Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is doing an admirable job of delivering its brand of mixed martial arts (MMA) to the international market, but just like any sports league that undergoes an expansion greater than its existing talent pool, not every competing name will carry the same value fans have become accustomed to.
That’s why UFC Fight Night 160, also known as UFC on ESPN+ 18, will be headlined by the Jack Hermansson vs. Jared Cannonier middleweight showdown. While it’s a solid match up with serious title implications for “The Joker,” it’s not going to spark any water cooler talk after the dust settles on Sat., Sept. 28, 2019 inside Royal Arena in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Here’s the five-fight main card on ESPN+, beginning 2 p.m. ET:
185 lbs.: Jack “The Joker” Hermansson (20-4) vs. Jared “Killa Gorilla” Cannonier (12-4)
155 lbs.: Danilo “The Caterpillar” Belluardo (12-4) vs. Mark “The Olympian” Madsen (8-0)
170 lbs.: Gunnar “Gunni” Nelson (17-4-1) vs. Gilbert “Durinho” Burns (16-3)
205 lbs.: Ion “The Hulk” Cutelaba (14-4, 1 NC) vs. Khalil “War Horse” Rountree (8-3, 1 NC)
205 lbs.: “Lord” Michal Oleksiejczuk (14-2, 1 NC) vs. Ovince “OSP” Saint Preux (23-13)
170 lbs.: Nicolas “Lokomotivo” Dalby (17-3-1, 1 NC) vs. Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira (19-7-1, 2 NC)
Jack Hermansson defeats Jared Cannonier by submission — There are a few concerns I have about Cannonier as we head into his third fight at 185 pounds, including the fact that he’s now 35 years of age. While his transformation from heavyweight punching bag to middleweight smashing machine deserves the accolades it’s received, we can’t turn this into a personal success story because “Killa Gorilla” is not writing a self-help book, he’s stepping into the cage to fight the No. 5 -ranked middleweight in the world.
On paper, consecutive knockout wins over David Branch and Anderson Silva are impressive. When we dig deeper, we have to acknowledge that Branch is 39 and likely on the gear, which is why he was suspended and cut from UFC. Similarly, Silva was 44 when they fought and succumbed to the Alaskan’s leg kicks, which I consider to be a mercy killing at that age. In Copenhagen, he’s battling a younger, more versatile fighter who did what all great athletes do: He improved after each loss and came back a more refined combatant, evidenced by his measured performance against Ronaldo Souza last April.
Cannonier has some pretty scary hands at 185 pounds and Hermansson will have to adjust his offense accordingly. The good news for “The Joker” is that he was never much of a stand-and-trade type and relied more on his wrestling and ground game, which includes some devastatingly nasty ground-and-pound. Hermansson has scored 11 takedowns in his UFC career and Cannonier has been taken down 16 times in less than three years. I think you know where I’m going with this. Barring a one-hitter quitter, it’s only a matter of time before Hermansson capitalizes on an opening and wrangles his foe to the floor. From there, it’s academic.
Mark Madsen defeats Danilo Belluardo by decision — Madsen makes his Octagon debut at the age of 35 after racking up an 8-0 record on the regional circuit by recycling Danish cans. But none of that really matters because the promotion is only interested in the silver medal Madsen brought home in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 2016 Olympic games, which is why they call him “The Olympian” (duh). As you might expect from a one-dimensional wrestler, his hands are below average and more of a liability than anything else, but he can get away with not setting up the shot because an Olympic double blast eats through a fighter’s defense like a Xenomorph’s blood eats through a spaceship’s wall.
Belluardo is a suitable showcase for Madsen’s skills, having already come up empty in his Octagon debut last June. Prior to signing with UFC, the Italian — no doubt brought on to populate European cards like this one — was best known for losing to Bellator phenom A.J. McKee. When “Caterpillar” does win it’s usually a finish, though his victories have come over fighters most fans never heard of and probably don't care about, like the 0-1 Zoltan Lepsenyi. Belluardo is a warm body and will do the job, but I at least have enough faith in him to avoid getting finished. Remember that Madsen is a local fighter, so don’t be surprised to hear fans cheering regardless of how boring the fight becomes.
Gilbert Burns defeats Gunnar Nelson by decision — I don’t want to call Gunnar Nelson a bust because nobody with a 17-4 record is a washout. The problem for the Icelandic grappler is that he was burdened with too much hype upon entering the promotion, which only grew with submission wins over the cream of the crap at 170 pounds. To wit, not one of his eight wins has come against an opponent currently ranked in the Top 15 at 170 pounds. He has, however, been defeated by three fighters presently ranked in the Top 10, which is a very telling career stat. Part of the problem is that Nelson is a lightweight who is too lazy to cut weight and doesn’t have any power in his punches. That’s okay when you’re toiling away in the welterweight basement, but against sluggers like Santiago Ponzinibbio or grapplers like Demian Maia, it’s not gonna cut the mustard.
