Demetrious Johnson (17-2-1) vs. John Moraga (13-1-0) — Title Fight
Kudos to Joe Silva, Sean Shelby, and the UFC for awarding Moraga the opportunity to fight for the flyweight title; he’s 2-0 in the UFC with a pair of finishes, and with Joseph Benavidez in no rush to face Johnson in quick succession, the 29-year-old MMA Lab product was the proper choice as challenger.
Bonus points for keeping this bout together when it was bumped from the top of the TUF 17 Finale fight card too.
All that being said, it already feels like Moraga might be a little overwhelmed by the moment. He had very little to say during the media call for this event, and is moving from fighting on the Facebook prelims to the main event of a nationally televised card, where he’ll fight a hometown favorite for championship gold.
Even if he is completely composed and focused come fight night, Johnson is on a different level inside the cage. His darting style is tough to deal with, as he gets in, gets off, and gets out with great quickness, and has shown throughout his career that he has the conditioning to keep a pace many cannot contend with.
Moraga has shown great finishing instincts in his two previous UFC appearances, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this turns into a bit of a “deer in the headlights” moment on Saturday night.
Look for Johnson to start fast, hitting takedowns and mixing in strikes right out of the gate to put Moraga on his heels. Before the challenger can catch his breath, Johnson will be ahead on the scorecards, and cruising to another successful title defense.
Prediction: Demetrious Johnson by Unanimous Decision.
Rory MacDonald (14-1-0) vs. Jake Ellenberger (29-6-0)
Amidst Chris Weidman’s championship victory and a slew of major fight announcements, this outstanding welterweight tilt has slipped through the cracks a little. Come Sunday morning, however, expect a lot of people to be talking about this one.
Ellenberger has been a fringe contender since arriving in the UFC four years ago, though he’s yet to secure the one victory that puts him over the top and into the title picture completely. Last time out, “The Juggernaut” brutalized Nate Marquardt, earning a first-round stoppage win over the former Strikeforce welterweight champion.
Across the cage, MacDonald has been tabbed as the future of the 170-pound ranks since debuting in the UFC as an undefeated 20-year-old. Now 25 and brandishing a four-fight winning streak, the talented Canadian is closing in on contention himself, and an emphatic win over Ellenberger could put him at the top of the list of possible title challengers going forward.
MacDonald will need to withstand an early onslaught from Ellenberger in order to win this fight, and while there might be some tense moments, I think “Ares” will push through, and emerge victorious in the later rounds.
While Ellenberger is the more powerful of the two, MacDonald is the more complete fighter, and he does a great job of making adjustments in the heat of battle. Ellenberger is tough to put away, but I expect MacDonald to get the finish via ground-and-pound midway through the final frame.
Prediction: Rory MacDonald by TKO, Round 3.
Robbie Lawler (20-9-0) vs. Bobby Voelker (24-9-0)
This is going to be a tornado of face-punching awesomeness for as long as it lasts, which, considering Lawler is involved, might not be very long.
Voelker is a hard-nosed, scrappy veteran who got hosed out a victory in his UFC debut if you ask me; he beat Patrick Cote at UFC 158 on my scorecard, and should be carrying a four-fight winning streak into this one. Regardless, he steps up on short notice here to replace Siyar Bahadurzada (who replaced Tarec Saffiedine), and gets the opportunity to potentially collect his first official UFC victory on national television.
Returning to the UFC and the welterweight division seems to have awoken Lawler from the stupor he appeared to be in during his time with Strikeforce, where he managed a 3-5 record, and seemed at time to have mentally checked out of the fight game. But a first-round knockout win over Josh Koscheck at UFC 157 showed that Lawler still has power in his hands and the potential to be a tough out in the 170-pound ranks.
A focused and feisty Lawler should have little trouble earning a victory here; he’s the more technical boxer of the two, and has the benefit of a full training camp as well. While the 34-year-old Voelker is tough to put away, Lawler has next-level knockout power, and if he connects, you tend to find yourself asking the referee, “What happened?” Unfortunately for Voelker, that’s how I see this ending up for him on Saturday night.
