UFC Croatia Tips
Fight pass prelims
Welterweight Bout: Bojan Velickovic (13-3) vs Alessio di Chirico (9-0) – Velickovic comes out of the Elevation Fight Team, the home of the likes of Nel Magny and Daniel Hooker. He has powerful kicks at range, albeit he’s quite hittable. On the ground he has good submissions, but can be taken down and tired out as fights progress. He’s been fighting on the American RFA circuit, winning their welterweight title in his most recent bout. From the footage available Chirico has never fought in a cage before, and comes from a camp without any other notable fighters. Velickovic takes a decision.
Heavyweight Bout: Jared Cannonier (7-1) vs Cyril Asker (7-1) – Footage on Cannonier is incredibly limited, with the only real evidence his UFC debut, a first round KO loss to Shawn Jordan. He looked reasonably competent on the feet until getting caught, but his ground game and wrestling is largely unknown. He trains out of Gracie Barra Alaska, so one would assume he knows something about submissions. At only 5’11, he’s very undersized for the division. Asker seems to have decent cardio for a heavyweight, as well as a good chin. He’s a decent enough wrestler as a training partner for Cain Velasquez. I think he outlasts Cannonier to a second round ground and pound TKO victory.
Featherweight Bout: Rob Whiteford (12-3) vs Lucas Martins (15-4) – A real tough one to call. Both appear to be powerful strikers who fade as the fight progresses. Whiteford is a judoka, but the only person to consistently get takedowns against Martins has been uber prospect Mirsad Bektic. It’s a very close fight, but Martins is five years younger, punches straighter and has a reach advantage. He takes a close decision.
Bantamweight Bout: Filip Pejic (10-1) vs Damian Stasiak (8-3) – At 5’11 Pejic is big for the weight class, and has good power on the feet with six career victories by knockout. His kryptonite seems to be his defensive wrestling. Stasiak is quite adept at dragging fights to the mat and has good control and submissions from top position. I expect him to take a grappling-heavy decision.
Bantamweight bout: Ian Entwistle (9-2) vs Alejandro Perez (16-6) – This fight is very simple to break down. Entwistle will immediately try to get the fight to the mat and score a quick submission, and if he can’t do so he will give up and get finished himself shortly thereafter. Fortunately for him, Perez is a mediocre fighter with no great wrestling pedigree, so he’ll probably be alright. The pick is Entwistle by submission in the first round.
Lightweight bout: Mairbek Taisumov (24-5) vs Damir Hadzovic (10-2)– As far as UFC debuts go, Hadzovic couldn’t have asked for a much stiffer test. It’s a bit of a shame, as he’s a six foot tall lightweight with powerful striking and good defensive wrestling and stamina. However, Taisumov is rapidly improving, with his striking game a fantastic combination of distance management, composure and devastating power. The pick is Taisumov by second round knockout, albeit I expect Hadzovic to stick around.
Nicolas Dalby (14-0-1) vs Zak Cummings (18-4) – Dalby favours an in and out striking game based more on volume than power, with occasional takedowns thrown in for good measure. Cummings is a strong southpaw wrestler who is massive for the weight class, with a powerful left hand. He’s the archetypal six or seven out of ten at everything fighter with no real glaring weakness, albeit he slows down as the fight progresses. Dalby looked poor in his first two UFC bouts, albeit those were against much quicker strikers. I narrowly favour him to take a close decision.
Women’s Strawweight Bout: Maryna Moroz (6-1) vs Christina Stanciu (5-0)– Moroz is a reasonably competent pressure striker with a boxing background, however her main method of success has been pulling guard and looking for an armbar from the bottom.
Stanciu has the building blocks of a good fighter: decent distance management on the feet with genuine power, as well as a good submission game. However, her level of competition thus far has been appalling, so it’s quite hard to gauge her effectiveness against elite opposition. The pick has to be Moroz by submission in the second round.
Jan Blachowicz (18-5) vs Igor Pokrajac (28-12)- Igor is returning to the UFC after a five fight winless streak in his last run. He’s a brawler with a fading chin, and a clinch fighter who is prone to being taken down, so it’s not hard to see why he has struggled. Blachowicz is coming off two straight decision losses, the second of which saw him become inexplicably exhausted after about three minutes against Corey Anderson. Pokrajac isn’t UFC quality, and is only getting the chance because he’s Croatian. Jan is fairly well-rounded, has a good size advantage and (Anderson fight) apart generally has reasonable cardio. The pick is Blachowicz by decision.
