Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez has been out of action for nearly two years since his second curbstomping of Junior dos Santos. Fabricio Werdum, meanwhile has been winning ... waiting. This Saturday night (June 13, 2015), the world's leading mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion will hit Arena Ciudad de Mexico in Mexico City, Mexico, to determine the "Baddest Man on the Planet" at UFC 188.
In addition, former Strikeforce Lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez will take on former Bellator MMA 155-pound kingpin Eddie Alvarez in a long-requested bout, while Kelvin Gastelum looks to rebound from his first defeat inside the Octagon against Nate Marquardt in a Middleweight match.
Of the seven "Prelims" undercard bouts, three will stream online via Fight Pass and the remaining balance on the oft-neglected FX Network.
Let's preview and predict the former below:
170 lbs.: Augusto Montano vs. Cathal Pendred
The towering Augusto Montano (15-1) entered UFC with 14 finishes in 14 wins, his sole loss coming to Sam Alvey in 2011. "Dodger" made it 15-15 in his debut, smashing Chris Heatherly with knees in his hometown of Mexico City in Nov. 2014.
All but two of his wins -- 10 of which are by form of knockout -- have come in the first round.
Cathal Pendred (16-2-1) entered The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 19 with some hype behind him as the CWFC Welterweight champion and teammate of Conor McGregor. That hype has simmered down somewhat because even though he choked out Mike King at TUF 19 Finale after losing to Eddie Gordon on the show, he’s been the beneficiary of some atrocious decisions in his last two bouts.
He’s stopped seven opponents as a professional, six by form of knockout.
Pendred’s quite easy to hate -- although the decisions weren’t his fault, his style is about as far removed from McGregor’s electric violence as you can get. Like many of you, I’m hopeful that "Dodger" lights him up the way he did Heatherly.
I am also cognizant that this probably isn’t how’ll it go.
For all his physical gifts, Montano is a work-in-progress on both his feet and the mat. Against a, let’s not mince our words, lay-and-pray artist in Pendred, his wrestling just isn’t up to snuff and he’s not clean enough standing, especially since he won’t have his usual height advantage.
Plus, Pendred’s a tough nut to crack and Montano hasn’t seen the third round in four years. The Irishman survives some hairy early moments to grind the local favorite down.
Prediction: Pendred via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Gabriel Benitez vs. Clay Collard
Team Mexico’s Gabriel Benitez (17-4) reached the semifinals of TUF: "Latin America" before losing a decision to Argentina’s Leonardo Morales. At UFC 180, he spent three rounds cranking on Humberto Brown’s head before finally putting the Panamanian to sleep with a guillotine.
Clay Collard (14-5) stepped up to the plate where few others would dare to when Mirsad Bektic pulled out because of injury against Max Holloway. Though he succumbed to strikes in the third round, he ended 2014 by beating Alex White at UFC 181 for his first UFC victory.
At 5’11," he stands two inches taller than "Moggly."
Collard’s still pretty rough with his technique and his strategy of compensating for it with volume is going to get him hurt against the division’s better strikers, as it did against Holloway. Thankfully, Benitez does not fit that description. He’s a good grappler, but Collard ought to be able to force him to trade.
And Benitez doesn’t have the chops to punish his indiscretion.
Any fight with Collard is going to be pretty entertaining and this one is no exception. Expect him to outslug his Mexican foe for a decision win.
Prediction: Collard via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Albert Tumenov vs. Andrew Todhunter
Albert Tumenov's (15-2) six-fight knockout streak came to an end when, despite a strong start, he dropped a split decision to Ildemar Alcantara in his Octagon debut. Since then, he’s re-established himself as a top prospect with crushing knockouts of Anthony Lapsley and Matt Dwyer, plus a decision over Swedish standout Nico Musoke in his most recent bout.
In total, the 23-year-old has knocked out nine of his last 12 opponents.
Former sniper Andrew Todhunter (7-0) has yet to see the judges as a professional, submitting all seven opponents while also finishing six of his seven amateur foes. The longtime Middleweight answered the call to face Tumenov on a week’s notice when TUF 19 competitor Hector Urbina was forced out due to injury.
This will be his welterweight debut as well as his UFC debut.
In a 170-pound division choked with prospects, Tumenov is my pick as its brightest. The young Russian has some of the most vicious hands in the weight class, packing a mix of speed, power and timing that’s almost unmatched. I can count on one hand the number of Welterweight opponents I’d pick to handle him standing.
Best of all, he demonstrated in the Musoke fight that the two issues that cost him against Alcantara, his cardio and takedown defense, have ostensibly been solved as he pummeled the Swede and stuffed his takedowns well into the fight.
Todhunter is skilled, but even without the burdens of short notice and fifteen more pounds than he’s ever cut, Tumenov is on another level. "Einstein" brains him with a lights-out counter sometime in the first round.
Prediction: Tumenov via first-round knockout
Four UFC 188 undercard fights remain to preview and predict, featuring solid prospects like Johnny Case and Olympic Gold Medalist Henry Cejudo.
Same time tomorrow, Maniacs!
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 188 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, and then the remaining under card balance on FX Channel at 8 p.m. ET before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.