+148 #9 Liz Carmouche (9-5) vs. -168 #14 Katlyn Chookagian (8-0)
Liz Carmouche: One of the two women to compete in the UFC’s first female fight, 32 year old Liz Carmouche is a pioneer of women’s mma despite the fact that she has only been a pro since 2010. Carmouche returns after a 19 month layoff, her last bout was a controversial decision victory over “Lucky” Lauren Murphy.
Carmouche’s 2-3 UFC record is not exactly impressive, but when you consider two of those losses were to Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate you get a better idea of her talent level. The overpowering wrestler will need to prove she is still relevant in a young division chock-full of next gen newcomers. A win over a prospect like Chookagian would place Carmouche right back in the contenders picture.
Katlyn Chookagian: Undefeated “Blond Fighter” Katlyn Chookagian introduced herself as a contender at bantamweight with an impressive debut victory over the aforementioned inaugural Invicta bantamweight champion Lauren Murphy. Chookagian used superior footwork, skilled takedown defense and a stiff jab to beat the veteran Murphy in a unanimous decision.
The 27 year old trains throughout the Tri-State area working with boxing coach Mark Henry, BJJ coach Ricardo Almeida and former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar. The lifelong striker and BJJ brown belt will have a tough task in dominant wrestler Liz Carmouche, but a top ten ranking may very well be the reward for a victory.
The Fight: As much as Carmouche has evolved as a fighter this will still be a striker vs. grappler match up at its heart. Chookagian will need to be continually moving and keeping her back off of the cage, while Carmouche will be looking to secure the takedown and score ground and pound.
Chookagian did lose a round off of her back to Murphy, but overall her takedown defense held up pretty well. I expect this to be very similar, Chookagian will use her size and reach advantage to win on the feet and stay up enough to pick up the decision. Chookagian Unanimous Decision
+140 Jim Miller (27-8-0 1NC) Vs. -160 Thiago Alves (26-10)
Jim Miller: New Jersey blue collar hero Jim Miller pocketed his eighth performance bonus this past April when he and Joe Lauzon threw down for a second time, engaging in a back and forth fight of the night brawl that saw Miller take home a close decision for the second time.
Miller now has back-to-back wins and is attempting to claw his way back into the lightweight top 15. Grit and tenacity have given Miller a prosperous eight year UFC career, but with young guys like Khabib, Connor and Michael Johnson ruling the lightweight division, Miller’s position as the division’s premier gate keeper seems solidified for the next couple years or until he decides to retire.
Thiago Alves: In a UFC under the watchful eye of USADA, the heavily muscled “Pitbull” Thiago Alves has made the decision to drop down and attempt a title run in the lightweight division. This decision surprised many due to the fact that Alves missed weight at 170 pounds twice in his career.
Alves suffered a doctors stoppage loss to Carlos Condit in May of last year due to a badly broken nose and has been inactive since then recovering and prepping for his new weight cut. The drop opens up a whole new world of possibilities for the 33 year old ATT trained knockout artist who will be the most powerful striker in the the lightweight division.
The Fight: It’s difficult to predict how Alves will perform at his new weight class but if he retains half the power that he had a welterweight this will be a tough fight for Miller. Alves will still have the technique even if he loses some of the power and he will enjoy an unfamiliar height advantage that will add up to a striking clinic put on by “Pitbull”. Alves TKO 2nd
+125 Vicente Luque (10-5-1) Vs. -145 Belal Muhammad (10-1)
Vicente Luque: TUF ATT vs. Blackzilians standout Vicent Luque continued his mma evolution by knocking out scrappy striker Hector Urbina in the first minute of their September bout. Luque will make a quick turn around fighting for the second time in three months and will be looking to take home his fourth straight win.
The Brazilian 24 year old is 3-1 in his short time in the UFC and has proven to be one of the rising stars at welterweight. An undefeated year would likely mean a top 15 opponent in his next fight, but Muhammad is big risk/little reward fight. Muhammad is a very tough fighter whose 1-1 UFC record would not be an overly impressive victory on his resume.
Belal Muhammad: Former Titan FC welterweight champion Belal “Remember The Name” Muhammad picked up his first UFC win his last time out becoming the first man to stop Mexican mma pioneer “Dodger” Montao, finishing him with strikes in the final minute of their September bout.
Muhammad is a prospect to watch at welterweight, he has been an mma fighter since day one of his martial arts training, resulting in extreme versatility in his diversified attacks. He trains his stand up with Duke Roufus and his wrestling with alligators (see UFC profile), so he will be well prepared when he steps into the octagon at MSG.
The Fight: Stylistically and skills wise these guys match up very closely. Luque will have the superior BJJ but Muhammad has the intangibles, his work ethic and drive to be the best will give him the slight edge needed in the last minutes of the fight and will be enough to capture a nail biter decision. Muhammad Split Decision
-150 #14 Rafael Natal (21-7-1) vs. +130 Tim Boetsch (19-10)
Rafael Natal: Seven year veteran of the UFC Rafael “Sapo” Natal lost a narrow decision in his last outing at UFC 197. Natal went back and forth with young Aussie Robert Whittaker in a stand up war that saw both parties take a considerable amount of damage. Prior to the Whittaker loss Natal was on a four fight win streak and heading towards the middleweight top 10.
