For the first time ever, the UFC will land in Hidalgo, Texas this Saturday, with a lightweight matchup that promises fireworks as Dustin Poirier takes on Michael Johnson, while middleweight prospect Derek Brunson takes on former Ultimate Fighter finalist Uriah Hall.
For Poirier, this card represents his chance to take another step up in the lightweight division following four straight wins, including a dominant finish over Bobby Green in June at UFC 199. Poirier has been a terror since dropping down to 155 pounds and he'll look to extend his win streak against a very savvy and tough opponent in Johnson.
Meanwhile, Brunson and Hall have exchanged more than a few nasty messages over social media in the lead up to their fight, so this could turn out to be a very personal battle by the time they step into the Octagon together.
In today's fantasy preview, we're going to examine those fights and some of the other key matchups taking place in Texas at UFC Fight Night: Poirier vs. Johnson.
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.
Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Johnson
Since moving from featherweight to lightweight, Dustin Poirier has looked virtually unstoppable as he's put together an incredibly impressive string of victories. Poirier has now won four fights in a row, with three coming by way of knockout, with the lone decision coming against top Irish prospect Joseph Duffy.
In this fight, Poirier will once again bring his vicious style of striking to try and finish yet another top notch opponent. Poirier lands with great volume at 4.82 significant strikes per minute, but he also hits with great accuracy at over 50 percent on the feet. Poirier's power has gotten even better since he moved to 155 pounds, and without an strenuous weight cut to get down to featherweight anymore, his conditioning has improved as well.
RELATED CONTENT: Free fights - Poirier vs Corassani | Johnson vs Tibau
As for Johnson, he's best known as a long rangy boxer on the feet with good power and very technical skills while standing. Johnson has a wrestling background, but he actually averages less takedowns per fight than Poirier has throughout his UFC career. Johnson will enjoy a very slight reach advantage and he'll want to use that range to keep Poirier on the end of his punches while avoiding any big combinations from the American Top Team fighter. If he can frustrate Poirier on the feet, Johnson can sting him with jabs and straight punches all night to win a decision.
For Poirier, the key remains his power punching and ability to swarm an opponent, especially against the cage. If he can cut off the Octagon and trap Johnson, Poirier will unload combinations with furious anger until he either earns another knockout or severely staggers his opponent to win rounds on the scorecards. Johnson has never been finished by strikes, but there's a first time for everything and if there's a lightweight with the kind of stopping power to earn a TKO against him right now, Poirier may be the one.
Prediction: Dustin Poirier by TKO, Round 3
Derek Brunson vs. Uriah Hall
Some bad blood has been brewing for this matchup between Uriah Hall and Derek Brunson and now the two middleweight sluggers will finally throw down in Texas.
Hall still remains one of the most interesting and most frustrating fighters on the entire UFC roster after exploding on the scene during his season of The Ultimate Fighter and then having a rollercoaster career inside the Octagon since that time. At his best, Hall is a lethal striker with some of the most creative kicks the UFC has seen since Anderson Silva first burst on the scene. At his worst, Hall is a tentative counterstriker who sometimes just refuses to pull the trigger no matter how far behind he might be on the judges' scorecards.
As for Brunson, he's a powerfully strong wrestler who has developed a ton of knockout power in his hands and feet. Brunson might just be the best prospect in this division right now because he's been molded from a very talented raw athlete to an instrument of destruction by coaches like Greg Jackson over the last few years. Brunson has the kind of power where he can walk through fellow knockout artists like Sam Alvey or he can take down dangerous ground specialists such as Roan Carneiro and absolutely maul them on the mat. Where he has to be careful in this match is with Hall's potent counterstriking attack, because he can unleash a lightning quick kick that can alter the course of this fight in a split second.
So who has the advantage?
Brunson is the smart pick in this fight for a couple of reasons. First of all, Brunson is the complete package, with power striking on the feet and a dominant wrestling game on the ground. He's good everywhere. Add to that the inconsistencies that Hall has displayed at times, which make him a risky pick no matter who he's facing. He can absolutely win this fight with a highlight reel knockout, but there's just no telling if Hall will show up ready to rumble. That unknown makes Hall a liability and turns Brunson into an even better selection for this card.
Prediction: Derek Brunson by unanimous decision
Roan Carneiro vs. Kenny Robertson
A truly fun welterweight matchup happening this weekend pits submission specialist Roan Carneiro against veteran fighter Kenny Robertson. Carneiro returned to the UFC last year as a middleweight and picked up a very impressive win against Mark Munoz before suffering a tough loss to Derek Brunson. That defeat made Carneiro realize that welterweight was probably the better option for him, so now he'll make the move back down to 170 pounds for this fight. Robertson will return to action this weekend for the first time in over a year after he lost a very close decision to Ben Saunders in his last trip to the Octagon. Robertson has proven to be a tough fight for anyone in the welterweight division and he'll look to get back in the win column against Carneiro.
While Carneiro is best known as a submission fighter, he's not out of his element on the feet, but he's clearly more comfortable on the ground. Carneiro averages more than four takedowns per fight with nearly 50 percent accuracy. He also has an extremely active submission game, so if the fight hits the ground, look for Carneiro to immediately try and advance his position and start fishing for a finish.
