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UFC Moncton preview, quick picks for Volkan-Smith main card on FS1

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Volkan Oezdemir
Volkan Oezdemir
Esther Lin

After a much needed break from combat sports action, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and its band of merry men (and women) will sandwich a trip to the “Great White North” on FOX Sports 1 in between its recent UFC 229 and upcoming UFC 230 championship pay-per-view (PPV) events.

The means to that end is the UFC Fight Night 138 mixed martial arts (MMA) fight card, topped by the light heavyweight showdown pitting Volkan Oezdemir against Anthony Smith. The battle begins this Saturday (Oct. 27, 2018) inside Moncton Events Centre in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.

Before we take a closer look at the main card action, spread across six battles throughout varying weight classes, see what Patrick Stumberg had to say about the UFC Moncton preliminary bouts on FOX Sports 1 and UFC Fight Pass by clicking here and here. Odds and betting lines for this weekend’s festivities can be located here.

205 lbs.: Volkan “No Time” Oezdemir (15-2) vs. Anthony “Lionheart” Smith (30-13)

The fact that the winner of this bout can make a convincing argument for the next light heavyweight title shot tells you a lot about what’s happened to the 205-pound division over the last couple of years. It’s also indicative of how MMA is unlike any other sport, in that you can have two or three big performances and be in line for a championship title. No seasons, no playoffs (PFL notwithstanding), just a couple of violent knockouts and the UFC PR machine.

Oezdemir feels like he’s been around for awhile, but in actuality, “No Time” logged just four fights inside the Octagon, one of which was last January’s loss to Daniel Cormier. That’s hardly a knock on anyone’s career and it marks just his second defeat in 17 professional fights. Prior to that, the Swiss striker laid waste to Jimi Manuwa, who’s been ranked as high as No. 2 in the division, as well as Misha Cirkunov, who hits so hard even Rumble Johnson was looking over his shoulder.

Smith has been around longer than his Moncton rival — with twice as many UFC fights — but has a less impressive body of work. His biggest wins to date have come over Hector Lombard, Rashad Evans, and Shogun Rua, with a median age of 39. While all three are former world champions, the oft-welterweight “Shango” has lost six in a row, “Suga” dropped five straight before retiring, and “Shogun” has been brutally finished in his last four losses and holds a losing record dating back to his defeat to Jon Jones

Statistically speaking, Oezdemir has better striking percentages in both offense and defense. Height and reach are about the same and let’s face it, this fight isn’t going to the ground. “No Time” has faced some legitimate killers in the past few years and he’s never been finished on his feet. Smith, on the other hand, was blown away by Thiago Santos just eight months back and has eight of his 13 losses coming by way of knockout. “Lionheart” is definitely a dangerous Muay Thai striker, but Oezdemir is simply the better all-around fighter who’s more adept at range fighting. If this fight goes to a decision, I’ll eat my hat.

Final prediction: Oezdemir def. Smith by knockout

145 lbs.: Artem “The Russian Hammer” Lobov (13-14-1, 1 NC) vs. Michael “The Menace” Johnson (18-13)

I actually like this fight better than the original version, starring the since-deposed Zubaira Tukhugov (thanks to this), because it gives new fans a chance to see why the iron-jawed Artem Lobov is still around after losing four of six and going to a decision in all six fights. It’s kind of remarkable how a fighter can simply lumber forward in the zombie attack style made famous by Junior dos Santos and get doubled up on offensive output. To wit, “The Russian Hammer” was pieced up by Cub Swanson in a one-sided shellacking that had him outstruck 209-123. The only thing he can do consistently is go to the judges’ scorecards, a place he’s been a whopping 18 times in his career.

Johnson has experienced his share of problems, evidenced by his horrendous 1-5 run at lightweight before dropping to featherweight, one that has yielded inconclusive results. After getting choked into the loss column by the venerable Darren Elkins, “The Menace” limped past Alex Fili by way of split decision. Probably not the statement he wanted to make when trying to reinvent his career. Maybe it’s mental, because at age 32, it feels a little early for a physical decline. Where is the killer who decisioned Tony Ferguson and iced Dustin Poirier?

Even with his recent struggles, Johnson is far and away the better striker. He’s faster, more powerful, and holds a staggering eight-inch reach advantage. Seriously, Lobov should be nicknamed “The Russian T-Rex” instead of “The Russian Hammer” with those stubby little limbs. Making matters worse, at least for the SBG Ireland pillar, is that Johnson is one of the few fighters who knows how to throw an effective jab — and actually uses the damn thing. I don’t want to call this target practice, but yeah, it’s MMA fighter vs. Bobo doll for 15 minutes in Moncton.

Final prediction: Johnson def. Lobov by unanimous decision

205 lbs.: Misha Cirkunov (13-4) vs. Patrick “Durkin’” Cummins (10-5)

Misha Cirkunov was suppose to become the top contender that Volkan Oezdemir is, but got put away by “No Time” at UFC Fight Night 109 in late 2017, then followed that up with another technical knockout loss to Glover Teixeira at UFC on FOX 26. The hard-hitting Latvian has been out of action ever since (roughly 10 months) and no doubt he’s in need of a highlight-reel finish if he hopes to recapture some of the hype spawned from signature wins over Ion Cutelaba and Nikita Krylov.

Cummins is an outstanding wrestler ... and not much else. Originally cast as the role of warm body for UFC 170, “Durkin’” has been hot-and-cold ever since Daniel Cormier put him down for the count in early 2015. While 6-4 during that span isn’t terrible, all things considered, if the takedown is not there — or more importantly, denied — then Cummins is left with little to work with. Scoring the takedown, however, is only good for points if the fighters don’t stay grounded. That explains brutal knockout losses to Ovince Saint Preux and Glover Teixeira, as well as Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.

