They’ve got five rounds, but I don’t think they’ll need ‘em.
Light heavyweight finishers Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Anthony “Lionheart” Smith will look to add even more post-fight bonuses to their 205-pound wallets in the headlining bout of UFC Fight Night 134, live this Sunday (July 22, 2018) on FOX Sports 1 from Hamburg, Germany.
Fellow light heavyweight sluggers Glover Teixeira and Corey Anderson helm the co-feature, while German prospect Abu Azaitar makes his long-delayed UFC debut against Vitor Miranda at 185 pounds.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
We’ve got four more UFC Fight Night 134 “Prelims” undercard bouts to preview and predict (check out the first batch here), so let’s get rolling.
155 lbs.: Nick Hein (14-3-1) vs. Damir Hadzovic (11-4)
“Sergeant” Hein opened his UFC career strong with wins in four of his first five Octagon appearances, the only defeat a decision against James Vick in which Hein dropped the towering striker in the first round. Injury resulted in nearly two years on the bench, though, and Davi Ramos welcomed him back to the Octagon in May by choking him out in Rio. He will give up three inches of height and reach to “The Bosnian Bomber.”
Hadzovic had the misfortune of facing Mairbek Taisumov in his debut, succumbing to the Chechen’s monstrous power, but fought back from the brink of disaster against Marcin Held with one of 2017’s many incredible knees. There would be no such heroics against Alan Patrick, who used his length and wrestling to take an uneventful unanimous decision. He has knocked out six opponents overall.
Props to Hein for not dwelling on the loss, I suppose. Quick turnarounds aren’t always the best idea, but he took basically no damage before tapping to Ramos and is facing a much more winnable matchup. While Hadzovic has power, he’s been losing in almost every second of his Octagon career save for that knee. His takedown defense just isn’t Octagon-worthy and Hein can hold his own on the feet, as well.
Hein’s durability and well-roundedness mean Hadzovic will struggle to take him out of his comfort zone. Whether trading punches or controlling Hadzovic on the mat, Hein cruises to an easy decision.
Prediction: Hein by unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Emil Weber Meek (9-3-1) vs. Bartosz Fabinski (13-2)
UFC fans’ new favorite Viking followed up his surprise knockout of Rousimar Palhares with an upset decision over Jordan Mein in his Octagon debut. A one-year hiatus followed thanks to injury and visa issues, after which Kamaru Usman outwrestled him to a decision. Meek has knocked out seven pro opponents and submitted one other.
Poland’s Fabinski rode a 7-1 run into the UFC, which included five first-round knockouts. He went on to defeat Garreth McLellan in his debut, then dropped to Welterweight to outclass Hector Urbina in Monterrey. This will be his first fight since November of 2015.
If one were to troll the depths of the Welterweight division’s middle-tier, one would not find a worse matchup for Meek than Fabinski. The Pole is immensely strong and has a single-minded devotion to racking up unreasonable amounts of takedowns. He got McLellan and Urbina down a combined 16 times and maintained that pace well into the third round.
Meek’s a dangerous striker with balls of steel, but his weaknesses aren’t exactly secrets at this point.
The real concern for Fabinski is the layoff; he pushes such a hard pace that he can’t afford any cardio mishaps. Assuming he’s kept himself in shape, expect him to rack up another half-dozen takedowns or so, keeping Meek from ever getting anything going on the feet.
Prediction: Fabinski by unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Nad Narimani (10-2) vs. Khalid Taha (12-1)
Narimani, whose first name has thoroughly confused Microsoft Word into giving it both blue and red squiggles, fell short in his first bid at Cage Warriors gold against Alex Enlund, but overpowered prospect Paddy Pimblett three fights later to win the belt. He was supposed to debut in London against Nasrat Haqparast, but the latter suffered a gnarly eye infection that forced officials to cancel the bout. Half of his wins have come by submission.
Taha brought an undefeated record into RIZIN’s Bantamweight grand prix and promptly bolstered it with a first-round finish of Keita Ishibashi. He went on to face veteran Takafumi Otsuka in the quarters, tapping to a guillotine after dominating the opening rounds, but picked up a win in Jakarta this past May. He is an inch shorter and six years younger than Narimani.
Taha is a young, powerful fighter who mixes his strikes to the legs, body, and head quite well. He’s also athletic enough to explode out of bad positions if needed. The problem is that he struggles to defend the takedowns themselves, which is not a good problem to have against a capable wrestler in Narimani who can match or exceed Taha’s physicality.
The striking is fairly evenly matched, with Taha looking like the more versatile of the two, but the German is facing a steep disparity in both wrestling and experience against solid competition. Narimani takes him down repeatedly until a finishing opportunity opens up.
Prediction: Narimani by second-round submission
205 lbs.: Justin Ledet (9-0) vs. Aleksandar Rakic (9-1)
Ledet took a 3.5-year break from the sport to try his hand at boxing, racking up a 5-0 record before returning to MMA in 2016. He’s gone 3-0 in the UFC itself, most recently scraping by Contender Series import Zu Anyanwu last September. This will be his first appearance at light heavyweight since his return.
Rakic, an experienced kickboxer, has not tasted defeat since his professional debut, stopping eight consecutive opponents en route to joining the UFC. His Octagon debut saw him outclass Francimar Barroso, though a follow-up bout with Gadzhimurad Antigulov wound up falling through. Seven of his stoppage wins have come by form of knockout, five of them in the first round.
Now here’s an interesting matchup, an experienced boxer against an experienced kickboxer. It’ll also be good to see Ledet when he’s not carrying all that extra weight.
Honestly, though, I think Ledet may have been better-suited to heavyweight, where a decent jab is all that’s needed to be considered a standout striker. At 205, he’s got to deal with faster, more complete fighters. They’re also going to generally be more in-shape, meaning they can actually push the pace and not just eat jabs all night.
Ledet’s complete lack of killer instinct could come back to bite him here, as Rakic has some stopping power and packs a lot more weapons. Rakic lands enough power kicks and right hands to narrowly offset “El Blanco’s” innumerable jabs.
Prediction: Rakic by split decision
If you’re going to be enjoying the day of rest properly, be sure you’re resting in front of the telly when this goes down. See you Sunday, Maniacs.