Following a spectacular knockout in her return to the Octagon following a stint on "Dancing with the Stars," Paige VanZant will look to get her second win in a row as she fights in her adopted hometown of Sacramento against ultra exciting strawweight prospect Michelle Waterson.
VanZant and Waterson have both proven to be non-stop, action-packed fighters, so this five-round main event promises to be a thrill ride from start to finish.
Also on the card, after tapping out former WWE superstar CM Punk in September, Mickey Gall wasted no time calling out Sage Northcutt for a welterweight showdown. Gall got his wish and now he faces Northcutt in a welterweight bout live on FOX.
The card will also showcase Urijah Faber in his final fight as "The California Kid" calls it a career in front of his hometown fans while going up against heavy-handed striker Brad Pickett.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll examine some of the key fights on the upcoming card from Sacramento to see who has the edge and if there might be an upset brewing at FOX UFC Fight Night: VanZant vs. Waterson.
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.
Paige VanZant vs. Michelle Waterson
Since arriving in the UFC, Paige VanZant has remained one of the most enjoyable fighters to watch in the strawweight division, but what's been even more amazing to witness has been her evolution over the past couple years. While VanZant had to endure a lopsided thrashing from Rose Namajunas two fights ago, she never allowed that performance to deter her and she showed off some flashy new striking skills with a second round knockout over Bec Rawlings in her last trip to the Octagon.
VanZant has proven to be a pressure fighter in every sense of the world - whether she's attacking on the feet or mauling an opponent in the clinch, she's going to be aggressive from the start of this matchup until it's finished. VanZant lands over three and a half significant strikes per minute while also hitting her opponents with incredible accuracy at over 53 percent. Mix in an underrated ground game where she's taking her opponents down at just under two times per 15 minutes and it's impossible to predict where VanZant will want to keep this fight.
As for Waterson, she has a ton of veteran experience under her belt going into this matchup, with a dominant performance in her UFC debut in July of 2015. Unfortunately, Waterson has dealt with a lot of time off since then including a knee injury that prevented her from returning until more than a year later. That means Waterson will be dealing with some ring rust when she steps into the Octagon on Saturday night.
At her best, Waterson is a very effective striker with a slick submission game on the ground to match her kickboxing on the feet. To win her Invicta FC title, Waterson actually submitted fellow UFC fighter Jessica Penne, which is no easy feat considering her ground acumen as well. Waterson isn't the biggest fighter in the world for the strawweight division, but that should help her conditioning for a fight that could go as long as 25 minutes.
Where VanZant can take advantage is by pushing the pace in the early going to find out just how ready Waterson will be after a 17-month layoff. VanZant rarely slows down throughout her performances, which means Waterson won't get much time to knock the ring rust loose before she's fending off attacks from her opponent. By the time Waterson finally gets her edge back, VanZant could already be in complete control. Waterson has shown a tendency to put herself in bad situations for the sake of a better offensive position, but that can often backfire and that's exactly the kind of opening VanZant will look for to get the finish.
Prediction: Paige VanZant by TKO, Round 3
Sage Northcutt vs. Mickey Gall
Sage Northcutt has proven to be a flashy and fun fighter ever since arriving in the UFC by way of Dana White's series "Lookin’ for a Fight.” The same can be said for his opponent Mickey Gall, who has made his voice heard ever since challenging CM Punk on the same reality show before making good on his promise to tap out the former professional wrestler.
Northcutt will obviously enter this fight with more Octagon experience, but he will be giving up some size going to welterweight instead of his chosen division at 155 pounds. The key for Northcutt to negate the size difference is to use his speed and accuracy to hurt Gall on the feet. Northcutt is a very awkward striker with a karate background similar to top ranked welterweight contender Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson, which means he'll come at his opponents from odd angles with techniques that aren't typically seen that often in MMA.