Working in his favor for this fight is the fact that Burns is moving up from lightweight. Like Nelson, he’s yet to make any noise in the division rankings and his knockout loss to Dan Hooker sticks out like a sore thumb. He’s since rebounded with three consecutive wins and is just as dangerous as “Gunni” on the ground. What he lacks in speed he makes up for in power, so that will undoubtedly factor in to how Nelson approaches this fight, though to his credit, the Mjolnir product has faced much stiffer competitor. The big question for me is how well Burns can maintain a grappler’s pace across three rounds of action, especially carrying the extra weight. It would not surprise me to see him empty his tank by the final frame, but so long as he wins the first two rounds, the scorecards should swing in his favor — assuming he’s not so exhausted he gets choked out before the buzzer.
Ion Cutelaba defeats Khalil Rountree by unanimous decision — If surging light heavyweight phenom Johnny Walker is as good as we think he is — and even half as good as he claims to be — then we can forgive Rountree’s knockout loss to the Brazilian at UFC Argentina back in late 2018. And the defeat did little to slow his momentum, as “War Horse” got back on his ... uh, horse to capture a unanimous decision win against the tough-as-nails Eryk Anders the following April. I think by now we know what to expect from the former “Ultimate Fighter.” His Muay Thai is dangerous enough to put anyone out to pasture (just ask Gokhan Saki) while remaining susceptible to the ground game. Expect that to be a major factor in this fight.
Cutelaba is not unlike Rountree in that he struggles to stay consistent. He turned in a fairly listless performance against Jared Cannonier, then captured back-to-back knockout wins over Henrique da Silva and Gadzhimurad Antigulov. It would have been three straight, as “The Hulk” had Glover Teixeira dead to rights, but then gave the fight away when his conditioning betrayed him in the second stanza. With a similar height and reach — and both fighters being southpaws — this contest will be decided by how successful Cutelaba is with his wrestling. It’s the best way to keep from getting Muay Thai’d into next week, and also the best way to empty your gas tank before the 15-minute mark. A late finish against an exhausted Moldovan would not surprise me, but I’m expecting a more patient, calculated “Hulk” than the one who just likes to smash.
Michal Oleksiejczuk defeats Ovince Saint Preux by knockout — There was a time when Ovince Saint Preux was ranked No. 7 in the world, thanks to an impressive Strikeforce run, followed by an even more impressive 6-1 start to his UFC career. Knocking out Shogun Rua back in 2014 is undoubtedly the highlight of his career, but that came back in 2014 when “OSP” was still faster and more athletic than most fighters planting their feet in the light heavyweight division. Now age 36, the former collegiate standout is no longer able rely on his athleticism to fill the holes in what has always been a fairly straightforward offense, which in no way discounts his sneaky submission game. The last place you want to be when you’re older and slower is a division that has an influx of exciting new talent, like 205-pound wunderkind Johnny Walker.
You can add Oleksiejczuk to that list as well, and at age 24, it’s hard to not be excited by what we’ve seen from the power-punching Pole in his three trips to the cage. Popping for clomiphene after his unanimous decision win over the aforementioned Rountree was an obvious setback, but he returned with a vengeance and laid waste to the notoriously-durable Gian Villante, as well as the venerable Gadzhimurad Antigulov. He’s fast, powerful, and most importantly, aggressive. That might get him laid out against the Saint Preux of 2014, but in Saturday’s contest it will more likely carve out the path to victory. “OSP” could probably jab his way to safety with that grotesque 80-inch reach (six inches longer than Oleksiejczuk), but his striking is not polished enough to make that a 15-minute solution. Coming off back-to-back losses in which he looked positively dreadful from bell-to-bell, I don’t have a ton of confidence in the fading Saint Preux, who yields to the “Lord’s” power somewhere in the opening frame.
Alex Oliveira def. Nicolas Dalby by technical knockout — This fight marks Dalby’s return and I’m cynical enough to believe it’s because “Lokomotivo” is from Copenhagen. That said, I also can’t discount the work he’s done since parting ways with UFC back in late 2016. The Dane racked up three wins over the last year and had one of the more bizarre “No Contest” stoppages, after his Ross Houston bloodbath left the cage unfit for competition. It’s tempting to say he’s grown as a fighter and will not make the same mistakes he made in disappointing losses to both Zak Cummings and Peter Sobotta, but a two-year absence and a couple of wins on the regional circuit don’t have me breaking out the party hats just yet.
Working against him is the fact that he’s paired off against Oliveira, an aggressive and frighteningly powerful welterweight who is also one of the busier fighters at 170 pounds. “Cowboy” won’t dazzle you with his fight I.Q. or his technical prowess, but he’s still at the stage of his career where he doesn’t need to. Oliveira is a relentless action fighter above all else and Dalby is not going to be afforded much of an adjustment period. I know the crowd will be rooting for the hometown hero and rightly so, but I think the Brazilian comes into this bout angry over losing two straight and fights like his job depends on it (because it might).
There you have it.
If you’re looking for a preview and predictions for the UFC Copenhagen preliminary card, which streams live on ESPN+ at 11 a.m. ET, head over to our two-part breakdown here and here. All the “Hermansson vs. Cannonier” odds and betting lines click here.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 160 fight card on Saturday (click here), starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. ET, then the main card portion that will stream on ESPN+ at 2 p.m. ET.
For much more on this weekend’s action click here.