I have some friends that decided they would hold on the UFC Fight Pass for the opportunity to see Gustafsson fight. In other words, Gustafsson has arrived. While many will bitch about the fact that Manuwa isn't a worthy opponent, will you tell me who a healthy and worthy opponent to face Gustafsson might be that he hasn't already fought? Keep in mind that the UFC originally tried to line Gustafsson up with Lil Nog too. While its true that Manuwa hasn't exactly face elite competition, he has done what is to be expected when facing lesser competition by finishing all of his opponents. So quit yer bitching and just enjoy the match!
The rest of the main card isn't as dynamic as it originally was going to be (thank you injury bug), but it still should deliver some fun fights and even a potential title contender within the next year. While this clearly isn't a PPV quality card by any means, it is a major step up from last weeks Fight Pass edition.
Lets break it down!
Gustafsson is coming off of one of the greatest fights in MMA (not just UFC) history and is being given what many see as a freebie fight. I'm sure Manuwa will have something to say about that.
Gustafsson became a household name (well... as far as MMA goes) when he pushed Jon Jones to the brink in his shot at the title and had fans clamoring for a rematch against the champ. Even though I find it to be a load of crap the UFC essentially let Jon Jones pick his opponent despite the decision being highly contested, I'm not going to complain with Gustafsson having to win one fight before getting another shot at the title.
Manuwa has won all three of his UFC matches via TKO... one due to doctor stoppage and two due to in-ring injuries. While I will admit that he inflicted the damage to Kyle Kingsbury that stopped the match, the other two fights were ended due to injuries that were coincidental. He likely would have won by decision had they gone the distance, but I thought the Ryan Jimmo fight was still fairly open for the taking for either one.
It sounds like I'm bashing on Manuwa (and I suppose I am), but he isn't a walk in the park for anyone. He has finished all of his fights with all but one of them via KO/TKO. Boxing is the name of his game and he is very good at it. He throws everything with power which could be a problem for his if the fight goes deep at all as he has never seen the third round much less championship rounds. Still, if he connects cleanly there is a good chance that Gustafsson is going to sleep. He lands quite often too... though it should be noted he struggled to land in bunches against the long and lanky Cyrille Diabate who has a similar frame to Gustafsson.
Speaking further of Diabate, Manuwa was able to make up for that by taking him down fairly easy and often. Gustafsson presents a much greater challenge to get down. Ever since his loss to Phil Davis, Gustafsson began working with the college wrestling All-American to improve his wrestling and has since become very difficult to take down. Ask Jon Jones about that. Gustafsson does a great job of utilizing his reach and mixing up strikes from jabs to uppercuts to hooks to the body and head as well as kicks everywhere as well. Throw in the fact he is constantly moving and utilizing angles... Gustafsson presents a hard target to hit or takedown.
Outside of taking down Diabate, I can't recall Manuwa showing any significant grappling. Kyle Kingsbury was able to get him to the floor and Gustafsson has shown greater grappling abilities than Kingsbury by far. While I believe Gustafsson will feel comfortable on his feet, I'm sure he recognizes the unknown quantity of Manuwa's grappling abilities. Gustafsson isn't a prodigy on the ground by any means, but he has scored a couple of RNC's in the UFC and (as previously stated) has shown solid wrestling ability since training with Davis.
Manuwa can win this, but its gonna have to be in the first two rounds by KO/TKO and Gustafsson has shown a hell of a chin. Plus, Manuwa is gonna have to catch Gustafsson clean and that isn't an easy task. Gustafsson has the cardio and the ability to get him to the ground for a sub when he feels the time is appropriate. Gustafsson by Submission 4th Round
Former Blackzilian teammates face off in a battle of the most consistently inconsistent fighters on the UFC roster.
Its hard to believe at this point that Johnson lost the TUF 12 crown to Jonathan Brookins at this point, but that only serves to back up my inconsistent point only more. He's always had a world of talent, just never seemed to put it together. With consecutive impressive wins over Joe Lauzon and Gleison Tibau under his belt, many feel that Johnson is hitting his stride.
Many felt Guillard hit his stride after he wheeled off five in a row only to drop 4 of his next 5. Though he seems to have righted his ship and (hopefully) ended his camp jumping (from Jackson's MMA to Blackzilians back to Jackson's to Grudge Training Center and now American Top Team), Guillard is his own worst enemy. If he has his head in the right place though, there is no lightweight this side of Anthony Pettis more explosive than the Young Assassin.
Johnson's biggest strength has always been his boxing. The problem has been when he gets taken down or comes out on the wrong side of a punching exchange, he loses his confidence. He stuffed all of the takedowns from Tibau and Lauzon though and used his excellent footwork, movement, and technique to pick them apart. With a wide variety of punches (jabs, hooks, uppercuts, etc.), opponents don't always know what he is going to attack with. If he is confident and able to avoid worrying about takedowns, he can outbox anyone in the division.
Guillard isn't a bad boxer himself, but is less reliant on combinations than Johnson. Depending on your point of view, this is either a good thing or a bad thing. Its good because he has the best one punch power in the division with 20 career KO/TKO's and 8 alone in the UFC. But bad as well as he doesn't use his combos (he does have them) as efficiently as he should and starts headhunting. Despite being known as a cocky striker (and he is), he is actually very effective in avoiding his opponents strikes as well as he utilizes good head movement (when he is in the mood).
Grappling is where both of these guys are lacking in their quest to be mentioned in the lightweight elite. 6 of Johnson's losses came via submission and all but two of Guillard's UFC losses (8 total) have come that way. Both of them have a wrestling background, but I would have to favor Guillard here. Every time I think of Johnson being smothered by Myles Jury I can't help but shudder. Guillard has been submitted a lot, but he has never been manhandled like that and he has faced some solid wrestlers throughout his UFC career.
