Swanson is fresh off a Fight of the Year candidate in his last bout against Dooho Choi, while Lobov has won his last two fights, including a victory over highly touted prospect Teruto Ishihara. Swanson and Lobov have exchanged plenty of words in the lead up to this fight and now they will finally step into the Octagon together to settle the score.
Also on the card, Al Iaquinta makes his long awaited return to action as he takes on the always tough and always durable Diego Sanchez, who competes in his 26th bout in the UFC this weekend. Former title contenders John Dodson and Eddie Wineland are also set to square off in a pivotal matchup in the bantamweight division while top 15 middleweights Thales Leites and Sam Alvey throw down in a featured bout on the prelims.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll examine these fights and several more to see who has the edge going into Saturday night at UFC Fight Night: Swanson vs. Lobov.
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.
Cub Swanson vs. Artem Lobov
Cub Swanson has long been considered one of the best featherweight fighters on the planet and he's recently put together a three-fight win streak to climb back into the title picture at 145 pounds. Following his knock down, drag out war with Dooho Choi last December, Swanson will now face another heavy-handed opponent in Artem Lobov, who looks to pull off the biggest win of his career when he steps back into the Octagon on Saturday.
On paper, Lobov has a lot of ground to make up to get close to the skills Swanson has displayed throughout his career in the UFC and WEC. Swanson is a dynamic, explosive striker with dynamite in his hands and an unrelenting pressure game that rarely slows down, even when talking about a 25-minute main event. Swanson lands with volume and very solid accuracy, with just under 47 percent of his strikes finding a home. Lobov isn't far behind when it comes to his offensive output, but he falls behind Swanson statistically in all the major categories on the feet, including his tendency to absorb more punishment over the course of a fight.
Where Lobov has his best chance in this fight is drawing Swanson into a brawl and then unloading one of his unorthodox power punches. Lobov has an incredible ability to hold his hands at his hips before throwing punches from odd angles and somehow connecting with knockout power. Lobov will often bait his opponents into an aggressive attack by leaving his chin open before uncorking two or three massive shots as he returns fire.
The problem Lobov might face in this fight with that particular strategy is Swanson's five-inch reach advantage, which could be a huge weapon for him on Saturday night. If Swanson can keep Lobov at the end of his punches, the former Ultimate Fighter competitor could start swinging for the fences just trying to connect, and it could leave him open for the counter shot. Swanson is deadly when he smells blood in the water and Lobov stepping forward with reckless abandon could be just the opening he needs.
It must be noted, Lobov hasn't been finished by strikes since his fifth professional bout nearly six years ago, but he also hasn't faced a powerful knockout artist like Swanson in recent history.
Prediction: Cub Swanson by TKO, Round 3
Al Iaquinta vs. Diego Sanchez
Al Iaquinta makes his return to action after two years away as he takes on Diego Sanchez in a matchup that has Fight of the Night written all over it.
Before his hiatus, Iaquinta was on an impressive four-fight win streak that included victories over Jorge Masvidal and Joe Lauzon. Iaquinta has worked tirelessly over the past few years on his boxing, which has now arguably become his best weapon. His hand speed is top notch and he lands his shots with over 41 percent accuracy on the feet. Iaquinta also lands with great volume at just under five significant strikes per minute.
IAQUINTA FEATURED IN ON THE RISE
Of course, Sanchez is no stranger to standing and striking with his opponents, although he does tend to get a little wild with his combinations once he gets drawn into a brawl. Sanchez isn't as technically proficient with his striking as Iaquinta, but his ability to open up a barrage of punches can often stun and silence even the best knockout artists when they decide to engage in a fire fight with him.
When it comes to grappling, Sanchez definitely has a tremendous pedigree in both wrestling and submissions, but he's rarely gone back to those tools in his most recent performances. That probably bodes well for Iaquinta, who would more than likely prefer to keep this on the feet while trying to pick Sanchez apart with his boxing.
