Don’t Blink! That’s the message from MMA fans and pundits ahead of another exciting Night of fights courtesy of UFC and ESPN. Since the birth of this promising relationship, both media giants have not disappointed, with the two previous cards being stacked with big names, gripping fights and controversial fallout. This event is poised to be no different, including some sizzling affairs sure to get the adrenaline pumping. Here I will run down the card selecting the finest cuts and serve a hefty preview with a few predictions to feed your fight I.Q.
Main event: Junior Dos Santos (21-5) vs Francis Ngannou (13-3)
There isn’t too many match ups that come to mind with more explosive potential than this one. Both men love to stand and trade and collectively have earned a whopping 17 KO/TKO UFC victories between them, the majority against high caliber ranked heavyweights. Both men are riding hot streaks, indicating that the winner will challenge for the UFC heavyweight belt in the near future. Francis ‘The predator’ Ngannou is coming off two knock outs wins, the most recent against a man who many considered the best UFC heavyweight of all time Cain Velasquez. Not to be outdone, Junior’s recent success has raised his stock in a big way, picking up 3 impressive victories since last July, most notably a dominant TKO finish against fan favorite Derrick Lewis.
The fight will likely be a contested on the feet. The pair love to stand and trade with the edge in technical striking going to Dos Santos. Look for Dos Santos to use good footwork to maintain distance, leg kicks and the Jab to stifle the forward movement of Ngannou and make him think twice about throwing hay-makers. The key to success for Dos Santos is to allow Ngannou to miss repeatedly and to pick him apart when his gas tank is running empty. That being said Dos Santos possesses the power to turn Ngannou’s lights out at any point in this contest. As for Ngannou the game plan is clear, take them two sledgehammers and send Dos Santos into space with a nasty knockout. Every man Ngannou touches folds like a deckchair and it only takes one big shot to close the show.
Prediction: In an incredibly tough fight to call, Ngannou gets the nod. If he shows up and does what he has proved he can do, I see him landing the killer blow to pick up a first round KO/TKO.
Co-Main Event: Jussier Formiga (23-5) vs Joseph Benividaz (27-5)
It seems that each flyweight fight in this era carries the old WWE stipulation of “loser leaves’, in this case referring to the UFC. With flyweights dropping like…. well flies these days, with only 11 now registered under contract, it appears that for each individual fighter the steaks are higher than ever before. However unless the UFC is planning to close the division (which they may well be) it’s difficult to justify cutting either the #1 or #2 ranked fighter in this division. This bout will determine who is next in line for the shot at Henry Cejudo, who holds both the flyweight and bantamweight belt.
These two first fought in 2013, shortly before Benavidez’s disastrous second crack at Demetrious Johnson. Formiga, once the No. 1 Flyweight in the world, had no answers for Benavidez’s speed and power, ultimately falling midway through the first round.
Alot has changed since this encounter.For one, both men are in their mid-30s, which seems like a point in Formiga’s favor considering how integral Benavidez’s athleticism is to his success. Further, the Brazilian has developed into a capable striker and wrestler in his own right, while Benavidez went life-and-death with Dustin Ortiz on the mat this past January.
This won’t be anywhere near the blowout the first fight was and Formiga’s back control remains among the best in the sport. It’ll come down to the wire and Benavidez will find himself in more submission danger than ever before, but he’s beaten too many strong grapplers for me to believe that Formiga can get revenge. Benavidez is essentially the division’s premier scrambler, and he looks to have shored up his striking with enough technique to offset the loss of speed.
Prediction: Benevidas survives a jiu jitsu onslaught to eke out a decision on the strength of his power punching.
Damien Maia (26-9) Vs Anthony Rocco Martin (16-4)
This Fight see’s submission specialist and human bone constrictor Damien Maia take on the well rounded technical striker Anthony Rocco Martin. The veteran Maia got himself back in the win column in his last outing against lyman wood with a first round rear naked choke. This coming off 3 losses to the divisions top guns in Colby Covington, Tyron Woodely and most recently Kamaru Usmann all great wrestlers and former or current UFC champions. Martin is rocking a 4 fight win streak since moving up to welterweight, making this a clash of two fighters on completely different trajectories.
Rocco is riding a wave of momentum and has displayed technical, disciplined striking in his last few fights. If he can pick up a win tonight that will catapult him into the welterweight picture, a division stacked with high profile fighters for him to test his metal. However the veteran Maia is no easy hurdle, having faced well rounded fighters like this before and disposed of them with relative ease. If Maia can use his wrestling and get on the inside to secure a take down he should be able to bring the Rocco train to a halt and secure the win.
Prediction: The high level jiu jitsu of Maia, coupled with his ever improving wrestling ability should be enough to drag Rocco to the ground, keep him there and finish him with one of his many mastered submissions.