-160 #12 Brandon Moreno (12-3) vs. +130 Ryan Benoit (9-4)
Brandon Moreno: TUF 24 alum Brandon Moreno pulled off what would have been the upset of the year if not for the ludicrous outcome of the Bisping vs. Rockhold fight. The 22 year old Mexican star beat top ten fighter Louis Smolka on a one week notice in his debut. Moreno submitted Smolka with a guillotine that left everyone including Moreno shocked.
With his memorable debut behind him, Moreno now needs to prove that his submission debut was no fluke and that he is deserving of his top 15 spot. If he can get by Benoit with relative ease, he will be ready for a match up against a divisional contender.
Ryan Benoit: Texas based 28 year old Ryan Benoit picked up a win in his last octagon appearance. It was not the prettiest, but he edged out Freddy Serrano who made no attempt at hiding his continuous take down attempts, many of which he landed.
2-2 in the UFC, Benoit is being brought in here to see if Moreno is legit, it will not be the first time he has been used in this role. Last year Benoit drastically slowed the Sergio Pettis hype train by knocking out the younger Pettis brother in a fight that he was a heavy underdog in. A win on the main card against a ranked opponent could vault the Texan in to the top 15.
The Fight: I personally think Moreno is the real deal his BJJ, wrestling and striking are all high level and his heart is unquestionable. Benoit will have an advantage with the striking but Moreno will out work him in the clinch and on the ground. Moreno Unanimous Decision
-165 #7 Sara McMann (9-3) vs. +135 Alexis Davis (16-6)
Sara McMann: Olympic silver medalist wrestler Sara McMann returned to her winning ways this past May when she scored a decisive unanimous decision victory over Jessica Eye. She had lost her two previous fights and many questioned if at 36 she would ever be able to fight her way back in to contender status.
McMann’s number seven ranking is far too low if you take into consideration who her three losses were to Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Amanda Nunes. If you’re going to lose three fights that’s not a bad three to lose to. McMann still has the best wrestling in women’s mma and will rag doll anyone that is not deserving of a top five ranking.
Alexis Davis: Former title challenger Alexis Davis returns after a year and a half hiatus to give birth to her son. Prior to the long layoff she submitted Sarah Kaufman with an arm bar to claim the title of baddest female in Canada.
4-1 in the UFC Davis’s lone loss was to Ronda Rousey in their title fight. With victories over Amanda Nunes, Liz Carmouche and Jessica Eye she should be able to regain her top contender form fairly quickly, however the top of the division looks completely different than it did a year and a half ago.
The Fight: Davis’s BJJ is elite, but if she doesn’t catch McMann early in the fight she will have a difficult time winning a decision. McMann is too strong and too technical, she will keep her neck and limbs out of trouble and win this one with dominat wrestling. McMann Unanimous Decision
-230 Ion Cutelaba (12-2-0 1NC) vs. +180 Jared Cannonier (8-1)
Light Heavyweight (205)
Ion Cutelaba: Moldavian mma pioneer Ion “The Hulk” Cutelaba picked up his first win in the octagon in a unanimous decision victory over Lorenz Larkin protege Jonathan Wilson. The decision was the first time Cutelabe has gone the distance in his 15 professional fights. He gave Misha Cirkunov all he could handle in his debut but was ultimately submitted in the third round by the much more experienced Canadian.
The 22 year old Cutelaba is a whirling dervish of power and aggression, seven of his nine knockout wins have come in under thirty seconds. He is a much needed young prospect in a stagnate light heavyweight division. We should see him closing holes in his game with every fight, he was over the top aggressive against Wilson but failed to move his head off of the center line, a detail that could be the difference between a win and a loss with a puncher like Cannonier.
Jared Cannonier: Alaskan Jared”Killa Gorilla” Cannonier evened up his UFC record to 1-1 when he earned a performance of the night bonus knocking out Frenchmen Cyril Asker in the first round. His UFC debut was a knockout loss to Shawn Jordan in which he was caught behind the ear with a short left hook.
Cannonier showed his devastating knockout power in his last fight, but he is more than a power puncher, he has three submission victories and has spent time working with John Crouch and Benson Henderson at The Lab. This will be Cannonier’s light heavyweight debut, fighting people at the same weight will be a welcomed change for the 5’11” 32 year old.
