UFC on FOX 27: Charlotte
Austin Arnett (15-3) vs. Cory Sandhagen (7-1) - 145 lbs.
Arnett (UFC Debut): Before losing to Brandon Davis on Dana White’s Conteder Series, Arnett compiled a 13 fight win-streak. Even more impressive, is the fact that only 3 of those 13 fights went the distance. Although Arnett had a rough time against Davis, who debuted at UFC 220, he is a proven finisher and more than deserving of this opportunity. Has shown flashes of ability to pull off quick submissions, but he’s primarily a striker.
Sandhagen (UFC Debut): He just fought last weekend at LFA 31 (KO’d his opponent in the 1st round), so it’s gonna be an extremely quick turnaround for the 25-year-old. 8 days between fights is almost unheard of at this level. He’s an excellent, precise striker. Has displayed some good grappling ability as well. Will be crucial that he remains composed against Arnett, who will be his toughest opponent yet.
What to expect: This bout was a last-minute addition to the fight card, but is a great way to kick things off. Both guys have shown decent jiu-jitsu skills, but relatively untested. Although both guys are pretty much the same age, Arnett has much more experience — his calculated approach could be the decisive factor in this one. If Sandhagen gets too wild, Arnett will make him pay. Will be interesting to see how both guys handle the pressure of making their debuts on short-notice.
Prediction: Arnett via decision
Niko Price (10-1) vs. George Sullivan (17-5) - 170 lbs.
Price (2-1, [1 NC] UFC): Despite his recent loss to Vicente Luque, Niko Price has had a great start to his UFC career. “The Hybrid” has exhibited good kickboxing skills — he puts some serious power behind his head kicks. In his second UFC bout, Price was clipped several times by his opponent, Alex Morono, and appeared to be in danger. However, he quickly turned the table with a flurry of strikes and ended the fight just as the 2nd round came to a close (overturned to no contest due to Price’s marijuana use). Price is a prolific finisher, and only 1 of his 12 professional fights have gone the distance. It will be interesting to see how he rebounds after being handed his first loss. He likes to get the job done on the feet, but don’t underestimate his jiu-jitsu and wrestling skills either.
Sullivan (3-2 UFC): A veteran of the fight game, George Sullivan holds a 3-2 record in the UFC. Despite the winning record, he seems to falter when he faces a high-level opponent. His two losses were dealt by Tim Means and Alexander Yakovlev, both rangy fighters with good kickboxing skills. He hasn’t fought in 2 years, due to multiple USADA violations. Decent grappler and striker, but his skill-set is better suited to the regional circuit. Tends to move around the octagon in a stiff and flat-footed manner. Definitely a “fringe” fighter who can dominate on the regional circuit, but struggles against the best. Sullivan’s resumé does include a victory over viral-sensation Julian Lane (he didn’t let him bang), so he’s got that going for him.
What to expect: It will be quickly apparent that Price is the better fighter. The Hybrid should have his way with this one, and I expect him to finish the fight within two rounds. Furthermore, Sullivan, 36, is coming off a lengthy absence, and won’t have the benefit of performance-enhancing drugs this time around. A loss this weekend could spell the end of Sullivan’s time in the UFC.
Prediction: Price via KO/TKO, rd. 1
Vinc Pichel (10-1) vs. Joaquim Silva (10-0) - 155 lbs.
Pichel (3-1 UFC): Following a 3-year hiatus, Pichel returned to the octagon in dramatic fashion last June, knocking out Damien Brown in the 1st round. It’s worth noting that he was nearly overwhelmed by Brown’s boxing early in the fight. Has proven himself to be an above-average grappler, and the ground game is where he’s most comfortable. Despite his impressive record, Pichel is already 35, and the clock is ticking on his career.
Silva: (3-0 UFC): Very well-rounded fighter. Black belt in jiu-jitsu, but his biggest strength is his striking… very explosive and powerful. He’s never lost a professional fight, but did lose an exhibition bout on TUF, via submission. Nevertheless, at only 28-years-old, Silva has a very bright future in the UFC.
What to expect: Pichel is gonna have a lot of trouble dealing with Silva’s striking. I expect Silva to bring the pressure right away. Pichel’s best path of victory may be through his wrestling, however, he’s gotta be careful in Silva’s guard.
Prediction: Silva via KO/TKO, rd. 2
Justine Kish (6-1) vs. Ji-Yeon Kim (6-1-2) - 125 lbs.
