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2016 will kick off with a spectacular title fight this weekend, as champion Robbie Lawler puts his welterweight belt on the line against former WEC king Carlos Condit in the main event of UFC 195.
Lawler is coming off one of the best fights of all-time when he defeated Rory MacDonald at UFC 189 in July, while Condit most recently took out former title contender Thiago Alves in impressive fashion in May. Now the two welterweight stars will meet in the Octagon with the championship up for grabs.
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Also on the card this Saturday in Las Vegas, Stipe Miocic and Andrei Arlovski go to battle, with the winner jumping to the front of the line for a potential heavyweight title shot. Miocic has been a top five-ranked fighter for most of the past year, but still hasn't fought for the gold as of yet. Meanwhile, Arlovski has enjoyed a career rejuvenation since returning to the UFC, scoring several impressive wins over the likes of Travis Browne and former champion Frank Mir.
In today's fantasy preview, we're going to examine some of the key matchups on the fight card to see who has the edge going into UFC 195: Lawler vs. Condit.
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 (-115 favorite) vs. Carlos Condit (-105 underdog)
Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit are obviously two of the best welterweights on the planet, but they are also well known for having some of the deadliest finishing power in the sport and that could play a huge part in who comes away victorious at UFC 195.
Lawler has a career 81 percent finishing rate thanks to some of the most vicious one-punch knockout power the sport has ever seen. Lawler lands his shots with just under 45 percent accuracy, so he's not just throwing blindly and hoping one of his punches find a home. Lawler is also tough as nails, as he showed in his last bout against MacDonald, where he took a mountain of punishment from the Canadian but still battled back to get the TKO victory.
While there aren't many fighters – if any – who can stand up to Lawler's power, his opponent this weekend might be the closest.
Condit has been a fearsome fighter for most of his career, and after suffering a knee injury against Tyron Woodley in 2014, he vowed to come back even better than before. Condit definitely looked the part in his last fight against Lawler's teammate Alves, as he was quick on his feet and absolutely punishing with his offense. Condit is similar to Lawler with the kind of brutality he dishes out while possessing a ridiculous 93 percent finishing rate over his 30 career wins. Where Condit differs from Lawler is with the variety and volume of his strikes.
Condit has leg kicks at his disposal as well as output that actually goes higher with each passing round. Those numbers are key in a title fight where both men are trained to go for 25 minutes. Condit not only pushes the pace for each round, but he actually mounts the pressure more and more as time ticks away.
Those advantages could give Condit the edge as the fight moves into the third round and beyond. Lawler is as dangerous as any fighter in the UFC, whether it's the first round or the last, but he has taken a lot of punishment in his last few bouts and that could bode well for Condit if he can stave off the champion's best shots and then fire off more and more of his own as the fight moves forward. If Condit can avoid Lawler's power shots and his wrestling, which is an underrated weapon he has in his arsenal, then the title might be changing hands when UFC 195 is over.
Prediction: Carlos Condit by TKO, Round 5
Stipe Miocic (-225 favorite) vs. Andrei Arlovski (+190 underdog)
Stipe Miocic and Andrei Arlovski will both try to earn a title shot with their performance this weekend, and all signs point to an epic heavyweight showdown between two prolific knockout artists.
Miocic has shown tremendous finishing power throughout his UFC career, and he's a master of volume-first striking, where he can punish an opponent over several rounds instead of just looking for the quick finish. His last fight against Mark Hunt had Miocic landing over 360 strikes, which set an all-time record for a heavyweight contest. Miocic has the fifth highest striking ratio in heavyweight history as well, landing just under five significant strikes per minute during his career.
Miocic will have to be careful, however, because he’s treading dangerous ground on the feet with Arlovski, who holds the record for the most knockouts in UFC heavyweight history with nine. Arlovski also has the second most knockdowns of any heavyweight in the UFC, which means he's more than capable of putting an opponent down multiple times throughout a fight.
So who has the edge in this battle of the big men?
Miocic has looked very impressive in all of his UFC fights, even the two that he ultimately lost, as he pushed former champion Junior Dos Santos to the breaking point but came out on the wrong end of a very close decision in his most recent defeat. Arlovski has looked better than ever since coming back to the UFC, but can he handle a heavyweight with equal power and the ability to push the pace further if the fight goes deep into the second or third rounds?
If this fight does make it out of Round 1, Miocic has an advantage, so he just needs to avoid Arlovski's power early and then start hammering away at the former UFC champion until he either gets the TKO victory or adds up enough points to win on the scorecards.
Prediction: Stipe Miocic by TKO, Round 3
Albert Tumenov (-205 favorite) vs. Lorenz Larkin (+175 underdog)
UFC 195 is stacked with fights that could all potentially steal the show, but one in particular to keep an eye on this weekend is the welterweight showdown between Albert Tumenov and Lorenz Larkin.
Tumenov has looked unstoppable lately as he's won four fights in a row – all of them by knockout or TKO. His one loss in the UFC was a close split decision, but since that time Tumenov has turned into a finishing machine, absolutely decimating his competition with some of the most vicious striking power we've ever seen in the division.
Larkin will be Tumenov's biggest test to date, as he has proven striking skills and the technical prowess to land knockout shots yet stay composed throughout the fight. Larkin has been incredible since dropping down to welterweight, where he's picked up two wins and two knockouts in row. Don't forget, Larkin has a win (at middleweight) over current champion Robbie Lawler, so he's no stranger to going toe-to-toe with the best fighters in the world in more than one weight category.
