Lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos will look to successfully defend his title on July 7 against Eddie Alvarez in the main event of the UFC Fight Night card in Las Vegas during UFC International Fight Week 2016.
Dos Anjos has looked like an unstoppable machine in his last few fights, but Alvarez believes he has the veteran experience to unseat the champion and take the lightweight title back to Philadelphia with him.
In addition to the main event, a heavyweight co-headliner between Roy Nelson and Derrick Lewis will also take place. Nelson is best known as a huge knockout puncher, but he'll have his hands full with Lewis, who has gained a reputation as one of the most vicious finishers in the division.
In today's fantasy preview, we're going to take a look at some of these key matchups going down at UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas to see who has the edge and if there might even be an upset brewing on this card.
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.
Rafael dos Anjos (-430 favorite) vs. Eddie Alvarez (+345 underdog)
Rafael dos Anjos has certainly looked unstoppable over his past five fights, as he's defeated names such as Anthony Pettis, Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone and Nate Diaz, but he'll have a tough test ahead of him on July 7 when he meets veteran lightweight Eddie Alvarez.
Alvarez is a true Jack-of-all-trades inside the Octagon, although lately he's preferred to use his striking arsenal ahead of his wrestling. Alvarez lands strikes with volume and power, especially when he gets inside on his opponents, and that could bode well for him against someone like dos Anjos.
Dos Anjos is a monster in the clinch. That's where he mauled Pettis for five rounds to win the lightweight title, but if he can't get that same kind of offense working against an equally dangerous fighter on the inside like Alvarez, it could negate one of his best weapons. Alvarez is strong with his work against the cage and he's not afraid to get into a dogfight over five rounds. Alvarez has good conditioning and his chin is incredibly durable.
That being said, dos Anjos is still an offensive juggernaut in all areas of the fight game. He's strong on the inside, but still dangerous at a distance. Dos Anjos has vicious leg kicks, along with an overall Muay Thai game that is currently unmatched in the lightweight division. Alvarez is probably the better overall wrestler, but going to the ground with dos Anjos is a dicey proposition, considering his world-class jiu-jitsu skills and considerable submission ability.
Alvarez is the kind of fighter who will hang tough and refuse to go away, but dos Anjos pours on so much punishment round after round that it's hard to see him leaving the Octagon without the lightweight title still wrapped around his waist. Look for dos Anjos to put the pressure on Alvarez early and often, and while he may not get an early finish, he's more than ready to dish out a lot of damage over five rounds and that may lead to a late stoppage.
Prediction: Rafael dos Anjos by TKO, Round 4
Roy Nelson (-140 favorite) vs. Derrick Lewis (+120 underdog)
Don't expect this heavyweight co-main event to go to the judges, as Roy Nelson looks to add another knockout to his record while Derrick Lewis tries to add a huge name to his growing resume of victims.
Lewis has proven to be one of the toughest outs at heavyweight lately, especially when he's able to get his opponents to the ground, where he unleashes some of the most vicious punching power in the sport. Lewis actually only averages just over one takedown per fight, but what he does so well is capitalize on an opponent's mistake and then pounce on it. Lewis isn't the most prolific wrestler or striker, but he's advantageous with his offense so that he waits for an opponent to get too aggressive and then he counters. Once he gets a fighter on the mat, Lewis is unrelenting with his power shots, and there have been a few occasions where it sounds like he's about to punch through the Octagon floor with the shots he generates from the top.
If Nelson gets stuck underneath Lewis, it could be game over.
Still, Nelson has shown good takedown defense in the past and he's strong enough on the feet that he'll gladly trade shots with Lewis to see which one of them has the more durable chin. Nelson has rarely been rattled in a fight and he typically only needs a punch or two to land before his opponents are asleep on the canvas wondering what just happened. Lewis struggles defensively -- blocking just over 36-percent of his opponent's shots on the feet -- and that spells disaster against a heavy hitter like Nelson.
Nelson will have to be careful getting to the inside considering he's giving up about seven inches of reach, but that's nothing new in his career. Once Nelson finds his range, he just needs to uncork one of his famous haymakers and Lewis will be in serious trouble. Lewis has fallen to two other knockout strikers in the UFC in the past, and if he's not careful, Nelson will be the third.
Prediction: Roy Nelson by KO, Round 1
Mike Pyle vs. Alberto Mina
Expect a potential Fight of the Night in this matchup between welterweight veteran Mike Pyle and undefeated prospect Alberto Mina. Mina is coming off a hard fought win over Yoshihiro Akiyama in his last fight while Pyle secured a very impressive knockout over Sean Spencer in his most recent trip to the Octagon, and these two should put on a very entertaining affair.
Mina is best known for his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and judo skills on the mat, but he's no slouch when it comes to the striking game either. Mina has worked tirelessly to match his striking to his ground game and he'll need all facets of his overall MMA skill set to face a fighter as well rounded as Pyle.
Early in his career, Pyle was best known as a submission specialist, but over the last few years, he's gotten even better with his hands while racking up some very impressive knockouts. Pyle has also faced his own fair share of knockout losses, but he's tough as nails and will not fade away in the face of adversity.
The real key to this fight is whether or not Pyle can draw Mina into a brawl. Pyle is extremely dangerous when he catches his opponents in a scramble, whether on the feet or on the ground. If Pyle can catch Mina slipping into a sloppy exchange, he'll likely connect with power or plant the Brazilian on the mat. On the flipside, Mina is very dangerous when he's in control, and with his submission game, he doesn’t even need Pyle to make a mistake to grab on to an arm or a choke to put this fight away.
