The UFC's return to Poland this weekend will be highlighted by a welterweight showdown as Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone returns against undefeated prospect Darren Till.
Till has been anxious about getting a step up in competition and now he'll get his wish as he faces one of the most experienced fighters on the entire UFC roster in Cerrone.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll examine these fights and several more to see who has the edge going into Saturday's card and if there might be someone primed for an upset as we look ahead at UFC Fight Night: Cerrone vs. Till
These are the fights that are just too close to call, but a few minor differences between favorite and underdog could lead one fighter to victory and the other to defeat.
Donald Cerrone vs. Darren Till
In what should be an exciting battle between two elite strikers at 170 pounds, Donald Cerrone meets Darren Till in the five-round main event on Saturday, with each fighter looking to make a statement.
For Cerrone, this is the opportunity to bounce back from two straight losses after falling to Jorge Masvidal and Robbie Lawler in recent months. Despite those setbacks, Cerrone is still one of the most ferocious fighters in the welterweight division, with knockout power and a deceptively great ground game as well.
In the past, Cerrone has been accused of being a bit of a slow starter but he's worked tirelessly to buck that trend over recent years. What Cerrone does best, however, is pile up the strikes round after round until he batters his opponents into submission. Cerrone averages just under five significant strikes per minute, which means he's very active on the feet and he's incredibly dangerous at distance when he can use his long reach.
Till actually matches Cerrone in reach and he's definitely a volume striker as well, with good power in his hands. Till is also slightly better with his accuracy and he's definitely shown better defense in his UFC career than Cerrone. That being said, Till hasn't faced the murderers row of opponents that Cerrone has faced, so those statistics can always be a bit misleading when comparing their resumes.
Till knows he has everything to gain in this fight and nothing to lose. Till isn't ranked in the top 15, but with a win on Saturday, he'll certainly land on everybody's radar. Of course, Till's desire to make a big splash on Saturday could leave him open to some devastating counter shots from Cerrone if he gets too aggressive offensively. Till is very good coming forward, but Cerrone is just as dangerous and he's no stranger to firing off knees and kicks off his back foot. While Till definitely has the pedigree to be a top 15 fighter, it's tough to pick against Cerrone, given his veteran experience and readiness for a main event fight such as this.
Under the bright lights in the headline fight, Cerrone should shine, but Till will definitely give him everything he can handle and that's what makes this an early pick for Fight of the Night. When it's all over, however, Cerrone still maintains the edge with his power, accuracy and volume that will do a lot of damage round after round.
Prediction: Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone by TKO in Round 4
UFC newcomer Oskar Piechota will make his debut against Jonathan Wilson, who will be making his first appearance as a middleweight inside the Octagon.
Piechota is considered one of the top prospects coming out of Poland, with an undefeated record through nine fights. Piechota is best known for his grappling, which is by far his most dangerous weapon, but he's definitely improved his striking over the years as well. In fact, Piechota has knocked out his last two opponents, including a jaw-dropping head kick finish in just 37 seconds in a fight from April. Obviously, the notorious Octagon jitters could get to Piechota just like it's happened to numerous fighters before him, and he also has to deal with the home crowd, which can sometimes be a blessing or a curse for a new competitor in the UFC.
As for Wilson, he's a very heavy-handed striker who started out his career with a seven-fight win streak before he faced stiffer competition in the UFC. A pair of losses at light heavyweight convinced Wilson to drop down to 185 pounds, where he'll fight for the first time this weekend. Wilson will definitely bring a ton of power with him to the middleweight division and he doesn't mind throwing hands with anybody who will give him a standup battle.
This fight really comes down to who can control where the fight takes place. While Piechota has shown improvements in his striking, it's probably not in his best interest to go out and start trading punches and kicks with a knockout artist like Wilson. The same could be said for Wilson to avoid getting locked in the clinch or taken to the mat with a grappler such as Piechota.
While this really is a toss up, Piechota has shown flashes of greatness a couple of times during his early career and he could be another top European prospect to join the UFC roster. As long as he can stay out of Wilson's power range early, Piechota just needs time to get this to the ground, where he can apply his submission game to get a win in his UFC debut.
Prediction: Oskar Piechota by submission, Round 2
If the main event doesn't steal Fight of the Night, then this featherweight battle between Artem Lobov and Andre Fili might just do the job.
Lobov is well known for his heavy-handed style inside the Octagon, not to mention a chin that might be unmatched at 145 pounds. Lobov loves to throw heavy leather from the first round until the last, and he has a very unorthodox style that can sometimes throw fighters off when he leaves his hands low before uncorking a haymaker that starts at his hip and ends at his opponent's head. There's no real secret to what Lobov does best, as he will come out gunning for the knockout from the first minute until the last, and chances are he's going to be very hard to put away before time expires.
Fili definitely has the ability to put Lobov away, but he has to fight up to the best of his ability. Fili has shown the tendency to look like a future title contender one time and then almost fall asleep at the wheel the next. At his best, Fili is an explosive fighter with nasty striking and very slick submissions. Fili will also enjoy an incredible nine-inch reach advantage, so he needs to use that to keep Lobov away from him while looking for kicks and straight punches from the outside.
On paper, Fili should have the advantage in this fight with his length and overall mixed martial arts game, where he can mix together a variety of striking and submissions. That being said, Lobov has already taken out one of Fili's teammates in the past and he'll definitely look to make a statement this weekend. Expect a back and forth war, but given Lobov's heavy hands and ability to take a punch to fire back two of his own, it could lead to a slight edge for him in the end.
