This is a really good fight card to have fall into our laps in the middle of the week.
People are going to pretend its not because they’re conditioned to complain about mid-week events and anything that isn’t a stacked pay-per-view these days, but up and down the line-up, Wednesday’s third UFC Fight for the Troops event at Fort Campbell in Kentucky is a quality collection of fighters on winning streaks looking to make a name for themselves in their respective divisions.
Though the main event underwent a makeover when Lyoto Machida was pulled to replace Michael Bisping 10 days ago in Manchester, England, the match-up between Tim Kennedy and Rafael “Sapo” Natal is a more even and compelling pairing. This marks Natal’s first test in the upper tier of the middleweight division, while the US Army Green Beret Kennedy looks to collect his second consecutive win and continue his climb up the 185-pound ranks.
Save for a couple seconds of ill-fated showboating in his loss to Andrew Craig, Natal has looked very good over his last six, climbing from preliminary card status to headlining this event – albeit as an alternate – opposite Kennedy. He has a slick ground game and developing confidence in his striking, and this will be a chance to see if there is more room for growth going forward.
Unfortunately for the Brazilian, Kennedy is a cut above in every facet of the game, save for maybe straight jiu-jitsu, though his defensive work last time out against Roger Gracie showed how skilled the Team Jackson-Winkeljohn fighter is in that regard as well.
A two-time title challenger in Strikeforce, Kennedy is presently a step or two away from breaking into the Top 10 in the middleweight division, but he has the skill set to be a Michael Bisping-type – someone that can give anyone in south of the true elite a run for their money while dominating middle of the pack competition.
Look for the Army Ranger to use his defensive wrestling to force Natal into a striking match, where his superior conditioning and better arsenal of weapons wins in a fight that goes the distance.
Prediction: Tim Kennedy by Unanimous Decision
Liz Carmouche (9-3) vs. Alexis Davis (14-5)
A really good match-up that could determine the next title challenger in the women’s bantamweight ranks holds down the co-main event role on Wednesday’s fight card, as Carmouche makes her third trip into the Octagon to take on Davis.
While Davis struggled with Rosi Sexton in her UFC debut back in June, Carmouche looked fierce in dispatching tough-as-nails newcomer Jessica Andrade in July, and is the pick her. Historically, the only fighters that have gotten the better of the former US Marine are champions or former champions – Ronda Rousey, Sarah Kaufman, and Marloes Coenen – and Davis doesn’t have that kind of pedigree.
Carmouche is the more powerful striker of the two and has a strong enough top game to keep herself out of danger on the ground with Davis. Look for her to unload with punches and kicks early, and put this one away with some “Girl-rilla” ground-and-pound in the second.
Prediction: Liz Carmouche by TKO, Round 2
Yoel Romero (5-1) vs. Ronny Markes (14-1)
Markes has used his size and wrestling ability to grind out three straight wins inside the Octagon, giving him a seven-fight winning streak overall, but he won’t have those same advantages here.
Romero won the silver medal in freestyle wrestling at the 2000 Summer Games and like Markes, he too used to compete in the light heavyweight division. A late arrival to MMA, the 36-year-old Cuban is now based out of American Top Team, and showed in his lone UFC fight to date that he’s a potential dark horse in the middleweight division.
The 5-1 “Soldier of God” will force Markes to stand, and get the better of him with his lethal combination of speed and power. It might not be as impressive and sudden as his flying knee finish of Clifford Starks in his first UFC appearance, but count on Romero coming away with another finish here.
Prediction: Yoel Romero by TKO, Round 1
Jorge Masvidal (25-7) vs. Rustam Khabilov (16-1)
This lightweight pairing should reveal a great deal about both fighters and where they standing the divisional hierarchy.
Masvidal is a clean, technical striker with a good amount of swagger, and much better anti-wrestling than he gets credit for. He climbed the championship ladder in Strikeforce, but came up short against Gilbert Melendez, and has looked solid in a pair of UFC appearances thus far.
But Khabilov has the look of an elite contender – one that uses his grappling to do damage, not simply control the placement of the fight. He’s earned a pair of stoppages as a result of his powerful throws so far, and should dictate the tempo of this fight with his aggressiveness as well.
Though putting away Masvidal is a tall order, look for the Dagestan native to cruise to his third consecutive UFC win here, and announce himself as one to watch in the lightweight ranks heading into 2014.
Prediction: Rustam Khabilov by Unanimous Decision
Colton Smith (3-2) vs. Michael Chiesa (9-1)
A battle of recent TUF winners is also a potential battle for a spot on the roster, as both Smith and Chiesa enter off losses, and the loser could find themselves dispatched to the regional circuit.
