-245 Jim Miller (25-8-0 1 NC) vs +210 Takanori Gomi (35-11-0 1 NC)
Jim Miller: Blue collar New Jersey native Jim Miller has tested himself against the best UFC lightweights in the world since 2008. 14-7 overall, Miller has run into a rut over the past couple of years dropping 4 of his last 5, he is in danger of being relinquished to a gate keeper position or possibly even cut from the roster all together.
From 09-11 Miller fought his way into the divisions top 10 stringing together 7 wins in a row. He has been competitive in all of his fights at lightweight but a cut down to featherweight might be a move that will bring him success in the close decisions.
Takanori Gomi: PRIDE Lightweight king Takanori Gomi’s skills have not translated into the same championship success in the states. Gomi is 4-6 in the UFC a far cry from his legendary PRIDE days.
Gomi is coming off of back to back first round knockout losses, he will need to put on a show in this fight to keep his spot in the lightweight division. “The Fireball Kid” still has devastating knockout power but has relied too much on one punch and has failed to evolve his game.
The Fight: My hearts’s with Gomi but my head knows Miller’s skill set is Gomi’s kryptonite. Miller has a granite chin and high level BJJ, he will eat some shots early to get in on Gomi and get him to the ground where he will get the submission in the first. Miller RNC 1st
-265 #8 Gegard Moussasi (38-6-2) vs +225 #15 Thiago Santos (13-3)
Gegard Moussasi: Dutch kick boxing and Judo champion Geghard Moussasi is a perennial contender that is proficient in every aspect of combat. The former DREAM light heavyweight champion holds impressive victories over superstars Jacare Souza, Mark Hunt and Dan Henderson.
Moussasi would be in the middleweight title talks if it wasn’t for a Uriah Hall spinning back kick. Moussasi bounced back nicely defeating Thales Leites in a one sided decision. 30 year old Moussasi is coming into his athletic prime and should get a top 5 opponent if he can get by dangerous striker Thiago Santos.
Thiago Santos: “Marreto”steps in for Derek Brunson who had to withdraw from this historic card due to vision problems. Santos’s surge in the ranking was kicked off (no pun intended) when he blasted Steve Bosse into another dimension with a crowd pleasing head kick that earned him knockout of the year from many media outlets.
Now on a four fight win streak including his two most recent wins of Elias Theodorou and Nate Marquardt, Santos placed himself in the middleweight top 15 and will leapfrog right into the top 10 if he can pull this upset off on short notice.
The Fight: Marreto’s power is always a constant danger but Moussasi has made a career out of beating elite strikers. Moussasi will strike enough to close the distance and land multiple take downs throughout, before securing an armbar. Moussasi Armbar 3rd
-107 Diego Sanchez (28-8) vs -113 Joe Lauzon (24-12)
Diego Sanchez: The original Ultimate Fighter has become one of the most beloved fighters by fans due to his willingness to attack opponents with zero regard for his personal health. Even though he hasn’t been ranked in nearly five years, if Diego is fighting, fans will be tuning in.
Fighting as high as middleweight and as low as featherweight, Diego has returned to lightweight the division he seems best suited for. Once a challenger for BJ Penn’s title, now 34 it is not likely Sanchez will make it back to the top of the sport, but we will all enjoy watching him try for at least a few more years.
Joe Lauzon: Lauzon is to nerds what Roy Nelson is to fat guys, an anomaly in their demographic that gives the rest of the group false hope. “J-Lau” burst on to the UFC stage back in 2006 when he knocked out uncrowned lightweight champ Jens Pulver, pulling off one of the bigger upsets of the time.
Ten years and a season of the Ultimate Fighter later, Lauzon has carved out a niche for himself in the UFC as a scrappy Jiu-Jitsu ace that won’t shy away from a slugfest. Lauzon is another fighter who may not have championship aspirations but will make a fine living fighting rising prospects.
The Fight: This is almost assuredly going to be a barn burner, both men have a fondness for standing in the middle of the ring and dishing out violence. Lauzon is the more technical striker, but Diego has the advantage of having a punishment threshold similar to the T-1000 terminator.
Lauzon will get the better of the stand up early but Diego will turn it up as the fight gets deeper. Diego will land key take downs and cause enough damage on the feet to take home a close one. Sanchez Split Decision
-315 Sage Northcutt (7-1) vs +265 Enrique Marin (9-3)
Sage Northcutt: The “Super” Sage rocket ship to super stardom was temporarily delayed by Bryan Barberena, who submitted Sage with a rarely seen Von Flue choke. Northcutt clearly has the support of the UFC brass who decided his flashy kicks and Zach Morris like good looks belonged on the biggest card ever.
Still quite a few months away from legally being able to buy alcohol (not that he would drink it) 20 year old Northcutt does have great athleticism and creative striking, but will need to drastically improve his abilities on the ground if he is to become the face of the company as many hope.
Enrique Marin: “Wasabi” is the first Spaniard to represent his country in the octagon. He earned his spot on the roster through a grueling stint on TUF Latin America 2. Wasabi fought his way into the finals of the show where he lost a razor thin split decision to Erick Montoya.
