This weekend marks the UFC’s debut in Bangor, Maine, with a UFC Fight Night on FOX Sports 1 card headlined by top 10-ranked light heavyweights Ryan Bader and Ovince Saint Preux. The two fighters competed at UFC 174 together and with both coming out victorious, it didn’t take UFC matchmakers long to put this bout together as a main event.
Bader is coming off two wins in a row including a three-round drubbing of submission specialist Anthony Perosh as well as a dominant performance in putting away former Strikeforce champion Rafael ‘Feijao’ Cavalcante. Saint Preux has been equally impressive while also dispatching Bader’s teammate Ryan Jimmo in his last fight inside the Octagon.
As we look ahead at this weekend’s card, UFC on FOX commentator Brian Stann breaks down some of the key factors for the fights coming up and gives you five reasons to watch UFC Fight Night on FOX Sports 1: Bader vs. Saint Preux.
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Ryan Bader’s Shot at Title Contention?
Throughout his UFC career, Ryan Bader has come close on a number of occasions to reaching for the stars and earning a UFC title shot but fell short in all of the bouts that would have deemed him the No. 1 contender. Now he stands on the precipice of a make or break fight this weekend because the light heavyweight division is ripe for a new challenger to the top spot.
While Daniel Cormier is already cemented as the next fighter to face Jon Jones, Alexander Gustafsson, Anthony Johnson and Rashad Evans are the other three competitors sitting close to the title shot, but with a win Bader could join that exclusive group.
"Now really is his time," Stann said. "He’s climbed to the top of that mountain a couple of times and I spoke to him yesterday on UFC Tonight and the thing to remember with Bader is he shot to the top of that mountain so fast. He came into fighting, won a bunch of fights, and immediately started getting big level fights just a few fights into the UFC and he still wasn’t really a complete finished product at that point.
"His last fight against (Rafael) Feijao, he put it all together in that performance. People complained about that fight, but I thought it was the best performance of his career. I really feel like him and his camp, they’re really maturing now and they’re peaking now and doing it at the right time."
Ovince Saint Preux: Shades of an early Jon Jones
A natural athlete who played football at the University of Tennessee, Ovince Saint Preux is a phenomenally strong, gifted fighter with power at his disposal and a frame built for fights in the Octagon. Since coming to the UFC, Saint Preux has shown he’s even more well rounded as he’s pulled off some slick submissions including the rare Von Flue choke when he finished Nikita Krylov.
This is Saint Preux’s first test against another top 10 opponent so this will certainly be the proving ground for this former college football player to show he belongs among the best in the world.
Stann actually picked Saint Preux to win this fight on UFC Tonight on Wednesday and sticks by his selection for Saturday night in Maine.
"He so much reminds me of Jon Jones," Stann stated. "Because he doesn’t realize he’s not supposed to win. He doesn’t realize he’s not supposed to technically be able to pull off some of these moves he pulls off. It just doesn’t occur to him and he’s so athletic, he overcomes it.
"Now in the last 18 months I have seen really smooth out some of his rough edges. He’s really integrated his takedowns well and he’s such a fantastic athlete and his confidence is through the roof. When a guy walks into the Octagon believing overwhelmingly that he should win that overcomes some technical deficiencies. That happened in Jon Jones’ early career and it’s happening now with Ovince Saint Preux."
Gray Maynard’s Big Return or Final Fight
It wasn’t that long ago that Gray Maynard was considered one of the best lightweights on the planet. His two fight series with former champion Frankie Edgar with the belt on the line was the stuff of legends, but since those bouts Maynard has struggled to find any kind of consistency.
He had an ugly fight against Clay Guida, although that performance can hardly be blamed on Maynard due to his opponent ducking and dodging for the better part of five rounds. But he got bludgeoned in his fight with T.J. Grant and then suffered the same exact fate against Nate Diaz six months later.
