateur before turning pro in July 2013.

I’m hyped for this. Kattar is the first opponent Burgos has faced in the UFC that matches him style-for-style and that could either make for an epic slugfest, or a battle of whose limited grappling is better. Burgos has the higher ceiling and his more regular activity makes me think he nicks a barnburner of a fight, springboarding him into bigger opportunities throughout the year. Prediction: Burgos via unanimous decision.

DCMen’s Light Heavyweight Title – (C) Daniel Cormier (19-1, 1NC) vs #2 Volkan Oezdemir (15-1): Allegations that Daniel isn’t the real champ are inevitably going to follow him around, but I can firmly say I’d take him as champion over Jon Jones every day – he’s one of the sport’s nice guys. This will be the fourth defence of the title he originally won in 2015.

Swiss fighter Oezdemir has certainly lived up to his “No Time” moniker thus far in the UFC, winning his last two fights in a combined 50 seconds, with Jimi Manuwa his most recent victim. 12 of his wins have come by way of KO and he has both height and reach advantages over Cormier.

I’ve bet against Oezdemir in all three of his UFC appearances to date, so I’m a little hesitant to do so here, but he realistically has very little chance of victory. He is hittable himself and Cormier has stood up to the bombs of Jones and Johnson, two of the division’s biggest bangers. I suspect he makes relatively light work of Oezdemir, landing an early takedown and showing his dominance on the mat. Prediction: Cormier via first-round submission.

Men’s Heavyweight Title – (C) Stipe Miocic (17-2) vs Francis Ngannou (11-1): Miocic has been nothing short of dominant in the last three years. He brutalised Mark Hunt in Australia before stopping Arlovski and Werdum in short order. Since then he’s stopped Overeem and JDS with relative ease to defend the most prestigious title in MMA. He’s had his contract issue but he’s a fantastic champion and easily the biggest test of Ngannou’s career to date.

Ngannou is a marvel. His backstory is a page-turner and his skills are already scary. A pro of just four years he already has knocked off some of the biggest names in the sport and is easily the scariest puncher the UFC has ever seen. Comparisons with Tyson are premature and perhaps inaccurate, but one thing is for sure, this kid is for real. I’m scared and I’m just a sports nerd sitting in his living room.

This is a big test for Ngannou. He hasn’t faced a wrestler of Miocic’s calibre to date, how will he cope? If Miocic can stand up to his best shots, how will he react? Can he go the distance if required? There are lots of intangibles at play and Miocic is champ for a reason – he has power of his own and is extremely gifted in his own right. But this is Ngannou’s time. He is on a skyrocket straight to the top – he is the new star the UFC needs. He is the door to the African market. He is the new poster boy. And he hits like a bus. Another Cameroonian decapitation is inbound. And the New. Prediction: Ngannou by mega punch KO.

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