Wasabi is a submission specialist wining five of his eight victories via submission. Since leaving the show he has been training at KINGS MMA to help diversify his attack and tighten up his Muay Thai.
The Fight: This is not exactly a showcase fight for Sage but it is a match up that will favor his skill set. Marin’s wrestling and striking are average at best, his opportunities to get this fight to the ground will be limited.
Northcutt will out strike Wasabi and work diligently to keep this one on the feet en route to a unanimous decision. Northcutt Unanimous Decision
+385 #1 TJ Dillashaw (13-3) vs +325 # 3 Raphael Assuncao (23-4)
TJ Dillashaw: Former champ Dillashaw begins his quest to regain his belt from super villain Dominick Cruz. His first task will be avenging another one of his defeats at the hands of Raphael Assuncao.
Bang Ludwig’s prize pupil was thought to be the future of the bantamweight division, but the former champ Cruz emphatically proved he wasn’t ready to rule just yet. A win here should put TJ in position to fight for his title again in the near future.
Raphael Assuncao: Assuncao has the resume to deserve a title shot, a resume that includes a 7 fight unbeaten streak that dates back to 2011. However he has been plagued by a litany of injuries including a broken rib and broken ankle. He was briefly slated to fight Barrao for the title but was forced to pull out.
Assuncao doesn’t have the most crowd pleasing style, but it is a style that will cause problems for everyone in the top 3. A win should be enough to earn Assuncao his long awaited title shot despite his inactivity.
The Fight: This is for all intents and purposes a number one contender fight. The first time these two met it was a back and forth affair that featured bright spots for both fighters and could have gone either way.
Dillashaw said recently that he has completely changed as a fighter since their last meeting and he believes Assuncao has stayed the same. Though I don’t totally agree with him, he has made immense improvements to his striking and Assuncao appeared to be the same fighter in his last outing against Bryan Caraway.
Dillashaw will be able to use his lighting quick footwork to out strike Assuncao in a decision. But it’s just a shame this isn’t a five rounder. Dillashaw Unanimous Decision
-110 #6 Johnny Hendricks (17-4) vs -110 #12 Kelvin Gastelum (12-2)
Johnny Hendricks: Former welterweight champion Johnny Hendricks steps back into the cage Saturday night following his less than stellar performance against Wonderboy Thompson who dispatched of Hendricks in the first round of their fight.
This is a make or break fight for Hendricks, his demeanor in his last outing suggested his heart was not in fighting and he’s lost the hunger for greatness. I might be way off base with this assumption and Wonderboy may just be that good, but his failure to make weight for this bout is another indicator that Hendricks is heading towards an early retirement or move up to middleweight where he will be extremely undersized.
Kelvin Gastelum: 24 year old TUF champion Kelvin Gastelum has been the underdog in nearly every fight since his entrance fight into the TUF house, and time and time again Gastelum proves the experts wrong. What he doesn’t have in god give talent he makes up for with undeniable heart and fortitude.
Gastelum’s only defeats were split decisions to Tyron Woodley and Neil Magny, both top 10 standouts. Gastelum doesn’t stand out as excellent in any one particular skill, but is well above average in every skill. At 24 he has a ton of time to mature and fine tune his game. I would be very surprised if he hasn’t fought for the belt before his 30th birthday.
The Fight: This is a case of old lion meets hungry youngster, whatever Hendricks is missing, Gastelum has in spades.
Gastelum’s victory over Story shows he can deal with hard striking wrestlers, even though Hendricks is the more skilled fighter, Gastelum will will himself to victory. Gastelum will be the first to the punch while avoiding Hendricks haymakers and win an ugly striking battle. Gastelum Split Decision
-160 #3 Cat Zingano (9-1) vs +140 # 5 Juliana Pena (8-2)
Cat Zingano: Other than her :14 armbar loss to Ronda Rousey, Cat Zingano has been flawless in he career. In fact she holds victories over Meisha Tate and Amanda Nunes the two headliners competing for the belt. Unfortunately injury and personal tragedy have kept Zingano limited to only one fight a year for the past five years.
Zingano’s skill have never been in question, it’s her ability to stay healthy that has been the issue. If “Alpha Cat” can stay out of the trainers room expect to see her fighting for a title before the year is out.
Juliana Pena: The first ever TUF Women’s champion has come out of the gates on fire. 3-0 in the UFC “The Venezuelan Vixen” has quickly fought her way into the Women’s Bantamweight top 5.
Pena’s most recent win over Cleveland brawler Jessica Eye showcased her well rounded attack and proved she is ready to step up into the elite of the division.
The Fight: In another number one contender fight, we will witness a brutal war. Neither of these ladies are known to take a step backwards, which will make for a fan friendly throw down.
The UFC is moving Pena up the rankings too quickly, I know the division isn’t chock-full of legit contenders but Pena is being rushed into challenger status after only three wins in the octagon.
Zingano is better standing and will be able to defend Pena’s take down attempts, expect Zingano to come out on top in a bloody decision. Zingano Unanimous Decision