The UFC embarks on a trip to Austin, Texas this weekend for a card featuring a welterweight main event pitting Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone against Yancy Medeiros in what guarantees to be a crowd-pleasing affair.
Cerrone has suffered through some tough losses in recent months, but the former title challenger doesn't understand the meaning of a boring fight and that won't likely change this weekend. Meanwhile, Medeiros has picked up three wins in a row including a Fight of the Night award in his last trip to the Octagon.
Also on the card, Derrick Lewis will look to re-establish himself in the heavyweight rankings when he takes on Marcin Tybura in the co-main event.
Local favorite James Vick will also get back in action as he faces off with veteran lightweight contender Francisco Trinaldo on the main card.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll examine these fights and several more to see who has the edge going into Saturday night and if there might be a matchup primed for an upset at UFC Fight Night: Cerrone vs Medeiros.
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.
Derrick Lewis vs Marcin Tybura
It's been a long road back to the Octagon for Derrick Lewis after he suffered a loss to Mark Hunt in his last fight before being forced out of his last scheduled bout due to a recurring back injury that has haunted him for the past few years. Now Lewis hopes to remind the heavyweight division why he was on a long winning streak prior to that setback when he faces Marcin Tybura this weekend.
Now Lewis will probably benefit right away from this being a three-round fight, as he won't need to pace himself nearly as much as he has after being scheduled for a couple five-round main events. Lewis has shown solid conditioning, but he's a highly dangerous fighter when he's able to exert all of his energy looking for the knockout and that's undoubtedly what he'll do in this matchup as well. Lewis hits like a truck whether the fight is on the feet or on the ground, and he'll definitely look to display that power in this matchup.
Now Tybura will present a lot of challenges for Lewis, as he's a solid, well-rounded mixed martial artist with good striking and a better than average ground game as well. Tybura won't blow anybody away with his fight finishing power or dazzling grappling, but he does everything well and that makes him a tough matchup. Tybura matches Lewis in output and accuracy on the feet, but he may look to put the Texas native on the ground to negate some of that power he possesses. Tybura has shown solid takedowns in the past while averaging at least one per fight and that might be his strategy this time around to put Lewis down and not let him back up.
That being said, Lewis thrives in those scrambles on the ground, especially if he's the one landing on top. Lewis generates so much power in those exchanges that he may only need a few glancing blows to put Tybura away if the Poland native makes a single mistake during this fight. Lewis is especially dangerous if he's in a dominant position on the ground and that will be the absolute last place Tybura will want to find himself on Saturday night. Either way, Lewis will be looking to make a statement and he should be able to do that with a strong performance on Saturday night.
Prediction: Derrick Lewis by TKO, Round 2
James Vick vs Francisco Trinaldo
James Vick will look to build on his recent three-fight win streak when he takes on always-tough lightweight competitor Francisco Trinaldo this weekend.
Vick has proven to be one of the toughest outs in the lightweight division while posting an 8-1 record since first appearing on The Ultimate Fighter. Vick is a long, rangy fighter standing 6-foot-3 inches tall, which will be a size advantage in almost every matchup he takes at 155 pounds. Vick is a punishing striker with an aggressive attack that can often overwhelm the opposition. He lands over four significant strikes per minute with solid accuracy so he's constantly moving forward and looking to pour on the punishment no matter who he's facing.
Trinaldo will present an interesting matchup because he will definitely be giving up a lot of size and reach, but he's incredibly tough to deal with inside, which is where he'll probably look to go for the majority of this fight. Trinaldo is a top-notch grappler but comes from a kickboxing background, so he never shows fear while striking with an opponent. In this matchup, Trinaldo will probably look to work his clinch game while trying to hurt Vick to the head and body whenever he can dip inside that long reach from the Texan. Trinaldo likes a gritty fight so he'll definitely try to come at Vick from a lot of different angles until he finds an opening.
