UFC Fight Night: Gustafsson vs. Manuwa - Preliminary card preview and prognostications

Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting

The first full on UFC Fight Pass card headlined by Alexander Gustafsson takes place in London, England at the O2 Arena. The undercard is chock full of the usual: newcomers and TUF'ers. Are the matchups on the undercard worth watching? As is usually the case for a Fight Pass series of bouts...'yes' and 'no'.

Cyrille Diabate vs. Ilir Latifi Light Heavyweight

For many fans, their introduction to Diabate was favorable. Taking on Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua at Pride Final Conflct: Absolute seemed like an unenviable task to say the least. To the surprise of many who had never seen him, he acquitted himself well on the feet. A six fight winning streak that culminated into a successful UFC debut at UFC 114 made it seem like Diabate might be a strong gatekeeper type.

At 40 years of age, we can't exactly call him a 'disappointment'; that notion is obviously ridiculous. But even the places we think of him as a specialist have seemed to decline, and his fights can be trying even for this (mostly) patient viewer. Still, at 4-3 in the UFC, he's anything but a bust.

Latifi is another guy who got thrown into the meatgrinder. With less than a week's notice, he was asked to fight Gegard Mousasi for three rounds. You never wanna give a fighter too much credit for being dominated over three rounds, but if there's such a thing is getting lots of credit for being dominated over three rounds...Latifi's fight against Mousasi certainly qualifies.

Latifi is still an unknown quantity. For casual viewers, he's the guy that got jabbed into the next realm in Stockholm. But beneath the inquiry faced LHW from Malmo, Sweden is a 5'8 bowling ball of toughness. Though his fight against Mousasi wasn't able to show it, he has a strong double leg, and possesses a quick release on his right hand. But his limitations are well illustrated; his lack of movement leaves him vulnerable to striking specialists, and Diabate is certainly that.

His go-to strike is the left leg to the body. But he'll switch it up, change stances, shift from low to high, and so forth. While his boxing itself isn't that impressive, his left hand is something he chambers effectively, and he's incredibly economic with his punches. He doesn't waste a lot of movement. He's a strictly low risk, low reward striker.

Of course, the word "economic" can have many implications; like slow, patient, inert, boring, etc. I don't find Diabate boring, but his fights can quickly devolve into lots and lots of stalking, but minus the knife, the dumb teenagers, and the R rating.

Diabate isn't as skilled as Mousasi, but in portions of this fight he will be able to replicate Mousasi's success on the feet. Instead of getting jabbed to death, Latifi will get kicked to death. However, Diabate will not be able to defend Latifi's takedowns the way Mousasi was. With that said, I think he's still strong enough in the clinch to do damage while staying upright long enough to land damaging strikes.

Prediction: Cyrille Diabate by Decision.

Luka Barnatt vs. Mats Nilsson Middleweight

It's always difficult to really decipher how good a TUF fighter will be against middling competition in the UFC. Needless to say, I felt like an idiot (which is the case 24 hours a day) when Barnatt just destroyed Andrew Craig, who I thought was an awful matchup. At a polished 7-0 record, perhaps there's more than meets than eye.

Speaking of autobots, Nillson is an interesting pickup for the UFC. Fighting out of the Rumble Sports academy, he has amassed an 11-2-1 record all around Europe, fighting mostly in Finland, Switzerland, and Sweden. His background is Judo and Jiu Jitsu, the latter of which includes a real pedigree: gold for the FILA Grappling World Championships from 2010-1012. While FILA isn't exactly the CBJJ (their point systems are different for one), it's nonetheless worth mentioning, and tells you a lot about Nilsson; he's a grappler by trade, and looks to finish on the ground.

Watching him fight, his grappling isn't dynamic on its own, in part because it doesn't need to be. He's a unique case in that he looks to open up an opponent's guard with strikes; only then will he look to pass, and do work from there (ok so maybe he's not THAT unique...). His Judo background gives him the additional advantage of being a European with strong takedowns. However, like many grapplers, his striking leaves a lot to be desired.

Even with his hands held high in his prevent defense or whatever, he looks unprepared and shockingly still gets caught on the feet. Barnatt should be able to exploit this. When he fights, Barnatt doesn't seem to do any one thing great, but it was a little jarring to see Craig have no idea how to approach Luke's height. While Luke can be cracked with a big right hand, and doesn't use his boxing reach real well, he maintains distance with his kicks. He loves using both legs, which while slow and sometimes lethargic, are nonetheless effective.

This is basically Luke's fight to lose. I suspect Nillson will get him down at times, but I think Barnatt should be able to stay upright in the clinch (despite Nillson's Judo background), and land strikes from afar. I'm just not that confident in Mats' ability on the feet. That being said, this should be fairly competitive.

Prediction: Luke Barnatt by Decision.

Brad Scott vs. Claudio Henrique da Silva Middleweight

Yet another fighter with more potential than we might have previously suspected, Scott made a name for himself on TUF: The Smashes, ultimately losing to eventual winner, Robert Whittaker. Overall, however, he's a solid 9-2 with each of his wins coming by way of finish (evenly split between submissions and strikes). He's coming off a win over Michael Kuiper in round 1 via front choke. His opponent is the record conundrum, Claudio Henrique da Silva, in association with London Shootfighters.

da Silva is on a nine fight winning streak that has seen him exploit his significant jiu jitsu advantage over his opponents six times thus far. He has quite the grappling pedigree, but he's a specialist in every sense of the word. What I like about about his grappling is that he's quick to identify a submission that presents itself: the six of his submission victories on his current run occurred in the first round. He wastes zero time battling for position.

