The UFC's return to Texas will take the promotion to San Antonio for the first time ever this weekend, with the undercard being filled by former Ultimate Fighter veterans as well as some new heavyweight talent that adds depth to an ever growing division.
The Ultimate Fighter season 16 winner Colton Smith will attempt to right the wrong of his last fight when he takes on undefeated newcomer Carlos Diego Ferreira, while Johnny Bedford looks for a win in his return to action against Cody Gibson.
Also in action, heavyweights Oleksiy Oliynyk takes on fellow newcomer Anthony Hamilton in a bout that will put one of the debuting fighters on the right track as they look for a good start to their UFC career.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll break down some of the fights from the preliminary card to see who has the advantage going into Saturday night. The undercard bouts are almost always toss-ups and making the correct selections here could mean the difference between winning and losing on fight night.
COLTON SMITH VS. CARLOS DIEGO FERREIRA
Former Ultimate Fighter winner Colton Smith enters UFC Fight Night in desperate need of a win after back-to-back losses. Smith is still seen as a bit of a raw prospect in need of seasoning before anyone can determine his ultimate career path in the UFC, but he can't feel this is anything less than a must-win as he walks into San Antonio on Saturday night. His opponent, Carlos Diego Ferreira, is a newcomer to the UFC with an unblemished record, but, much like Smith, the book is still out on this Brazilian.
The real key to this fight comes down to Smith's wrestling, and thankfully for him he knows Ferreira pretty well in that respect. The two fighters actually competed in a grappling tournament once upon a time and while that never really determines who is better when it comes to MMA, Smith at least knows Ferreira's jiu-jitsu game and grappling acumen. Smith is a powerful lightweight who averages 4.17 takedowns per 15 minutes, but in this fight he may be best served to wrestle and keep Ferreira grounded until the final horn sounds.
Ferreira is a bit of a wild child when it comes to his striking, but he's more than capable of finishing any fight by knockout. He's not going to make anyone sit up and take notice of his technical striking, but that doesn't mean he can't pack a serious punch. Ultimately, grappling is still Ferreira's greatest strength, but he has to be aggressive early to stave off Smith's takedowns and not get trapped against the cage with nowhere to go.
Look for Smith to clinch and try to overpower Ferreira early. If the former TUF 16 champion can land a couple of early takedowns while improving positions on the mat without fending off much in the way of submission attempts, it could be wash, rinse and repeat for the next two rounds as well. Smith is the odds-on favorite to walk out with a decision win because he knows playing it safe is the way to stave off three losses in a row. It may not be exciting, but it gets the job done.
JOHNNY BEDFORD VS. CODY GIBSON
Johnny Bedford might be one of the most underrated bantamweights in the UFC and now it's his time to prove he belongs amongst the best. The former Ultimate Fighter season 14 competitor's two wins have been nothing short of blistering, as Bedford took out Louis Gaudinot and Marcos Vinicius in consecutive fights, and thought he had his third win when he faced Rani Yahya, but his finish was determined to be from an accidental head butt, and the fight was ruled a no contest.
Make no mistake, however, Bedford is a finisher who lands 5.1 significant strikes per minute with over 50 percent accuracy. When you also account for his 65 percent striking defense, Bedford isn't taking much damage on the counter either. Bedford manages over two takedowns per 15 minutes as well, with 62 percent accuracy. This means Gibson is going to have his hands full after dropping his UFC debut to Aljamain Sterliing back in February.
Gibson is a veteran, so hopefully the moment won't overwhelm him because he has to know a second consecutive loss won't be good for his long-term future with the UFC. Prior to the loss to Sterling, Gibson had won six fights in a row, but this might mark a two-fight skid in the UFC because Bedford is no joke and he's going to be gunning for blood.
Bedford hits hard and hits often, but Gibson has never been finished by strikes throughout his 15-fight career, so he can certainly take a punch. It means Bedford will have to show patience in the face of adversity if Gibson doesn't drop, even if he gets hit with one of the best combinations in his arsenal. Over three rounds those punches will accumulate on the judges' scorecards and that means a win for Johnny Bedford, and at the end of the day that's all that matters.
MARCELO GUIMARAES VS. ANDY ENZ
Brazilian fighter Marcelo Guimaraes was a top prospect when signing with the UFC in 2012, but a string of inactivity and a loss to Hyun Gyu Lim has set him back a bit as he returns to action this weekend against American Andy Enz.
Guimaraes is the true hybrid of Brazilian fighters, with a solid mix of Muay Thai kickboxing, wrestling, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at his disposal. While Guimaraes is comfortable on his feet, the ground is really where he shines the best, and after a brief stop at welterweight, this 185-pounder will hope to get things back on track this Saturday night.
It's hard to gauge the kind of challenge Enz will present in this fight because he's still largely unknown in the bigger picture. At just 22 years of age, Enz still has a lot of growing to do until he's defined in his career, but right now the book on him included an incredibly durable chin and a solid ground game. Unfortunately for Enz, he plays right into Guimaraes' strength if he tries to drag this one to the ground.
Guimaraes is solid enough on his feet, landing with over 56 percent accuracy to stay out of trouble, and while his takedowns haven't worked well for him thus far in the UFC, hopefully this move back to middleweight after two less than stellar performances at 170 pounds will right the ship. In his fights prior to the UFC, Guimaraes was a grinder, putting opponents down until he broke their will round after round. If the move back up to middleweight has the desired effect, Guimaraes can do the same thing to Enz to get the decision win.
OLEKSIY OLIYNYK VS. ANTHONY HAMILTON
As far as who to watch on this card when it comes to prospects, Oleksiy Oliynyk might be the best of the best. It's not often you hear about a 36-year-old prospect, but Oliynyk has earned that kind of praise lately with submission wins over famous names like Mirko Cro Cop and Jeff Monson. Oliynik is a world-class Sambo fighter, which means he has a style similar to names such as Khabib Nurmagomedov and Rustam Khabilov, except there's one major difference here - this Russian is more than proficient with his submission game, and when he gets a fight on the ground, rarely do his opponents get up again.
Now, Oliynyk is an undersized heavyweight at best. He's going to walk into fight night at around 225 to 230 pounds, and he'll be giving up a huge size advantage to his opponent, who is a true heavyweight, as Hamilton stands at 6-5 and weighs around 260 pounds.
Where Oliynyk gets the upper hand is with his clinch work and ground game and the fact that Hamilton doesn't use his reach as well as most fighters with his kind of wingspan. Hamilton prefers a close-up battle, working from the clinch and going for strikes on the inside. If he does that against Oliynyk, he'll soon find himself on the mat, on his back, fending off submission attempts.
Oliynyk has to get inside to get the job done or he will get hammered from Hamilton's size and power. The great thing about this Russian heavyweight is he's very much used to being outsized and out muscled and he's still managed to pick up some huge wins in his career, and this could be another. Look for Oliynyk to get this fight to the mat as soon as he can without taking any damage, and then he's going to fish for submissions until he gets a bite. If Hamliton goes to the ground in the first round, it would appear to be just a matter of time before the Russian finds an arm, leg or neck to take home as his own.