Kish (2-1 UFC): The good news for Justine Kish is that win or lose, things can’t go much worse than last time (if you don’t know… you’re better off). Before transitioning to MMA, Kish racked up accolades in muay thai and boxing. An accomplished striker, Kish is very strong and fights in a forward-moving manner, winging punches and kicks at her opponent. She can be a bit reckless, and gets hit a fair amount. Her defense and head movement could definitely improve. Although the former kickboxer has shown a a decent capacity for wrestling, she was clearly outclassed by Felice Herrig on the mat, in her most recent fight.
Kim (0-1 UFC): Ji-Yeon Kim made her UFC debut last June, dropping a unanimous decision to Lucie Pudilova. The 28-year-old Korean fighter leans heavily on her boxing and packs a lot of power behind her punches. Her grappling hasn’t been tested, and that could prove to be a significant weakness in her game. This weekend, she will be moving down from the 135 lb. division to fight at 125 lbs.
What to expect: Interesting matchup here as Kish is moving up from 115 and Kim is moving down from 135. Kish has faced some high-level opponents in the octagon, and I expect that experience will benefit her greatly, this weekend. She does tend to eat a lot of big shots, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kim put her down with one punch. Kish normally holds a strength advantage over her opponents, but it will be interesting to see how this plays out against an opponent who is dropping down from a higher weight class. Kish has had a fairly successful start to her UFC career, and I expect her to grind out another victory this weekend.
Prediction: Kish via KO/TKO, rd. 2
#11 Randa Markos (7-5) vs. Juliana Lima (9-4) - 115 lbs.
Markos (3-4 UFC): The Canadian fighter has faced some of the best competition that the UFC has to offer, and even defeated some of them. She holds victories over Tecia Torres, Felice Herrig, and Carla Esparza. Following her loss to Rose Namajunas in the semi-finals of TUF season 20, her career has been a mixed bag — she is 3-4 in her last 7 fights. She’s a strong and aggressive fighter, however, her technical shortcomings are often exposed by well-trained opponents.
Lima (3-3 UFC): The 35-year-old is quite well-rounded, with a background in both muay thai and jiu-jitsu. She does seem to be more comfortable in grappling situations. In her 2014 debut, Lima went the distance with Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
What to expect: The contrasting styles of these fighters makes for an intriguing matchup. Markos is a physical brawler, while Lima is more careful and technically-sound. Both fighters are coming off of losses. Furthermore, they’ve both been hovering around the edge of the top-15 for many years, so a win would be huge for either fighter. Lima may be looking to grapple, but Markos has proven to be a very tough opponent to control.
Prediction: Lima via decision
#11 (BW) Chookagian (9-1) vs. #9 Mara Romera Borella (12-4) - 125 lbs.
Chookagian (2-1 UFC): Comes from a striking background but doesn’t seem fully comfortable engaging in a brawl. Usually fights moving backwards. Doesn’t normally initiate a clinch or takedown, but she has a good defensive-guard. An inexperienced opponent this weekend will present a good opportunity for Chookagian to test her striking skills.
Romero Borella (1-0 UFC): After a great debut, where she pulled off a quick submission on Kalinda Faria, i’m very excited to see Romera Borella back in the octagon. She made her debut on short-notice, so i’m curious to see if her ground game will hold up against an opponent who is prepared for it. She has shown a very limited striking attack, and looks to tie-up her opponent whenever the opportunity arises.
What to expect: Should be a good challenge for both fighters. One is a striker and the other is a grappler, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that either of them will hold an advantage in those areas. If Borella is able to get the fight to the ground, I don’t expect her to do much damage. Furthermore, I can’t see either fighter dominating their opponent on the feet. Chookagian’s high-level experience and size-advantage could give her the upper-hand.
Prediction: Chookagian via decision
#15 Mirsad Bektic (11-1) vs. Godofredo “Pepey” Castro (13-5) - 145 lbs.
Bektic (4-1 UFC): Darren Elkins handed him his first loss at UFC 209, but Mirsad Bektic is still one of the UFC’s most promising prospects. He will look to get the hype train back on track as he faces another veteran this weekend. In the lead-up to this fight, Bektic made a drastic change — he began training at Firas Zahabi’s Tri-Star gym. Bektic hasn’t shown many weaknesses in the octagon. He’s a ferocious striker and very good grappler. He’s proven that he belongs in the UFC, but a win this weekend will prove that Bektic deserves another shot at a ranked opponent.
