UFC Fight Night: Rodriguez vs. Penn preview and predictions

Everything you need to know about UFC Fight Night Phoenix: Yair Rodriguez vs. B.J. Penn.

Saturday night, the UFC holds its first MMA card of 2017, as the cage touches down in Phoenix, AZ. The card, which airs on Fox Sports 1, hosts a plethora of up-and-coming fighters, as well as some solid veterans of the sport.

In the main event, MMA legend BJ Penn attempts a career resurgence when he confronts Yair Rodriguez. Rodriguez is one of the hottest up-and-comers in the featherweight division and this represents the biggest fight in his career. For Penn, we will see if he can still hang.

Also on the card are names such as Joe Lauzon, Court McGee and Sergio Pettis, among others. Overall, it should be a solid way to kick off 2017, despite the fact there isn’t a huge amount of “star power”. With that, let’s take a look at the card and make some predictions for fight night, to give you an insight on the event.

Main Card

Yair Rodriguez vs. BJ Penn

The main event will finally see the return of a legend, as BJ Penn continues his “Brett Favre of MMA” approach of retiring and un-retiring frequently to take on Mexican prospect Yair Rodriguez. Penn’s last fight came in July of 2014, where he took a loss to Frankie Edgar before the temporary hangup of the gloves. That said, Penn’s last victory came in November of 2010, showing how the legend has gone on some hard times in competition. He’s now training with Greg Jackson and Mike Winklejohn, which is in hopes to have the best coaches revitalize his career. Rodriguez, the winner of TUF Latin America, is 5-0 in UFC, scoring wins over Leonardo Morales, Charles Rosa, Dan Hooker, Andre Fili and Alex Caceres. He is a gifted striker, who while not scoring many finishes in the big show, has found success, especially on the judge’s scorecards. Penn is the old guard, while Rodriguez is the new blood. There will be a passing of the torch here, as the young, Mexican star walks away with a resume-building win.

Marcin Held vs. Joe Lauzon

A pair of always exciting lightweights are set to square off in the next bout, as longtime UFC employee Joe Lauzon meets up with Polish standout Marcin Held. Lauzon has shuffled between loses in his last 5, though those fights have come against some of the best the division has to offer. He is a good combination of striking and submissions, as well as physical toughness that makes him hard to break. Held was a highly sought after free agent after his time with Bellator came to a close, but lost an exciting UFC debut to Diego Sanchez in his last bout. He is almost a mirror image of Lauzon, except younger and more athletic. That may be his edge here, as he wins what could be a potential Fight of the Night.

Court McGee vs. Ben Saunders

Welterweight veterans will tango in the next offering, as TUF 11 winner Court McGee takes on the always tough Ben Saunders. McGee has battled through injuries the last few years, which has led to him shuffling between wins and losses in his last five fights. He’s a grinder with some solid boxing, which means he will drag you into deep waters and wear you down en route to victory. Saunders is a striker with underrated grappling and long-range. He is 4-1 in his last five fights, one of which saw him leave his UFC contract, beat Jacob Volkmann outside the UFC and re-sign for this bout. This is a tough matchup to call, but McGee has the type of style that could give Saunders some fits. McGee scores the workmanlike decision.

Augusto Mendes vs. Frankie Saenz

Bantamweights will collide in the next one, as Frankie Saenz battles for his job against Augusto Mendes. Saenz is a ground fighter who is 3-2 in the UFC, though finds himself on a two-fight skid courtesy of Eddie Wineland and Urijah Faber. He is a wrestling heavy fighter, though he may want to use his wrestling defensively here so he can avoid a BJJ ace in Mendes. Mendes would welcome a ground fight, as his submission game is very refined. His only UFC fight was on late notice, where he was knocked out by Cody Garbrandt, which is obviously nothing to be ashamed about. This is a tough one to pick, but I think if Saenz can grind out Mendes and avoid a submission, he takes this one.

Preliminary Card

John Moraga vs. Sergio Pettis

Upper-echelon flyweights will do battle next, as Arizona native John Moraga takes a short-notice bout against the often entertaining Sergio Pettis. Moraga is a power-punching wrestler that has fallen on hard times as of recently. In fact, his wrestling is going to be a big tool here. He’d be wise to grapple with Pettis, who is a technical kickboxer with good movement and solid power for a 125-pounder. He finds himself on a two-fight win streak, which is huge for a division as shallow as flyweight. This fight is a tactical chess match, but Moraga should pull it out in an entertaining prelim headliner.

