The UFC is back on the English Isles and they have brought a title fight with them. In addition to the title fight the main card features some elite Featherweights, Light Heavyweight and Welterweight prospects being tested by veterans and fairly decent action fight.
The main card will air on Fuel at 3 p.m. ET / 12 p.m. PT.
Now lets get to the previews.
A clash of Featherweights hailing from two old school powerhouse camps. Greg Jackson fighter Cub Swanson is on three fight win streak having notched three straight (T)KO wins; starting with when he played pinball with George Roop's mouthpiece at UFC on Fox 2, his second round (T)KO of Ross Pearson at UFC on FX 4 and most recently his delayed reaction KO shot on Charles Oliveira.
Dustin Poirier hails from American Top Team and stepped into the upper ranks of the Featherweight division. About a year ago Poirier defeated an over-matched Max Holloway with a triangle armbar from mount, then in May he suffered a technical submission loss to Chan Sung Jung in an all-time classic scrap on Fuel TV, and then got back in the W column with a submission win over TUF Champion Jonathan Brookins back in December.
Striking: Clearly this category falls in favor of Swanson. While Poirier is a good striker, he is still lacking the speed of a top notch striker. Poirier likes to throw leg kicks to check the range and keep fighters at distance, and tends to throw straight punches in two or sometimes three strike combinations, and has some snap on his punches. Swanson is pure power striker, who is working on becoming more of counter striker.
Against Ross Pearson, Swanson showed more head movement, which wasn't overly effective, and better defensive footwork, which did have an impact on the fight as Swanson angled off perfectly in the face of Pearson charge and dropped him with a counter punch. Everything Swanson throws has a certain degree of wildness but when he is forced to come forward against fighters with superior footwork, as he did against Ricardo Lamas, that wildness increases. But the power of Swanson forces anyone he fights to respect his strikers and it is unlikely Poirier is going to be able to land significant strikes on Swanson without eating some serious artillery in return.
Grappling: This category on the other hand falls in favor of Poirier. The young American Top team product comes in with very solid wrestling and a dynamic top position. Poirier is not content to sit in guard or half guard and win fights on the card, he prefers to employ an old school jiu jitsu game of advancing position to get either mount or the back and them look for the finish. Poirier is pretty good in the scramble also and will turn a lazy underhook into a D'arce choke in a flash.
Swanson looks to disengage on the mat, using the wresting switch or butterfly guard to try to escape back to his feet or scoot to the cage so he can wall walk. He makes fighters work very hard to hold him down and if they careless with head placement Swanson will slap on a vicious guillotine choke. He doe s give lots of chances for fighters to take his back as he works to stand back up.
Match-Up: Both fighters are more than equipped to survive no matter where the fight ends up, but both enjoy clear advantages. Swanson's edge on the feet is likely the smaller margin as Poirier is quite able on the feet. The big issue is that Swanson seems to get taken down by just about all of his fights, mostly because he commits so much to all of his strikes he is often off balance. He is actually so frequently off balance it is tough to find a Swanson fight in which he doesn't fall or slip in some fashion.
But a Poirier submission win isn't a forgone conclusion once this fight hits the mat, Swanson will likely be able to escape to the feet a few times. As the fight wears on Poirier will likely be able to impose more ground work and barring a Swanson knockout shot, expect either a late submission or decision.
Fight Prediction: Dustin Poirier by Decision.
Two strikers collide and re-kindle a truly ancient rivalry as England and France collide in the Octagon. UFC veteran and French kickboxer Cyrille Diabate has worked hard on rounding out his skill set and has carved out a little niche for himself as a Light Heavyweight gatekeeper. In his most recent three fights Diabate lost to Anthony Perosh by submission back at UFC 138, and since then he has shown improved grappling in wins over Tom DeBlass at UFC on Fuel 2 and Chad Griggs at UFC 154.
English born Jimi Manuwa only made his UFC debut in his last fight where he put a one sided beating on Kyle Kingsbury in September at UFC on Fuel 5.
Striking: This is both men's wheelhouse and the first major factor is the length reach advantage Diabate will enjoy. At 6'6" the Frenchmen is one of the taller fighters in the division and is excellent at using it. Diabate is wonderfully diverse on the feet: a sniper with his hands, good hard kicks and powerful knees, all of which he mixes together very well. Manuwa is all power on the feet and also uses an array of strikes, including standing elbows and knees. The difference is that Manuwa doesn't put together as many combinations, tending to load up on single shots or only link strikes together.
If Diabate can keep things at range, he should be able to counter Manuwa and might even stop him. But in Manuwa is able navigate the reach of Diabate and get on the inside he may very well be able to get serious work done in the clinch and in close.
Grappling: Goodness I hope this doesn't hit the mat for long as both are far from grappling gurus. Diabate has been improving and has become more technical on the mat. Manuwa is the much stronger fighter and muscles around fighters with under hooks, and engages only briefly on the mat. Later in the fight Diabate might look to take Manuwa down if the Englishman is starting to tire, but other than that expect mostly standing clinch work. Diabate will likely look to avoid the clinch where the stronger Manuwa have the advantage.
