This Friday (April 11, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweights John Howard and Ryan LaFlare will throw down on the main card of UFC Fight Night 39, airing live on Fight Pass from du Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Howard recently made his way back to the welterweight division, scoring a solid decision win over knockout striker Siyar Bahadurzada at UFC 168. Prior to that, "Doomsday" won a split decision over touted The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) prospect Uriah Hall at UFC Fight Night 26. All told, Howard has won eight of his last nine fights and could be knocking on the door of a Top 15 ranking spot.
He'll have to get by the promising LaFlare first, who brings an undefeated 10-0 mixed martial arts (MMA) record to Abu Dhabi. LaFlare has been busy lately, knocking off gritty veteran Court McGee with a decision at UFC on FOX 9. He did the same to Santiago Ponzinibbio and Ben Alloway in his previous two Octagon bouts to sit at 3-0 in the Octagon throughout 2013.
Running his UFC record to 4-0 will undoubtedly get LaFlare some much-needed publicity, but he'll face his toughest challenge to get there. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Howard vs. LaFlare:
Record: 22-8 overall, 6-3 UFC
Key Wins: Siyar Bahadurzada (UFC 168), Uriah Hall (UFC Fight Night 26), Charlie Brenneman (Ring of Combat 21)
Key Losses: Jake Ellenberger (UFC on Versus 2), Thiago Alves (UFC 124), Matt Brown (UFC on Versus 4)
Record: 10-0 overall, 3-0 UFC
Key Wins: Court McGee (UFC on FOX 9), Santiago Ponzinibbio (UFC Fight Night 32), Ben Alloway (UFC on Fuel TV 6)
Key Losses: None
Howard is a well rounded and experienced fighter who has 15 finishes in 22 total career wins. However, LaFlare has never even been defeated, making this fight a very compromising proposition for Howard. He won't gain that much with a win over a talented yet largely unknown opponent, but a loss will certainly send him plummeting in what may be the most stacked division in all of MMA.
To avoid that, Howard has to keep his aggression level high to get inside LaFlare's superior reach, mixing up his game with some takedown attempts to keep his opponent guessing.
They won't be easy to secure in Abu Dhabi, as LaFlare is a former state champion wrestler who has seamlessly transitioned into MMA. He's also shown a diverse arsenal of methods to dispatch his opponents, but you can tell the competition in UFC is catching up to him. He's won all of his Octagon bouts by way of decision and could badly use a stoppage to get his hype train rolling even faster.
LaFlare will look to use his length to keep the powerful "Doomsday" at range. The Long Island-born fighter has shown rapidly improving striking, and his dangerous armbar has lead to three victories. If he can get past a solid veteran like Howard, big things could be on the horizon for LaFlare.
Ryan LaFlare will put his undefeated record on the line against a much more experienced opponent in John Howard. Despite Howard's recent successes since making his way back to UFC, he has failed against most of the top-level competition he's faced in the past.
Although LaFlare isn't up to those standards quite yet, he definitely has the talent to get there in the near future. Howard is extremely tough to put away, but he can be outpointed. That's how I see this bout unfolding in Abu Dhabi.
Final Prediction: LaFlare def. Howard via unanimous decision