Two very different trajectories intersect this Saturday when former middleweight Champion Chris Weidman faces surging former welterweight Kelvin Gastelum in Long Island.
The four-fight FOX main card will also feature a clash between featherweight grinders Darren Elkins and Dennis Bermudez, plus Patrick Cummins vs. Gian Villante at light heavyweight and an incredible bantamweight showdown between Thomas Almeida and Jimmie Rivera.
The other two hours slated for FOX will be occupied by a handful of “Prelims” bouts (see part one of our preview here). Here are the remaining four, arranged for your dissection (and maximum appreciation).
170 lbs.: Lyman Good (19-3) vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos (16-5)
Good, Bellator’s inaugural welterweight champion, came up short in his first bid for UFC glory on The Ultimate Fighter 19, falling to Ian Stephens in the elimination round. He went on to earn the CFFC welterweight title and, when Edgar Garcia pulled out with an injury, stepped up on short notice to knock out Andrew Craig at UFC Fight Night 71. This will be his first fight in two years thanks to an injury and a subsequent failed drug test.
Former Jungle Fight champion Zaleski has been pure excitement thus far in his 2-1 UFC career. After a close loss to Nicolas Dalby in his promotional debut, he scored a comeback knockout of Omari Akhmedov and edged out veteran Keita Nakamura in a pair of entertaining showdowns. Twelve of his sixteen professional victories have come by form of knockout.
“Capoeira” Zaleski doesn’t know how to be in a bad fight, but he faces an uphill battle here. The Brazilian’s hands don’t have anywhere near the polish of his kicks and, though crafty on the mat, any transition between the feet and the mat is going to be done on Good’s terms. “Cyborg,” in addition to being a physical specimen, has an iron chin and the sort of tight boxing that Zaleski’s angry swings will struggle badly with.
The big question mark is Good’s layoff, especially since Zaleski gets stronger as the fight goes. Still, cardio hasn’t been an issue for Good in the past and I have faith in his hands. He turns aside a late surge to win a decision.
Prediction: Good by unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Rafael Natal (21-8-1) vs. Eryk Anders (9-0)
Four consecutive wins, including an upset split decision over Uriah Hall in which he was around a +300 underdog, earned “Sapo” the #13 spot in the middleweight rankings. He was not long for the top 15, however, and lost a decision to Robert Whittaker before suffering a one-punch knockout loss to Tim Boetsch. He owns eight wins by submission, though just one since 2010.
A former linebacker for the Alabama Crimson Tide, Anders had his first amateur bout in 2012 and racked up a 5-1-1 record before moving to the pros in 2015. Four consecutive first-round stoppage wins earned him a fight against Brendan Allen for the vacant LFA middleweight title last month, which he won via unanimous decision. He replaces the injured Alessio Di Chirico on nine days’ notice.
Natal, for reasons that continue to elude me, is one of my great predictive banes. I just can’t pick the guy’s fights to save my life. This, compounded with Anders’ propensity for quick finishes that both build hype and leave me little footage to work with, made this a fight I wasn’t looking forward to dealing with.
I’ve gone back and forth a few times, but I think I’ll settle on Anders.
Anders is definitely the athlete his résumé suggests, packing some swift and powerful hands alongside physicality and the ability to go five rounds. The level of competition is worrying outside of Allen, of course, but Natal’s just too inconsistent for me to pick against a powerhouse like this. Anders tags him early.
Prediction: Anders by first-round TKO
170 lbs.: Ryan LaFlare (13-1) vs. Alex Oliveira (17-4-1)
It’s been four years since LaFlare, then 7-0 with seven finishes, debuted in the Octagon with a wide win over Benny Alloway. The finishes haven’t been there since, but the wins certainly have, as he’s gone 6-1 in the promotion and recently returned from over a year away to dispatch Roan Carneiro at UFC 208. He stands two inches taller than Oliveira at 6’1”, but will give up two inches of reach.
“Cowboy’s” jumps between lightweight and welterweight ended when he blew up the scales against Will Brooks, forcing a full-time move to 170 despite the victory. The change in scenery doesn’t appear to be bothering him, however, as he recently submitted Tim Means in front of a Brazilian crowd at UFC Fight Night 106. He has knocked out ten professional opponents and submitted another four.
Without a hefty layoff to slow LaFlare down as it did against Carneiro, he should get the win much more comfortably here. Oliveira has power and grit for days, but his striking technique remains iffy and he tends to fall back on takedowns when the going gets tough. LaFlare’s wrestling is stouter than any “Cowboy” has yet faced, an issue compounded by the fact that Oliveira won’t have the massive size advantage that he did against Brooks.
Well-rounded skills backed up by strength and punching power are enough for Oliveira to make a place for himself at 170, but not enough to take out the top-tier specialists among the welterweight ranks. Steady takedowns carry LaFlare to a decision win.
Prediction: LaFlare by unanimous decision
265 lbs.: Damian Grabowski (20-4) vs. Chase Sherman (10-3)
“The Polish Pitbull” reached the semifinals of Bellator’s first heavyweight tournament before running afoul of Cole Konrad, then proceeded to win seven of his next eight to earn a spot in the UFC. The former M-1 champ has yet to taste that sort of success in the Octagon, suffering consecutive knockout losses to Derrick Lewis and Anthony Hamilton. Twelve of his professional wins have come by submission.
“The Vanilla Gorilla” got off to a rough UFC start of his own, losing a one-sided decision to Justin Ledet and suffering a brutal knockout loss to Walt Harris in his first two Octagon appearances. His next time out, however, he rewarded the UFC for giving him another chance with a Fight of the Night-winning war against Rashad Coulter just two months ago. He steps in for the injured Christian Colombo on around a month’s notice.
I would summarize this fight as “not as good as I thought” vs. “exactly as good as I thought, which is not very.” Grabowski’s been more or less manhandled in the Octagon, while Sherman somehow found a way to get tagged repeatedly by a far shorter fighter on one leg.
I’m not expecting a title challenger to emerge from this, is what I’m saying.
I’ve been wrong about him before, but I’m still leaning towards Grabowski. Sherman’s got an iffy gas tank, no defense, and an unproven ground game. Grabowski, for all his faults, can go all fifteen minutes at a solid pace and is the better-rounded of the two. Grabowski submits a fading Sherman late.
Prediction: Grabowski by third-round submission
A great main event and a Fight of the Year-level bantamweight showdown make this a must-see card.
See you this Saturday!
Current UFC "Prelims" Prediction Record for 2017: 86-45 (1 NC)