The Fight: Both of these big men are very light on their feet and Cannonier has dropped thirty pounds since his last fight which should give him additional agility. Cutelaba’s take down defense should be tested here and if it holds up look for a mid fight finish. Cutelaba TKO 2nd
+195 #15 Jake Ellenberger (31-11) vs. -250 Jorge Masvidal (30-11)
Jake Ellenberger: “The Juggernaut” pulled his career back from the brink of retirement in his last fight when he knocked out the previously never been knocked out Matt Brown. Prior to the Brown victory Ellenberger had lost five of his last six and was actually cut by the UFC, but managed to talk his way into one more shot against Brown.
We were pretty quick to write off the 31 year old Nebraskan, but considering his losses were all to ranked opponents, the call for his head may have been premature. This is the perfect fight to see how much Ellenberger has left in the tank.
Jorge Masvidal: “Gamebred” scored yet another victory in the octagon this past July, his latest triumph was a striking shut out over British striker and TUF champion Ross Pearson. Masvidal has been on the wrong side of a few questionable decisions and could easily be undefeated in his eleven UFC bouts in the lightweight and welterweight divisions.
Firmly planted in the welterweight division, now is the time for Masvidal to make a run at a title. At 32 he has the experience to beat the most crafty of vets and the physical tools to hang with the young up and comers. If Masvidal can start finishing fights and take the judges out of the equation we will see him rapidly ascend up the welterweight rankings in 2017.
The Fight: Ellenberger reminded everyone just how dangerous his right hand is against Brown, but when fighting a swiss army knife of striking like Masvidal, he is going to need more than one weapon. Masvidal’s too slick on the feet and will frustrate Ellenberger early and get him out of there late. Masvidal TKO 3rd
-200 #1 Joseph Benavidez (24-4) vs. +160 #2 Henry Cejudo (10-1)
Joseph Benavidez: JOBE has dominated his UFC competition that isn’t named Demetrious Johnson. He has won his last five fights following his last 2013 failed title challenge. His most recent victory was a one sided decision win over former Bellator champion Zach Makovsky in February. After the Makovsky fight Benavidez completed the six week coaching stint on TUF 24.
A third fight with Johnson is going to be a hard sell, Benavidez needs to keep mowing down the competition they put in front of him until they no longer have a choice but to give him his third shot. If he can get by Cejudo a fight with Kyoji Horiguchi would give us an undeniable number contender.
Henry Cejudo: Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo was not ready for the number one pound for pound fighter in the world. Cejudo was overwhelmed by Johnson in their April title fight and was stopped in the first round. He earned his title shot by winning his first four UFC bouts and partially because Johnson had already beaten everyone in the division.
The 29 year old is the second youngest American wrestler to capture Olympic gold, failure is not something he has much experience dealing with. It will be interesting to see how he bounces back from his first professional defeat. Cejudo was probably rushed to his title shot, but if he continues to approach mma like he did his wresting career another title shot is almost certainly in his future.
The Fight: Cejudo is defiantly the better wrestler, but Benavidez is the better mixed martial artist. Cejudo will try to trade withe Benavidez early and began to shoot when he loses the early exchanges. Benavidez will stop the majority of Cejudo’s take downs and even land a few of his own while wining the stand up battle through out. Benavidez Unanimous Decision
-850 Demetrius Johnson (24-2-1) vs. +525 Tim Elliot (10-6-1)
Flyweight Title Fight (125)
Demetrius Johnson: The pound for pound and flyweight champ was at his best form to date in his eighth title defense against Henry Cejudo. Johnson shrugged off the olympic wrestlers take down attempts and punished him with a barrage of knees, punches and kicks getting the stoppage in the first.
With each defense by Mighty Mouse the move up to bantamweight to avenge his 2011 loss to Dominick Cruz seems more and more like it may be a reality. Johnson has cleared out the flyweight division and will only have rematches on the horizon. A warm up fight against a top ten bantamweight fighter would be a good test to see how Johnson deals with the bigger guys.
Tim Elliot: The former Titan FC champion Tim Elliot jump kicked and back fisted his way through the field of fellow champions on TUF 24. Already a six time UFC vet Elliot will receive the ultimate opportunity of leapfrogging the whole division for a title shot.
Elliot was 2-4 in his first UFC stint, but all of his losses came against top ranked opponents. If he is not able to cash in on this golden ticket, hopefully the UFC will give him a few fights outside of the top ten to help him build up some momentum.
The Fight: This would be a bigger upset than when Matt Serra was able to capitalize on his TUF win to beat GSP. Barring Elliot catching Johnson in a crazy choke, this will be title defense number nine for Johnson. No need to elaborate on where Johnson will win this fight because it will be in every aspect. Elliot will succumb to punishment mid way through. Johnson TKO 3rd