Ring rust has to be a concern for Iaquinta, who has been on the sidelines for the past two years while also dealing with some injuries that kept him out of action. If Iaquinta has fully recovered while truly getting his timing back to par ahead of his return, he should be able to use precision and power to do more damage to Sanchez over three rounds to earn the win. The only asterisk to that selection is Sanchez coming quick out of the gates and Iaquinta somehow missing a step during his time away from the Octagon. If that happens, it could be a long night for Iaquinta in the end.
Prediction: Al Iaquinta by unanimous decision
John Dodson vs. Eddie Wineland
If Iaquinta vs. Sanchez doesn't get Fight of the Night, this bantamweight matchup between John Dodson and Eddie Wineland could easily steal the prize. Dodson and Wineland are both known for not only putting on exciting fights, but also landing some of the most jaw dropping knockouts in the UFC.
Dodson fell in a split decision in his last fight to powerful striker John Lineker, but it was a fight where he definitely held his own and, if not for a few mistakes, he could have walked out victorious. Dodson will certainly look to fix those errors as he takes on another dynamic striker at 135 pounds.
It wasn't long ago that Wineland appeared on the verge of retirement from the sport, but the former title contender has found a fountain of youth in recent fights while earning two consecutive TKOs in his most recent performances. Wineland is a very sound kickboxer technically, but he's best known for unleashing his power with flash and flair while putting away his opposition in dramatic fashion. The same can be said for Dodson, which is what makes this such a compelling matchup.
Where Dodson might enjoy a slight advantage is with his blazing speed, which can give anybody at 135 pounds problems. Wineland's tendency to look for that one big shot to finish the fight could harm him against someone as quick as Dodson, who is there and gone before he ever absorbs much damage. In addition, Dodson is a machine through the first three rounds as he ducks and dodges his opponent's best shots while firing back with stunning power from both hands. While Wineland is searching for the knockout blow, Dodson can stick and move before returning fire and doing just as much damage.
The result is Dodson using his footwork and defense to make Wineland miss before unloading his own fight ending power in return.
Prediction: John Dodson by TKO, Round 3
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.
Upstart flyweight contender Brandon Moreno has made quite an impact after stepping in on short notice to face Louis Smolka after his appearance on The Ultimate Fighter last season. Now with two wins in the UFC, Moreno will take a big step up in competition this weekend as he faces off with Dustin Ortiz, who has consistently been considered one of the top 10 flyweights in the world for several years.
Ortiz is a pressure fighter who has grown up in the Octagon while becoming a very well rounded mixed martial artist. Ortiz has shown good boxing, solid wrestling and incredible toughness throughout his UFC career. While Ortiz has suffered through a mixed bag of wins and losses, it must be noted that he's only lost to the best of the best in the 125-pound division while feasting on all the opponents he's faced in the lower half of the top 10 or outside the rankings.
While Moreno enjoys the No. 10 position in the flyweight division, Ortiz is an incredibly tough opponent for his third fight in the UFC. Ortiz displays a tenacious attack on the feet and on the ground while also possessing the ability to grind Moreno out on the mat, making him a very tough matchup this weekend. Ortiz doesn't typically get highlight reel knockouts or submissions, so he'll probably give Moreno the opportunity to stick around for all three rounds, but in the end it's tough to see him giving up a loss when this fight is over.
Moreno still has plenty of room to develop into a legitimate threat to the top 10 fighers in the world at 125 pounds, but Ortiz might be just a little bit too much, too soon.
Prediction: Dustin Ortiz by unanimous decision
Former title challenger Jessica Penne will look to stop the bleeding from a two-fight losing streak when she returns to action this weekend against Danielle Taylor, who picked up her first win in the UFC with a split decision over Seohee Ham in her most recent trip to the Octagon.
While Penne is trying to bounce back from two consecutive losses, it must be noted that her defeats came to current strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk and No. 1 contender Jessica Andrade, so there's certainly no shame in losing to two of the best fighters in the world at 115 pounds. That being said, Penne will certainly look to get back on track this weekend when she returns in Nashville.
