While Conor McGregor is away, the monster will play.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) interim Lightweight championship is up for grabs this weekend (Sat., Oct. 7, 2017) as Tony Ferguson puts his nine-fight win streak on the line against Kevin Lee in UFC 216’s pay-per-view (PPV) main event inside T-Mobile Arena in Vegas, Nevada. That’s not the only bit of hardware in play, of course, as the PPV co-main event sees Demetrious Johnson look to tie the record for title defenses against young grappling hotshot Ray Borg.
UFC 216 will also feature a Heavyweight clash between Derrick Lewis and Fabricio Werdum, plus Beneil Dariush versus Evan Dunham in an excellent Lightweight scrap.
We’ve got eight “Prelims” undercard matches to look forward to this weekend, four on their usual home, UFC Fight Pass, and the rest gracing FX’s airwaves (check out those right here). Let’s first check out the former:
265 lbs.: Walt Harris vs. Mark Godbeer
Walt Harris (10-5) after going winless in his first three UFC appearances, seems to have finally found his footing, winning three of his last four bouts. All three victories came by knockout, including a savage combination against Chase Sherman that remains one of the year’s best finishes.
All 10 of the wins for “The Big Ticket” have come by knockout, nine of them in the first round.
Mark Godbeer (12-3) had a rough go of things in his Octagon debut, which saw him submitted by Justin Ledet to snap a three-fight knockout streak. He had a bit more luck his next time out, boxing up late replacement Daniel Spitz to pick up his first-ever decision victory.
He will give up three inches of height to the 6’5” Harris, though their reach is identical.
I’m not entirely sure what UFC is trying to accomplish here. We’ve seen Harris against slower, less-athletic strikers in his last two fights, and their response was to put him against another slow, less-athletic striker.
I mean, Godbeer’s a damn sight better than Cyril Asker, but he’s still got no clear avenue of victory. Aside from his 25-second loss to Nikita Krylov, Harris’ struggles have come against determined takedown artists and a man in Abdurakhimov who had the skill and patience to potshot him from range. Godbeer is built to go in and mix it up, which plays perfectly into Harris’ hands. If they’re there to be hit, Harris doesn’t need to hit them more than a few times. He scores an emphatic knockout late in the first.
Prediction: Harris via first-round knockout
125 lbs.: John Moraga vs. Magomed Bibulatov
Submission wins over Justin Scoggins and Willie Gates gave way to three consecutive losses for John Moraga (17-6), though he did put in an admirable effort against Joseph Benavidez. Luckily, “Chicano John” managed to get back on track in June with a one-sided decision over Australia’s Ashkan Mokhtarian in Auckland.
Four of his eight submission wins have come by guillotine.
Arguably the top Flyweight prospects in the world, Chechnya’s Magomed Bibulatov (14-0) tore through the competition in Russia and earned the World Series of Fighting (WSOF) Flyweight title before joining UFC. His debut went as expected, as he overpowered former professional boxer Jenel Lausa for a wide decision victory.
“Chaborz” has submitted five opponents and knocked out another two.
Moraga hits fairly hard, scrambles well and is stupid tough. That’s just not enough against the faster, more technically sound Bibulatov, whose kickboxing outclasses Moraga’s and who has the wrestling to dictate position for all 15 minutes.
Moraga’s only real hope is to catch Bibulatov in a guillotine as he shoots in — his takedown defense consistently fails him and he’s not quite deadly enough on the feet to damage Bibulatov before “Chaborz” gets in on his hips. Bibulatov continues his rise with a dominant decision, mixing in takedowns and powerful kicks to bust up his foe.
Prediction: Bibulatov via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Thales Leites vs. Brad Tavares
In 2013, Thales Leites (27-7) returned to UFC after four years away and promptly won five straight, scoring three stoppages and earning three post-fight bonuses in the process. A 1-3 run knocked him out of the Top 10, but he got back in the win column by outstriking Sam Alvey in April.
Fourteen of his wins have come by submission.
It’s been more than seven years since Brad Tavares (15-4) made his UFC debut off of a solid performance on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 11, during which time he’s gone 10-4. Most recently, he put a 1-3 stretch behind him with consecutive victories over Caio Magalhaes and Elias Theodorou.
He will give up four inches of reach on fight night, though he does have two inches of leg reach on Leites.
I have a dreadful feeling that this fight will be both agonizing to watch and produce a frustrating decision. Tavares is just flat-out not a finisher — it’s been six years and 12 fights since he stopped anyone and that was a degraded Phil Baroni. Leites is aggressive and fun to watch when he’s on, but he also has a bad habit of disintegrating when things stop going his way.
I’ve got it just barely for Leites. He has the heavier strikes and Tavares — even when he’s ahead — doesn’t physically overwhelm people like Krzysztof Jotko or effortlessly shut down offense the way Gegard Mousasi does. He’s not a guy who will mentally break Leites. Power kicks and overall volume carry the Brazilian to the narrowest of split decisions.
Prediction: Leites via split decision
125 lbs.: Matt Schnell vs. Marco Antonio Beltran
The interim Legacy FC title earned Matt Schnell (10-4) the No. 6 rank on TUF 24, where he reached the quarterfinals before falling to eventual winner Tim Elliott. Durability issues have left “Danger” winless in UFC, unfortunately, as both Rob Font and Hector Sandoval knocked him out in the first round.
All but one of his eight stoppage wins have come in the first round.
Despite falling short on TUF: “Latin America,” Marco Antonio Beltran (8-5) found early success in UFC with three straight wins, among them a submission of TUF: “Brazil” 4 winner Reginaldo Vieira. He made the drop to Flyweight following a submission loss to Joe Soto, a move Deiveson Alcantara punished via second-round finish.
“Psycho” has submitted four opponents and knocked out another two as a professional.
Schnell, from what I can see, simply does not have the chin to thrive in UFC. Getting knocked out by Font is understandable — he can thump and Schnell was fighting 10 pounds above his normal weight. Sandoval, though, stopped him with point-blank punches that didn’t look like they had much behind them.
For all his struggles, Beltran is a strong scrambler and hits hard enough to crack Schnell’s jaw. He survives early submission trouble to stop Schnell midway through.
Prediction: Beltran via second-round technical knockout
Remember that UFC 216 will feature two title fights and a hard-hitting Heavyweight showdown between Fabricio Werdum vs. Derrick Lewis, all of which are definitely worth the price of admission. See you Saturday, Maniacs!
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 216 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FXX at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.