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The upcoming UFC Fight Night card headed to Hollywood, Florida took an unexpected hit last week when visa issues forced 12 fighters off the show, but luckily the main event remained intact, as former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida looks to bounce back from a recent loss when he takes on Olympic silver medalist Yoel Romero in a five-round headliner in the middleweight division.
The remainder of the card features a mix of old faces and newcomers hoping to make waves in the UFC with the opportunity of a lifetime to step up and show why they belong amongst the best fighters in the world.
A welterweight co-main event should also be a very interesting matchup, as Lorenz Larkin looks to go 2-0 since dropping down to 170 pounds when he battles Brazilian heavy hitter Santiago Ponzinibbio. Both fighters love the knockout, so this bout could have Fight of the Night written all over it.
With so many new matchups, today's fantasy preview will take a look at some of the key fights on the card while giving a little extra information to help you prepare to make your picks ahead of UFC Fight Night: Machida vs. Romero.
These are the fights on the card that are just too close to call, but a few key differences could mean the difference between winning and losing on Saturday night in Florida.
Lorenz Larkin vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio
Two heavy-handed welterweights meet in the co main event between Lorenz Larkin and Santiago Ponzinibbio, but which one of these knockout artists has the upper hand?
Larkin just recently debuted at welterweight after a turbulent trip at 185 pounds when he first joined the UFC. If his first bout against long-time veteran John Howard is any indication of what Larkin will be capable of at welterweight, he's going to be a very welcome addition to the division. Larkin not only hits hard, but he's also very active and accurate when he's standing. He lands over three significant strikes per minute while hitting his opponents with over 45-percent accuracy. Larkin hasn't used his wrestling much since coming to the UFC, but as he faces another striker, there's always the chance that he pulls it out of his back pocket to give Ponzinibbio a different look.
Ponzinibbio will definitely give Larkin everything he can handle on the feet and more. He's a very strong fighter for 170 pounds, with an overall game to back up his traditional strategy, which usually involves head hunting for three rounds looking for a knockout.
This bout could very well turn into a firefight, with one shot ending the night for either man, but Larkin has faced the much better talent throughout his career, and while he struggled in his last few fights at middleweight, the change to 170 pounds should be a welcome one. Larkin likes to get flashy at times, so he has to be careful against someone as dangerous as Ponzinibbio, but if he keeps his chin tucked and his hands up, he should be able to land the more effective combinations and possibly even land the perfect shot to finish the fight.
Prediction: Lorenz Larkin by unanimous decision
Antonio Carlos Junior vs. Eddie Gordon
Two former Ultimate Fighter winners will also mix it up on Saturday night, with Antonio Carlos Junior making his debut at 185 pounds while Eddie “Truck” Gordon searches for a win following two straight losses.
Carlos looked very strong during his time on The Ultimate Fighter Brazil, but facing much bigger opposition forced the Brazilian to rethink his future and now he's dropping down to middleweight for a fresh start. He's facing a very big opponent in this fight because Gordon is a massive middleweight, but Carlos still has plenty of weapons to use as long as he employs his best possible strategy.
Carlos is a dangerous Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and he has to know getting this fight to the ground is paramount if he wants to negate Gordon's power on the feet. Gordon trains boxing under Ray Longo, the same coach responsible for middleweight champion Chris Weidman, so he's got plenty of skills in his hands to give the Brazilian trouble. On the floor, the fight isn't a mismatch by any means because Gordon also works with former welterweight champion and Brazilian Jiu-JItsu black belt Matt Serra, but that's the last place he wants to go in this fight with Carlos.
The real killer in this fight is Gordon fighting so soon after losing a very close split decision in his last fight. Because he's riding a couple of losses in a row, it might force Gordon to either take unnecessary chances to get a finish or play it safe trying to eke out a win. Either way, it opens up opportunities for Carlos to swoop in, grab a leg and get this fight to the ground, where he can employ his submission arsenal.
As long as the weight cut to 185 pounds doesn't backfire, Carlos has enough weapons on the ground to make Gordon try desperately not to go there or make a mistake trying to get up again. Either way, the result is the same with Antonio Carlos Junior finding a way to win.
Prediction: Antonio Carlos Junior by submission, Round 3
Hacran Dias vs. Levan Makashvili
Another stellar fight to keep an eye on this weekend matches up Brazilian contender Hacran Dias against highly touted newcomer Levan Makashvili.
Makashvili just made his promotional debut in May, when he won a split decision over Mark Eddiva, and he's been gunning for a chance to get a fast start in the UFC. He'll certainly get that opportunity this weekend as he faces a true veteran in Dias.
Dias has faced a laundry list of top fighters over the years, including former title contender Ricardo Lamas, as well as Nik Lentz, Darren Elkins and Iuri Alcantara. Dias is vastly underrated for how good he can be when he's performing at his best in the Octagon, but he has to show up big against Makashvili as he looks to make his name off the Brazilian. Makashvili is a grinder with tremendous takedowns, and that is one style that has given Dias nightmares in the past. Makashvili executed seven takedowns in his debut with over 50-percent success, and if he can do anything close to that against Dias, he very well might cruise to a unanimous decision nod.
On the flipside, Dias has shown excellent takedown defense even in the fights he's lost. He's stuffed 80-percent of the takedowns attempted against him and Dias has a much larger body of work than Makashvili in the Octagon. Adding to that, Dias has a killer team behind him at Nova Uniao, which means he's been sparring rounds with featherweight champion Jose Aldo and former bantamweight king Renan Barao, as all three of them get ready for upcoming fights.
If Dias can stay off the cage and not allow Makashivili to control where this fight takes place, he will eventually put together the kind of combinations that will hurt the second-time UFC fighter while scoring a ton of points on the judges' scorecards.
