For the first time in two years, the UFC returns to Scotland this weekend with a welterweight headliner featuring two of the best in the world in the main event, as well as a local favorite returning home to face one of the best up and coming prospects in the women's strawweight division.
Submission specialist Gunnar Nelson will look to build on his current two-fight win streak as he faces dangerous striker Santiago Ponzinibbio in the main event. Nelson has looked outstanding in his last two fights, but Ponzinibbio packs a serious punch and will undoubtedly look to break into the top 10 with a win on Sunday.
In the co-main event, Scotland's own Joanne Calderwood returns home to face rising star Cynthia Calvillo, who has looked spectacular in her first two fights inside the Octagon. Calvillo made quite a splash with her arrival this year, but she's taking a decided step up in competition by facing Calderwood.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll examine these fights and several more to see who has the edge going into these tight matchups, as well as any upsets that may be brewing at UFC Fight Night: Nelson vs. Ponzinibbio.
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.
Gunnar Nelson vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio
In a classic matchup pitting grappler against striker, Gunnar Nelson will look to continue his rise up the welterweight rankings while facing one of the most dangerous strikers in the division in Santiago Ponzinibbio.
During his recent four-fight win streak, Ponzinibbio has looked better than ever while earning two knockout finishes and then also picking up decision victories against two very tough opponents in Zak Cummings and Nordine Taleb. Ponzinibbio is not only a powerful knockout artist, but he's also very technically proficient as well. The Argentina native lands over four significant strikes per minute while also showcasing very strong defense on the feet. Ponzinibbio has also displayed solid takedown defense throughout his UFC career, which will definitely come in handy while facing a ground specialist like Nelson.
Of course, Nelson is best known for his suffocating submission game, where he's one of the most lethal grapplers in the sport. A black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under famed instructor Renzo Gracie, Nelson is a supreme grappler with much better takedowns than you might expect. Nelson has taken down opponents with nearly 63 percent accuracy, which means he rarely takes ill-advised shots and instead only swoops in to take the fight to the ground when he knows he has a perfect opening. Lately, Nelson has also worked tirelessly on improving his striking game, as evidenced in his recent fight with Alan Jouban. Nelson will always have a top notch grappling game, but the ability to stand and trade with an opponent is a huge asset as he looks to face the top welterweights in the world, who all have tremendous takedown defense.
Considering that Nelson has looked more comfortable on his feet lately, he may try to test himself striking with Ponzinibbio early but that's a dangerous game to play. Ponzinibbio is fast, accurate and very powerful, and he won't waste a single punch while looking to earn his fifth straight victory. Ponzinibbio will have the better striking overall, but if Nelson can use his punches to set up the takedown, that's when he has the best chance to wrap up a victory in this fight. Nelson's ability to put pressure on Ponzinibbio on the feet before dragging the fight to the ground will be a key in wrapping up another submission win as he looks to make a strong statement in the main event.
Don't discount Ponzinibbio making this a war, especially if he can drag this into the deep part of the third round and beyond as it gets tougher and tougher to apply a strong submission game on the ground. Still, Nelson remains the pick because he has more ways to win, especially if he can get Ponzinibbio to the mat early in the fight.
Prediction: Gunnar Nelson by submission, Round 2
Joanne Calderwood vs. Cynthia Calvillo
Joanne Calderwood will look to thrill her hometown crowd when she fights in Scotland for the second time since joining the UFC roster as she faces off with a real rising star in Team Alpha Male fighter Cynthia Calvillo.
Calvillo burst on the scene earlier this year with a last minute fight where she put away former Ultimate Fighter finalist Amanda Cooper before returning a month later to do the same thing to newcomer Pearl Gonzalez. Calvillo seems to have all the tools to be a force of nature in the women's strawweight division, but she will definitely face her stiffest test to date when taking on Calderwood this weekend.