I know the majority of people are going with Johnson here and I totally understand that. But Guillard's kryptonite isn't too much of a worry here with Johnson and Guillard is more than capable of rocking (if not putting out) Johnson and throwing him off of his game. Besides, odds say there should be a main card upset somewhere, right? Guillard by TKO 3rd Round
A high level staple at bantamweight since the divisions inception in the UFC, Pickett makes his debut at flyweight and welcomes Seery (as a late injury replacement) to the UFC in the process.
Pickett went 6-4 in the bantamweight division since entering the WEC/UFC with his biggest victory coming at the hands of current flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson. He has only lost to the current title holder (Renan Barao) or title contenders (Scott Jorgensen, Eddie Wineland, and Michael McDonald) so this isn't a desperation move to keep from getting cut by any means. As for getting a title shot... he may not be far from that now.
Seery was brought in to replace Ian McCall and has been fighting better than his record indicates recently as he is riding a 4-fight win streak and has commonly fought top end European scene competition. He is far from a prospect at 34, but has a very good chance to stick around for a while.
What likely precipitated Pickett's drop in weight was being overwhelmed by the size of McDonald in his last bout, who effectively used his reach advantage to get the best of Pickett as well as his long limbs to lock in a triangle. He should be a larger flyweight and be able to avoid those issues. Despite a reputation as a boxer (and he is a very talented boxer), he has more submission wins than anything else with 10.The problem is that he has won a fight night bonus in 5 of his 6 UFC fights which were primarily slugfests and no Submission of the Night bonus included for him. Chokes are his favorite type of hold though, including the Peruvian Necktie he scored over Kyle Dietz.
This is bad news for Seery. He will likely remind people of a poor man's version of Pickett with his tendency to get into crowd-pleasing brawls, but his grappling is nowhere near up to snuff with Pickett's. He is tough and gritty and based on that alone has shown the ability to get out of some bad situations... but also has 5 of his losses via submission. It isn't to say that he is lost on the ground and his own submission savvy isn't that bad either as he pulled out a difficult armbar in his last match. But he lacks Picketts wrestling ability.
As far as standup goes, both like to move forward and both like to throw hooks. Pickett's striking defense is quite poor for such an high level fighter (he has been outlanded in significant strikes in all but one of his UFC contests) and I wouldn't be surprised to see Seery getting the better of him on the feet as I feel it should be fairly even there based on their styles and solid chins. But Seery can be tentative if he is worried about the takedown... and Pickett is good about getting the fight there. So with that X-factor I gotta give Pickett the edge there too.
Pickett is a fan favorite and with his expected win here he could be one victory away from a title shot. To guarantee that he will need an impressive win considering Seery is a late replacement. I think he'll get it. Pickett by Submission 2nd Round
Mr. Personality makes his return to the UFC from injury to welcome a Russian dropping down from the middleweight division to 170. Just don't expect him to smile... or even show emotion.
Nelson (Mr. Personality) is a very small welterweight and is closer in size to most lightweights. But he prefers to stay at welterweight as he believes the advantages of not cutting weight outweigh any size advantages he might gain otherwise. Considering he has won 11 straight since his debut, I have no room to argue with him.
Akhmedov will clearly own a size advantage (though he was undersized at middleweight), but that won't be anything new for Nelson. Akhmedov won his UFC debut in a crowd-pleasing slugfest with Thiago Perpetuo and is hoping his punching power will translate better in a smaller class.
Nelson employs a karate style that many compare to Lyoto Machida. Though I can see the similarities, Nelson doesn't flee from opposing strikes the same way that Machida does or stick and run for that matter. He is capable of holding his ground and throwing strikes, but combine it with his habit of keeping his hands low, it isn't his best strategy even though he has shown a pretty good chin. Watch how often he changes stance too as I have no clue what his dominant side is considering he throws equally well from both sides. He employs a slow pace and throws a lot of uppercuts, as well as side kicks to keep his opponents at distance.
Akhmedov will have to come out aggressive and push the pace to get Nelson out of his comfort zone. He'll need to be smarter about pushing the pace than he was with Perpetuo as a counter punch is what got him in trouble in the first place. He showed good power in his right hand as he used effective counters himself as Perpetuo rushed forward. He doesn't show a lot of technique in his punches even though he gets them out quickly and is more accurate with them than one would guess. Other than leg kicks, he doesn't mix it up much aside from his punches.
Both of these guys are more comfortable on the ground (Akhmedov has a tendency to go for a double leg anytime his in trouble), but there is no doubt Nelson will enjoy the advantage here. Nelson's double leg isn't so much powerful and it is sudden as he transitions to it in a heartbeat which is how he scores most of his takedowns. With 7 of his victories coming by submission, that gives ya a clue that its his world. The fact that he trained under and received high praise from Renzo Gracie is likley a bigger endorsement. He is most effective in the mount and is always looking for a sub from there.
Akhmedov has a freestyle wrestling background, but Nelson has shown good wrestling too. I would expect Nelson to be able to neutralize the wrestling at the very least.
This is a great test for Nelson in his return from injury. Akhmedov is no slouch, but Nelson has the look of a prodigy (lets not bring up BJ Penn) in this sport. Whether he really is or not I can't say, but he'll get a victory here regardless. Nelson by Submission 1st Round
Record for last Card: 2-6
Record for Year: 51-25
I already stated in the prelim preview that my record on the last card was terrible. Just ignore it and pretend it never happened... just like the La Macarena craze in the 90's.