I have mixed feelings about this card. I’m kind of shocked that UFC took two years to return to Scotland; given that 2015 was such an excellent year in company history, it’s hard to call UFC’s debut in Glasgow a “highlight,” but it was a fun card topped by Michael Bisping and Thales Leites that saw one of the best crowds of the year, as the Scottish faithful made themselves heard and proved that UFC probably should’ve come there sooner.
So UFC returns to Glasgow in 2017, and they didn’t really bring much in terms of starpower this time around; Gunnar Nelson and local favorite Joanne Calderwood are probably the biggest names on the card. But that’s seemingly in line with UFC’s strategy nowadays – the semi-big names that aren’t quite in title contention have mostly been moved to stack pay-per-views (or left for Bellator,) leaving prospects and rising fighters in their stead. And, frankly, it’s a bit hard to complain since this card might sneakily wind up being the best of the year. It’s low on name value, and frankly, a bunch of fights may not wind up being particularly relevant, but pretty much every bout has the hope of a fun finish or an all-out war. Plus, from an American standpoint, it’s nice to be able to do something on a Saturday night and then settle in on a Sunday afternoon with a card that promises this much action. Well done, UFC.
- Welterweight: (#8) Gunnar Nelson vs. (#14) Santiago Ponzinibbio
- Women’s Strawweight: (#8) Joanne Calderwood vs. (#14) Cynthia Calvillo
- Lightweight: Paul Felder vs. Stevie Ray
- Middleweight: Ryan Janes vs. Jack Marshman
- Light Heavyweight: Paul Craig vs. Khalil Rountree
- Heavyweight: James Mulheron vs. Patrick Willis
PRELIMINARY CARD (Fox Sports 1 – 1:00 PM ET):
- Welterweight: Bobby Nash vs. Danny Roberts
- Flyweight: (#14) Alexandre Pantoja vs. Neil Seery
- Welterweight: Galore Bofando vs. Charlie Ward
- Lightweight: Danny Henry vs. Daniel Teymur
PRELIMINARY CARD (UFC Fight Pass – 12:00 PM ET):
- Bantamweight: Brett Johns vs. Albert Morales
- Women’s Bantamweight: Amanda Lemos vs. Leslie Smith
Gunnar Nelson is pretty much tailor-made for a certain sort of MMA fan; a stoic native son of Iceland, “Gunni” took up karate and Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a teenager, and pretty much espouses self-improvement over hunting for a belt. So for a certain type of martial arts fetishist, Nelson’s more or less the platonic ideal, having a background in longstanding styles and pretty much being a real-life Icelandic version of, I don’t know, Ryu from Street Fighter or whatever stereotype of a “pure” martial artist that you want to come up with. I’d say that this would make Nelson overrated in those circles, but he’s still actually quite good, and when his game gets going, it can be a thing of beauty; his last win over Alan Jouban, in particular, saw Nelson nail Jouban perfectly on the feet before diving in with a guillotine that he adjusted on the fly for the tap. There are some concerns with Nelson, as he’s not particularly big and can get into some trouble when an opponent can overpower him; Demian Maia pretty much put on a BJJ clinic that showed just how awesome Maia is on the ground, while Rick Story won Nelson’s only other UFC main event bout with some good old-fashioned American wrestling, powering through Nelson’s game and grinding his way to a decision. Since the Maia loss, UFC hasn’t really put Nelson against someone that addresses any of those concerns, which is slightly disappointing; with the welterweight division looking ready to churn over with new talent, and with his cult following and status as a Conor McGregor teammate, I thought UFC could give Nelson a big test to get him ready for a title shot after his win over Jouban – but instead, we get a bit of a lateral move as he faces Santiago Ponzinibbio.
