Unless you believe in miracles on the level of Santa Claus, there aren't going to be any fights with title implications on this card. But damn it, I'm a fight fan! Not just a title fight fan! For those that need something more this is likely one of the last opportunities to see a couple of legends perform (and maybe the first for some in regards to Kawajiri) and a possible glimpse into the future with some of the younger fighters on the card.
Also worth noting is the fact this card takes place in Abu Dhabi, so the prelims will be starting in the morning and the main card early in the afternoon. Many of you will likely be at work at that time and thus will likely miss it even if you wanted to watch it. If you have a Fight Pass subscription and work at a computer though... not that I'm suggesting anything.
I'm not going to continue to try and sell you on this card as I'm sure that you already intend to watch it (or at least follow up on its results) if you are reading this. I'll just shut up at this point and let you get to what it is you want to know... if you haven't skipped this part already.
Its hard to state what exactly is at stake here (besides pride of course). At 37, Nogueira is approaching the end of his legendary career and it may surprise many to learn Nelson is just a few weeks younger than Minotauro. Neither has any realistic title aspirations, but it should still be a fun fight as both are considered to be top of the line when it comes to BJJ amongst the heavyweights.
Nogueira doesn't have a lot left in the tank, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering all of the beatings that his body has taken over the years. He can't take punishment the way that he used to, but he is still savvy enough to pull out a victory or two that you would think that he has no business winning. Still, I'm of the opinion that the sooner that Minotauro retires the better as he doesn't seem to realize what his body can reasonably withstand. Remember his broken arm at the hands of Frank Mir? I don't think he realizes when he should call it good.
Nelson has a lot more mileage left considering his worst enemy is cheeseburgers as opposed to Bob Sapp dropping him on his head. Nelson can beat anyone with a single punch as he has enough cannon fire in his fists to drop an elephant. The question is whether he can catch them before he gasses. The last time he dropped two in a row (a streak he is riding right now) he dropped another legend in Mirko Cro Cop to get back on track. Foreshadowing?
Everyone knows about Nogueira's vaunted BJJ and his ability to secure a submission after receiving a beating that would make Jack Bauer talk as he did so against Sapp, Cro Cop, and Tim Sylvia. It is what has made him Minotauro and its the only part of his game that seems to be done with any amount of speed. He'll grab a hold of a limb and take a beating to secure a tap out from his opponent, which displays tenacity, but also could be a poor strategy at this stage. In order to get the fight to the ground, he utilizes judo trips from the clinch as his wrestling is quite poor. Good thing for him that Nelson's wrestling sucks too.
Nelson may be the worst wrestler in the division, but due to his substantial BJJ background, he is often able to neutralize any type of onslaught that his opponent attempts to rain down upon him if the fight hits the ground. Then again, Minotauro's BJJ is likely better (rare to find an opponent more skilled than Nelson) and would likely know how to get past his guard and punish Big Country. But don't sleep on Nelson. Its been almost 8 years since he scored a submission victory, but he still has it in him. While his gut is overall a deficiency, he has shown the ability to use it to his advantage as he'll use it to maintain a top heavy position on his opponents while he scores with GNP.
Nelson doesn't score a lot of punches... he just knows how to make them count. All 6 of his UFC victories have come by KO/TKO with 5 of those coming in the first round. While it is generally bad strategy to simply rely on ones right hand, no one this side of Dan Henderson has had as much success as Nelson when it comes to landing the home run. It isn't a guarantee that he'll put you to sleep with THE one punch if it lands, but the second one will finish the job since you won't know where you are at. Nelson is best to score it in a hurry as he has poor cardio and gets more sloppy as the fight moves along and gets easier to tee off on (he has poor defense) since his opponents are less worried about him ending their night early. To his credit though, few if any have a tougher chin to crack.
Nogueira has a much more well-rounded if less dangerous striking game. But similar to Nelson, he tends to get hit a lot more than doing the hitting. He does display some head movement and some OK defense, but his speed (never great to begin with) has gotten worse over the years and as with most fighters, his chin hasn't been what it once was either. The longer the fight goes the more I expect Nogueira to land some effective punching combinations as he can surprise with his hand speed and he'll be more comfortable in trading with Big Country. Look for a fair amount of leg kicks too as he'll try to keep some distance between himself and Nelson.
While I do see a possibility of Nogueria pulling this one out, I don't expect it to happen. All Nelson needs to do is land one overhand punch and Nogueira isn't known for speed or striking defense. I realize that Nogueira is a legend... but so was Cro Cop. Nogueira ends up being one step closer to retirement. Nelson by KO 1st Round
A Japanese legend gets his first true challenge in the UFC after his tune-up debut. On the other side, can Guida find the style that once made crowds chant his name?