Prediction: Hacran Dias by unanimous decision
These are the fights that look a little more one-sided on paper, but remember, this is MMA and anything can - and usually does - happen.
Thiago Santos vs. Steve Bosse
Thiago Santos will look for his third UFC knockout this weekend as he takes on former semi-pro hockey player turned fighter Steve Bosse.
Before his recent return to action, Bosse had decided to retire from the sport after a long athletic career where injuries started to mount, and he was ready to take a much-needed break. Bosse got the time off he needed and almost returned in April at UFC 186, but instead will make his promotional debut this weekend. Bosse isn't just a former hockey enforcer, he's a real fighter with wins over several well-known names with UFC experience.
Still, he's fighting an uphill battle against someone like Santos, who hits hard and has been much more active in the last couple of years.
Bosse will definitely swing for the fences, and if he lands the right punch, the Canadian could absolutely put Santos' lights out. While Santos has been knocked out before during his career, he's shown great resiliency since coming to the UFC, and he stood toe-to-toe with much more technical strikers than Bosse.
Santos has to be careful not to allow Bosse to catch him with a big haymaker or trap him against the cage, where he can unload punches in bunches. Santos will be the faster fighter with better strikes overall, so all he has to do is maintain his patience and just look to pick Bosse apart. Santos has to survive early, but if he can get past round one while peppering Bosse with counter shots, the Brazilian should eventually find a home for one of his best combinations and put the first-time UFC fighter to sleep.
Prediction: Thiago Santos by TKO, Round 2
Alex Oliveira vs. Joe Merritt
Both Alex Oliveira and Joe Merritt are accepting this bout on short notice, but only one of them has UFC experience and a UFC win from just a few short weeks ago.
Oliveira proved with his victory over KJ Noons that he is a serious prospect to watch at 155 pounds, and even in his loss to Gilbert Burns, the Brazilian known as “Cowboy” showed off some very nasty striking and good versatility on the ground as well. Oliveira is a long and rangy striker with good pop in his punches and kicks, and he's got better than average wrestling to get his opponents to the ground when necessary. Oliveira is also good with his counter strikes, which he might use against someone like Merritt, who could be fighting on instinct and nerves in his UFC debut.
Merritt is 6-0 as a fighter, but unfortunately he just hasn't faced very much good competition during his career. He does train with a solid team, including Lorenz Larkin, so Merritt is no stranger to working with top fighters, but it probably won't help him against someone as good as Oliveira on less than a week's notice.
Look for Oliveira to pick Merritt apart on the feet and then either score a takedown and end the fight by submission or he'll just pour on the offense until the UFC newcomer withers and crumbles.
Prediction: Alex Oliveira by TKO, Round 1
Steve Montgomery vs. Tony Sims
If you recognize the name Steve Montgomery, it's because he was recently featured on the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter: American Top Team vs. Blackzilians, but he never got the chance to compete after a weight cutting disaster caused him to have a seizure and forced off the show. A myriad of doctor's appointments and tests later, Montgomery was cleared to return to action, and he hoped to still earn his chance to fight in the UFC.
As it turns out, that day will come sooner than expected.
Montgomery was considered one of the strongest competitors on American Top Team before his seizure knocked him out of the tournament. At 6'4" tall, he's a huge welterweight with great reach and power, as well as a dynamic ground game training under some of the best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu coaches in the world. Montgomery has faced UFC talent in the past as well, with wins over Brock Jardine and former Ultimate Fighter winner Colton Smith.
Sims is a serviceable prospect training under coach Leister Bowling in Denver, where he works with a number of UFC fighters including Brandon Thatch and Neil Magny. The problem Sims has this weekend is the fact that he's a natural lightweight and he's going up to 170 pounds and facing a huge welterweight. Sims will give Montgomery a fight, but ultimately size and skill will win the day.
Montgomery was already going to be a fun addition to the UFC after the reality show ended, and this fight should give him the chance to prove why. Expect Montgomery to seize the moment and open up an offensive barrage on Sims until the Coloradan finally falls to the mat and doesn't rise again.
Prediction: Steve Montgomery by TKO, Round 1
Yoel Romero (+145 underdog to Lyoto Machida)
It's never easy to pick against Lyoto Machida and there's still a strong possibility that the former champion could pull out a win this weekend, but there's a few reasons to think Romero could get the victory.
Romero is a hard-hitting middleweight with massive knockout power in both hands and incredible durability that never seems to fade away, whether it's round one or the end of the fight. He's been down a couple of times in his UFC career, most notably in fights against Tim Kennedy and Derek Brunson, and on both occasions Romero stormed back and won by knockout.
Romero actually outstrikes Machida on the feet, landing 3.49 significant shots per minute to the former champion landing 2.62 strikes per minute. Romero also matches Machida in overall accuracy while holding a huge trump card with the Olympic-level wrestling that could come into play at any time during this fight. Romero has to be careful not to get too aggressive, because Machida can absolutely pick him apart with superior footwork and hand speed.
But facts are facts - Machida is coming back just a couple months after Luke Rockhold dominated and finished him in the second round of their matchup in April, not to mention that some of his recent losses have come against physically superior wrestlers. Middleweight champ Chris Weidman was able to secure several takedowns against Machida, and he also struggled to find his rhythm in a bout against Phil Davis while he was still competing at light heavyweight.
If Romero can mix in a few takedowns to keep Machida guessing while staying patient and waiting for the best possible opening to land his knockout strikes, this could be just the performance to put the Cuban on the map for a future title shot.
Prediction: Yoel Romero by TKO, Round 3