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UFC Fight Night 53, 54 preview and quick picks for weekend doubleheader on Fight Pass and FOX Sports 1

Esther Lin

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is back in action this weekend (Sat., Oct. 4, 2014) with a special international doubleheader, starting with UFC Fight Night 53 on Fight Pass in Stockholm, Sweden, and ending with UFC Fight Night 54 on FOX Sports 1 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

If you can name all 23 mixed martial arts (MMA) bouts without looking here and here, I'll give you a free cookie. And just so there are no surprises, "free cookie" is a euphemism for "kick to the nuts." Zubaira Tukhugov? Marcin "Bomba" Bandel?

I like this sport as much as anyone, but I'm flying blind this weekend.

I know, I know, Fuck you, that's your job. But I don't have time to research all these fighters because I've been on the phone all afternoon arguing with the Amazon call center, as I still haven't gotten my copy of Big Black Poles, Little White Holes.

Backorder, my ass.

Anyway, I'm going to take a closer look at the headlining fights from both events, as well as some quick picks for the undercards. If you want to check out what's doin' on the "Prelims" for each card, the incomparable Patty Stumberg came correct for UFC Fight Night 53 here, as well as UFC Fight Night 54 here.

Odds and betting lines? Yeah, we have those for both events right here.

Now, on with the show.


170 lbs.: Gunnar "Gunni" Nelson (13-0-1) vs. Rick "Horror" Story (17-8)

Nostradumbass predicts: It was just a couple of years ago when Rick Story reeled off six consecutive victories, including two straight against Johny Hendricks and Thiago Alves. Since then, he's been on a "Horror"-ble run that left him just 4-5 and unranked at 170 pounds.

What the heck happened?

The same thing that happens to a lot of fighters of his caliber in that what got them to the dance -- namely a paint-by-numbers offense and the strength of a gorilla -- is no longer effective when the music changes. Story is a killer in the clinch and hasn't been knocked out in 25 professional fights.

His lone submission loss came to Demian Maia by way of excruciatingly-painful neck crank.

That makes his upcoming showdown against Gunnar Nelson a battle of grit versus finesse. How well Story does tomorrow in Sweden largely depends on how effective "Gunni" is at staying off the fence and controlling the center of the Octagon.

While he's known for his impeccable ground skills, the Icelander is also an accomplished striker.

That doesn't make him a lock by any stretch of the imagination and -360 feels a little too generous, as he hasn't faced the level of competition previously thrown at his opponent. Perhaps a three-round fight I would be more inclined to favor Story, who is likely to earn early points for his bull-in-a-china-shop attack.

But over the course of five rounds -- assuming Nelson doesn't fatigue -- Story has to go 25 minutes without making a mistake.

Not likely.

Final prediction: Nelson def. Story via submission

145 lbs.: Hamid "Akira" Corassani (12-4) vs. Max "Blessed" Holloway (10-3) -- Corassani phantom tapped his way through TUF 14 and has three wins inside the Octagon, one of them by way of DQ. I've never been particularly impressed by his overall skill set and he's facing an opponent who has won three straight -- with three violent finishes -- and who is also 10 years younger, getting better every day. Pick: Holloway by submission

205 lbs.: BJ Jan Blachowicz (17-3) vs. Ilir "The Sledgehammer" Latifi (9-3) -- Most people remember Latifi as the guy who got jabbed to death by Gegard Mousasi, but since then he's quietly assembled consecutive wins -- and finishes -- inside the opening frame. His height is a problem in this weight class but I like him against Blachowicz because the KSW import only competed once in the past two years (cardio alert!) and has gone to the scorecards in four straight. Pick: Latifi by technical knockout

145 lbs.: Niklas Backstrom (8-0, 1 NC) vs. Mike "The Warrior" Wilkinson (8-1) -- Both featherweights have six finishes in eight wins, but I'm picking Backstrom, who got his feet wet with a submission win over Tom Niinimaki last May, while Wilkinson hasn't been seen since June of 2013, a submission loss to Rony Mariano Bezerra. "The Warrior" also gives up a sizable height and reach disadvantage and with everything else being equal, it's hard not to favor the hometown product. Pick: Backstrom by submission



170 lbs.: Rory "Ares" MacDonald (17-2) vs. Tarec "Sponge" Saffiedine (15-3)

Nostradumbass predicts: Rory MacDonald is a dynamic, well-rounded fighter with a great camp. But he's not the striking dynamo some folks make him out to be. If he plans on keeping this one upright for all five rounds, he's going to lose, or at least get his lead leg turned into Canadian bacon.