Gall has said time and again that he's excited to show off his striking inside the Octagon, but that's probably not his best bet in this fight. Gall will enjoy a two-inch reach advantage over Northcutt, but toying with him on the feet could be hazardous to his health. On the flipside, Gall is a tremendous grappler with high-level submission skills and that's been one area where Northcutt seems woefully underdeveloped. As long as Gall doesn't try to prove something by standing and striking with Northcutt, he has to know taking this fight to the ground will be his best chance to get a victory.
While Gall will certainly look to test his striking skills during this fight, at some point expect the New Jersey native to swoop inside and work to get Northcutt to the ground. From there, Gall should maintain complete control, not only because he has tremendous grappling skills, but he will still enjoy his size and power advantage on the mat as well. While Northcutt has shown the ability to survive on the ground, Gall is incredibly active with his submission attack and if this fight hits the mat, it's only a matter of time until he latches on to some body part to put this one away.
Prediction: Mickey Gall by submission, Round 2
Urijah Faber vs. Brad Pickett
Urijah Faber will finish out his fighting career on Saturday night when he faces fellow veteran Brad Pickett in what promises to be a crowd-pleasing affair.
There's no doubt Faber will walk into the Octagon with the crowd behind him, but that kind of emotion can distract a fighter from the task at hand. That's not likely with Faber, who has competed at home before, although never with the kind of stakes like he'll have in his retirement bout against Pickett.
While Faber has suffered a couple of tough losses in a row, he still maintains one of the best records in history in non-title fights. Faber is an extremely well rounded fighter who is absolutely devastating whenever he gets into scrambles with his opponents on the feet or on the ground. Faber's best weapon is his unpredictability - especially when he's able to draw an opponent into an exchange on the ground, where he's wrapped up a ton of career submissions. Faber actually averages less than two takedowns per fight, but even getting into those scrambles against the cage or on the mat have led to him grabbing on to a guillotine choke or some other submission to finish a fight.
RELATED CONTENT: UFC Countdown - Faber vs Pickett | Warrior Code - Paige VanZant | Waterson enjoying having the butterflies return
Meanwhile, Pickett has some of the most powerful hands in the bantamweight division, with an equally deadly ability to catch an opponent during a wild exchange. Pickett has made a career out of those crazy striking exchanges, so he'll certainly look to draw Faber into a gun fight from the moment the referee says go. The more often Pickett can force Faber to stand in the center of the Octagon and just start swinging with him, the better chance he has to land a stinging punch to put this one away.
While Pickett definitely has a power advantage on the feet, Faber is still the better fighter in more situations. Faber has good enough boxing to stay out of trouble in those striking exchanges, while his wrestling and submission arsenal are top notch. If Faber can force Pickett into a few of those scrambles where he starts fishing for submissions or at least lands a couple takedowns, the momentum shifts in his direction in a major way. Of course, anything can happen in a fight, but it's still tough to pick against Faber in his retirement bout in front of his home crowd in Sacramento.
Prediction: Urijah Faber by unanimous decision
Eddie Wineland vs. Takeya Mizugaki
Two of the most experienced veterans on the UFC roster meet in this bantamweight matchup between Eddie Wineland and Takeya Mizugaki.
Throughout his career with the UFC and WEC, Wineland has gained a reputation as one of the nastiest knockout artists in the division, putting six different opponents away by knockout or TKO. Mizugaki, on the other hand, has proven to be one of the toughest fighters at 135 pounds, with a well-rounded skill set that includes technical striking on the feet and an underrated grappling game on the mat. Mizugaki's durability has continuously been one of his greatest weapons, but it can also be one of his biggest hindrances because he's happy to take a punch in order to return two of his own.
That strategy has backfired in the past against power punchers like Cody Garbrandt, and that's certainly a recipe for disaster against someone as heavy handed as Wineland. Where Mizugaki can take advantage of Wineland's power punching style is by hitting and moving before his opponent can land one of those sledgehammers on the feet. Mizugaki has shown great quickness in many of his fights and if he can get Wineland to start chasing, that opens up a ton of opportunity to counter him with strikes or takedowns.
