-465 Alexa Grasso (8-0) vs. +365 Heather Jo Clark (7-5)
Alexa Grasso: 23 year old undefeated Mexican rising star Alexa Grasso received the call to to make her UFC debut on her home soil after a four fight winning streak in Invicta FC. Grasso was a long time number one contender for Invicta’s strawweight belt, but lost her title shot multiple times due to injury.
Grasso is a new breed fighter, she has better than average boxing, muay thai and BJJ, as well as excellent takedown defense. She is still very young, but she will have championship fights in her future if she is not rushed up the ladder too quickly.
Heather Jo Clark: Polarizing TUF 20 contestant Heather Jo Clark has put in two solid performances since the ending of TUF. Her first was a decisive decision victory over reality show rival Bec Rawlings and her most recent fight was a hard fought decision loss to current title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz back in May.
Clark is a tough as nails veteran and is peaking as a fighter under the guidance of Robert Follis and the rest of the Xtreme Couture team. However at 36 it would be tough to imagine her as anything other than a gate keeper for the next few years.
The Fight: Clark will be the aggressor in the striking department early, coupled with heavy pressure and clinching she may be able to take the first round. As the fight progresses Grasso’s speed, athleticism and endurance will help her take this fight over, winning the last two rounds decisively. Grasso Unanimous Decision
+115 #9 Beneil Dariush (13-2) vs. -135 #15 Rashid Magomedov (19-1)
Beneil Dariush: Iranian BJJ black belt Beneil Dariush bounced back from his upset submission loss to Michael Chiesa by knocking out previously undefeated James Vick at UFC 199. Dariush overwhelmed Vick with vicious muay thai and handed the Lloyd Irvin student his first loss without even attempting a takedown.
Once considered mainly a submission threat, Dariush has evolved into one of the more dangerous strikers in the lightweight division. With black belts in BJJ and muay thai Dariush has very few flaws in his game and at only 27 it appears that he is going to be a mainstay in the lightweight division for many years to come.
Rashid Magomedov: Unlike his countrymen Khabib Nurmagamedov and Rustam Khabilov, Dagestani Rashid Magomedov makes his living on the feet. Magomedov is a master of sport in army hand to hand fighting and has fought his way into the division’s top 15 with pinpoint counter strikes and expert take down defense.
Magomedov trains part time with the elite ATT Coconut Creek camp and part time at his home gym in Dagestan. He can be a little too passive at times relying heavily on counter strikes and lacking the killer instinct to finish off hurt opponents. If he can start finishing fights his ascent up the lightweight rankings will be rapid.
The Fight: This will be a technical, methodical striking match, Dariush will have the power edge while Magomedov has the speed. I will give the slight edge on the feet to Magomedov with his countering abilities, but whether Dariush can get Magomedov to the ground or not will determine the outcome of this fight. I think he will but he wont be able to hold him there for long and Magomedov will come away with a close one. Magomedov Split Decision
-125 Martin Bravo (11-0) vs. -105 Claudio Puelles (8-1)
Martin Bravo: 22 year old Mexican new breed fighter Martin Bravo was Forrest Griffin’s first pick on TUF Latin America 3 and he did not disappoint. Bravo mowed down the competition implementing a diverse attack and undeniable heart. He mixed up his striking with his take downs to keep opponents constantly guessing, reminiscent of GSP in his prime.
Bravo is a natural featherweight and had to overcome a significant size disadvantage in his fights on the show. If he does win this season hopefully the UFC will allow him to move down to his natural weight class, like they did with John Dodson who won the show as a bantamweight but fought at flyweight.
Claudio Puelles: 20 year old Peruvian new comer Claudio Puelles was laser focused in the TUF house. The youngster showed unprecedented restraint not participating in any of the groups actives or social events. His attitude did not make him a popular guy in the house but he achieved the outcome that he obsessed over. Puelles stopped two of his three opponents en route to the final.
Puelles is another young guy that is a total package, he has zero glaring physical flaws, but did struggle with the mental aspect of the sport, he came close to quitting the show a few times during filming. At only 20 years old Puelles mental maturity will catch up to his physical tools in time and when it does he will be an elite talent.
The Fight: Puelles will have the size and technical advantage, however Bravo has the intangibles. Bravo will need to turn this into a brawl and overwhelm the youngster with constant pressure. It will be a nail bitter, but I see Bravo pulling out a close one due to his Mexican heart and unwillingness to accept defeat. Bravo Split Decision
-125 #4 Ricardo Lamas (16-5) vs. +105 #8 Charles Oliveira (21-6-0 1NC)
Ricardo Lamas: “The Bully” was left high and dry last month when B.J. Penn was forced to withdraw from their main event bout in the Philippines. The former featherweight title challenger quickly accepted this match up with number eight ranked Oliveira. Lamas has been inactive since a June unanimous decision loss to Max Holloway.