Saffiedine is a better striker.

That said, MacDonald is a better MMA fighter and has the chance to prove it by sticking to his gameplan. The Belgian is a skilled ground fighter, in spite of his kickboxing pedigree, and he's not the easiest guy in the division to take down. That means "Ares" has to do more than just bully his way into close quarters and needs to set up his shot with fluid combinations.

He won't be afforded much time on top, so he needs to make the most of it.

"Sponge" hasn't been knocked out or submitted in 18 trips to the cage and I don't expect that to change tomorrow night in Halifax. He can't be finished, but he can be controlled, so the onus is on MacDonald to disrupt his timing and avoid point fighting.

Grab your popcorn folks, this one is going the distance.

Saffiedine has gone to the cards in his last seven; MacDonald his last five. While both combatants have the skills to finish fights, it usually only happens against journeymen or tin cans, and these guys are neither. Don't be surprised to see this entire fight decided by one or two takedowns.

Final prediction: MacDonald def. Saffiedine via unanimous decision

135 lbs.: Raphael Assuncao (22-4) vs. Bryan "Kid Lightning" Caraway (19-6) -- I know Caraway has become something of a punchline in the days after TUF, but that's unfortunate, because he happens to be a talented ground fighter. My issue in this fight is Assuncao is equally talented thanks to his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt -- and has much better hands -- so if "Kid Lightning" can't get the takedown, he's doomed. Then again, he might be doomed even if he does. Pick: Assuncao by technical knockout

155 lbs.: Yosdenis "Pink Panther" Cedeno (10-3) vs. Chad Laprise (8-0) -- Anytime I see "Pink Panther" I get that kazoo theme song in my head so eff you for that Mr. Cedeno, I am now picking against you. While he is the more explosive striker and will be dangerous early, "Panther's" cardio blows and his offense is too feast-or-famine to overcome Laprise -- assuming the Canadian fights intelligently and doesn't get baited into a bangfest. Pick: Laprise by unanimous decision

185 lbs.: Bruno "Carioca" Santos (14-1) vs. Elias "The Spartan" Theodorou (9-0) -- I don't want to suggest that Santos is one-dimensional, but let's just say that if he was an action figure, he wouldn't come with a kung-fu grip. Admittedly, Theodorou is still wet behind the ears, but is talented everywhere and too crafty to fall victim to "Carioca's" mug-and-slug attack. I also favor the Canadian's cardio -- by a lot -- and expect him to end the fight when Santos goes into desperation mode and eats a kick during a slow and sloppy takedown attempt. Pick: Theodorou by technical knockout

170 lbs.: Jingliang "The Leech" Li (9-2) vs. Nordine Taleb (9-2) -- Li was a pretty big deal overseas, but his ho-hum split-decision win over David Michaud in last May's Octagon debut didn't send any competing welterweights running for cover. Taleb has looked pretty solid save for his recent hiccup against Mariusz Zaromskis and with Tristar in his corner, I think he outworks "The Leech" for the decision. Pick: Taleb by unanimous decision

135 lbs.: Mitch Gagnon (11-2) vs. Roman "El Gallito" Salazar (9-2) -- It's easy to dismiss Salazar's chances here because he's coming into his Octagon debut on just over a week's notice. But "El Gallito" fought (and won) three times this year -- including two weeks ago -- and shouldn't have any issues with his conditioning. But until we see what he can do on the biggest stage in the game, I have to stick with the sure thing, as there isn't a justifiable reason to go with the upset. Gagnon is four fights into his UFC career and looks to be hitting his stride. Pick: Gagnon by submission

There you have it.

Be sure to check back with us tomorrow (Sat., Oct. 4, 2014) as we get the live results for UFC Fight Night 53: "Nelson vs. Story" underway on Fight Pass at noon ET right here, followed by the results and discussion for UFC Fight Night 54: "MacDonald vs. Saffiedine" on FOX Sports 1 at 7 p.m. ET right here.

See you then!

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