Opening up the UFC 122 main card on Saturday from Oberhausen, Germany, IFL veteran and Polish-born fighter Krzysztof Soszynski (21-10-1, 4-2 UFC) will battle Croatian submission specialist Goran Reljic (8-2, 1-2 UFC) in light heavyweight action. While the bout doesn't scream relevance, there's a good chance that this international showdown could get the evening started with a bang.
After a run of early success in the UFC with victories over Shane Primm, former WEC champion Brian Stann, and IFL veteran Andre Gusmao, Soszynski has fell on some rougher times as the level of competition has increased over the past year. Replacing Matt Hamill on short notice, The Ultimate Fighter season eight semi-finalist stepped in and fought the struggling former heavyweight striker Brandon Vera at UFC 102 back in August of last year, losing an unanimous decision.
Soszynski returned six months later, winning a controversy battle against Stephan Bonnar due to an accidental headbutt that was not seen by the referee. Eventually, the cut caused a doctor's stoppage in the third round, and appeals to have the decision overturned fell on deaf ears. The rematch at UFC 116 earned "Fight of the Night" bonuses for both fighters, but Soszynski was, unfortunately, on the losing end as he was knocked out in the second round.
Reljic has fallen on even harder times as he's currently in the midst of a two-fight losing streak that will surely put him on the chopping block in defeat. He narrowly lost a split decision to Kendall Grove at UFC 116 in July, and C.B. Dolloway exploited his undeveloped takedown defense, earning an unanimous decision victory over the Croation southpaw.
Avoiding the phone call that ends your UFC career won't be an easy task for Reljic as Soszynski has the tools the win this fight on both the feet and on the ground. Reljic is, by no means, an awful striker, but it's evident that his hesitation, especially in the Kendall Grove fight, is based on the fact that his defense against takedowns is inadequate. Dolloway was able to consistently put Reljic to the ground, and that may have been a cause to the effect of Reljic being overly hesitant to exchange with Grove at UFC 116.
Soszynski hasn't been a prolific takedown artist in his career, and he doesn't fit the mold of a leaping wrestler when it comes to takedowns. Soszynski likes to work from the clinch for his takedowns, and Reljic can be quite tough to wrap up with and take down from that position. It's especially dangerous because Reljic is well versed in the submission game, and those close quarter exchanges are a breeding ground for quick transitions to dominant positions.
The area where Reljic can succeed is in the stand-up department. He has decent footwork that can keep him out of the clinch, and his kicking ability in tandem with his lengty 6'3" frame should serve as a means to damaging Soszynski from range. That doesn't bode well for K-Sos as his plodding stand-up style isn't the epitome of quick, dynamic striking.
While I think Soszynski has a legitimate chance to win, Reljic's striking should be a major focal point in this fight. He rattled Gouveia at UFC 84 with stinging body and leg kicks, and Soszynski's rather slow progression to actually mixing it up could have him reeling before he lets his hands go. I'll take Goran Reljic via TKO.