The UFC returns to Australia this weekend for a card stacked with top 10 fighters and prospects hoping to earn a spot in the rankings when this event unfolds on Saturday (Sunday local time).
At the top of the bill, former heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum looks to build on his lightning-quick submission win over Walt Harris in October when he faces Marcin Tybura in a matchup of fighters both hoping to earn a spot in the title race in 2018.
In the co-main event, the women's flyweight division will kick off with an all-Australia battle as former Ultimate Fighter competitor Bec Rawlings takes on Invicta FC veteran Jessica-Rose Clark. Also on the card, always-exciting striker Tim Means will take on Belal Muhammad, while former Ultimate Fighter Nations winner Elias Theodorou returns to action against local favorite and four-time Olympian Dan Kelly.
In today's fantasy preview, we're going to examine these fights and several more to see who has the advantage going into Saturday night and if there might be an upset or two brewing at UFC Fight Night: Werdum vs. Tybura.
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.
Bec Rawlings vs. Jessica Rose-Clark
As the new UFC women's flyweight division prepares to crown its first champion in December, Bec Rawlings and Jessica-Rose Clark are both going to attempt to make a statement for future title contention when they clash at 125 pounds.
Rawlings has always been considered a tough out for anyone when she was competing at 115 pounds, but she was suffering through rigorous weight cuts that drained her before ever stepping into the Octagon. Now that she'll get the chance to fight at flyweight, Rawlings hopes to maximize her second chance in the UFC starting with her bout this weekend.
As for Clark, she accepted this fight on short notice but she was already training for a different bout while still competing at Invicta FC so she's not going to be ill prepared for this matchup. Much like Rawlings, Clark is as tough as they come, with a gritty style inside the cage shown mostly through her striking, where she attacks with real ferocity. Sometimes Clark gets a little sloppy when she begins winging punches with an opponent, but she'll definitely have a willing participant in a slugfest by facing a similar fighter in Rawlings.
Rawlings loves a good brawl and she's never afraid to just bite down on her mouthpiece and throw punches with an opponent. Even though she's moving up a division, Rawlings will still enjoy a bit of a size advantage in this fight and she's going to have the added bonus of not going through a strenuous weight cut. If Rawlings can finally match her will and desire with her performances inside the cage, she's going to be a really fun addition to the flyweight division. Rawlings hits hard, she's good in the clinch and she's not afraid to take the fight to the ground.
Clark is much the same and she's definitely faced some tough competition in recent years, but being under the bright lights of her UFC debut, not to mention fighting in front of her home country fans, might be the difference between getting a win or falling to a defeat. Rawlings has been here before and while the pressure is definitely ratcheted up now that she's finally getting the chance to fight at 125 pounds, she'll look to shine in her flyweight debut in a crowd pleasing affair with Clark that could steal the show. In the end, Rawlings still maintains a slight advantage based on her UFC experience.
Prediction: Bec Rawlings by unanimous decision
Jake Matthews vs. Bojan Velickovic
Following a stint at lightweight after appearing on The Ultimate Fighter, Jake Matthews will venture up to 170 pounds for his fight this weekend against tough as nails welterweight competitor Bojan Velickovic.
Velickovic has faced his share of ups and downs inside the Octagon, but he's definitely shown a ton of grit and determination as well. Most recently, Velickovic battled for three hard-fought rounds with Darren Till just before Till went on to knock out Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone in his next fight. While Velickovic didn't win that fight, the fact that he took Till to a decision shows what kind of toughness he exudes in all of his matchups.
This time around, Velickovic will look to use his size and power to test Matthews as he moves up to welterweight for the first time in the UFC. Of course, Matthews was always a big fighter for 155 pounds so it's no surprise that he moved up a division, but following two straight losses, he's got a lot of pressure riding on his shoulders this weekend. At his best, Matthews is an imposing force with a strong striking attack and a very solid ground game. He averages more than three significant strikes landed per minute while mixing in more than two takedowns per 15 minutes in the Octagon.