While he’s a bit of a disappointing matchup for Nelson, I am happy that Ponzinibbio got this main event spot, as he’s one of the more underrated welterweights on the roster. A native of Argentina, Ponzinibbio earned his way to the finals of TUF: Brazil 2 before breaking his hand, and looked like he’d be a footnote after an unimpressive debut loss to Ryan LaFlare. But he’s since become a reliably exciting and successful welterweight, getting wins over a bunch of other underrated guys in the division like Sean Strickland, Zak Cummings, and Nordine Taleb. Ponzinibbio’s grappling has been pretty much untested since that LaFlare loss, but when he gets going on the feet, it’s some beautiful violence; Ponzinibbio has some of the quickest hands in the division, and just throws a bunch of vicious combinations while going for the kill, probably best exemplified by his surprising first-round stoppage of Court McGee in April of last year. Ponzinibbio does project as an action fighter rather than a contender, but if this main event slot opens some doors to bigger and more exciting matchups going forward for “Gente Boa,” I’m all for it.
As for the fight, part of the reason I find the matchmaking a bit disappointing is that I don’t see how Nelson gets tested much more than he did in the Jouban fight. This is basically that fight with the sliders turned slightly up, if at all; you could argue that Ponzinibbio’s combination striking makes him more dangerous if he gets Nelson in trouble, and I’d probably agree, but Nelson can be every bit the madman when going in for the kill. And while we’ve never seen much of Jouban’s grappling game at a UFC level, he has more of a pedigree than Ponzinibbio does. I see this as kind of a stalemate on the feet; Nelson’s not unhittable, but should be able to keep enough of a distance to keep Ponzinibbio from hitting anything past single strikes, and Nelson might be able to pick away at Ponzinibbio on the feet. But I think it’s only a matter of time before Nelson’s able to get this to the ground, and unless Ponzinibbio has a bunch of skill he hasn’t shown yet, it should be done in fairly short order from there. So, fittingly enough given that I see this as a lateral step from the Jouban fight, I also see this ending the same way; Gunnar Nelson by second-round submission.
I feel weird, because I feel like I’m the only one who doesn’t entirely get UFC’s push of Cynthia Calvillo. Or at the very least, I don’t get the rush; she’s a fine enough prospect, but she’s still extremely raw, as despite a fairly impressive amateur career, she only made her pro debut in August of last year. But UFC’s all in on her already; when the Khabib Nurmagomedov/Tony Ferguson fight fell apart at UFC 209, Calvillo’s debut got moved up to the main card, and she got a prominent main card slot at UFC 210 just a month later. Calvillo looked impressive in those bouts – if nothing else, she’s already ridiculously slick on the ground – but those were also perfect opponents for Calvillo to look good against; Amanda Cooper is an athlete, but the type of over-aggressive grappler that Calvillo can eat alive, while, frankly, Pearl Gonzalez just didn’t seem to be very good. So, yeah, Calvillo is fine, but in a division full of more exciting fighters or more interesting personalities, I’m not exactly sure why she’s the one they decided to suddenly push, since it’s not like she has a particularly marketable look or can’t-miss charisma or anything; maybe it’s just some sort of side-effect of her being a Team Alpha Male fighter managed by Urijah Faber, and that UFC and Faber have an excellent relationship.
Anyway, Calvillo has it doubly tough here – not only is she being thrown against a top ten opponent, she’s facing Scotland’s Joanne Calderwood in an away game here in Glasgow. Calderwood’s the first Scottish fighter of any note that I can really remember, as she came into Invicta back in 2012 and impressed with her Muay Thai stylings, scoring a KO win over Ashley Cummins. But since coming into UFC with an undefeated record, things have been a bit rockier than expected; an impressive showing in a one-off flyweight bout against Valerie Letourneau aside, the finishes have dried up, and while Calderwood’s not quite a minus athlete, she’s found herself in trouble against some of the more powerful athletes in the division. There was her mess of a loss against Maryna Moroz, where her boyfriend/coach had just broken up with her and she got overwhelmed in just ninety seconds, which may have cost her a strawweight title shot at UFC’s debut in Glasgow, and then on the Glasgow card proper she almost got similarly finished by Cortney Casey, before fighting back and earning a fun as hell decision win. Moving her training camp to Montreal and the subsequent Letourneau win suggested JoJo may have turned the corner, but Jessica Andrade pretty much overpowered her last September, suggesting Calderwood may just always struggle against top-tier athletes.