Match-Up: One big factor here could be Diabate's age, who is pushing forty. While Diabate is an extremely accurate striker with excellent timing, he is dealing with a powerful athlete. Manuwa is no young prospect himself at 32-years-old,, but he will be able to close distance on the aging Diabate. If he can withstand the pinpoint strikes of Diabate, he will able do damage.
Fight Prediction: Jimi Manuwa by TKO, Round 2
Gunnar Nelson is one of the hottest prospects in MMA, and is coming off an emphatic win in his MMA debut over DaMarques Johnson at UFC on Fuel 5 in September. Jorge Santiago is returning to the UFC after being released from the promotion after going 0-2 in his second run with the UFC in 2011.
Striking: Nelson's primary background in striking coming from Goju-ryu Karate, so he employs a linear, in-and-out style that will remind many of Lyoto Machida. Gunnar is comfortable switching stances and throwing kicks from either side, which he will sneak up to the upper body. He does carry his hands low and punch from the hip in classic karate fashion, leaving himself very open to counter-punching. Santiago carries more of a classic high boxing guard and sticks to the basics. Not a lot of kicks from Santiago, mostly a lead jab flowed by an overhand right or just a lead straight right hand. Santiago can't afford to open up too much on the feet as he does not take punishment well.
Grappling: Santiago is a good grappler, but all signs point to Nelson being an elite one in the making. Nelson had a B.J. Penn-esque run to black belt and has accounted for himself extremely well on the mats in both pure grappling and MMA. Santiago has very good submission offense and has never had to tap in a pro fight, but Nelson is likely on a different level. Nelson has excellent wrestling, including a very explosive shot on the legs. Once on the ground Nelson advances quickly, looking for the mount where he will strike until either the ref stops the fight or his opponent gives up a submission.
Match-Up: Landing a right hand seems to be Santiago's best chance of winning this fight as Nelson appears to defensively lacking on the feet and Santiago does have power. But the problem is that Nelson is not often looking to strike and uses his karate style more to manage the distance to set up takedowns than to set up strikes. Santiago is not a great wrestler and will end up on his back, and while he has a dangerous guard, it doesn't seem likely Nelson would get careless. Either Nelson gets in a position to rain down punches and Santiago's infamous chin betrays him yet again, or Nelson catches the back in a scramble and locks in a choke.
Fight Prediction: Gunnar Nelson by TKO, Round 1
Two big Light Heavyweights meet here as Ryan Jimmo makes his second appearance after the 7 second KO of Anthony Perosh to face James Te Huna. A UFC fighter since 2010, Te Huna is riding a three fight win streak, having knocked out Ricardo Romero and Aaron Rosa, and besting Joey Beltran by decision.
Striking: Jimmo also comes from Karate background, but is far less mobile than Neslon. Instead the hulking Canadian prefers to throw heavy rear leg kicks and power punches. He has decently fluid linear footwork, but keeps his hands low. Te Huna is more of a brawler who punches from in close. In the clinch both are less than dynamic, often content to push their opponents into the cage and throw knees.
Grappling: Te Huna often gets into trouble when he is on his back and actively avoids grappling. Just looking at Jimmo one would expect him to have brutish and muscle-based grappling but he actually has a surprisingly fluid top game. This aspect of the fight seems to be hands down in Jimmo's favor.
Match-Up: Jimmo should be able to have the advantage in all phases of this fight, but don't expect it to over quick. Both are tough guys and expect this one to end up with quite a bit of clinch work against the cage.
Fight Prediction: Ryan Jimmo by Decision
Che Mills (15-5) vs. Matt Riddle (7-3 1 NC) [Welterweight]
Two mid-level Welterweights kick off the main card in a fight that promises some solid action. Matt Riddle's entire 10 fight career has taken place in the UFC, but has failed to developed his offense. Mills joined the UFC in late 2011 and has put together a 2-1 record, beating Chris Cope by (T)KO and getting the win over Duane Ludwig from an unfortunate knee injury.
Striking: This one is tough to call, as skill-wise Mills solid striking should be superior. But Riddle's aggressive, windmilling style seems to convince judges that he is far more effective on the feet that he actually is in truth. Mills has fairly solid Muay Thai skills and should be able to touch Riddle up.
Grappling: Riddle is the more experienced wrestler but he has shied away from using it while in the UFC. Now Mills is hardly a killer from off his back, but he has a solid ground-and-pound top game, but I find it unlikely he gets Riddle down. More likely the grappling in this fight will be in the standing clinch, were Riddle should hold the pure grappling advantage but Mills is the better striker.
Match-Up: This is a tough one to call as Riddle's relentless forward movement will likely impress the judges but I find it unlikely he will be unlikely to work a lot of offense on the feet against Mills. Expect a fight with exciting moments but plenty of slow, in which Riddle could win if he takes Mills down but he likely won't and Mills gets the better of him on the feet.
Fight Prediction: Che Mills by Decision