Chiesa is the more experienced and talented of the two, and should emerge with the victory. He controlled the first round of his July fight with Masvidal before getting clipped and finished late in the second, and appears to have more tools to work with than Smith, who won Season 16 thanks to his wrestling, but isn’t dominant enough in that area (or any facet for that matter) to make a significant impact at this time.
After a heartbreaking loss at home in the summer, Chiesa will storm back with a submission win of his own this time out.
Prediction: Michael Chiesa by Submission, Round 2
James Krause (20-4) vs. Bobby Green (20-5)
The real winner in this one is the fans, as these to new arrivals to the UFC lightweight division are the early favorites to earn Fight of the Night honors.
Both took home third-round submission wins in their respective Octagon debuts – Krause over Sam Stout, Green against Jacob Volkmann – but it was the former who showed the most complete arsenal, and that should help him to a second straight win here.
Krause uses his length well, works the jab, and mixes up his striking, keeping opponents guessing at all times. While Green is always game, expect Krause to pick him apart from range in the stand-up, and capitalize on an opening on the ground late in the contest to earn the victory.
Prediction: James Krause by Submission, Round 3
George Roop (14-9-1) vs. Francisco Rivera (9-2)
Roop brings a serious height and reach advantage into this one, and is coming off the biggest win of his career to date – a one-sided decision against former WEC bantamweight champ Brian Bowles.
But making the bantamweight limit is a struggle, and he has a history of poor results against fighters that bring a lot of power to the table, and Rivera certainly fits that description.
Since getting bounced from the UFC after his June 2011 loss to Reuben Duran, Rivera has rattled off five straight victories, one of which was ruled a no contest when he tested positive for a banned substance. He’s an aggressive striker, and Roop often makes the mistake of not fighting tall and leaving his chin too high in the air.
He’ll likely do it again here, and Rivera will make him pay.
Prediction: Francisco Rivera by TKO, Round 2
Steven Siler (23-10) vs. Dennis Bermudez (11-3)
Siler has looked much better than expected after coming off Season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter, but Bermudez was a finalist that season, and hasn’t lost since facing Diego Brandao in the finale.
While Siler showed unexpected power last time out, this one should follow a similar pattern to his fight with Darren Elkins, a bout that didn’t go well for “Super Steve.”
Bermudez is a strong, aggresive wrestler who throws heavy hands coming in, and while he’s been known to get into slugfests at times, “The Menace” should stick to his wrestling here to put Siler on his back, where he can look to pound out a victory.
Prediction: Dennis Bermudez by Unanimous Decision
Germaine de Randamie (4-2) vs. Amanda Nunes (8-3)
Both Nunes and de Randamie used to compete in the 145-pound ranks, and like to strike, the former boasting the edge in power, the latter a former kickboxing world champion with the much cleaner technique.
Of the two, de Randamie has shown the great development, and should get the win here. She edged out Julie Kedzie in her UFC debut showing the striking polish you’d expect with better-than-advertised takedown defense.
She’ll keep Nunes on the defensive, and outwork her in the clinch when necessary to get the victory.
Prediction: Germaine de Randamie by Unanimous Decision
Lorenz Larkin (13-1) vs. Chris Camozzi (19-6)
Last time out, Larkin dropped a questionable decision to Francis Carmont, the first loss of his career, and you can be sure “Da Monsoon” will be eager to get back into the win column in this one.
Camozzi has done a nice job of making a place for himself in the middle of the middleweight division, but he just doesn’t have the offensive firepower to hang with a fighter like Larkin in this one.
Both will look to start fast, but Larkin is the superior striker of the two, and should pick-and-choose his spots nicely on the way to picking up the victory.
Prediction: Lorenz Larkin by Unanimous Decision
Yves Edwards (42-20-1) vs. Yancy Medeiros (9-1)
Despite a career that officially stretches back to October 1997, Edwards has only lost three straight fights once, and will be looking to avoid repeating the dubious feat here.
As much as Medeiros showed some promise during his days as a middleweight in Strikeforce, this is a fight tailor-made for “The Thugjitsu Master.” The wily vet should out-box and out-grapple his young foe, and pick up his 43rd career win.
Prediction: Yves Edwards by Unanimous Decision
Neil Magny (8-2) vs. Seth Baczynski (18-10)
After winning four straight upon returning to the UFC, Baczynski has now dropped back-to-back contests, while Magny enters off a first-round submission loss to Sergio Moraes back in August.
Baczynski packs more power and that should be the difference here. While Magny would be smart to stick-and-move, he’ll stick too long at one point, and get caught.
Prediction: Seth Baczynski by TKO, Round 2
Derek Brunson (10-2) vs. Brian Houston (4-0)
Houston has faced one opponent that has a victory on his resume. While it appears that he packs some power as he enters off back-to-back sub-one-minute finishes, he’s taking a major step up in competition here, and Brunson should hand him the first loss of his career in decisive fashion.