This Friday evening (Sept. 22, 2017), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, with a decidedly offbeat main event. One-time interim Light Heavyweight title challenger Ovince Saint Preux faces Yushin Okami, while Claudia Gadelha and Jessica Andrade duke it out in UFC Fight Night 117’s co-main event. And, of course, former GLORY champion Gokhan Saki makes his Octagon debut against Luis Henrique da Silva.
It’s back to FXX for the first time in a while for both the main card and three of the “Prelims” undercard matches (check out the Fight Pass portion here). Let’s see what we’ve got to look forward to.
170 lbs.: Keita Nakamura vs. Alex Morono
Keita Nakamura (32-8-2) washed out of UFC his first time around with a winless (0-3) record, but went on a 15-3 (1 NC) run to earn another stint in the world’s largest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion. “K-Taro” has gone 2-2 since his return, pulling off upset submissions against Li Jingliang and Kyle Noke while suffering decision losses to Tom Breese and Elizeu Zaleski.
Sixteen of his professional wins have come by submission.
With a five-win, five-finish streak behind him and the Legacy FC Welterweight title around his waist, Alex Morono (13-3) entered UFC two Januarys ago and defied +300 odds to scrape past Kyle Noke. After battering James Moontasri, he suffered a brutal knockout loss to Niko Price that was later overturned because Price testing positive for marijuana.
Ten of his 13 wins have come by stoppage.
I’m not entirely sure why Morono’s style works, but it does. He hurls punches with his arms fully-extended, but they somehow manage to land and land hard. Unfortunately for him, Nakamura hasn’t been knocked out in almost a decade and stood up to some lethal punchers in Li and Zaleski.
Morono’s relentlessness and power, combined with Nakamura’s iffy fight IQ, should make for a competitive fight throughout. Nakamura’s grappling edge and durability have me leaning his way. He scores enough takedowns and takes enough dominant positions to earn a narrow win.
Prediction: Nakamura by split decision
125 lbs.: Jussier Formiga vs. Yuta Sasaki
Once the king of the Flyweight division, Jussier Formiga (19-5) suffered losses in two of his first three UFC appearances before putting together a three-fight win streak. He has recently fallen into another 1-2 slump, most recently dropping a controversial decision to Ray Borg in March.
He will give up five inches of height and four inches of reach to Yuta Sasaki (20-4-2).
Following consecutive one-sided losses to Leandro Issa and Taylor Lapilus, “Ulka” made the drop to Flyweight and found new life with two wins in three appearances. His last time out, he submitted Justin Scoggins as a +400 underdog and earned a “Performance of the Night” bonus in the process.
Eleven of his professional victories have come by submission.
Well, if nothing else, at least this is another opportunity for Sasaki to surprise people. Formiga’s got the best back control in the division and among the best in the entire sport. “Ulka” simply won’t find the openings he needs to employ his opportunistic submission game — once Formiga has the hooks in, he’s staying there until the bell rings or you tap.
Sasaki can’t be counted out, but I see a repeat of his loss to Issa as Formiga dominates position before wrapping up a rear-naked choke.
Prediction: Formiga via first-round submission
115 lbs.: Syuri Kondo vs. Chan Mi Jeon
Syuri Kondo (5-0) — a former kickboxing and professional wrestling standout — has spent the entirety of her career under the venerable Pancrase banner, debuting in April 2016. Just four months ago, she fought for the promotion’s Strawweight title and walked away with a unanimous decision win.
She is eight years older than Chan Mi Jeon (5-1).
Rampant aggression carried Jeon to four (technical) knockouts in her first five fights, setting up a UFC debut against J.J. Aldrich in June. Despite a spirited effort, Jeon fell short in Auckland after missing weight by two pounds.
Three of her four knockouts have come within a minute.
Kondo looks like a quality signing — she’s got a crisp one-two combination, solid knees in the clinch and decent grappling as well. Her big issue right now is that she’s too linear; in fact, I don’t think I saw a single hook in one of her recent fights and she has a bad habit of leaving her head on the inside after firing the right hand.
Luckily for her, Jeon isn’t much for angles, either. While she has enough power to punish Kondo’s defensive lapses, she’ll struggle to get past her opponent’s jab. Unless she can keep Kondo on the fence for long enough to do real damage with her knees, expect Kondo to pile up the one-two combinations on the way to a clear decision win.
Prediction: Kondo via unanimous decision
There’s something to be said for absurdity, I suppose. See you Friday, Maniacs.
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 117 card on Friday, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. ET, and then the remaining under/main card balance on FXX at 8 and 10 p.m. ET, respectively.