In August of 2011, the UFC took a major step in gaining mainstream legitimacy, agreeing to a seven year television deal with FOX. Two months later, the UFC debuted on FOX with one fight on the main card. A Heavyweight title fight that pitted Champion Cain Velasquez against Junior dos Santos. The fight lasted only 64 seconds, as dos Santos captured UFC gold by putting away Velasquez with strikes. The fight also captured an audience, as it peaked at 8.8 million viewers. The most watched MMA event on TV ever to this date!
Over seven years later, the UFC FOX deal will come to a close at the end of the year. However, on big FOX, it ends tonight with one last event featuring Lightweight contenders in Kevin Lee and Al Iaquinta. This will be a rematch, as their first encounter took place on February 1, 2014 at UFC 169. The fight marked Lee’s octagon debut and it was a pretty close fight. Iaquinta dominated the first round, dropping Lee with a stiff Jab. Then Lee came back in the second round with a well timed takedown, in which he got Iaquinta’s back and remained there for round. In the third, a late flurry by Iaquinta edged out the round in his favor and the judges awarded him the nod.
Over three years later, both men are drastically better fighters. I’d say though, Lee has improved the most. Since his defeat to Iaquinta, Lee has won ten of his last twelve fights. He has beaten the likes of Michel Prazeres, Francisco Trinaldo, Michael Chiesa and Edson Barboza. Lee also fought for an Interim Lightweight Championship, ultimately losing to Tony Ferguson.
As for Iaquinta, since defeating Lee, he was won five of his last seven fights. Due to injuries and contract disputes, Iaquinta hasn’t been able find consistency in fighting often. However, perhaps the biggest notch on his career came in his last fight when he fought for the UFC Lightweight title against Khabib Nurmagomedov. An injury to Tony Ferguson and a deemed medically unfit Max Holloway thwarted Iaquinta into a title fight on a days notice. Iaquinta would ultimately lose, but Iaquinta lasted the full five rounds and even shrugged off several Nurmagomedov takedown attempts. If anything, the fight proved Iaquinta with some more experience and consistency could compete with the best.
Anyways, to the Predictions!
UFC On FOX 31 Main Card (8 p.m. ET)
155 lbs.: Kevin Lee vs. Al Iaquinta – I’ve broken down the first fight and what they’ve done since their first encounter over four years ago. So, I’ll just get right to the prediction. I’ve got Iaquinta. The Long Island real estate agent has been hampered over the year by injuries and a contract dispute, but his last fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov was a massive learning experience. And the fact that he fought all five rounds and did very well, is major confidence booster heading into this fight.
Now, Lee has definitely vaulted Iaquinta in terms of improvement and overall skill set. However, it’s Iaquinta who I believe has the cardio and power to present issues for Lee the later this fight goes. His wrestling and grappling can neutralize or the very least sap Lee’s cardio as he works hard to get the fight to mat. On the feet, both are solid, but it’s Iaquinta who has the power to turn the fight on a dime. In what should be a hell of a main event, it’s Iaquinta I’m edging to weather the early storm and win via decision.
155 lbs.: Edson Barboza vs. Dan Hooker – Man, this is going to be an amazing striking contest. Both men are among the elite strikers of the division, who are not afraid to risk position when they throw crazy spinning back kicks or flying knees. In other words, this fight is in my opinion destined for fight of the night. Now, as for a prediction I have Barboza. I feel like he’s fought the best of the best and has enough experience to thwart off the new threat in the Lightweight division in Hooker. I’ve been very impressed with Hooker, but his four-fight win streak includes two old veterans. Not one of the fighters in his win streak include a top fifteen foe. In other words, this fight while winnable, is in my opinion too much, too soon. So with that, I have Barboza winning via decision.
135 lbs.: Rob Font vs. Sergio Pettis – I’ve got Font. He’s got a big size advantage and is physically stronger then the natural Flyweight Pettis. Font is a solid technical striker, as is Pettis, but it’s Font who carries the fight ending power in his hands. In a fight that should take place a majority of the time on the feet, it’s Font who’s power shots that keeps Pettis at bay. So with that, I have Font winning via decision.