Calderwood is a classic striker with knockout power in her hands, a technical kickboxing attack and a ton of dangerous kicks in her arsenal as well. Calderwood is one of the most explosive fighters at 115 pounds, as she can just as easily outpoint an opponent as she can uncork a highlight reel finish. Calderwood also lands with incredible volume at just under seven significant strikes per minute with insane 54 percent accuracy. That means Calderwood is not only extremely active on the feet, but she rarely misses her target. Now if there's been one knock on Calderwood during her run in the UFC, it's been her submission defense, and that's exactly what Calvillo will look to exploit.
Calvillo is a slick submission specialist with a very dangerous ground game from the top or bottom. Calvillo is very aggressive as well, which means she won't stop fishing for a submission once she gets the fight on the ground. Calvillo has averaged just under two takedowns per fight with 100 percent accuracy through her first pair of bouts in the UFC. She'll look to keep that streak alive when she faces Calderwood because Calvillo has to know her best course to victory is by taking this fight to the ground.
That means the key for Calderwood is applying her striking game without exposing herself to the takedown. Calderwood is very strong and she'll have a size advantage in this fight as well, so she needs to use that to keep Calvillo away from her legs. Calvillo might even try something unorthodox like pulling guard to get Calderwood into her world on the mat. If Calderwood can resist those takedowns or fight her way back to the feet if the fight hits the ground, she has a great opportunity to land a higher volume of strikes to earn the win in her home country. Calderwood always seems to get drawn into an exciting fight, so don't blink when this one starts, but the Scottish strawweight should have enough in her arsenal to pull off the decision win.
Prediction: Joanne Calderwood by unanimous decision
Expect fireworks in this lightweight matchup between Stevie Ray and Paul Felder that could easily steal the show as the Fight of the Night.
Ray is a Scotland native, so he'll definitely have the crowd on his side when he returns home on Sunday. Ray is a very well rounded fighter who tends to lean on his striking moreDanny Castillo in their lightweight bout during the UFC 182 event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on January 3, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)" align="right" /> than his grappling, although he has plenty of submission wins on his record. Ray has earned a couple knockouts in the UFC as well, but he's also well versed at outpointing his opponents as he did in fights against Ross Pearson and Joe Lauzon. Ray has also showcased very strong defense while standing and he actually absorbs one less strike per minute than his opponent in this fight.
Of course, Felder has shown incredible toughness and durability during his UFC career while also displaying jaw-dropping displays of technique and explosive finishes as well. Felder is a very strong fighter for 155 pounds, with a long reach and great power. Felder is also typically very aggressive with his offensive attacks, which should be an asset for him against Ray, as he'll look to set the pace and push the Scottish lightweight around the Octagon. Felder is at his best when he's able to set up his punches and then unleash the kind of hellish power that's earned him knockout wins over names such as Danny Castillo and Alessandro Ricci.
In this fight, Felder will have to use his signature aggression to put Ray on the defensive while he unloads on combinations with punches and kicks. Felder is a nasty striker with plenty of pop in his punches, but he can't risk getting sloppy or Ray will absolutely make him pay for it. Ray knows how to eke out a close decision, so Felder can't afford to make many mistakes or he'll leave Scotland with another loss on his record. Still, if Felder can get comfortable with his striking attacks and perhaps even mix in a takedown or two, he should walk out of enemy territory with a win.
Prediction: Paul Felder 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.
Another fun matchup taking place in the welterweight division pits England's own Danny Roberts against American slugger Bobby Nash.
Nash fell short in his UFC debut, but he's always looking to swing for the fences and that won't likely change this weekend. Nash has earned four knockout victories in his past five wins so there's little doubt that he's going to be head hunting when he steps into the Octagon against Roberts.
Roberts just went through a similar firefight in his last outing against dangerous striker Mike Perry. He came up on the short end that night, but Roberts remains a tough out for anyone at 170 pounds and he should be able to get back on track with this fight. Roberts has very good striking, where he lands at a slightly higher rate than Nash with better accuracy as well. Roberts also has a well-versed ground game that could become a factor if he gets locked up in a scramble with Nash when they lock horns.
While Nash has the kind of power that could shift the momentum in his favor, Roberts has more experience and several different ways he could finish this fight including a knockout of his own, which makes him the odds on favorite to pull it off in the end.