Kawajiri knows he is near the end of his career and wants to make a run at the featherweight title before he goes riding off into the sunset. The idea isn't as crazy as it might seem to most as he spent most of his storied career at lightweight and looked very comfortable at 145 in his UFC debut. He's big for featherweight and very much capable of living up to his "Crusher" moniker.
Few have had a more up-and-down career than Guida in the UFC. At one point he was one fight away from a lightweight title shot and an eternal fan favorite for his brawling nature. Now he has lost 3 of his last 4 and (gasp!) is actually somewhat reviled by fans for his recent fights which either featured him running from Gray Maynard or laying on top of Hatsu Hioki. All will be forgiven if Guida actually decides he wants to bang this time around.
Lets get one thing very clear from the start: Kawajiri wants this fight to be standing as little as possible. It isn't that he doesn't strike very well, but he knows his strengths and wants to play to them. Knowing that he will have a strength advantage on most of his opponents, he loves to impose his will upon them. So whether it be a single or double leg (or more likely a body lock takedown), he knows how to get the fight there. He is about as top heavy as they come in the class and is famously known for his strong GNP. Most of his submissions occur as his opponents cover up from his onslaught and then he snakes his way in for the choke, but he is versed in all types of subs.
What will make this interesting is that Guida's game has always been based around his wrestling. I don't believe that he'll be able to overpower Kawajiri, so I doubt he'll focus on takedowns... at least early on. Guida is best known for his never-ending gas tank and he'll try his best to tire Kawajiri early to try and soften him up for takedowns later in the fight. If his pitbull mentality shows up in this fight, Guida will get Kawajiri down at some point guaranteed, even if it takes 20 attempts. Guida has been susceptible to chokes (as stated, Kawajiri's well known for them), so I'm sure he's working hard on defending those.
On his feet, Guida never stops moving, whether it be his feet, his fists, his head... everything moves. As you can imagine, it can make it difficult to throw with good technique as he rarely sits down on his strikes, so there is usually very little power to his punches. It makes it difficult to hit him, but he also ends up being highly inaccurate himself. He usually dances in for a quick combo before getting out of his opponents range, but will throw the occasional combo with kicks. His fighting style is so rare due to his ungodly stamina that it is difficult to prepare for. He has a notoriously tough chin to crack that only Chad Mendes has managed to break.
Kawajiri has the power to crack it... the question is whether or not he'll be able to catch him. He has some technically sound boxing that he usually uses to set up his clinches and takedown attempts, but he is highly inefficient from a distance. If he is unable to close the distance the fight will be Guida's to lose. Kawajiri does have some good leg kicks too that he doesn't always use, but he likely won't have a choice here as they are his best distance weapon... unless he wants to charge Guida head first.
The gas tanks of these two fighters will be the biggest factor here. There is no way that Kawajiri will be able to keep up with Guida and he'll look to end the fight early. As a result, he could end up gassing himself faster than he would have in the first place. Guida will dance around and pop him with shots and earn a controversial decision. Guida by Decision
This could be really exciting or really dull. It depends on whether these wrestlers want to try and light the dynamite that can be found in their fists.
Howard has made the most of his return to the UFC. Despite being the underdog in both bouts since his return, he has been able to walk out of the Octagon with the W both times. Some questioned his release after his first stint as his losses were to credible opponents (Jake Ellenberger, Thiago Alves, and Matt Brown), but its easy to forget that at that point Brown was on the verge of being released himself. Still, Howard is doing what he needs to stay around.
LaFlare was an under the radar prospect early last year in many regards due to his unfortunate injury history. The southpaw has been healthy enough to fight 3 times for the UFC last year (it took him 3 years to do that in his previous 3 fights) since they swept him out from under the feet of the WSOF and he has yet to taste defeat. He has been training with the Blackzilians for this fight and should get some good feedback considering Howard's last opponent, Siyar Bahadurzada, trains there also.
Howard loves to box and doesn't make a secret about it. He's more than happy to stand in the pocket and exchange... not always the smartest strategy. Still, he has a good chin and one-punch power in both of his fists. It can cause problems as he'll neglect other solid aspects of his game such as his kicks. He does best when he is aggressive, but is too content at times to let the fight come to him and is even willing to back himself against the fence. Howard has some good movement, but is no Anderson Silva (and Silva proved how that strategy did him well with Weidman) and not the quickest when it comes to countering.
