Gobble, gobble ...
Two top-ranked Ultimate Fighting Championship Middleweight contenders on terrific runs -- both boasting five consecutive victories inside the Octagon -- will battle it out this Saturday evening (Nov. 26, 2016) when Robert Whittaker takes on Derek Brunson inside Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia. Indeed, something has got to give in UFC Fight Night 101's headlining act.
In addition, Jake Matthews will look to rebound against Andrew Holbrook in the FOX Sports 1-televised main event, while local standout Alex Volkanovski makes his Octagon debut against Yusuke Kasuya.
UFC Fight Night 101 will feature four FOX Sports 1 "Prelims" undercard matches (check out the Fight Pass portion here) before the main card begins at 10 p.m. ET on fight night. Let’s dig in:
170 lbs.: Richard Walsh vs. Jonathan Meunier
Richard Walsh (9-4), representing Australia, reached the semifinals of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Nations" before falling to Olivier Aubin-Mercier. He has gone 2-3 in UFC proper, including a close decision loss to Viscardi Andrade last time out.
He will give up three inches of height to Jonathan Meunier (7-1).
Meunier entered UFC with two regional title under his belt and less than a month’s layoff since his previous bout. He did not manage to keep that momentum going in his late-notice debut, which saw him succumb to Colby Covington’s suffocating wrestling.
He has stopped all seven of his victims, six of them in the first round.
Walsh is honestly better than his record suggests. He deserved the win over Kiichi Kunimoto and he had Andrade dead to rights before getting taken down. He’s kind of a diet Zak Cummings, relying on physical pressure and decent power to overwhelm opponents.
Meunier may not have the firepower to put him away and, if the Covington fight is any indication, probably won’t enjoy the kind of pressure "Filthy Rich" exerts. I’m not saying Walsh is anywhere near Covington’s level, but he’s a stylistic hazard with home-field advantage. He rumbles past Meunier with steady volume striking and clinchwork.
Prediction: Walsh via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Ben Nguyen vs. Geane Herrera
Ben Nguyen (15-6) parlayed his viral fame into a UFC call up, which he took full advantage of with first-round finishes of Alptekin Ozkilic and Ryan Benoit. "Ben 10" last fought in July, losing to but putting on a terrific fight with Louis Smolka.
Eight of his professional wins have come by form of knockout.
Geane Herrera (9-2) came up short in his Octagon debut opposite top prospect Ray Borg, but rebounded with an impressive knockout of Joby Sanchez. He welcomed Ali Bagautinov back to the Octagon in June and gave the former title challenger a quality challenge in defeat.
He has submitted five opponents in the first round.
This is easily "Fight of the Night" material. Nguyen is pure excitement in the cage and Herrera is durable and well-conditioned enough to give him plenty of hell. Despite fading against the relentless pressure of Smolka, I’m leaning toward Nguyen, whom I have underestimated before and whose power is a terrific equalizer.
Herrera just doesn’t have the same level of suffocating grappling that Smolka does and, on the feet, appears sorely out-gunned. Nguyen sprawls-and-brawls his way to a technical knockout finish sometime in the first.
Prediction: Nguyen via first-round technical knockout
145 lbs.: Daniel Hooker vs. Jason Knight
Daniel Hooker (13-6) opened his UFC career by savaging Ian Entwistle with elbows to extend his win streak to six. He has been even (2-2) since, picking up impressive stoppages of Hatsu Hioki and Mark Eddiva along the way.
His 12 finishes are split evenly between knockouts and submissions.
Jason Knight (15-2) punched his ticked to UFC with an upset submission of top prospect Musa Khamanaev, but could not replicate the feat against Tatsuya Kawajiri's legendary top game. Undaunted, he battled English grappling ace Jim Alers in July, winning both "Fight of the Night" and the ensuing split decision.
He is two inches shorter than Hooker at 5’10."
While Hooker is inordinately tough, Knight impressed me quite a bit against "The Beast," demonstrating striking and wrestling that I honestly didn’t expect out of a guard specialist. He should be able to keep up with Hooker on the feet and, should he elect to take it south, I’m not convinced "The Hangman" has the defensive wrestling or Brazilian jiu-jitsu prowess to survive.
At just 24-years-old, Knight has the potential to be a very interesting factor at Featherweight in the future. He slugs it out with Hooker for a bit before taking him down and locking up something weird.
Prediction: Knight via first-round submission
125 lbs.: Yao Zhikui vs. Jenel Lausa
Competing at Featherweight on TUF: "China," Yao Zhikui (2-3) knocked out Allen Chong before losing a decision to Yang Jianping in the semifinals. He is 1-2 in UFC proper, opening with a controversial loss to Royston Wee and most recently suffering a grievous arm injury against Fredy Serrano.
He and enel Lausa (6-2) were originally set to fight on the ill-fated Manila card.
After opening his MMA career 2-2, Lausa racked up four straight wins under the well-regarded PXC promotion. In his last fight, he defeated Crisanto Pitpitunge for the vacant flyweight title and has since won two boxing matches. In addition to his professional mixed martial arts (MMA) record, Lausa is undefeated (7-0) as a professional boxer with four knockouts and a minor Filipino title.
Lausa actually looked pretty solid in the footage I saw. He’s not quite as crisp and disciplined as one might expect considering the boxing background, but he hits hard, picks his shots well, and has solid takedown defense and defensive grappling to back it up. Zhikui’s an excellent first opponent, a game scrapper with power of his own who could make for a great fight.
Zhikui’s willingness to trade may be his undoing. Lausa’s more disciplined and possibly more powerful on the feet and can wrestle if needed. Zhikui’s better than his professional record suggests, but Lausa’s got more upside. He out-boxes Zhikui on his way to a fun decision win.
Prediction: Lausa via unanimous decision
Hey, it’s free and it’s on Thanksgiving weekend, so it’s not like you’ll be that busy. See you Saturday, Maniacs!
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 101 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 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.