Champion vs. champion, southpaw vs. southpaw, badass vs. badass!
Rafael dos Anjos has established himself as a quality Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)-caliber Welterweight. Now, it’s time to see if he’s an elite one. The former Lightweight champ faces ageless wrecking machine Robbie Lawler in Winnipeg, Canada, this Saturday evening (Dec. 16, 2017) in UFC on FOX 26’s main event to potentially decide the next 170-pound title challenger.
Down at Featherweight, Josh Emmett steps up on short notice to take on Ricardo Lamas in the co-main event. Two of the Welterweight division’s most terrifying men, Santiago Ponzinibbio and Mike Perry, duke it out one fight prior and Glover Teixeira opens the main card against Misha Cirkunov.
FOX Sports 1 boasts a hefty six-bout “Prelims” undercard line up this time around (check out the Fight Pass portion here), so there’s no time to waste.
205 lbs.: Jan Blachowicz vs. Jared Cannonier
Jan Blachowicz (20-7) stepped into the cage in October with his back against the wall, having lost four of his previous five fights. Despite this, he managed to delight the Gdansk, Poland, crowd with a rear-naked choke of the favored Devin Clark that earned him “Performance of the Night.”
He steps in for Antonio Rogerio Nogueira — who ran into USADA trouble — on a month’s notice.
Jared Cannonier (10-2) split a pair of bouts at Heavyweight before making the drop to 205 pounds, where he upset power-puncher Ion Cutelaba in his first appearance. A loss to Glove Teixeira slowed his rise, but he reminded fans just what he could do with his savaging of late replacement Nick Roehrick in July.
Six of his eight stoppage wins have come in the first round.
I’ll admit I was wrong about Blachowicz’s chances in his last fight. All the same, I’m picking him to lose badly here. Cannonier, despite that bulky appearance, will most likely have the edge in cardio on top of his superior output and power. Moreover, he’s tough enough to trade bombs with Cutelaba for 15 minutes, making a Blachowicz knockout a remote possibility.
Blachowicz has a jaw on him, too, but not enough volume to sway the judges away from Cannonier’s sledgehammers. Cannonier outworks, outmuscles and outslugs Blachowicz for a one-sided decision win.
Prediction: Cannonier via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Darren Stewart vs. Julian Marquez
Darren Stewart (7-2) earned a technical knockout victory in his UFC debut, only to have it switched to a “No Contest” when replays revealed an unintentional head butt. Subsequent fights went even more poorly for him, as Francimar Barroso avenged the head butt with a decision win and Karl Roberson spoiled his Middleweight debut with a first-round submission.
“The Dentist” replaces Vitor Miranda on around two weeks’ notice.
Despite knocking out his previous two opponents in a combined 2:28, Julian Marquez (6-1) entered his “Tuesday Night Contender Series” fight as the B-side to prospect Phil Hawes. Undaunted, he went on to produce one of the series’ best highlights with a second-round head kick knockout.
He has stopped all six of his professional opponents with strikes before the halfway point of the second round.
I’m torn between wanting UFC to cut Stewart so he can develop more and wanting them to keep him on for taking this fight on late notice. That’s a decision it’ll have to make after they peel him off the canvas.
Marquez was in trouble against Miranda, who’s lethal when given room to operate on the feet. Stewart, on the other hand, is a far lesser striking technician and is not sufficiently adept in the wrestling to take Marquez out of his comfort zone. “The Cuban Missile Crisis” does to Stewart what his namesake did to international relations sometime in the second round.
Prediction: Marquez via second-round technical knockout
170 lbs.: Chad Laprise vs. Galore Bofando
Chad Laprise (12-2) got off to a perfect (3-0) UFC start before an upset knockout loss to Francisco Trinaldo slowed his momentum to a crawl. A subsequent loss to Ross Pearson didn’t help matters, but brutal knockouts of Thibault Gouti and Brian Camozzi certainly did.
Seven of the professional wins for “The Disciple” have come by form of knockout.
Galore Bofando (5-2) entered UFC in the midst of a 2.5-year layoff and with just one fight since 2012. He showed not a lick of ring rust, however, scoring a wild slam knockout of Charlie Ward in Glasgow, Scotland.
Both of Bofando’s losses came by disqualification.
Bofando is clearly capable of some absurd finishes, but it’s not yet clear whether his overall game can keep up with his kicking prowess. Laprise, on the other hand, is a capable technician in every area and packs some sneaky power in his hands.
