The UFC heads to Nashville this weekend for an action-packed card headlined by fourth-ranked featherweight Cub Swanson and Conor McGregor’s training partner Artem Lobov.
Let’s take a look at how this main event, as well as the rest of the fights from the UFC Nashville main card might play out.
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY SportsTom Szczerbowski
Jake Ellenberger vs. Mike Perry
The UFC Fight Night Nashville main card kicks off with a slugfest between welteweights Jake Ellenberger and Mike Perry.
Ellenberger and Perry are similar in the sense that they’re heavy-handed fighters with granite chins, but Ellenberger’s chin is much older and has taken far more damage than Perry’s.
Perry’s game plan during his time in the Octagon has been simple: walk forward and get the knockout and who cares if you have to take a little punishment to do it.
Perry simply overwhelmed Hyun Gyu Lim in his UFC debut before rallying to finish Danny Roberts last October. He lost his last fight to Alan Jouban in December but his KO power kept him in the bout until the very last bell.
Ellenberger, at this point in his career, isn’t nearly as athletic as Jouban, who was able to use his speed to escape many of Perry’s attacks, and has been finished four times since 2014.
Saturday might be a tough one for “The Juggernaut.”
Prediction: Mike Perry by second-round TKO
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Joe Lauzon vs. Stevie Ray
Scotland’s Stevie Ray takes on his toughest opponent to date in crafty submission specialist Joe Lauzon.
Ray is a patient striker who does a good job of not getting overly aggressive when he attacks. However, in his only bout against a bona-fide grappler, Ray was held down and controlled for 80 percent of the three-round fight.
Ray has shown he can effectively use front kicks and footwork to keep opponents from closing the distance and he’ll need to continue that against Lauzon, who averages two takedowns per fight to go with 2.27 submission attempts per fight -- double the UFC average.
Lauzon has been much more efficient with his striking over the last couple years, even scoring two first-round TKOs in that span, but he shouldn’t hesitate to put Ray on his butt and work submissions early.
Prediction: Joe Lauzon by third-round submission
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John Dodson vs. Eddie Wineland
Odds are, the referee is going to be pulling one of these heavy-handed bantamweights off the other at the end of this bout between John Dodson and Eddie Wineland.
Dodson (71 percent UFC KO rate) and Wineland (80 percent UFC KO rate) are KO artists through and through and no doubt both are going to be looking for the finish on Saturday.
The two hard-hitting 135ers tout fairly similar stats in the stand up, as they both land around 3.3 strikes per minute while defending 62 percent of the strikes lobbed their way and defending over 84 percent of takedown attempts.
Where they differ, however, is in their accuracy, where Dodson holds a distinct advantage, landing 40 percent of his strikes compared to just 29 percent for Wineland. Dodson will need every bit of that accuracy and his exceptional footwork if he plans on overcoming a four-inch height and three-inch reach disadvantage.
I don’t see this fight hitting the ground unless there is a knockdown, which isn’t unlikely in a tilt between fighters of this caliber. A three-round brawl between these guys is hard to call but I’m going to give it to the athletic former flyweight, Dodson.
Prediction: John Dodson by third-round TKO
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Ovince Saint Preux vs. Marcos De Lima
Ovince Saint Preux’s standing in the light heavyweight division could be on the line when he takes on Brazilian knockout artist Marcos De Lima.
Saint Preux is coming off of three straight losses in bouts where he didn’t look anything like the fighter who won five straight -- including four by finish -- between 2012 and 2014. Saint Preux looked far too passive in his last two fights and can’t fight that way Saturday against De Lima, who will be headhunting from the opening bell.
De Lima has bounced back and forth between wins and losses over his last four fights but all four of his UFC wins have come by way of brutal KO or TKO. He has struggled against talented grapplers when fights have hit the ground but he probably won’t have to worry much about that in this one.
If we get the same OSP that we have over the last year or so, I predict De Lima starts fast and finishes this fight early. However, 2015 OSP makes this one interesting.
Prediction: Marcos De Lima by second-round TKO
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Al Iaquinta vs Diego Sanchez
Al Iaquinta returns to the Octagon after more than two years away to take on UFC veteran Diego Sanchez.
Before Iaquinta stepped away, he was one of the lightweight division's most promising prospects, winning seven of eight fights after a stint on “The Ultimate Fighter” and he tries to regain that positioning against Sanchez on Saturday.
“Raging” is an aggressive fighter with overwhelming power. He sets a furious pace from the onset and does a good job of throwing and landing combinations as he connects on 4.91 strikes per minute, nearly twice the UFC average.
Iaquinta’s pace shouldn’t be a problem for Sanchez, who has a reputation for having a ridiculous gas tank. “The Nightmare” is no slouch in the stand-up but Iaquinta isn’t a guy he’ll want to trade shots with for three rounds. He’ll need to get this fight to his bread and butter -- the clinch or the canvas -- if he wants to get a win on Saturday night. That won’t be easy against Iaquinta, who touts a takedown defense over 80 percent.
Sanchez is a tried and tested veteran whose Octagon experience gives him the edge over a lot of fighters. But he’ll have a tough go against the younger, faster and stronger Iaquinta on Fight Night.
Prediction: Al Iaquinta by decision
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Cub Swanson vs. Artem Lobov
Artem Lobov asked to fight Cub Swanson after earning his second straight UFC win back in November and he’s sure to get the best version of the fourth-ranked featherweight when they meet Saturday in Nashville.
Swanson has won three straight and nine of his last 11 dating back to 2012. His only losses in that span were to Max Holloway and Frankie Edgar while he finished the likes of Dennis Siver, Charles Oliveira and Ross Pearson. That’s a long-winded way of saying Cub Swanson is easily one of the best featherweights on the roster, and if he fights the way we know he’s capable of, he should have no problem with Lobov.
But this is fighting and anyone with the power of Lobov has a chance to walk away with a win.
Lobov will be the taller fighter on fight night -- by an inch -- but will be at a five-inch reach disadvantage. So it’s imperative he avoid Swanson’s jab and close the distance if he wants to do any damage against the dynamic California fighter.
The Russian, despite his power, looks to be outmatched here in the standup, as Swanson is statistically the more accurate fighter and lands at a higher volume, but also on the ground, where Swanson is also very skilled.
Saturday night will be tough sledding for Lobov but he had to have known that when he asked for this fight.