The Ultimate Fighter
The UFC returns to Canada this weekend with a stacked card headed to FOX that features a main event that could determine the next No. 1 contender in the welterweight division.
Former champion Robbie Lawler returned to his winning ways earlier this year and now he'll look to get back in the title picture with a win this weekend. It won't be an easy test, however, as former lightweight king Rafael Dos Anjos attempts to get his third win in a row since moving to 170 pounds as he inches closer to a shot at champion Tyron Woodley as well.
Also on the card, two powerful knockout artists prepare to clash as Santiago Ponzinibbio faces off with Mike Perry, while top 10 ranked light heavyweights Glover Teixeira and Misha Cirkunov square off in a pivotal matchup at 205 pounds.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll examine these fights and several more to see who has the edge going into Saturday's card and if there might be an upset or two brewing at UFC Fight Night: Lawler vs. Dos Anjos.
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.
Robbie Lawler vs. Rafael Dos Anjos
The main event on Saturday night is not only a potential No. 1 contender's bout but also one of the most intriguing welterweight matchups this year. Former champion Robbie Lawler has arguably the most vicious power of any fighter at 170 pounds while Rafael Dos Anjos not only possesses world class Muay Thai kickboxing but he's also one of the slickest submission specialists in the division.
Lawler will definitely have a few advantages on the feet, not the least of which will be his height and reach advantage over Dos Anjos. Lawler will have a whopping four-inch reach advantage, which will definitely help him because he's very dangerous when he can pick apart an opponent from the outside. Lawler lands with solid volume and accuracy, but obviously his power punches are where he's most dangerous and that reach advantage will be a huge weapon for him in this fight.
Dos Anjos is no slouch with his striking and he'll look to counter Lawler's reach with his blistering kicking game, which can absolutely tear down a fighter's foundation over the course of a five-round fight. Dos Anjos probably doesn't have to fear the takedown much from Lawler so he can let his kicks go as early and often as he wants. Of course, Dos Anjos will definitely have an advantage on the ground but his biggest problem will be taking the fight there if that's where he wants it. Lawler has defended nearly 72 percent of takedowns throughout his UFC career and that's while facing several high-level wrestlers, which doesn't bode well for Dos Anjos.
Of course as former champions, both Lawler and Dos Anjos have fought for five rounds, so conditioning shouldn't be a problem, but that all depends on who can do the most damage early on. Lawler is a machine when it comes to pouring on the punishment, especially when a fight stays standing and, given his defensive wrestling ability, there's a better than average chance he'll keep this fight on the feet. From there, it's just a matter of time before Lawler finds an opening to drop one of those sledgehammers he calls fists and Dos Anjos might be staring up at the lights wondering what just happened to him.
Mike Perry vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio
In what is almost guaranteed to be Fight of the Night, Santiago Ponzinibbio looks for his sixth win in a row while facing off with noted knockout artist Mike Perry in a huge matchup for the welterweight division.
Ponzinibbio has quietly worked his way into the rankings with a ferocious striking style that has earned him finishes in three of his past five wins while also showcasing patience and real technical prowess in his most recent fights. Training at American Top Team, Ponzinibbio works alongside some of the best coaches and training partners in the sport, including fellow strikers like Thiago Alves as well as top-notch wrestlers such as Colby Covington. Of course, Ponzinibbio is best known for his knockout power, but he's not afraid to the go to the ground if that's what it takes.
As for Perry, he's a savage with a thirst for knockouts racing through his blood. Perry is pure power and aggression and there's likely not a welterweight on the UFC roster that he can't finish with strikes. Perry might get a little wild at times but he actually lands nearly five significant strikes per minute with almost 46 percent accuracy, so there's a purpose behind every punch thrown. The only fight where Perry struggled is when he took on a very technical and patient striker in Alan Jouban, who refused to engage in wild exchanges with him on the feet.
Ponzinibbio has been drawn into those kinds of slugfests in the past, so he has to be careful because Perry is the last person on the UFC roster he wants to start gun slinging with in the middle of the Octagon. That being said, Ponzinibbio is the more refined striker, with good power, a diverse arsenal and a technical skill set that could pick Perry apart on the feet. If Ponzinibbio sticks to his game plan and doesn't get drawn into a firefight, he should be able to pick up the win.
Prediction: Santiago Ponzinibbio by unanimous decision
Two fighters trying to climb up the light heavyweight rankings meet in the featured prelim on Saturday night as Jan Blachowicz faces off with Jared Cannonier.
Cannonier has been a very interesting prospect at 205 pounds, with knockouts in two of his past three wins while still developing his own skill set as he grows with each and every fight in the Octagon. Cannonier has a ton of power in his hands, where he's racking up more than four significant strikes landed per minute with over 58 percent accuracy. Add to that, Blachowicz has struggled with his striking defense in the UFC and that could be disastrous against someone as strong as Cannonier.
Still, Blachowicz's defensive liabilities aside, he's shown to be an incredibly tough matchup for anybody in the light heavyweight division and he's faced off with a laundry list of top 10 opponents during his UFC career. The majority of Blachowicz's losses have either come against elite fighters like Alexander Gustafsson or opponents who were able to outwrestle him like Corey Anderson and Patrick Cummins. Blachowicz has feasted on opposition from outside the top 10 and he may be able to do the same this weekend as long as he stays away from Cannonier's powerful punches.
Look for Blachowicz to mix things up to keep Cannonier guessing. If Blachowicz can use a diverse striking attack mixed with a couple of takedowns, he could rack up a lot of points on the judges' scorecards, which will then lead to a victory once the fight is finished. Blachowicz seems to have more ways to win this fight and as long as he doesn't get caught by a power shot from Cannonier, he should be able to pull through with a victory.