While I’ve actually liked that WME-IMG has gone ahead and put prospects in prominent slots on these FS1 cards, I think the matchmaking here is a huge mistake if they’re trying to push Calvillo. I suppose if you’re hell-bent on putting Calvillo against a top-ten opponent, Calderwood would be the best choice, as she’s probably the likeliest that Calvillo can get to the ground, where she should have the advantage. But the problem is, well, Calvillo’s almost surely not ready for a top-ten opponent, at least as I read it. Calvillo’s two UFC wins are over fringe opponents – Gonzalez is probably not too long for the roster, and while Cooper’s a UFC-level athlete, I’m not really a fan of her game – so, hell, her best win is probably a 2014 amateur victory over current fellow top prospect Aspen Ladd. And while Calderwood can be overpowered and taken to the ground, I’m not sure Calvillo is the type of powerhouse that can do that; she struggled a bit getting Gonzalez to the ground, and Calderwood’s a bit big for the division, and likely moving up to flyweight once that division opens up. I suppose Calvillo can try and clinch up with Calderwood and just try and get a submission with slickness rather than power, but, well, clinching up with a more powerful Muay Thai artist like Calderwood might also be a recipe for disaster. The more I think about this fight, the more I just think UFC once again has no idea what they’re doing when it comes to pushing a prospect properly, as I see this just being Calvillo struggling to get things to the ground and Calderwood pretty much eating her lunch on the feet. I’ve gone back and forth between picking Calderwood by decision or late finish, but I’ll just go ahead and say Calderwood gets the third-round stoppage victory in front of her home crowd. And, as always, I look forward to the mousy post-fight interview.
Writing about UFC rushing Cynthia Calvillo above, it reminds me a bit of how UFC handled Paul Felder. Admittedly, Felder was much closer to a finished product when he entered UFC, but after a blah UFC debut, Felder styled out in his sophomore effort, finishing Danny Castillo with a particularly brutal spinning backfist. In retrospect, this was part of a sudden slide that saw Castillo head into seeming retirement, but in the moment, UFC saw this as a sign to push Felder too quick, too soon; he held his own in fun fights against Edson Barboza and Ross Pearson, but in about a six-month span, Felder went from a hot prospect to suddenly trying to find his footing in the UFC. Thankfully, since then he’s settled in as one of UFC’s safer bets for some good action, thanks to his fun striking style full of various spinning strikes. There seems to be a ceiling at the moment, but if Felder gets the right matchup, either against someone overmatched or someone willing to strike at a distance with him, the results can be awesome; the Barboza fight was excellent, and Felder’s last fight against fellow Muay Thai artist Alessandro Ricci was pretty fun too, until Felder went ahead and broke Ricci’s nose with a standing elbow.
Felder should be a fun next test for hometown hero Stevie Ray, who’s slowly making a name for himself as probably the best Scottish fighter going at the moment. Ray’s looked like a prospect to watch since his debut in 2015, quietly racking up some wins on European cards, but strangely only seemed to get a real push after he dropped a decision to Alan Patrick last September. Since then, Ray stepped in on short notice for a co-main event slot in Belfast, getting a win over Ross Pearson, then followed that up with a main card win over Joe Lauzon last April, making for two exciting wins over two well-regarded veterans. Ray can be quite exciting at his best, mostly using some solid striking and blending in a fairly vicious top game every now and then, but there are some red flags, particularly when it comes to his grappling defense; Patrick cruised to a win by focusing for once and going for a bunch of takedowns, while Lauzon scored a consensus 10-8 round off of Ray by getting him on his back before tiring and giving up the decision.
The one thing I can be fairly sure of with this fight is that it’ll be a fun one, but if it mostly takes place on the feet, as I kind of expect, it should more or less be a pick ’em. Neither guy really separates themselves when they don’t get the finish; outside of Felder’s win over a shopworn Josh Burkman, pretty much all of their UFC decision wins have been fairly close affairs. Ray seemingly has the better ground game, but Felder’s is pretty much an unknown at this level; Felder was able to tap out Daron Cruickshank after an ill-advised Cruickshank takedown, but, well, that’s clearing a low bar. But with Felder not really ever looking for a takedown, Ray should be able to get whatever fight he wants. I expect this to look a lot like Ray’s fight with Pearson, just maybe at a bit of a higher pace; fairly narrow, but at the end of the day, Ray’s able to do enough standing and probably mix in enough wrestling to earn a tough decision.