Robertson is an incredibly durable fighter with good defense and the kind of toughness that will keep him in almost any fight. Robertson is a very active fighter on the feet, landing over four significant strikes per minute while displaying just over 55 percent takedown defense. Now that number could come back to haunt him if Carneiro is determined to take this fight to the ground. If Robertson hits the mat, he can't concede the position and allow Carneiro to apply his jiu-jitsu game or he's going to lose the fight just fending off submission attempts.
This might be the toughest fight on the entire card to pick, but Carneiro's best weapon on the ground still gives him the better chance to get a finish or at least force Robertson to fight his fight. Carneiro may not wrap up the submission, but if he can put Robertson in enough trouble round after round, it will be enough to earn him the decision in the end.
Prediction: Roan Carneiro by unanimous decision
Another tough fight to pick takes place in the featherweight division between Chas Skelly and Maximo Blanco. Both fighters are coming off recent losses and definitely want to make a good impression as they return to action this weekend.
Skelly is a massive fighter for this division, and prior to his loss to Darren Elkins in March, he had been on a four-fight win streak while dominating his opposition. Skelly is a powerful 145-pound fighter with solid striking and wrestling with the kind of frame that can give anybody trouble. Skelly will have a size advantage in this fight and there's a good chance he will just try to muscle Blanco around the cage until he can wear the Venezuelan fighter down over three rounds.
As for Blanco, he's an extremely aggressive fighter who does his best work in the opening minutes of any fight. Blanco loves to blitz his opponents with a barrage of strikes and he's not just swinging for the fences either. Blanco lands over four significant strikes per minute with nearly 45 percent accuracy. He's also shown solid defense in the UFC, so his opponents aren't getting off many counter strikes, even when he opens up with a big combination.
Blanco needs to use his speed and power to stay out of Skelly's range because the last thing he wants to do is end up in a clinch or taken down to the ground, where his striking is totally negated. Skelly isn't a bad striker, but he has to know Blanco will look to come out swinging and go for an early finish. Skelly just has to survive those first few flurries and then pressure Blanco against the cage, take him to the ground and wear on him until his gas tank is depleted.
Prediction: Chas Skelly by unanimous 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.
This featherweight matchup could turn into a slugfest, and that kind of fight almost always favors heavy hitting former Ultimate Fighter competitor Sam Sicilia. Now there's no doubt that Sicilia has faced his share of ups and downs inside the Octagon, but he still packs a serious punch and he'll give anybody a run for their money if they decide to stand and trade with him.
Benitez is a crafty veteran, but considering he still hasn't attempted a takedown during his UFC career, it's hard to imagine he's going to try to out wrestle Sicilia in this fight. Now Benitez has shown incredible defense – 71 percent to be exact - and he has good accuracy on the feet while landing more than 48 percent of his punches. Unfortunately, getting into a firefight with someone as powerful as Sicilia is like playing with dynamite.
Sicilia drops bombs from every angle and he goes for the kill. Benitez only needs to make one mistake over three rounds and he'll be eating leather from Sicilia until the referee drags him away to stop the fight. Of course, Sicilia will have to deal with a slight reach disadvantage on the feet, but if he can find a way inside, look for him to swing big until Benitez is down and out on the ground.
Prediction: Sam Sicilia by TKO, Round 2
Belal Muhammad vs. Augusto Montano
Taking a short notice fight against someone as tough as Alan Jouban for your UFC debut is no easy task, but Belal Muhammad was up for the challenge. Now he ended up losing a decision that night, but Muhammad proved that he was worthy of being in the UFC and now he has a chance to pick up a win while facing Mexican welterweight Augusto Montano.
Montano looked great in his UFC debut but then laid an egg in his second fight against Cathal Pendred. Now he returns to action 15 months after his last fight and it's hard to predict that he'll have a better showing this time around. Montano is a dangerous striker with great power generated from his hands and feet. In this matchup, Muhammad is just a better overall boxer, with good range and combinations. Now obviously, Muhammad has to be wary of Montano's power if he can start unloading shots on the feet.
Assuming Muhammad can avoid those big exchanges, however, his technical striking should allow him to win more of the exchanges over three rounds, and that will be enough for a victory.
Prediction: Belal Muhammad by unanimous decision
The Ultimate Fighter Latin America winner Erick Montano will look for his first victory after taking the reality show competition last November when he takes on noted striker Randy Brown. Montano is a well-rounded fighter who will probably look to take this fight to the ground rather than mix things up with Brown, who has a lot of versatility and knockout power on the feet. It Montano can start landing takedowns early, this could easily end up as a lopsided decision for the second-time UFC fighter.
RELATED: Montano featured in Hidalgo's On the Rise
On the flipside, Brown has shown some flashes of brilliance while striking on the feet, and if he can avoid those takedowns, he has the opportunity to light up Montano with powerful and fast combinations. Brown is an accurate striker with a solid arsenal of weapons at his disposal, and after a disappointing outing in his last fight, there's no doubt he wants to show up in a big way this weekend.
Look for Brown to stop Montano's takedown attempts, and if he can keep this fight at range past the first round, he should be able to pick his shots and rack up more than enough points to earn a decision. Brown could also land a knockout combination as well, but he may not get too aggressive in order to keep Montano from dragging this fight to the mat.
Prediction: Randy Brown by unanimous decision