"12-Gauge" fights "Karate Hottie" at UFC on FOX 22 this weekend (Sat., Dec. 17, 2016) and it’s somehow not directed by Robert Rodriguez.
Paige VanZant headlines the world's leading mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion's latest FOX show this weekend, taking on former Invicta FC Atomweight Champion Michelle Waterson inside Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. The two headline a four-fight main card that grants Mickey Gall his long-desired clash with Sage Northcutt in the co-feature. And that’s not even mentioning Urijah Faber vs. Brad Pickett and Alan Jouban vs. Mike Perry, which ought to be delightful scraps.
UFC on FOX 22 features a hefty six "Prelims" undercard matches on FOX Sports 1 this time around (check out the three-fight Fight Pass portion here), so let’s dig in before they get cold:
205 lbs.: Paul Craig vs. Luis Henrique da Silva
Paul Craig (8-0) hasn’t needed a baseball bat to run through the European circuit, stopping all eight of his professional opponents. His run includes seven first-round finishes, a win over Irish prospect Karl Moore and a successful bid for the BAMMA Light Heavyweight title in Nov. 2015.
Of those eight stoppage wins, seven came by submission.
Luis Henrique da Silva (12-0) knocked out UFC veteran Ildemar Alcantara in his final pre-UFC appearance, then extended his knockout streak to 11 by outlasting Jonathan Wilson in his Octagon debut. In his third fight of 2016, "Frankenstein" survived a second-round knockdown to submit Denmark’s Joachim Christensen and earn a "Performance of the Night" bonus in the process.
Eight of his 12 stoppage wins have come in the first round.
Craig moves very well on the mat for a man his size and has a keen eye for submission opportunities. That said, I’m not sure the wrestling’s there quite yet; in fact, Moore had him mounted in their fight and seemed in control before running into a guillotine. "Frankenstein" is quite strong and has the edge in firepower on the feet. Without strong takedowns, "The BearJew" may be in for it.
Henrique’s striking edge ought to carry him to an entertaining victory. So long has he keeps his neck out of Craig’s arms, expect a stoppage victory.
Prediction: Henrique da Silva by second-round technical knockout
145 lbs.: Cole Miller vs. Mizuto Hirota
The last two years have been rather tumultuous for Cole Miller (21-10), who entered 2015 on a two-fight win streak and proceeded to lose two of his next three bouts. In addition to suffering a "No Contest" against Jim Alers between those losses, a bout with B.J. Penn fell through because of United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA)-related issues and his first booking against Mizuto Hirota (17-7-2) wound up on the ill-fated Manila card.
"Magrinho" has 15 submissions among his eighteen stoppage wins.
Hirota, whose first ZUFFA run featured some close decision losses, fought his way through "Road to UFC: Japan" to get another crack inside the Octagon. Two Septembers ago, he survived Teruto Ishihara’s early onslaught and fought his way to a split draw in the tournament finals.
He will give up six inches of height to the 6’1" Miller.
This fight could go a lot of ways. Hirota is 0-3-1 in ZUFFA, but had an argument for a win against Pat Healy, Rodrigo Damm and the aforementioned Ishihara. Miller, meanwhile, has moments of beauty where his long-range boxing and grappling skills work in beautiful tandem, but just as many where he looks lost on the feet.
Miller’s struggles against a very beatable Alex Caceres and his issues outside the cage with UFC have me leaning toward Hirota. "Pugnus’s" submission defense has proven impregnable to anyone not named Shinya Aoki, his Judo matches up well against Miller’s lackluster takedowns, and he can hold his own on the feet. I say he sprawls-and-brawls to a competitive decision victory.
Prediction: Hirota via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Bryan Barberena vs. Colby Covington
Bryan Barberena (12-3) split his first two UFC bouts at Lightweight before making the jump to 170 pounds earlier this year, where he choked out Sage Northcutt at UFC on FOX 18. Unsatisfied with just one major upset, he out-slugged Warlley Alves in May to take a unanimous decision in hostile territory.
"Bam Bam" has eight wins by form of knockout and two via submission.
Colby Covington (10-1) saw his unbeaten record and three-fight UFC win streak crash to a halt at the hands of Warlley Alves, who snared him in a guillotine 86 seconds into their Dec. 2015 showdown. He has since won two straight over Jonathan Meunier and Max Griffin, stopping both men in the third round.
"Chaos" has submitted four people via choke and one by strikes.