Jack Marshman was UFC’s first signing out of Wales – even though countryman Brett Johns beat him into the cage – and figured to slot right into UFC’s vast cadre of anonymous European middleweights, but he’s since stuck out as a really fun addition to the division. Calling Marshman a blood-and-guts scrapper is a bit reductionist and probably not giving him enough credit, but it’s also kind of accurate; in his UFC debut, he fought back from a rather one-sided first round to knock out Magnus Cedenblad, and his sophomore effort against Thiago Santos was a fun bit of action, a lot of which was thanks to Marshman’s willingness to press the action. He’s also ridiculously tough; Santos absolutely flattened him with a spinning wheel kick to end their fight, but while most opponents would’ve been left crumpled and unconscious in an awkward position, Marshman didn’t even go out. Dang.
He’ll face Canada’s Ryan Janes, another 2016 signing by UFC. Janes was signed for the Vancouver card in August as UFC looked to build up on Canadian talent, but wound up waiting until December to make his debut; his original opponent, Adam Hunter, was pulled from their fight due to issues with his drug test, and Janes was then rescheduled for the cancelled Manila card before winding up in Albany. That debut, against Keith Berish, went fine; advertised as more of a submission specialist, Janes surprisingly pretty much kept things standing for three rounds and won a kickboxing contest, pressuring Berish and keeping things on a constant offensive. But the main takeaway from the fight was just how ridiculously upright was while Janes was striking, raising some concerns for whenever Janes would fight someone with knockout power. That wasn’t Janes’s last opponent, Gerald Meerschaert, who surprisingly tapped Janes to a flash armbar in February, and Janes comes back to fight another day here.
So, about Ryan Janes’s defense. As mentioned, he’s immensely hittable, particularly with how wide open his chin is; as he was fighting Berish, I just imagined someone like Thiago Santos or Uriah Hall just destroying him with a single kick in order to get their careers back on track. And while I don’t think Marshman will quite one-hitter quitter him, the Welshman should have a field day here; Janes likes to pressure, but Marshman’s more than willing to meet him head on, and I think Janes may basically just speeding up his own demise if he does so. Janes could conceivably have some success on the ground, but Marshman’s shown to date he can survive there fairly easily, particularly in the Cedenblad fight, so I really don’t see Janes’s path to victory here. This looks like a bit of a showcase win, and I have faith in Marshman to get things done; my pick is Marshman by first-round knockout.
On the downside, two fighters that, from all accounts, are really nice guys are going to go at it here, but on the plus side, it should make for a pretty fun striker-versus-grappler matchup. When the cast for TUF 23, last year’s Joanna Jedrzejczyk/Claudia Gadelha season, was announced, Khalil Rountree was one of the favorites, as he was near the top on a lot of lists when it came to best prospect outside of UFC. A powerhouse of a dude, Rountree has some thudding striking, and got to show that off in the house; but, sadly, there was that whole grappling thing. Frankly, Rountree’s grappling and wrestling is simply terrible; in the TUF finale, things got so bad against Andrew Sanchez that Rountree got frustrated enough to tell his mother, cheering him on from the stands to get back up, to shut up. Whoops. And things didn’t get much better in his follow-up fight against Tyson Pedro, as the debuting Australian prospect clinched up after some early strikes and was able to drag Rountree to the mat for the first-round submission. But Rountree’s last fight against Daniel Jolly gave some hope, and was a reminder about how lethal Rountree can be; Jolly smartly went for a takedown, but Rountree absolutely obliterated him with a knee to the face, ending things in a shade under a minute.
