As the UFC returns to Sweden this weekend, the main event pits two of the top light heavyweights in the world together in a matchup that could determine the next No. 1 contender in the division.
Alexander Gustafsson has long clamored for a second shot at either Jon Jones or Daniel Cormier and he could earn that opportunity if he can pick up a win while competing in front of his home country fans. The same could be said for Glover Teixeira, who fell to Jones in his only UFC title fight, but the Brazilian veteran always seems to be just a win or two away from another crack at the belt.
In the co-main event, two of the most promising prospects in the 205-pound division face off when Misha Cirkunov looks for his fifth straight win inside the Octagon as he takes on Volkan Oezdemir, who made an impressive debut with a victory over former title contender Ovince Saint Preux back in February.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll examine these matchups and several more to see who has the advantage, who looks like a guaranteed winner and who might be primed for an upset at UFC Fight Night: Gustafsson vs. Teixeira.
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.
Alexander Gustafsson vs. Glover Teixeira
There's not much to say that hasn't already been said about Alexander Gustafsson and Glover Teixeira as they prepare to meet for the first time in the main event. Gustafsson has been a perennial contender since he arrived in the UFC, while Teixeira came into the promotion with a ton of hype after building a very impressive win streak outside the Octagon.
Now both fighters have shown more variety in their offense in recent fights, with Gustafsson and Teixeira testing the ground game more than in almost any other previous performance.
Following a five-round war with Jon Jones and another with Daniel Cormier, Gustafsson may have figured out that a diverse attack may be the best path to victory. Gustafsson is a long, rangy striker with power in his hands and feet, but he also showed off some much improved wrestling and ground control in his last fight against Jan Blachowicz. Gustafsson may want to keep that game plan handy while facing a knockout artist like Teixeira.
While Teixeira largely used his ground arsenal to topple Jared Cannonier in his last fight, the veteran light heavyweight is best known for overwhelming his opposition with sheer brutality on the feet. Teixeira has shown an iron jaw and a willingness to slug it out with anybody on the feet. That could benefit him in this fight, considering Gustafsson will enjoy a three-inch reach advantage, but if Teixeira can draw him into a brawl, that distance could go away in a hurry.
On the flipside, Gustafsson's range and ability to either take this to the ground or avoid the takedowns could be a major factor in his ability to win the fight. Gustafsson could probably stand on the outside and do his best to pick Teixeira apart on the feet, but the Brazilian has struggled in the past when opponents are resigned to take him to the mat. Gustafsson could look for a couple of early takedowns just to get in Teixeira's head, and that could dramatically alter the course of this matchup. Of course, Teixeira won't go away easy, so Gustafsson better be ready to go all 25 minutes if that's what it takes to get the job done.
Prediction: Alexander Gustafsson by unanimous decision
The welterweight matchup between Peter Sobotta and Ben Saunders could be a potential show stealer, with both of these fighters capable of fireworks.
Sobotta has gone 3-1 during his most recent stint with the UFC, including a unanimous decision win over Nicolas Dalby in his last outing. Sobotta is a well-known grappler who holds a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu while also averaging more than two takedowns per 15 minutes in the Octagon. Sobotta isn't well known for his striking, but he does manage to show flashes of his kickboxing whenever it's necessary to fight on his feet.
As for Saunders, he's an equally impressive grappler, but he definitely has the better striking out of these two fighters. Saunders is an imposing physical presence at welterweight thanks to long arms and legs which come in handy during almost all of his fights. Saunders has developed a nasty Muay Thai striking game, complete with elbows and knees, and then he couples that with his slick submission arsenal and it makes him a tough out for anybody at 170 pounds.
Where Saunders has to be careful with Sobotta is not getting taken down and then being locked under him for three straight rounds. Saunders has a nasty guard game that's put more than a few fighters away, but playing on the ground is exactly what Sobotta will likely look to do. As for Saunders, he has a big advantage on the feet with a two-inch reach advantage and far more experience outstriking his opponents. Sobotta doesn't exactly have the best striking defense either, so that could be a big opening for Saunders to take advantage of.
While Sobotta certainly has the ability to take Saunders down and grind him into the mat, the American Top Team veteran just has more ways to win. Saunders has a nasty arsenal on the feet and he's just as dangerous on the ground. One way or another, Saunders will likely find an opening to put Sobotta away before the final bell.
Prediction: Ben Saunders by TKO, Round 3
If there's an early pick for Fight of the Night, it has to be this middleweight matchup between Jack Hermansson and Alex Nicholson. Both of these fighters like to throw heavy leather and usually don't stop until the fight is over or the final horn has sounded.
Hermanssson is a volume striker landing more than 4.6 significant strikes per minute with nearly 50 percent accuracy through his first two UFC fights. Hermansson has also shown surprising defense while stopping nearly 66 percent of the strikes against him on the feet. Now that could be a significant advantage because Nicholson mirrors Hermansson in his own offensive output, but his defense has struggled at times while competing in the UFC.
Nicholson has shown just a shade over 50 percent striking defense while absorbing over four significant strikes per minute. Of course, Nicholson is more than capable of mounting his own offensive flurries, but he rarely blocks the shots that are coming back at him and that could be disastrous against a fellow power puncher like Hermansson.