Matthews might have to turn this into a grind because he's giving up height and reach to Velickovic, who will undoubtedly be the bigger man going into the fight. Velickovic is definitely more of a striker, who will try to land power shots from the outside but has no problem going three rounds either if that's what it takes to get the win. If Velickovic can put the pressure on Matthews early, he may be able to wear down the Australian fighter and then really lean on him by the third round. Velickovic is a former middleweight, and as long as he uses that size and power to his advantage, he should be able to bully Matthews around the Octagon en route to a decision win. Don’t be shocked if Velickovic is able to finish as well because he's been drawn into more than a few slugfests during his career and he seems to always have the innate ability to survive while his opponents are left staring up at the lights wondering what just happened.
Prediction: Bojan Velickovic by unanimous decision
Will Brooks vs. Nik Lentz
In a battle of former teammates from American Top Team in Florida, Will Brooks faces off with Nik Lentz in a fight that could become a war of positions.
Lentz is a notorious grinder who loves to push his opponents against the cage wall and work for takedowns as well as punishing them to the body and head with a dirty boxing style that's hard to contest at times. Lentz averages nearly four takedowns per fight although he's struggled a bit more at times getting opponents to the ground since returning to the lightweight division. Still, Lentz is like a magnet in the Octagon, gluing himself to an opponent and just wearing them down round after round after round.
Now Brooks is no stranger to wrestling, as he's also shown very good tendencies both offensively and defensively, including nearly two takedowns per fight on average. On the feet, Brooks is a little more diverse, landing more than four significant strikes per minute with incredible accuracy of just under 59 percent. Brooks also has far better defensive skills on the feet than Lentz and that could play a factor in this war of attrition.
Where Brooks seemingly takes over in a fight such as this is with his power and endurance over three rounds while looking to use his strength to muscle out of Lentz's takedowns and grappling exchanges. Brooks is a very strong fighter at 155 pounds and his ability to reverse positions with Lentz against the cage and then counter with his own offensive wrestling could give his former teammate fits in this fight. Brooks has stumbled a bit since arriving to the UFC, but this fight could give him the perfect opportunity to shine.
Prediction: Will Brooks by unanimous decision
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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.
Fabricio Werdum vs. Marcin Tybura
Any time there's a heavyweight matchup, full disclosure must be made that anything can happen, but that being said, it's awfully hard to pick against former champion Fabricio Werdum in his main event matchup against Marcin Tybura.
Now make no mistake, Tybura is as tough as they come in this division and he's proven it with three wins in a row, including two by way of knockout. Tybura is very well rounded with great accuracy in his striking, where he's landing over 51 percent of his shots while also showcasing very solid defense on the feet. Tybura is no slouch on the ground either, but his best weapon there will probably be his 80 percent takedown defense, because getting stuck on the mat with Werdum is a recipe for disaster in this fight.
The fact is that Werdum just has so many ways to win that it's tough to pick against him. He's a ground wizard, as shown in his last fight, as he wrapped up a submission against Harris almost immediately after they hit the mat, and his boxing has come a long way over the last few years. In fact, Werdum used his striking to batter former champion Cain Velasquez before eventually latching on to a fight-ending guillotine choke submission.
As long as Werdum doesn't underestimate Tybura, which would be a massive mistake, he should be able to find a way to either out strike or out grapple the Polish heavyweight to get another win. The best bet would be for Werdum to drag Tybura down and then showcase his world-class Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills to get another submission win. Tybura will certainly put up a fight, but Werdum should still find a way to get the win.
Prediction: Fabricio Werdum by submission, Round 2
Elias Theodorou vs. Dan Kelly
Any time Dan Kelly fights, he always seems to pull off a surprise, and this weekend may be no different, but he definitely has a tough matchup on his hands with Elias Theodorou looking to make a statement in Australia.
