-475 Alexander Volkanovski (14-1) vs. +375 Mizuto Hirota (19-7-2)
Alexander Volkanovski: Australia’s top Featherweight prospect Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski exceeded the hype surrounding his debut. The New South Wales native put on a ground and pound clinic against Japanese veteran Yusuke Kasuya. Volkanovski punished Kasuya with precise, violent ground and pound for the majority of a round and a half until the ref had seen enough.
Volkonovski is a BJJ Purple Belt and National Wrestling Gold medalist and works his striking at Tiger Muay Thai. He has finished all but two of his 13 victories and has never faced an opponent with a losing record. This 28 year old is the real deal.
Mizuto Hirota: Road to UFC Japan reality show co- winner Mizuto “Pugnus” Hirota won his return fight to the UFC defeating Cole Miller via unanimous decision in a back and forth grappling match. This is the 36 year old veteran’s second stint in the octagon, he went 0-2 back in 2013.
Hirota is the former Sengoku Lightweight champion and has entertained the fans in multiple epic wars since his 2005 debut. His high level Judo control and scrappy striking style will make him a solid test for any youngster who believe they are ready to face the best fighters in the world.
The Fight: This one is going to get ugly, Volkanovski is younger, stronger and faster. He will open up Hirota with ground and pound early, but the Japanese veteran is extremely tough and will eat a load of ground and pound before its over. Volkanovski TKO 3rd
-190 #8 Tim Elliot (15-7-1) vs. +165 #12 Ben Nguyen (16-6)
Tim Elliot: TUF: 24 winner Tim Elliot impressed in his title fight against Demetrious Johnson, but was even more impressive in his most recent victory over skilled ground fighter Louis Smolka. Elliot and Smolka engaged in one of the most entertaining grappling matches to ever take place in the octagon and in the end it was Elliot that came out on top of 80% of the scrambles and left with his hand raised.
Elliot will step in for his TUF coach Joseph Benavidez who was forced out of this fight a little over a month ago. This will be Elliot’s second fight in three months, if he can pick up another victory this early in the year he could set himself up to be right back in the title picture by the end of the year.
Ben Nguyen: U.S born, Aussie resident Ben “10” Nguyen bounced back from his disheartening loss to Louis Smolka with a decisive decision victory over Geane Herrera. Nguyen overwhelmed Herrera on the feet with volume, combos and seamless foot work.
The Tiger Muay Thai fighter showed immense growth in his striking, the creative influence of training partner and mentor Brian Ebersole kept him lose and relaxed as he chained together effective combos. 28 year old Nguyen is now 3-1 in the octagon and on the verge of entering the Flyweight title picture. But at the start of 2016 he was a new highly touted prospect that Punch-Face.com targeted as one of the UFC’s rising Asian stars, check out the others here: 5 Asian UFC Fighters Whose Name You Should Know
The Fight: Nguyen’s troubles against Smolka came on the ground and he has had his most successes with guys that stand in front of him and trade. Elliot has the funkiest foot work in the sport and is near impossible to hit, to make matters worse for Nguyen Elloit’s take downs and ground control are on point. Ellitot will trade on the feet in small increments before landing take downs at will en route to a decision. Elliot Unanimous Decision
-285 Ion Cutelaba (12-3) vs. +245 Henrique da Dasilva (12-2)
Light Heavyweight (205)
Ion Cutelaba: Moldavian MMA pioneer Ion “The Hulk” Cutelaba was outgunned by Jared Cannonier in a fight of the night stand up war at the TUF: 24 Finale last December. Cutelaba hung tough against Cannonier but was rocked on several occasions and it took everything he had to make it to the final bell.
The 23 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. Cutelaba’s 1-2 octagon record is not a great representation of his entertainment value. Even if the wins don’t pile up for Cutelaba he will hang around based on his fan friendly leave it all in the ring style.
Henrique da Silva: Brazilian Kickboxing champion Henrique “Frankenstein” da Silva has fallen on hard times dropping his last two fights after beginning his UFC career 2-0. Most recently Silva was out grappled by newcomer Jordan Johnson in a one sided unanimous decision loss.
The 27 year old Silva has knack for getting in to exciting brawls and has the striking prowess to come away victorious. He has a BJJ Purple Belt and an active guard, but his Achilles heel has been his Wrestling and cardio, weaknesses he will need to address if he has championship aspirations.
The Fight: This is going to be a crowd pleasing fight of the night contender. Both guys prefer a striking match, da Silva is the more technical while Cutelaba is a unpredictable wild card on the feet. Once Cutelaba survives the first he will take over the fight with his superior cardio winning the last two rounds of a action packed stand up war. Cutelaba Unanimous Decision
-143 Dan Hooker (14-7) vs. +123 Ross Pearson (21-13)
Dan Hooker: 26 year old Kiwi Dan “The Hangman” Hooker had a tough outing against the Mississippi enigma that is Jason Knight. Hooker was befuddled by the unorthodox Knight and failed to produce anything in the way of offense in a unanimous decision defeat.
