The UFC returns to England this weekend for a special UFC FIGHT PASS card headlined by a pair of top 10 light heavyweights looking to get a statement win while taking another step towards title contention.
Hometown favorite Jimi Manuwa has been a thrilling knockout artist since arriving in the UFC and he's started to put together his entire mixed martial arts game in recent fights, but he'll have to be at the top of his game while facing former Ultimate Fighter winner Corey Anderson.
Anderson was one of the top prospects to join the UFC from the long running reality show, and he's developed into a legitimate top 10 fighter in his most recent appearances inside the Octagon. This weekend, Anderson will try to send a message to everyone at 205 pounds that he's coming for the top of the division as he faces Manuwa in the main event.
Also on the card, submission specialist Gunnar Nelson gets back in action as he takes on heavy-handed striker Alan Jouban, while a pair of top prospects face off when Arnold Allen takes on Makwan Amirkhani.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll examine these fights and several more to see who has the edge, who looks like a lock and who might be primed for an upset at UFC Fight Night: Manuwa vs. Anderson.
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.
Jimi Manuwa vs. Corey Anderson
In many ways, the main event fight between Jimi Manuwa and Corey Anderson pits a high-level striker against an elite grappler. Of course, both fighters have excelled past those two stereotypes, but in this matchup it really might come down to Manuwa's striking against Anderson's takedowns.
Manuwa is a vicious knockout puncher with power in both hands and the ability to open up a barrage of strikes to put any opponent away. In the past, Manuwa has struggled against other high-level strikers who didn't engage in a brutal exchange of fisticuffs and instead forced him to fight with a more technical attack. Manuwa has largely rectified those mistakes in recent months and he's looked like a new fighter lately. That being said, Manuwa has to know that trapping Anderson with his back against the cage while unloading with a fast series of punches will be his easiest path to victory.
As for Anderson, he has actually shown solid boxing in many of his past fights, but his wrestling and ground work will be key for him this Saturday in England. With a raucous crowd against him, Anderson can quiet everybody in the arena while simultaneously taking Manuwa out of his game by planting him on the mat early and often. Anderson averages just under five takedowns per 15 minutes in the Octagon with nearly 53 percent accuracy. Of course, Anderson needs to use his striking to set up his takedowns, but the quicker he can get Manuwa to the mat, the better chance he has to win this fight.
That being said, Manuwa just needs to show off some patience with his striking and wait for Anderson to make a single mistake before he can unleash a barrage of punches to bring this one to an end. The longer the fight goes, the more it probably favors Anderson with his wrestling, but those first two rounds will be ultra dangerous for him against a striker like Manuwa. As long as Manuwa can stop an early takedown or two from Anderson, he can then begin to counter with vicious combinations until he finds a home for his strikes to put a stop to the fight.
Prediction: Jimi Manuwa by TKO, Round 2
Gunnar Nelson vs. Alan Jouban
Another striker versus grappler match takes place in the co-main event, as Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and multi-time grappling champion Gunnar Nelson takes on Alan Jouban, whose name has become synonymous with ultra exciting fights in the UFC.
Nelson has faced some adversity during his UFC career thanks to a pair of losses to Rick Story and Demian Maia, but he's only fallen to two proven top 15 welterweights while still showing improvements in his own game along the way. While Nelson has shown off his striking a bit more in recent fights, he knows his ground game is still the place where he can dominate the most, especially going against a high-level kickboxer like Jouban. Nelson showed off those skills against another knockout artist in Albert Tumenov in his last fight and a similar approach will help him tremendously with Jouban.
Jouban will certainly look to counter those takedowns with fast, stinging combinations while never allowing Nelson the ease or comfort of just taking an easy shot on his legs to get the fight to the ground. Jouban has defended around 65 percent of the takedowns attempted against him, but he would also do well to start working on his timing to possibly look for a big uppercut or knee to catch Nelson as he gets inside on the legs. Hurting Nelson as he tries to get the fight to the ground is the best weapon to make sure he doesn't do it again.