Prediction: Jan Blachowicz 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.
Until just a few weeks ago, Ricardo Lamas was preparing for a rematch with former featherweight champion Jose Aldo, who was then pulled to face Max Holloway at UFC 218. Now Lamas faces Team Alpha Male fighter Josh Emmett, who steps up on short notice to accept this co-main event bout in his second fight at 145 pounds.
Emmett looked great in his featherweight debut, but he's undoubtedly taking a step up in competition this weekend, taking on a former title contender in Lamas. Emmett will certainly have some weapons in this fight, including some very strong hands that translated well from the majority of his career spent fighting at 155 pounds. Emmett hits with power and volume while also landing with solid accuracy as well.
Lamas will definitely be a tough test, however, as he brings with him a wealth of experience against the best fighters in the world at 145 pounds with wins against many of them. Lamas is a powerfully strong wrestler who averages just under two takedowns per fight while also showcasing very good submission skills on the mat. Lamas has also added a very good boxing game to his arsenal as he displayed in his last fight, where he tore through highly touted prospect Jason Knight by first-round TKO. While it's true that Lamas was preparing for a taller, stronger kickboxer in Aldo, he's enough of a veteran that the change of opponents shouldn't bother him much. Lamas is the consummate professional and he'll go out to handle his business no matter who he's facing. Lamas has only suffered losses to the best of the best in the featherweight division and this should be another chance for him to shine while this might be just a little bit too much, too soon for Emmett.
Prediction: Ricardo Lamas by unanimous decision
Abel Trujillo has definitely faced some ups and downs during his UFC career, but it's safe to say he's struggled the most while taking on heavy-handed grapplers with an emphasis on submissions. In fact, Trujillo's losses in the UFC have all come on the ground while facing some seriously elite competition, including Khabib Nurmagomedov, James Vick and interim champion Tony Ferguson. On the flipside, Trujillo has feasted on fighters willing to stand and trade with him and that's likely what he'll get this weekend with John Makdessi.
Makdessi is best known for his striking, and while he's no stranger to earning a knockout win, he's going to fighting an uphill battle against one of the most powerful punchers in the lightweight division. Makdessi has no fear trading hands with anyone, but it's also led to some devastating losses during his UFC career, including knockouts suffered to Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone and Lando Vannata. If Makdessi stands on the outside and starts trading shots with Trujillo, he might suffer the same fate this weekend.
Trujillo has a ton of power in his hands and if he's not worried much about the takedown, he'll unleash hell with every punch he throws this weekend. It all adds up to a tough fight for Makdessi to win, much less survive three rounds on the feet with Trujillo.
Prediction: Abel Trujillo by knockout, Round 2
Julian Marquez will make his official UFC debut this weekend after first being discovered as a prospect on Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series. Marquez may be an Octagon newcomer but he's faced some tough competition to get here, including his knockout over Phil Hawes, who was once touted as the next big thing when he was training alongside Jon Jones in New Mexico. Marquez is now 6-1 in his career and looks like the kind of fighter who will rack up a lot of bonuses and perhaps one day knock on the door of the middleweight rankings.
This weekend, Marquez will face off with Darren Stewart, who is still searching for his first UFC win after dropping his last two fights. Stewart has a wealth of experience but he just hasn't been able to translate his success outside the UFC into his performances inside the Octagon. That pressure to perform will be even greater this weekend as he tries to avoid three losses in a row. That all adds up to a very tough position for Stewart to be in while taking on a devastating finisher like Marquez.
Marquez not only swings with knockout power but he's also shown patience and precision during his career. Marquez can get a little wild at times but he's also surgical when he sees an opening to put an opponent away. If he fights to the best of his ability this weekend, Marquez might add another knockout to his resume and potentially kick off his UFC career with a performance worthy of a bonus. If it's anything like his win on the Contender Series, Marquez will be off to a great start.
Prediction: Julian Marquez by KO, Round 2
Glover Teixeira vs. Misha Cirkunov
Despite a higher spot in the rankings, former title challenger Glover Teixeira walks into his fight with top prospect Misha Cirkunov as an underdog this weekend and that's why he is an excellent upset pick for this card.
Teixeira is definitely coming off a tough loss after being finished by Alexander Gustafsson earlier this year, but the gritty Brazilian is as resilient as anybody in the UFC, so he'll undoubtedly look to shake that off with his performance this weekend. Teixeira is an incredible boxer with serious knockout power in his hands and he's also shown off his grappling skills in recent years when he decides to take a fight to the ground. This weekend, Teixeira will probably look to keep things on the feet with Cirkunov having three UFC wins by way of submission, but he certainly doesn't fear the ground in any way, shape or form.
Cirkunov is as good as advertised despite suffering a knockout loss in his last fight to current No. 1 contender Volkan Oezdemir. Cirkunov is a very strong light heavyweight fighter with good pop behind his punches and a world class grappling game that's going to be tough to deal with by anybody in the top 10. It will be interesting to see how Cirkunov approaches this fight considering he did get knocked out for the first time in his career in his last bout. Some fighters some back stronger, while others appear to be gun shy when trading punches directly after a knockout, and that could be a key to how this fight plays out.
If Cirkunov is tentative with his striking attacks, Teixeira will absolutely feast on him with a pressure-heavy style where he throws a barrage of punches looking for the knockout. While Teixeira has been blitzed by one-shot power in the past, his chin is typically one of his best weapons so he'll have no fear eating a punch to give back two or three of his own. We know Teixeira can take a punch and keep coming but that's a question we still have to answer about Cirkunov after the ending of his last fight. Those questions make this a tossup fight and that's why Teixeira could absolutely pull off the upset on Saturday night.
Prediction: Glover Teixeira by TKO, Round 3