After a stacked UFC 198 card in Brazil, the UFC returns nearly two weeks later for a UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas. In my opinion, this UFC Fight Night card is stacked and underrated. Now, it has no where near the drawing power when talking about “names” as UFC 198 had, but stylistically it has some barn burners on it. Headlining the card, are two undefeated prospects in the form of Thomas Almeida and Cody Garbrandt. It’s a fight where someone’s O has to go, which is unfortunate given that one of these rising talents is going have their first setback. However, the winner will undoubtedly no longer be dubbed a prospect, but instead – a contender.
Also on the card, is a firecracker of of a fight, as former UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao makes his Featherweight debut against the heavy hitting Jeremy Stephens. Both look to get back into the win column, as well climb the ranks in the featherweight division. At 170 lbs., Rick Story looks to make a successful return after a neck injury plagued him for nearly a year and a half. In his way, is the “Sponge” Tarec Saffiedine, who looks to build off his win over Jake Ellenberger at UFC on Fox 18. Another fight at 170 lbs. I can’t wait for is Lorenz Larkin against Jorge Masvidal. This has fight of the night written all over and I suggest not to miss this one! Also on the Fight Pass prelims, bantamweight contender Aljamain Sterling looks to make his case for a title shot, as he faces veteran Bryan Caraway. There’s a few other really awesome fight, but let’s just get to the Predictions!
FOX Sports 1 Main Card (9 p.m. ET):
135 lbs.: Thomas Almeida vs. Cody Garbrandt – O Baby! What’s better than two undefeated, rising prospects that love to go toe to toe with their opponents? I’ll answer that for you (since you can’t), nothing. Almeida will look to continue his fast rise in the bantamweight division and make Garbrandt his 22nd victim. At the age of 24 and only four fights in the UFC, Almeida has also collected four “Bonus” checks from the UFC. That’s pretty remarkable and I assure you that with his talent, expect more and even a run at Joe Lauzon’s record 13 UFC bonuses. Anyways, as for Garbrandt, he will look to make it four straight victories and prove that he is a legit threat in the bantamweight division. Stylistically, this fight is going to be epic. Both guys are primarily strikers, so you should expect to see this one take place the majority on the feet. However, Garbrandt does have a wrestling background which could aid in slowing down Almeida. But, I don’t think so. Almeida is starting to get technical and precise, which is an issue for anyone given the power and diversity in his strikes. Garbrandt is game and as tough as they come, but Almeida to me feels like the second coming of Renan Barao. I also think that Almeida has fought tougher competition and passed with flying colors. If Garbrandt had fought John Lineker like he was scheduled too and smoked him, my tune would of immediately changed. However, that fight never came to fruition and I’m going to side with Almeida here via TKO!
145 lbs.: Renan Barao vs. Jeremy Stephens – What a sick co-main event, as Renan Barao returns after to action after nearly year. Barao, the former UFC bantamweight champion will be making his featherweight debut against a very stiff test in Stephens. Since dropping down to featherweight, Stephens has had a mixed bag of success. He won three straight, before losing to Cub Swanson in a barn burner of a fight. He would drop a decision a to Charles Oliveira, pull out an insane flying knee KO on Dennis Bermudez and then lose a decision in a lackluster fight to Max Holloway. Obviously, Stephens has fought some of the best fighters the featherweight division has to offer, but when the competition rose, he faltered. Even the Bermudez fight that he won, before the flying knee knockout, he was getting decisively outworked. He has some of the best power in the UFC, but seems very hesitant to me at times and often wings punches with no setup. His opponent Barao isn’t hesitant and is often precise with his punches. Sure, it’s been a rough two years for Barao, but I really like the weight class change and this matchup. Expect Barao to stay out of the pocket and use heavy dose of leg kicks to slow down the movement of Stephens. I also still think has the power to put anyone away, even at featherweight and against a gritty and durable fighter like Stephens. What I’m saying is, I got Barao via TKO!
170 lbs.: Rick Story vs. Tarec Saffiedine – Super fun fight in the welterweight division, as Rick Story is finally back. It’s been nearly a year and half since he beat the touted prospect Gunnar Nelson. It’s really a shame too that he got hurt, as a climb in the division after a victory like that was imminent. However, that’s in the past and he presently has a tough task in the form of Tarec Saffiedine. A decorated striker and more famously known for being the last Strikeforce Champion, Saffiedine will look to make it two straight victories. The fight should be a good one and I’m actually conflicted in a prediction here. I think if we see the Story that showed up to fight Gunnar Nelson, he’s got this. If not and if he’s “rusty”, Saffiedine will have no issues at picking apart Story via his infamous leg kicks. Ughh, this is tough, but I’m going to side with Story here. He mixes it up well, striking and wrestling enough to keep Saffiedine from implementing his heavy striking game. I think we see Story pushing Saffiedine to the cage, grinding away at him en route to a decision victory.
