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UFC on FOX 26 predictions, preview, and analysis

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

FOX hosts a phenomenal Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) card this Saturday night (Dec. 16, 2017), featuring a pair of former champions in the main event and multiple quality mixed martial arts (MMA) matchups to back it up.

Winnipeg’s MTS Center hosts a clash between knockout machine Robbie Lawler and former lightweight kingpin Rafael dos Anjos that could decide the next challenger for current champ Tyron Woodley. One fight prior, veteran Ricardo Lamas looks to halt the rise of late replacement Josh Emmett in a featherweight crossroads match.

And that’s not even mentioning Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Mike Perry, which looks destined for a spot on year-end best-of lists, and the main card opener between Glover Teixeira and Misha Cirkunov.

Nostradumbass is currently trying to earn the trust of South American warlords via Russian Roulette, so main card duties once again fall to me. You can find breakdowns of the “Prelims” here and here, plus the odds here. Once you’re done, let’s look at the main course.

170 lbs.: Robbie Lawler (28-11) vs. Rafael Dos Anjos (27-9)

Robbie Lawler’s renaissance was nothing short of incredible. He went from fizzled talent to Strikeforce novelty to world champion, tearing apart top-flight fighters despite being a generation behind. But the shine is starting to go.

On a whim, I decided to go look at MMADecisions for two of Lawler’s more controversial victories. In his rematch with Johny Hendricks, which won him the welterweight strap, 12/16 members of the MMA media had him losing. His final title defense against Carlos Condit? 15/20, with two of the remainder calling it a draw.

There’s a strong argument that Lawler should be 2-3 in his last five fights. Maybe even 1-4, considering how close the first round of his fight with Donald Cerrone was.

Dos Anjos’ game features the same sort of pressure, power left hand, and vicious low kicks that Hendricks used to great effect in both his fights with the “Ruthless” one. The key differences are that he’s smarter with his pressure and, most importantly, actually has the gas tank for five grueling rounds. He’s also got a strong enough jaw to take a minutes-long sustained beating from Eddie Alvarez without falling.

The size difference is the only thing keeping me from calling this a wash for RDA. I don’t think it’s enough to turn the tide, though. Lawler just has so many stretches of inactivity that dos Anjos can put him in an early hole, and by the time Fifth Round Lawler wakes up to tear off some heads, his lead leg will be too damaged to deal any real crushing blows. dos Anjos punches his ticket to a title shot with five more rounds of murderous pressure.

Prediction: dos Anjos by unanimous decision

145 lbs.: Ricardo Lamas (18-5) vs. Josh Emmett (12-1)

I’ll readily admit that I was wrong about Emmett in his last fight. At featherweight, he looks like he’s finally got the power to complement that hand speed and the size should help him finish more takedowns.

He’s still over-reliant on that speed, though, and featherweights are going to be a lot better-equipped to handle it than the lightweights.

Lamas’ takedown defense is more than sufficient to keep it standing, where his power kicks and cardio hold an ostensible edge. Emmett faded badly against Des Green when he couldn’t get his takedowns going and his shot selection disproportionately favors an overhand right that Lamas has the fight IQ to avoid.

If his gas tank holds up, Emmett has a real chance to edge out the decision, but he’s up against a more experienced scrapper who’s dealt with much scarier men. Strong leg kicks and counter-wrestling carry Lamas to victory.

Prediction: Lamas def. Emmett by unanimous decision

170 lbs.: Santiago Ponzinibbio (25-3) vs. Mike Perry (11-1)

There are two things I know about this fight:

a. It’s going to be absurdly violent.

b. Perry is probably going to get poked in the eye at some point.

Both have colossal power and vicious speed to back it up. Perry looks a bit more dangerous on the inside, but Ponzinibbio’s got two inches of height and reach and knows how to use them. Both have been either stopped or badly hurt with strikes in the past.

I won’t even try to give a concrete technical analysis. Perry has bulldozed superior technicians through speed, power, and terrific shot selection before, while Ponzinibbio has handed multiple fighters their first (T)KO losses. Both Danny Roberts and Alan Jouban had success keeping Perry at range, so I say Ponzinibbio’s jab sets up a fight-ending right hand sometime in the first round.

Prediction: Ponzinibbio by first-round knockout

205 lbs.: Glover Teixeira (26-6) vs. Misha Cirkunov (13-3)

Hopefully whatever venom Volkan Oezdemir excretes from his knuckles wears off at some point, because Cirkunov is still a top-tier prospect in a division dreadfully short of them. He’s begun complementing his jiu-jitsu and Greco-Roman prowess with strong boxing and really looks like he could make a title run.

Teixeira is still a badass, no doubt about it, but he’s a 38-year-old badass with two savage knockout losses in his last three fights. The victory sandwiched between them wasn’t anything to write home about, either, as Jared Cannonier busted him up something fierce in between long stretches of uneventful Teixeira top control. Cirkunov is much more adept than Cannonier at keeping it standing and, while he doesn’t have the same sort of power, does have the skills to exploit Teixeira’s one-note striking offense.

Outside of a one-hitter quitter, which he is certainly still capable of delivering, Teixeira’s prospects look grim. Cirkunov wears him down in the clinch for the decision.

Prediction: Cirkunov by unanimous decision will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the UFC on FOX 26 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches at 4:00 p.m. ET, then the Fox Sports 1 “Prelims” at 5:00 p.m. ET and ultimately the main FOX card at 8:00 p.m.

For more on UFC on FOX 26, click here.

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