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UFC Fight Night: Nelson vs. Story - Idiot's Guide and Preview to the Main Card

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Akira Corassani, Max Holloway, Ilir Latifi, Jan Balchowicz, Niklas Backstrom, and Mike Wilkinson comprise the main card sans main event for Fight Night in Sweden. How do they stack up?

Holloway's still got plenty of time to develop
Holloway's still got plenty of time to develop
Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting

The Line-Up

Featherweight Akira Corassani vs. Max Holloway
Light Heavyweight Ilir Latifi vs. Jan Błachowicz
Featherweight Niklas Bäckström vs. Mike Wilkinson

The Stakes

Not a whole lot of upside or downside on this main card. These are exactly the kind of bouts tailor made for UFC promotional material, complete with the requisite Rogan shrieking, and Goldbergisms.

The only way you get a high profile bout upon victory is if you win big. The interesting thing is that Holloway, Latifi, and Backstrom can achieve exactly that with a performance of the night level showing. They're all good fighters who need a little more exposure to register as the stalwarts they are.

Analysis

Akira vs. Holloway is a solid matchup. I don't know that people expected much out of Corassani after watching the show. He seemed destined not for a career in the UFC, but TUF reruns as the self proclaimed bad boy you wanted to see get knocked out. Instead he's earning his keep in the UFC. He's 3-1 in the UFC, and his only loss was to Dustin Poirier at the Kennedy vs. Bisping show.

It was a great fight too. Akira knocked down Dustin once, and staggered him on numerous occasions for a small portion of their first, whirlwind round. Even though he's 32, he's made some significant improvements to his game since TUF. While his strikes are pretty wild, and looping, he throws with enough speed and has enough movement to make them efficient. He has yet to be submitted professionally, though Dennis Bermudez did choke him out on the show (and Dustin almost had a Peruvian Necktie on him).

Since losing to Conor McGregor, Max Holloway is 3-0 , finishing each opponent. At 22 years of age, it'll be interesting to see how dramatic his improvement is. He's a technical striker capable of the type of eccentric boxing we're getting more used to: spinning back fists, and kicks, etc. But he's fairly well rounded, which is what makes this fight so good in terms of what to expect. I feel like the ground is mostly a wash. I don't expect Akira to have much success gaining top control. Instead I expect Max to box his way through Akira's wild gunfire. His punches are straighter, and his height will make it difficult for Akira to land with regularity. Dustin walked into some of those punches Akira threw, and did himself little favors, which is in stark contrast to Holloway's more measured approach.

Jan Blachowicz has one of more interesting resumes. If you look at his last four decisions, they are wins over four consecutive UFC "rejects": Goran Reljic (derailed Wilson Gouveia's hype train), Houston Alexander (scariest KO artist since Mike Tyson pre-Thiago Silva), Mario Miranda (who?), and Sokoudjou (former Pride oddsmaker heartbreaker).

He deserves a shot but he's the rightful underdog against a fighter who has earned himself a place in the UFC beyond Queen Latifah jokes. He's flat out demolished his last two UFC opponents in Chris Dempsey, and Cyrille Diabate. +215 for Jan, the product out of Anjos Zapasy Poznan, is correct though. He's a well rounded fighter who prefers the usual routine of kickboxing from his southpaw stance. By contrast, Latifi is several hundred Swedish bowling balls of a man from Malmo. His massive strength allows him to control opponents on the ground where he's much more agile than you expect. And his power means he only needs a few for you to start signaling to the referee to get this polar bear off of you. It's not exactly a squash match, but the UFC is still paying him back for the late notice Mousasi fight I'm sure.

Opening the main card is an actual, certified squash match. When Backstrom debuted against Tom Niinimaki at the Munoz vs. Mousasi fight card, I will confess to not doing my homework. Yes I watched a little youtube (probably watching more of the other Backstrom highlights), but I was very high on Niinimaki, who beat a fighter that typically only loses to the elite in Rani Yahya. Watching him run roughshod over Tom with a blistering knee, followed with an expertly applied bulldog choke that required some adjustment after Niinimaki rolled over to escape no less...well I had to look back and feel ashamed.

So it isn't by accident that Backstrom, the product out of Allstars Training Centers, finds himself the favorite at -800 (!). The first thing I overlooked, as dumb as this sounds, was Backstrom's size. He's simply a massive Featherweight. And I don't just mean he's tall. 6'1 is tall for the division, but he's also fairly wide. His striking is fairly dynamic. Though not overt with his versatility, he keeps his low kicks and a particularly swift overhand right locked for all occasions. on the ground, his background in Swedish Submission Wrestling is apparent. He's not an aggressive guard passer, but he does an excellent job in capitalizing on opportunities. Wilkinson isn't a bad fighter (who likely would have made more noise on TUF if he hadn't been injured), but he's definitely an overmatched one. He's well rounded, has a nose for submissions, but is more comfortable throwing combinations in the pocket. But this won't be enough for a fighter who can boast a front kick KO, and is only getting better.

Predictions

Max Holloway by Decision.

Ilir Latifi by TKO, round 1.

Niklas Backstrom by TKO, round 2.