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UFC Copenhagen: Fight By Fight

Go inside the UFC Copenhagen fight card with this edition of Fight by Fight
JACK HERMANSSON VS. JARED CANNONIER

You’re going to think I’m lying, but this is my favorite fight of the month because it encapsulates so much of what I love about MMA.

A couple years ago, the idea of Hermansson and Cannonier battling to be on the short list of possible title challengers in the middleweight division was unthinkable, mostly because Cannonier debuted at heavyweight and was competing in the light heavyweight ranks until May 2018, but also because Hermansson had just pushed his UFC record to 4-2 and gotten back into the win column after losing to Thiago Santos with a come-from-behind win over Thales Leites.

That bout — Hermansson’s win over Leites — took place a week before Cannonier’s final light heavyweight appearance — a loss to unbeaten rising star Dominick Reyes — and since then, this weekend’s headlining duo are a combined 5-0 with both having registered wins over David Branch and followed it up with triumphs over Brazilian middleweight fixtures, Hermansson against Jacare Souza and Cannonier against Anderson Silva.

These are two competitors who simply needed to find their groove and start trusting in their talents. Cannonier has looked like a force since shifting to middleweight and Hermansson has shown that he’s capable of finishing with strikes or submissions or gutting one out to get the decision and it makes the first UFC main event in Denmark a tremendously compelling and pivotal matchup in the 185-pound weight class.
 

Inside the Octagon: Hermansson vs Cannonier
Inside the Octagon: Hermansson vs Cannonier
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GUNNAR NELSON VS. GILBERT BURNS

You have to appreciate the moxie Burns has shown over the last two months.

First, he stepped up on short notice and ventured to Uruguay, where he handed Aleksei Kunchenko the first loss of his professional career. Now, with Nelson needing a dance partner after Thiago Alves was forced out a couple weeks prior to show time, “Durinho” pursued the opportunity on social media, secured the fight and can turn himself into a welterweight contender with a second victory in six weeks.

But beating Nelson is no easy task, as the only men to do so in the last five years have either gone on to fight for welterweight gold (Demian Maia) or are on the cusp of doing so in the case of streaking contenders Santiago Ponzinibbio and Leon Edwards.

When he’s at his best, Nelson seamlessly blends his two background styles of karate and jiu-jitsu into a hard to predict attack that gives him all kinds of options in the cage. The veteran from Iceland is just as happy to strike as he is to engage on the ground, and this matchup with Burns should provide him with the chance to cement his standing as one of the best welterweights in the world.

OVINCE SAINT PREUX VS. MICHAL OLEKSIEJCZUK

With a new batch of potential contenders working their way up the divisional ladder, Saint Preux has become the measuring stick for those looking to take the next step in the light heavyweight division.

The former interim title challenger and longtime fixture in the 205-pound weight class has spent the better part of the last three years sharing the Octagon with hopefuls looking to usurp his place in the pecking order. Those who have gotten the better of him — Ilir Latifi, Reyes, and Nikita Krylov — all took another step forward, while those who could not — Corey Anderson, Tyson Pedro — were forced to regroup and try again.

Now it’s Oleksiejczuk’s turn, as the 24-year-old Polish fighter brings his 12-fight unbeaten streak into the cage this weekend in Copenhagen.

While his debut win over Khalil Rountree Jr. was later overturned and ruled a no contest, Oleksiejczuk has proven since his return to competition that he’s one to watch in the light heavyweight division. In his first two starts of the year, the streaking “Lord” has leveled Gian Villante and Gadzhimurad Antigulov in the first round, felling both with fantastic punch combinations.

Will OSP turn back another upstart who is not quite ready for prime time or will the Polish prospect push his winning streak to three and climb closer to cracking the Top 10 with a win in Denmark?

Must See Moments: Jared Cannonier
Must See Moments: Jared Cannonier
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ALEN AMEDOVSKI VS. JOHN PHILLIPS

Every card needs a couple fights where there are no divisional ramifications and the combatants have been paired off because the combination looks explosive on paper.

This is that fight.

Both Amedovski and Phillips are aggressive finishers who throw everything at full power, looking to land a single shot that ends things in a flash rather than chip away over the course of a couple rounds before finally wearing out their opponents and winning on the scorecards.