LaFlare hasn't made many fans with his grinding style. Sure, he lands a lot of punches, but so does Jon Fitch. To his credit, he showed capable counter boxing with Court McGee, but he also ate a lot of shots doing so. He loves to clinch up and use his Muay Thai to wear down his opponents, which he also uses does to take the fight to the ground via body lock takedowns. I expect Howard to be similar to McGee in the sense that he is too strong for LaFlare to use the clinch effectively. Still, he was able to mix things up well enough with his boxing and kicks to take the fight.
Despite his solid standup, wrestling is LaFlare's bread and butter. Possessing a very powerful frame, he often just tries to power through his opponent and has had some good success doing so. Once on the ground, he has shown a good BJJ game being able to pass his opponents guard with relative ease, but hasn't done much besides gain position and score some GNP. While he was taken down many times by McGee, he never stayed down very long and did a better job of dictating where the fight took place.
Howard will be LaFlare's stiffest challenge when it comes to his wrestling ability as his stout frame (he is only 5'7) is very powerful as witnessed by his slam of Bahadurzada. He usually does a good job of mixing in his takedowns (usually with a double leg) and has some very effective GNP. What doesn't bode well for him is that he traditionally struggles to stop his opponents who have any sort of wrestling background from getting him down. Expect him to get LaFlare down, but expect LaFlare to score his own takedowns too.
I am very much expecting this fight to be a stinker. Just because I think it will be doesn't mean I want it to be, so don't get pissy with me. Outside of a few flurries of offense from both parties, I expect it to be a very grinding affair. LaFlare does a better job of mixing things up and score more points in the eyes of the judges. LaFlare by Decision
Even though both of these 155ers are young, only one of them is truly seen as a prospect at this point. Do you know which one it is?
Nijem was on a two-fight skid before halting it with an impressive win over Justin Edwards earlier this year. He doesn't seem to have a high ceiling, but does have what it takes to hang around the UFC for a while... especially when one takes into account the high level of excitement his fights often bring, even when he ends up on the wrong end of things.
Dariush made a surprisingly successful debut earlier this year himself. It isn't so much that people didn't expect him to fair well in the UFC, but how easily he was able to dispatch of well-regarded Charlie Brenneman. As a result, at the age of 24, the Iranian-born fighter is on many peoples watch list for the immediate future.
Nijem isn't often thought of as a big lightweight, but he does own a fairly significant reach for his class at '75.5. He has done a pretty efficient job of using it to his advantage to outstrike his opponents as he has implemented a nice little jab to go with his left hook. Every now and then he throws out some sort of unorthodox strike (i.e. a spinning back kick or a flying knee) that leaves him open to eating some punches from his opponent and needs to be careful of those times as he has a tendency to keep his head high. Other than that he has a fairly standard boxing game that has shown steady improvement since entering the UFC.
Despite his accolades as a grappler, Dariush made a bigger impact in his debut with his striking as he floored Brenneman with a powerful straight left. It seems his work with Rafael Cordeiro has been paying off. He has a solid clinch a utilizes good knees from there and throws a lot of front kicks to help keep distance between himself and his opponent. There are still holes in his striking technique and defense (similar to when Nijem first entered the UFC), but it should be smoothed over with time... but not all at once.
Having entered MMA from BJJ competitions (in which he seemed to always place, including some well regarded tournaments such as the Pan Ams), you know that Dariush is most comfortable on the ground. He struggles to get the fight to the ground outside of trips from the clinch (though his straight left worked well last time) and has yet to face a wrestler of Nijem's caliber. It should be noted that while Brenneman is a notable wrestler, the fight was over before Brenneman got a chance to test Dariush in those waters. Still, Dariush is very slick on the ground and capable of pulling a rabbit out of his hat for the sub.
With all of those accolades for Dariush, it might (might!) be enough to negate Nijem's wrestling game which is actually his biggest strength. A college wrestler, he has begun to implement some judo throws to get the fight to the ground (which he attempts to do quite often) and diversify his attack. Guillotine chokes and RNC are his favorite submissions, but I would look for him to attempt to pound out Dariush if he is able to get top position on the ground. His GNP isn't especially powerful, but he does stay busy with it. Look for him to work very hard to get Dariush's back to minimize the danger Dariush presents.
This has all of the makings for one of the most entertaining fights on the card. Nijem always seems to stay busy and Dariush has shown a killer instinct. Nijem is more developed standing up at this point, but he also tends to be reckless at times. Dariush has the skills to make him pay for the type of mistakes that he is prone to. Dariush by Submission 2nd Round
Record for last Card: 2-8-1
Record for Year: 64-44-1
I don't blame you if you ignore me (my picks have sucked lately)... but I'm gonna get my mojo back soon if not here!