That being said, Vick will definitely make Trinaldo pay any time he attempts to get inside. Vick has devastating knees and elbows of his own, as well as a highly underrated grappling game that has earned him three submission wins in the UFC. Look for Vick to put the pressure on Trinaldo and try to break him with a volume striking attack, but if that doesn't work, he'll have no problem if this fight hits the ground, where he can display his submission game as well. The end result should lead Vick to a fourth straight win while he also competes in front of a home crowd.
Prediction: James Vick by unanimous decision
Thiago Alves vs Curtis Millender
Get ready for a potential Fight of the Night when former title challenger Thiago Alves takes on UFC newcomer Curtis Millender on Saturday night.
Millender comes to the UFC with a wealth of experience while riding a six-fight win streak, including a pair of recent head kick knockouts. Millender is best known for his striking skills, but he's a well-rounded fighter if this matchup hits the ground. Of course, in a perfect world, Millender would gladly stand on the outside and work his kickboxing game with Alves while searching for the knockout.
Alves is one of the most experienced fighters in the UFC welterweight division, having faced a laundry list of top contenders, champions and former champions throughout his career. Alves remains one of the best Muay Thai specialists in the sport with blistering leg kicks and devastating power on the inside, and he lands with good power and volume, rarely slowing down from the first round until the last.
Alves will be giving up some size to Millender, who stands six inches taller, but that won't matter much to the Brazilian, as he thrives on the inside. While Millender will do his best to keep this fight on the outside, where he can use his long reach, it will be Alves' ability to get inside that could determine the outcome of this fight. If Alves can get close to Millender without taking too much punishment, he should be able to land some very effective combinations. Plus, Millender is making his UFC debut and those notorious Octagon jitters have crumbled more than a few competitors in the past, which is why Alves remains the pick in what should be a highly entertaining bout.
Prediction: Thiago Alves by unanimous decision
Jared Gordon vs Diego Ferreira
Lightweights Jared Gordon and Diego Ferreira meet in a very intriguing matchup that will headline the prelims for UFC Fight Night in Austin. Gordon comes into the event on a five-fight win streak, including two victories in the UFC, while Ferreira picked up a win in his last appearance back in 2016.
At his best, Ferreira is a tough matchup for just about anybody at 155 pounds in the UFC. He's a top-notch grappler with dynamite in his hands and he's faced some seriously stiff competition since first arriving in the UFC. Ferreira will typically keep a fight standing until an opponent looks to take it to the ground, but he has no problem grappling if that's where the exchanges take place. Ferreira doesn't do anything flashy but he's very sound in everything he does inside the Octagon.
As for Gordon, he's an incredibly active fighter who's averaging nearly seven significant strikes per minute with more than three takedowns per fight. That kind of activity would make it seem like Gordon is a little too aggressive, which could leave him open for the counter shot, but he's also very effective with his defense. Gordon has not been taken down since arriving in the UFC and he also has unreal defense on the feet, where he's stopping over 73 percent of the strikes against him. Gordon will be giving up some size in this fight, as Ferreira will enjoy a whopping six-inch reach advantage, and that could become a problem, but he always has his wrestling to fall back on if needed.
So who has the edge in this one?
It really comes down to Gordon's ability to put the pressure on Ferreira, who is coming back from more than a year away from the sport. If Gordon is able to land some solid combinations and then mix in a takedown during the early part of the fight, he might keep Ferreira guessing as to what comes next. That said, Ferreira is a ferocious finisher and one mistake from Gordon will cost him. Gordon has fought for most of his career as a featherweight and he'll be facing a lightweight with true power in this matchup, so don’t be surprised to see Ferreira tag him early and then take over the pace and control of this fight over three rounds.
Prediction: Diego Ferreira 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.
Sage Northcutt vs Thibault Gouti
Sage Northcutt remains a prospect to watch in 2018 as he looks for his second win in a row when he returns to action this weekend against Thibault Gouti.
Northcutt has started training full-time with Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, which will only further his development. Northcutt is best known for his dynamic striking game, but he's also very powerful for the lightweight division. His only setbacks in the UFC have happened when Northcutt ventured up to 170 pounds, which is clearly not his preferred weight class.
