With the first UFC event in nearly two months going on tomorrow evening, it’s time to predict who wins and how. Look and see who the Inside Fights staff has chosen and why.
Light Heavyweight bout: Alexander Gustafsson vs. Thiago Silva
Luke Cy: Gustaffson has looked great since his sole defeat to Phil Davis and although his striking remains by far his sharpest tool, he has clearly worked diligently on improving all the facets of his game.
In Thiago Silva he faces a big powerful light heavyweight who can bang with the best of em’ and make no mistake, if the Swede is to avoid defeat he will have to make use of the improvements he has made throughout Sliva’s extended absence.
I expect the former Chute Boxe trained Silva to come out firing early and often and to try to bully the young Swede back against the fence but I believe Gustaffson has matured enough as a fighter to deal with the swarming strategy of the Brazilian and will react with more acute technical striking from range to deplete Silva’s gas tank, before picking him off in the later rounds for a decisive finish. Gustaffsson via third round TKO
Scott Sawitz: In many ways Gustafsson is getting a much tougher fight in Thiago Silva instead of Antonio Rogerio Noguiera. Little Nog would be a tough fight for the Swede but at this point in his career Noguiera isn’t quite the competitor he used to be. But he’s kind of lucky in that he’s getting Silva coming off a fairly extended layoff as opposed to Silva without any sort of ring rust. That’ll be the key to this fight, I think. Silva is a dangerous man when he’s sharp but staying sharp generally means fighting regularly. Tons of time off, though, can dull the sword of an expert warrior and just how sharp Silva has remained will be key to the fight.
Silva is claiming that the back injury that caused the drug suspension he served has been healed with the layoff; if that’s true and his back is 100% then Gustafsson could be in for a war. The key will be where the fight takes place; if Gustafsson can get Silva down Silva hasn’t shown that his ability sweep/escape isn’t good enough with someone who has good top control. If Gustafsson wants to make this a stand up fight then Silva has a strong chance; he has some dynamite in his hands. I like Gustafsson but Silva has rocked and/or stopped plenty of guys that he could do the same. I’ll go with Silva by TKO middle of the second.
Chris Roberts: Without going into a deep study on the issue I would say that more times than not an injury replacement will favor he who is left behind as the UFC is left to scramble for somebody, anybody to step in. I certainly don’t feel as though Alexander Gustafsson got lucky here though after Antonio Rogerio Noguiera pulled out with an injury. Into his place steps a returning Thiago Silva, a man who has two losses on his record and they came to Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida. Hardly a homecoming gift to the Swede Silva will fight a tough stand up war that will be much more aggressive than the tactical game Nogueira would’ve brought to the Octagon. The Light Heavyweight division is certainly not what it used to be and Gustafsson seems to be on a cusp of a (futile?) title shot so making him earn it the hard way here is not at all a bad thing. And I do think he will emerge victorious in what should be one of the most entertaining bouts this division will deliver all year round. He’ll be brutalized in the process and will have to use a balanced attack to neutralize the fury of Silva. I trust Gustafsson will be able to wrestle him to the ground and rough him up with enough boxing to eek out a 29-28 victory.
Middleweight bout: Brian Stann vs. Alessio Sakara
Cy: The UFC brass are clearly looking to rebuild Stann back up towards contender status after being thoroughly neutralized by Chael Sonnen in his last appearance and so have presented him with an opponent that he has every chance of defeating. Stann’s ground game is still very much a work in progress and has not developed sufficiently enough to deal with the elite of the middleweight division but in Sakara he faces a former boxer whose instinct will be to engage in a stand up battle.
I expect this fight to be an explosive contest with Stann stalking his opponent from the outset and trying to land big with heavy shots. Sakara is technically the more astute striker and throws his punches with more fluidity but the Italian has had trouble dealing with pressure fighters who carry superior power in the past and I see this being no different. Stann via second round KO
Sawitz: This is my pick for fight of the night, though it might not last past the first couple minutes of the first. Stann likes to throw heavy hands and Sakara has been stopped by guys who don’t hit as hard as Stann does. I’ll go Stann, TKO in the first.