At 6’0″ Hooker is enormous for the Featherweight division and he has mastered utilization of his 75 inch reach in training with Roger Huerta and company at Thailand’s Tiger Muay Thai. His long limbs also give him a definitive advantage when it comes to sinking in chokes on the mat. At 3-3 through his first six this will be a crucial fight in determining where Hooker stands in the deep division.
Ross Pearson: TUF: season 9 winner Ross “The Real Deal” Pearson came out on the wrong side of razor thin decision against Scottish new comer Stevie Ray. Pearson has dropped his last three after not losing consecutive fights for the first eight years of his UFC career.
At 32, Pearson’s eight year UFC stint is an accomplishment in itself, in a company where back to back losses typically means you’re done, Pearson has made a career fighting for the UFC, statistically a huge feat. 10-10-0 1 NC in that time Ross has become the quintessential gatekeeper at Lightweight, his troubles with upper echelon fighters is evidence that a title run is not in his future. If he drops his fourth in a row it will be difficult to justify keeping him on the roster with so much young talent in the wings.
The Fight: Hooker will enjoy a four inch height and five inch reach advantage that he will use to keep the compact Pearson at a distance. If it goes to the ground it will be Hooker who will initiate it. They will remain on the feet the majority of the time giving the fans a close quality stand up fight. Hooker Split Decision
-255 #8 Derek Brunson (16-5) vs. +215 #15 Daniel Kelly (13-1)
Derek Brunson: North Carolina’s Derek Brunson was on the wrong side of what many view as a incorrect decision loss to Anderson Silva. Brunson evaded the majority of the debatable GOAT’s strikes and was able to take Silva down multiple times. Silva swayed the judges with his pzazz and fancy footwork despite not landing any significant damage on Brunson.
Brunson has made the rounds around elite gyms, he started with Jackson/Wink before moving to Boca Raton to train with the Blackzilians. The 33 year old Brunson recently opened his own gym in his hometown of Wilmington North Carolina and he spent the majority of this camp training at the newly opened Brunson MMA.
Daniel Kelly: Australian Olympian Judoka Daniel “Dad Bod” Kelly defied the odds makers yet again when he defeated Rashad Evans in a split decision this past March. The most impressive part of the victory is that the long time Judo player was able to win a striking match against the former champ known for his slick striking abilities.
The 39 year old father of two has gone 6-1 following his underwhelming appearance on TUF: Nations. Kelly has far exceeded everyone’s expectations and know that he has finally cracked the top 15 the next step would be an unprecedented first time title run as a 40 year old.
The Fight: Kelly is going to have a very difficult time getting inside of Brunson’s 77 inch reach. If he does close the distance he will then be forced to deal with Brunson’s take downs. Kelly is a monster in the clinch but Brunson will keep away and score on the feet enough to end Kelly’s winning streak at four. Brunson Unanimous Decision
-136 Derrick Lewis (18-4) vs. +116 Mark Hunt (12-11-1)
Derrick Lewis: Houston native Derrick “The Black Beast” Lewis extended his division best six fight winning streak with a dramatic come from behind knockout of Travis Browne. Lewis dug deep after Browne planted a front kick into his mid section and broke his ribs in the first round. Not showing any signs of the debilitating injury Lewis continued plodding forward and knocked out the Happa Hawaiian in the second with cage rattling ground and pound.
Lewis is on a unbelievable run and has placed himself on a short list of possible title contenders. Prior to his current streak Lewis had trouble with strong grapplers, but on this streak he has taken out Damian Grabowski, Gabriel Gonzaga and Roy Nelson proving the Black Beast can fight on the ground. If he can get by Hunt a number one title contender fight with Nganou would be a crowd pleaser.
Mark Hunt: Pride, K-1 and overall face punching veteran “Super Samoan” Mark Hunt is coming off of a knock out loss to Alistair Overeem in their March rematch. Hunt ate a lot Overeem’s best shots, but a Uber knee in the second sent the big islander down for the count.
They say power is the last thing to go, but in 43 year old Hunt’s case his power has seemingly increased with age. The King of the walk off knockout may have to be forced into retirement for his legacy’s sake. It will be very difficult to make a case for the hall of fame for the fan favorite if he finishes with a losing record.
The Fight: Lewis began his UFC career looking a little chiny getting knocked out twice in his first five fights. Hunt has a decent chance of testing Lewis’s chin with his leaping left hook, but it will withstand and Lewis will get the stoppage from accumulation of damage. Lewis TKO 2nd