Oleksiy Oliynik vs. Viktor Pesta

On late notice, Oleksiy Oliynik gets the call to fill in for a heavyweight bout, as he steps in for Damian Grabowski to take on Viktor Pesta. Oliynik is a submission wrestler who has some underrated KO power in his hands. He is a longtime veteran as well, holding a distinct experience advantage over Pesta. He was in a groove in the UFC, besting Anthony Hamilton and Jared Rosholt impressively before a long layoff led to a split loss to Daniel Omielanczuk in his last bout. As for Pesta, he is also a ground fighter first, preferring to wrestle from top position. He is 1-3 in the UFC and battling for his roster spot here, as a loss would likely send him walking from the company. That said, all of his losses were to tough opponents in Ruslan Magomedov, Derrick Lewis and Marcin Tybura. When it’s all said and done, Oliynik is the better, more well-rounded fighter who will outwork Pesta on the feet or on the ground.

Alex White vs. Tony Martin

Up a weight class and on late notice, Alex White is looking to be successful in the lightweight division when he takes on the large and athletic Tony Martin. Martin has all the physical and natural tools to be successful in this sport, he’s just looking to put them together successfully with his skill set. He is 2-3 in the UFC, as the ground fighter has both won and lost twice by submission. He will want to get on top of White. As for White, he’s got some good boxing skills and submissions, though he doesn’t necessarily stand out in one particular area. He’s coming off a loss over Artem Lobov, so that has him riding some good momentum. This is a tough fight to call, but I am confident that the skills and tools possessed by Martin are too much for White, as Tony scores another UFC victory here.

Walt Harris vs. Chase Sherman

The heavyweights are set to take action next, as UFC vet Walt Harris looks to get back into the win column against Chase Sherman, who makes his sophomore effort with the company. Harris is a big, athletic striker who has failed to find consistency in the UFC. His only win in the company comes against disgraced heavyweight Cody East, but that singular win comes with four losses. He’s fighting for his life here. Similarly, Sherman is a striker with big power in his hands. His last fight was his UFC debut, where he was bested by ascending heavyweight Justin Ledet. This fight comes down to who will land first, and that man will be Harris, who finally scores his second UFC win.

Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger vs. Nina Ansaroff

The ladies will fight in the next bout, as hometown fighter Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger takes on fellow strawweight Nina Ansaroff. Lybarger is fighting for her UFC job here, as she’s already 0-2 with the company against the likes of Tecia Torres and Randa Markos. She is solid all around, but is not a major threat in one specific area that you need to watch out for. She’s just solid. Ansaroff is much better than her record indicates, but she is also 0-2 in the UFC and fighting to keep her spot. She’s taken losses to Juliana Lima and Justine Kish in her tenure, still showing good ground skills and boxing in that time. I think that her takedowns and top control are key here. Ansaroff closes the distance, grounds Lybarger and shows off her skills on the ground, scoring an important win for herself.

Devin Powell vs. Drakkar Klose

UFC debutants are set to square off in the next bout, as Devin Powell comes over from the east coast to take on late replacement Drakkar Klose. Powell likely got his roster spot after being “discovered” on Dana White: Looking for a Fight. He’s 8-1 as a pro, and has done his best work to date on the mat. That said, most of his competition thus far has been average-to-below-average east coast opposition, so this is a big step up for him. Klose trains with the MMA Lab camp in Arizona, where he has sharpened up his skills. Four of his six wins come via knockout, which means he will want to keep Powell upright. I don’t think Powell can get Klose down, as the MMA Lab rep scores a TKO win here.

Joachim Christensen vs. Bojan Mihajlovic

Light heavyweights will do battle in the next offering, as Joachim Christensen looks to erase the memories of a UFC debut loss when he takes on former heavyweight from Serbia Bojan Mihajlovic. Christensen is a well-rounded European who established himself as a threat on the Euro regional scene. He debuted with the UFC in his last fight, but was rebuked by Frank Waisten via submission, sending him back to the drawing board. As for Mihajlovic, he was a 228-pound heavyweight who has wisely decided to cut the excess weight and try his hand at a weight division more his size. He is a powerful striker, so expect him to want to brawl with Christensen, even though he was knocked out by Francis Ngannou in his UFC debut. All things considered, this is Christensen’s fight to lose, as he’s clearly the better fighter. He bests the Serb.

Dmitri Smoliakov vs. Cyril Asker

Foreign heavyweights take to the cage next, as France’s Cyril Asker and Russia’s Dmitri Smoliakov look for their first UFC wins against one another. Asker is a ground fighter who has strong overseas experience. The Frenchman can strike a bit too, but we saw he was finished on the feet in his UFC debut against Jared Cannonier overseas. He goes up against Smoliakov, who has finishes in all of his wins, albeit against low levels of competiion in Russia. In his UFC debut, he was finished by Luiz Henrique, so we have two 0-1 fighters competing for their first win. Asker has been more proven to this point, so I think he outguns Smoliakov to potentially put him on the chopping block.

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