While Jouban could certainly tag Nelson with a heavy barrage of punches, he may be stuck playing defense during those first few exchanges. Nelson knows his ground game is superior to Jouban's and he probably won't waste much time dragging this to the mat before he begins applying his world-class grappling. The end result is Nelson earning a win, although it's tough to say if he'll find a way to submit Jouban or just earn a decision after three rounds.
Prediction: Gunnar Nelson by submission, Round 3
Arnold Allen vs. Makwan Amirkhani
Two top-notch prospects will meet this weekend when Arnold Allen meets Makwan Amirkhani in London, and this might just be the toughest fight on the entire card to pick.
Allen has looked outstanding during his first two fights in the UFC, picking up a submission over Alan Omer before getting a unanimous decision against Yaotzin Meza. Allen is a very well rounded fighter with solid striking and a dangerous ground game. He's averaging just under three takedowns per fight while also showing great wrestling defense. Allen will probably need to use that against Amirkhani because he actually averages nearly five takedowns per 15 minutes in the Octagon while also consistently looking for submissions once the fight hits the ground.
Neither fighter is ultra dangerous on the feet, but don't discount Allen or Amirkhani from opening up with a good combination to catch the other off guard. Amirkhani will enjoy a two-inch reach advantage, so it might play to his strengths if he can crack Allen with a couple stiff punches early before either shooting in for a takedown or potentially setting his opponent up to take an ill-fated attempt to get the fight to the ground himself. If Allen takes a sloppy shot from the outside, Amirkhani has more than a few tricks in his bag that he could use on the ground.
This fight is so evenly matched that it's really tough to determine who has the advantage, but Amirkhani has shown some real flashes of brilliance during his brief UFC career. Amirkhani has spent time cross training with coach John Kavanagh in Ireland, which is the same team that produced lightweight champion Conor McGregor. If Amirkhani has started to develop his striking the way he's worked on his ground game, he could be a real threat at 145 pounds and he'll have the chance to show that this weekend. It won't be an easy test, but Amirkhani just has more ways to win and that ultimately gives him the slightest of edges going into Saturday's card.
Prediction: Makwan Amirkhani 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.
Joe Duffy will make his long awaited return this weekend in what should be an action packed battle against Reza Madadi.
Throughout his UFC career, Duffy has shown all facets of his mixed martial arts arsenal, from a very technical boxing base to an underrated ground game, while picking up wins in three out of his first four fights. Duffy lands over three significant strikes per minute, and while he's yet to attempt a takedown in the UFC, he still averages more than two submission attempts per fight. What that tells you is that Duffy is very skilled at knocking his opponents to the mat with punches and then finishing them off on the ground. It's a tactic that Madadi will probably have to defend early and often in this matchup.
Now Madadi is no stranger to pulling off the same feat during many of his best performances in the UFC, but he might struggle to do that against Duffy unless he can catch the Irishman sleeping. Madadi has a very slick ground game to compliment his striking, but he'll need to learn how to counter Duffy's heavy offensive attacks if he wants to stay alive in this one. Madadi is more than capable of pulling a rabbit out of the hat and catching Duffy with a strike that could put him down and out, but it seems more likely that he'll be on his heels trying to fend off the Irishman pouring on the punishment.
Look for Duffy to establish his boxing range early and, once he finds Madadi's timing, he'll go in for the kill by either finishing this fight with strikes or wrapping up yet another submission victory.
Prediction: Joe Duffy by submission, Round 2
British prospect Tom Breese will look to bounce back from his first career loss when he faces heavy-handed striker Oluwale Bamgbose this weekend.
Breese surprised more than a few people with the first three fights in his UFC career before dropping a split decision to Sean Strickland last June. Now Breese will look to establish himself in the middleweight division with a win in his home country.