155 lbs.: Jim Miller vs. Charles Oliveira – Eight years ago, almost to the date, the young upstart Oliveira took on a prime Miller and got finished via submission in the very first round. Oliveira was just starting out his UFC career, meanwhile Miller was in the midst of a five-fight win streak and on the cusp of a title shot. Now, the trajectory has changed, as Miller has lost four of his last fight fights and Oliveira has won three of this four fights. Seemingly this should be an easy pick, as Miller has definitely lost a step. However, I feel that Miller has the ability to turn this into an ugly fight. I can foresee Miller using his wrestling to land several takedowns and his grappling is solid enough to avoid Oliveira slick submissions. On the feet, his pressure and dirty boxing in the clinch could present issues for Oliveira. So with that, I’ll go with the old dog in Miller to upset Oliveira via decision.
UFC On FOX 31 Prelims On FOX Sports 1 (5 p.m. ET)
170 lbs.: Dwight Grant vs. Zak Ottow – This is a tough fight to call. On one end, Ottow is fighting at home and is the more complete fighter. On the other end, Grant is on a roll heading into his UFC debut and will have a significant speed and power advantage. In my opinion, Ottow just doesn’t have the volume striking, speed and durability needed to advance at his level. Against Sage Northcutt he folded early and I foresee the same in this one. So with that, I have Grant winning via knockout.
155 lbs.: Bobby Green vs. Drakkar Klose – Pardon the pun, but this is a going to be a close fight. I believe Klose is the better fighter, especially in the IQ department. He is very well rounded and has shown the ability to pick apart opponents on the outside with an assortment of leg kicks, as well as mix in well timed takedowns. Green is solid wrestler, who chooses to stand-and-bang with his foes. He’s got power and hell of a chin, but his antics after getting hit in my opinion don’t bode well with the judges. Green often spends too much time shaking his head and finger wagging then fighting, which is a shame because he has all the tools to become a contender. Anyways, as for a prediction, I’ve got Green. I think he shrugs off Klose’s takedowns and lands the more punishing power shots on the feet. I don’t envision a finish, so with that, I’ve got Green winning via decision.
155 lbs.: Jared Gordon vs. Joaquim Silva – This fight is simple, either Gordon’s pace and volume striking breaks Silva down or Silva lands the power shot to put away Gordon. Now, hanging on a power shot to land is a tough sell unless it’s Dan Henderson or Francis Ngannou you’re talking about. So with that, I’ve got Gordon winning via decision.
185 lbs.: Zak Cummings vs. Trevor Smith – I’ve got Cummings in this fight. Even though Smith has a pretty big size advantage and will look to use his strength to bully and grind out a decision victory, it’s Cummings wrestling chops that will neutralize that. On the feet, Cummings is a pretty good boxer while Smith lacks anything significant striking-wise other than a looping power shot.
185 lbs.: Jack Hermansson vs. Gerald Meerschaert – This should be a fun fight as long as it last. Meerschaert is as tough as they come and is game wherever the fights goes. However, he lacks the athleticism, speed and striking needed to beat the upper echelon of the division. Hermansson isn’t yet upper echelon, but he’s big and strong for the Middleweight division. He’s got a nice technical striking game, with a stiff jab and some legit power to add. In what should be a fast furious start to the fight, I see Hermansson landing the harder shots and ultimately putting away Meerschaert via TKO.
145 lbs.: Jordan Griffin vs. Dan Ige – Don’t know much about Griffin, but Ige is fairly well rounded. He’s got some wrestling and submission chops that should aid him in this fight. So with that, I have Ige winning via decision.
UFC On FOX 31 Prelims On Fight Pass (4:00 p.m. ET)
205 lbs.: Adam Milstead vs. Mike Rodriguez – This is a toss up between two bottom dwellers of the Light Heavyweight division. I’m leaning Milstead though due to his last performance against Jordan Johnson. Also, Rodriguez has terrible takedown defense. So with that, I got Milstead winning via decision.
265 lbs.: Juan Adams vs. Chris De La Rocha – Adams all day. De La Rocha is tough, but he is nothing more than fodder for this young upstart. So with that, I got Adams winning via knockout.