Court Mcgee (18-4) vs Santiago Ponzinibbio (22-3)
Court Mcgee: Court Mcgee is the definition of blue collar fighter. Mcgee has risen from the clutches of drug addiction to become one of the best fighters at 170 pounds in the world. Under the tutelage of “The Pit’s” John Hacklemen, Mcgee has compiled a 6-3 record in the octagon to go along with his TUF 11 crown. Mcgee is not the flashest fighter on the roster, but he doesn’t have any glaring weakness’s and always seems to find a way to get the victory. A win in Tampa will get him one step closer to re entering the top 15 and big money match ups.
Santiago Ponzinibbio: “The Argentinian” as he was known on TUF Brazil 2, would have been a finalist on his season but broke his hand and was replace by “Patilino”. Following his stint on TUF he has scored some impressive victories over Sean Strickland and Andreas Stahl. Ponizinibbio prefers to stand and trade, with his kickboxing being his best weapon. His training with ATT will improve his all around skills, especially his take down defense which needs drastic improvement if he is going to compete with the divisions best.
The Fight: Ponzinibbio is going to have a hard time keeping Mcgee at a distance. Mcgee’s grinding wrestling, relentless pace and dirty boxing will keep him out of Ponzinibbio’s striking range and be enough to earn Court another victory. My Pick: Mcgee Unanimous Decision
Bethe Correia (9-1) vs Raquel Pennington (6-6)
Bethe Correia: Correia makes her long awaited return to the cage following her :34 loss to Ronda Rousey last August. Correia has been away fine tuning her skills with The Pitbull Brothers in Natal, Brazil in preparation for her comeback. Prior to the Rousey debacle Correia was considered one of the most feared strikers in women’s bantamweight division, winning in her first three bouts over with her high level striking. Correia will begin the arduous task of climbing back up the rankings for another shot at the women’s bantamweight title.
Raquel Pennington: “Rocky” is much better than her 6-6 record may lead one to believe. Her losses are to some of the sports elite, including a split decision to Holly Holm, Cat Zingano and Leslie Smith. Pennington was mainly a striker when she competed on the 18th season of TUF, but since the show she has displayed a much more versatile game choking out Ashley Evans-Smith and Jessica Andrade. Currently ranked #11, a win over #8 ranked Correia would assuredly secure Pennington a spot in the top 10 and a future marquee matchup.
The Fight: Expect a slug fest when these two get together, both women prefer standing and trading and neither would have much of an advantage if it goes to the floor. They only have three knockouts between them so it will most likely go to the cards. If Correia can shake off the ring rust from the long lay off she should have what it takes to pull out a close stand up battle. My Pick Correia Split Decision
Beneil Dariush (12-1) vs Michael Chiesa (13-2)
Beneil Dariush: #7 ranked lightweight Beneil Dariush has caught the attention of many since his UFC debut in 2014. 6-1 in that span he has used his elite grappling to easily handle his octagon foes. His one defeat came at the hands of TUF 13 runner up Ramsey Nijem who dropped him with a solid hook and pounded him out on the ground. Daruish trains at Kings MMA under the guidance of Muay Thai master Rafael Cordeiro, who is about the best in the game for improving stand up techniques. If Daruish can improve his striking to half as good as his grappling he may be competing for a belt with a few years.
Michael Chiesa: TUF: Live champ Michael Chiesa has been pretty dominate in his post-reality show fights. 6-2 since the show “Maverick” has displayed suffocating wrestling skills and uses his long frame to perfection when working for submissions. Not many will be able to stop the submission grappling of Chiesa, but his stand up will need to improve if he is going to make the leap to the next level of competition.
The Fight: When two elite grapplers get together in mma many times they cancel each others skills out and you get a sloppy kickboxing match. Chiesa has the better top game but runs the risk of getting caught by Daruish’s superior BJJ. If it does come down to a stand up fight Chiesa will be able to use his length and pressure to pick up the victory. My Pick: Chiesa Unanimous Decision
Cub Swanson (21-7) vs Hacran Dias (23-3-1)
Cub Swanson: “Killer” Cub has been inactive for almost a year now following back to back losses to Frankie Edgar and Max Holloway. Prior to these two defeats Cub was on a six fight win streak and appeared to be on the fast track to a title shot. However his track was derailed when he met Frankie Edgar in November of 2014. Edgar put a beating on Cub for five rounds that most fighters would not come back from. After the Holloway loss Cub needed to decide if he still wanted to compete. After a long break Cub is back and recommitted to becoming the best at 155.
Hacran Dias: Dias is very much the prototypical Nova Uniao fighter like his stablemates Jose Aldo, Renan Barrao and Eduardo Dantas. They are elite BJJ black belts who prefer to stand and trade. Dias has had issues with top tier wrestlers like Ricardo Lamas and Nick Lentz. If #10 featherweight, Dias can get by Swanson he matches up well with many of the other top ten guys at featherweight.
