Out with the old, in with the new?
Once the "Next Big Thing" at Welterweight, Rick Story now stands in the way of another rising 170-pound Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) star, taking on unbeaten grappling whiz Gunnar Nelson in the main event of UFC Fight Night 53, which takes place this Saturday afternoon (Oct. 4, 2014) at Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden.
In addition, hometown brawler and The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 14 veteran Akira Corassani will take on the surging Max Holloway, while Ilir Latifi welcomes Polish standout Jan Blachowicz to the world's leading mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion.
The whole event, including the six "Prelims" under card bouts, will be shown on Fight Pass. Since we've got another double-header this weekend, here are the lot.
Following a seven-fight win streak that featured six finishes, Magnus Cedenblad (12-4) debuted two Aprils ago against Francis Carmont in his native Sweden. Though he succumbed to a rear-naked choke in the second round, he has rebounded with guillotine submissions of Jared Hamman and Krzysztof Jotko.
He has finished eleven opponents overall, six by form of knockout.
Scott Askham (12-0) -- regarded as one of the top prospects in the sport -- opened his professional career with seven straight first round finishes, several coming inside one minute. He has continued to impress since, earning the BAMMA Middleweight title and defeating the touted Max Nunes in his last appearance.
He has scored seven career knockouts and two submissions since his 2010 debut.
Despite those rapid finishes early on, Askham excels at close range, wearing opponents down in the clinch. Unfortunately for him, I question the efficacy of such a strategy against Cedenblad, who is equally tall and possesses some solid takedowns and overall grappling acumen.
Askham’s power makes him a major threat throughout the fight, but I think he’ll struggle to impose his debilitating clinch game on someone with the takedowns of Cedenblad. Expect the Swede to capitalize on a level change sometime in the second round, picking up another guillotine choke and handing the Englishman his first defeat.
Prediction: Cedenblad via second-round submission
170 lbs.: Nico Musoke vs. Alexander Yakovlev
Nico Musoke (12-3) impressed in his Octagon debut, submitting the favored Alessio Sakara with a beautiful armbar despite being a late replacement. Returning to Welterweight, Musoke survived an early knockdown to defeat Viscardi Andrade before losing a decision to Kelvin Gastelum in San Antonio, Texas.
The loss snapped an eight-fight unbeaten streak dating back to June 2011.
A former M-1 title contender, Alexander Yakovlev (21-5-1) earned the biggest win of his career in Nov. 2013, utilizing top control to defeat UFC and Strikeforce veteran Paul Daley. "Bad Boy" had no answer for the grappling prowess of Demian Maia, though, losing a unanimous decision to the Brazilian in May.
He has earned 16 career finishes, split evenly between knockout and submission.
Yes, Yakovlev got embarrassed by Maia in his UFC debut. It’s worth remembering, though, that he is not the first top control specialist to fall to Maia, with even Jon Fitch getting manhandled by the ADCC vet. Yakovlev is still a powerful grappler; Daley is not an easy man to take down and control.
Musoke is going to have some difficulties.
Both men seem to prefer bringing the fight to the mat. Yakovlev’s size, strength and quick shot should earn him his first UFC victory.
Prediction: Yakovlev via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Dennis Siver vs. Charles Rosa
Dennis Siver's (21-9) run toward Featherweight contendership came to a crashing halt at the hands of Cub Swanson, who knocked out the German standout in the third round of an entertaining fight. He re-entered the win column at the expense of Manny Gamburyan in Dec. 2013, only to test positive for a women’s fertility drug and have his win overturned to a "No Contest."
Though a striking specialist, he owns nine career submissions and five knockouts.
American Top Team’s Charles Rosa (9-0) has been a model of efficiency in his professional career, ending all bouts inside the distance and all but one inside the first. Of those wins, six have come via submission, including a Peruvian necktie in 2013.
He is Siver’s third scheduled opponent, replacing previous opponent Taylor Lapilus on five days’ notice after Sweden’s MMA Federation (SMMAF) deemed him an unsuitable foe for Siver.
First off, I’d like to give props to the SMMAF for not booking the Lapilus fight. Lapilus has never competed under the unified rules, instead fighting under a rule set that disallows ground-and-pound. Considering Siver’s demolition of Nam Phan from top control, it was the right decision.
Rosa’s not going to win, either, but it won’t be a slaughter.
The lynchpin of Siver’s rise from 1-3 washout in his first appearance to top-10 contender in his latest run is his improved offensive and defensive wrestling. Rosa is a skilled grappler, but I doubt his ability to take Siver to the mat almost as much as I doubt his ability to handle the German on the feet. So long as Siver’s cheating hasn’t compromised his body, expect him to chew Rosa up at range with his signature lead-leg kicks, maybe even sneaking in a takedown or two along the way.
Prediction: Siver via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Cathal Pendred vs. Gasan Umalatov
Ireland’s Cathal Pendred (14-2-1) brought some hype into his TUF 19 appearance, earning his way into the house and winning in the quarterfinals. After falling to eventual winner Eddie Gordon by split decision, Pendred faced teammate Mike King in July, surviving a disastrous first round to choke the unbeaten "King" unconscious in the second.