Yet another product of the mega alliance of Mark Henry boxing and Ricardo Almeida Jiu-Jitsu , Natal has transformed himself from a dangerous ground fighter to a dangerous mixed martial artist. At 33 Natal has seemed to come to terms with the reality that a future title fight is a long shot, but he has the toughness and ability to collect a few more bonuses before he calls it a day on his mma career.
Tim Boestch: “The Barbarian” Tim Boestch’s skilled combination of Jeet Kune Do and catch-wrestling have made him tough man to beat in the light heavyweight and middleweight division the past eight years. He returned to middleweight in his last outing and finished the late Josh Samman with strikes in the second round.
Boetsch is a guy who has the power and durability to beat 90% of the people in his division, as he demonstrated in his wins over Yushin Okami and Hector Lomard. But at 10-9 overall in his UFC career, it’s difficult to tell which fighter is going to show up for his fights. Boestch needs this fight if he wants to stay relevant in the rankings, otherwise he may have two or three fights as a gate keeper left in the tank.
The Fight: It’s going to be tough to steal this show, but these guys have all the tools necessary for a Fight Of The Night bout. I expect a stand up battle with with both fighters having their moments, but when the dust clears Natal will come out on top using low kicks to set up takedowns late in the fight. Natal Unanimous Decision
-290 #2 Khabib Nurmagomedov (23-0) vs. +250 #6 Michael Johnson (18-10)
Khabib Nurmagomedov: Khabib kept his undefeated record intact this past April defeating last minute replacement Darrell Horcher in Tampa. Now 8-0 in the UFC since his 2012 debut, Numagomedov has looked about as unbeatable as one can in the octagon.
The four year campaign for a title shot will finally come to fruition for the Dagestani mauler. Injuries to himself and his opponents have kept him out of a title fight, but a win over Johnson would assure Nurmagomedov a fight with the winner of McGregor vs.Alvarez.
Michael Johnson: “The Menace” picked up the biggest win of his career this past September knocking out Dustin Poirier in a main event fight. Johnson’s back was against the wall after dropping his two previous fights to Nate Diaz and Beneil Dariush.
Johnson asked for the opportunity to fight on this historic card and received the biggest possible fight he could imagine. The Poirier win placed Johnson right back in the lightweight title picture and a victory in this fight would set Johnson up for a number one contender fight against Tony Ferguson early next year.
The Fight: Johnson’s success can be credited to his enormous growth as a striker and some of the fastest hands in the sport. He fought a near flawless fight against Beneil Dariush, stuffing all takedown attempts and outstriking him every round. The decision loss was very controversial, but the only way any judge could have scored the fight for Dariush was due to Johnson’s more measured approach due to the threat of a takedown. With Khabib the threat of takedown is tremendous and constant. Johnson may stop 75% of Khabib’s attempts, but producing enough offense while defending the shots will be a bridge too far for the Blackzilian star. Nurmagomedov Unanimous Decision
-330 #2 Frankie Edgar (19-5-1) vs. +270 #7 Jeremy Stephens (25-12)
Frankie Edgar: The former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar lost his second hard fought decision to Jose Aldo at UFC 200. “The Answer” left everything in the cage, but was unable to find an answer to Aldo’s world class muay thai. Prior to the Aldo fight Edgar was running through the featherweight division, winning five in a row in dominant fashion.
The 35 year old Edgar is more than capable of holding a championship belt again, the problem now is getting another fight with interim champ Jose Aldo after dropping two to “Scarface” and even if he could, I do not know if it would be advisable after watching their 200 scrap. A move down to bantamweight would seem to be his best chance at returning to championship glory. His 5’6″ frame should be able to handle the cut and his skills match up extremely well with the division’s elite.
Jeremy Stephens: 5-3 since his drop down to featherweight, Jeremy “Lil Heathen” Stephens has picked up a few memorable wins in his adopted division including a highlight reel knockout of top five contender Dennis Bermudez last year. In his last bout Stephens gave former bantamweight champ Renan Barao a rude welcome to 145 by blasting the Brazilian with heavy strikes en route to a unanimous decision.
Stephens has always had devastating knockout power, but lacked the versatility to compete with the sport’s elite. He has worked tirelessly the last few years to round out his skills under the guidance of Eric Del Fierro at Chula Vista’s Allaince MMA. This will be the perfect opportunity to showcase his growth as a fighter and announce his entrance in to the division’s elite.
The Fight: When Jeremy Stephens is fighting a knockout is a always a major possibility, but Edgar has proven to be one of the most durable fighters in the history of the sport. Edgar is too quick on the feet, too strong on the ground and too smart in the clinch to lose this fight. Edgar TKO 3rd