However, his striking is pretty rudimentary to say the least. From his southpaw stance, he basically just wings his left hand wildly hoping it'll distract his opponent from eyeing the takedown in advance. It's real UFC 10 level stuff, but he's managed to be successful despite his limitations on the feet.

While Scott will be in trouble on the ground, he's a big guy who will be able to keep the fight standing with his strength inside. It helps that he keeps his stance wide, and throws a mean straight right. But he strikes in tight, which is why I expect him to win what will likely end up being a pretty typical Fight Pass bout.

Prediction: Brad Scott by TKO, round 3.

Davey Grant vs. Roland Delorme Bantamweight

At 8-2, with 7 of those wins coming by way of either RNC or guillotine choke, Grant has acquired himself credibility as a finisher. Unfortunately for him, he drew the worst possible matchup at the TUF 18 FInale against Chris Holdsworth, who was quite the grappling specialist himself. He's up against a very underrated, and quietly successful TUF product in Winnipeg Acamedy's Roland Delorme.

Grant is not a natural finisher, despite his record. As in, he's not this dynamic go for broke specialist. But if the submission is there, he will find it, either with back control, or in defending takedowns. Delorme is like a slightly more polished version of Grant. He's good on the ground, but he masks his weaknesses well. A lot of people felt like Delorme was fodder for Nick Denis in his UFC debut, but it turned out to be anything but. As an aside, Denis is a fascinating story for those interested in why he hasn't competed since his loss to Delorme despite a solid record, and seeming upside.

Delorme is the justifiable favorite here. Roland gets into trouble when faced against a striking specialist. Rivera had too much power, and Caceres too much technique (a few years ago that would have been a punchline, but Alex has developed into a solid scrapper) and flash. Grant is none of that. While he throws clean straight punches, his takedown defense is of the old school sprawl, and straight out variety. This is a good way to end up on your back if your opponent knows that tripping is legal in this sport.

Delorme, with his arsenal of grappling moves, will put Grant on his back. Despite some very impressive numbers, Grant is defensively liable. Needless to say, if Delorme could flatten Caceres out with back control, Grant could find himself a victim as well. And he will.

Prediction: Roland Delorme by RNC, round 2 (finishes on a Fight Pass card? I do believe we're making progress).

Igor Araujo vs. Danny Mitchell Welterweight

At 26-6, Araujo seemed like a decent fighter and a potential favorite to be displayed on TUF. Unfortunately a loss to Colton Smith derailed whatever chance he might have had, and was not invited back into the Zuffa fold. Until now. He has only one loss since 2008 outside of TUF and ending up winning his eventual UFC debut against Yuri Alcantar's brother, Ildemar Alcantara.

Mitchell, who has been dubbed 'The Cheesecake Assassin', has proven that you can actually have the word 'assassin' written into your profile, and not have it be eye rollingly bland. He's 14-4 overall, and has at least one very big, very significant win: Nicholas Musoke (who recently beat Alessio Sakara and Viscardi Andrade).

It's a tough matchup for both guys who like to work on the ground. From his back, Mitchell likes to work rubber guard, but doesn't just arbitrarily post it up high like many fighters do. He's looking to transition off his back, which has proven useful against lesser competition. Araujo won't fall victim to some of Danny's sweeps, given his own grappling pedigree.

Mitchell is the better striker, with a solid one two combination, and a sweeping left hook. And if there's one thing he can take advantage here, it's Aruajo's questionable gas tank. But I don't think his takedown defense is effective enough to keep Igor from putting him on his back. While Mitchell keeps a very active guard, particularly with the butterfly position, Igor's top control is very different (read: better) than Mitchell's usual competition.

Prediction: Igor Aruajo by Decision.

Phil Harris vs. Louis Gaudinot Flyweight

Harris picked the wrong time to break his orbital bone; an injury he sustained well before his bout with John Lineker. Perhaps it should have surprised no one to learn that night that Lineker would end up TKO'ing him. And so it went for the English fighter from Portsmouth, England holding a 22-11-1 NC record. At 1-2 in the UFC, he'll need this victory and it won't be easy.

The jade haired flyweight out of Team Tiger Schulmann's camp with a 6-3 pro record got his start through TUF on the terrible (by TV standards - not bad by MMA ones) Bisping vs. Miller season. He'll be looking to bounce back from a loss to the unpredictable but sturdy Tim Elliott at UFC 164.

Gaudinot is a think a bit of enigma: not as good as beating John Lineker would indicate, but not as bad as his three losses make him seam. The problem with Louis is that he's just a limited scrapper; good strong punchers, and top control, but not much else.

He's fairly nondescript, despite his colorful hair. He's a solid fighter though; just a limited one, and his vertical keeps him more limited than he should. Nonetheless, I like his power in this one. Harris is a grappling specialist, but he suffers from Tyson Griffin syndrome; content with whereever the fight takes place as long as he's not in control.

While Harris likes the fight on the ground, he doesn't panic to get the fight to the ground like he should. Against Gaudinot, Louis should have the strength to keep the fight on the feet where he'll have the striking (and strength) advantage. Therefore...

Prediction: Louis Gaudinot by Decision.

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