Penne is best known as a ground technician with outstanding submissions who also does a lot of damage with her strikes on the mat. Penne has averaged just under two takedowns per 15 minutes in the cage, but while her ground game is formidable, she may be able to use her size advantage against a much smaller fighter in Taylor this weekend.
Taylor will be giving up five inches in height and a whopping seven inches in reach, so Penne could certainly do well by establishing her jab and peppering the shorter fighter with long, straight punches all night long. Penne works with a top-notch coach in Eric Del Fierro in San Diego while also training alongside former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, so her striking has undoubtedly developed during her recent time off from the sport. Taylor has struggled mightily through her first two fights in the UFC to find a home for her punches at distance, often coming up short on the delivery.
Going up against a much taller and longer opponent like Penne probably won't do much to improve her chances of landing those shots in this fight either. Look for Penne to establish her striking early before potentially dragging this fight to the mat, where she will start looking for submissions or possibly just punish Taylor with punches while knocking off the ring rust she's amassed over the past 10 months that she's been out of action.
Prediction: Jessica Penne by unanimous decision
Bryan Barberena will return to action on Saturday against former Ultimate Fighter competitor Joe Proctor, who has been sidelined for more than a year due to injury.
Barberena has made quite an impact since arriving in the UFC, with statement wins over Sage Northcutt and Warlley Alves while dropping his most recent bout against fellow prospect Colby Covington. Barberena is an imposing force at welterweight, with very solid striking and a dominant ground game whenever he lands on top of an opponent. Barberena lands more than five significant strikes per minute with nearly 50 percent accuracy, which are both outstanding statistics. Add in his damaging ground game, where he lands takedowns with 40 percent accuracy, and Barberena is a force to be reckoned with wherever the fight goes.
Now Proctor is no slouch because he also lands with good power and accuracy on the feet while also displaying a top-notch ground game where he's averaging nearly two submission attempts per 15 minutes in the Octagon. Proctor trains with a very solid team under the tutelage of UFC veteran Joe Lauzon, but he's going to be fighting an uphill battle as he makes his return after 16 months away.
Given Barberena's size, power and ability to finish the fight on the feet or on the ground, he could give Proctor problems no matter where this matchup takes place. Barberena would be smart to take advantage of Proctor during the first round considering that the New Englander has been on the sidelines for so long and that ring rust could take a toll during those early exchanges.
Prediction: Bryan Barberena by TKO, Round 2
Sam Alvey vs. Thales Leites
Sam Alvey will get a shot at a higher ranked opponent this weekend when he faces former title challengerThales Leites in the featured preliminary bout on the card. Alvey has put together a very impressive four-fight win streak, including a victory over Nate Marquardt in his most recent performance. Alvey has shown off a very strong striking game and knockout power throughout his UFC career, and he'll need to use that, along with incredible takedown defense, if he hopes to get past Leites.
While Leites has gone just 1-3 in his past four fights, he still remains one of the most dangerous fighters in the middleweight division because he possesses knockout power on the feet but also has a world class submission arsenal that can give anybody fits at 185 pounds. Leites fell in love with his striking in recent years, but his performance against Chris Camozzi just two fights ago proved he still has some of the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the sport.
Leites would be smart to try and use the same strategy against Alvey, who will undoubtedly want to score the knockout in this fight. Leites doesn't have the strongest wrestling in the world, but he always seems to find a way to drag his opponents to the mat with him if he's determined to show off his ground game. That will undoubtedly be his best weapon against Alvey, because throwing hands with him could backfire in a hurry.
Alvey will count on Leites making that mental error while trying to connect with his power punches on the feet. Alves lands just under four significant strikes per minute with 49 percent accuracy, so he can hit hard and hit with precision. If Alvey can stop the takedown - where he's currently blocking with 85 percent accuracy - he should be able to land with better volume and power to earn his fifth straight victory as he continues to climb up the middleweight rankings.
Prediction: Sam Alvey by unanimous decision