Rountree’s going to have to repeat that trick against Scotland’s Paul Craig, who figures to be the hometown favorite here. The affable “Bearjew” made his UFC debut after a long injury layoff and looked good against Henrique da Silva, tapping the then-undefeated prospect using his tricky submission game. But like Rountree, Tyson Pedro also handed Craig a disheartening loss; Craig’s just sort of tall and long in terms of his frame, so he’s tricky rather than powerful when it comes to his grappling. And Pedro just pretty much overpowered him, winning things rather easily against the cage before getting things to the ground and pounding out Craig for the stoppage.
The matchup here is fairly simple, and I’d be shocked if it gets out of the first round; either Craig gets Rountree to the ground and gets a submission in fairly simple fashion, or Rountree lands a big knockout blow, whether it’s just purely standing or while Craig is going for a takedown. So, basically, if I pick right, I’ll look really smart, and I pick wrong, it’ll look really dumb, and to make things even more difficult, it’s pretty much a coin flip as far as what outcome happens. I’ll put my faith in Rountree as a former top prospect who’s at a good camp; while the smaller man, he’ll be the more powerful athlete here, so I don’t think Craig can get him down too easy, as bad as Rountree’s takedown defense has been. So my pick is Rountree by first-round knockout, though for picking such a dominant result, I have absolutely no faith in that.
This should be fun, and I’m happy UFC decided to go outside the box a bit and give two debuting heavyweights an opening spot on this main card. California’s Justin Willis is an impressive specimen, as he’s really athletic for someone so massive, and he is massive; Willis was initially supposed to make his UFC debut as a late-notice replacement at UFC 208, but actually had complications cutting down to 265, which is the first time anyone can remember that happening at a heavyweight level. Anyway, for someone who made their pro debut in 2012, Willis hasn’t had much of a career, only fighting about once a year, but what’s there is impressive, as he’s been able to knock out most of his foes and smother those he can’t.
Willis faces James Mulheron, who might have been the best unsigned heavyweight in England, riding a four-fight winning streak, including a Bellator prelim win over UFC vet Neil Grove. Mulheron’s a fascinating fighter, since at first look, he’s woefully unimpressive, as he’s super-short for the division and seemingly quite out of shape. But a surprising amount of Mulheron’s wins have come via decision, as he just keeps a strong pace and keeps pressuring his opposition with some surprisingly fast striking for someone who appears so unathletic.
Unfortunately, I have some real questions about how Mulheron’s game is going to translate to a UFC level; he does have some knockout power, and against the right type of matchmaking, I could see Mulheron having a fairly fun low-level run, almost like a more exciting Daniel Omielanczuk, but he may just be out of his depth if he faces better athletes who can take him down. And I think Willis is going to demonstrate that pretty clearly here; again, Willis is just a specimen, and if he doesn’t knock Mulheron out outright, I could see him just taking Mulheron down – despite the Brit’s low center of gravity – and unleashing some brutality there. There’s the off chance that Mulheron just winds up being an overachiever and guts out a decision win somehow, but I see this being more short, brutal and violent, and likely ending in a Willis first-round stoppage.
Some really fun matchmaking here, as two action welterweights get a chance to separate themselves as either wheat or chaff. I’m kind of unclear on exactly where to slot London’s Danny Roberts; he came into UFC about a year and a half ago with a solid amount of hype, and the fact that he was billed as a former boxer made it all the more impressive that he managed to choke Nathan Coy, a pretty tough veteran grappler, unconscious in under three minutes for his UFC debut. But since then it’s been a bit of diminishing returns; Roberts won a narrow decision over Dominique Steele in his next fight, then in his last effort, was probably losing a close fight until Mike Perry put his lights out with twenty seconds to go. You can see Roberts’s boxing background in his fighting style, as when he hits a rhythm, he can be a pretty slick and venomous power puncher, but at the UFC level, opponents have been able to give him some problems with constant pressure; Steele just did as he always does and tried to bull Roberts against the fence, while Perry just chose to eat Roberts’s shots and give them back even harder.