Prediction: Artem Lobov by split decision
These are the fights that appear to be a little more one-sided, but remember that this is MMA, where anything can - and usually does - happen.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Jodie Esquibel
Former title contender Karolina Kowalkiewicz returns home this weekend to face UFC rookie Jodie Esquibel, who moves over to the promotion after a long career spent fighting in several notable organizations around the globe, including a stint with Invicta Fighting Championships.
Esquibel is a longtime member of the Jackson-Winkeljohn fight team, which means she's trained alongside a laundry list of UFC champions and top contenders over the years, including Carlos Condit, Donald Cerrone, John Dodson and Holly Holm. Esquibel's veteran experience has also led her to several impressive victories over the years, including a win over current Ultimate Fighter competitor DeAnna Bennett. Esquibel has a well-rounded game, but she's best known for her striking, which she honed during her time in professional boxing.
Kowalkiewicz is a very tough challenge for any fighter on the first day they arrive in the UFC, and that's no different for Esquibel. Kowalkiewicz is a volume striker who never seems to slow down from the opening bell until the end of the fight. Kowalkiewicz isn't best known for her power, but she did manage to drop champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk in their fight, so she certainly has the ability to put anybody away on the feet. Kowalkiewicz has yet to attempt a takedown since arriving in the UFC, so don't expect her to start now. Instead, expect Kowalkiewicz to use her striking attack to pepper Esquibel from the outside with the volume of punches and kicks adding up more and more over each round.
Esquibel will hang tough until the final bell, but Kowalkiewicz just has too much experience and firepower to bet against her in this fight.
Prediction: Karolina Kowalkiewicz by unanimous decision
A pair of submission specialists face of in the bantamweight division, as Polish favorite Damian Stasiak takes on Brian Kelleher.
Stasiak has proven to be a tough out for anybody in the UFC's 135-pound division since arriving in the promotion. He's shown a solid, well-rounded game, but his best weapon remains his ground attack, where he's averaging nearly three takedowns per fight. Stasiak is also a submission machine when he gets to the ground, constantly fishing for the best possible position to put his opponents away.
Now Kelleher is no slouch on the ground, especially if he can catch someone sleeping as he locks on a devastating guillotine choke that has put away five opponents during his career. Kelleher also has knockout power in his hands, as he's shown plenty of pop behind his punches against numerous opponents over the course of his career. Unfortunately, as good as Kelleher has been offensively, it's his defense against submissions that has cost him in the past.
Kelleher has been submitted in his three most recent losses while facing off with very strong grappling competition. Stasiak may not be the best grappler in the bantamweight division, but he certainly has plenty of weapons in his ground arsenal and he'll look to exploit that on Saturday.
Prediction: Damian Stasiak by submission, Round 3
UFC newcomer Adam Wieczorek will look to make an impact in his first fight as he takes on Octagon veteran Anthony Hamilton, who returns after a TKO loss that had him contemplating retirement.
Hamilton still possesses the same kind of knockout power that helped him get wins over fighters such as Damian Grabowski and Ruan Potts in the UFC. Hamilton also has a great team behind him with coaches such as Greg Jackson in his corner. Still, Hamilton has fallen by knockout in his past two fights and that doesn't bode well while going up against another heavyweight with power in Wieczorek.
At 6-foot-5 inches tall and 250 pounds, Wieczorek is a big, powerful heavyweight with long range and plenty of power in his punches. Wieczorek has also shown great submission skills on the ground, where he's wrapped up a slew of armbars and chokes throughout his career. Wieczorek enters the fight on a seven-fight win streak and he hasn't gone to a decision once during that time. In fact, Wieczorek's only loss came to current UFC heavyweight Marcin Tybura in the second fight of his career, but he still managed to go the distance in that fight.
Considering Hamilton's cold spell following a pair of tough losses, look for Wieczorek to come out aggressively and look for the knockout in the opening round. If Wieczorek can land an early barrage, Hamilton may wither from the storm and hand the Polish heavyweight his first UFC win.
Prediction: Adam Wieczorek by knockout, Round 1
Jan Blachowicz vs. Devin Clark
Coming off two straight wins in the light heavyweight division, Devin Clark has looked like the kind of fighter who could one day knock on the door of the top 15 rankings, but he'll face a true veteran this weekend in Jan Blachowicz. Clark walks into the fight as the favorite, but don’t underestimate Blachowicz's ability to pull off the upset after facing the best of the best that the light heavyweight division has to offer.
Blachowicz is a crafty veteran with a strong striking attack and a slick ground game as well. Blachowicz lands with good volume as well as outstanding accuracy, where he's hitting his target 50 percent of the time. Blachowicz will also mix in a takedown when necessary, and he's shown strong wrestling throughout his time in the UFC as well.
Now Clark definitely likes to throw power with his hands and show off a good wrestling attack. Clark averages just over two and a half takedowns per fight, so Blachowicz has to be wary not to get too aggressive on the feet or he might find himself planted on his back for three rounds. That said, Blachowicz has a ton of experience on his side and as long as he fights smart, he should be able to pull off the win.
Blachowicz isn't the biggest knockout puncher at 205 pounds, but he's got good power in his hands and he can mount a lot of damage over three rounds. Blachowicz has only lost to top 10 competition since arriving in the UFC while giving all those opponents everything they could handle. In fact, Blachowicz hasn't been finished by any fighter in the UFC and that's while taking on names such as Alexander Gustafsson and Jimi Manuwa, who both have outstanding finishing rates in their careers. Blachowicz is tough as nails and he can dish out the punishment for three straight rounds. If he fights to the best of his ability, Blachowicz should be able to outwork Clark to earn the unanimous decision on Saturday in Poland.
Prediction: Jan Blachowicz by unanimous decision