The upcoming FOX UFC Saturday card in Orlando is so packed with talent that two of the world's best lightweights actually landed on the preliminary card, and that’s not to mention the return of a popular welterweight in his long-awaited trip back to the Octagon.
Rafael Dos Anjos looks to keep his winning streak alive and make a statement to the 155-pound division when he faces Dagestani machine Khabib Nurmagomedov. Former welterweight title contender Thiago Alves tries to put two years of injury-riddled absence out of his mind when he takes on Seth Baczysnki, and we will also see two former Strikeforce title contenders squaring off when Jorge Masvidal takes on Pat Healy.
The prelims could be a show on their own, but this is only in addition to an already stellar main card.
For today's fantasy preview, we will focus on four key preliminary matchups and give you the odds and ends to pick up the points to take home a victory when Saturday night is over.
RAFAEL DOS ANJOS VS. KHABIB NURMAGOMEDOV
Rafael dos Anjos has been enjoying the good life lately, winning his previous five fights, including a victory over Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in a surprising upset performance in his last trip to the Octagon. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter has found new confidence in his striking, where he's been able to best opponents like Cerrone by primarily working on the feet.
Dos Anjos might not have a choice but to work off his back this time, however, as he faces grappling and wrestling machine Khabib Nurmagomedov. The Russian fighter has a gaudy takedown rate, where he lands eight per fight with just under 50 percent accuracy on average. Nurmagomedov is like a pitbull during his fights, just latching on to an opponent and not letting go until the final horn sounds. It's this type of game plan that could give dos Anjos nightmares for three straight rounds.
While dos Anjos has shown good takedown defense (74.29 percent during his UFC career), he's never faced a wrestler and Sambo star like Nurmagomedov. The Dagestan native has tremendous wrestling, but even more dangerous are his throws, where he literally tosses an opponent around the cage like a rag doll. The threat of the takedown should keep Dos Anjos honest on his feet, because over committing to a combination could quickly land him on his back or on his head, depending on where Nurmagomedov catches him.
As the rounds wear on, Nurmagomedov just continues to press forward, although his conditioning has been suspect in the past due to a really tough weight cut to get down to 155 pounds. Still, his wrestling and strength should win him this fight by unanimous decision, keeping his undefeated record intact and putting him maybe one fight away from a shot at the UFC lightweight title.
THIAGO ALVES VS. SETH BACZYNSKI
Following two years of injuries, former title contender Thiago Alves will finally return to action this weekend against Seth Baczynski in a welterweight contest.
The welterweight division has changed dramatically since Alves last fought, but even if memories are short, he's sure to remind everyone why he was one of the top 170-pound fighters in the world when he comes back on Saturday. Alves is a devastating striker who lands 3.21 significant strikes per minute, but it only takes one punch or one knee from the Brazilian to put an opponent away. He's also showcased tremendous wrestling defense throughout his career when not facing the highest level grapplers in the division, and given Baczynski's 19 percent accuracy with takedowns, he shouldn't have to worry too much in this fight.
Baczynski will possess an insane six-inch reach advantage, so keeping Alves on the end of his punches is a huge sign of success or failure in this fight. Despite his height, Baczynski isn't the type to 'fight tall,' meaning he rarely uses that weapon to his advantage and that could ultimately lead to his undoing in this one.
Alves just needs to wade inside once he gets his feet back under him in the first round to remember what it's like to feel the Octagon beneath his toes. Once he's warmed up, look for Alves to test Baczynski's chin over and over again until he finally puts the combination together that will end the fight and put him back in the win column. This could be another candidate for Performance of the Night based on an Alves knockout if he comes back looking as strong and healthy as he has in the past.
JORGE MASIVDAL VS. PAT HEALY
Jorge Masvidal and Pat Healy both fought in Strikeforce for a couple years, but somehow their paths never crossed until now.
Masvidal might just be one of the most underrated lightweights in the UFC, given the list of fighters he's faced during his career. Masvidal's only two losses recently have been to top ranked contender Gilbert Melendez and Dagestani prospect Rustam Khabilov in a Fight of the Night performance. Masvidal is tough as nails, with a constant attack combining his striking (3.82 significant strikes per minute) along with a deceptive wrestling game (nearly three takedowns per fight). Masvidal also counters well when facing another wrestler, blocking just under 81percent of his opponent's attempts and that's what he'll have to fend off facing someone like Healy.
Healy is an old school, ground and pound, grinding wrestler, who loves to put an opponent on their back and beat them into submission. He's a massive lightweight with power and an incredibly durable will. Healy may go down, but he's never out, and that's one of his greatest attributes - as well as hindrances - in a fight like this.
Healy has an incomparable ability to take punishment, absorb it, and then fire back with some offense of his own. The only problem is that Masvidal has great defense, stopping almost 75 percent of his opponent's offense, and he doles it out, putting pressure on from everywhere. Masvidal can box with speed and accuracy, land takedowns, and even has a quiet submission game that Michael Chiesa found out about during their fight last year. If Masvidal fights with his normal style, where he's offensive minded while employing great defense, that stops Healy from making his comeback bid as he did in so many matches before this one.
The end should be a unanimous decision win for Masvidal, but remember, Healy won't go away. If Masvidal can't push the pace come round three, he could still be in danger, and that's where Healy excels.
JORDAN MEIN VS. HERNANI PERPETUO
One of the underrated fights slipping under the radar for this FOX UFC Saturday card is the welterweight bout between Jordan Mein and newcomer Hernani Perpetuo.
Mein returns after a long layoff due to injury, but this Canadian striker is one of the most exciting and dynamic heavy hitters in the division, and this matchup is tailor-made for him to either get a knockout or possibly get knocked out, because his opponent is just as much of a fan of finishing the fight with strikes. Perpetuo will make his debut, but he's no rookie.
Perpetuo comes out of the Nova Uniao camp in Brazil where fighters like Jose Aldo and Renan Barao train, so he's got the right teachers to get him ready for this debut. Perpetuo has seven career finishes by knockout, mixed in with four submissions as well. Perpetuo tends to favor the standup battle to the ground game, which probably suits Mein just fine.
Mein's primary struggles in the past have come with wrestlers, but when he's on his feet, this Canadian is a force of nature. He was the first person to ever knock out UFC veteran Dan Miller, and he also holds wins over former UFC fighters Forrest Petz, Josh Burkman and Joe Riggs. Chances are that if this fight stays standing for the better part of the first round, Mein will eventually feast on this situation and get another knockout to add to his record.
Look for Mein to establish his striking early and try to bait Perpetuo into his world, testing to see if the Brazilian will abandon his kickboxing and shoot for the takedown. As soon as Mein finds his timing and knows Perpetuo's game plan, it's only a matter of time before he lands the knockout finish. The best guess would be first or second round for Mein to get the stoppage, depending on how Perpetuo reacts to the offensive onslaught from the Canadian.