UFC Fight Night: Swanson vs. Stephens Crystal Ball Predictions
JUN 24, 2014 1:15p ET
The lighter weight classes often showcase the best in technique at the expense of power, but luckily, Saturday's UFC Fight Night show in San Antonio is one of those rare exceptions. Cub Swanson and Jeremy Stephens are thumpers, with both boasting career knockdown rates that at least double the UFC average for all weight classes.
Swanson is hot on the trail of a title shot, and in his first UFC headlining slot, finally has the platform to unequivocally deliver his message against an opponent who is notorious for his rugged style.
Will he get it done? On to the predictions ...
Cub Swanson vs. Jeremy Stephens
The night's headliner features arguably the featherweight division's hardest-hitters, with the exception of champ Jose Aldo. A win might get Swanson a date for the belt, while Stephens, 3-0 since moving into the weight class, has his eyes set on vaulting into the top 10.
To cut to the chase, both of these slugger love to crack, which should make for a San Antonio shootout that Spurs' fans can wrap their arms around.
So who's more likely to win? Most signs point to Swanson. He's beaten better opposition, with victories over Dennis Siver, Dustin Poirier and Ross Pearson during his recent five-fight blitz of wins. By comparison, Stephens has had trouble nearly every time in his career he's stepped up opponent level. Could that be behind him? At 28, it's possible he's just now really finding himself and peaking, but Swanson, with a 56 percent takedown offense rate, has the goods to change things up, and historically has a more active attack as well. That should be enough to win out over 25 minutes, if a well-placed Texas haymaker doesn't end it first.
Prediction: Swanson via unanimous decision
Kelvin Gastelum vs. Nicholas Musoke
Fresh off his biggest career win over Rick Story, Kelvin Gastelum returns against an opponent with fairly marginal name recognition. It looks like a classic Joe Silva pumping of the brakes, but Musoke has won both of his UFC stars this far, even stopping veteran Alessio Sakara by submission in a fight above his natural weight class.
So far, Gastelum has shown a full gas tank, improving hands and a relentless takedown game. The last of those traits might prove to be a key against Musoke, who hasn't shined with his wrestling defense. Another problem for him? He's been dropped in one of his UFC fights and rattled in the other, and Gastelum has heavy hands.
Prediction: Gastelum via second-round TKO
Cezar Ferreira vs. Andrew Craig
Both middleweights are coming off disappointing stoppage losses and need to establish that any initial excitement about their early success wasn't misplaced.
Both fighters show a troubling trend; they have both been statistically out-struck during their UFC fights. Ferreira isn't particularly active, landing just two strikes per minute, although his takedown success at least gives him an extra element to work with. Craig is a little more active with his pace, but hasn't had a lot of success brining fights to the ground.
As it stands, this one seems destined to be close if it goes the distance, so maybe Craig's output steals it late for the upset.
Prediction: Craig via split-decision
Ricardo Lamas vs. Hacran Dias
Of all the fighters on the card, it's No. 3 featherweight Lamas who is ranked the highest. Coming off an unsuccessful bid to unseat reigning champ Jose Aldo, Lamas is just a slight favorite over Dias, who in his last time out saw Nik Lentz end his nine-fight win streak.
If Dias has one built-in advantage, it's the fact that he trains alongside Aldo, it's quite likely he received some of the champ's insights into Lamas' tendencies, and that's no small thing.
Dias also has excellent takedown defense, which may take away one of Lamas' biggest strengths in his punishing ground attack.
Lamas has excellent stamina and a relentless nature about him, making this fight about as even as it gets. Toss a coin.
Prediction: Dias via split-decision
Clint Hester vs. Antonio Braga Neto
Neto is a work-in-progress, a jiu-jitsu world champion who is still attempting to add elements into his striking to round out his game. If he gets it to the ground, though, watch out, as Anthony Smith learned as both made their UFC debuts last summer.
Neto, though, has been out for a year, while Hester has fought three times in that time, going 3-0.
A big, powerful middleweight, Hester has some excellent raw tools and has shown traces of putting it all together, but against Neto, a 64 percent takedown defense rate might not be enough.
On the feet, Hester gets the edge, but once it hits the mat, Neto's advantage might prove insurmountable.
Prediction: Neto via submission
Joe Ellenberger vs. James Moontasri
To be perfectly honest, picking a winner in this one is mostly a guessing game. Ellenberger (14-1), brother of UFC welterweight contender Jake, hasn't fought in 18 months, is making his UFC debut, and had his opponent switched multiple times in the leadup to the event.
Meanwhile, Moontasri (7-1) has some decent regional wins under his belt, and has flashed an impressive kicking game as he heads into the octagon for the first time.
Which man shows the most nerves? Which fighters' skills translate more effectively to the big cage? Well, Ellenberger has at least experienced the big-night vibe at the side of his brother. That may help keep his nerves in check, and coupled with his wrestling background, it could be enough to grind out an opening win.
Prediction: Ellenberger via unanimous decision
What else to watch
Colton Smith won the TUF season 16 title just 18 months ago, but after two straight losses, he stands on dangerous ground. Few young fighters get afforded three consecutive losses and hold on to their jobs, so it's must-win territory for him.
As a result, he trained with both the U.S. wrestling and boxing teams as he prepared to face undefeated Carlos Diego Ferreira on the undercard.
The fight is a dangerous one for Smith, who has done most of his best work on the ground, mostly because Ferreira is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist. Smith will have to survive in order to advance in the UFC.