Two of the most ferocious finishers in the lightweight division will square off in Virginia this Saturday night, as Dustin Poirier takes on former champion Anthony Pettis in a pivotal matchup at 155 pounds.
Poirier has only suffered one defeat since moving to lightweight after spending a big part of his career fighting at 145 pounds, and he's looked better than ever. Now Poirier will look to add a former champion to his resume while Pettis will attempt to get his second win in a row since moving back to the 155-pound weight class.
In the co-main event, Matt Brown will face off against former Ultimate Fighter season one winner Diego Sanchez. Also on the card, bonus baby Joe Lauzon will face off with Clay Guida in a guaranteed crowd-pleasing affair.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll examine these fights and several more to see who has the edge going into Saturday's card and if there might be an upset brewing at UFC Fight Night: Poirier vs. Pettis.
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.
Matt Brown vs. Diego Sanchez
Matt Brown will attempt to cap off his career with a win against Diego Sanchez on Saturday night in what should be an absolute slugfest between two of the most exciting fighters in the history of the UFC.
Brown enters the fight after dropping his last three in a row, but he's also faced some stiff competition during that time. Meanwhile, Sanchez is moving back up to welterweight, where he's found a lot of success during his career, although he will definitely be giving up some size and power to the larger fighter in Brown.
For Brown to win this fight he has to use that size and reach to slow Sanchez down. Sanchez loves constant movement with a lot of footwork and punches thrown in blistering combinations. Brown prefers to slow things down a bit by using his punching power to then get inside and batter an opponent with knees and elbows from the clinch. The last place Sanchez can afford to be in this fight is with Brown pressing him against the cage, unloading a barrage of strikes that he can't escape.
The same could be said for Brown just chasing Sanchez and eating punches from the smaller, yet faster, fighter. Sanchez is very good at baiting an opponent to step forward, and then he'll unleash a furious series of punches that often do a lot of damage.
All that said, Brown knows this may be his swan song and every fighter wants to go out on a win. If he can pressure Sanchez early with that devastating clinch game, he should be able to close out his career with yet another knockout. Make no mistake, Sanchez is as tough as they come, but he's suffered a couple knockouts in recent fights at lightweight and Brown hits much harder at 170 pounds. That all adds up to the favorite - Brown - to get the job done.
Prediction: Matt Brown by TKO, Round 2
Joe Lauzon vs. Clay Guida
With so much Octagon experience shared between Joe Lauzon and Clay Guida, it's hard to imagine that they've never fought each other before now, but they will finally face off in a lightweight bout that will kick off the televised main card on Saturday night.
Lauzon comes into this fight after his past three fights have all ended in split decisions, which is certainly an odd statistic, but it's also the first time in his entire career that he's ever had a split decision. That means Lauzon has been involved in some back and forth battles and he may be on tap for another one against Guida.
Guida returned to lightweight after a long stretch spent competing at 145 pounds and he got right back to form with a unanimous decision win over Erik Koch. Of course, Guida is best known for his incredible conditioning and insane wrestling skills, where he averages nearly four takedowns per fight. Guida's pace is nearly impossible to match, and if he can land a couple of takedowns early, that could force Lauzon to go for broke in the later rounds and leave him open to take more damage as result.
Still, Lauzon has started to match his incredible Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills with a very good boxing game, and he's shown off his hands in a lot of recent fights. Lauzon lands with better volume and accuracy than Guida while also possessing the grappling game that could still give his foe problems if they do hit the mat. Lauzon just has to avoid those early takedowns to frustrate Guida and then he can begin opening up with his combinations on the feet or perhaps even take the fight to the ground, where he's the one on top. That's probably the last place Guida wants to be and it could give Lauzon the opening for a finish or at least the chance to win rounds on the scorecards.
Prediction: Joe Lauzon by unanimous decision
Two of the fastest bantamweights on the planet will meet in the featured prelim bout as John Dodson takes on Marlon Moraes in a very intriguing fight at 135 pounds.
Dodson is well known for being just about the fastest fighter on the UFC roster not named Demetrious Johnson, and that speed has served him well in the bantamweight division. Dodson's ability to move quickly while still hitting like a truck is going to make him a tough matchup for anybody at 135 pounds and that includes Moraes. Dodson lands his punches with solid volume and good accuracy while hitting his target nearly 42 percent of the time. Dodson is also well known for his takedown defense, but he probably won't have to worry much about that with this fight as Moraes will all but certainly try to keep this standing.
Moraes has blistering power with a wide variety of combinations that can end with either a punch or a kick. Moraes is very quick on his feet with devastating power that can be particularly punishing when he gets the chance to be a counterstriker. If Moraes can force Dodson to come forward, he could unload with a barrage of shots before the former title contender knows what hit him. That being said, Moraes might have to get aggressive in this fight because Dodson's movement can not only be an effective weapon but it can also frustrate opponents into chasing him. That's not Moraes' best game but he can still get the job done as long as he doesn't walk into one of Dodson's power punches.
Dodson definitely has the same kind of knockout power as Moraes, but he doesn't put together his combinations with the ferocity of the Brazilian. It also can't be ignored that Moraes is returning for his second UFC fight following an uneven performance in his debut where the dreaded Octagon jitters played a part. If Moraes can settle down and actually fight his fight, he's going to be a handful for anybody in the bantamweight division, including Dodson.
While this fight might be the hardest to pick on the entire card, a slight edge still goes to Moraes based on his power and striking combinations, which could add up to more shots being landed over three rounds.
Prediction: Marlon Moraes by unanimous decision
Another outstanding fight to watch on the preliminary portion of the card is this strawweight showdown between Angela Hill and Nina Ansaroff. Both fighters are coming off impressive wins in recent fights and they will try to make a push into the rankings with a win on Saturday night.
