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Fight Booth Pick 6: UFC Fight Night 53 and 54 edition



With two UFC cards taking place tomorrow it’s time for to sit down and pick winners for the six fights that intrigue me, as a fan, the most below. I’ll also give you my quick picks for the remaining fights.

ufc-stockholmUFC Stockholm (Fight Night 53)

Cathal Pendred vs. Gasan Umalatov

If you said that Pendred had a bit of a slow start in his UFC debut this past summer then you’d be making the understatement of the year. The former Cage Warriors welterweight champion was blasted by fellow TUF 19 competitor Mike King in the first round of their contest at UFC Fight Night 46 in Dublin, Ireland. King would completely dominate Pendred en route to an easy 10-8 round on the strength of a knockdown that he would follow with some unforgiving ground and pound. However, Pendred would survive everything King threw at him, and in the second round he’d pull of a miracle RNC comeback that would send his hometown into a frenzy. Although it’s a fight that fans will be talking about for ages, we hope for a better start from Pendred this time around.

Umalatov entered the UFC as a highly touted Russian prospect and has looked very average thus far during his time with the company. A loss to Neil Magny in his promotional debut and a victory over Paulo Thiago (both of the unanimous decision variety) in his most recent outing, puts Umalatov in a spot to string together a couple of wins and work his way up to a Fight Night main card in the future.

One of the main reasons I believe Pendred got off to such a slow start against King was he wasn’t really fighting in his natural weight class. For this fight he moves back down to welterweight, and I believe we will see him looking a lot more comfortable in the opening frame. You could also factor in that his opponent used an anabolic steroid heading into their fight, but who really knows when it comes to these things. That could have also factored into King gassing in the second and Pendred securing the choke for the victory. What is important is that Pendred not only got a $50K fight of the night bonus of his own – he also was given King’s due to the positive drug test. Pendred would donate a portion of that bonus to a local children’s hospital in Dublin. Who says that the good guys never win?

I like Pendred to continue the momentum he’s built up so far at this point in his career. Look for him to mix it up early with some feints, soften up the body of his opponent and take Umalatov into the deep waters with a gritty performance that involves a lot of takedowns and cage work. Pendred takes this one via a 30-27 UD. 

Dennis Siver vs. Charles Rosa

This marks Siver’s first fight after serving a nine-month suspension for testing positive for hCG. Instead of remaining relevant after defeating Manny Gamburyan at UFC 168 to close out 2013, he would of course have that win overturned and is now put in a position where he has to fight his way back up the ranks. The first stepping stone back for him will come in the form of CES veteran, and late replacement – Charles Rosa.

Rosa goes from being a huge favorite fighting for the New England based promotion to a bit of an underdog at +200 in his UFC debut. It’ll be an interesting clash of styles here; Siver’s a powerful kickboxer whose arsenal includes a lot of spinning attacks while Rosa is more of a karate stylist who appears to be able to do more than hang when the fight hits the ground. I’m going with the underdog here. I like Rosa to make a statement in his debut with a TKO finish worthy of a bonus check.

Gunnar Nelson vs. Rick Story

SBGi’s Gunnar Nelson may not be getting as much press as his teammate Conor McGregor, but his game is just as complete. When it comes to Nelson and McGregor you have two monster talents coming out of the same gym with completely different personalities. They complement one another perfectly and would make for a very interesting pro wrestling tag team.

One of the many great things about these Fight Night cards on Fight Pass (along with the great pacing) is that we get to see a fighter like Nelson in a five-round main event spot for the UFC. Talk all you want about oversaturation of the product, if you look at the bigger picture it really all starts to make sense. Besides the whole idea of making a statement and taking your company global, you also help turn budding stars into superstars (i.e. McGregor) by creating memorable moments in towns and countries where we don’t often see the UFC and now hopefully will on a regular basis. Nelson will be one of these stars and this five-round fight against Story in Sweden will help prepare him for an eventual title shot that will come in time. Baby steps my friends. Baby steps.

While Story will always be a dangerous fighter on any given night, this is more of a litmus test for Nelson. The cool, calm and calculated killer (I like to call him the Hannibal Lector of MMA) will feel out Story and eventually pounce when the smell of blood becomes too much for him to resist. If you’re a Nelson fan, get ready to celebrate Halloween a bit early. Expect another brilliant performance from the Icelandic sensation that will involve a little bit of everything, and end with Story either tapping or napping. Oh, “The Horror”.

Main Card (UFC Fight Pass – 3 p.m. ET)

• Welterweight Main Event: Gunnar Nelson > Rick Story (previewed above)
• Featherweight Bout: Akira Corassani < Max Holloway
• Light Heavyweight Bout: Ilir Latifi > Jan Blachowicz
• Featherweight Bout: Niklas Backstrom > Mike Wilkinson

Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass – 12:10 p.m. ET)

• Middleweight Bout: Magnus Cedenblad < Scott Askham 
• Welterweight Bout: Nico Musoke  > Alexander Yakovlev
• Featherweight Bout: Dennis Siver < Charles Rosa (previewed above)
• Welterweight Bout: Cathal Pendred > Gasan Umalatov (previewed above)
• Middleweight Bout: Tor Troeng  > Krzysztof Jotko
• Lightweight Bout: Maribek Taisumov  > Marcin Bandel
• Featherweight Bout: Zubaira Tukhugov  > Ernest Chavez

macdonald-saffie-halifaxUFC Halifax (Fight Night 54)

• Daron Cruickshank vs. Anthony Njokuani

It’s a real shame that this fight is being broadcast on FOX Sports 2 here in the states. What that means is basically no one is going to see it. However, if this fight turns out to be half as good as it looks on paper, you’ll likely see it replayed during the main card on FS1 if there is any down time.

