T.J. Dillashaw will put his belt on the line for the third time Saturday night in Boston’s TD Garden. He will be facing Dominck Cruz in what for all intents and purposes is a champion vs champion matchup. Cruz ruled the Bantamweight division upon it’s inception, but suffered multiple injury setbacks including two blown ACL’s in the last five years forcing him to vacate his belt in 2014. This fight is without a doubt the most anticipated in the very short history of the bantamweight division.
Saturday night’s card will also feature the return of former Lightweight Champ Anthony Pettis, who has been on the sidelines since he lost his belt to Rafael Dos Anjos last March Pettis will be welcomed back by former Bellator Champ Eddie Alvarez who is coming offbig split decision win over Gilbert Melendez.
UFC’s Boston Fight Night is one of the better non-PPV cards ever assembled. We will breakdown some of the highlights of the prelims and the main card, starting with the Fight Pass prelims at 6 pm ET, followed by the undercard and main card airing on Fox Sports 1 at 8 PM ET.
Fight Pass Prelims
Sean O’Connell (16-6)vs Ilir Latifi (10-4)
Sean O’Connell – Jeremy Horn protege Sean O’Connell is coming off back-to-back wins over TUF 19 alum Matt Van Buren and Aussie vet Anthony Perish, bringing his UFC record to 2-2. O’Connell is looking to break into the top fifteen with a win over his toughest opponent to date.
Ilir Latifi – Albanian born Swede Latifi is a dominating wrestler who throws all of his strikes with with cruel intentions. Latifi has had moderate success in the octagon with a 3-2 record. “The Sledgehammer” has the talent to put together a run in the Light Heavyweight division if he can get by O’Connell this Saturday night.
The Fight – O’Connell has shown solid striking and the willingness to stand and trade. Latifi has succumb to strikes in the past, suffering a body kick loss to Jan Blachowicz in 2014. O’Connell does not possess the power to stop Latifi on the feet and Latifi doesn’t possess the technique to stop O’Connell. Latifi’s wrestling will be the difference maker in this one as he grinds out a unanimous decision.
My pick Latifi Unanimous decision
Paul Felder (10-2) vs Daron Cruickshank (16-7-1 NC)
Paul Felder – “The Irish Dragon” has shown some flawless Muay Thai technique and brain rattling power early in his career. He looked very impressive in his first two bouts, including a legendary spinning back-fist KO of Danny Castillo. Following the Castillo win, Felder was “thrown to the wolves” when the UFC matched him up with Edson Barboza, the zenith of Muay Thai in MMA. Felder was outgunned by Barboza and dropped a hard fought decision. Next, he was on the wrong side of a razor close split decision with Ross “The Real Deal” Pearson. This fight is an excellent opportunity for Felder to showcase his world class striking, with a man who will not be afraid to stand and spin with him.
Daron Cruickshank – “The Detroit Superstar” has also had his share of highlight reel knockouts in the UFC, including a crowd pleasing wheel kick that turned Mike Rio’s lights out. But more recently he has struggled with the ground game dropping two straight to Beneil Daruish and James Krause both by way of rear-naked choke. Cruickshank has performed his best when he has an opponent that is willing to keep the fight standing, proven in his wins over proficient strikers Anthony Njokuani and Erk Koch. Making this match-up against Felder will be right in his wheel house.
The Fight – There is a good reason this is the Fight Pass bait bout. These two have extensive backgrounds in Tae kwon do and are going to put on a show of high level massively entertaining striking. The difference here is going to be Felder’s Muay Thay and technique. Cruickshank is not going to surprise Felder with any of his kicks and does not have the tight defense that Felder possesses. Felder catches him early with something hard in the jaw.
