Following a blockbuster trio of cards last weekend, the UFC will host one more title fight before the close of 2015, as lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos puts his belt on the line against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone this Saturday night in Orlando.
It's the first title defense for dos Anjos, who won the belt back in March after a five-round rout of Anthony Pettis. He actually holds a win over Cerrone from 2013, so there's no doubt Cowboy wants the title and he wants revenge.
Also on the card, former heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos is back in action as he takes on Alistair Overeem in a fight that's over three years in the making. Plus, lightweights Michael Johnson and Nate Diaz go to battle, and there’s a huge undercard featuring the featherweight debut of Myles Jury and a middleweight showdown between CB Dollaway and Nate Marquardt.
In today's fantasy preview, we are going to examine some of the key fights coming up this weekend to see who has the best shot of walking away a winner at FOX UFC Fight Night: dos Anjos vs. Cerrone.
More on Fight Night Orlando: Fight card | Jury determined to walk own path | Samman right at home after battling grief | AKA helps Edwards fight right mix for success | Usman's golden dream | Watch: Road to the Octagon – Dos Anjos vs. Cerrone | Watch: Road to the Octagon – Dos Santos vs. Overeem | Watch: Road to the Octagon – Johnson vs. Diaz
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 (-220 favorite) vs. Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone (+180 underdog)
The main event this weekend is actually a rematch of a fight that took place just over two years ago, as Rafael dos Anjos soundly defeated Donald Cerrone by unanimous decision during a stretch that saw the Brazilian go 8-1 over nine fights before winning the lightweight title. Can dos Anjos do the same thing again in a five-round fight?
Well, Cerrone will certainly do everything in his power to prevent that from happening, but he's got to come out of the gate quicker than he has in his last couple of fights or he could be down a couple of rounds before he wakes up against the champion. Cerrone is a vicious kickboxer with some of the most brutal kicks in the division, but he can be a notoriously slow starter and the last thing he can afford to do is to give up a big lead to dos Anjos early and hope he can land the knockout shot late in rounds four or five.
Cerrone has had plenty of time off to prepare for dos Anjos, which might throw off his timing just slightly considering he's been at his best when he's active, but the recent break has given his body time to heal after a rigorous stretch where he fought eight times in less than two years. Cerrone knows the mistakes he made the last time out with dos Anjos - most notably underestimating the Brazilian's power and striking, which was underrated at the time they met in 2013.
On the flipside, dos Anjos doesn't need to reinvent the wheel to beat Cerrone again, but rather duplicate his previous performance on a bigger scale. If you look at the statistics from their first fight, dos Anjos actually landed one less significant strike than Cerrone (40 to 39) but he was much more active, throwing 128 strikes compared to only 83 from his opponent. He needs to keep that work rate high again to force the lightweight contender off balance.
So who has the advantage?
Based on recent competition and performance, it's hard to go against dos Anjos, considering he's been prepared for five-round fights and ousted some of the best fighters in the division over the last couple of years. His only recent loss came to Khabib Nurmagomedov, who simply out grappled him for three rounds, and while that's no small feat, it's not likely Cerrone would attempt to employ the same strategy. If dos Anjos is healthy and ready to rumble come Saturday night, he just needs to keep his pace steady and his chin low and he should be able to hold on to the title via decision.
Prediction: Rafael dos Anjos by unanimous decision
Junior Dos Santos (-350 favorite) vs. Alistair Overeem (+285 underdog)
The co-main event between Junior Dos Santos and Alistair Overeem is a fight more than three years in the making after the two heavyweights were originally scheduled to meet all the way back in 2012 at UFC 146. A lot has changed since then, but these two fighters could be vying for a shot at the title with a win, so there’s a lot on the line Saturday night.
Dos Santos is coming off a war with Stipe Miocic from a year ago, where the former champion had to dig deep to pull off a close decision win while climbing back into the title picture. Dos Santos remains one of the best boxers in the entire sport, and at distance, there may not be a more dangerous fighter in the entire UFC. Dos Santos throws deadly combinations with speed and accuracy and if he has room to work, chances are he'll make anybody pay who decides to trade with him.
Overeem is a world-class striker in his own right and he also possesses some seriously underrated grappling skills, with a heavy top game and nasty ground-and-pound. On the feet, Overeem is most effective in close, where he can batter an opponent with his knees and short strikes and that bodes well for him against someone like Dos Santos, who would much rather keep him at arm's length. Overeem has to mix things up against Dos Santos because in a one-dimensional fight on the feet, it's hard for anybody in the world to go toe-to-toe with the Brazilian.
Dos Santos has to know that Overeem will want to get into the clinch with him, so if he can use his footwork and hand speed to avoid getting locked against the cage with the former K-1 kickboxing champion, he should be able to pick and choose his shots from the outside. Overeem has been rattled before on the feet when facing strong strikers and Dos Santos certainly qualifies as one of the best knockout punchers in the history of MMA. Dos Santos only needs one good punch to slip through and that's all she wrote.
Prediction: Junior Dos Santos by knockout, Round 2
Michael Johnson (-470 favorite) vs. Nate Diaz (+375 underdog)
Michael Johnson is a heavy favorite in his fight this weekend in Orlando, but make no mistake about it, Nate Diaz is one tough customer and he won't make this easy on the former Ultimate Fighter finalist.