He is three inches taller than Gasan Umalatov (15-3-1).
Umalatov came up short in his first UFC appearance, dropping a decision to the streaking Neil Magny in February. He found more success in his second appearance, where he outstruck and denied the grappling of Paulo Thiago for a decision win.
Umalatov has nine pro finishes, including seven by submission.
When examining Pendred’s underwhelming performances on TUF, it’s worth remembering that he was competing 15 pounds north of his preferred weight. He’s got a very solid resume that includes wins over Nico Musoke and Che Mills.
I believe he can win the grappling battle against Umalatov.
Umalatov had no success trying to bring down Magny and did most of his work against Thiago on the feet, failing to complete many of his takedowns. Against a big, strong grinder like Pendred, those aren’t heartening performances. Pendred may lack the panache of his featherweight countryman, but he’s a solid fighter whose wrestling should carry him to a second UFC victory.
Prediction: Pendred via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Tor Troeng vs. Krzysztof Jotko
Sweden’s Tor Troeng (16-6-1) entered TUF 17 house having lost just once in his last 13 fights, but suffered a knockout loss to Josh Samman in the quarterfinals. Though he submitted Adam Cella in his UFC debut, he has struggled recently, dropping consecutive losses to Rafael Natal and Trevor Smith.
Troeng has finished sixteen foes, eight each by knockout and submission.
Krzysztof Jotko (14-1) beat his first UFC opponent at his own game, grinding out Brazilian grappler Bruno Santos last December. Magnus Cedenblad proved more resistant to Jotko’s efforts, choking the Polish fighter out at the last second of the second round.
He has knocked out four opponents and submitted two.
Tor’s difficulties in his own ostensible area of expertise, the grappling, don’t give me high hopes for his UFC career. His takedowns are underwhelming and he seems prone to getting swept when he does reach top position.
Seems like a field day for a dedicated grinder like Jotko.
Though the Pole is not a finisher by any stretch of the imagination, I expect his persistence in pursuit of the takedown to pay dividends. Troeng may be more well-rounded, but that doesn’t matter much if he gets overwhelmed in one area.
Jotko takes the decision.
Prediction: Jotko via unanimous decision
Mairbek Taisumov (21-5) -- a standout in the M-1 Global promotion -- opened his UFC career with a decision win over Tae Hyun Bang, the first non-finish of his professional career. He had no answers for the grappling attack of Michel Prazeres, however, losing a wide decision in the latter’s native Brazil.
He has submitted 10 opponents and knocked out another nine.
Poland’s Marcin Bandel (13-2) has not tasted defeat since his third pro fight, rattling off twelve straight first-round submissions. The Robert Drysdale protege has finished half of those bouts via heel hook and, three fights ago, scored an omoplata as well.
This will be his Lightweight debut, having competed at Middleweight and, more recently, Welterweight in the past.
Bandel is an entertaining fighter to watch, showing single-minded dedication to the leglock that might even exceed that of his fellow Marcin, Bellator tournament winner Held. He will gladly fall to his back if he can’t complete a takedown and appears very adept at maintaining his grip during scrambles.
Unfortunately, that’s not going to cut it against a powerful vet like Taisumov.
I won’t deny that Mairbek has been underwhelming in his UFC career. That said, I still have faith in his power and grappling. This fight ends one of two ways: either Bandel snatches the heel hook or Taisumov destroys him from top position after getting out of it.
Prediction: Taisumov via first-round technical knockout
Zubaira Tukhugov (16-3) was originally given a brutal assignment for his UFC debut, being booked to face veteran Thiago Tavares in the latter’s first featherweight appearance. Due to a Tavares injury, Tukhugov instead faced Brazilian knockout artist Douglas Silva, outstriking him en route to a unanimous decision win.
The Chechen striker has now won his last seven fights, earning three knockouts along the way.
Ernest Chavez (7-1) began his ZUFFA career with an upset, defeating touted Cuban Yosdenis Cedeno by split decision in February. Against former Jungle Fight champion Elias Silverio, Chavez had less success, tapping to a third-round rear-naked choke for his first career loss.
This will be "EJ’s" first appearance at 145 pounds.
Tukhugov may not be a finisher, but he’s an entertaining striker with a penchant for spinning techniques. Most importantly, he is very quick, which should be trouble for a longtime lightweight like Chavez who wasn’t particularly fast at 155 pounds.
Tukhugov’s big weakness is his takedown defense and I’d like to see him face a strong wrestler before making a confident assessment of his shot at the elite. I do not believe, however, that Chavez has the wrestling to exploit that deficiency and I expect him to be well outclassed on the feet.
Chavez may be called "The Mad Titan," but Thanos he is not. Tukhugov’s aggression and fast hands carry him to a wide decision win
Prediction: Tukhugov via unanimous decision
Don't forget, we've also got some fights in Halifax, Canada, later that day with UFC Fight Night 54. We'll check them out tomorrow, so be sure to stop by ... same time, same place.
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 53 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches, which are scheduled to begin at noon ET, right on through the Fight Pass main card at 3 p.m. ET.
Current UFC "Prelims" Prediction Record 2014: 144-62 (1 NC)