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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Moncton: Volkan vs. Smith - Main card preview

Get the scoop on the main card action of UFC Moncton, including Conor McGregor’s teammate Artem Lobov returning to action for the first time in a year against Michael Johnson.

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At one point, the co-main event of UFC Moncton appeared to be extremely underwhelming. Little did fans know how much interest they would have in seeing Artem Lobov and Zubaira Tukhugov square off. Of course, the moment the post-fight brawl at UFC 229 occurred, that fight was canceled. Then again, the moment that brawl happened was also when fans realized how badly they wanted to see that fight given their associations with Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov. There is no official word yet on whether the UFC is going to release Tukhugov after he punched McGregor in the melee as Khabib threatened to quit if the UFC cut loose his teammate… but at least fans know his name now.

Wait… this is an article about UFC Moncton. In fact, it’s a preview article. Well, I’ll be the first to admit there is a lack of name value on the card. Despite that, every contest on the main card has a greater likelihood of providing real entertainment than not. After all, isn’t entertainment the #1 reason we all watch the fights?

The main card begins on FS1 at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT on Saturday.

Michael Johnson (18-13) vs. Artem Lobov (14-14-1, 1 NC), Featherweight

Lobov shouldn’t just be disappointed he is no longer facing Tukhugov anymore after the skirmish with his camp. He’s facing a more talented opponent too in Johnson. Recently having gotten back on the winning track after a rough stretch, Johnson’s career has been up-and-down thanks to his weak mental fortitude. He would stick to his pre-planned strategy for only so long before losing his head and allowing his opponent to dictate the pace. In his bounce back performance against Andre Fili, he remained calm, mixing his punches to the head and body in addition to the occasional low kick.

Given Lobov’s poor defense – exacerbated by his T-Rex arms – Johnson stands a good chance of picking apart the Russian import. Despite that terrible defense – including regularly keeping his hands down at his waist -- Lobov has made it to the end of all his UFC fights thanks to his impressive durability. Lobov isn’t afraid to eat a few punches in order to deliver his own brand of punishment either. Lobov has some power in his punches, but opponents have also adjusted to him, knowing where he’s most comfortable and taking it away from him.

Lobov’s only chance is to lure Johnson into a brawl. That isn’t an impossibility, though it does appear highly doubtful given the massive gap in athleticism between the two. Johnson’s hands are incredibly fast in addition to having an 8” reach advantage on Lobov. That should allow him to remain on the outside and pile up the volume on Lobov despite taking the contest on short notice. Johnson via decision

Misha Cirkunov (13-4) vs. Patrick Cummins (10-5), Light Heavyweight

Despite the recent shortcomings, no one is questioning whether Cirkunov has the physical skills to be a player at the top of the light heavyweight division. The question is whether he has the grit and fight IQ to translate those skills into the high level of success many were once predicting for him. Despite those recent shortcomings, Cirkunov’s striking has made strides – he was winning the standup battle with Glover Teixeira by a wide margin before being taken to the ground – and is still one of the top submission grapplers in the division… provided he gets the top position. He’s just got to learn how to avoid the silly mistakes that have put him in compromising positions.

Cummins isn’t the grappler Cirkunov is, making it highly unlikely he can find a submission. However, Cummins was an All-American wrestler in his collegiate days and Cirkunov hasn’t been terribly difficult to put on his back. It’s plausible Cummins could take Cirkunov down repeatedly, preventing the Canadian from delivering his own brand of offense. Should the fight remain standing for long periods of time, Cummins has made strides similar to Cirkunov in his boxing. What Cummins doesn’t have is the striking variety or power in his fists possessed by his opponent, making it unlikely he can win a fight in that manner.