The Fight: This fight feels like a now or never situation for Cub, coming off back to back losses and on the wrong side of 30 means if it’s going to happen for Cub the time is now. That being said I hate this match up for Swanson, Dias has the BJJ prowess to submit Cub and the technical striking to out point him. However I still believe Cub will pull this one off with his unorthodox strikes and well timed take downs. My Pick: Swanson Unanimous Decision
Khabib Nurmegomedov (22-0) vs Darrell Horcher ( 12-1)
Khabib Nurmegomedov: Khabib can not catch a break, after dominating Rafael Dos Anjos (the reigning champ) in his last fight he has been forced to pull out of three separate fights, and know when he makes it to the ring healthy his opponent pulls out a week before the fight. Even a win against a debuting last minute replacement should be enough to earn Nurmagmedov a rematch with Dos Anjos this summer, maybe even as early as UFC 200.
Darrell Horcher: The debut of a 12-1 prospect with legit knockout power and worthy collegiate level wrestling usually will be met with a bit more anticipation. Horcher has shown he has the ability to put people away with one punch, unfortunately for Horcher those people didn’t wrestle bears in their free time. Hopefully the UFC brass will take care of Horcher and give him another opportunity against someone more on his level.
The Fight: Not since struggling barista Patrick Cummings dropped his apron to fight Daniel Cormier on a weeks notice has the mma world seen a bizarro fight like this. Horcher won’t even have a punchers chance against Khabib, barring a freak injury in the cage Khabib will be victorious. My Pick: Nurmagomedov TKO 1st
Rose Namajunas (5-2) vs Tecia Torres (7-0)
Rose Namajunas: “Thug” Rose has been ultra impressive since her runner up performance of TUF. In her first bout following the show she choked out fellow TUF cast member Angela Hill. Next she was tabbed to headline in a match up with the fast rising 21 year old Paige VanZant. VanZant had just signed an individual contract with Reebok and it appeared to be headed for superstardom. Much to Dana and companies chagrin Namajunas put an absolute beating on VanZant, stealing much of the hype that Paige had amassed. If Namajunas can pull off this now co-main event fight on FOX chances are a title shot with the winner of Jedrzejczyk vs Gahdela is in her near future.
Tecia Torres: Torres didn’t quite perform as expected on TUF, going in the number 3 overall seed Torres was pegged as one to watch early. “The Tiny Tornado” lost her first fight to Randa Markos, a fight she was highly favored in. But Torres received a shot at redemption when Justine Kish was forced to with draw do to a knee injury. Torres made the most of the opportunity beating Aussie Bec Rawlings by decision. She advanced on to meet Carla Esparza who ended up beating her by Majority decision. After the 1-2 performance on TUF Torres picked up right where she left off in her pro career going 3-0 in her first three UFC bouts. #4 Torres also stands a good chance at getting a title shot if she can repeat her 2014 success over Namajunas.
The Fight: Following their 2014 match up in Invicta, guest commentator King Mo stated “man, I wish this fight took place a year and a half from now” well it’s been a year and eight months but King Mo will get his wish. Torres won a very close back and forth decision that could have gone either way. Both fighters have improved greatly since their first bout but Namajunas appears to operating on another level recently. She will avoid unorthodox striking of Torres and control this one on the mat with superior positioning and ruthless ground and pound. My Pick: Namajunas Unanimous Decision
Glover Texieira (24-4) vs Rashad Evans (24-4-1)
Light Heavyweight (205)
Glover Teixeira: Glover was “the guy” that all hardcore fans knew would murder in the big show. A badass Brazilian who trains with Chuck Liddel and has a win over the legendary African, lion-fighting warrior Sokoudju is a can’t miss. Even though Sokoudju’s path didn’t exactly remain legendary, Glover performed as advertised, wining his first five UFC bouts, finishing all of them accept a decision over Rampage. He earned a title shot in his sixth match where he lost a very hard fought decision to Jon Jones. Glover faltered again in his rebound fight to Phill Davis who used his D-1 wrestling to neutralize Teixeria. Texieria bounced back nicely with stoppages over OSP and Patrick Cummings. Still one of the most dangerous men alive, Glover has the power to put any man to sleep regardless of weight class.
Rashad Evans: Many have written “Suga” Ray-shad off after his decision losses to big Nog and Ryan Bader. Do not count me in that many, the leader of the Boca based Blackzilians has played it a bit safe in some of his recent outings but still has the skill to beat everyone in the light heavyweight division. The Nog and Bader losses could have gone either way, and if he would have been awarded those close fights he would almost certainly be the one welcoming Jon Jones back for the interim title in April. However at 36, time is Rashad’s enemy and he will certainly need this win if he plans on wearing the belt again.
The Fight: This will be the classic slick vs power match up, you could almost call it a striker vs grappler but they are both are so well rounded that there won’t be a significant advantage in either aspect. This is a very tough fight to call, Rashad is coming in as the slight under dog but this is most likely based on his recent decision losses. Glover will be a constant threat to instantly end Rashad’s night, and Rashad has been susceptible to the knockout (see Lyoto fight) but Rashad is going to be too quick, too elusive and too smart on this night, he will use his high fight IQ and speed to vanquish the ogre that is Glover Teixira. My Pick: Evans Unanimous Decision