This might be the toughest call on the entire main card, but Mina maintains a very slight edge assuming he can stop Pyle from dragging him into deep waters and turning this into a slugfest. Mina just needs to stay composed and not allow Pyle to flurry on him during exchanges or he could get stuck in a fire fight and that probably won't end well for him. Expect this to be a war of attrition over three rounds, but Mina should be able to slip through with a decision based on takedowns and cleaner shots landed on the feet.
Prediction: Alberto Mina 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.
Joe Duffy vs. Mitch Clarke
Irish prospect Joe Duffy will look to bounce back from his recent loss to Dustin Poirier when he faces Canadian Mitch Clarke in Las Vegas. Clarke has faced his own share of ups and downs in the Octagon, but he's definitely capable of more than a few surprises, including an underrated submission game like the one he used to submit Al Iaquinta two fights ago.
Unfortunately for Clarke, he accepts this fight after more than a year away from the sport. He’s been dealing with injuries and he's got a very tough test ahead of him with Duffy as an opponent.
Duffy is an incredibly fast starter, which could hurt Clarke right out of the gate as he tries to get his footing back after so much time off. Duffy hits hard, hits fast and he's got solid accuracy, and if he can overwhelm Clarke early, this fight might not see a second or third round.
Duffy came into the UFC with a ton of hype thanks to his win over Conor McGregor, but now he's looking to climb into the lightweight rankings, and a fast finish over someone like Clarke will go a long way towards earning him another crack at a top 15 opponent. Clarke is tough, but that will only save him for so long in this matchup.
Prediction: Joe Duffy by TKO, R1
Alan Jouban vs. Belal Muhammad
Belal Muhammad could be one of the better prospects joining the UFC in the welterweight division, but he's going to have a serious fight on his hands in his debut as he takes on Alan Jouban. Muhammad is a well-rounded mixed martial artist with solid wrestling and boxing, but lately he's been far more dependent on his hands and that likely plays right into Jouban's greatest strength.
Jouban is a blitzing striker who lands more than five significant shots per minute with over 50 percent accuracy. Typically, the times when Jouban has struggled have been against opponents who came out ultra aggressive and never allowed him to settle into his striking at distance. Muhammad could certainly attack with that same kind of ferocity, but if he's even the least little bit hesitant in the early going, Jouban will take advantage.
Jouban lands with such volume while also showcasing very solid defense that it's going to be hard for Muhammad to find an opening to expose a weakness in the opening round. Past the first five minutes, Muhammad might get more comfortable on his feet as the Octagon jitters fade away, but once Jouban finds his pattern and his range, he'll start picking the newcomer apart. Don't be surprised if Muhammad finds a way to make it an exciting fight until the end, but survival might be the best thing he can hope for in his debut.
Prediction: Alan Jouban by unanimous decision.
Anthony Birchak vs. Dileno Lopes
Anthony Birchak has been inconsistent at times in his early UFC career, but the wrestler and powerful striker will try to notch another win under his belt when he meets former Ultimate Fighter Brazil competitor Dileno Lopes on July 7.
Lopes is a slick Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor who averages three takedowns per 15 minutes in the cage with at least three submission attempts as well. The problem Lopes will have with his ground game this time around is getting Birchak to the mat.
Birchak has a strong amateur wrestling background, and while he may not want to test his ground game against Lopes, his ability to stop the takedown will be key in this fight. Birchak has very heavy hands and a lot of knockout power, as he showcased in his win over Joe Soto two fights ago. Birchak is extremely active on the feet, landing over six significant strikes per minute, and when you couple that with Lopes' lacking defense, it should create some openings for the American to land some big strikes.
Lopes is a veteran with a lot of experience, so he won't make a lot of mistakes, but going up against a fighter who has a four-inch reach advantage and superior wrestling doesn’t leave him a lot of options for victory.
Prediction: Anthony Birchak by TKO, Round 3
Mehdi Baghdad vs. John Makdessi
Another sleeper for a potential Fight of the Night bonus is this lightweight matchup between John Makdessi and Mehdi Baghdad.
Makdessi is an 11-fight veteran of the UFC who has faced a huge list of top opponents over the years while never backing down from a challenge. Makdessi has obviously suffered some tough defeats along the way, but it's never stopped him from jumping into the fire head first for the biggest and best fights possible.
Baghdad is a very experienced striker who trains out of the BlackHouse gym in California, where he trains alongside UFC legends like Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida. Baghdad has started to develop more weapons in his arsenal, but his striking will always be his best bet to win a fight and he'll likely have a chance to use it in this battle with Makdessi.
Baghdad is a vicious Muay Thai practitioner with knockout power in both hands who also uses inside elbows and knees to break an opponent down round after round. Makdessi definitely has fight-ending power in his hands as well, but he's been caught by more than a few shots in his day and if he starts exchanging strikes with someone like Baghdad, this fight could end instantly.
On paper, Makdessi is the safer pick, with better experience and more Octagon time against high-level opponents. Still, Baghdad always seems like he's just one good fight away from making a highlight reel and getting a bonus at the end of the night and this could be his chance to impress the UFC and show why he belongs on the roster.
Prediction: Mehdi Baghdad by TKO, Round 3