Phillips has gone 0-3 since arriving in the UFC, while Amedovski had his eight-fight winning streak snapped in his promotional debut in April, so each will be hungry to get their first victory in the Octagon, which should only ramp up the intensity in this one.

ION CUTELABA VS. KHALIL ROUNTREE JR.

While the scrap between OSP and Michel Oleksiejczuk is a little later in the evening, this one is no less significant in the light heavyweight division.

Cutelaba showed he was an entertaining addition to the division in his early losses to Misha Cirkunov and Jared Cannonier, but started morphing into a potential contender with impressive outings against Henrique da Silva and Gadzhimurad Antigulov. Though he lost to veteran Glover Teixeira last time out, Cutelaba had the Brazilian in a bad spot a couple of times during the contest and should only grow from sharing the cage with such an accomplished, experienced opponent.

Rountree Jr. has had an up and down run in the UFC, but everything is pointing up at the moment. Heading into his last outing, he was 3-3 with one no contest result in the Octagon and coming off a nasty looking loss to then newcomer Johnny Walker. But Rountree Jr. rebounded by showing the investment he made in moving to Thailand was worth it as he put on a clinic against Eryk Anders at UFC 236.

Light heavyweight is undergoing some changes at the moment and the winner of this one could get thrust into the mix in the lower half of the Top 15, especially if it produces a highlight reel finish like many anticipate it will.

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MACY CHIASSON VS. LINA LÄNSBERG

With Tatiana Suarez having fully graduated to title contender status, Chiasson inherits the mantle as the most intriguing emerging talent on the female side of the roster and now the recent TUF winner gets her toughest test to date in a road game against Länsberg in Denmark.

Länsberg has alternated wins and losses throughout her six-fight run in the UFC, but she’s only lost to tough competition, including former champ Cris Cyborg, former title challenger Yana Kunitskaya, and prospect Aspen Ladd, whom she pushed hard early. Last time out, “The Elbow Queen” earned the biggest win of her career, collecting a unanimous decision win over former Invicta FC champ Tonya Evinger, and now she looks for her first two-fight winning streak in the UFC just across the Øresund Bridge from where she trains in Malmo, Sweden.

It’s difficult not to sound too high on Chiasson because she’s still relatively young in her career and a lot can change with each step up in competition, but thus far, the Fortis MMA representative is a perfect 6-0 in her career and each of her three Octagon appearances to date has been more impressive than the last.

She won the featherweight competition on Season 28 of The Ultimate Fighter by choking out veteran Pannie Kianzad, then smoked Gina Mazany in under two minutes in her return to the bantamweight ranks. Last time out, she absolutely mauled Sarah Moras, and now she gets her toughest test to date in a bout that could carry her to even greater opportunities in 2020 if she’s successful.

ALESSIO DI CHIRICO VS. MAKHMUD MURADOV

Originally scheduled to face German veteran Peter Sobotta, Di Chirico will instead welcome Muradov to the UFC in this middleweight contest.

Coming off a unanimous decision loss to Kevin Holland in June that left many, including Di Chirico himself, surprised by the verdict, the Italian veteran will likely be more fired up than normal heading into this one. Though the scorecards could certainly be scrutinized, the biggest takeaway from the 29-year-old should have been that he needs to remain aggressive at all times.

That’s what makes this matchup with Muradov intriguing — at least to me — because while some will view it as a fight Di Chirico should be able to cruise through given that he has the benefit of a full training camp and something to prove after his last outing, Muradov brings a wealth of experience, zero pressure and an 11-fight winning streak with him into this one.

He’s beaten former UFC competitors in consecutive outings and has finished the majority of his wins inside the distance, making the 29-year-old a compelling new addition to the roster and a dangerous threat against Di Chirico on Saturday.

ALEX OLIVEIRA VS. NICOLAS DALBY

This one made my collection of my favorite fights on tap for September back at the start of the month and my excitement about it has only increased since then.

First and foremost, Oliveira is entertaining from the second he walks through the curtains in the back until the final verdict is rendered, dancing his way to the cage and delivering non-stop action once the cage door closes.

Secondly, Dalby is returning to the UFC in his home country and does so on a four-fight unbeaten streak. He has always been a tough out, but he’s seemingly upped the ante over his last four fights and I, for one, am all the way in on this comeback.

Lastly, I just think it’s going to be an electric atmosphere when Dalby makes the walk to the Octagon in Copenhagen and those kinds of moments are must-see TV to me.

