The welterweight division is still searching for a top contender to challenge champion Johny Hendricks in his first defense of the 170-pound title and top 10-ranked fighter Matt Brown wants to put his name on the short list. To get there, Brown will have to get past dangerous Brazilian striker Erick Silva in the main event of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night card in Cincinnati airing on FOX Sports 1.
While Brown and Silva battle in the five round main event, middleweights Costas Philippou and Lorenz Larkin both look to bounce back from recent losses in the co-main event on the card, while exciting strikers Erik Koch and Daron Cruickshank face off in a lightweight battle with knockout written all over it.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll focus on the main card of the upcoming event, including a breakdown of the headline bout between Brown and Silva, as well as a few of the other interesting matchups on the show.
MATT BROWN (+180 UNDERDOG) VS. ERICK SILVA (-240 FAVORITE)
Maybe the oddsmakers know something that we don't, because betting experts have installed Silva as a sizable favorite in his bout against Brown in the main event, but this might be the upset pick of the night given the tendencies of these two fighters.
Silva is like sweating dynamite - highly combustible and explosive if not handled correctly. The Brazilian lands with 60 percent accuracy on his feet and he's just as dangerous on the mat, where he holds a black belt in jiu-jitsu and trains out of the same gym that produced current top five-ranked middleweight Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. The problem with Silva's game thus far in the UFC has been consistency. He has continuously flip-flopped between wins and losses and has struggled against the best fighters he's faced in the division. While he's only lost to top 15-ranked fighters, it doesn't bode well that Silva is now facing the No. 8-ranked welterweight in the world while he's trying to put together his first ever two fight win streak in the Octagon.
Brown is an aggressive striker who comes after an opponent from the moment the fight starts until the referee drags him off an opponent. His accuracy is also hovering at 57 percent, but he lands at least one strike more per minute than his opponent. Brown has also worked tirelessly on his wrestling, where he now lands takedowns at just under 46 percent accuracy while attempting two per fight. The real weakness Brown has shown in past fights is submission defense, but to seal that hole in his game and to add an extra level of experience, he added Jon Fitch to his training camp for this fight. Fitch just happens to hold a win over Silva, so his knowledge is highly valuable.
The fact is this main event could be a firefight with both competitors torching each other with strikes in the opening minutes. While both men have extreme knockout power, it's Brown's mix of punches and a nasty Muay Thai clinch that give him a slight advantage, not to mention the way he comes after an opponent like they just stole something from him. Silva is usually the aggressor in his fights, and this might put him on his heels when he faces another person willing to take the center of the Octagon and push him around the cage. Ultimately, this fight should end no later than the second or third round and, despite the odds, Brown has the best shot at winning.
LORENZ LARKIN (-195 FAVORITE) VS. COSTAS PHILIPPOU (+155 UNDERDOG)
It's boxer vs. kickboxer in the co-main event with Costas Philippou taking on Lorenz Larkin in a middleweight showdown. Philippou has shown some of the best hands in the division working with coach Ray Longo in the past, but he's moved on to a new training academy in recent fights and unfortunately the changes have resulted in back-to-back losses.
It's going to be an uphill climb for Philippou in this fight as well, facing a dynamic striker like Larkin, who hits fast and hard and loves to stay on the outside while picking an opponent apart with kicks and combinations. Larkin lands just over three significant strikes per minute, and it's his varied attacks that make him a tough opponent to figure out. He loves to throw kicks, and if the threat of the takedown isn't there, it makes him that much deadlier. Considering both of these fighters shoot for less than one takedown per fight combined, chances are it's going to stay standing.
The only worry for Larkin in this fight is his inconsistency in pulling the trigger at times. It was a key factor in his loss to Brad Tavares, where he just refused to engage in any exchanges, and instead played defense for most of the night. Larkin has to throw with volume and mix things up and he should be able to batter Philippou over the course of three rounds. Watch for Larkin's kicks, and if he's throwing them early, then this could be a shutout in favor of the former Strikeforce contender. Either way, as long as he's putting together combinations, his feet best Philippou's punches and he gets the win by unanimous decision.
ERIK KOCH (-320 FAVORITE) VS. DARON CRUICKSHANK (+240 UNDERDOG)
If there were extra fantasy points handed out for which bouts were likely to either get Fight of the Night or a Performance of the Night trophy, this would be the first one on the list for UFC Fight Night in Cincinnati. Erik Koch and Daron Cruickshank are two of the most exciting and creative strikers in the division, so this should be a fun fight for however long it lasts.
Both fighters are near 80 percent on takedown defense, so don't expect either of them to show off their wrestling. Cruickshank is a flashy fighter who loves to throw the most unexpected kicks from the strangest angles. He's uncorked wheel kicks, axe kicks and head kicks from everywhere during his fights, and it probably has to do with his background in Taekwondo. Unfortunately for this bout, he's facing Erik Koch, who has been doing Taekwondo since he was four years old.
Koch only has one fight at lightweight in the UFC, so the sample size on him is a little smaller, but he's a knockout striker with power in both hands and both feet, who trains under the same coach (Duke Roufus) that produced lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. Koch has finished four out of six opponents in his wins while competing in the UFC and WEC, and this is a golden opportunity to get number five.
Cruickshank goes flashy, but Koch stays technical and that's where this fight separates. Koch is powerful from the outside and he won't fall for any of Cruickshank's moves, and he might even throw in a few of his own. If these two start exchanging kicks it might look like something out of a Jean Claude Van Damme movie, and that's just fine because the fans in Cincinnati will love it. Ultimately, however, Koch is the fighter who lands with cleaner, crisper shots round after round and he doesn't have to count on the one crazy shot to end the fight. He can do it at any time, and chances are he'll put Cruickshank away before the final bell sounds.
SOA PALELEI (-245 FAVORITE) VS. RUAN POTTS (+175 UNDERDOG)
Massive Australian heavyweight Soa Palelei will look for his third Octagon win in a row when he takes on South African newcomer Ruan Potts, who is making his UFC debut.
Palelei is a beast of a heavyweight, walking around at 6'4" and actually cutting weight to make the 265-pound limit. He carries canned hams that pass as hands, and he's as strong as any heavyweight on the UFC roster. It's a big reason why the odds in this fight could be even wider by the time fight night rolls around.
Potts is a solid prospect with an 8-1 record, but he's an unknown when it comes to understanding his true potential. Fighting primarily in his home country, Potts is a submission specialist with four finishes on the ground, but his competition reads like a 'who's that' list so it's hard to tell if he's the real deal or just beating up on substandard opponents. Palelei has to be careful on the ground and chances are that's where he'll be taking this fight with his 89 percent takedown accuracy at work. Palelei is such a heavy load that from the top he only has to land a few shots and the fight is likely to be over.
Don't expect this one to make it out of the first round if Palelei has anything to say about it. Given his 15 first round finishes, Palelei certainly does not get paid by the hour.