The Ultimate Fighting Championship hits the big screen on Fox for a 13th time with a stacked card of hard-hitting heavyweights and exciting match-ups. At the headline, Junior dos Santos fights to solidify his spot among the elite in the heavyweight division as he takes on rising star Stipe Miocic who has his mind focused on the upset. Also on the card is a high-stakes battle at 155 pounds as Rafael dos Anjos and Nate Diaz put their hard-fought win streaks on the line to produce another top contender in the stacked lightweight division. This all goes down tomorrow, Saturday night, when the UFC plants its feet in Pheonix, Arizona for the very first time. Here is what we can expect to see out of the main card!
Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Matt Mitrione
The main card starts off with an intriguing bout between two dangerous heavyweights in Brazil’s own Gabriel Gonzaga and Blackzilians perennial heavyweight Matt Mitrione. “Napao” has had some real highlights in his career, including his wins over Mirko Cro Cop, Ben Rothwell, and had two first-round KO finishes in 2013. With that said he is looking for his first win of the year as he fell to main-event contestant Stipe Miocic; Gabriel found himself out-boxed and out-classed en route to a decision loss. Mitrione on the other hand is 2-0 this year with first knockouts over Derrick Lewis and Shawn Jordan. It’s safe to say that both of these heavyweights pack the power to put each other out, but who will have their hand raised in the end?
Gonzaga is very much at the end of his career as he is one of the most experienced heavyweights on the roster, but this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Gonzaga’s chin and cardio issues are his biggest downsides to his overall fight game, and those are the things that aren’t known to get better the longer into your career you get. The problems Gonzaga faced against Miocic are going to be the same problems he faces against Mitrione. “The Meathead” has slick boxing skills, cuts great angles, moves well, and should be able to put Gonzaga away on the feet. The real threat Gonzaga poses is on the ground though. Mitrione’s loss to Schaub showcased his real lacking submission defense, so he needs to be careful when going to the ground with Gonzaga. Mitrione is the fresher fighter of the two, and I’d look for him to showcase improved ground awareness, and put Gonzaga away on the feet somewhere in the second round.
Alistair Overeem vs. Stefan Struve
“The Demolition Man” returns to the Octagon and try and back into his winning ways as he takes on Stefan Struve who has had problems simply getting to the Octagon in the first place. A heart condition and a last-second panic attack have kept Struve out of the Octagon, so it’ll be interesting to see how the -foot taller striker fares against the stockier, stronger striker in Overeem. Overeem has definitely been plagued with a bad-luck streak as his chin has given out on him on several of his last fights, even fights that he was dominating. The real question of this fight isn’t whether or not Overeem can KO Struve, but it’s if he can do so before the “Skyscraper” gives him the same treatment.
The place to be if you’re Overeem is in the clinch; from there, he doesn’t have to worry about the long and snappy punches and kicks of Struve. Overeem is known for his vicious knees to the body, and because Struve’s torso is going to be a much larger and more hittable target than his head, look for Overeem to guide most of his attacks to the breadbasket. Struve on the other hand needs to avoid being bullied in the clinch. At range, Struve needs to keep a steady stream of front kicks jabs towards Overeem’s chin, because even the smallest shot from Struve can put him out cold. Look for Overeem to use his quicker movement to get inside the reach of Struve, and from there things could get very interesting.
Besides being an accomplished kickboxer, Struve is also very well known for his submission skills. If he finds himself being locked up Overeem, expect Struve to look for the trip or even pull guard. That way Struve’s reach becomes a factor again.
In the end, Overeem has the edge in physical power, strength, and has the more diverse skill set, but he’s going to be battling the reach of Struve that gives Stefan the edge on the feet, and on the ground. The clinch is where Overeem is going to want to be, and because he is known as being one of the deadliest clinch fighters in the heavyweight division, look for him to get the fight there, keep it there, and end it there. Knees to the body is the likely pick for Overeem.
Rafael dos Anjos vs. Nate Diaz
In what should be a lightweight scrap full of fireworks, the always-entertaining Nate Diaz returns to the Octagon in an anticipated match-up with the red-hot Rafael dos Anjos who is coming off the biggest win of his career. Both men in fact look to be in the primes of their fighting careers as Nate Diaz also coming off of one of his biggest wins even though it was a year ago.
Stylistically, this match-up heavily favors dos Anjos. He is going to be the bigger, stronger man but is also going to be more explosive, and has a set of skills that is ever-improving. On the ground, dos Anjos is known to be a finisher, but it’s his stand up that is what I think will really be key. Dos Anjos kicks like a mule, as he showed against Benson Henderson, and his hands are about as technical as they can get, as he showed against Donald Cerrone. Both Diaz and dos Anjos are long and like to fight at their range, so Nate Diaz isn’t going to have that length advantage that he usually relies on when he’s striking.
Even though we all know to never count Nate Diaz out, this fight is just a stylistic nightmare for him. Diaz’s main strength, his boxing, isn’t going to be able to make that big of an appearance because of how good Rafael is on the feet. Expect lots of kicks from dos Anjos to try and take away the mobility, and look for sharp counters from dos Anjos to set up inevitable takedowns and top control. I see this being a one-decided fight, ending in a decision win for dos Anjos.
Junior dos Santos vs. Stipe Miocic
At the top of the card is a heavyweight showdown between two guys gunning for their respective title shots. Dos Santos wants to get back into the title picture after losing his rubber match with Cain Velasquez, but before doing that he has to prove himself against some contenders. Stipe is that contender, and he’s a guy who is finally coming into his own as a heavyweight contender. Both fighters present some of the best boxing skills in the heavyweight division, so I’m definitely expecting this fight to take place on the feet and be a real war.
Stipe also has a pretty strong wrestling background. We saw Junior struggle against the wrestling skills of Cain Velasquez, but to say Miocic is on the same level as Velasquez is absurd. Stipe’s wrestling could definitely be a plan-B if things go wrong on the feet, but I don’t think we’re going to see Stipe dominate dos Santos in that department like we’ve seen him be before. On the feet, Junior packs one-punch KO power, and has a much more diverse skill set with his newly added kicking game. Stipe on the other hand prefers tight combinations, good movement, and even though he doesn’t have the power that JDS does, he does have accuracy and the ability to throw really good combinations. Against a guy in Junior who likes to leave his head exposed a little, Stipe’s punches in bunches could have a traumatic effect.
In the end, it’s hard to bet against Junior. He has only lost to Cain Velasquez recently and it’s hard to picture him losing to anybody else, but Stipe is the right guy for the job. Expect Miocic to put his well-placed punches on dos Santos and make this a competitive fight. I see dos Santos getting the TKO finish in the third round as his power eventually finds a home, but look for Miocic to make it a bumpy ride as he mixes in tight combinations and even threatens with his wrestling game.