The UFC is back in Blighty and back on Fight Pass this weekend, as the O2 Arena in London plays host to UFC Fight Night 38. Headlining the card is a light-heavyweight bout that could well decide the next challenger to Jon Jones’ 205lbs crown, as Alexander Gustafsson hunts for a rematch with the champ against the rising force of London’s own, Jimi Manuwa.
Serving as the co-main event of the evening, Melvin Guillard will take on fellow lightweight, Michael Johnson in what was supposed to be a Melvin Guillard-Ross Pearson rematch, but should prove to be an entertaining scrap despite Pearson’s injury withdrawal nonetheless.
Next up is a clash of flyweights, as the ever-popular local Brad Pickett makes his 125lbs debut against Irishman Neil Seery, who will enter the Octagon for the first time after replacing an injured Ian McCall; and rounding out the main card is a welterweight bout, as hotly-tipped prospect Gunnar Nelson battles Omari Akhmedov.
Now, as ever I am here to hold your hand through the fog of the undercard, guiding you towards the fights of interest and relevance. So let’s get started.
Cyrille Diabaté vs. Ilir Latifi – 205lbs.
I thought for sure when Diabaté hobbled back to his stool at the end of his first round fight with Jimi Manuwa, that this was the last we would see of the Frenchman. The 40 year old Diabaté had just torn a calf muscle and has proven that he struggles when the competition is ratcheted up ever so slightly. Prior to the Manuwa fight, Diabaté had won his previous two against Tome DeBlass and Chad Griggs, so I’d have thought with any ideas of a streak to relevancy now ended, Diabaté would be looking to get out of the game without any further damage incurred; apparently not.
This is Ilir Latifi’s ‘thank you’ fight from the UFC. Latifi will be making his second Octagon appearance, having made his debut in such irregular fashion last April, stepping in on just four days notice to replace his injured teammate, Alexander Gustafsson, in his fight with Gegard Mousasi. Latifi was understandably underprepared and he lumbered to a three round decision loss. The goodwill garnered from Latifi’s willingness to step in on such short notice has clearly been recognised and the 30 year old Swede has been granted a second chance at making a good first impression against Diabaté.
Latifi will have the grappling advantage and will be the more likelier of the two to go for takedowns, but I think Diabaté will prove to savvy on the feet for Latifi and be able to stay out of range long enough to boss the striking exchanges en route to a decision.
Prediction – Diabaté via unanimous decision
Luke Barnatt vs. Mats Nilsson – 185lbs.
Having made quite an impression on season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter, I was intrigued to see how Barnatt adapted to the UFC and so far, so good. After taking home the unanimous decision against Colin Hart in his Octagon debut, it was in his most recent performance that the undefeated Barnatt began showing real potential. Showcasing some solid striking in dropping opponent Andrew Craig on more than one occasion, Barnatt then went on to finish the fight via submission, further illustrating an ever-improving ground game. If Barnatt continues down this path and the UFC are sensible with their matchmaking, this could be one of the next big stars to come out of the UK.
Having fought near enough exclusively on the European MMA circuit, Mats Nilsson will be making his UFC debut when he takes on Barnatt this Saturday. A three time FILA Grappling world champion, Nilsson has suffered just the one defeat in his last eight contests and is currently riding a two-fight win streak. Nilsson competed last in September under the Cage Warriors banner, defeating Denniston Sutherland via TKO.
While Nilsson will no doubt test Barnatt’s ground game at some point, to me this fight seems geared towards getting Barnatt more experience inside the Octagon and helping bring along his name in the middleweight division. Barnatt should have more than enough on the feet to trouble Nilsson, as well as stay out of range of any sustained grappling exchanges.
Prediction – Barnatt via KO/TKO
Davey Grant vs. Roland Delorme – 135lbs.
A member of Team Rousey on TUF 18, Davey Grant will be making his UFC debut when he ventures in to the Octagon this Saturday evening. Grant performed admirably during the televised competition, making it to the finals, just not as often as he would have wanted. While Grant was successful in his opening round, his semi-final opponent failed to make weight and Grant was given a bye to the final, where he would ultimately go on to lose via submission back in November of last year.
Roland Delorme is also a former TUF alum, having competed on season 14. While Delorme did not make it as far on the show as Grant, losing out in the second round, Delorme can claim to have found his feet inside the Octagon since his stint on reality TV. Having compiled a UFC record of 3-1-0 & 1 NC, Delorme was last seen at UFC 165 where he dropped a split decision to Alex Caceres.
Grant should have the striking ability to ensure that Delorme stays out of range and away from any form of grappling exchange that Delorme will hold the advantage in, but for how long? I doubt that Grant could keep this up for three rounds and Delorme will likely wind up on top for large periods of the fight as it progresses.
Prediction – Delorme via submission
Phil Harris vs. Louis Gaudinot – 125lbs.
Harris had it rough last time out against part-time flyweight John Lineker. Lineker had once again missed weight and Harris felt the full force of the Brazilian’s strikes losing via TKO in the first round of their contest back in October. Harris’ current UFC record stands at 1-2.
Like Harris, Gaudinot has also compiled a 1-2 record during his time spent in the Octagon. While Gaudinot has defeated Lineker whilst in the UFC (Lineker had missed weight again), that victory was sandwiched by defeats to Johnny Bedford and most recently Tim Elliot.
Although neither are on great form in the UFC, with flyweight still in its relative infancy, both men should be safe here irregardless of the outcome due to the shallow nature of the division. While Gaudinot will hold an advantage on the feet, I expect Harris to be far too savvy for Gaudinot in the clinch and on the ground.
Prediction – Harris via unanimous decision
Tags: brad pickett, Gunnar Nelson, Ilir Latifi, Jimi Manuwa, Luke Barnatt, Melvin Guillard, Michael Johnson, Mixed Martial Arts, Omari Akhmedov, UFC, UFC Fight Night 38