MARK O. MADSEN VS. DANILO BELLUARDO

While Dalby is certainly a bigger name in MMA circles, it’s entirely possible that the biggest pop of the night goes to Madsen, a three-time Olympian who won a silver medal in Greco-Roman wrestling for Denmark at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

He only made the full-time transition to MMA following his last Olympic appearance, but has amassed six wins since the start of 2018 to push his record to 8-0 heading into his Octagon debut. Although he’s already 35, Madsen has the kind of truly world-class experience on the wrestling mats that could help him make a quick and successful transition to the biggest stage in the sport.

Belluardo had his six-fight winning streak snapped in his UFC debut earlier this year, but getting that first trip to the Octagon out of the way is sure to make Saturday’s sophomore appearance easier. Long and tall for the lightweight division, the Italian has shown an ability to finish with strikes or submissions and it will be interesting to see if he’s able to catch Madsen while he’s caught up in the moment of making his UFC debut in his home country.

SIYAR BAHADURZADA VS. ISMAIL NAURDIEV

This is a sneaky-good fight that feels like it’s flying under the radar.

While injuries have limited Bahadurzada to just three appearances in the last three years, “Siyar the Great” can always be counted on to bring the thunder and have you sitting on the edge of your seat the entire time he’s inside the cage. He’s a finisher through and through and only needs to land one clean shot to change the entire complexion of a fight.

Naurdiev opened a lot of eyes with his debut win over Michel Prazeres in Prague this past February, but then he stumbled in his sophomore outing against Chance Rencountre at UFC 239. Making a relatively quick turnaround to face Bahadurzada, the confident 23-year-old gets the chance to get back into the win column against his most established and experienced opponent to date and potentially close out his rookie campaign back on the short list of prospects to pay close attention to going forward in the welterweight division.

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MARC DIAKIESE VS. LANDO VANNATA

With the understanding that matchups always shift once the action starts and there is no way to guarantee how a fight is going to play out, on paper, this is one of those fights that gives you visions of Street Fighter come to life in the cage vibes.

Both men have hit “are you kidding me?” finishers inside the Octagon already — Diakiese against Teemu Packalen, Vannata opposite John Makdessi — and after each got back into the win column earlier this year, these two inventive, creative, entertaining martial artists should be back to their free-flowing, organic offensive ways on Saturday night in Denmark.

This is one early fight you’re going to want to make a point of seeing because given their respective track records, there is a very good chance something funky happens in this one.

NOHELIN HERNANDEZ VS. JACK SHORE

If you know me, you know I love prospects and newcomers, so that should give me some credibility with you when I say that Shore is one of my favorite prospects to arrive in the UFC in some time.

“Tank” is perfect in 23 trips into the cage, winning a dozen straight as an amateur before going 11-0 as a pro, capped by a third-round submission win over Scott Malone last time out to successfully defend his Cage Warriors bantamweight title. The Welshman doesn’t know what it’s like to lose and he fights in a manner that suggests he has no interest in finding out, which makes him a tremendous addition to a division that is already brimming with young, exciting fighters.

Hernandez made his UFC debut on short notice back in July, landing on the wrong side of a second-round submission loss at UFC 239. Now with the benefit of a full camp, the California native, who has spent this camp preparing at Tiger Muay Thai, looks to get back to the form that earned him four straight wins and victories in six of his previous seven prior to stepping up against Marlon Vera during International Fight Week.

GIGA CHIKADZE VS. BRANDON DAVIS

Initially pegged as a replacement for Danny Henry opposite Mike Davis, Chikadze will instead make his UFC debut against Brandon Davis after “Beast Boy” was forced out of the matchup with an injury of his own.

The 31-year-old Chikadze is a former kickboxer who has slowly been making the transition to mixed martial arts. After losing his debut all the way back in 2015, Chikadze rattled off five straight wins to earn a chance to compete on the Contender Series last summer, only to get submitted in the final minute of his bout against Austin Springer. Since then, Chikadze has responded with consecutive first-round stoppage wins to push his record to 7-2 heading into this weekend.

Davis earned his way into the UFC with an entertaining win over Austin Arnett on Season 1 of the Contender Series and has been in nothing but entertaining fights since. Though the results haven’t always been there, Davis always brings the goods on fight night and this short-notice pairing with Chikadze should kick off Saturday’s card with a bang.