We’re going to learn a lot about Bofando here. Most likely, nothing too positive. There’s just not enough on his resume to suggest he can handle a rounded, composed fighter who won’t be cowed by his theatrics ... especially now that he’s 35 years old. Laprise’s boxing should keep him afloat on the feet until he can start implementing his takedowns and cruising to victory from top position.
Prediction: Laprise via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Tim Elliott vs. Pietro Menga
Despite a couple of close calls, Tim Elliott (14-8-1) came out on top on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 24 and gave Demetrious Johnson a run for his money on the Finale. He proceeded to out-duel Louis Smolka in UFC on FOX 24’s “Fight of the Night,” but an ill-advised scramble against Ben Nguyen resulted in Elliott’s first submission loss since 2014.
Counting his TUF bouts, he has won eight of his last 10 fights.
Pedro Menga (13-0) — one of Europe’s top Flyweight prospects — has earned 11 stoppages in his 13 wins, eight in the first round. He earned the latest of them on his biggest stage to date as he scored a 41-second knockout in his Bellator debut.
He steps in for the injured Justin Scoggins on short notice.
Menga is an excellent signing, a top-flight grappler with power in his left hand. What he isn’t is a proven takedown artist, which is a skill that’s generally mandatory when dealing with Elliott. Elliott’s sheer size, pressure and scrambling ability are a pain for grapplers to deal with and that iron jaw can stand up to anything Menga dishes out.
If Menga had a complete training camp, he’d have a real shot at catching Elliott in transition. As is, expect him to do well early before Elliott’s pace wears him down and leaves him on the wrong end of the decision.
Prediction: Elliott via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: John Makdessi vs. Abel Trujillo
Times have been tough for John Makdessi (14-6), who hit a 1-3 skid from 2014 through 2015. He managed to keep himself afloat with a decision over Mehdi Baghdad, only to wind up on the wrong end of 2016’s “Knockout of the Year” against Lando Vannata.
“The Bull” was originally scheduled to fight Sage Northcutt in July before both he and Northcutt suffered injuries.
Coming off a loss to Tony Ferguson, Abel Trujillo (15-7) put together the longest win streak of his UFC career with three straight victories, although one was a submission loss to Gleison Tibau before the Brazilian failed a drug test. This set the stage for a fight with the rising James Vick, who overwhelmed Trujillo and ultimately finished him by submission in the third round.
He has knocked out seven professional opponents, though none in the last three years.
Neither of these guys are what we thought they were. Makdessi isn’t the dominant technical striker he looked like at the start and Trujillo’s power has been nowhere to be seen in recent years. Trujillo’s had a better run lately, but this looks like Makdessi’s fight to lose.
Makdessi can absorb a huge amount of punishment — he walked through everything Donald Cerrone could offer until his jaw gave out and it took a perfect wheel kick for Vannata to get him out of there. He can survive the five-to-seven minutes in which Trujillo is a threat and take over with long kicks and a stiff jab for the rest. Cardio and technique win this for “The Bull.”
Prediction: Makdessi via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Alessio Di Chirico vs. Oluwale Bamgbose
Alessio Di Chirico (10-2) knocked out and submitted four opponents apiece before making his UFC debut in 2016 against Bojan Velickovic, who edged the Italian by split decision. He has since scraped past former EFC champ Garreth McLellan and suffered a first-round submission loss to Eric Spicely.
This will be his first fight in almost 11 months because of injury.
Following an unsuccessful debut against Uriah Hall, Oluwale Bamgbose (6-3) demonstrated the lights-out power that had earned him five first-round stoppages by decking Daniel Sarafian in 60 seconds. Lightning has yet to strike again, however, and he steps into the cage this Saturday on a two-fight losing streak.
All of his professional wins have come in 3:18 or less.
Bamgbose is built to win (or lose) big. There is no in-between. His power is absolutely legit, but he has no sense of setups, pacing, or really any major aspect of mixed martial arts (MMA) beyond throwing punches as hard as he possibly can and hoping for the best.
The man tried a double axe handle against Paulo Borrachinha, for God’s sake.
Di Chirico has been mediocre throughout his UFC tenure, but he knows what he’s doing on the ground and hasn’t shown any major defensive liabilities that Bamgbose could exploit in the three minutes before his gas tank empties. He stays out of trouble early before hitting a takedown and choking him out.
Prediction: Di Chirico via second-round submission
Robbie Lawler vs. Rafael dos Anjos and Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Mike Perry on the same card? We are blessed. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on FOX 26 card this weekend, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 5 p.m. ET before the FOX main card action kicks off at 8 p.m. ET.