Pressure! Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight Champion Rafael dos Anjos returns to the cage this Saturday evening (Nov. 5, 2016), taking on fellow come-forward bruiser Tony Ferguson and his eight-fight win streak in UFC Fight Night 98's main event inside Arena Ciudad de Mexico in Mexico City, Mexico.
The FOX Sports 1-televised show will also feature the show's final match between Martin Bravo and Claudio Puelles, as well as Ricardo Lamas against Charles Oliveira in an excellent Featherweight scrap. Where there were once seven "Prelims" undercard matches, just six remain thanks to Guido Cannetti’s loss to United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), three on Fight Pass and the rest on FOX Sports 1.
Let’s see what the former have in store:
185 lbs.: Sam Alvey vs. Alex Nicholson
The momentum for Sam Alvey (28-8) -- bolstered by a trio of first-round knockouts -- came to a crashing halt thanks to a knockout loss to Derek Brunson and tepid performance against Elias Theodorou. He has since regained some of it by choking out Eric Spicely and knocking out Kevin Casey.
He was originally set to face Nicholson on the ill-fated Manila card.
Alex Nicholson (7-2) brought a five-fight win streak into UFC, only to have both is and his jaw broken by Misha Cirkunov in his February debut. Dropping to Middleweight, he took on "Lookin’ for a Fight" product Devin Clark and knocked him out in the waning seconds of the first round.
All seven of his wins have come by stoppage, six of them in the first round.
The defining flaw of Alvey’s style is that he’s a counter-puncher who waits for opportunities instead of making his own. When his opponent doesn’t play ball and rush in, he’s content to let rounds slip away from him.
Luckily for him, Nicholson is exactly the kind of foe that Alvey is built to destroy. Nicholson’s relentless offense produces countering opportunities on the regular and Alvey’s chin is more than durable enough to keep him afloat until his moment arrives. Expect Nicholson to land some hard knocks early on before Alvey gets his timing down and flattens him.
Prediction: Alvey via first-round knockout
155 lbs.: Polo Reyes vs. Jason Novelli
The heavy-handed Polo Reyes (6-3) reached TUF: "Latin America 2" semifinals before falling to teammate and fellow slugger Horacio Gutierrez, who knocked him out in the first round. He’s since gone perfect (2-0) in UFC proper, destroying Cesar Arzamendia and warring with Dong Hyun Kim en route to a brutal third-round knockout.
Five of his wins have come by form of knockout.
Jason Novelli (11-2-1) entered UFC on a five-fight unbeaten streak, the sole blemish a split draw with Yosdenis Cedeno that really should have gone Novelli’s way. "Flipside" made his Octagon debut in August, losing to TUF veteran David Teymur by second-round knockout.
Six of his nine stoppage wins came via submission.
There’s a very good chance that this one winds up being a peach of a fight. Both men are capable on their feet and Reyes proved his brawling prowess in the Kim fight. That said, Novelli’s got a handful of red flags that have me leaning toward the Mexican slugger.
"Flipside," in addition to pushing 40, seemed hesitant to grapple against both Cedeno and Teymur, the former of whom is notoriously helpless off his back and the latter of whom was kicking his ass in the stand up. If he gives Reyes that same sort of leeway to tee off without fear of takedowns, he’s in for it. Reyes ends an entertaining slugfest with power punches partway through the second.
Prediction: Reyes via second-round technical knockout
145 lbs.: Enrique Barzola vs. Chris Avila
Peru’s Enrique Barzola (11-3-1) became the first non-Mexican to win a TUF: "Latin America" tournament when he dominated Horacio Gutierrez at TUF: "Latin America 2" Finale. He returned to the cage in August, where he dropped a close decision to Kyle Bochniak in Vancouver.
He will give up three inches of height to the 5’10" Chris Avila (5-3).
Avila -- a disciple of the Diaz brothers -- joined UFC on a three-fight win streak ... all finishes. He debuted at UFC 202 against Artem Lobov, who took home a dominant decision over the 23-year-old. He has three wins by knockout and one by submission on his record.
There’s Nick Diaz, there’s Nate Diaz, and there’s Avila, whom I think of as Nyquil Diaz. He’s got the reach and the punching style, but none of the pressure or grit that make the brothers such devastating fighters. He couldn’t even keep Artem Lobov off of him and Lobov needs a stepladder to reach his toilet tank.
Barzola figures to have the advantage pretty much wherever the fight goes. Avila’s call up was simply too much, too soon -- tough to finish or not, he’s badly outgunned. Barzola dominates for 30-27's across the board.
Prediction: Barzola via unanimous decision
Three TUF: "Latin America 3" Finale undercard fights to preview and predict tomorrow, capped off by a quality Bantamweight showdown. See you tomorrow, Maniacs!
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 98 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 FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the FOX Sports 1 main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.