The UFC will travel to Abu Dhabi this Friday with an undercard filled with international talent and grappling superstars, as several up and comers and some Octagon veterans look to get a win in the promotion's second visit to the Middle East.
Heavyweight wrestler Jake Rosholt will look to move to 2-0 in the UFC, as will his opponent, Polish heavy hitter Daniel Omielanczuk. Also on the card, submission specialist Rani Yahya faces off with former Ultimate Fighter competitor Johnny Bedford.
In today's preview we'll examine some of the key matchups on the preliminary portion of the UFC Fight Night card in Abu Dhabi and see who has the biggest chance of leaving the United Arab Emirates with a win.
JARED ROSHOLT VS. DANIEL OMIELANCZUK
If there was one thing we learned about Jared Rosholt in his UFC debut, it's the fact that the former college wrestling standout can certainly take a punch (or kick as the case may be). He was nearly finished in the first round of his fight against Walt Harris, only to come back and dominate the final 10 minutes to get the win. On the other side of the cage, Daniel Omielanczuk didn't have nearly as much trouble in his debut, but this is a much different fight.
Rosholt is a great heavyweight wrestler with power in his hands, and an ever developing overall MMA game. He's a bit of a throwback to the days of Mark Coleman and Mark Kerr, but his boxing is on point so long as he can stay away from faster and more dynamic strikers. He should be able to do that in this fight because Omielanczuk has proficient stand-up, but quickness isn't necessarily his biggest virtue.
Look for Rosholt to rush for the takedown and wear Omielanczuk out on the ground before possibly going for the finish with a big punch on the feet. Rosholt still has a ways to go before he could potentially face a top 15 level opponent, but he should still get a win in his second UFC fight.
RANI YAHYA VS. JOHNNY BEDFORD
It's an old adage to say 'striker vs. grappler' in this modern age of MMA, but there's a clear case of that at work in the fight between Rani Yahya and Johnny Bedford. Yahya is a world-class grappler who every bantamweight should fear going to the ground with, while Bedford is a knockout artist capable of putting an opponent's lights out with one punch.
As dangerous as Yahya is on the ground, his ability to get the fight to the mat could really be the key factor in this matchup with Bedford. Yahya only lands takedowns at a 31.51 percent clip, but those statistics don't necessarily tell the entire story. Yahya will do virtually anything to get the fight to the mat — just witness his fight in the WEC against Mark Hominick, where the Brazilian literally slipped around on the mat diving for ankles until he finally caught on and got the fight to the mat. Coincidentally, Hominick didn't get back up again because the fight was finished seconds later.
Bedford has fight-changing power in his hands, but he's going to have to avoid getting anywhere close to Yahya to even hope to survive in this fight. The fear of going to the ground with a submission specialist like Yahya could ultimately be his undoing. Yahya will be unrelenting with his takedown attempts, and once he finally lands one, the fight could be over in a matter of moments.
THALES LEITES VS. TREVOR SMITH
Former middleweight title contender Thales Leites has enjoyed a career rejuvenation of late since coming back to the UFC in 2013, picking up two wins in a row since his return. Leites remains one of the best grapplers inside in the Octagon, and his wrestling and takedowns have actually improved since his re-emergence last year. While his takedown accuracy shows at just a shade over 31 percent, Leites is relentless with his attempts to get the fight there and once he's on top, rarely does an opponent slip away from him.
Trevor Smith is an underrated fighter with the ability to put on a very exciting fight, as witnessed in his fight last year against Ed Herman in his UFC debut. Facing Leites is a much different animal, however, because the Brazilian won't get drawn into a striking battle. Leites sticks to his game plan, which typically involves putting an opponent against the cage or on the ground until he can start looking for submissions or just suffocate them on the ground with a stifling top game.
The same should happen when Leites faces Smith in Abu Dhabi. Once he gets the fight to the ground, it's going to be a grind for Smith to attempt to get up, but that's no easy task against a jiu-jitsu fighter like Leites. It doesn't have to be exciting so long as Leites follows his strategy, and when the final horn sounds he should walk out with his third straight victory in the Octagon.
CHRIS CAMOZZI VS. ANDREW CRAIG
In what could end up being the most evenly matched bout on the entire card, Chris Camozzi takes on Andrew Craig. Both fighters are capable of finishing fights with knockouts or working for ground control, although give a slight edge to Craig in wrestling and a slight edge to Camozzi in a 'bread and butter' attack with his standup. Camozzi doesn't do anything flashy, but he's effective with his striking, whereas Craig has a good high kick and solid boxing, but better than average wrestling, which he used against fighters like Chris Leben in the past.
Camozzi's striking is set up primarily with his punches, and he has traditionally shown solid takedown defense, blocking with nearly 60 percent accuracy. Chances are he'll be fending off wrestling in this fight as well, because while Craig is solid on his feet, his best chance of winning in this fight likely comes on the ground while controlling Camozzi on the mat.
If Camozzi can get his punches going early - where he lands nearly four significant strikes per minute - and pushes the pace on Craig, he can get the control and win every round the same way. Craig needs to throw combinations and get inside to trip Camozzi up to drag this fight to the mat. Given Craig's experience and the level of competition he's faced, give him the slightest edge in the fight but don't blink on Camozzi's striking. He can change this fight dramatically with a few combinations and his takedown defense, which then puts Craig at the disadvantage of finding another way to try and win.
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