Yoislandy Izquierdo vs Rafaello Oliveira
Lightweight watchdog Gleison Tibau is a burly American Top Team rep with a BJJ black belt, improved boxing and considerable size and strength for the division. Though Tibau seems to have been locked in the mid-level of the weight class, he's on a 3-fight roll (Kurt Pellegrino, Rafaello Oliveira, Rafael dos Anjos) and has won 7 of his last 9 with decision losses to Melvin Guillard (split) and Jim Miller (unanimous) accounting for his recent stumbles.
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Habib Numagomedov is a 2-time World Champion in Combat Sambo and only 23-years-old. He's finished his last 9 opponents; a roll capped off by a 3rd-round rear-naked choke of Kamal Shalorus in his Octagon debut. Nurmagomedov laid out a commanding and impressive performance against Shalorus, unfolding long, corkscrew punches from a tight boxing stance and holding his own in scrambles and grappling encounters.
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Nurmagomedov's debut was surrounded with skepticism due to his past level of competition, yet the youngster performed well and exceeded expectations. Though Shalorus wasn't his normal feisty self, Nurmagomedov was patient in unfavorable positions, showed off his well-rounded talent and kept chipping away with strikes to eventually turn the tide and notch the submission.
Tibau has a lot of things working well for him at this stage of his career: he's heavily experienced with 32 fights (15 in the UFC) at age 28, he trains with a great camp, his striking power, crispness and defense have come a long way, he's a monster for 155-pounds and doesn't seem to be hindered by the cut and he's added strong wrestling and clinch tactics to this submission grappling background.
There's no question that Nurmagomedov is for real, but beating Tibau would launch him into legit contender status and I'm not sure he's capable of such a leap. Tibau is a beefier version of Shalorus, yet he's more calculating and diverse, and I expect him to keep the same pressure on Nurmagomedov that Shalorus did early, but without slowing in output late in the fight.
My Prediction: Gleison Tibau by decision.
After incurring a split-decision loss to Ricardo Romero in his MMA debut, Costa Philippou's only defeat is a decision to Nick Catone in his UFC premiere. The former professional boxer has rounded out his striking background with burly takedown defense and wrestling while capitalizing on his active footwork and movement to bolster his offense and defense. Philippou's top-level boxing acumen, accuracy, crunching power and willingness to head-hunt have made him a frightening new prospect in the middleweight division.
Riki Fukuda is the former DEEP champion and a decorated wrestler on the Japanese circuit. The Team Grabaka rep lost his Octagon debut at UFC 127 against Nick Ring in one of 2011's most contentious decisions, but rebounded with a decision nod over Steve Cantwell at UFC 144. Fukuda has serviceable striking but his bread and butter is his wrestling, which he employs through explosive, duck-under takedowns, smothering top control and exceptional submission defense.
This shakes out as a striker vs. grappler affair -- Philippou has become a killer on the feet and Fukuda's double legs are fundamentally sound and difficult to fend off. Philippou and Fukuda have under-rated timing and footwork, which will be crucial in determining who can keep the fight in their preferred location. Both have excellent timing but Philippou's footwork and overall cage motion is a little better, which might compensate for the wrestler's advantage, who only has to succeed once to ground the fight whereas the striker has to be consistently vigilant to stay upright.
They each pose Kryptonite styles to one another: Fukuda can mirror the takedown-heavy approach that Catone used to defeat Philippou and Philippou can probably exceed the stubborn sprawl-and-brawl performance that Ring edged Fukuda with. This match could easily go either way but Philippou has been razor sharp lately; his defensive grappling and scrambling have complemented his devastating boxing well and I see him inflicting more damage and memorable offense than Fukuda.
My Prediction: Costa Philippou by decision.