Roberts looks to get back on track against Michigan’s Bobby Nash, who’s coming off a debut loss to Jingliang Li this past January. Nash got into the sport after a wrestling career at Michigan State, but you’d never know that watching him fight, as Nash pretty much looks to keep fights on the feet. And that’s mostly been effective, as four of Nash’s last five wins came via knockout, and he was pretty much holding his own on the feet with Li before getting knocked out in the second round. I just have some questions about how it works at this level; in a lot of the pre-UFC footage I watched, one of my main takeaways was that Nash could be scared off if he got hit particularly hard, and that may be a concern against much stronger opposition here – so basically, Nash could be a guy who carves out a fun career as a mid- to low-tier action fighter with the right matchmaking, or just washes out of UFC in fairly short order.
I think I have to favor Roberts here; while both guys like to keep things at a distance while striking, Roberts does a much better job of sticking and moving, while Nash pretty obviously decides to charge forward in straight lines. That could give Roberts some trouble, as he does tend to find himself backed up against the cage quite a bit, and if he does, he’ll be in danger, but I think Roberts can basically stay more mobile and win in exchanges whenever Nash decides to dive in. Even favoring the style matchup for Roberts, this is still a bit of a pick ’em fight, if only because neither guy can be trusted all that much defensively, and each of these guys can easily finish a fight with the right punch, but I’ll take Nash to charge into the wrong thing eventually, and say Roberts wins this by second-round knockout.
So this is the retirement fight for Irish flyweight Neil Seery, and man, I’m gonna miss Neil Seery. I honestly didn’t really expect much from Seery coming into the UFC as a late replacement in 2014; he didn’t have a great record, he was already in his mid-thirties, and he isn’t really all that intimidating or impressive, but man, Neil Seery turned out to be fun. He gave Brad Pickett a way tougher fight than expected in that UFC debut, and that was pretty much the M.O. going forward; Seery’s pretty good everywhere, on the feet and on the mat, and is ridiculously tough – even when he’s been overmatched, like in his last fight against Kyoji Horiguchi, Seery just scraps his way to make the fight as close and exciting as possible. Add in the fact that Seery’s a pretty funny and affable chap outside of the cage, and he’s overall one of those guys that makes you happy to watch the sport; a genuinely good dude who’s willing to leave it all in the cage every time out. But, sadly, one of the realities of Seery coming into the UFC at age 34 after nearly a decade-long career was that his run was going to be short, and he originally intended to retire on the card in Belfast last November before things fell through with Ian McCall. After another attempt to put the fight together in Brooklyn, where Seery was forced to withdraw due to a death in his family, the third time will hopefully be the charm for Seery to finally get his retirement fight, this time in Glasgow.
And that fight comes against Alexandre Pantoja, a Brazilian set to quickly rise up the flyweight ranks. Pantoja came off the all-flyweight season of TUF last winter, where UFC strangely brought in pretty much every regional champ they could and only decided to sign a handful, and thankfully Pantoja was one of the guys they chose to sign. Pantoja, as the champ of RFA, a top regional promotion which has since merged with peer Legacy FC, was the top-seeded fighter on that season, and rightfully so, as he possesses a pretty impressive combination of aggressive striking and a slick submission game, particularly when it comes to sliding on a rear naked choke. But the fight he lost in the house to Hiromasa Ogikubo, as well as parts of his UFC debut fight over Eric Shelton, showed that Pantoja frankly isn’t all that great off his back, as Ogikubo in particular was able to just neutralize him once things got to the ground.
So, this is a tough one to call. On the one hand, Pantoja’s obviously the younger, stronger athlete, but he’s not so much of a physical freak that I can’t Seery just gutting through his striking and taking him down. And, frankly, if someone like Kyoji Horiguchi couldn’t put Seery away on the feet, I’m not sure Pantoja can; hell, all of Seery’s stoppage losses have come via submission or injury. So unless Pantoja can just tap Seery out in a scramble of some sort – and frankly, in that scenario, I think Seery might have just as much of a chance of doing the same to Pantoja – I just expect a really fun back and forth fight where Pantoja can’t quite control things enough to get a dominant edge. So my pick is a really nip-tuck split decision sort of affair, and I suppose I have to go against my heart and favor Pantoja to get the narrow decision victory.
