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This weekend marks the UFC’s first ever trip to Poland, as the promotion lands there with a card filled with European and international talent, including the return of legendary heavyweight Mirko Cro Cop as he faces Gabriel Gonzaga in a rematch of their first bout in 2007.
Cro Cop has been busy on the kickboxing circuit in recent years, although he has picked up back-to-back victories since returning to MMA in 2014 and he'll look to make a big impact this weekend as he tries to avenge his previous loss to Gonzaga.
Also on the card, British heavy hitter Jimi Manuwa looks to bounce back from his first career loss when he fell to Alexander Gustafsson as he takes on Polish favorite Jan Blachowicz, who picked up a victory in his UFC debut last October.
As we gear up for this weekend's card in Poland, today's fantasy preview will break down some of the key matchups to see who has the best shot at victory, who might pull off the upset and what bouts are just too close to call as we preview UFC Fight Night: Gonzaga vs. Cro Cop 2.
These are the bouts on the card that are just too close to call, but making the correct pick could mean the difference between winning and losing on the final tally for the fantasy game running on Saturday.
Gabriel Gonzaga (-165 favorite) vs. Mirko Cro Cop (+145 underdog)
It's a rematch nearly eight years in the making after Gabriel Gonzaga sent Mirko Cro Cop's title hopes packing back in 2007 when he used the Croatian's own signature head kick to finish him off in one of the most shocking upsets in MMA history. Gonzaga proved to be a valuable heavyweight contender for years to come after that bout, but it's a loss Cro Cop likely never forgot after he came into the UFC with high hopes of competing for a championship.
Years later, they meet again under much different circumstances as Gonzaga tries to bounce back from two losses in a row while Cro Cop tries to rebuild his MMA legacy after a lackluster showing in his last stint with the UFC.
Don't let Gonzaga's slight losing streak fool you because the big Brazilian still packs a devastating punch and possesses some of the most dangerous jiu-jitsu in the sport. Gonzaga's ability to mix in takedowns with his hard-hitting style on the feet make a perfect counter to Cro Cop, who makes no bones about his desire to keep this fight standing.
The biggest advantage Cro Cop has coming into this fight is his recent work with Stipe Miocic, who traveled overseas to work with his idol ahead of this bout with Gonzaga. Miocic is ranked as one of the top five heavyweights in the sport currently and went three hard rounds with Gonzaga just last year. Cro Cop has typically been rather mysterious about his training methods, but knowing that he's working with a top flight heavyweight like Miocic only breeds confidence that he can show up and look solid in his return to the UFC.
The fact is that this fight is a real toss up because Gonzaga has definitely faced better competition lately, but he's also had his bell rung on a few occasions in recent fights. Meanwhile, Cro Cop has faced substandard fighters while he's been competing in MMA, but his kickboxing record has improved as he's taken on a big list of top competition while fighting abroad.
Has enough changed from the first fight to believe the rematch can be any different? Well, Cro Cop will certainly have a "hometown" feel to this fight as he competes close to Croatia, and his motivation has to be at an all-time high to erase the memories of a bad loss from his last bout with Gonzaga. Outside of trying to rebound from two consecutive losses, you have to wonder if Gonzaga still carries the same fire for a rematch with Cro Cop as the Croatian does for him?
In the end, this fight really comes down to who executes a better game plan. If Gonzaga can take Cro Cop down and keep him guessing on the feet, he should be able to get the job done. Then again, Cro Cop working with a top-notch UFC heavyweight, plus honing his chops on the stand-up circuit, could have him primed for a knockout in this matchup.
Prediction: Mirko Cro Cop by knockout, round 2
Seth Baczynski (-115) vs. Leon Edwards (-115)
Seth Baczynski will relish the moment to fight in Poland for the first time as he faces Leon Edwards in a featured bout on the UFC Fight Night prelims, and when it comes to odds, these two welterweights are as even as you can get heading into Saturday's fight card.
Baczynski has been running through a rough stretch in his career, going just 1-4 in his last five fights, but his last two losses have come to Thiago Alves in a back and forth battle and to Alan Jouban after they put on a very memorable fight. Baczynski isn't afraid to stand and trade with anybody and that's haunted him in recent fights and it could backfire on him in this fight as well if he's not careful.
Edwards is a big knockout puncher from England who lost in his only appearance in the Octagon last November. Prior to that loss, Edwards had won six fights in a row with finishes in five of them. Edwards packs a serious punch and also has an underrated ground game in the moments when he does get the fight to the mat.
That probably won't be an issue in this one because Baczynski loves to strike, and as long as he avoids eating a huge shot from Edwards, he should be able to outwork the Brit to earn a decision victory. Baczynksi may have suffered some bad losses lately, but he's also been fighting a real murderer's row of top 20 level welterweights and that's something Edwards can't even come close to boasting. Baczynski should feast on Edwards' inexperience and thrive with the live crowd in his corner.
Prediction: Seth Baczynski by unanimous decision
Daniel Omielanczuk (-160 favorite) vs. Anthony Hamilton (+140 underdog)
Another local favorite returns home for this fight card as Poland native Daniel Omielanczuk faces American Anthony Hamilton in a preliminary bout on Saturday.