185 lbs.: Chris Camozzi vs. Vitor Miranda – I love Camozzi and his willingness to step into the cage twice against Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. Both time obviously did not end well for Camozzi, but the second one earned him his second stint in the UFC. One in which has him on a two fight win streak, as he beat both Tom Watson and Joe Riggs. As for Miranda, he’s been handing out a dosage of TKO’s in a three fight streak he’s got going. Most impressively, he beat Clint Hester, who I’ve always thought was going to be a top talent. That’s for another day though, so as for fight, I’m going to side with Miranda. I mean, Camozzi has the volume and pace to keep Miranda off his game…and to think of it, Miranda isn’t the most elusive fighter. However, Camozzi also is super hittable and the difference is, Miranda packs a punch. With that, I got Miranda to keep the TKO train rolling.
170 lbs.: Jorge Masvidal vs. Lorenz Larkin – This might be my favorite fight of the night, as Larkin’s dynamic striking will be put to the test against one of the most game fighters on the planet in Jorge Masvidal. Since the drop to 170 lbs. Larkin is 2-1, with two TKO victories. I must admit, I was glad that UFC gave him another chance after he dropped three straight in the middleweight division, as it’s clear that he is super talented. As for the fight, this is a super tough one to call, but I like Masvidal here. He has the experience, has fought basically everyone and is super well rounded. He has the ability to stand with Larkin and pressure him or mix in a takedown and use his top notch grappling abilities. I just think he has too many tools in the toolbox to succumb to Larkin’s heavy striking game. So with that, I got Masvidal via decision!
155 lbs.: Josh Burkman vs. Paul Felder – This fight has the ability to be fight of the night, but that hangs on the durability of Josh Burkman. His body is going to get brutalized with kicks and I’m just not sure he can counter the dynamic striking of Paul Felder. Even if finds a way to make this interesting, his gas tank empties about mid-way through the second. Felder has cardio, a pace and volume that is going to have this looking like a one-sided beat down. With that, Felder via TKO in round one.
FOX Sports 1 “Prelims” (7 p.m. ET):
135 lbs.: Jessica Eye vs. Sara McMann – An awesome fight in the women’s bantamweight division, as well as a career dependent one if you ask me. Both women have lost three of their last four fights and enter this one on the heels of a two fight losing streak. A win here is much needed for both competitors, as it wouldn’t surprise me to see the loser get a pink slip. Jessica Eye is primarily a striker and would love to keep this one on the feet, although Sara McMann has some legit power in her hands. McMann will look to use her wrestling to take Eye down and keep her there, which has been a recipe that Eye’s opponents have found success in. I’m back and forth with this pick because on one hand, Sara McMann is stylistically a bad fight for Eye. She’s got unreal strength, has an Olympic silver medal in wrestling and insanely athletic to boot. Eye is a striker, who finds ways to get herself into trouble and it’s unfortunate because I really think she’s a talent. I’ll stop the mooching and say that, McMann wins via decision.
155 lbs.: Abel Trujillo vs. Jordan Rinaldi – This fight might be brutal, well only for the late replacement Jordan Rinaldi. I give him credit for stepping in to face one the hardest hitters on the planet, who also happens to be ridiculously athletic. I will go no further than that, as Trujillo should easily win this via KO.
185 lbs.: Alberto Uda vs. Jake Collier – Disappointment doesn’t even utter the words I have for Jake Collier’s UFC run. I mean, I’m not even sure what martial art he excels at… Anyways, I don’t really know much about Uda, except that he’s physically strong and has a brutal clinch game. Add that with training at Nova Uniao and I’m siding with him to win via TKO!
155 lbs.: Erik Koch vs. Eric Campbell – It’s been a little more then two years since Koch was in the octagon, so I’m interested to see if “ring rust” plays a factor here. As for his opponent, it’s in the form of the Canadian kickboxer Shane Campbell who is filling in for Joe Proctor. Campbell is in desperate need of win, especially considering that the lightweight division features the most fighters on the UFC roster. A loss here would spell trouble, but I actually think he gets the job done. I mean, Koch was once supposed to face Jose Aldo for the title on two different occasions. That was over three years ago! Also, Koch has lost three of his last four fights. Combine that with the two year layoff and there’s no way I can pick him. Campbell via TKO.
UFC Fight Pass “Prelims” (6 p.m. ET):
135 lbs.: Aljamain Sterling vs. Bryan Caraway – Finally, after all the wait and the words spattered back and forth, these two will finally lock horns. The veteran Bryan Caraway looks to build off his decision victory over Eddie Wineland last July, as well as end the undefeated Aljamain Sterling’s rise in the bantamweight division. Sterling looks to add another name to the resume, as he makes his claim for a title shot. In my opinion, Sterling is on another level and should be able to dictate where this fight goes. The only things I see on Caraway’s side, is his fight experience and ability to make a fight ugly. However, Sterling’s leg kicks should keep Cararway off beat and I truly believe that if Sterling wants it on the ground, his wrestling and top control will override any of the slick submissions Cararway might throw at him. So with that, my prediction is that Sterling will win and surprisingly via submission.
265 lbs.: Chris De La Rocha vs. Adam Milstead – This reminds me of the movie “Here Comes the Boom”, as Chris De La Rocha made his UFC debut last year at the age of 36. Unlike the movie though, De La Rocha lost and via TKO in 48 seconds. I once again expect him to lose, via TKO…