Add in that Nicholson has yet to attempt a takedown in the UFC, so that's one area Hermansson probably won't have to worry much about. That being said, Nicholson still hits like a truck, with a whopping 86 percent career finishing rate by knockout. It doesn't take much for Nicholson to slip one punch through that could change the course of this fight in a hurry. Still, given Hermansson's similar skill set, combined with a much better defense on the feet, and it's likely the Swedish-born middleweight will get the win in front of his home country crowd.
Prediction: Jack Hermansson 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.
Misha Cirkunov vs. Volkan Oezdemir
Through his first four fights in the UFC, Misha Cirkunov has looked like a future champion, and he'll get another chance to showcase that ability this weekend in Sweden. Of course, Cirkunov will face off with another top 10 fighter, as Volkan Oezdemir looks for his second win in the UFC after an impressive debut earlier this year.
Oezdemir is a strong striker who landed with great volume and showed very good takedown defense in his fight with former title challenger Ovince Saint Preux. Oezdemir is a long, rangy striker who averaged over five significant strikes landed per minute against Saint Preux, but he also absorbed over five strikes in return from his opponent. Now Oezdemir did showcase very solid takedown defense over three rounds, and he'll need that again while facing Cirkunov.
Cirkunov is the definition of a modern mixed martial artist, with heavy hands as well as a nasty submission arsenal on the mat. Cirkunov lands nearly four significant strikes per minute and then shows incredible defense while absorbing just over two strikes in return. Add to that, Cirkunov averages nearly five takedowns per fight with over 56 percent accuracy. Once Cirkunov gets his opponents to the mat, it seems like only a matter of time before he wraps up some sort of submission to get the finish. Cirkunov has been a finishing machine since arriving in the UFC, and this could be another showcase for him.
Look for Cirkunov to put this fight on the ground before looking for a wide range of submissions as he attempts to earn his fifth straight finish in the UFC.
Prediction: Misha Cirkunov by submission, Round 2
A matchup of two great grapplers goes down on the prelims when Pedro Munhoz takes on Damian Stasiak in a bantamweight matchup.
Lately, Stasiak has really shown off his submission skills with a pair of finishes in the UFC, and it's likely he'll try to get this fight to the ground as well. Stasiak averages almost three and a half takedowns per fight and that's when he looks to out grapple his opposition. Unfortunately this weekend, Stasiak is running into an even better submission artist in Munhoz, who has wrapped up two finishes in a row while making his way into the top 15 at 135 pounds.
Munhoz is not only a dangerous ground practitioner, but he's worked tirelessly on his striking game as well while training under fighters such as Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida. There's a better than average chance that Munhoz might just look to beat Stasiak on the feet and never even let this fight hit the ground. Still, Stasiak might be determined to show off his grappling, but even that's a battle he may not be able to win because Munhoz is world class on the ground and he could easily wrap up a submission to get the victory.
Either way it's tough to pick against Munhoz as he looks to make another strong statement in the UFC's bantamweight division.
Prediction: Pedro Munhoz by submission, Round 2
Oliver Enkamp stepped up on short notice to accept a fight with Nordine Taleb this weekend and that's never an easy spot, even for a 7-0 prospect who may have been on the UFC's radar regardless of this last minute opportunity. Enkamp has put together an impressive record, finishing five out of his seven opponents with a variety of submissions and knockouts. Still, Enkamp has to face a very tough and gritty welterweight competitor in Taleb, who has been preparing for this fight for weeks.
Taleb has shown flashes of brilliance during his time in the UFC while picking up four wins along the way. Taleb is a punishing striker with real power in his hands, averaging over three significant strikes landed per minute. Taleb has also shown off great defense during his career with the UFC, which means he'll land a lot of shots without offering much of an opening for his opponents in return.
Taleb has a solid grappling game as well, with more than two takedowns on average per fight that he lands at a whopping 76 percent success rate.
The fact is, Taleb has been getting ready for a fight this entire time while Enkamp is stepping in with nothing to lose on short notice. That makes Enkamp dangerous but not enough to get past Taleb on Sunday.
Prediction: Nordine Taleb by unanimous decision
This middleweight matchup is another to keep an eye on during the prelims, with both Chris Camozzi and Trevor Smith in need of a win after recent setbacks.
Smith has gone 2-2 over his past four fights in the UFC while showing off a fairly well rounded arsenal that has seen him land nearly four significant strikes on the feet while he’s also showcased his grappling with just under two takedowns per fight. Smith is best known for his wrestling skills, but he's shown off much improved striking over the years while managing to land an incredible 58 percent of his punches and kicks on the feet.
Where Smith struggles is with his defense, where he's absorbing just under three strikes per minute while blocking just over 50 percent of his opponent's offense on the feet. That's like music to the ears of Camozzi, who is best known for his blistering array of strikes while standing. Camozzi outlands Smith on the feet in terms of overall volume, and he's got a background rich with kickboxing as he’s worked with a long list of the top strikers in the sport. Camozzi isn't known for his knockout power, but he adds up volume round after round while accumulating damage on his opponents.
Of course, Smith has a great equalizer if he can drag this fight to the ground, but if he can't out grapple Camozzi, he could get into trouble on the feet. Camozzi has a punishing style that could add up to a lot of strikes landed over three rounds and that could be enough to get him the win over Smith.
Prediction: Chris Camozzi by unanimous decision