My Pick Felder 1st round KO
Ben Saunders (19-6-2) vs Patrick Cote (23-9)
Ben Saunders – This UFC stint for Saunders has been very impressive. Since returning, “Killa B” has won three straight, including a submission of the year omoplata over Chris Heatherly in 2014. Now is the time for Saunders to breakout and make a run at the Welterweight title. At 32 years of age, Saunders is in a point in his life when many fighters peak mentally and physically. With physical gifts matched by few at Welterweight, the 6’3″ Saunders makes great use of his length on the feet as well as on the ground. A win over a former two-time title contender like Cote is the perfect launching pad for a crucial 2016 for Saunders.
Patrick Cote – Hard scrapping French Canadian Patrick Cote has shown up strong for every one of his eighteen UFC appearances. Although he is currently 9-9, many of his losses have come to UFC elite like Anderson Silva and “Filthy” Tom Lawlor. He also holds the distinction of never being knocked out in his 31 professional fights. Cote will need to show he can win the big fights if he wants a third chance at UFC gold. An impressive finish of Saunders could potentially put Cote back in the top ten of the Welterweight division.
The Fight – Saunders’ 77 inch reach will give him a clear advantage from a distance and his above average Thai clinch should help him when in close. It is the in between where this fight will be won or lost for Cote. Cote has the one punch power to turn Saunders’ lights out if he connects and Saunders has been finished with strikes by Mike Swick and twice to Douglas Lima. However, this incarnation of Saunders is a smarter, more mature fighter who will have one too many weapons for Cote to handle. I do not think he will be the first man to KO Cote, but I do see him winning a hard-fought decision.
My pick Saunders Unanimous Decision.
Ross Pearson (20-9) vs Fransisco Trinaldo (18-4)
Ross Pearson – Ross has had interment success in the octagon since his TUF 9 victory in 2009. Accruing a 10-6 record since the show, Ross has dropped a few controversial decisions to Diego Sanchez and Evan Dunham to go along with big wins over Paul Felder and a TKO stoppage of Gray Maynard. This fight with “Massaranduba”will shed some light on Pearson’s future career path. A win here will be the main card showcase on a free event that could put him right back into contention at Lightweight. On the other hand, a loss will most likely send Ross to the undercards in a gate keeper type roll for the remainder of his career.
Fransisco Trinaldo – “Massaranduba” will look to add another TUF champion to his list of victims coming off huge wins of TUF “Nations” champ Chad Laprise and TUF “The Samshes” winner “Stormin” Norman Parke. At 37 years of age, Trinaldo is only nine years old in the sport and continues to grow as a fighter. Despite his lack of battle damage, Trinaldo is closing in on forty and does not have the luxury of losing many fights. A victory over Pearson would affirm Trinaldo’s legitimacy as a contender in the Lightweight division.
The Fight – Pearson is going to have his hands full in this one. Trinaldo’s south paw style has shown to be difficult to combat for orthodox strikers. If Ross wins this one, it will most likely be a lackluster decision, however I do not foresee that happening. I am picking the +135 dog “Massarnaduba” to catch Ross midway through the second round.
My Pick Massarnduba 2nd round TKO.
Travis Browne (17-3) vs Matt Mitrione ( 9-4)
Travis Browne – Mr. Ronda Rousey is coming off of a fight of the year candidate loss to Andrei Arlovski. Dropping his last two of three Browne is in dire need of a win. It wasn’t that long ago “Happa” was only one fight away from fighting for the belt. Browne has the chance to jump right back into the title conversation with a win over Mitrione in desperately shallow Heavyweight division.
Matt Mitrione – Mitrione is one of the few fighters to have all of his professional fights take place underneath the UFC banner. At 9-4 in his UFC career Mitrione has shown an all or nothing mentality only going the distance in two of his 13 fights. This fight will be the last on Mitrione’s current contract, his decision to not re-sign is a huge gamble, if he wins he will have tons of bargaining power to bring to the negotiation table, however if he loses this fight the promotion might think twice before offering a lengthy contract to the 37 year old Mitrione.