Johnson has looked better than ever lately, putting together a string of victories that showcased his tremendous improvements on the feet. Johnson dominated a fight with Edson Barboza by out-striking the prolific knockout artist and that's no small feat. That being said, Johnson lost a close, controversial decision in his last fight against Beneil Dariush and he can't allow himself to go away from what made him the No. 6 lightweight in the world by trying to prove something in his fight against Diaz.
Diaz isn't going to hide what he does well - he moves forward with punches in bunches and possesses a slick jiu-jitsu game on the ground. Diaz will put together combinations and stick his fist in Johnson's face from the moment the referee says go. What Johnson has to do is not get drawn into a slugfest with Diaz while displaying strong footwork so he's not getting jabbed to death from the outside.
If Johnson can mix his strikes up and maybe even throw in a couple of takedowns, he'll be able to rack up points and win a decision. Johnson just has to avoid standing in front of Diaz while flat footed because that's a recipe for disaster. So as long as he's mobile and moving left or right and not front to back, Johnson should be able to land the necessary shots to keep Diaz off balance and avoid his accumulation of strikes over three rounds.
Prediction: Michael Johnson by unanimous decision
Myles Jury (-120 favorite) vs. Charles Oliveira (+100 underdog)
Myles Jury drops down to 145 pounds for the first time as he faces top 10-ranked fighter Charles Oliveira this weekend. Jury was on quite a run in the lightweight division before running into a buzzsaw named Donald Cerrone this past January, but if his weight cut goes well, he should be a tough out for anyone in the featherweight division.
That being said, Oliveira has a lot to prove in this fight coming off a disappointing outing in his last bout where he suffered a neck injury that caused him to lose to Max Holloway after one of the most impressive streaks of his career. Oliveira looked better than ever while winning four fights in a row en route to nearly tackling the top five in the division before falling to Holloway in August.
Oliveira has a lot of ways to win this fight, but his best strategy has to be attacking Jury on the feet and on the ground and never allowing the former Ultimate Fighter competitor to settle into a rhythm. Jury is best when he controls the pace of the fight, but if Oliveira can take that away by blitzing him with strikes or dragging him to the ground early and often, the momentum could shift towards the Brazilian in a hurry.
Considering this is Jury's first fight at featherweight and he's been off for nearly a year, Oliveira should be able to do enough to get the win as long as he's gotten past the disappointment of what happened in his last trip to the Octagon.
Prediction: Charles Oliveira 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.
Randa Markos (-175 favorite) vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (+155 underdog)
Newcomer Karolina Kowalkiewicz is an undefeated prospect, who might eventually make waves in the strawweight division, but she's fighting an uphill battle against Randa Markos this weekend.
Markos is the kind of fighter with the pedigree to one day challenge for the championship and now that she has a coach like Firas Zahabi in her corner while being mentored by fighters such as Georges St-Pierre and Rory MacDonald, the sky's the limit for this former Ultimate Fighter semifinalist. Markos is a powerfully strong wrestler with good submissions and underrated boxing. Kowalkiewicz is well rounded, but she's never faced anyone with a skill set similar to Markos and she'll find that out the hard way on Saturday night.
Look for Markos to put the pressure on early and she won't stop until she either snags a submission or ground and pounds her way to victory.
Prediction: Randa Markos by TKO, Round 3
CB Dollaway (-360 favorite) vs. Nate Marquardt (+300 underdog)
It's been a rough run for Nate Marquardt since returning to the UFC, where he's posted a 1-4 record over his last five fights, including back-to-back losses to Brad Tavares and Kelvin Gastelum. At one time, Marquardt was considered a top middleweight contender, but it seems those days have passed and he'll be facing a very tough challenge this weekend in CB Dollaway.
Dollaway has come up short in a couple key battles recently against Lyoto Machida and Michael Bisping, but the latter of those two matchups was a serious war and could have easily gone his way if not for a few key exchanges. Dollaway's confidence has been high lately and when you couple his wrestling with a much-improved striking game, he will likely give Marquardt nightmares wherever this fight takes place.
Look for Dollaway to pressure Marquardt from the opening bell and use a dirty boxing game to punish the UFC veteran from the inside before dumping him on the mat and continuing the assault on the ground. Unfortunately, Marquardt has just taken too much punishment to make it through another barrage like that and ultimately it should yield a victory for Dollaway on Saturday night.
Prediction: CB Dollaway by TKO, Round 2
Danny Castillo (+100 underdog) vs. Nik Lentz (-120 favorite)
Danny Castillo has been a victim of some really close decisions going the other way lately, but this fight seems to be the perfect way for him to get back on track as long as he doesn't allow Nik Lentz to just out wrestle him for three rounds. Lentz is actually moving back up from featherweight to take this fight and he's taking on a fellow wrestler with good power and great technique in all facets of the game.
Don't forget that Castillo gave Tony Ferguson his toughest fight during a recent stretch where he's now being touted as one of the best lightweights in the world and he could have easily picked up wins over both Edson Barboza and Jim Miller if one scorecard in one round had landed in his favor. Castillo's record doesn't dictate just how good he can be, and he'll look to showcase that against Lentz, who is a much more one-dimensional fighter who depends on his wrestling and clinch work to get the job done.
If Castillo can counter that attack, he can pick his shots, whether it's out wrestling Lentz or catching him with big punches from the outside. Castillo is more than capable of doing both and that should equal a win for the Team Alpha Male fighter.
Prediction: Danny Castillo by unanimous decision