"The Young Assassin" returns against BJJ black belt Fabricio Camoes in a lightweight scrap. Guillard is well documented as a crippling kickboxer with a gaping hole in his submission defense, as catches account for 9 of his 10 losses. He's welded up his known weakness with a renewed assembly of defensive footwork, better balance when throwing strikes and resilient scrambling skills, yet still succumbed to submissions in his recent pair of outings (Jim Miller and Joe Lauzon, though Lauzon set up the choke with a haymaker on the feet).
"Morango" Camoes is a submission specialist who was cut after his initial UFC tour ended with a draw against Caol Uno and tapping out to Kurt Pellegrino in 2010. Camoes racked up wins in Tachi Palace Fights over former UFC fighters in Steve Lopez (1st-round KO) and Efrain Escudero (unanimous decision) to earn another crack in the big leagues, and made the most of it with a 1st-round rear-naked choke of Tommy Hayden. He boasts 7 sub wins with 4 TKOs and once defeated staunch Luta Livre rep Luciano Azevedo and Chute Boxe banger Jean Silva in a same-night tournament.
Well, we should all know what to expect from Guillard against a capable sub-fighter: he'll dominate on the feet but surrender momentum -- quickly -- on the mat. Camoes has been knocked out before, but in his 2nd and 3rd fights against feared strikers Anderson Silva and Luiz Azeredo. Camoes' striking and wrestling are decent, but he's an ultra-clever scrambler, often latching onto the back and threatening with chokes unexpectedly in transitions. For as amazing is Guillard is standing, it's too unappealing to side with him against a top-notch submissionist.
My Prediction: Fabricio Camoes by submission.
John Alessio is a crafty old-schooler who drew welterweights Diego Sanchez and Thiago Alves in his initial UFC run back in 2006. After making the rounds in smaller promotions, Alessio's back as a lightweight, though he dropped his first to Mark Bocek by decision despite a respectable showing.
Shane Roller was a staple in the WEC and a Division 1 wrestler at Oklahoma State University. His crossover to the UFC started strong with a rousing TKO of Thiago Tavares but has now sputtered with 3-straight losses (Melvin Guillard, T.J. Grant, Michael Johnson) that left little encouragement for a bright future.
Alessio might not have a big name nor be well known by casuals, but he's a rock-solid 3-dimensional scrapper with stiff boxing, under-rated wrestling, adequate submission grappling and a high Fight I.Q. He nearly bested a prime Diego Sanchez with a cold-blooded combo of piercing strikes and resilient takedown defense, which should carry him to a win here.
My Prediction: John Alessio by decision.
Izquierdo is a Cuban talent with a background in karate and San Shou. He made his UFC debut in Sweden and suffered his first career defeat to rugged wrestler and hometown favorite Reza Madadi. Izquierdo persevered through an early takedown and came back to win the 1st round with poised delivery of his electric kickboxing arsenal, but succumbed to an elbow-lift guillotine in the 2nd.
"Tractor" Oliveira is a BJJ black belt out of the AMA Fight Club. His initial run in the UFC was a 1-2 streak with losses to Nik Lentz and Andre Winner and a defeat over John Gunderson, all by decision. Oliveira tacked on 4-straight outside the UFC but has dropped both of his return fights (Gleison Tibau by submission, Yves Edwards by TKO).
Oliveira poses many of the same threats that Madadi did, though Madadi is a stronger wrestler with submission capabilities and Oliveira is a submission-based fighter with capable wrestling. Madadi's relentless determination to force power takedowns is what saved him from Izquierdo's top-notch striking, which is replete with a scorching straight left, sharp low kicks and cracking high kicks unfurled with no set up from the southpaw stance.
Izquierdo looked comfortable in the clinch, maneuvering his hips for counter Judo throws in tie ups, and seemed to have a decent defensive guard that's geared towards creating space to escape. Oliveira isn't the type to doggedly pursue takedowns and is more patient in awaiting opportunities to change levels, which got him in trouble on the feet against Edwards in his last. I think Izquierdo has a bright future and will hold his own in takedown exchanges while being way too much for Oliveira standing.
My Prediction: Yoislandy Izquierdo by TKO.