In his only Octagon appearance, Omielanczuk suffered a tough loss to Jared Rosholt in a fight where he found out just how tough it can be to face a top-notch American wrestler. Omielanczuk tried as best he could to avoid Rosholt's formidable grappling offense, but struggled to break free of his grip throughout the three round fight. He shouldn't have that problem this time around, although Hamilton will definitely present some issues in this bout.
Hamilton has a better stand-up attack, with the ability to throw hard punches and knees as well. He's also not afraid to mix it up on the mat, although he's not as well-known for his submissions as he is for a steady ground-and-pound attack from the top. Where Hamilton struggles, and it could cost him this time as well, is in his inability to avoid sloppy exchanges, which often leaves him exposed to shots from his opponents.
If Omielanczuk doesn’t let the moment of fighting in front of his home country overwhelm him, he should be able to control the pace and either put Hamilton down on the ground and attack there with submissions or just wait for the right opening to unleash a big punch on the feet to put an end to this one.
Prediction: Daniel Omielanczuk by knockout, round one
These are the fights with a clear favorite that should be much easier to select a winner, but can still play a major part in the outcome of the entire fight card because knowing how they will come away victorious can be just as important.
Joanne Calderwood (-550 favorite over Maryna Moroz)
Scottish favorite Joanne Calderwood could be staring at a title fight with a win over Maryna Moroz and she'll look to be impressive, as women's strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk will be sitting cageside watching the action.
Calderwood is already one of the best strawweight fighters in the division, but facing a newcomer like Moroz only strengthens her case for victory on Saturday. Calderwood is a nasty Muay Thai striker with good punches and nasty kicks, which can come at all angles during a fight. Calderwood throws at an extremely high volume, landing over seven significant strikes per minute with nearly 50-percent accuracy. She's no slouch on the ground either, but that's the one place Moroz excels, so the Ukrainian will certainly hope to pull this fight to the mat if she hopes to get a win in Poland.
Moroz has a slick submission game on the mat, which accounts for four of her five career wins, and like UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, the armbar is her submission of choice. Still, she has to find a way to get Calderwood to the mat and that's a very tall task indeed.
Look for Calderwood to punish Moroz on the feet and then hurt her even worse on those occasions where she does try to rush in for a takedown. Calderwood will certainly be aware of getting overextended to avoid the ground game so she might be somewhat tentative early, but once she finds her range and her power, look for the Scot to start unloading on Moroz and go after the finish.
Prediction: Joanne Calderwood by TKO, round three.
Sergio Moraes (-350 favorite over Mickael Lebout)
Former Ultimate Fighter Brazil finalist Sergio Moraes gets back in action this weekend after a very long layoff that saw him sit out since 2013. Prior to his time off, Moraes was looking like a real prospect in the UFC welterweight division after pulling off submissions over Neil Magny and Renee Forte. Moraes has extremely high-level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and he's a big fighter for the welterweight division, which may come into play in this fight.
Lebout is a first-time UFC fighter coming up from the lightweight division to fight at welterweight in Poland. Coming out of France, Lebout has picked up six wins in a row with a mix of methods in his back of tricks, but he seems to favor the submission game, which won't bode very well against a fighter the caliber of Moraes. The only thing Lebout can hope for in this bout is to come out of the gates quick and hope he can catch Moraes sleeping if he's dealing with a case of ring rust.
Otherwise, Moraes should have no trouble taking this fight to the ground and locking up a submission to pick up his third win in a row.
Prediction: Sergio Moraes by submission, round one
Jan Blachowicz (+130 underdog to Jimi Manuwa)
The co-main event might be the show stealer on Saturday, as Poland's own Jan Blachowicz takes on British striker Jimi Manuwa.
Manuwa is well known as one of the hardest punchers in the world at 205 pounds and he's no stranger to knockouts. He's won 13 career fights by KO or TKO and he's typically a very fast finisher. He's only seen the second round on five occasions in his career and has never made it to the third at all. Manuwa hits hard, hits early and doesn't let up until the fight is over.
Where Blachowicz has an advantage is his calm demeanor under fire and his experience against top-level opponents outside of the UFC. Blachowicz is very well-rounded in all aspects of the game, including a versatile striking game with powerful kicks and punches, as well as an arsenal of submissions that have earned him a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Manuwa will want to keep this fight standing and land big punches, looking for the knockout shot. He's not predictable by any means, but the Brit isn't going to keep a secret what he plans to do against any fighter who stands in front of him in the Octagon. In this matchup he has to know that an early finish is his best method of victory, but the problem is that Blachowicz has never been put away by strikes and he's very well-versed at dragging opponents into his world, whether it's a certain type of stand-up battle or his style of ground game.
Blachowicz is a name to watch in the light heavyweight division and his march towards the top 10 will start on Saturday. As long as he can survive a quick start from Manuwa, the Polish powerhouse can take over for the remaining two rounds before hopefully getting his second victory in the UFC.
Prediction: Jan Blachowicz by unanimous decision