Heavyweight Bout- Marcin Tybura (13-1) vs Timothy Johnson (9-2) – From the limited footage available, Tybura appears to be a functional striker who will look for takedowns against the cage. Johnson faced a similar style of fighter last time out in Jared Rosholt, and lost a close decision in a fight which he could well have won but for poor strategy. I’m unsure about this one, but Johnson has the striking edge and is good enough of a wrestler to hold his own in that department. He takes a decision.
Heavyweight Bout- Francis Ngannou (6-1) vs Curtis Blaydes (5-0)– Blaydes is making his UFC debut as a much hyped prospect who has trained with the likes of Fabricio Werdum and Stipe Miocic. He’s a physically dominating wrestler who has to cut weight to reach the 265 lb heavyweight limit. Ngannou is another promising young prospect, but he seems to struggle to defend takedowns, or indeed to disengage from the clinch. I see no reason why he’ll be able to prevent Blaydes from taking this fight to the mat, so the pick is Blaydes by second round TKO.
Gabriel Gonzaga (17-10) vs Derrick Lewis (14-4-1) – Gonzaga’s gameplan will probably be to get this fight to the mat, where he will use his BJJ credentials to try and secure a submission. However, these days his chin is absolutely gone, and he looks incredibly tentative and unwilling to engage on the feet. Lewis isn’t a great heavyweight, but he is big and hits incredibly hard, especially from top position on the ground. He also has surprisingly good stamina, having won fights from losing positions multiple times due to his opponents tiring. Skill-wise, Gonzaga is the better fighter but seems to have a foot out the door, so the pick has to be the surging Lewis by KO in the first round.
Rothwell (#4 HW, 36-9) VS Dos Santos (#5 HW, 17-4)
The main event of UFC Zagreb features a potentially pivotal heavyweight contest between the surging Ben Rothwell and former champion Junior dos Santos. Having been dismissed as somewhat of a journeyman, Rothwell finds himself on the brink of title contention following an impressive four fight win streak over Brandon Vera, Alistair Overeem, Matt Mitrione and Josh Barnett, with all of these victories coming by way of stoppage. Conversely, JDS is coming off the poorest performance of his career, a second round TKO loss to Alistair Overeem In which he looked a shadow of the man who once reigned over the division.
I feel that the best way to describe Rothwell’s striking is awkward, but effective. He isn’t especially quick, even by heavyweight standards, nor is he known for being especially defensively sound. On the other hand, he hits hard and has excellent durability. He likes to stalk his opponent, constantly switching stances and angles while looking for the knockout blow.
At his peak, dos Santos was a phenomenal range boxer with great speed and stamina. However, following two emphatic five round beatings by Cain Velasquez he no longer appears to be the same fighter. In 2016, dos Santos appears to be significantly slower and more hittable, with the consequence that his combination punching game is more tentative.
Rothwell is a very competent defensive wrestler, albeit I doubt he’ll have to display much of it in this fight (or indeed in the future, seeing as the last two people who tried to take him down ended up being tapped out immediately by his novel “gogo choke” submission). Offensively, he hasn’t scored a takedown in his last six outings, albeit he’s content to clinch with his foes against the cage in order to land strikes on the break.
Historically JDS has been a tough man to take down, and perhaps more importantly to prevent from getting back up. No one aside from Cain Velasquez has had any success grappling against dos Santos, including current number one contender Stipe Miocic who went one for eighteen on takedowns against him a little over a year ago. Offensively, dos Santos has been known to go for the occasional takedown to secure a round, albeit with the threat of Rothwell’s chokes to do so here would be folly.
While JDS is almost certainly on the decline, I can’t shake the feeling that Rothwell’s recent resurgence was more a consequence of unlikely events rather than him becoming truly elite. I still believe that JDS is the better boxer, and almost certainly will still be quicker and have better cardio. I don’t think that either fighter will have success with grappling; Rothwell because he won’t be able to get JDS down, JDS because he’s not stupid enough to risk the gogo choke. I think the fight will start out tentatively, but in the end it’ll be JDS who gets into something of a rhythm as Rothwell starts to fade. The pick is JDS by third round TKO.
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