Cirkunov is not immune to a wrestling-based offense, but then again, neither was Teixeira and we all saw how that turned out. There’s a solid chance Cummins will be able to drag this fight to the floor, just as there’s a solid chance he won’t be able to keep it there. Cirkunov, who can pull off the triangle choke when needed, can win this fight both on the feet as well as on the floor. I have a hard time imaging “Durkin’” going all 15 minutes without eating something significant and at age 37, the reflexes just ain’t what they used to be.

Final prediction: Cirkunov def. Cummins by knockout

135 lbs.: Jonathan Martinez (9-1) vs. Andre “The Asian Sensation” Soukhamthath (12-6)

Jonathan Martinez replaces Gavin Tucker on short notice and he’s one of the more exciting prospects to be imported from the regional circuit. That said, I have a few problems with his addition to this fight card. While the Texan is a dynamic finisher who can submit an opponent just as easily as he can knock them out, Martinez is a natural flyweight and has competed just once in over two years. This will be his Octagon debut and honestly, it’s hard to feel optimistic in the face of so many challenges.

That’s not to suggest Andre Soukhamthath has been running the table at 135 pounds, but you would be hard-pressed to find a more exciting fighter, as “The Asian Sensation” has 11 finishes in 12 wins, eight of them by knockout. That led to some inconsistency across his four UFC fights — resulting in a 1-3 record — but with two of those decisions coming by way of split, he could easily be 3-1. And if Shane O’Malley is as good as we think he is (or will be), then a decision loss to “Sugar” is forgivable.

I’m not entirely sure what to expect from either fighter because Martinez could rise to the occasion and put the division on notice. Until that happens, it’s hard to pick against a grizzled veteran who goes to war in every fight and has yet to be finished. Assuming Soukhamthath can take his foot off the gas every now and again, so that he doesn’t empty his tank and get submitted on a poorly-timed takedown, this should be his fight to win.

Final prediction: Soukhamthath def. Martinez by unanimous decision

205 lbs.: Gian Villante (16-10) vs. Ed “Short Fuse” Herman (23-13, 1 NC)

Gian Villante is to Chris Weidman what Artem Lobov is to Conor McGregor, without all that silly drama. The former Hofstra gridiron standout has been competing under the UFC banner for over five years and sports a losing record of 6-7, with some of the best (and worst) fights you’ll see at 205 pounds. His biggest win to date came over Corey Anderson at UFC on FOX 15 but he’s also gone down on points to guys like Tom Lawlor and Fabio Maldonado, both of whom no longer fight for the Endeavor-owned promotion.

Ed Herman, like Villante, has been around for what feels like forever but differs in his Moncton opponent in that “Short Fuse” has been kind enough to spread his mediocrity across multiple weight classes. The 38 year-old TUF finalist has not won back-to-back fights in over six years and is coming off consecutive losses to Nikita Krylov and CB Dollaway. Not exactly the cream of the crop. In spite of his sneaky power and grappling prowess, there’s nothing remarkable about his overall game and Herman has been finished in nine of his 13 losses.

I do not have high hopes for this contest. Villante is an athlete masquerading as an MMA fighter and wins most of his fights by grit and determination. Herman has the athleticism of a department store mannequin and needs to be fully engaged to impose his grappling or fire off the counter. Judging by what we’ve seen in the past, there’s a high probability these two will stand and bang for the better part of three rounds and if the gas tanks empty by the final frame, the boo birds will have a lot to sing about in Moncton.

Final prediction: Villante def. Herman by unanimous decision

170 lbs.: Alex “The Dominican Nightmare” Garcia (15-5) vs. Court “Crusher” McGee (18-7)

Alex Garcia appeared to be the next big thing at 170 pounds after an electric 12-1 start that included two straight wins in UFC, including his knockout debut over Ben Wall in late 2013. Since then, the well-rounded Tristar product struggled to stay consistent, alternating wins and losses across his subsequent eight fights with an even record of 4-4. Looking at his resume it becomes clear the “Dominican Nightmare” made a living off recycling tomato cans and faltered once the competition got a little tougher. Not only was he turned inside out by Sean Strickland, he looked completely lost against the venerable Ryan LaFlare.

McGee also saw his stock rise after capturing the glass trophy on TUF 11, only to watch it plummet in the years that followed. “Crusher” made headlines for his feel-good comeback story, but his professional life has yet to mirror his personal life. The 33 year-old Pit fighter struggled to stay healthy and is coming off consecutive losses to Ben Saunders and the aforementioned Strickland. His biggest win to date came over a welterweight Robert Whittaker but since then, there's been nothing to write home about.

Garcia has the bigger toolbox against the deteriorating wrestle-boxer and should, at least on paper, be able to outwork his foe. But he’s also got a bad habit of not pulling the trigger in big spots, Mike Pyle knockout notwithstanding. If he wants to try to capture this contest at range, I’m confident “Crusher” can do more — and do it more often — en route to capturing two of the three scorecards. If Garcia decides to get high and tight, then McGee can bully him in the clinch. Simply but, anything outside of a Dominican blitzkrieg is not going to keep McGee at bay and well, that’s just not the Tristar style.

Final prediction: McGree def. Garcia by unanimous decision

There you have it.

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 138 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” undercard bout at 6:30 p.m. ET, followed by the FOX Sports 1 “Prelims” undercard bouts at 8 p.m. ET, before the main card start time at 10 p.m. ET, also on FOX Sports 1.

For much more on UFC Fight Night 138 click here.