Roberts: You’ll forgive me for hating upon this fight but it does seem to be a bit of terrible matchmaking combined with the fact that it pits one fighter I have a strong disdain for against another that bores me stiff. Stann’s annoying Captain America routine was terrible enough before the UFC put their marketing muscle behind it but now he stands alone as the most cartoonish of all Zuffa creations. Sadly there aren’t many Arabs for him to battle these days so he is stuck taking on an Italian in Alessio Sakara. Both are coming off of loses and Sakara is coming off of a torn ACL but these two are hardly created equal at this point in time. Stann last lost to Chael Sonnen and while he was outclassed in every way there there is no chance that he does not club Sakara for an easy first round KO hopefully sending him out of the promotion for good.
Welterweight bout: Paulo Thiago vs. Siyar Bahadurzada
Cy: Thiago has endured an inconsistent career since his surprise knockout of Josh Koscheck way back in his UFC debut and though he has never been able to fully capitalize on that early promise, he remains an upper tier welterweight with well-rounded skills that will trouble the majority of the division. In Bahadurzada he welcomes a big hungry welterweight who has spent most of his career campaigning at 185lbs and he will be intent on making up for the lost time spent on the sidelines waiting to make his UFC debut.
I expect a real clash of styles with Bahadurzada aggressively seeking the knockout and unsettling Thiago’s methodical approach early in the fight. However I believe the Brazilian’s experience and more complete game will ultimately decide the outcome and he will weather the storm before penetrating the Afghan’s guard to threaten with multiple submission attempts. Thiago via third round submission
Sawitz: Paulo Thiago is a fighter who had one epic win, stopping Josh Koscheck in his UFC debut, but really hasn’t done much of note since. Bahadurzada is an intriguing prospect with a really good back story to him. Thiago tends to be maddening because just when you think he’s either done, or back on another run, he does the exact opposite. Right here would dictate that Thiago loses to the prospect and gets closer to exiting the UFC’s main roster. Which means he’s going to win a close decision.
Roberts: How excited Dana White must be to have another Golden Glory fighter under his tent. Of course Siyar Bahadurzada comes with a boatload of well earned hype as he has been tearing up the international circuit for years and has only not made it to the big time thus far because of previous visa issues. But he is here now and set to face off against a somewhat struggling Paulo Thiago. Thiago looked sharp against David Mitchell last August but that isn’t saying a whole lot. We do have a case here of a falling star meeting a hot prospect and while I feel guilty going with the known brand name I am going to pick Thiago in what should be another exciting war. If there is going to be a stoppage it will come from the newcomer and his potent striking ability but I think Thiago will be able to force a more grappling based contest and eventually wear Bahadurzada down for a victory via the judges.
Featherweight bout: Dennis Siver vs. Diego Nunes
Cy: This fight pits two of the most dynamic strikers, or more precisely kickers, that the UFC has to offer. Siver was a pretty successful lightweight who was big at 155lbs so I was a little surprised at the drop in weight class and have to question whether cutting down to featherweight will hinder his performance against the younger Nunes. Nevertheless I predict fireworks and possible ‘Fight of the Night’, with something resembling close to a K1 kickboxing match early on, as both men trade on the feet and try to land first with their much vaunted spinning back kicks.
I expect this contest to go to the wire, with the stamina of Siver and the more varied grappling game of Nunes coming to the fore, as the Brazilian finishes stronger to snatch the victory. Nunes via split decision
Sawitz: This might be the most intriguing fight on the card as we have a top tier challenger in the featherweight division welcoming a potential top 10 level lightweight to the division. The key here is how Siver reacts to the weight cut. He’s a big guy for a lightweight so getting down another 10 pounds will be interesting to see. Can he maintain his same level of power or will it be too much for him? I like Nunes by decision.
