+120 Mehdi Baghdad (11-4) vs. – 140 John Makdessi (13-5)
Mehdi Baghdad: French fighter Mehdi Baghdad is a former muay thai champion and fights out of team Blackhouse L.A. “The Sultan” got his start on TUF 22 winning his firt fight by decision, then loosing his second to the same. At 6’1” tall, Baghdad usually enjoys a height and reach advantage over his opponents and uses it well.
Baghdad has finished his opponents in all eleven of his victories, eight by (T)KO and three by choke, and has only seen one fight go the distance. Using his significant height advantage and striking background, “the Sultan” will look to land a shot to put his opponents on queer street and follow it up more of the same.
John Makdessi: Training in martial arts since the age of 6, this Canadian is no stranger to fights. Holding black belts in both tae kwon do and shotokan karate, “the Bull” went undefeated in 22 kickboxing matches before turning his eyes to the cage. Now training out of legendary Tristar gym, Makdessi has faced some stiff competition, including losing a short notice match against light/welterweight contender Donald Cerrone by broken jaw induced TKO.
Makdessi is a smooth striker who uses his speed and coutering ability effectively, winning nine of his thirteen victories by KO or TKO. Having lost three of his last four fights, “the Bull” is looking to show that he still belongs in the big show.
The Fight: While neither of these fighters is a stranger to grappling, I doubt we will see much on display here. Both will be looking for the kill and both are well trained and prepared to deliver it. The deciding factors will be Baghdad’s five inch advantage and Makdessi’s more passive style. Both will be clean and effective, but the judges will score it for “the Sultan” due to his aggression and outside striking. Baghdad UD
+110 Alberto Mina (12-0) vs. -130 Mike Pyle (27-11-1)
Alberto Mina: 12-0 in mixed martial arts, Brazilian born Alberto Mina’s career has spanned the globe and has been spread out for over a decade. “Soldier of God” has his victories almost evenly split between submissions and strikes, and has only seen one fight go to the judges. Punches, knees, armbars, chokes, this man has a truly wide skillset and even boasts finishing Michel Ribeiro by “retirement”.
Mike Pyle: A true veteran of MMA, Mike Pyle started training at his home, like so many did, after seeing Royce Gracie win at UFC 1. Since his first fight, pitting him against future Pride and UFC title contender Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, “Quicksand” has fought an astonishing array of fighters in most of mma’s major promotions, with the exception of Pride. Pyle actually has more fights than anyone else on the card.
While primarily a grappler, over half of his victories are by way of submission, Pyle is not afraid to throw leather and has a particularly effective clinch game and has won five of his last six victories by way of (T)KO.
The Fight: Looking at Mike Pyle’s record, many of his losses come in the first round. He is a notoriously slow starter and that will be Mina’s window to shine. Look for an early onslaught by the Brazilian looking to capitalize on this opportunity. However, Pyle will weather that storm and turn the tide as the fight progresses. We saw Mina slow considerably and barely squeak out a decision over a majorly gassed Sexyama, and Mike Pyle will not give him that same luxury, and will break Mina late in the fight. Pyle TKO 3rd
+260 Mitch Clarke (11-3) vs. -380 Joseph Duffy (14-2)
Mitch Clarke: The two best things to ever come out of the ridiculously named city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan were me, on my way to Alaska, and upstart grappler Mitch Clarke. “Danger Zone” chewed up the Alberta mma scene amassing a record of 9-0 before being picked up by the UFC, and has seen mixed results sense. Soundly defeating the always dangerous Al Iaquinta with a D’arce choke, then being soundly defeated by “Equally Dangerous” Mike Chiesa (hopefully he reads this and adopts that nickname… Mike, you owe me that after the awkward hug we shared backstage at Fight for the Troops 3.)
Joseph Duffy: “Irish” Joe Duffy has been working diligently to make himself known in the lightweight division, and it is working. One of the few people who can claim a victory over the Kanye West of mma, Conor McGregor, Duffy carved a swath through Europe with only one loss before being welcomed to the UFC (not including a short run on TUF 12 which saw him defeated in his first bout).
Duffy most recently dropped a decision to Dustin Poirier in a back and forth fight that highlighted both his toughness, and his ability to deliver punishment. His speed and unorthodox stance allow Duffy to effectively land power shots from odd angles while keeping himself relatively free from damage.
The Fight: On paper this might come off as a classic striker vs. grappler match, but that certainly isn’t the case. Duffy’s penchant for trading fists belies his prowess on the mat, having a black belt in Japanese Ju-Jitsu and a purple in BJJ from Tristar coach Firas Zahabi. All this isn’t to say that Clarke has no chance, as he is crafty and not a fighter to be slept on, but barring unforeseen circumstances, I see Duffy beating him up from the outside and taking the decision. Duffy UD
-175 Alan Jouban (13-4) vs +135 Belal Muhammad (9-0)
Alan Jouban: Black House and 10th Planet trained Alan Jouban is a force to be reckoned with. Most of the time. “Brahma” is a whirlwind of limbs trying to connect to his opponents, and has finished nine of his thirteen victories by way of strikes. Only five years into his professional career, Jouban has displayed incredible work ethic fighting three or four fights a year more often than not.