34 year old Lamas is still very much a contender at featherweight, but fighters who excel in one fighting style are giving way to the versatile next generation of fighters that have been training mma since day one. His wrestling is good enough to get him another title shot, but he has zero room for setbacks.
Charles Oliveira: Oliveira missed weight by nine pounds for this match up, in his twelve featherweight bouts he has missed weight four times. With a pedestrian 7-4 record at 145 there is a good chance Oliveira will be forced to move up after this fight.
“Do Bronx” also has the total package, incredibly slick jiu-jitsu and top notch muay thai. He has not competed as a lightweight since he was 23, now 27 hopefully he makes the move back up to 155 and has put on the necessary muscle to compete with the larger opponents.
The Fight: Lamas has never been submitted and that is Oliveira’s only real chance in this fight. Lamas will be on a rampage after having his main event fight cancelled, expect a determined Lamas to get multiple takedowns en route to a unanimous decision. Lamas Unanimous Decision
+235 Diego Sanchez (28-9) vs. -275 Marcin Held (22-4)
Diego Sanchez: The first Mexican mma superstar and original TUF champion, Diego Sanchez will get a hero’s welcome when he make his way to the cage in Mexico City. Unfortunately Sanchez’s career has been less than heroic the past couple of years, 4-6 in his last ten, he suffered his first career knock out at UFC 200 to Joe Lauzon a smaller lightweight not particular known for his knockout power.
Diego is the type of fighter that will need to be carried out of the cage in a box to retire, because there is zero quit in his personality. If he drops this one he might be relegated to his next roll as brand ambassador and spokesperson. But until it’s officially over whenever we see Diego’s name on a fight card we know we will see a guy that will give absolutely everything he has to impress the fans and it’s greatly appreciated.
Marcin Held: Polish Bellator star Marcin Held will follow fellow Bellator stars Eddie Alvarez and Will Brooks in making the crossover to the UFC. In his Bellator stint Held compiled a very impressive 11-3 record including a tournament championship and a title fight against the aforementioned Will Brooks.
Held is a wizard on the mat and a pitbull if he gets a leg, at only 24 years old he has a wealth of big show experience under his belt, he should be capable of jumping right into the divisions top 15. He has had trouble with strong wrestlers in the past, so Diego should provide the perfect test for his fight in the octagon.
The Fight: Diego is a powerful wrestler and very difficult to control on the mat, however Held’s BJJ is next level. I don’t anticipate Held getting a leg lock, but he should be able to outgrapple Diego and rack up control time on the mat. Held Unanimous Decision
-140 #2 Rafael Dos Anjos (25-8-0) vs. +120 #3 Tony Ferguson (22-3)
Rafael Dos Anjos: RDA only defended his lightweight title one time against Cowboy Cerrone before being upset by Philly tough guy Eddie Alvarez this past July. Dos Anjos was on a five fight win streak before the Alvarez loss and looked to be turning into an unbeatable force with punishing stand up and dominant grappling.
Dos Anjos’s rise from .500, middle of the card contender to juggernaut champion was seen as a little suspicious by many of mma’s top pundits. Now under the extremely thorough USADA regime, Dos Anjos will have the opportunity to silence the critics that cried “PEDs”, or he may revert back to 2010 RDA that had his jaw broken by Clay Guida.
Tony Ferguson: TUF 13 champ Tony Ferguson has been as dominant as any fighter following a TUF victory. 11-1 since the end of the show, Ferguson has fought his way into title contention by taking out elite guys like Edson Barboza and Josh Thomson. His last bout with newcomer Lando Vannata started a little shaky but he recovered in the second and won with his patented D’arce choke
Currently on a eight fight win streak, it would be difficult to deny “El Cucuy” a title shot if he scores his ninth in a row. Ferguson’s long frame makes him an unusually difficult guy to grapple with, but he does tend to eat a lot of shots, something that may prove fatal when he meets the division’s heavy hitters.
The Fight: Ferguson has shown the ability to take an inordinate amount of damage, however Dos Anjos has shown he can pace himself through a five round fight and continue to deliver heavy damage. The accumulative punishment will end in a late stoppage. Dos Anjos TKO 5th