Fifty-four combined mixed martial arts (MMA) fights. More than 15 combined years of professional combat sports experience. And less than 60 combined years of age.
Two of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight division's young guns will battle this Saturday afternoon (April 6, 2013) when Alexander Gustafsson welcomes former Strikeforce champion Gegard Mousasi to the Octagon in the UFC on FUEL TV 9 main event, which is still booked for the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden.
That could all change at the drop of a dime, especially with all the Wanderlei Silva buzz (more on that here), but for now we are compelled to play along that Gustafsson's facial laceration will not force him off the card because, well, Dana White is towing the corporate line ... for now.
Anyway, UFC on FUEL TV 9 will also feature the likes of former The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 9 winner Ross Pearson, not to mention a clash between Top 10-ranked Bantamweight contenders Brad Pickett and Mike Easton.
But, before all that, we've got seven "Prelims" under card bouts that will air on Facebook to tide us over, the first four of which are broken down below.
Let's get cracking:
145 lbs.: Marcus Brimage vs. Conor McGregor
Few gave Marcus Brimage (6-1) much of a chance against Sengoku standout Maximo Blanco, and even fewer thought he would be able to stand up to Judo specialist James Hettes. Impressively, "Bama Beast" overcame both blue-chip prospects, keeping his perfect UFC record (3-0) and extending his current win streak to four.
At 5’4", TUF 14 alum will give up five inches to the debuting Conor McGregor (12-2).
McGregor has rapidly established himself as the most devastating Featherweight on the European circuit, never going past the second round and finishing 11 foes via strikes. His current eight-fight win streak saw him capture both the Featherweight and Lightweight Cage Warriors Fighting Championship (CWFC) titles, most recently wiping out Ivan Buchinger to take the former.
This will mark just the third fight for "Notorious" outside of his native Ireland.
Brimage has made me look really stupid two fights in a row, so I’m not going to claim that there’s no way he wins this one. However, he just probably won’t.
He’s a very solid striker and his takedown defense has looked excellent so far in the UFC, but either Hettes has the greatest chin in the entire universe or he just doesn't hit that hard. Brimage has only ever stopped two fighters and I don’t recall him ever really hurting Bass, Blanco or Hettes.
By contrast, McGregor hits stupid hard. Not only that, but he’s shown great improvement in his offensive and defensive wrestling and his ground-and-pound is all kinds of nasty. Depending on how long this one lasts, it could very well be "Fight of the Night," but I expect McGregor to connect with a big left early and put an end to proceedings before they have a chance to heat up.
Prediction: McGregor via first-round knockout
170 lbs.: Ben Alloway vs. Ryan LaFlare
After falling in the quarterfinals to Brad Scott on TUF: "The Smashes," the UFC prospects for Ben Alloway (13-3) looked grim in the early portion of his Finale bout with Manny Rodriguez, who stifled him with grappling for the majority of the first round. With seconds left, however, Rodriguez ducked directly into one of Alloway’s teeps, resulting in a "Knockout of the Night" honor for the Aussie finisher.
In fact, 10 of his wins have come inside the distance, including four of his current six-fight win streak.
After scoring six consecutive finishes between June 2008 and June 2010, Ryan LaFlare (7-0) got his shot at the big time as an injury replacement at Strikeforce: "Challengers" 16. Unfortunately for the surging prospect, injury not only scuttled that bout, but left him on the sidelines until this past January, when he submitted Andrew Osborne in the third round of their fight.
LaFlare’s extended time off and limited competition has me worried, but the ease with which Rodriguez took down and controlled Alloway has me fairly confident in his victory. LaFlare’s stand up is solid, from what I’ve seen of it, so "Benny Blanco" lighting him up standing before he can get his wrestling going seems unlikely.
This is one of those fights where the favorable match up overrides the worries I have about a fighter (gas tank, experience, etc.). Expect LaFlare to keep Alloway on the defensive for two grappling-heavy rounds before locking up something painful.
Prediction: LaFlare via second-round submission
185 lbs.: Tom Lawlor vs. Michael Kuiper
Since winning two straight following his time on TUF, including an upset submission of finalist C.B. Dollaway, Tom Lawlor (8-5) has struggled to maintain consistency, going 2-4 with no wins over current members of the Middleweight division. Most recently, "Filthy" followed up an impressive first round knockout of Jason MacDonald with an agonizing split-decision loss to the TriStar-trained Francis Carmont.
His current streak combined with the unpleasantness of his last fight may mean that, despite his fan-favorite status, his continued employment rests on a defeat of Michael Kuiper (12-1).
While his debut, a decision loss to Rafael Natal, left a lot to be desired, Kuiper demonstrated the brutality that earned him a place in the UFC his second time out, gimping and battering Jared Hamman en route to a second round technical knockout. "Judo" -- who has finished 11 opponents -- will compete for the first time since Feb. 2012 because injuries to three consecutive opponents earlier this year have kept him on the shelf.
Kuiper is six years younger and one inch taller than Lawlor.
I like Lawlor. In fact, I don’t think anyone can rationally dislike him save for maybe the Carmont fight. I just don’t think he’s that good of a fighter. His grappling is solid, but not overwhelming, and his striking, while not terrible, isn’t anything to be write home about. And if we add that to a history of gassing then an alarming issues emerges.
Kuiper’s debut wasn’t impressive, but I have reason to believe his takedown defense can stand up to Lawlor’s wrestling. On the feet, his power and durability should win the day. I expect Lawlor to have some success early, only for "Judo" to take over late with heavy power shots to score 29-28s across the board.
Prediction: Kuiper via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Papy Abedi vs. Besam Yousef
Despite entering the UFC with considerable fanfare, Papy Abedi (8-2) has yet to grasp victory inside the Octagon, getting choked out by Thiago Alves and then James Head in his first two appearances. Prior to the losses, Abedi had never left the second round, stopping seven and going to one two-round decision.
Matched up with highly-touted Norwegian Simeon Thoresen in his debut, Besam Yousef (6-1) enjoyed surprising success in the early going, stopping the takedown attempts of "The Grin" and roughing him up on the feet. A left hook in the second round, however, dropped Yousef into Thoresen’s world, where he succumbed to a rear-naked choke.
Honestly, I’m willing to cut Abedi some slack -- Alves is one of the best fighters in the division when he’s on and Head is a sorely underrated fighter (Mike Pyle fight notwithstanding). He still boasts a strong Judo base and powerful punches, not to mention more experience than Yousef. Plus, he trains part-time at Alliance MMA with the likes of Dominick Cruz, meaning I have every reason to believe he has been improving this past year.
Yousef is a solid fighter, sure, but Abedi seems to have much more raw talent. I expect Abedi to show off the power that got him signed in the first place, mixing his Judo with powerful striking to put down Yousef early.
Prediction: Abedi via first round technical knockout
Stop by tomorrow for previews and predictions of the three remaining UFC on FUEL TV 9 "Prelims" bouts, which include some TUF veterans and an intriguing clash between debuting Strikeforce imports.
See you then.
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire card on fight afternoon (Sat., April 6, 2013), starting with the Facebook "Prelims," which are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. ET, as well as the main card, which is slated to air at 2 p.m. ET on FUEL TV.