As the UFC embarks on a return to London this weekend, a pair of heavyweights hoping to enter title contention will face off in the main event.
Former heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum has been champing at the bit to get another shot at gold ever since he lost the belt, and he may very well secure that opportunity with a win on Saturday. Alexander Volkov will certainly have something to say about that as he enters with an undefeated record in the UFC while getting better and better with each fight.
In the co-main event, light heavyweight slugger Jimi Manuwa looks to get back on track while he takes on a familiar face in Jan Blachowicz, who has recently picked up wins in back-to-back fights in the Octagon.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll examine these fights and several more to see who has the advantage and who might be primed for an upset at UFC Fight Night: Werdum vs. Volkov
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.
Fabricio Werdum vs. Alexander Volkov
The main event will see two of the best heavyweights in the world square off, with each hoping a win may secure a shot at the title later this year.
The book on Werdum is very well known — he's arguably the greatest submission specialist in the history of the heavyweight division who has also developed a devastating striking attack over the past decade. Werdum is comfortable no matter where this fight goes, but it's no secret that he's a monster on the ground. Werdum is not only adept at pulling off submissions, but he's a powerhouse who will crank an arm or leg in a split second if an opponent makes a mistake.
On the feet, Werdum uses a more classical Muay Thai attack, with strong elbows and knees from inside the clinch. Werdum isn't typically the fighter to land with one punch knockout power, but instead he peppers his opponents with a constant barrage and rarely slows down over five rounds.
As for Volkov, to win this fight he has to keep it standing. Volkov is no stranger to the ground game, as he has several submissions on his resume, but there's no way he wants to start exchanging with Werdum on the mat. Instead, Volkov will look to use his reach advantage, where he'll have three inches on Werdum, and that will be a key weapon into stopping the takedowns as well. If Volkov can keep Werdum on the end of his punches to avoid the clinch or the takedowns, that will go a long way to securing him the victory. Volkov absolutely has fight-finishing combinations in his arsenal, but chances are he'll play things a little safer to avoid Werdum's clinch work in the first few rounds.
If Volkov is able to put some damage on Werdum early, that will go a long way towards him securing the victory. That being said, Werdum is a tall order for anybody in the heavyweight division thanks to his striking attack, as well as his world-class ground game. Werdum will be able to attack with more weapons because, unlike Volkov, he won't care one bit if this fight hits the floor. That's how Werdum can unleash knees from the clinch or kicks from the outside without fearing that he'll be taken down. Volkov cannot say the same and that takes away weapons on the feet, which could ultimately lead to his downfall.
Jimi Manuwa vs. Jan Blachowicz
Jimi Manuwa already holds a win over Jan Blachowicz from 2015, but now the light heavyweights will do it over again, with each of them attempting to take a step forward in the division.
Manuwa is coming off a disappointing loss in his last fight, so he will undoubtedly look to prove a point while fighting at home in England. Manuwa is a hard-hitting light heavyweight with enough power in his hands or feet to put anybody away with a single shot. Manuwa is at his best when he's able to control the offense by bullying his opponents around the Octagon without much fear of reprisal.
Blachowicz has definitely improved since the last time he met Manuwa, especially when it comes to his takedowns and ground work. Blachowicz averages just under two takedowns per fight with a 64 percent success rate, so that's one weapon he'll definitely look to use against Manuwa's powerful strikes. Blachowicz seems to have found his groove in recent fights by mixing together a strong striking game along with a balanced ground attack. He'll have to use both weapons if he hopes to survive Manuwa this time around.
Of course, Manuwa will undoubtedly look for the knockout, but is there a chance he's overlooking Blachowicz considering this is a rematch he already won the first time around?
Anything is possible, but Manuwa wants nothing more than to shine in front of a home audience and prove that he's still a future title contender. The only danger in that approach is overextending himself to allow Blachowicz to take advantage of his aggression. As long as Manuwa keeps that in check, he should be able to do enough damage over three rounds to earn a decision. Blachowicz has not been finished in any of his losses in the UFC so he definitely knows how to stick around until the final bell, and this time around he may survive, but Manuwa remains the pick to win the fight.
Prediction: Jimi Manuwa by unanimous decision
Danny Roberts vs. Oliver Enkamp
Danny Roberts has always been a “go big or go home” kind of fighter since joining the UFC and it's not likely he's going to suddenly change his ways while getting ready for a showdown against baby-faced welterweight Oliver Enkamp.
Roberts has only gone to a decision once during his UFC career because he's always gunning for the finish. Now that attitude certainly makes for an exciting fight, but it can also sometimes leave him in precarious positions while trading shots with an opponent on the feet. Roberts lands over four significant strikes per minute, but he also absorbs almost exactly the same amount in return. That's a dangerous game plan, but Roberts has more wins than losses so it's worked quite often during his career.
As for Enkamp, he'll make his second appearance in the UFC after putting on a show in his debut fight against Nordine Taleb. Enkamp may have been a late notice replacement for that fight, but he showed off a ton of heart and skill over the course of three rounds. This time around, Enkamp will have a full training camp to prepare while looking to get his first UFC win.
Enkamp is a strong striker with a solid ground game to match. Enkamp is slick on the mat if he can latch onto an opponent and begin applying his Brazilian jiu-jitsu game. There's a good chance he may try to employ that tactic in this fight to avoid the bombs that Roberts will be dropping over all three rounds. If Enkamp can drag this fight to the mat, he'll definitely have some advantages, especially if he can capitalize on a mistake from Roberts.