Still, it's tough to see Mizugaki surviving an onslaught of punches if he just gets clipped with one hard shot. Wineland only needs a slight opening to drop in a knockout punch, and considering Mizugaki's tendency to get drawn into a fire fight, that doesn't bode well for him in this matchup. If everything plays out that way, Wineland and Mizugaki could be looking at a Fight of the Night award when this one is over.
Prediction: Eddie Wineland by TKO, Round 2
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.
Henrique da Silva vs. Paul Craig
Since arriving in the UFC, Henrique da Silva has looked like one of the best up and coming fighters at 205 pounds, and this weekend he'll take on fellow undefeated prospect Paul Craig.
Craig joins the UFC roster with a perfect record and a slew of finishes on his record. Unfortunately, Craig also comes into this fight with a ton of questions about how he'll deal with UFC level opposition and he didn't get any favors by drawing da Silva in his first fight. The Brazilian known as "Frankenstein" is a punishing force on the feet, where he's landing nearly seven significant strikes per minute since arriving in the UFC. Da Silva has also shown off a good ground game as evidenced by his last victory over Joachim Christensen, which saw him lock up a second round armbar to move his record to 2-0 inside the Octagon.
Craig has no problem exchanging on the feet or matching his submission skills against anybody on the ground, but that game plan could backfire in a big way against someone as strong as da Silva, who looks to be one of the best young fighters on the UFC roster. Da Silva is also a devastating finisher, so don't expect this fight to even come close to the final horn.
Prediction: Henrique da Silva by TKO, Round 2
Colby Covington vs. Bryan Barberena
Bryan Barberena hates that he's constantly viewed as the underdog in so many of his fights, but he's going to have to play that role again when stepping into the Octagon with top welterweight prospect Colby Covington this weekend.
While Barberena does enjoy a win over Warlley Alves, who is the only person to hand Covington a defeat during his career, this is still an uphill battle for the Arizona-based welterweight. Covington came into the UFC as a raw piece of clay while typically depending only on his wrestling skills to get him wins. Now under the tutelage of the coaches at American Top Team, Covington has turned into an animal on the ground, where he's not only outwrestling his opponents, but he's flat outmauling them.
Barberena is tough as nails, so he's not just going to fade away because Covington puts him into a bad position in the first round. But ending up on his back again and again over three rounds can be absolutely deflating to any fighter. Add to that, Covington will likely treat Barberena's face like a bag of nails with his two fists serving as hammers and that will definitely add up on the judges' scorecards. Barberena might survive until the fight is over, but he'll be wearing a lot of punishment on his face courtesy of Covington's heavy-handed ground-and-pound.
Prediction: Colby Covington by unanimous decision
Mike Perry has made quite the impression since first arriving in the UFC two fights ago. With a perfect 9-0 record, Perry has finished his first two opponents by knockout, which adds to his collection because he's put away every fighter he's faced by KO. In fact, Perry's last fight against Danny Roberts was the first time he had ever even seen the third round in any bout during his career.
So if Perry knocks out Alan Jouban, don't be shocked one bit.
That being said, Jouban is a nasty striker in his own right, with a few more technical skills than the brawler he's about to face on Saturday night. Perry tends to get a little wild with his combinations and that leaves him open for counter strikes, which is exactly what Jouban will need to win this fight. Jouban has an output similar to Perry on the feet, with arguably better technical kickboxing that could play to his favor if he stays smart while throwing his combinations. The worst thing Jouban can do, however, is stand in the pocket and just start winging punches with Perry, because that's not likely going to end well for him.
Still, Jouban has more Octagon experience against a higher caliber of opponent and Perry showed in his last fight against Roberts that he's still learning on the job when it comes to facing top flight UFC competition. As long as Jouban doesn't let the emotion of the fight draw him into a slugfest, he should be able to pick his shots against Perry before finding an opening to get the finish.
Prediction: Alan Jouban by TKO, Round 3