Northcutt lands with power and volume on the feet while also mixing in two takedowns per fight, which is a great way to keep an opponent guessing. Northcutt continues to develop his overall mixed martial arts game, which has helped him stay patient in fights just like these, where he's able to wait for the perfect opening to explode forward rather than trying to just be an offensive machine at all times.
Gouti will definitely present some problems, especially if this fight stays standing. Gouti has a long list of knockouts on his record, including his first UFC win last September when he floored American fighter Andrew Holbrook in the opening round. That said, Gouti's strike-first style might leave him open for the takedown, which is where he's struggled a bit in the UFC. Gouti has shown solid takedown defense, but his grappling game has some holes and that could leave an opening for Northcutt to expose.
If Northcutt once again follows the game plan laid out by his coaches at Team Alpha Male, he should be able to outstrike Gouti on the feet and then work in a few takedowns to secure the victory on Saturday night.
Prediction: Sage Northcutt by unanimous decision
Sarah Moras vs Lucie Pudilova
In a women's bantamweight bout on the prelims, former Ultimate Fighter competitor Sarah Moras and Lucie Pudilova will both look to get a second win in a row inside the Octagon.
Pudilova will undoubtedly attempt to keep this fight standing, where she's averaging more than five significant strikes per minute during her first two bouts in the UFC. Pudilova lands with volume and solid accuracy and Moras' defense on the feet has been a liability for her in the past. Currently, Moras is stopping less than 50 percent of her opponent's strikes, so that could potentially spell trouble for her.
Still, Moras has faced much stiffer competition during her career while also showing real dominance on the mat, which is likely where she'll look to take this fight. Moras isn't the best wrestler in the division but she's very strong in the clinch and the scrambles, which is probably where she'll look to best Pudilova on Sunday night. If Moras can land on top consistently, she's going to be very tough to deal with and Pudilova may retreat into a defensive posture just trying to survive the rounds.
Moras has a very strong submission arsenal as well, so it's entirely possible she gets the finish that way, but she should be able to control the pace of this matchup with her grappling skills over all three rounds to get the win.
Prediction: Sarah Moras by unanimous decision
Yancy Medeiros vs Donald Cerrone
Following a Fight of the Night performance in his last bout against Alex Oliveira, Yancy Medeiros will try to shine in his first headlining spot as he takes on Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone this weekend.
Now there's little doubt that Cerrone has faced nothing but the best of the best in the UFC in both the welterweight and lightweight divisions. A powerful kickboxer with huge fight finishing power, Cerrone only seems to get stronger as the fight wears on, which bodes well for him in a five-round fight. Cerrone seems to do best when facing off with fighters who are willing to stand and trade with him, and chances are he'll find a willing participant this weekend in Medeiros. Cerrone lands with better volume while also showcasing stronger defense on the feet, areas he'll look to dominate in this fight.
Where Medeiros has a chance for success is by drawing Cerrone into a firefight where he can use his finishing power and durability to wear down "Cowboy" over five rounds. Medeiros has shown incredible toughness during his three-fight win streak as he punished the opposition for daring to get into exchanges with him. Medeiros will also enjoy a two-inch reach advantage, which will help him in those furious combinations he'll likely exchange with Cerrone in this main event matchup.
The fact is that both fighters possess plenty of power to get the finish here, but it's Medeiros' ability to weather the storm and then crank up the heat with his own offensive output that gives him a great chance to pull off the upset here. Medeiros is riding a real high right now while Cerrone is suffering through the toughest stretch of his career with a three fight-losing streak.
If Medeiros can force Cerrone to fight his fight, where they are standing against the cage and just exchanging shots, he may be able to land the knockout blow. Medeiros just has something about him lately where he's able to take a punch to then deliver two more in return, and if that works for him again in this fight, he could just pull off the upset against Cerrone.
Prediction: Yancy Medeiros by TKO, Round 3