This fight is weird. I have no idea what to make of this fight. So, Charlie Ward is obviously only here because he’s a teammate of Conor McGregor; he’s fine, I suppose, and he’s had a bunch of undocumented bouts, so he’s probably better than his record, but…he’s a guy. And not a particularly good one. Ward can strike a bit, and he’s tough as nails, and he can hit a takedown against the lower-level competition he was facing in Europe, but I have no idea what he’s supposed to do at this level of competition. On the plus side, at least his UFC debut was fun while it lasted, as he and Abdul Razak Alhassan just threw bombs at each other for 53 seconds until Ward got knocked out, but it’s going to be a struggle for UFC to find someone Charlie Ward can beat.
UFC may have found someone Charlie Ward can beat. London’s Galore Bofando makes his UFC debut here, and beyond the outstanding name, he is a weird, weird fighter. Bofando’s a stocky athlete who uses a weird striking style seemingly out of a kung fu movie or something, just all extraneous movement and weird spinning strikes. When he hits something, it’s ridiculously effective, but it becomes immediately less so when opponents try and pressure him to get him to the ground. To Bofando’s credit, that hasn’t hurt him yet, outside of the fact that both of his losses have come via disqualification, when Bofando’s kneed his opponent in the head as they’re both getting up from the ground; Bofando’s enough of an athlete that when most of his opponents have tried to shoot in, Bofando can just sort of overwhelm them into getting top position, and from there he’s got some solid ground and pound.
This should be some dumb fun. I have huge concerns when either guy faces some actual UFC-level competition, but, well, neither guy is facing UFC-level competition here. Amazingly, Ward may be the best guy that Bofando’s faced to date, and could have some success just taking Bofando down and neutralizing him, or otherwise doing enough to just keep Bofando on his heels and unable to uncork something. But Ward doesn’t look particularly more athletic than any of Bofando’s other opponents, so I’d have to think Bofando keeps things standing, and probably does manage to hit something, flashy or no, to stun Ward and take things from there. Bofando by second-round knockout, I guess, in a fight that’s really just too much of a gong show to have much of a feel for.
Two debuting lightweights go at it here in what should be a pretty fun bout. Sweden’s Daniel Teymur is in fact the younger brother of David, a top lightweight prospect in his own right, and he’s…fine. You can see a similar striking game to David when Daniel gets going and is able to pick opponents apart at distance, but in the fights I’ve seen, he does show a bit of a tendency to get pressured into brawls a bit, which doesn’t go all that great for him. Actually, the main thread between Teymur’s fights have been some weird refereeing; his last fight was an obvious early stoppage, although Teymur was well on his way to winning that fight, while two fights before saw a weird incident where Teymur had apparently lost via stoppage until the ref just, for some reason, restarted the bout, allowing Teymur to eventually get a submission win.
Teymur faces Scotland’s Danny Henry, who didn’t really go the typical route you’d think for most Scottish fighters, plying his trade in South Africa, where he won the featherweight belt of top regional promotion EFC. Sadly, there’s really not a ton of useful footage available on Henry, but judging from what highlights are out there, he has a pretty solid, well-rounded game; still, you do need to take that all with a grain of salt, given the level of competition and, again, that what’s out there are mostly highlights intended to showcase Henry.
This should be a fun one if nothing else, even though it’s hard to know how things will play out given that Henry is such an x factor. Unless Teymur just comes out and starches Henry, which is possible, Teymur should give Henry enough openings, both on the feet and on the ground, to keep the Scot in the fight and make things a back and forth affair. Still, given what I assume will be size and athleticism advantages, given that Henry is moving up a weight class for this debut, I’ll take Teymur to win a decision.
Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like people aren’t talking about Brett Johns nearly enough, as he’s one of the best prospects in an increasingly stacked bantamweight division. Maybe it’s the fact that his style is mostly based around wrestling, which doesn’t get a ton of headlines, and maybe it’s about his long-term future at 135, since he lost his Titan FC title on the scale in 2015, but the Welshman has pretty much passed every test thrown in front of him with flying colors. As mentioned, Johns’s best skill is his wrestling; while he’s respectable enough on the feet, Johns pretty smartly goes for the takedown first, second, and third, and has had a ton of success doing so. In that last Titan FC fight, against Anthony Gutierrez, Johns managed to gut out a five-round decision, some of which he had to on one leg, and in his UFC debut against Kwan Ho Kwak last fall, Johns showed once again how his wrestling can pretty much neutralize even someone as athletic and naturally talented as Kwak.