Roberts: Dennis Siver begins to embark on a path chosen by many before him in this bout as he steps out of the highly competitive Lightweight division after an ugly loss to Donald Cerrone and down into the much shallower Featherweight division. There he steps right into the upper echelon of the division taking on Diego Nunes, a man who just last year was one win away from a title shot. As if the top part of this card wasn’t already packed with surefire thrillers this one too should make a strong case for Fight of the Night. Siver is a rare gem in the striking department and will certainly uncork some flashy spin kicks here. Nunes likes to take his time in fights and isn’t exactly a dangerous finisher. The same can be said for Siver despite the ability to land kicks. Yes, Siver looked usless when Cerrone ran right over him but there was something special about the 4 fight win streak that preceded that. The question will be in the weight cut as Siver never struck me as the ideal candidate to move down. If he comes out looking like Jake Shields at welterweight then he is toast but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he wins handily via decision.
Welterweight bout: DaMarques Johnson vs. John Maguire
Cy: Johnson must be sick of the sight of Brits’, after sharing a house with eight of them on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ and losing in the final to James Wilks. He now faces another, in the form of Maguire who makes the short trip over to Sweden. I predict a slow start to this fight, as Johnson has flattered to deceive throughout his career and Maguire will be conscious of making any fatal mistakes as he continues to find his feet in the UFC.
But once they get up to speed I expect a highly competitive affair between two well-rounded fighters who are not afraid to engage in any area of the game. As you would expect from a Brit, Maguire has sharp boxing but he is also very savvy on the ground, which I believe will come to the fore as the fight progresses and catch the eyes of the judges with the cleaner work in the exchanges. Maguire by unanimous decision
Sawitz: John Maguire is a really good prospect and potentially a top level fighter down the road. DeMarques Johnson is a nice fighter but a real fringe guy. He’s the sort of gatekeeper that says a lot about how good you are. If you can beat Johnson you’re probably going to do good things. I think Maguire wrecks Johnson and submits him early in the second.
Roberts: Having six fights on the main card is great but the downside is that we’ll have to sit through this snoozer. DeMarques Johnson has done OK for himself since getting to the finals of TUF season 9 but his wins have pretty much come against the scum of the welterweight division. John Maguire is largely untested though he looked impressive in his UFC debut against Justin Edwards. I expect somewhat bigger things for him to come and even though we don’t have tons of footage on the guy it is my belief that he should walk right through Johnson who is most likely about to be walking out of the doors of the promotion. I’ll take Maguire via 2nd round TKO.
Bantamweight bout: Brad Pickett vs. Damacio Page
Cy: Pickett appeared to be on the cusp of a title shot before running into Renan Barao at UFC 138 and the plucky Brit will be chomping at the bit to get back into the octagon and prove he is still a legitimate bantamweight contender. Page has his back against the wall after two consecutive losses and Pickett always brings it, so I expect a really good scrap with both men coming forward and trying to be the aggressor.
Page has excellent kickboxing and pushes a tremendous pace but he has been plagued by continued injury woes and I feel this will affect his endurance as Pickett presses the action and gains momentum as the fight wears on. Pickett via second round submission
Sawitz: I like Pickett but this is a bad match up for him. Page has lost to two really tough guys in his last two fights and this looks like a fight that’ll stop the losing streak. Page by a boring decision.
Roberts: In a lot of ways I feel as though Brad Pickett is the perfect example of the frustration felt by British MMA fans as he is yet another of their countrymen who sits near the top of his division but will almost certainly never reach the apex. Think Michael Bisping or John Hathaway. Pickett himself ran into some serious bad luck in the form of unbeatable Renan Barao who chewed him up in less than a round back at UFC 138. We can hardly hold that loss against him though because Barao is probably the future of the division. It just must suck for the Brits to know that it’s not their boy who is going places. Here he is tossed something of a softball, perhaps an apology for Joe Silva’s previous booking, in Damacio Page, a man who is in the middle of a 2 fight losing streak. Granted those losses came to Brian Bowles and Demetrious Johnson so if anybody has the right to bellyache about the hand he’s been dealt perhaps it is Page. Still he is no match for Pickett and I look for him to go down in less than a round in a fight that will be too lopsided to provide any sort of lasting memories.