Prediction: Danny Roberts by TKO, Round 3
Paul Craig will look to get back on track when he returns to action this weekend against former Ultimate Fighter competitor Khalil Rountree Jr. Craig made quite the debut inside the Octagon but then ran into an Australian wrecking machine named Tyson Pedro his last time out. Craig will have to be careful not to suffer the same fate in this fight because Rountree packs a serious punch and will be looking for the knockout.
Rountree has incredible stopping power with his punches and if he can land a combination early on Craig, he could easily leave Scotland with another knockout on his record. Rountree has worked a lot on his ground game after falling to Andrew Sanchez in The Ultimate Fighter Finale as well as being submitted by Pedro late last year. Rountree will have to show off his takedown defense against Craig, who will almost assuredly look to take this fight to the mat.
Craig is a very tall light heavyweight with a longer reach than Rountree, but if he's smart he'll use his strikes to set up the takedown against a shorter opponent. Craig isn't the best wrestler in the UFC but he's very good in the clinch and that's where he'll not only look to negate Rountree's power but then work from that position to drag this fight to the ground. From there, Craig will start searching for submissions, where he's currently averaging over four attempts per fight in the UFC. Craig has to be careful not to get with a big powerful shot from Rountree, but if he can swoop inside and get this fight to the ground, he should be able to eventually wrap up another submission win.
Prediction: Paul Craig by submission, Round 2
Leslie Smith returns this weekend as she looks to build upon her recent win over Irene Aldana when she takes on Octagon newcomer Amanda Lemos.
Lemos is a solid prospect with a perfect 6-0-1 record with five finishes coming by way of knockout. She's been impressive during the early part of her career, but Lemos is definitely taking a decided step up in competition by facing Smith. Lemos is dangerous and she could shock the world with another knockout added to her record, but she's certainly fighting an uphill battle.
Smith is as tough and durable as they come in the women's bantamweight division and she also showcases very high-level kickboxing on the feet. Smith lands with great power but is very technical at the same time. Not only will Smith have the experience edge, but she will enjoy a massive five-inch height advantage in this fight so she will be towering over Lemos when they step into the Octagon together. That bodes well for Smith, who loves to unleash powerful shots from the outside and that's exactly what she'll look to do while punishing Lemos during every exchange.
Smith has no problem getting into a slugfest, so she has to be careful not to get caught in a wild exchange with Lemos, but as each minute passes it should become more evident that she's just a bit too much for the UFC rookie.
Prediction: Leslie Smith by TKO, Round 3
On paper, top 15-ranked flyweight Alexandre Pantoja should be favored to secure a victory this weekend as he takes on grizzled veteran Neil Seery.
Pantoja is a top-notch prospect who could be knocking on the door at the top 10 in the division sooner rather than later. Despite a slight setback during his time on The Ultimate Fighter season 24, Pantoja returned to form with a win over his former housemate Eric Shelton while sending notice that a new flyweight contender has arrived. Pantoja is a high-level submission specialist, but he's also developed a very strong striking arsenal that he's not afraid to use. Pantoja will show no fear throwing hands with Seery, but he'll certainly take advantage if the fight happens to hit the ground.
That being said, Seery remains a solid upset pick because this tough-as-nails Irishman never shows fear in the face of adversity. Seery is very well rounded, but his best attribute is his ability to take a bad situation and turn it around in his own favor. Seery is dangerous in the scrambles and that's where he'll look to take advantage of any mistakes Pantoja might make in this fight. Of course, Seery can ill afford to allow Pantoja to establish his striking or ground game early or he may not be able to scramble back for a victory.
But if Seery can frustrate Pantoja with his strong boxing game while resisting the takedowns, he could drag the young Brazilian fighter into deep waters. That's where Seery lives and breathes because he's not going to typically win with a highlight reel finish. Instead, Seery loves to out work and out grind his opponents and that's what he could do again this weekend to pull off the upset over a top 15 fighter like Pantoja. Seery rarely makes anything look pretty but that's why he's an absolute master at winning an ugly fight. If he can do that against Pantoja, Seery might be leaving Scotland with another win on his record.
Prediction: Neil Seery by split decision.