At his best, Breese is a blistering striker who lands just under four significant strikes per minute with over 49 percent accuracy. Breese not only hits for volume but he lands with power, and that could be a significant weapon in his fight this weekend. Bamgbose is the definition of a knockout puncher who will look to take Breese's head off with every single strike he throws. Bamgbose doesn't land with volume but with explosive power.
Unfortunately, Bamgbose lives by the “kill or be killed” mantra that can often land him in trouble. Bamgbose has only stopped 52 percent of his opponent's strikes on the feet, and while he's been able to withstand that by returning fire of his own, that game plan might just backfire against another heavy hitter like Breese.
Breese hits with just as much pop behind his punches, but defensively he's much stronger than Bamgbose and that should be the difference. This one might end with the kind of finish that will bring the crowd to its feet, and given the kind of output both Breese and Bamgbose have displayed recently, the fight might not even make it past the opening round.
Prediction: Tom Breese by TKO, Round 1
Since suffering a loss on The Ultimate Fighter Finale back in 2015, Vicente Luque has been on an incredible run in the welterweight division with four straight victories and all of them ending by either knockout or submission. He'll look to make it five in a row with his toughest test to date as he takes on British fighter Leon Edwards.
Edwards has been a very pleasant surprise in his most recent fights, including a third-round submission against ultra dangerous striker Albert Tumenov in his last trip to the Octagon. Edwards has shown solid wrestling and striking while amassing an impressive 4-2 mark in the UFC. He's going to have a very tough test this weekend, however, with Luque looking like a fighter destined to crack the top 15 one day very soon.
LEON EDWARDS FEATURED IN LONDON'S ON THE RISE
Luque has shown stifling power in his hands, which only compliments a very high-level submission arsenal on the mat. Luque averages three significant strikes per minute with nearly 48 percent accuracy and he adds to that with more than two takedowns landed per fight at a whopping 80 percent accuracy clip. Luque is also a natural born finisher, so he has no problem pushing the pace for all 15 minutes while trying to put his opposition away during each second of every round.
Luque will certainly have to be wary of Edwards' own ground attack, which is quick and often devastating, but ultimately he just has more weapons to get the job done. Luque just needs to avoid getting too sloppy, which could allow Edwards to take advantage of a crucial mistake, but he certainly hasn't done that in his most recent fights. Luque has powerful striking and a world-class ground game, and both of those combined should give him the chance to add a fifth straight victory to his resume and maybe even another knockout or submission as well. To his credit, Edwards has never been finished before, so he might be the one to take Luque back to a decision but, either way, it's tough to pick against the former Ultimate Fighter competitor in this matchup.
Prediction: Vicente Luque by unanimous decision
When it comes to heavyweight fights there's often no telling what could happen, but No. 14-ranked Timothy Johnson looks like a good pick to pull off the upset over No. 12 Daniel Omielanczuk.
Johnson might just be one of the toughest fighters on the UFC roster and that's saying a lot given the division where he competes. Johnson isn't the best technical boxer on the feet and he's not going to blow anybody out of the water with his wrestling skills. But where Johnson excels is through pure grittiness, which often surprises his opponents and allows him to take advantage of any mistakes so he can apply his own offense. Johnson is very heavy handed and he'll enjoy a three-inch reach advantage in this fight. Of course, Johnson has never been a defensive wonder during his UFC career, but he has still shown a better ability to avoid strikes than his opponent.
Omielanczuk absorbs just under three strikes per minute, which at heavyweight can be a seriously debilitating number. While his own accuracy and output are very solid, Omielanczuk actually averages almost the exact same statistics for strikes he lands versus the ones he takes in return. That's a dangerous combination when taking on a tough as nails heavyweight like Johnson, who can certainly take a punch but then return fire with three or four of his own.
While it's anything but a lock, Johnson's ability to pour on the offense and Omielanczuk's proven struggles to stop it could be the difference in the outcome of this heavyweight clash. Johnson's approach may not be pretty but, more times than not, it gets the job done.
Prediction: Timothy Johnson by TKO, Round 3