Hill is best known for her striking, where she lands consistently with good speed, very solid volume and great accuracy. Hill is averaging just under five significant strikes landed per minute while hitting her target more than 50 percent of the time. She's got good speed as well and she also uses knees and elbows very well on the inside. For this fight, however, Hill might not engage as much in the clinch with Ansaroff being a very dangerous fighter on the mat.
Ansaroff just capped off her first UFC win with a submission and she's got plenty of grappling in her back pocket to show off if this fight hits the ground. Ansaroff is a bruising fighter for the strawweight division and she will be the bigger athlete in this contest as well. Ansaroff is no slouch on the feet, but her greatest weapon could be taking Hill to the ground and testing out her submission defense. Ansaroff definitely has an advantage on the mat and she'd be wise to ground Hill's striking attacks by putting her on her back and making her fend off submission attempts.
Still, Hill has looked better than ever since returning to the UFC and she even survived a firefight with former title contender Jessica Andrade earlier this year. Hill continues to improve under the tutelage of head coach Eric Del Fierro in San Diego and she has taken tremendous strides since making an appearance on The Ultimate Fighter season 20. If Hill can keep this fight standing - whether she's working from the outside or in the clinch - and punish Ansaroff with strikes over three rounds, she'll get the win.
Prediction: Angela Hill 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.
Raphael Assuncao vs. Matthew Lopez
Now this bantamweight matchup is being called a lock because Raphael Assuncao has consistently been one of the best fighters in the world for several years while facing a laundry list of top-notch talent, but don't discount that Matthew Lopez has star potential, and even a loss in this fight won't set him back very far.
The fact is that Assuncao has the experience edge and he's taken on a huge list of top fighters in the bantamweight division while also holding a win over current champion TJ Dillashaw. Assuncao isn't the flashiest fighter at 135 pounds; he just gets the job done by out striking his opponents on the feet and then out grappling them on the mat. Assuncao isn't known as a prolific finisher, so he'll probably need all three rounds, but it's just tough to pick against him in this position.
Make no mistake, Lopez could pull off the upset, but Assuncao so rarely gives his opponents any openings that it's tough to see him suddenly fall prey in this fight. Of course, Assuncao could potentially underestimate Lopez, which could cause his downfall, but the smart money remains on the veteran who is still knocking on the door for title contention at 135 pounds. Look for Assuncao to set the pace with a strong striking attack from the outside and then counter Lopez whenever he tries to get this fight to the ground. The end result is Assuncao putting another win on his record while Lopez gets the experience going up against a legitimate top five fighter at 135 pounds.
Prediction: Raphael Assuncao by unanimous decision
Following a stunning knockout win in his UFC debut, Junior Albini will now get the chance to face former heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski on the main card at UFC Fight Night in Virginia.
Albini enters the fight after 10 straight wins, including a knockout against Timothy Johnson in his first UFC appearance back in July. Albini appears to be one of the top heavyweight prospects out of Brazil, with a laundry list of victories by way of submission as well as some jaw-dropping knockouts on his record. Finishing an always-durable fighter like Johnson in his debut was enough to prove the hype around Albini was real and it's tough to see him falling short in this upcoming matchup either.
Arlovski is certainly a legend of the sport and, as a former UFC heavyweight champion, he's faced just about the toughest competition possible throughout his career. Still, it's impossible to ignore that Arlovski has dropped his last five fights in a row, including three by way of knockout. Arlovski still possesses incredibly fast hands and great takedown defense, so don't be shocked if he pulls off the upset, but Albini only needs to crack him with one good shot and that could change the momentum of this fight for good.
Albini seems like he could be a top 10 competitor sooner rather than later and this could be the win to put him on the map.
Prediction: Junior Albini by knockout, Round 1
Dustin Poirier vs. Anthony Pettis
The main event not only provides us with a potential Fight of the Year candidate, but it gives Dustin Poirier a chance to prove the oddsmakers wrong, as he enters his fight against Anthony Pettis as an underdog.
While Poirier has been putting together a string of impressive outings at 155 pounds, Pettis remains the favorite as a former lightweight champion who got back on track with a win over Jim Miller earlier this year. Pettis had suffered through several bad outings, including a loss to featherweight champion Max Holloway, as well as a tough night against Edson Barboza in a battle between two elite strikers at 155 pounds. Pettis showed that he's far from finished, however, with a very gritty performance against Miller, who remains one of the toughest outs in the lightweight division.
Now for Poirier to prove that he's the better fighter, he's going to have to be careful not to walk into Pettis' best strikes, which typically come as a result of an over aggressive opponent. Pettis is like a surgeon with his counter strikes and that's what made him lightweight champion not that long ago. Poirier loves to charge forward with a barrage of strikes, where he puts together a lot of damage on the opposition, but he can't be reckless or Pettis will make him pay.
Still, Poirier hits with a lot of power and he could use a similar game plan as Rafael Dos Anjos used a couple of years ago when he pressed Pettis against the cage and that's where he did most of his damage while standing. Poirier is very good in that position as well, and if he can trap Pettis in the clinch, he could begin unloading with his powerful punches from the inside. As good as Poirier can be at distance, he's playing with fire against a noted kickboxer like Pettis at that range.
Instead, Poirier could hammer Pettis on the inside with his powerful shots from the clinch and that punishment will certainly add up over several rounds. Pettis has never been finished by strikes in the lightweight division but it's possible that Poirier becomes the first to do it. He's relentless with his punching combinations and he could do enough damage over the course of the fight to finally drop and then finish Pettis in the main event.
Prediction: Dustin Poirier by TKO, Round 3