Initially, Johns was supposed to take on veteran Canadian Mitch Gagnon in what would’ve been an excellent test, but UFC still did well to replace him with California’s Albert Morales. Morales was found on Dana White’s “Lookin’ For A Fight” series, and fits that mold pretty much exactly; he’s young, he’s athletic, he’s projectable, and he’s probably been signed to a UFC contract way too soon. But Morales has done a pretty good job of keeping his head above water; he fought Alejandro Perez to a draw in his UFC debut, showed some stuff while just getting eaten alive as a setup opponent for Thomas Almeida, and then won a pretty fun fight over Andre Soukhamthath this past March to score his first UFC win. Most of Morales’s fights have been back and forth striking battles, so he’s also done a good job of keeping the entertainment value high, and in the third round of that Soukhamthath fight, Morales even got to show off a bit of his ground skills.
I’m interested to see how this one goes, particularly on the feet, since Morales is a rangy, quick, dangerous athlete who could really cause some damage if Johns messes around for too long. But, unfortunately, I’m not sure how much of this fight will actually take place there; Johns shouldn’t have much trouble getting this to the ground, and is more than willing to do so, so even if he starts to have some trouble, he can pretty much pull the ripcord and take things to the ground at the first sign of it. It’s a good test, but like most of Johns’s career, a fairly passable one, so my call is Johns by decision in a bout that may suffer from a bit of a lack of drama, although it’s always good to see a prospect like Johns do what he does best.
Amanda Lemos (6-0-1 overall) vs. Leslie Smith (9-7-1 overall, 3-3 UFC, 3-2-1 Invicta, 0-1 Bellator):
Nobody ever talks about her in these terms, but I can’t really think of a fighter more universally beloved than Leslie Smith. She pretty much checks all the boxes; she has a goofy, likable charisma, was one of the mainstays of the early days of Invicta, has an exciting fight style, and has, well, balls?, inside and outside of the cage. When it comes to her career, Smith is pretty much fearless; in 2014, she suffered her first career stoppage loss to Jessica Eye, but that was only because her ear basically exploded, while Smith was willing to fight. And last year, Smith was the one willing to challenge Cris Cyborg in Cyborg’s UFC debut; that admittedly didn’t go particularly well for her, but it means something that she’d even take the fight against one of the most feared fighters in the entire sport. And outside the cage, Smith has probably been the most outspoken advocate for some sort of fighter union or other alliance, speaking up via pretty much every avenue possible even though that puts her at direct odds with her employers. In the midst of all that, Smith may have put on a career-best performance in Sacramento last December, knocking off top prospect Irene Aldana in the best fight of the night, throwing a game Aldana off with her constant application of pressure, and reminding everyone that she packs a solid bit of power in the process.
Smith was initially supposed to face Lina Lansberg, Cyborg’s other opponent in the UFC to date, but with Lansberg hurt, UFC brought in Brazilian newcomer Amanda Lemos, and, well, Lemos is fun as hell. Trained by the Alcantara brothers, Lemos is a tank of a fighter, and pretty much all power, all offense, all the time. That comes with all the positives and negatives you’d expect; all but one of Lemos’s wins have come via first-round finish, but her aggressiveness can leave her open defensively, and while she does a pretty solid job of fighting through exhaustion, there’s an obvious difference once Lemos hits the second round.
This should be really fun. After a bit of a weird stretch – the ear explosion, the Cyborg loss, and a fight with Rin Nakai – the Aldana win really served as a reminder that Smith is one of the more exciting bantamweights out there, and this should only follow up on that. There will probably be stretches of trouble early thanks to Lemos’s aggression, but Smith figures to meet them head on, and from there this should just be a really great back-and-forth fight. I think Lemos is too tough for Smith to put away, and again, the Brazilian seems to do a pretty solid job of gutting through exhaustion, so my pick is Smith by decision in an excellent way to kick off the card.