Prediction: Robbie Lawler by TKO, Round 1.
Liz Carmouche (8-3-0) vs. Jessica Andrade (9-2-0)
Following her championship loss to Ronda Rousey back in February, Carmouche was initially matched up with former Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champ Miesha Tate, in what promised to be an exciting tilt to determine which of the two took the fast lane back to contention.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
Tate was tabbed to replace Cat Zingano both on the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter and opposite Rousey in her next title defense, leaving Carmouche to square off with promotional newcomer Andrade instead.
Just 21 years old, Andrade has won seven of her last eight fights and has earned a finish in each of her nine career wins, but Carmouche is a serious step up in competition for someone that has only defeated one fighter with a winning record thus far. By comparison, Carmouche has only ever lost to current or former world champions (Rousey, Sarah Kaufman and Marloes Coenen) while dominating everyone else she’s faced.
Eager to get right back into the thick of the title chase, expect “Girl-rilla” to dominate Andrade in this one. Carmouche is used to competing on the big stage, and is simply a much more seasoned and experienced fighter at this point in her career, even though both women has 11 fights under their belts.
Former TUF winner Chiesa gets a big step up in competition with former Strikeforce title challenger Masvidal stepping in for Reza Madadi in what should be a highly competitive contrast of styles in the cage.
Where Masvidal is technical, precise and minimalist in his movements, Chiesa is wild and scrappy, long limbs and a scraggy beard, capable of looking bad for long stretches before turning the tables quickly.
The difference here might be focus. Masvidal has been dismissive of Chiesa’s chances, believing the Spokane, Washington native has nothing to offer him and that he’ll simply cruise to victory. Conversely, “Maverick” has been fixated on the opportunity to face a fighter he admires in front of family and friends, eager to show the hard work and sacrifice he’s put into his career is paying off.
As much as Masvidal is the more seasoned professional, I’m siding with Chiesa in this one. At some point — probably after losing a round or two — he’s going to get this fight into close quarters, take Masvidal’s back and get another rear-naked choke victory. It won’t be pretty, but with Chiesa, it never is.
Prediction: Michael Chiesa by Submission, Round 3.
Another lightweight battle, and another fight bitten by the injury bug, Means steps in on two-weeks notice to take on Castillo as a late replacement for Bobby Green.
Means looked good in a losing effort against Masvidal last time out, working for submissions and never backing down as “Gamebred” remained content to work takedowns and little else. He’s tall and long for the division, and has shown solid striking in his two UFC wins to date, but you have to wonder how prepared he’ll be with just two weeks to get ready.
The overlooked member of Team Alpha Male in terms of those on the UFC roster, Castillo is coming off a unanimous decision win over Paul Sass in February. Like his teammates Urijah Faber, Chad Mendes, Joseph Benavidez and T.J. Dillashaw, Castillo brings a collegiate wrestling pedigree and endless cardio into the cage each and every time.
Even if Means had the benefit of a full training camp, Castillo would still be the choice here. He’s a strong, technically sound competitor who won’t leave many openings, and should be able to use his wrestling to control things throughout. There will be moments where these two exchange on the feet, but for the most part, expect Castillo to make this a grind, and wear Means out on the canvas.
Always one of the most athletically gifted fighters in the lightweight division, Guillard has never been able to fulfill his immense potential and enters this fight in dire need of a victory.
After climbing into contention on the strength of a five-fight winning streak heading into UFC 136 in October 2011, “The Young Assassin” has dropped four of his last five, including each of his last two appearances.
Danzig has managed just four wins against six losses since defeating Tommy Speer to win Season 6 of The Ultimate Fighter, and like Guillard, he too is likely staring down a must-win situation.
In this battle of two UFC veterans in major need of a victory, I have to side with the guy that is most capable of ending the fight in spectacular fashion, and that’s Guillard. While Danzig might be able to turn this into a grind, I expect Guillard to be refocus and firing on all cylinders here.
Last December, both Edwards and Cruickshank earned impressive knockout wins in Seattle. Now, after losses in their respective follow-up fights, the two always-entertaining lightweights square off on short notice.