Kelly's awkward striking style, combined with his Olympic-level judo, will always make him a nightmare to deal with inside the Octagon. Just ask Rashad Evans, Antonio Carlos Junior or any of the other fighters he defeated in the UFC who probably looked at him as a speed bump on their way to ranked contention. It's safe to say that Theodorou won't make that same mistake, especially considering that he's bouncing back from a loss to Brad Tavares in his last fight.
In this fight, look for Theodorou to use his five-inch reach advantage to keep Kelly on the outside before swooping in with his wrestling to keep the Australian guessing. Kelly has feasted on fighters who don't respect his skill set, but Theodorou isn't likely to be one of those people. Theodorou knows that sleeping on Kelly could result in a loss and that's why it's more likely that he's put everything into his training camp to ensure he returns home with a win.
While Theodorou can use a grinding style that often slows the pace of his fights down to a crawl, that might be just the strategy to keep Kelly off balance for three consecutive rounds before the Canadian middleweight earns a decision victory.
Prediction: Elias Theodorou by unanimous decision
Adam Wieczorek vs. Anthony Hamilton
UFC newcomer Adam Wieczorek will look to make an impact in his first fight as he takes on Octagon veteran Anthony Hamilton, who returns following a TKO loss in his last fight that had him contemplating retirement.
Hamilton still possesses the same kind of knockout power that helped him get wins over fighters such as Damian Grabowski and Ruan Potts in the UFC. He also has a great team behind him with coaches such as Greg Jackson in his corner. Still, Hamilton has fallen by knockout in his past two fights and that doesn't bode well while going up against another heavyweight with power in Wieczorek.
At 6-foot-5 inches tall and 250 pounds, Wieczorek is a big, powerful heavyweight with long range and plenty of power in his punches. Wieczorek has also shown great submission skills on the ground, where he's wrapped up a slew of armbars and chokes throughout his career. Wieczorek enters the fight on a seven-fight win streak and he hasn't gone to decision once during that time. In fact, Wieczorek's only loss came to current UFC heavyweight Marcin Tybura in the second fight of his career, but he still managed to go the distance in that fight.
Considering Hamilton's fragile state following a pair of tough losses, look for Wieczorek to come out aggressively and look for the knockout in the opening round. If Wieczorek can land an early barrage, Hamilton may wither from the storm and hand the Polish heavyweight his first UFC win.
Prediction: Adam Wieczorek by knockout, Round 1
Belal Muhammad vs. Tim Means
Tim Means might just be one of the most ferocious and nasty strikers in the welterweight division, but he'll have a battle on his hands this weekend as he faces Belal Muhammad in Australia. The odds makers have Means as a very solid favorite, but don't sleep on Muhammad because he's proven people wrong before and this might be another chance for him to pull off the upset on Saturday night.
Muhammad is always going to be a tough matchup because he's nearly impossible to predict. He's got a strong striking arsenal on the feet, where he lands more than four significant shots per minute with over 42 percent accuracy. Muhammad also averages just under three takedowns per fight, which will be a huge weapon in defending Means' nasty dirty boxing style, where he loves to get in close and just batter his opponents with elbows and knees.
Means will actually enjoy a solid three-inch reach advantage, but he rarely likes to strike from the outside. Instead, Means loves to close the distance and punish fighters from the clinch, but that could allow Muhammad the opening to get takedowns that could ultimately frustrate the New Mexico native. Muhammad is very smart with his strategy and there's little doubt his coaches will have him ready to bait Means forward and then look for the takedown to negate his power on the feet. Muhammad is also very strong for all three rounds, so he won't tire from that style of attack as he looks to plant Means on the mat and hammer him on the ground for 15 minutes.
Now it's safe to say that Muhammad can't afford to make many mistakes or Means will make him pay. but when it comes to upset picks, this is as good a choice as any on the card. Muhammad has steadily improved since arriving in the UFC and this could be another chance for him to shine on the main card on Saturday night.
Prediction: Belal Muhammad by unanimous decision