This Saturday night (April 19, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) middleweights Brad Tavares and Yoel Romero will face off in the opening main card bout of UFC on FOX 11 from Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.
Both fighters bring a ton of momentum into the pivotal bout. No 13. -ranked Tavares was last seen defeating talented striker Lorenz Larkin at UFC Fight Night 35 in January. The win gave him five straight in the stacked UFC middleweight division, an impressive feat in and of itself.
However, each win has been by decision, and he hasn't exactly faced a long list of top competition. That will change in Orlando.
Romero also fought at UFC Fight Night 35, defeating Derek Brunson with a third round finish in a "Fight of the Night"-winning affair. An Olympic silver medalist in freestyle wrestling for his native Cuba, Romero is now making major waves in mixed martial arts (MMA).
He's finished all three of his opponents in UFC. If he can do the same to the surging Tavares, "Soldier of God" may have fans talking about him as an outside title contender.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Tavares vs. Romero:
Record: 12-1 overall, 7-1 UFC
Key Wins: Lorenz Larkin (UFC Fight Night 35), Robert McDaniel (UFC Fight Night 27), Tom Watson (UFC on Fuel TV), Phil Baroni (UFC 125)
Key Losses: Aaron Simpson (UFC 132)
Keys to Victory: Tavares has looked precise and effective during his recent five-fight win streak; the only knock on him has been his inability to finish a single one of those foes. Without a finish since he stopped Phil Baroni at UFC 125 in January 2011, Tavares could badly use a statement win to boost his ranking.
Unfortunately for him, that will be the exact opposite of an easy task in Orlando.
Romero could be Tavares' toughest bout to date, so the Hawaiian fighter needs to bring his best gameplan to the Octagon. Using his footwork, combinations, and takedown defense are all going to be keys to victory.
One thing that will play in Tavares' favor is Romero's confidence, which may border on overconfidence at times. We saw it against Brunson, where Romero lost the first two rounds after being content to lumber forward looking for a headhunting knockout. While he eventually got it in the final round, he most likely would have lost on the judges' scorecards.
If Tavares can put Romero in the exact same position, he'll have a clear path to victory. Tavares may not be a flashy finisher, but he does fight smart. He can also put forth a steady stream of volume, so if he can avoid Romero's substantial power, the fight should favor him the longer it lasts.
He's never been knocked out but he can't fall in love with that fact.
Romero is dangerous and well rounded. If Tavares can't prevent "Soldier of God's" takedown attempts, then he'll struggle to keep his win streak alive.
Record: 7-1 overall, 3-0 UFC
Key Wins: Derek Brunson (UFC Fight Night 35), Ronny Markes (UFC Fight Night 31), Clifford Starks (UFC on Fox 7)
Key Losses: Rafael Cavalcante (Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov)
Keys to Victory: Romero has looked nigh unstoppable since making the cut down to middleweight prior to his UFC debut in April 2013. His wrestling talent is some of the best in the division, but he's largely used his thunderous knockout power to get the job done in the Octagon.
Tavares won't succumb to strikes easily, so Romero has to be careful and make sure he doesn't overexert himself going for an early knockout.
He looked a bit sluggish in the first two rounds against Brunson; favoring a telegraphed punch that Brunson was timing to pepper Romero with varied strikes. The fight turned in his favor in the third, but he may not have that same opportunity against Tavares.
Romero needs to have shored up his conditioning a bit. Tavares will implement a non-stop pace, so if Romero can't adjust to a technical war on the fly, he could quickly be thrust out of his comfort zone. A lot of that is going to depend on how Tavares' chin holds up.
"Soldier of God" can't think this fight is already his before it takes place, either. If he comes in overconfident, Tavares could easily catch him. Romero has finished each one of his MMA wins by some form of knockout, but this is a new fight.
Maintaining a clear focus and taking what the bout presents him will be key to a Romero victory. If he goes too hard early on, he could be in for a surprise against a smart fighter like Tavares.
Bottom Line from Orlando: The bottom line for this fight is that it presents a chance for each fighter to have his own coming out party by fighting on a huge card airing on network television. There could be great things in store for the fast-rising Romero, but Tavares simply can't be counted out.
Both have looked incredible during their recent runs. Romero obviously has a lot more in the way of finishing ability, yet Tavares has never been finished. Middleweight is a stacked division right now, and the winner of this bout is headed for a huge fight his next trip to the cage. That makes this showdown an important one that will legitimately determine the career path of each fighter.
After a long run of mid-level competition, this is the fight where we see what Tavares is truly made of. He's never faced anyone close to the caliber of Romero.
Despite his relatively short body experience in the sport, "Soldier of God" is a natural given his wrestling background. With the impressive finishes he's been racking up, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Romero become a title contender one day.
He's got to get past Tavares first, something that only one man has done before. However, you can bet that Romero is only planning on one outcome this Saturday night, and that's a knockout.
One fighter's run will end when Brad Tavares meets Yoel Romero in a battle of streaking middleweights. Will Tavares step up to the plate, or is he just the next man to on Romero's hit list?