Covington’s a bad match up for a lot of Welterweight fighters, but Barberena in particular is going to have boatloads of issues. Barbarena’s success comes from being utterly exhausting to deal with -- it’s a chore to take him down and, on the feet, his relentless advance and stubborn refusal to acknowledge return fire is utterly demoralizing.
Unfortunately, Covington thrives in the grind, in the slogging mess that Barberena’s fights devolve into. Worse, he has the cardio and wrestling prowess to take down Barberena all night. "Bam Bam’s" going to make a fight of it, but constant takedowns will gimp his momentum before it can ever get going. Covington grinds his way to a decision.
Prediction: Covington via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: James Moontasri vs. Alex Morono
James Moontasri (9-4) spent the first three UFC fights at Lightweight, going 1-2 before persistent weight-cutting issues sent him up to 170 pounds. There, "Moonwalker" has knocked out Anton Zafir in Melbourne and dropped a decision to Alex Oliveira in July.
He and Alex Morono (12-3) were originally set to fight in Manila.
"Great White" rattled off five straight stoppage wins, four in the first round, to earn a shot at UFC with the Legacy FC Welterweight title around his waist. He debuted in January, edging out veteran Kyle Noke by split decision.
He owns five wins by submission and four by (technical) knockout.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that Moontasri isn’t quite as good as I think he is. That said, aside from a debut he arguably won despite a terrible gameplan, his UFC losses have come to two excellent fighters in Kevin Lee and Alex Oliveira. Morono isn’t that sort of physical powerhouse and lacks the wrestling to stifle Moontasri’s vast striking arsenal.
When Moontasri can stay on his feet, he’s a scary opponent. Whatever luck Morono had to earn the decision against Noke runs out here as Moontasri breaks him down for the stoppage win.
Prediction: Moontasri via second-round technical knockout
155 lbs.: Josh Emmett vs. Scott Holtzman
Josh Emmett's (10-0) first nine fights saw him earn the West Coast FC Lightweight title and defend it with a knockout of UFC veteran Christos Giagos. In May, he stepped up on short notice to beat Jon Tuck by split decision decision.
He has three wins via (technical) knockout and two by submission.
Scott Holtzman (9-1) -- a product of the venerable MMA Lab -- announced his arrival in UFC's 155-pound division last year with a thrashing of Anthony Christodoulou. An upset loss to Drew Dober slowed his roll in January, although he’s since bounced back with a decision over Cody Pfister.
He stands an inch taller than Emmett at 5’9."
Holtzman’s technical prowess just hasn’t caught up to his physical gifts yet. He strikes well, but neither his takedown defense nor grappling off of his back are up to snuff. Emmett will have a speed advantage and his time at Team Alpha Male ought to give him the tools to exploit Holtzman’s still-developing ground game.
It should be a fun fight, Emmett’s rapid combinations against Holtzman’s pressure. With the aforementioned wrestling issues keeping Holtzman honest, expect Emmett to outland him for the decision win.
Prediction: Emmett via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Leslie Smith vs. Irene Aldana
Leslie Smith (8-7-1) -- a product of Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu -- went 3-2-1 in Invicta with wins over Raquel Pennington and future champion Jennifer Maia. She is 2-3 in UFC, alternating losses and wins and most recently suffering a knockout loss to Cris "Cyborg" Santos.
Half of her professional wins have come by form of knockout.
First-round submissions of Peggy Morgan and Colleen Schneider set up Irene Aldana (7-2) for a crack at the Invicta FC Bantamweight title. Though she came up short against Tonya Evinger, she went on to knockout Jessamyn Duke and Faith Van Duin in a round apiece.
Each of her seven wins -- five of them (technical) knockouts and two of them submissions -- have come in the first round.
Keep an eye on Aldana in the coming years -- she’s not the overwhelming force teammate Alexa Grasso is, but she’s an excellent offensive bruiser with real power in her hands. Her greatest issues are her lack of striking defense, which she makes up for with a great chin, and middling takedown defense, which Smith has neither the skill nor desire to exploit.
Though Smith’s pressure and durability make her a fearsome foe, she is way too hittable. Aldana has the speed and combination punching to pick her apart the way Sara Kaufman and Jessica Eye did and likely hits harder than either of them. She dominates, picking up either a one-sided decision or an accumulation stoppage.
Prediction: Aldana by second-round technical knockout
UFC on FOX 22 features some darn good fights for free. Mix in a little hot chocolate and you have a perfect winter weekend. See you there, Maniacs!
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on FOX 22 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. ET, and then the remaining under card balance on FOX Sports 1 at 5 p.m. ET, before the FOX main card start time at 8 p.m. ET.