Castro (5-5 UFC): “Pepey” has had a very respectable tenure in the UFC. Since joining the organization in 2012, the Brazilian fighter has put together a 5-5 record. He’s had an interesting career. He made his pro debut in 2003, at the age of 16. However, he didn’t start to fight consistently until 2010. In 2012, with a 7-0 record, Pepey made the jump to the UFC. After losing 3 of his first 4 fights in the promotion, Pepey has turned things around nicely, picking up wins in 4 of his last 6 bouts. With 3 ‘Performance of the Night’ bonuses under his belt, the 30-year-old has proven that he can end the fight in a split-second, both on the feet and on the mat. He’s one of the most dynamic finishers in the featherweight division.
What to expect: One of the most exciting matchups on the card. Bektic will need to be extremely careful grappling with Pepey, who has an insane repertoire of submissions that he can utilize in any grappling situation, whether it be on the mat or in the clinch. On the feet, I’m expecting some explosive exchanges. Although Pepey has a more “diverse” style, Bektic’s rock-solid fundamentals could be a major factor in this fight.
Prediction: Bektic via decision
Eric Koch (15-5) vs. Bobby Green (23-8-1) - 155 lbs.
Koch (4-4 UFC): Koch has had a long and winding career, plagued by injuries. Originally breaking into the UFC as a featherweight, Koch knocked out Raphael Assuncao in 2011. Since then, he’s failed to beat anyone of relevance. Still only 29-years-old, the longtime Roufusport product is 2-2 since moving up in weight, to compete at 155. Fighting with a wide, karate stance, Koch works best against an opponent who gives him space to operate. In his last fight, he struggled to deal with Clay Guida’s smothering ground game. Koch is a well-conditioned fighter, and has shown great stamina throughout his career. Although he has racked up 8 wins by submission, he’s primarily a striker, but he is eager to jump on a submission opportunity after knocking down an opponent.
Green (4-3-1 UFC): After 3-straight losses and a draw, Green hasn’t won a fight since 2014. To be fair, he has faced very tough opponents during his winless-streak. Once ranked #7 in the lightweight division, Green has shown that he can hang with the best of the best. He is an above-average wrestler and boxer. He tends to get hit a little too often, and will need to tighten up his defense against a dangerous striker such as Koch.
What to expect: Both of these guys have been within reach of a title-shot, at one point in their careers. It would be wise of Green to fight with a lot of forward-pressure this weekend. Koch could be in for a long day if Green can take the fight to the mat. For either fighter, a victory this weekend will bring a much-needed second-wind to their career. Don’t expect anything flashy, but this should be a great contest between two of the sport’s toughest, unsung veterans.
Prediction: Green via decision
Drew Dober (18-8) vs. Frank Camacho (21-5) - 170 lbs.
Dober (4-4 UFC): After dropping 3 of his first 4 UFC fights, Dober has turned the corner nicely. The 29-year-old has won 3 of his last 4 bouts. This will be Dober’s first fight at 170 lbs. Throughout his career, he has proven himself to be a well-rounded martial artist. An amateur muay-thai champion, Dober is a high-volume striker and a proven finisher. His loss to Oliver Aubin-Mercier demonstrated his jiu-jitsu shortcomings, however, he has been working hard on that facet of his game and is certainly not a bad grappler.
Camacho (1-1 UFC): After missing weight by 5 pounds his last time out, Camacho will be moving up to a more natural weight class for this bout. In just 2 UFC fights, Camacho’s exciting style has earned him many fans. He’s a hard-hitter and is always moving forward, looking for the finish. His striking arsenal is fairly limited. Don’t sleep on his ground game though, he is well-versed in jiu-jitsu, and holds a brown belt. He’s shown a questionable gas-tank… but it’s not clear yet whether that has been a result of tough weight-cuts.
What to expect: I’m excited to see how both of these guys perform as welterweights, without the drain of a hard weight-cut. An experienced striker such as Dober could exploit Camacho’s simple boxing style. Both guys have proven to be tough competitors, and this is a definite ‘Fight of the Night’ candidate.
Prediction: Dober via KO/TKO, rd. 3
Jordan Rinaldi (13-5) vs. Gregor Gillespie (10-0) - 155 lbs.