As good as Enkamp might be, Roberts still seems to be slightly better, especially if he's able to keep this fight standing. Enkamp struggled with his defense on the feet in his UFC debut and it won't take much for Roberts to begin pouring on the punishment if the Swedish fighter shows any signs that his defense hasn't improved in his second UFC fight. Enkamp will be hard to put away and Roberts always swings for the fences, so whether this goes one round or three rounds, it should be a potential show stealer.
Prediction: Danny Roberts by TKO, Round 3
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.
Tom Duquesnoy vs. Terrion Ware
Top prospect Tom Duquesnoy will look to get back on track after suffering a loss in his last fight as he takes on always-tough bantamweight Terrion Ware.
Ware has definitely been handed a rough road since arriving in the UFC, with a pair of fights against Cody Stamann and Sean O'Malley, and this time around, he will step into another very tough matchup against Duquesnoy. Make no mistake about it, Ware is a rugged customer who actually lands more significant strikes on average than his opponent. Ware will also enjoy a three-inch reach advantage, so keeping Duquesnoy at a distance will be a key weapon for him in this fight.
As for Duquesnoy, he's an offensive machine with blistering strikes on the feet and a very slick ground game to boot. It's likely Duquesnoy will try to keep this fight standing, where he will look to outclass Ware with his technique and punching power. Duquesnoy is a master at putting pressure on his opponents and overwhelming them over the course of a fight.
Chances are that Duquesnoy will have a chance to do that yet again in this fight, as Ware is absorbing nearly eight significant strikes per minute, with only 42 percent defense on the feet. That spells disaster against an offensive juggernaut such as Duquesnoy, who will certainly pick up the pace if he smells blood in the water in this bantamweight barnburner.
Prediction: Tom Duquesnoy by TKO, Round 3
Ankalaev is well known as one of the best European fighters in the world at 205 pounds, and he will look to shine in his first fight inside the Octagon. Ankalaev fights with a classic Muay Thai style on the feet but does his best work on the ground, where he's very good at taking opponents to the mat from inside the clinch. Ankaleev is smart with his takedowns and then he can unleash some vicious ground and pound from inside the guard of his opponents.
Ankalaev definitely has the striking to deal with a fighter like Craig, but his best weapon will be taking the Scot down and then just punishing him with powerful shots on the mat.
Now Craig obviously has that UFC experience under his belt, so that will help him if Ankalaev shows even the slightest bit of nervousness in those first few minutes. Craig has power in his punches and a slick ground game that could surprise the newcomer if he's showing any sort of timidity in his debut.
Still, Ankalaev could be a future top 10 contender in this division if he continues to develop the skills that got him a call from the UFC in the first place. Ankalaev may get off to a bit of a slow start, but once he figures out Craig's patterns on the feet, look for him to get inside, take this fight to the ground and unleash hell.
Prediction: Magomed Ankaleev by TKO, Round 2
Leon Edwards vs. Peter Sobotta
After four wins in a row, Leon Edwards will look to make it five when he takes on Polish submission specialist Peter Sobotta.
Edwards has looked better than ever in his most recent performances, as he took out several tough opponents at 170 pounds, including Bryan Barberena, Vicente Luque and Albert Tumenov. Edwards is a very well rounded fighter who has solid pop behind his punches on the feet and a good ground game to match. Edwards lands with good accuracy with his boxing while often mixing in a takedown or two to keep his opponents off balance.
Sobotta isn't going to just roll over and play dead in this fight, because he's earned wins in his past two in a row while continuing to show improvements with each performance. Sobotta will more than likely try to drag Edwards to the mat, where he can apply his best weapon with submissions on the ground, but that will be no easy task, as the British welterweight isn't easy to get down.
Look for Edwards to counter Sobotta's takedowns and then unleash a barrage of strikes on the feet. Edwards is a very strong fighter so he should be able to avoid Sobotta's wrestling, and then his offensive output on the feet may just be too much over the course of three rounds.
Prediction: Leon Edwards by TKO, Round 3
Stevie Ray vs. Kajan Johnson
Scottish fighter Stevie Ray steps in on short notice to face off with former Ultimate Fighter competitor Kajan Johnson, who has recently put together a three-fight win streak that includes a vicious knockout over Adriano Martins in his last fight. Plus, Johnson has been preparing for a fight with a full training camp while Ray has been out of action since last July and accepted this matchup on short notice.
While it's not an ideal situation, Ray still presents a tough matchup for Johnson, with a solid overall game with good striking and an underrated submission skill set as well. Perhaps Ray's best weapon in this fight is his ability to keep things close no matter where the fight goes. Obviously Ray is at a certain disadvantage because he took this fight on short notice, but he's always found a way to nullify his opponents' best weapons and he'll look to do that again this weekend.
Johnson will be a tough out even under optimal circumstances, as he is a veteran with a string of fights against top competition in his career. Johnson is deceptively powerful, especially on his feet, where he can finish this fight with one shot. Johnson isn't the flashiest striker, but he gets the job done with his hands. On the ground, Johnson is no slouch either, as he's averaging two takedowns per fight and he might just use that to keep Ray off balance or look to wear him out over three rounds, considering his foe took this fight on short notice.
Despite those disadvantages, Ray does possess the skill set to give Johnson problems on the feet or on the ground as long as he's at his best. Ray may not dominate, but he should be able to find a way to win rounds and that will add up at the end of the night when the judges render a verdict. Assuming Ray can avoid that big one-punch power from Johnson throughout the fight, he has a great chance of getting the win over 15 minutes in the Octagon.
Prediction: Stevie Ray by split decision