It got to the point where Maynard was considering retirement, but now with a new camp behind him and a chance of scenery, the former Ultimate Fighter hopes to rebound with a big win over Ross Pearson this weekend.
"This is it for him," Stann said about Maynard. "If he can’t put it together and get it back to form now, I think this is the last time we see him in the Octagon to be honest with you. If he’s got any friends or people that care about him — when you’ve been KO’d or TKO’d in three out of your last four fights, and you’re going to give it one more go, I hope there’s people around you to stop you if you don’t look solid.
"Is he in that right place now? Is he in a place where he feels confident? Even he himself has talked about his chin so it’s on his mind, and generally when fighters talk about that it manifests itself in the Octagon and you can see it in their performances. If I’m Ross Pearson, Saturday night I go out there right away and put my hands on him. If you go put it on him early it keeps the anxiety high. The longer Ross Pearson has a feeling out process, the more comfortable and confident Gray Maynard becomes."
Which One Will Survive?
When Tim Boetsch debuted in the middleweight division it appeared all of the best at 185-pounds had to be on the lookout for ‘The Barbarian’. He ripped through former title contenders like Yushin Okami and picked up a victory over Hector Lombard before fate stepped in and humbled the long time UFC fighter.
Boetsch has now gone just 1-3 over his last four fights and he searches for some kind of consistency in a topsy turvy world that is the UFC’s middleweight division.
Meanwhile, Tavares was the winner of five fights in a row although judging by his place in the rankings and title discussion, you’d never know it. He quietly beat all five opponents, but rarely got a chance to make much noise afterwards. Then came his big chance on a FOX card to show he belonged with the best in the world.
Unfortunately, Tavares had his worst night against Yoel Romero and suffered a unanimous decision loss, breaking his win streak and sending him back to the end of the line.
So now Boetsch and Tavares sit at a crossroads as two former top 10 hopefuls need to make a statement this weekend.
"Boetsch is a guy who has been top 10, top 15 for some time now, but he struggled against the guys who are truly elite athletes," Stann said. "Boetsch is not that. He’s a blue collar, tough as nails guy, who is going out there and finds a way to win. Brad Tavares is a higher level athlete than Tim Boetsch and on paper he should come in there and win, but he had a five fight win streak that nobody cared about, nobody was talking about.
"He has got to get them excited. Brad Tavares is a very complete fighter but he fights at a rhythm that can disturb other fighters and win fights — control the range, throw my combinations, keep my opponents off balance and throw some well timed takedowns. It works so often for him that it’s very effective, but it’s kind of that same rhythm every time and it’s a decision. What I believe Brad needs to do is open up and take more risks. He’s got to give the fans and Joe Silva something to talk about. The problem is with Boetsch, he’s real opportunistic. Some of his wins come when you least expect it."
A Stacked Undercard
There are always a few intriguing fights for the undercards at UFC events, but the four fights taking place in Maine are beyond reproach. Not only do you have two of the best flyweights in the world facing off as Zach Makovsky takes on Jussier Formiga, but former Olympic silver medalist Sara McMann returns to action to take on the last Invicta Fighting Championships women’s bantamweight champion, Lauren Murphy.
With this kind of top 10 action taking place on Saturday night, there’s no chance you should be late tuning in for the very start of action from Bangor, Maine.
"I love this undercard," Stann said. "I love the (Jussier Formiga) Da Silva vs. Makovsky fight. This Makovsky kid is very, very good and this is a good test for him. If Makovsky can keep on an impressive run, he can see his stock rise very high and a title shot could happen for him very soon.
"As for (Sara) McMann, she does not like the media side of this sport. If she did, I think she’d definitely be a bigger star in this sport. If you look at her fight with Ronda Rousey you can say ‘ooh that was pretty fast, I’d like to see that again’. This isn’t a gimme fight for her. Lauren Murphy is really good. Lauren Murphy is really tough. Lauren Murphy is the kind of girl even if she gets grinded out in the first two rounds, I think she comes out in the third and tries to take Sara’s head off."