There are two UFC shows this week in two different continents. The first one is a special "Fight For The Troops" event in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. This card will also serve as a three hour fundraiser for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, which has also been a part of the last two FFTT shows. There are a few fighters who are active or former US military members, including middleweight headliner Tim Kennedy and women's bantamweight contender Liz Carmouche.
The UFC Fight Night 31 main card starts at an early time of 7 PM ET/4 PM PT, with a brand new episode of The Ultimate Fighter airing immediately after the event concludes. So let's have a look at the four fights preceding the night's main event of Tim Kennedy versus Rafael Natal:
Liz Carmouche (9-3 MMA, 1-1 UFC) vs. Alexis Davis (14-5 MMA, 1-0 UFC) - Women's Bantamweights
Carmouche has the honor of being part of the first women's MMA fight in UFC history - A title fight against the current champion Ronda Rousey. Liz attempted an early neck crank on Rousey to start the fight, but ended up losing by 1st round armbar like everyone else before her. The ex-Marine rebounded with a TKO stoppage of Jessica Andrade, who could not handle the barrage of strikes from top position. She'll enter tonight's fight ranked #4 in the UFC's newly created division.
Davis is one of the best jiu-jitsu practitioners in the women's 135 lbs division, and is pegged two spots below Carmouche in the rankings. The Canadian's UFC debut against Rosi Sexton was far from impressive, but it was good enough to earn her a unanimous decision nod, and her 3rd straight victory overall. Before joining the UFC, Davis, like Carmouche, competed in Strikeforce and Invicta. Davis holds wins over the likes of Shayna Baszler, Julie Kedzie, and Amanda Nunes.
Masvidal is a well-traveled veteran who has won both of his UFC fights this year against Tim Means and Michael Chiesa. The Floridian is best known for fighting (but losing to) Gilbert Melendez for the Strikeforce lightweight title, as well as his highlight reel head kick KO of Yves Edwards under the BodogFight promotion. While he's known for his striking, his d'arce choke win over TUF winner Mike Chiesa was the first time he'd recorded a submission since 2009.
Khabilov certainly made a big splash in his UFC debut. The 27-year-old fought TUF 15's Vinc Pichel on the season finale of TUF 16, and annihilated Pichel with a string of suplexes. One final throw brought Pichel down for good, and the follow-up punches ensured a KO win in the 1st round, and Pichel's 2nd KO win by suplex. Unfortunately his last win against Yancy Medeiros came as a result of Medeiros breaking his thumb, but it did come through a takedown. A win over Masvidal would be an eye-opener for many, and it would surely be the best win of Khabilov's career.
Markes came into the UFC on the heels of a decision win over former top middleweight Paulo Filho, and the Nova Uniao fighter won his promotional debut over Karlos Vemola at light heavyweight. His last two fights at middleweight haven't been particularly exciting, but they've been effective, and his victories over Aaron Simpson and Andrew Craig have kept him undefeated in the UFC. But will his grinding style prove to be the key to beating an Olympic medalist wrestler in Romero? That will be the biggest question heading into tonight's fight.
Romero is an Olympic silver medalist (2000) in freestyle wrestling who turned to a professional MMA career just 4 years ago. After winning his first 4 fights (all by KO or TKO), the Cuban took on fierce striker Rafael Cavalcante in Strikeforce, but fought a near comically cautious fight, barely making any significant attempt at offense before being KO'd at the end of the 2nd round. After a long layoff, Romero dropped to middleweight for UFC on Fox 7 in San Jose, where he uncorked a ferocious flying knee to send Clifford Starks out of the UFC in just 92 seconds. At 36 years of age, it's unlikely that Romero will develop into a serious contender, but at the moment he's definitely a world-class wrestler with brutal KO power.
Michael Chiesa (9-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC) vs. Colton Smith (3-2 MMA, 1-1 UFC) - Lightweights
Smith is an active member of the army, and he needed permission just to fight on TUF 16. They said "yes", and he went on to win all of his fights on the show, culminating in a decision win over tournament favorite Mike Ricci. Smith has been heavily criticized for his willingness to drag fights into an ugly, grinding, slow pace, but against Robert Whittaker he was goaded into a striking contest. Whittaker's superior boxing led to a 3rd round TKO, and dropped Smith's professional record to a decidedly unimpressive 3-2. Smith is dropping from welterweight and making his lightweight debut this evening.
Chiesa memorably won TUF 15 by choking out the favored Al Iaquinta in just 1 round, capturing the lightweight tournament having lost his father during the season. The submission specialist followed that up with a submission win over Anton Kuivanen at UFC 157, which set him up for a clash with former Strikeforce lightweight Jorge Masvidal. While Masvidal managed a dramatic 2nd round submission win with 1 second left in the round, Chiesa nearly pulled off the upset with a 1st round knockdown. It was Chiesa's first career loss, but