The first thing I always think of when I see Njokuani’s name is that insane running away head kick KO he scored on Chris Horodecki back at WEC 45. That fight was on the tail end of a string of three straight KO of the night victories for Njokuani as a WEC fighter. While there has been flashes of brilliance since, Njokuani seems to be outmatched and outclassed in the shark tank that is the UFC 155 lbs. division.

The flashy Cruickshank on the other hand finds himself in a very interesting spot. He won’t be fighting for his job like Njokuani. Instead, he’ll be fighting to stay on the cusp of a top 25 ranking and get another shot at a mid tier opponent like Jorge Masvidal again.

Njokuani is the type of fighter that ‘The Detroit Superstar’ can have some fun with. Look for him to keep his distance and unearth some dangerous spinning attacks. I’d like to see him try to preserve some of his energy and even mix in some grappling in preparation for the tougher opponents that will be waiting for him after Njokuani. That said, expect a TKO from Cruickshank on Saturday night that you’ll be replaying to your friends again, and again, and again.

Raphael Assuncao vs. Bryan Caraway

With Renan Barao out of the title picture for now, this was once thought to have been a bantamweight #1 contenders bout of sorts. Then the return of Dominick Cruz happened. Still, this co-main event has intrigue written all over it.

In one corner you have the perennial contender, Raphael Assuncao. Assuncao already holds a victory over our current champion, TJ Dillashaw, albeit a controversial one. He’ll be carrying a six fight win streak into the cage with him tomorrow night in Halifax on a six fight and if he wins this one he’s likely in for a shot at the winner of Dillashaw-Cruz if he’s into sitting around and waiting – which is never a good idea in the UFC.

In the other corner you have Bryan Caraway. After going 0-2 during a short stint with WEC, it appeared that the boyfriend of the former Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion would be forever dubbed Bryan ‘Tate’ by MMA pranksters on various social media outlets. I’ll be the first to admit that Caraway has become far and away a better fighter than I thought he’d ever be in the UFC. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even have him keeping his spot on the roster after about 2 or 3 fights.

‘Kid Lightning’ has put together a record of 4-1 on the big stage thus far, and it really should be 5-0. A lethal combination of blind judges and bad advice from his girlfriend corner (#JustCoast) led to a robbery in Saitama that saw Caraway come up short against Takeya Mizugaki. Caraway would recover nicely though by submitting Johnny Bedford and putting a temporary halt to the “Goyito” Perez hype train in just a few weeks time. This put Caraway in the bantamweight top 10 and earned him a shot against a title contender in Assuncao.

While both guys have never exactly set the world on fire with their striking, Caraway’s numbers percentage wise, like any wrestler, are a bit skewed since he uses so many feints to set up his takedowns. This fight all comes down to Assucncao’s takedown defense, which is well above average. Assuncao is far superior in the stand up game and should be able to connect on Caraway when he shoots. I’ll still take Caraway to score the big upset on this particular night. His stand up game has improved and I think he can eventually get Assuncao to the ground and eat up a lot of clock looking for submissions in a dominant position. It’s his time to make a little run here at 135.

• Rory MacDonald vs. Tarec Saffiedine

The 23rd and final UFC fight of the night is worthy of its main event status on FOX Sports 1. If it were any other fighter other than MacDonald fighting Saffiedine I’d say the big factor would be that the Canadian has never competed in the championship rounds. The problem for Saffiedine is that MacDonald, like his predecessor Georges St. Pierre, gets better as the fight goes on.

We’ve seen Saffiedine compete in two fights over the past two years and both fights went five rounds. The first was an absolute dismantling of Nate Marquardt (and his left thigh) to make him the final Strikeforce welterweight champion and bout winner in history. The second would be a headlining contest in Singapore earlier this year against Hyun Gyu Lim (which if you haven’t watch yet, check it out on Fight Pass when you get a second – you will not be sorry). His last loss came against a fighter in Tyron Woodley who MacDonald beat in his last outing via UD; Saffiedine was a much different fighter back then though.

This fight could be the dog fight that MacDonald needs to get himself over with the fans and doubters alike. This is the fight he needs to win to earn himself that title shot that has been alluding him, a title shot he hasn’t been ready for, a title shot that he will be ready for if he can overcome the unrelenting monster that Tarec Saffiedine has become.

This is a fight that is as fun as it is difficult to pick. I’ll go with MacDonald to make a statement here in a fight that goes into deep waters with him coming out with his face swollen and hand raised.

Main Card (FOX Sports 1 – 10 p.m. ET)

• Welterweight Main Event: Rory MacDonald > Tarec Saffiedine (previewed above)
• Bantamweight Bout: Raphael Assuncao > Bryan Caraway
• Lightweight Bout: Chad Laprise > Yosdenis Cedeno
• Middleweight Bout: Elias Theodorou < Bruno Santos
• Welterweight Bout: Nordine Taleb > Li Jingliang
• Bantamweight Bout: Mitch Gagnon > Roman Salazar

Preliminary Card (FS2 – 8 p.m. ET)

• Lightweight Bout: Daron Cruickshank > Anthony Njokuani (previewed above)
• Lightweight Bout: Olivier Aubin-Mercer > Jake Lindsey
• Lightweight Bout: Jason Saggo <  Paul Felder
• Flyweight Bout: Patrick Holohan > Chris Kelades

Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass – 7 p.m. ET)

• Welterweight Bout: Albert Tumenov  > Matt Dwyer
• Bantamweight Bout: Pedro Munhoz > Jerrod Sanders

cover image credit – Getty

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