Don't expect this Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) main event to see the judges.
Two of the Featherweight division's most devastating strikers will do battle this Saturday night (June 28, 2014) when the surging Cub Swanson faces the devastating power-punches of Jeremy Stephens in the top slot of UFC Fight Night 44, which will grace AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas.
In the co-main, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 17 winner, Kelvin Gastelum, will look to extend his win streak to four against Swedish standout Nico Musoke, while Cezar "Mutante" tries to bounce back from a crushing knockout loss at the expense of Andrew Craig.
And that's just the top of FOX Sports 1's televised main card.
UFC Fight Night 44 will be the second of two events to go down this Saturday, so for the sake of efficiency, each set of "Prelims" gets one preview post to cover everything. Check out what's in store for S.A. Town this weekend, with the first fight airing online via Fight Pass and the balance on FOX Sports 1.
Here we go ...
Colton Smith (3-3) brought his wrestling prowess to bear on The Ultimate Fighter 16, grinding his way to victory at the expense of Mike Ricci on the Finale. He has since struggled mightily, however, suffering stoppage losses to Robert Whittaker and Michael Chiesa in subsequent bouts.
He will have a four-inch height advantage over Carlos Diego Ferreira (9-0).
Ferreira -- a training partner of Derrick Lewis -- had his best year yet in 2013, picking up four victories in as many bouts. His victims included Carlo Prater and the venerable Jorge "Macaco" Patino, from whom he took the LFC title.
This will be his second time facing Smith, whom he grappled against in 2013.
Ah, the classic wrestler vs. jiu-jitsu battle. While the age of people consistently hitting subs off their back seems to have come and gone, I am leaning towards Ferreira. Colton’s complete lack of a striking attack limits the effectiveness of his takedowns and I’m not sure he can consistently put Ferreira on his rear.
Ferreira is more experienced, the better striker, and figures to have the advantage on the mat. I believe Colton’s inability to disguise his takedowns will allow Ferreira to control the tempo of the bout before securing his back for the finish midway through the bout.
Prediction: Ferreira via second-round submission
135 lbs.: Johnny Bedford vs. Cody Gibson
After opening his Octagon career with two brutal knockout wins, Johnny Bedford (19-10-1) suffered his first UFC defeat two Aprils ago at the hands of TUF teammate Bryan Caraway. He attempted to rebound against Rani Yahya, only for an early headbutt to cut the fight short just 40 seconds in.
Fifteen of his wins have come inside the distance, eight by submission.
Cody Gibson (11-4) entered UFC on a six-fight win streak, but had the unenviable task of taking on top prospect Aljamain Sterling in his UFC debut. Despite losing the decision, Gibson nonetheless proved his mettle, taking a round from Sterling on all three scorecards.
He replaces the aforementioned Yahya on one month’s notice.
Though his performance against Caraway was seriously underwhelming, I’m still on the Bedford train. He’s gigantic for the weight class and works the body better than most of his compatriots. Gibson ostensibly lacks the takedown prowess that Caraway used to pick Bedford apart, making it likely that this turns into a gritty battle on the feet.
Bedford, incidentally, excels at those.
Gibson showcased his aggression against Sterling and should be willing to scrap with Bedford. Unfortunately for him, I don’t believe he can overcome Bedford’s strength and debilitating body attack.
Bedford polishes him off late.
Prediction: Bedford via third-round technical knockout
Once touted as an elite prospect, Marcelo Guimaraes (8-1-1) has yet to find his groove in UFC. After squeaking past Dan Stittgen in a horrid fight, he suffered a vicious knockout loss to Korean bruiser Hyun Gyu Lim in March 2013.
He has not competed since, injury scrapping a proposed Sept. 2013 bout with Kieth Wisniewski.
Andy Enz (7-1) -- who fell to Uriah Hall in the elimination round of TUF 17 -- got a shot at UFC proper against Clint Hester at UFC 169. Though he suffered an early knockdown, he nonetheless went the distance against his hard-punching castmate, showing his trademark resilience.
Five of his wins have come via submission.
You know, I used to be a Guimaraes apologist: "Wait ‘til he gets on top of someone," I’d say. "Then you’ll see that he’s legit."
That time has passed, though. Maybe coming back to Middleweight will be the answer, but for now, it’s hard to think of Guimaraes as anything but a punchline. His striking is atrocious and his wrestling seems seriously inadequate for this level of competition.
Even a below-average striker like Enz should be able to have his way with him on the feet.
Since Enz is primarily a grappler, the odds of a finish on the feet are slim. Still, he should at least win the striking battle without too much difficulty. Enz beats up the lumbering Guimaraes for the full 15 minutes.
Prediction: Enz via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Ray Borg vs. Shane Howell (13-7)
Ray Borg (6-1) debuted in UFC just fifteen days after his prior fight, taking on the highly-touted Dustin Ortiz in Orlando, Florida. Despite the fast turnaround, Borg showcased his excellent grappling, earning the nod on one judge’s scorecard in a decision loss.
He is four inches shorter and 10 years younger than his opponent.
Shane Howell (13-7) -- a one-time Bellator competitor -- joins UFC having won six straight bouts, five via stoppage. He was scheduled to face Leonard Garcia for the Legacy FC featherweight title in March before illness scrapped the bout.
Howell replaces Ryan Benoit on less than two weeks’ notice.
No recent footage on Howell is available; therefore, it’s time to play the Fight Finder game. Howell hasn’t fought in more than two years, has faced three fighters with losing records in his last three fights, and was scheduled to fight twenty pounds north of where he will be just three months ago.
Borg, while young, should have the skill set to utterly dominate Howell on the mat.
Borg vs. Benoit would have been a delightful clash of up-and-coming flyweights with contrasting styles. Borg vs. Howell should be a squash match. Expect Borg to get Howell’s back early and often before earning the tap late in the first.
Prediction: Borg via first-round submission
265 lbs.: Alexey Oleinik vs. Anthony Hamilton
Alexey Oleinik (48-9-1) -- a 17-year veteran of the mixed martial arts (MMA) -- makes his UFC debut on the heels of nine straight wins, all stoppages and eight submissions. Among his recent victims are Jeff Monson, who handed him his last defeat, and Mirko Filipovic, whom he felled in Nov. 2013 via neck crank.
He has scored an impressive 39 submissions during his long tenure in the sport.
The reigning MFC heavyweight champ, Anthony Hamilton (12-2) earned the biggest wins of his career in his most recent fights, knocking out touted prospect Smealinho Rama for the belt and outclassing TUF veteran Darrill Schoonover in his first defense. He has now won six straight since consecutive losses to Walt Harris and Fabiano Scherner.
At 6’5," he will enjoy four inches of height on Oleinik.
Hamilton is bigger and stronger than Oleinik and also has the wrestling to give the submission-focused Russian fits. He has also, however, had cardio issues in the past and is considerably less experienced. Still, I don’t believe Oleinik will win the takedown game and I’ve long since stopped banking on a fighter pulling off submissions for his back.
If Hamilton is lazy on top or runs out of steam before Oleinik does, things could go south for him in a hurry. As is, I believe his positional dominance will win him the fight, avoiding the Russian’s submission attempts and punishing Oleinik with strikes when he attempt takedowns.
Prediction: Hamilton via second-round technical knockout
The card may be short on name value, but that's one damn fine main event.
See you there, Maniacs.
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will offer LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 44 fight card on fight night (Sat., June 28, 2014), starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. ET, right on through the FOX Sports 1 main card, which is slated to begin at 10 p.m. ET.
Current UFC "Prelims" Prediction Record 2014: 86-39 (1 NC)