Belal Muhammad : Coming off the biggest win of his career, a fourth round stoppage of ATT standout Steve Carl, Chicago native Belal Muhammad is looking to continue his nine fight winning streak. Muhammad has been very successful in the smaller circuits and took this fight on only a few weeks notice promising that people will remember the name, but I am hoping that everyone (Belal included) forgets his nickname…
The Fight: Six of Muhammad’s nine wins have come via judges’ decision; he is a patient fighter, content to find his rhythm and his opponent’s weaknesses. This stands in stark contrast to Jouban’s go for broke mentality. Big show jitters and a lack of a solid training team will be Belal’s downfall and “Brahma” will overwhelm the UFC newcomer with strikes. Jouban TKO 1st
+136 Derrick Lewis (15-4) vs. -164 Roy Nelson (21-12)
Derrick Lewis: While we are on the subject of go for broke mentalities, Derrick Lewis is the heavyweight embodiment of it. All but one of Lewis’ wins have been KO’s or TKO’s, and that’s just how he likes it. Formerly a boxer training under George Foreman, “the Black Beast” switched to training full-time for mma after his first professional fight. To say that he swings with bad intentions would be an understatement and Lewis is on a warpath, looking to add another name to the list of his victims.
Roy Nelson: Roy Nelson has all the tools needed to conceivably beat any opponent in the division. Heavy hands? Fourteen wins by (T)KO. Tough chin? Only been KO’d by two elite heavyweight strikers, not including KO artists Alistair Overeem, Matt Mitrione, Crocop, Ben Rothwell, Junior dos Santos, and current champion Stipe Miocic. Grappling? Never been submitted in mma, even after fighting Frank Mir, Antonio Nogueira, Josh Barnett, and Fabricio Werdum. “Big Country” is a fan favorite for a reason, and not just that he gives fat slobs false confidence, the man aims to finish every fight, and usually delivers.
The Fight: In a night full of potential barn-burners, this one is a guarantee. Neither man has quit in him, and both are content to sling power shots until someone eats canvas. Lewis has a shocking seven inch reach advantage, but “Big Country” is no stranger to fighting goliaths. Expect Nelson to once again forget that he is an elite grappler, and choose instead to duke it out, caging “the Black Beast” in the first round with smarter striking. Nelson TKO 1st
+265 Eddie Alvarez (27-4) vs. -350 Rafael dos Anjos (25-7)
Eddie Alvarez: An import from the UFC’s main competitor, Bellator, Eddie Alvarez brings an impressive record to the table. 27-4 against some of the best lightweights in the world, Alvarez was the Bellator champ for a reason. Since coming to the UFC in 2014 however, he has had a significant decrease in performance. While still winning two of his three matches, both were close fights and split decisions, and was dominated by perennial contender “Cowboy” Cerrone.
Despite his slower start, Eddie Alvarez still has the skills to meet and beat anyone at lightweight. He has been boxing and wrestling since high school, and has the speed, technique, and power to dominate and finish fights, toppling the likes of Anthony Pettis, Roger Huerta, and Gilbert Melendez.
Rafael dos Anjos: The Brazilain native Rafael dos Anjos had a dominant run in his home country, going 11-2 before being recruited to the big show. He subsequently had a rough start to his career in the UFC, losing his first two fights then having intermittent victories until 2012. Finding victory against increasingly talented fighters since, he has decimated the division, loosing only to the powerful wrestling of Khabib Nurmagomedov, and utterly dominating Donald Cerrone, Anthony Pettis, Nate Diaz, and giving former champion Benson Henderson his only loss due to strikes.
RDA is a highly accomplished grappler, having won several national and international grappling tournaments, and holding a third degree black belt in BJJ. Add to that his penchant for aggressive striking thrown at high volumes, and unparalleled conditioning. This recipe spells “champion” and he is looking to add another big name notch to his strap.
The Fight: Both fighters have similar styles and will probably have similar game-plans. Eddie Alvarez is good at everything he does in the cage, but against RDA, good won’t make the grade. We haven’t seen Alvarez finish a fighter we have heard of since his 2012 redemption against super-grappler Shinya Aoki, and fighters who have given him trouble recently are much the same that dos Anjos has soundly defeated. In the end, RDA will be a little more quick and crisp on his feet, a little more smooth and controlling on the ground, and will push the pace and control the octagon for all five rounds. RDA UD