Rinaldi (1-1 UFC): When you look at Rinaldi’s record on the regional circuit, you will see some familiar names. The first recognizable name that springs up is none other than Dennis Bermudez. In 2010, Rinaldi defeated Bermudez in just 2 minutes, with a rear-naked choke. He’s a scrappy fighter who boxes well and looks to take his opponent’s back at any given opportunity. He fights smart and is a very difficult opponent to finish. Rinaldi has been finished twice in his career, by UFC fighters James Moontasri (KO) and Brian Ortega (submission). He’s a good wrestler, but I don’t think he is on Gillespie’s level.
Gillespie (3-0 UFC): Ability-wise, Gillespie stands among the upper-echelon of wrestlers in the UFC. After just missing the cut for the 2012 Olympic wrestling team, he decided to take his talents to the MMA scene — his grappling has certainly translated well. Although he has shown some quick hands and sharp boxing, Gillespie has leaned heavily on his wrestling thus far.
What to expect: A veteran journeyman meets an undefeated prospect. In this case, the “prospect” is actually a year older than the journeyman. It’s no secret that Gillespie will try to control the fight with his wrestling. The question is, how can Rinaldi thwart Gillespie’s plans? Will he play Gillespie’s game and try to pull-off a submission from his guard? Or perhaps, he will try to time Gillespie’s takedown attempts and catch him with an uppercut.
Prediction: Gillespie via decision
#12 Dennis Bermudez (16-7) vs. Andre Fili (17-5) - 145 lbs.
Bermudez (9-5 UFC): Bermudez garnered a lot of hype as he coasted to a 7-1 start in the UFC. Lately, the featherweight division mainstay has fallen on rough times, with a 2-4 record in his last 6 appearances. He’s got a very strong wrestling base, but has done a great job integrating boxing into his game. His short-stature often allows him to get in the pocket and unleash vicious uppercuts.
Fili (5-4 UFC): Since joining the UFC in 2013, the 27-year-old has alternated between wins and losses. A victory this weekend would give Fili his first winning-streak since joining the company. He does a good job keeping range with kicks and jabs. Fili’s shown some good boxing, but I think he’ll struggle against an opponent who likes to fight in the pocket and bring the pressure, such as Bermudez.
What to expect: Both fighters need this win pretty badly. I can’t see Fili having much luck dealing with Bermudez’ elite wrestling. Furthermore, Bermudez is an extremely explosive striker and I think that he will find success countering Fili’s jabs and kicks. Factor in Bermudez’ penchant for dirty boxing in the clinch, and I can see this fight being very one-sided.
Prediction: Bermudez via KO/TKO, rd. 2
#3 Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (24-5) vs. #8 Derek Brunson (18-5) - 185 lbs.
Souza (7-2 UFC): Following a loss to Robert Whittaker, and some injury problems, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza will return to the octagon after a 9-month layoff. Interestingly, Jacare’s only 3 losses since 2009 have been at the hands of Whittaker, Yoel Romero, and Luke Rockhold. The 38-year-old will look to prove that he’s still got enough in the tank to make a final title-run, and a victory this weekend should put him in good standing.
Brunson (9-3 UFC): The Wilmington, Carolina-native has built quite a reputation for himself as one of the UFC’s most lethal knockout-artists. As a result, we haven’t really seen Brunson tested outside of the 1st round. Only 1 of Brunson’s previous 8 bouts — a decision-loss to Anderson Silva — has lasted longer than a round. After KO’ing Lyoto Machida in October, Brunson will face another Brazilian legend this weekend. He has shown heavy hands and a questionable fight IQ, but don’t forget that Brunson is an elite wrester.
What to expect: This fight presents an interesting scenario. We have two high-profile finishers — a knockout-artist and a submission-artist. However, both fighters are extremely well-rounded. Although he rarely needs to show it, Brunson’s wrestling is top-notch. On the other hand, Jacare is a world class jiu-jitsu practitioner and has been considered one of the best all-around fighters for over a decade. I expect Brunson to respect Jacare’s abilities, and deviate from his usual go for broke strategy. Furthermore, I don’t think that Jacare would have any problem neutralizing an aggressive push from Brunson. Brunson’s wrestling could prove a tough test for Souza, but the jiu-jitsu disparity may grow as the fight progresses. The first iteration of this matchup ended in just 41 seconds, but you can expect this one to last longer than that.
If Robert Whittaker is out for an extended amount of time, the winner of this fight could be next in line for a shot at the interim title. If Whittaker returns to defend his belt this summer, I could also see a situation where the winner between Souza/Brunson is matched up with Chris Weidman for a title-eliminator bout, and the loser faces Kelvin Gastelum.
Prediction: Souza via submission, rd. 4