It's been a while.
Almost eight years to the day since their fateful first match, Heavyweight finishers Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic and Gabriel "Napao" Gonzaga will lock horns once again, headlining the world's leading mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion's first-ever trip to Poland this Saturday afternoon (April 11, 2015).
One division south in UFC Fight Night 64's co-main event, English knockout machine Jimi Manuwa will look to rebound from his first career loss at the expense of local favorite Jan Blachowicz, who last seen knocking out Ilir Latifi with a nasty body kick.
The Fight Pass-only event from Krakow Arena will also feature a total of eight "Prelims" under card matches, starting at 11:45 a.m. ET. We examined the first four UFC Fight Night 64 "Prelims" bouts yesterday right here.
Check out the rest below:
170 lbs.: Seth Baczynski vs. Leon Edwards
Seth Baczynski (19-12) -- after a close loss in his Octagon debut -- won his next four bouts in the promotion, including a submission of Matt Brown at UFC 139. However, "The Polish Pistola" has recently struggled to maintain that form, losing four of his last five bouts.
He has finished 17 of his 19 victories and will have a five-inch height advantage.
England’s Leon Edwards (8-2) entered UFC on the heels of a six-fight win streak, having not tasted defeat since a 2012 disqualification loss. That streak came to an end on the "Shogun vs. St. Preux" card as he lost a questionable decision to hometown fighter Claudio Henrique da Silva.
Half of his victories are by form of knockout, including three of his last five.
I’d argue that there’s no real shame in any of Baczynski’s recent losses. Alan Jouban should be undefeated in UFC, Thiago Alves is Thiago Alves, Brian Melancon looked quite promising before he retired, and Mike Pierce is one of the tougher outs in the division.
Still, I don’t envy him against another hard puncher in Edwards.
If Baczynski comes in focused on the takedown, he could certainly take the decision. If he elects to slug it out, as he is wont to do, Edwards is going to put him to sleep. I’ve a feeling the latter comes to pass, with an entertaining slugfest coming to an abrupt end courtesy of Edwards’ heavy hands.
Prediction: Edwards via first-round knockout
185 lbs.: Bartosz Fabinski vs. Gareth McLellan
Native Pole Bartosz Fabinski (11-2) competed five times in 2014 alone, rattling off four straight wins after losing a decision in March. Previously, he had only lost to fellow UFC competitor Marcin Bandel, while scoring six knockouts in seven wins.
He replaces countryman Krzysztof Jotko on approximately one month’s notice.
Gareth McLellan (12-2) patronized the EFC Africa promotion for effectively his entire career, racking up an 11-1 record during his five years under its banner. "Soldier Boy" is currently riding a six-fight win streak, five victories coming by form of choke.
Overall, he has submitted nine foes and knocked out another two.
Neither of these guys is going to be challenging for the title anytime soon, but the style clash makes this one worth keeping an eye on. Both of them have a single-minded devotion to taking it to the floor, meaning we’ll either get a stalemate on the fence or a whole bunch of crazy ground action.
I’m leaning toward the Pole.
Fabinski, though he has competed at welterweight before, looks like the stronger of the two and the better wrestler at range, while his Judo ought to nullify McLellan’s trips from the clinch. I expect him to wind up on top more often than not, eventually tenderizing the South African into submission with ground-and-pound.
Fabinski stops him late in the first round.
Prediction: Fabinski via first-round technical knockout
170 lbs.: Sergio Moraes vs. Mickael Lebout
Sergio Moraes (8-2) -- a two-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion -- fell short in his first UFC appearance, losing a decision to Cezar "Mutante" in the final bout of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Brazil" Middleweight tournament. Returning to 170 pounds, "Serginho" scored two straight submissions, but has been out of action because of injury since Aug. 2013.
All but one of his wins have come via submission.
France’s Mickael Lebout (13-3-1) hit a rough patch from 2012 through 2013, going 1-3-1 (1 NC) during that span. He has since righted the ship with six straight wins, most recently taking home a decision victory less than two months ago.
He is the third scheduled opponent for Moraes after both Peter Sobotta and Gasan Umalatov were forced out with injuries.
I’m a bit torn here. Lebout is a grappling specialist going up against one of the absolute best jiu-jitsu artists to ever grace the Octagon. On the other hand, said ground God has been out of action since Aug. 2013 and has both a shaky chin and mediocre wrestling.
Eh, I’m still going with the Brazilian.
Everything but Moraes’ ground game may be underdeveloped, but that ground game is tremendous. Against a short-notice opponent, he should be able to get it to the mat at least once.
And once is all he needs.
Prediction: Moraes via first-round submission
135 lbs.: Damian Stasiak vs. Yaotzin Meza
Damian Stasiak (8-2) hit an early roadblock in his career, dropping consecutive decisions to Magomed Magomedov and Dmitri Silnyagin in 2013. Since then, he’s dispatched five straight ... four via submission.
The karateka is nine years younger than his opponent, very nearly to the day.
Yaotzin Meza (20-9) -- training out of the MMA Lab alongside Benson Henderson -- had a rather rough UFC introduction, stepping up in weight on short notice against Chad Mendes with a rather predictable amount of success. Returning to 135 pounds, he defeated John Albert before losing consecutive bouts to Chico Camus and Sergio Pettis, although the former was overturned because of a failed drug test.
He has finished 12 opponents ... seven by submission.
Meza has the experience edge, but it’s worth noting that he has yet to truly impress in UFC. Even in his lone victory, it was a typical John Albert fight wherein "Prince" had his foe on the ropes before gassing out. Stasiak, while a newcomer, figures to have the skills to hand him a third official UFC defeat.
Stasiak, though he’s taking a big step up, has a solid bottom game that should allow him to mitigate Meza’s offense if the latter manages to get on top. There’s certainly the possibility of Meza grinding him down, but I think the Pole takes the decision, outstriking Meza and at least breaking even in the grappling.
Prediction: Stasiak via unanimous decision
CroCop and Gonzaga may both be past their best, but whatever happens, it ought to be interesting at the very least.
See you there, Maniacs!
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 64 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 11:45 a.m. ET, right on through the Fight Pass-only main card, which is slated to begin at 3 p.m. ET.