The 28-year-old Cruickshank has gone 2-1 since emerging from Season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter, and is a dangerous and creative striker inside the cage, throwing kicks from different angles and without much set-up.
Edwards was initially scheduled to face fellow veteran Spencer Fisher, but “The King” was forced to withdraw earlier this month. A late change in opponents — especially from a boxer to an unorthodox tae kwon do-based fighter — could shake some fighters, but Edwards has been there, done that, and passed along the T-shirt to one of his friends. There is nothing he hasn’t seen over his career, and a late opponent switch isn’t going to impact him.
Look for the veteran Edwards to control the spacing of the fight with his boxing, and distance himself from Cruickshank on the scorecards as the fight progresses.
A pairing of two 32-year-old fighters who hail from the Pacific Northwest, these two middleweights are likely facing a “win or else” situation Saturday night in Seattle.
Herman put together a nice three-fight winning streak after he returned from a nearly two-year hiatus, but the former TUF finalist is without a victory in his last two appearances. Though is tepid performance against Jake Shieds at UFC 150 now stands as a No Contest, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souze made short work of “Short Fuse” last time out.
The same night Herman lost to Souza, Smith lost to Tim Kennedy, getting caught in a guillotine choke early in the third round. He makes his UFC debut here, fighting in his home state of Washington with his back against the wall.
This is Herman’s fight to lose; he’s the more powerful striker and has the more complete and dangerous skill set overall. While he looked disinterested for his bout with Souza back in January, fighting at home for the first time in four years should have him fired up this time out. After a pair of poor outings in his last two appearances, don’t be surprised if Herman rebounds in a big way in this one; he’s a sneaky bet to take home Submission of the Night honors.
Just looking at their records, this looks like a bit of a mismatch. But records can be very deceiving at times.
De Randamie is a highly decorated former Muay Thai world champion, having posted an incredible 37-0 record before transitioning to the cage in full time in the fall of 2010. Last time out, “The Iron Lady” earned a one-sided decision win over Japanese veteran Hiroko Yamanaka.
She makes her UFC debut here opposite Kedzie, a veteran competitor who has shared the cage with some of the best female fighters in the sport. A long-time member of the Jackson-Winkeljohn Fight Team, the 32-year-old “Fireball” enters this one having dropped two straight, most recently coming away on the losing side of one of the most exciting fights of 2012 against Miesha Tate last August in Strikeforce.
As much as Kedzie is a game competitor, de Randamie is the superior athlete, and I expect this to be a bout where she takes another step forward in her development as a fighter. She looked much improved in her last outing, and should be able to come away with a victory in her UFC debut here.
Prediction: Germaine de Randamie by Unanimous Decision
True story: Riley’s first fight came a couple weeks after I finished high school . . . 16 years ago.
The well-seasoned veteran hasn’t competed since having his jaw broken by former TUF winner Tony Ferguson in September 2011, but returns to make his ninth appearance in the Octagon opposite Salas this weekend. A product of the Grudge Training Center, Salas returns for the first time in over a year; the last time he fought, “J-Bomb” was getting bombed on by Tim Means back in Sunrise, Florida.
As much as the nearly two-year layoff is worrisome, Riley’s hot-and-cold pattern over his last seven fights is marked with four wins against comparable competition. Though he has historically struggled when stepping up the lightweight ladder, the veteran of 40-plus fights is far more experienced and battle-tested than Salas, and provided he’s shaken off the rust, this should be a bout Riley comes away from with a win.
A member of the Season 14 cast of The Ultimate Fighter, Albert has been consistently entertaining in his four UFC appearances, which explains why he’s managed to earn another opportunity despite entering this fight on a three-fight losing streak.
Meza is teammates with lightweight champ Benson Henderson and was thrown to the wolves in his UFC debut, stepping in on short notice to fight top-ranked featherweight contender Chad Mendes . . . in Australia. No, it didn’t go well for the newcomer.
Though he often starts well, there always seems to come a point in the opening round where Albert just runs out of steam, and ends up getting caught. If Meza can survive the early onslaught, he should be able to capitalize when Albert starts to fade, at which point, he’ll find a submission, and the first UFC victory of his career.