The key in this fight is Tumenov's unrelenting pressure, as he typically stalks his opponents across the cage and then blasts away at them with fight-altering power that very few people can withstand. Tumenov isn't just a bully when he pours on his offense because he can also throw hard combinations from the outside with blitzing power from any range. Larkin has plenty of striking prowess in his back pocket, but it only takes one glancing shot from Tumenov to finish anybody at 170 pounds and this is his chance to make a big statement with an impressive win at UFC 195.
Prediction: Albert Tumenov 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.
Brian Ortega (-230 favorite) vs. Diego Brandao (+190 underdog)
Brian Ortega might be one of the most promising prospects in the featherweight division following his last win over Thiago Tavares, but he'll have a stiff test ahead of him this weekend with former Ultimate Fighter winner Diego Brandao.
Ortega is definitely a name to watch in 2016 as he jumps back into the Octagon with an undefeated record and one of the most impressive arsenals of weapons in the division. Training out of the Black House gym, Ortega gets instruction from a slew of top fighters, including former champions Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida. Ortega has a stifling ground game with slick submissions from top and bottom and better than average striking on the feet.
Brandao is no cakewalk, so this won't be an easy fight for Ortega by any means, but he should have the better skill set overall to get the job done. Brandao's tendency to press forward at all times could put him in a dangerous spot with Ortega dragging this fight to the ground or catching him with heavy shots on the feet. Ortega just has to show patience and not get caught by a barrage from Brandao, but if he weathers the storm, it's only a matter of time before he puts this fight on the mat and takes the Brazilian into his world.
Whether that means a submission or just a stifling ground attack for three rounds is unclear, but Ortega has the goods and he's got a chance to show them in this matchup.
Prediction: Brian Ortega by unanimous decision
Michael McDonald (-550 favorite) vs. Masanori Kanehara (+425 underdog)
It's been a long while since Michael McDonald has fought in the UFC's bantamweight division, but make no mistake about it, he's still one of the best fighters in the world at 135 pounds and he'll show why in his fight against Masanori Kanehara.
McDonald has unreal power in his weight class and he doesn't even need to connect with a clean shot to put an opponent away. His time off from the sport came as a result of a nagging hand injury that continued to plague him during fights, but if surgery and the time off has treated him well, he'll be able to throw with vicious power and not worry about bones shattering again.
That's a scary prospect considering what McDonald has been capable of doing in the past when he couldn't trust his hands and still scored some nasty knockouts.
Kanehara is a real veteran of the sport, so he's not going to just stand in front of McDonald while waiting for the finishing shot to land. Kanehara is well versed on the ground and on the feet, but he's taking a decided step up in competition by facing McDonald this weekend. Kanehara's best bet is to take advantage of McDonald early while he's still trying to knock off the ring rust and find his timing. If he can't do that, McDonald will eventually find a home for one of his punches and that's all he'll need to put a stop to the fight.
Prediction: Michael McDonald by TKO, Round 2
Scott Holtzman (-160 favorite) vs. Drew Dober (+140 underdog)
There's never a shortage of great fighters at lightweight, but one person to keep an eye on this weekend is Tennessee native Scott Holtzman, as he makes his second appearance in the Octagon after an impressive debut last August. Holtzman is a specimen at 155 pounds, with knockout power in both hands and an underrated ground game at his disposal as well. Holtzman has also supplemented his training by working with the coaches at the MMA Lab, which is the same team responsible for former lightweight champion Benson Henderson.
Drew Dober is a tough customer with plenty of pop in his punches to counter Holtzman, and he’s teamed up with the Elevation Fight Team, where he's working alongside bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw and top 10-ranked welterweight Matt Brown. It's still a tough road ahead for Dober, who likes to trade punches with his opponents, and that could eventually backfire against someone as powerful as Holtzman.
Holtzman seems like the kind of fighter who could be knocking on the door of the top 15 in the next year to 18 months and this is his chance to pick up a second win in the UFC while knocking off a veteran along the way.
Prediction: Scott Holtzman by TKO, Round 3
Dustin Poirier (+160 underdog) vs. Joe Duffy (-185 favorite)
The featured fight on UFC FIGHT PASS this weekend might actually be one of the toughest on the entire card to pick a winner in, but if you're looking for an underdog to pull out a win, Dustin Poirier could be the best bet in his fight against Irishman Joe Duffy.
The two fighters were poised to face off in Ireland in October until Duffy suffered a blow in training that resulted in a slight concussion. Doctors advised him against competing so soon, so the fight was postponed until this weekend.
Poirier has looked like a brand new man since leaving the featherweight division to compete at 155 pounds. He's fast, powerful and in much better condition now that he's not depleting his body in the days and weeks leading up to a fight. Poirier has spoken openly about how much of his past camps were spent just focusing on getting down to weight rather than actually working to get better. Now he no longer has that problem and Poirier is a real threat at 155 pounds.
Now with all that said, Duffy has been nothing short of incredible since coming to the UFC. He has tremendous boxing skills – some of the best in the division – and Duffy isn't afraid to go to the ground with anybody either. Duffy has also become a permanent part of the Tristar gym in Montreal, where he's working with coach Firas Zahabi, as well as Georges St-Pierre and Rory MacDonald, so he's certainly got a who's who list of names to train with on a daily basis.
Bottom line, Poirier is more than capable of landing one shot to finish an opponent, but usually his knockouts come at the end of a blistering barrage, and if Duffy gets caught with any number of those punches in a combination, it could spell doom for him on Saturday night.
Prediction: Dustin Poirier by TKO, Round 3