I'm a huge fight fan and can usually find reasons to watch any card. Even I'll admit that it is hard to justify watching the card the UFC is putting out this weekend in the middle of summer. You could be at a BBQ. Boating on a lake. At a music concert. Anywhere but in your home watching TV!
It isn't that there aren't reasons to watch this card. Francis Ngannou and Kailin Curran are exciting prospects, but they are still a long, long way away from being headliners. And yet here they are as the first two fights on free national television. At least Gilbert Melendez and Edson Barboza will be offered up....
The main card begins at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on FOX.
Francis Ngannou (7-1) vs. Bojan Mihajlovic (10-3), Heavyweight
Wondering where all of the heavyweight prospects have gone? They haven't gone the same way as the dodo yet as Ngannou is the rare legitimate specimen who wasn't snatched up by the NFL or NBA.
Ngannou's career has been on hyper-drive as he started his professional career less than three years ago in France where ground strikes are illegal. Now he finds himself on the main card on big FOX. Quite the jump. He was able to score impressive finishes in each of his first two UFC appearances, though he showed enough holes to indicate that he isn't quite ready for prime time yet. Make no mistake, Ngannou has the physical skills to be a major player in the near-future.
Mihajlovic rides into the UFC on a 10-fight winning streak after opening his career with three consecutive losses. The Serbia native is already 36, so he isn't going to be afforded any time to develop as a prospect. He needs to win immediately or be content with beating up no-names back in Europe as he'll be back there in a hurry otherwise.
The UFC is giving Mihajlovic a tough task as there doesn't appear to be a physical skill in which Ngannou doesn't have the advantage. Where Ngannou is chiseled, Mihajlovic carries around quite a bit of excess poundage. Mihajlovic will surprise with how quickly he can cover ground as he'll spring at his opponent with an overhand or kick before quickly retreating back to safety. A big chunk of his fights is spent against the cage in a battle for underhooks, where he can grind away or use a bodylock takedown. Mihajlovic's ground and pound is where his wheelhouse is located, as he is quick to achieve mount off of his takedowns and unleash a flurry of strikes with unrestrained aggression. He has landed punches to the back of the head as well as after the ref has waived off the bout. If he isn't careful, he could find himself DQ'd with those actions.
Despite his physical deficiencies, Mihajlovic does have a shot as Ngannou's weaknesses match up favorably for the Serb. Ngannou has had issues keeping his back off of the fence, for instance. However, he is so strong that keeping him there represents a massive chore, creating a massive expenditure of energy. His grappling skills are still very raw, but his striking has been coming along beautifully. Ngannou has developed a nice jab, a strong one-two combination, and great timing on the counter. Patience has been another virtue, as he hasn't rushed recklessly once he has hurt an opponent, picking his shots wisely to make sure he doesn't rush into danger or expend all of his energy looking for the kill.
This is heavyweight MMA, which means anything can happen. Make no mistake though, Mihajlovic is being used as fodder to make Ngannou look like a million bucks. Mihajlovic is used to beating on cans in Europe and hasn't faced anything like Ngannou. Could Mihajlovic score a takedown and pound out the massive Cameroonian? Sure, it's heavyweight MMA. But I wouldn't count on it. With every passing fight, Ngannou has figured out how to use his 83" reach better than before. Expect that trend to continue. Ngannou via KO of the 2nd round
Felice Herrig (10-6) vs. Kailin Curran (4-2), Women's Strawweight
A long-time crowd favorite makes her return against one of the division's most exciting youngsters as Herrig plays the role of gatekeeper to the promising Curran.
Herrig hasn't been seen since Paige VanZant tore her apart with relative ease back in April 2015. She decided to take some time off after the loss and was eventually diagnosed with anxiety and depression, which likely contributed to her flat performance. Even knowing that, it wouldn't be much of a surprise to see her on the chopping block if she losses again as she has been around a long time and her best days are likely behind her.
Curran has a much stronger likelihood of keeping her job even if she loses as her best days are ahead of her. Her ceiling combined with all of her fights in the UFC having been competitive and entertaining provide her with a bit more security than Herrig, though her stock will take a major hit with a loss here regardless of whether or not she is able to stay on the roster.
One of the strongest women in the division, Herrig is best in the clinch where she can use her strength to control her opponent while attacking with knees and elbows. That strength comes in handy on the ground too as it allows her to sweep with surprising ease given a slight opening. She is typically aggressive on the ground as she looks for submissions whether she is on top position or on her back with armbars being her specialty. Occasionally she'll give up position thanks to her submission-over-position philosophy. While Herrig's lack of speed gets her into trouble at a distance, she isn't helpless from there as a jab and front kick regularly come out to mitigate her opponent's attack and score points of her own.
Being the superior athlete, Curran will look to expose Herrig on the outside and she has the abilities to do so. High kicks and basic punching combinations are the staples of her arsenal, though that's hardly all she has in her toolbox. There have been signs of a jab, but her aggressive style has her itching to throw a flying knee or spinning back kick instead. Curran takes just as many risks on the ground which has both bit her in the ass and paid off for her in each of her last appearances. She was caught in an armbar against Alex Chambers while she was able to cinch in a RNC against Emily Kagan. While she has some trips and knees in the clinch, she's also been prone to being controlled there.
This comes down to what you deem responsible for Herrig's lackluster performance against VanZant. A kickboxer and Muay Thai fighter before her conversion to MMA, is she shopworn following her many years of combat sports? Or did the depression and anxiety sap her physically and mentally? That makes this an incredibly difficult fight to pick. It looks as though the UFC is doing their part to get Herrig back on track as Curran is a stylistically favorable matchup for her. There is a great chance I'll regret this, but I'm going with Herrig in belief she has exorcised her demons and will come back strong. Herrig via decision