Time for the big boys to take center stage.
Two of the heavyweight division's premiere contenders will do battle this Saturday in the main event of UFC on Fox 11, going down at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. Both coming off of stoppages of PRIDE legends, Fabricio Werdum and Travis Browne will look to stake a claim as the next potential heir to the throne in the main event.
The card will also feature a lightweight war between Donald Cerrone and Edson Barboza, plus a bout between surging middleweights Brad Tavares and Yoel Romero.
We checked out the first five UFC on FOX 11 "Prelims" that will start on Fight Pass yesterday right here; however, there are still four more to go below.
No time to waste, then:
155 lbs.: Rafael Dos Anjos vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov
Since a 1-2 stretch from 2010 to 2011, Rafael dos Anjos (20-6) has been absolutely on fire, winning five consecutive bouts. Most recently, he followed up a narrow victory over Evan Dunham by upsetting Donald Cerrone, dropping the durable veteran with a huge right hand in the early going.
He was originally scheduled to face Rustam Khabilov at UFC 170, only for the Dagestani to suffer a late injury.
Khabib Nurmagomedov (21-0) originally entered UFC riding a streak of six straight first-round finishes and has continued to prove his mettle, dispatching all five of his UFC foes. While his 2012 win over Gleison Tibau was less than decisive, "The Eagle" had an excellent 2013 in which he knocked out Thiago Tavares, ragdolled Abel Trujillo and outworked Pat Healy.
His wins are split perfectly between knockout, submission, and decision.
Though RDA’s wrestling has improved tremendously, I feel that Nurmagomedov’s grappling will win him this fight. He’s a terrific takedown artist and showed one hell of a gas tank against Trujillo, meaning he’s a threat in that department for all 15 minutes.
On the feet, RDA’s the better kicker and punching technician. That said, Nurmagomedov’s speed and takedown threat should even the score in that department. If RDA can time Nurmagomedov’s entry, he can do some damage. If he can’t get the timing down, though, Nurmagomedov’s going to be in and out with that uppercut all night, just out of kicking range.
On the mat, RDA’s guard game is not sufficient to keep Nurmagomedov off of him.
No matter the result, this out to be a great fight. I believe Nurmagomedov’s superior positional control wins him a narrow decision in a bout with plenty of action on the feet and the mat.
Prediction: Nurmagomedov via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Thiago Alves vs. Seth Baczynski
It’s been almost five years since Thiago Alves (19-9) fought for Georges St-Pierre for the Welterweight title and he’s been struggling to regain his form ever since. After rebounding from a decision loss to Rick Story, Alves pulverized Swedish import Papy Abedi and was on his way to a decision over Martin Kampmann before diving into a guillotine choke.
This will be his first fight since the latter bout, which took place in March 2012.
Two straight losses -- the latter a vicious one-hitter quitter from Brian Melancon -- left Seth Baczynski (19-10) on the ropes going into his Nov. 2013 bout against Neil Magny. Undeterred, Baczynski’s aggressive grappling carried him to a decision win, raising his UFC record to 5-2.
Baczynski -- who will have a six-inch height advantage -- has only ever gone the distance twice in victory.
Barring another critical brain failure or some serious ring rust, there’s no reason Alves shouldn’t decimate Baczynski. He has (or had?) the best leg kicks in the division and is by far the better wrestler of the two. He’s more technical and more powerful than Seth on the feet, where this should take place for most if not all of the bout.
Alves has incredible skills and an equally-incredible ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. For all his faults, though, he’s still on another level from Baczynski.
Expect him to batter his foe’s woefully under-swole legs into submission before finishing with punches.
Prediction: Alves via second-round technical knockout
155 lbs.: Jorge Masvidal vs. Pat Healy
Jorge Masvidal (25-8) gave as good as he got, but a massive wheel kick sealed the deal for Rustam Khabilov, who snapped the three-fight win streak for "Gamebred" via unanimous decision. Masvidal had previously choked out Michael Chiesa after suffering a first-round knockdown.
He has not won more than three straight fights since 2008.
Pat Healy’s (29-18) submission of Jim Miller put him on the map in UFC's Lightweight dicision, but things quickly went downhill. Since being stripped of the win due to marijuana, Healy has lost two straight, dropping decisions to the aforementioned Nurmagomedov and Bobby Green.
"Bam Bam" had won nine of his 10 previous fights, the only loss to Josh Thomson.
Masvidal has all the tools to be a world-beater -- impenetrable takedown defense, a great jab and excellent striking as a whole. He just has zero killer instinct -- he seems to fight down to his opponents, making even mismatches way closer than they should be.
I do think he has the goods to beat Healy, though.
Healy has done a good job of using his freakish size to wear down opponents on the feet, but Green demonstrated that he doesn’t have the cage-cutting ability he needs to implement that strategy against the division elite. It’s highly unlikely that he takes down Masvidal, meaning he’s going to be eating jabs all night while Jorge circles away.
His aggression and Masvidal’s aforementioned lack of urgency might sway a judge, but Jorge should do enough to earn at least two nods.
Prediction: Masvidal via split decision
145 lbs.: Estevan Payan vs. Alex White
Though a sizeable underdog, Estevan Payan (14-5) seemed completely in control against Robbie Peralta, taking the first two rounds through a solid grappling attack. Peralta came out swinging in the third and, unfortunately for Payan, he couldn’t get out of the way, succumbing to the punches in twelve seconds.
Though Payan is winless (0-2) in the Octagon, he was unbeaten in eight fights before signing on.
You may know Alex White (9-0) as the fighter who knocked out his opponent with a punch from open guard, then tried valiantly to convince the ref that the man was unconscious before hesitantly dropping another. When not arguing with refs, White has stopped eight opponents, five by submission.
He takes this bout on two weeks’ notice, replacing Mike Brown (who, in turn, replaced Sean Soriano).
Both of these men are highly aggressive and slightly lacking in the defense department, so this figures to be entertaining while it lasts. I expect Payan’s grappling to be the difference here as it was against Peralta.
White’s takedown defense is iffy enough that ... even with his length advantage. Payan should be the one dictating position. This ought to be a solid scrap, with well-timed takedowns earning Payan the nod.
Prediction: Payan via unanimous decision
Some serious division shakeups fixing to go down this Saturday. Will you be watching?
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on FOX 11 fight card this Saturday (April 19, 2014) right here, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" at 3:30 p.m. ET, the FOX Sports 1 under card matches at 5 p.m. ET and the main card bouts at 8 p.m. ET.
Current UFC "Prelims" Prediction Record 2014: 47-25 (1 NC)