What could be a “Fight of the Year” contender hits Ergo Arena in Gdansk, Poland, this Saturday afternoon (Oct. 21, 2017) as Donald Cerrone pits his veteran savvy and finishing skills against Muay Thai wrecking ball Darren Till in UFC Fight Night 118’s featured main event.
One fight prior on the Fight Pass-only telecast, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 23 competitor Jodie Esquibel makes her Octagon debut against Karolina Kowalkiewicz, while grappling ace Oskar Piechota faces Jonathan Wilson in the main card opener.
We’ve still got four “Prelims” undercard matches before all that (check out the first four here), though, so let’s dig in.
155 lbs.: Marcin Held vs. Nasrat Haqparast
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has not been kind to Marcin Held (22-7), whose Bellator MMA run earned him considerable hype when he first entered the Octagon in Nov. 2016. After a decision loss to Diego Sanchez and a controversial defeat against Joe Lauzon, Held spent two rounds dominating Damir Hadzovic before running headlong into a knee seven seconds into the third round.
His 12 submission wins include six by leglock.
Germany’s Nasrat Haqparast (8-1) lost in his professional mixed martial arts (MMA) debut and promptly decided he didn’t want to deal with that again, knocking out his next eight opponents. His last two fights have forced him to leave the first round, but he nonetheless picked up the finish both times.
He steps in for Teemu Packalen on less than two weeks’ notice.
Haqparast has the look of a quality prospect at the age of 22. His striking — anchored by a downright booming left hand — looks effective and entertaining. In addition, he packs some well-timed takedowns and ruthless ground-and-pound to support it. What he doesn’t have is high-level experience — his last two opponents, in reverse chronological order, were 5-1 and 8-5 when he fought them.
The rest of his wins? 0-0, 0-0, 0-0, 0-0, 0-1-1, 0-1.
Held, for all his recent struggles, remains an elite Lightweight with the durability to withstand Haqparast’s onslaught and overwhelm him on the mat. Haqparast’s overeagerness and inexperience doom him to an early takedown and subsequent submission.
Prediction: Held via first-round submission
265 lbs.: Anthony Hamilton vs. Adam Wieczorek
Anthony Hamilton (15-8) is having some issues leaving the station. Hamilton — who joined UFC with MFC’s Heavyweight title and a knockout win over Smealinho Rama — has gone just 3-6 in the world’s largest fighting organization and enters the cage having lost three straight by first-round stoppage.
“The Freight Train” steps in for the injured Dmitrii Smoliakov on less than three weeks notice.
Adam Wieczorek has not tasted defeat since falling to Marcin Tybura six years ago in his second professional fight. He returned to the cage in 2014 and went on to stop his next seven opponents, five of them in the first round.
Four of his five submission wins have come by armbar.
First of all: Why the hell is Hamilton allowed to take this fight? He got TKO’d last month. Shouldn’t he still be in his no-contact medical suspension?
With that aside, I face a conundrum. Wieczorek is just not that good — he’s got porous takedown defense, he retreats in a straight line when pressured, and his offensive striking consists of a jab and a reasonably sharp right hand he doesn’t throw nearly enough. If Hamilton’s skillset, mediocre as it is, was attached to even a passable chin I’d pick him in a heartbeat.
Alas, Hamilton’s durability is nonexistent and I can’t imagine a one-month turnaround will help that in any way. Hamilton muscles him around for a bit before getting lamped.
Prediction: Wieczorek via first-round knockout
135 lbs.: Damian Stasiak vs. Brian Kelleher
Damian Stasiak (10-4) put his debut loss to Yaotzin Meza behind him with impressive submissions of Filip Pejic and Davey Grant in 2016, but still entered his May fight with Pedro Munhoz as a massive underdog. The line proved accurate as, despite a strong effort, “Webster” came up short against “The Young Punisher’s” striking and grappling in a three-round decision loss.
Five of his seven submission wins have come by rear-naked choke.
Brian Kelleher (17-8) — formerly the ROC Bantamweight champion thanks to two wins over recent “Tuesday Night Contender Series” competitor Julio Arce — burst onto the scene with an upset submission of Iuri Alcantara in his UFC debut. This set him up as a favorite against Marlon Vera his next time out, only for “Chito” to score his own upset finish via armbar.
“Boom” will give up two inches of height and four inches of reach to Stasiak.
Stasiak surprised me quite a bit against Grant, but I’m still picking against him. “Webster’s” wrestling failed him against both Meza and Munhoz and, while Kelleher isn’t the fast-twitch marvel that Munhoz is, he’s still strong and well-rounded enough to put Stasiak on his back and hold his own on the feet.
I wouldn’t be shocked to see Stasiak get the tap, especially considering Kelleher’s history of submission losses. That said, Kelleher’s experience with top-level fighters carries him to victory.
Prediction: Kelleher via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Salim Touahri vs. Warlley Alves
“Grizzly” has not tasted defeat since 2013, knocking out four of his last five opponents. In his most recent bout, Touahri (10-1) took on Sambo specialist Bayzet Khatkhohu in hostile territory and scored a terrific one-punch knockout in the first. He replaces the injured Jim Wallhead on a week’s notice.
Alves (10-2) tore through The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 3 with ease and got off to a red-hot 4-0 start in the UFC itself, scoring three submissions in the process. An upset loss to Bryan Barberena slowed his roll, after which he was overpowered by fellow Ultimate Fighter standout Kamaru Usman in Sao Paulo. His last four submission wins have come via guillotine.
“Grizzly” is a good nickname for Touahri, who packs legitimate power and is surprisingly adept at catching opponents coming in. He’s not quite as schooled on the attack, however, and tends to lunge in with big, winging shots. While strong with knees and punches in the clinch, his wrestling looked iffy in recent fights and he gassed late in his latest trip to the third round.
An upset is always a possibility considering Alves’ own cardio issues, but he has the athleticism to keep up with Touahri and the grappling skills to put him on his back and choke him out in short order. Expect some fun striking exchanges before Alves wrangles him to the mat and locks up his neck when Touahri tries to scramble up.
Prediction: Alves by first-round submission
UFC Fight Night 118 should feature some memorable finishes (at the very least) and the main event looks terrific. See you Saturday, Maniacs!
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 118 card on Saturday afternoon, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. ET, and then the remaining main card balance on Fight Pass at 3 p.m. ET.