The Fight – This fight will not be decided by the judges. In 33 pro fights Between these two behemoths only 5 have gone the distance. Mitrione moves incredibly well for a Heavyweight, but has not displayed the high level proficiency on the feet that we have seen from Browne. Mitrione’s biggest win to date is a TKO of former title contender Gabriel Gonzaga in 1:59 of the first round. Browne KO’ed Gonzaga in 1:11 of the first round, and also holds wins over top ten Heavyweights Josh Barnett and Alistair Overeem. Bombs will be thrown and when the smoke clears Browne will be the one left standing with his hand raised.
My Pick Browne 1st round KO
Anthony Pettis (18-3) vs Eddie Alvarez (26-4)
Anthony Pettis – This will be “Showtime’s” first fight since losing his belt to Rafael Dos Anjos in March of last year. The “RoufusSport” fighter is still one or two fights away from getting his belt back. If he can get by Alvarez, a number one contender fight with Nurmegamedov/Ferguson would make sense to meet the winner of Dos Anjos and McGregor super fight. However looking past Alvarez would be a could be a very dangerous mistake.
Eddie Alvarez – Alvarez’s resume outside of the UFC is about as good as it gets, collecting wins in Bodog and Dream before going 10-2 in Bellator while holding the belt for most of his time in the promotion. Which is why Alvarez’s most recent win over Gilbert Melendez was enough to break him into the Lightweight top 5. A win over #1 ranked Pettis should put Alvarez in line for a shot at the belt
The Fight – Stylistically these two are very similar, however Alvarez is a little more straight foreword with his offense, more of a kickboxer. Pettis relies heavily on his Tae Kwon Do background, striking from unorthodox angles. Pettis’ Elusiveness will be the difference maker in this one. Pettis doesn’t get hit much in his bouts and has never been finished. Alvarez’s circa 2010 might have been able to outpoint Pettis, but at this stage of his career he has little more than a puncher’s chance in this fight.
My Pick Pettis Unanimous Decision
T.J. Dillashaw (12-2) vs Dominick Cruz (20-1)
Dominick Cruz – Cruz has been in the octagon 61 seconds in the past four years, even though those 61 seconds were a masterpiece of a beat down on Japanese star Takeya Mizugaki, we don’t know what Cruz will show up Saturday night. If the San Diego native can return to the cage at full strength there are not many people who can handle his pace or riddum. Cruz has won 11 straight, and has not lost since a 2007 guillotine choke by Uraijah Faber forced him to tap in his first WEC fight, a fight that he would go on to avenge in 2011. Cruz can cement his legacy as the greatest Bantamweight of all time with a win over Dillashaw and at only 30 years of age he should have many more fights to build upon his G.O.A.T legacy.
T.J. Dillashaw – Dillashaw has elevated his game to new levels under striking coach Duane ” Bang” Ludwig. Formerly a wrestling focused fighter in the style of many other Team Alpha Male athletes, Dillashaw seemed to embrace Bangs system the most of TAM. Under Bang Dillashaw has become one of the most creative, original and powerful strikers the UFC has ever seen. Coupled with his already top notch wrestling Dillashaw has transformed into quite the Superstar. A win over Cruz win mean true unification of his Bantamweight belt and possibly set up a meeting with his former sensei Urijah Faber.
The Fight – This is the fight we have been waiting for since seeing T.J. put a second beating on Barao in July of last year. These two both have outstanding head movement, constantly moving off the center line, taking no damage and landing at will. But it is their footwork that separates these two from the rest of the pack. The feints, slides, shuffles and seamless switches from Orthodox to southpaw that keep their opponents off balance and put them in prime position to land strikes. This fight will be a preview into what striking in MMA will look like 10 years from now. Cruz will win this with his superior mental game and ability to adjust as the fight goes on. He will be too quick and elusive for Dillashaw and end up frustrating T.J. into making mistakes.
My Pick Dominck Cruz By Unanimous Decision