Cirkunov has made putting trust in him a risky endeavor following his last two losses. Despite that, I’m feeling pretty confident in his chances here as Cummins doesn’t have the savvy to capitalize on the type of mistakes Cirkunov has been committing, nor the striking acumen to make Cirkunov pay. Cummins will probably score some takedowns, but it’s unlikely to be enough to swing the contest in his favor. Cirkunov via submission of RD3

Andre Soukhamthath (12-6) vs. Jonathan Martinez (9-1), Bantamweight

Originally scheduled to be Soukhamthath and Gavin Tucker, Martinez got his call to the big show when Tucker pulled out lame. The natural flyweight out of Texas has fought very sporadically over the last two years, but appears to favor a kick-heavy offense with a decent amount of flair. He can be reckless, allowing his opponent to counter easily or take him down, but Martinez is a good athlete with a dangerous guard. He shouldn’t be overwhelmed physically either as he’s big for 125.

While Soukhamthath hasn’t found much success in the UFC in his record – he’s 1-3 – he has proven to be durable and fun to watch. He tends to get outstruck as he can be too patient in his counterstriking. However, when he does connect cleanly, the course of the fight often takes a sharp turn in his favor as Soukhamthath’s power is considerable for the division. Though he’s known as a striker, Soukhamthath showed more wrestling prowess in his contest against Sean O’Malley, indicating he’s continuing to improve.

This may be the hardest contest on the entire card to predict given the limited amount of relevant footage on Martinez. He appears to have all the tools required to make his way up the ladder in the UFC, but there’s also some concerns about the quality of competition he has faced. Nonetheless, provided he can avoid Soukhamthath’s haymakers, Martinez should be able to comfortably outpoint his opponent. Martinez via decision

Gian Villante (16-10) vs. Ed Herman (22-13, 1 NC), Light Heavyweight

Villante may be one of the more fun personalities on the roster, but his inability to put his immense talents together also makes him one of the more frustrating fighters in the entire sport. Villante hits like a truck and owns a functional wrestling game. He should be hanging around the top of the division with his skills. However, there isn’t a fighter who is more hittable and he has a nasty habit of depleting his gas tank early. Villante also tends to negate his own wrestling by choosing not to use it. Fortunately, he still puts it to use as Villante has never been easy to take to the mat.

That could prove to be bad news for Herman as his biggest advantage in this contest is his underrated grappling abilities. He isn’t flashy, but he’s fundamentally sound and more than capable of catching the likes of Villante in a compromising position. Herman’s standup often catches his opponent by surprise too as his power is deceptive. However, despite never having much in terms of speed and quickness, he’s slowed even more as he’s gotten older and has struggled to avoid return fire as well as he did in his younger days.

As an MMA prognosticator, there aren’t many things that make one more uncomfortable than putting trust in Villante to pick up a win. Nonetheless, Villante can typically absorb a lot of damage before going down and Herman is unlikely to outstrike him… at least through the first two rounds. Herman’s durability also appears to be in decline, meaning Villante’s suspect gas tank may not come into play. Regardless, I’m hesitantly picking Villante to get the win one way or another. Villante via TKO of RD2

Alex Garcia (15-5) vs. Court McGee (18-7), Welterweight

After almost a year away due to shoulder surgery, McGee returns probably needing a win to keep his UFC career alive as he’s dropped three of his last four. One of the ultimate nice guys in the sport – seriously, try and find someone with something bad to say about him as a person – McGee has strayed from the volume punching attack that served him so well early in his career looking to take his opponents to the ground. The results haven’t been very good, landing only five takedowns in those four fights despite 33 attempts. Yikes.

If McGee looks to push a hard pace upon Garcia, that could be major trouble for the Canadian. Garcia is by far the superior athlete with enough power in his fists to stop a wildebeest. However, he also tends to gas somewhere in the second round, resorting to mere survival over the last half of the fight. Given Garcia’s bowling ball frame, it appears unlikely McGee’s strategy of takedowns is unlikely to succeed. Thus, Garcia will either look for his own takedowns – and get them early in the contest – or look for the KO blow early.

McGee is uber tough, but he’s also shown signs that he isn’t as indestructible as he once upon a time was. However, Garcia has only been able to dispose of fighters whose chin is already gone or aren’t used to the caliber of athlete at the highest levels. McGee still has a chin, is just as experienced at the highest level as any of Garcia’s past opponents, and has as deep of a gas tank as anyone. Outside of an early Garcia KO, McGee should have this in the bag. McGee via decision