Roy Nelson has talked for years about how much he loved the glory days of PRIDE Fighting Championships and his desire to one day face the legends who helped rule the roost in the Japan-based promotion. Now Nelson will get his chance to face one of the most iconic champions from that time when he takes on Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira in the main event of the UFC's upcoming return to Abu Dhabi this Friday.
In addition to Nelson facing Nogueira in the five round main event, always exciting featherweight Clay Guida will look to bounce back from a recent loss when he takes on Tatsuya Kawajiri in a fight between two of the fiercest wrestlers competing at 145 pounds. Kawajiri was impressive in his UFC debut, but Guida is a big step up in competition that will prove if the Japanese fighter is ready to fly with the eagles in the top 10 of the division.
The four-fight main card is stacked with talent, and in today's fantasy preview we will break down the matchups to see who has the advantage, and if there are any upsets brewing or if the favorites will rule the day.
ROY NELSON VS. ANTONIO RODRIGO NOGUEIRA
The main event in Abu Dhabi pits two sensational Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighters both known for loving a good knockout against each other, as Roy Nelson takes on Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in a bout where both men are desperately in need of a win. Nelson is off two tough recent losses while Nogueira has been out of action for almost a year while bouncing back and forth between wins and losses over his last eight fights.
While both Nelson and Nogueira got their start in martial arts doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, it's not likely this fight will see much ground work at all. Neither fighter is known for having world class wrestling, and Nelson has always shown really solid takedown defense, blocking nearly 58 percent of those attempted on him while facing a litany of tough grapplers in the past. A ground fight would certainly be fun, but don't expect it, especially considering how much boxing Nogueira has done over the years and that Nelson is best known for his knockout power.
On the feet, the result of this fight really depends on who controls the action. Nogueira is a top-notch boxer who has one of the most devastating jabs in the heavyweight division. He can put together Nick Diaz-like combinations, just peppering away at an opponent until they fall over. While his accuracy only shows at a shade over 42 percent, it may not matter much given Nelson's best defense, which usually involves blocking punches with his head. Nelson does have an incredible chin, so as funny as it sounds, he could wear Nogueira down by just letting the Brazilian punch himself out in the first couple of rounds.
On the other hand, Nelson hits like a truck, and while he may not have as much technique as his opponent, none of that usually matters when he uncorks one of his hellish right hands. Nelson just needs to stay out of Nogueira's range, and assuming he can get inside at some point, all it takes is one punch to finish the fight. Nogueira's chin, once as solid as granite, has been tested a lot more lately, and this could be another instance where it crumbles under the pressure. Expect Nelson to come into this fight as ready as he's ever been just based on the respect he has for Nogueira, and that should translate into a victory for the former Ultimate Fighter winner.
CLAY GUIDA VS. TATSUYA KAWAJIRI
A couple years ago, Clay Guida facing PRIDE legend Tatsuya Kawajiri would have been a highly-anticipated slugfest where the two fighters came to the center of the Octagon and unceremoniously swung at each other until one of them fell down. Guida and Kawajiri both got famous from that style of fight, but at some point each of them realized something key when it comes to MMA - strategy and technique will almost always win out against a slugger simply swinging for the fences. Now Guida is more known for his movement around a cage, wearing out opponents and mixing up takedowns and an elusive standup game, while Kawajiri has honed his wrestling and submissions to tactically dismantle opponents round after round until the fight is finished.
Their fight in Abu Dhabi will bring up some interesting questions about where each of them stands in the division once the night is over. Guida has traditionally struggled against the best wrestlers he's faced because as good as he's been with his own takedowns over the years, his statistics drop when he takes on the fighters with grappling as good as his own. Kawajiri, on paper, is one of those fighters.
The Japanese featherweight is an unrelenting wrestler who just keeps coming and coming until he gets the fight to the mat. On the ground he's one of the most aggressive and dangerous submission fighters in the UFC. The key for Kawajiri in this fight, however, isn't just getting Guida down, it's keeping him there. Guida scrambles and moves like few fighters in MMA, but Kawajiri can typically lock an opponent up with his vice grip-like grappling, and that's where he starts fishing for submissions. The biggest worry for Kawajiri in this fight is his cardio, because Guida will keep coming for all 15 minutes. If the Japanese featherweight can get this fight down early, his aggressiveness and control could give Guida fits, resulting in a unanimous decision victory for Kawajiri.
JOHN HOWARD VS. RYAN LAFLARE
Veteran welterweight John Howard looks to pick up his third win since returning to the UFC when he faces undefeated prospect Ryan LaFlare. Howard has looked great since coming back to the Octagon with wins over Uriah Hall and Siyar Bahadurzada, but this time he's running into a stylistic matchup that could give him a lot of trouble in Abu Dhabi.
LaFlare is a former state champion wrestler who has transitioned his grappling game very well to mixed martial arts. His 60 percent takedown accuracy has yielded him a lot of success thus far in the UFC, and he's only getting better from here. Howard has struggled before against fighters who look to take him down. Look no further than his fight against Matt Brown in 2011 to see evidence of his shortcomings when he's not the one controlling where the fight takes place.
Look for LaFlare to do the same thing in this fight. He can keep Howard at a distance with his striking before pushing forward and dropping in for a takedown. Howard's endurance at welterweight has been an issue in the past because it's a rather large cut for him to get down to 170 pounds. Against a wrestler like LaFlare he will need every puff of oxygen he can get and it still may not be enough to come out on the winning end in this fight.
RAMSEY NIJEM VS. BENEIL DARIUSH
Possibly the most interesting fight on the main card pits former Ultimate Fighter finalist Ramsey Nijem against grappling wonder Beneil Dariush in a lightweight battle. Dariush made quite an impression in his debut, putting away veteran fighter Charlie Brenneman in quick order. The Iran native is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt who now trains full-time under Master Rafael Cordeiro, the same coach who brought up legends like Wanderlei Silva and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
While Nijem is going to be the better wrestler in this fight, it's not likely he'll want to go to the ground with Dariush, but he may not have much of a chance if the grappler gets a hold of him at any point. Dariush is world-class on the ground, and not only does he have the pedigree, but he's ultra aggressive with his submissions and very slick in locking up the finish. Dariush has only been to one decision in his career, and he will be the first to tell you that in that fight he was a jiu-jitsu fighter with no clue how to do MMA. Now he's a much more well-rounded fighter, and if he can get Nijem to the ground, look for a flurry of submissions before he wraps up an arm or neck to get the finish in the first or second round.
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