PREVIEW & PREDICTIONS
Written by @NickRiznerMMA
Rafael dos Anjos vs. Eddie Alvarez
Rebounding from a loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov back in April of 2014, Rafael dos Anjos took the lightweight division by storm, winning his next five straight. Among the string of victories was a UFC Lightweight title fight against then-champion Anthony Pettis. RDA won the fight via unanimous decision and earned a Performance of the Night bonus for his efforts. With the belt around his waist, he set his sights on his first title defense against a streaking Donald Cerrone.
Cerrone, who had won his last eight consecutive fights, was transformed from an unstoppable monster to a mere mortal as RDA’s relentless pressure and striking attack put Cowboy away in just over a minute of action. As the saying goes, you are never truly a champion until you defend the belt. Well RDA was most certainly a champion now. In just his second title defense, dos Anjos was matched against UFC Featherweight Champion, Conor McGregor. He was believed by many to be the first man to best McGregor in the Octagon, and hungry hopefuls waited ideally by their computers to see the fall of the Irishman firsthand.
Unfortunately, the fight would never come. RDA got hurt, McGregor faced Nate Diaz on short notice, and Diaz handed McGregor his first loss since joining the UFC. With all the Mystic Mac drama subdued for a moment, RDA was handed a more traditional opponent in Eddie Alvarez. The former Bellator Lightweight Champion made his UFC debut back in September of 2014, dropping a decision to Donald Cerrone at UFC 178. He has since won his next two, defeating Gilbert Melendez and Anthony Pettis to secure his shot at the UFC Lightweight title. Alvarez is a notoriously difficult guy to put away and he is more than capable of bringing a fight to the champion. But with the aforementioned pressure, strength, and striking skillset that RDA brings to the table, I don’t see Alvarez stealing the belt.
Nick’s Pick: Rafael dos Anjos (-350 via Bovada)
Roy Nelson vs. Derrick Lewis
This is a slugfest fan’s dream fight. Two of the most imposing forces in the heavyweight division collide in this battle of brawlers. Roy Nelson has made a name for himself with his one-punch knockout power and signature celebrations. After winning The Ultimate Fighter back in 2009, he has enjoyed deal of success inside the Octagon, while facing an equal amount of adversity. Often the recipient of criticisms from Dana White and company for his image, fans can’t seem to get enough of the Big Country persona and look forward to his fights accordingly. Despite an 8-8 record in the UFC, Nelson continues to be one of the biggest threats in the heavyweight division. All but one of his UFC victories have come by knockout and more-often-than-not, they’re of the highlight reel variety. When an opponent is willing to engage with Nelson, the spectacle usually evolves into a must-watch.
Derrick Lewis is willing to engage. With 14 of his 15 wins coming by knockout, it should be no mystery where the majority of this fight will take place. Derrick Lewis had a spotty start to his UFC career, as to be expected in the heavyweight division. After winning his first two fights, he then dropped two out of his next three, losing via knockout to Matt Mitrione and Shawn Jordan. He’s off to a tremendous start in 2016, however, dropping his first two opponents via first round knockout and looking to make it a cool three against Roy Nelson.
To me, Nelson’s best days are behind him. This rarely means much in a division where two or three consecutive wins could lead to a title shot, but the fact remains the same. Lewis, on the other hand, seems to be clicking on a whole new level and I fully expect him to keep his strike alive by winning the biggest fight of his career. In what I am dubbing The Battle of Four First Names, there can only be one winner. And that winner is Derrick Lewis.
Nick’s Pick: Derrick Lewis (+105 via Bovada)
Alan Jouban vs. Belal Muhammad
Don’t sleep on Belal Muhammad. Aptly known as Remember The Name, Buhammad has been on a mission to make people do just that since his pro debut back in 2012. He’s gone 9-0 as a professional, climbing his way through the ranks of Hoosier Fight Club, Bellator, and Titan FC before earning his call-up to the big show. His swan song with Titan came in the form of a title fight against the highly-sought-after Steve Carl with the Titan FC Welterweight belt on the line. Belal entered the bout with a chip on his shoulder, as the media coverage seemed to be favoring the newly signed free agent rather than the homegrown Muhammad. Critics were silenced after he dominated the veteran Carl on his way to a TKO victory in the final minute of the fourth round. Now, he will look to test himself on the biggest stage the sport has to offer.
Standing across from Muhammad for his Octagon debut is the always-dangerous Alan Jouban. This is one hell of a test for a UFC newcomer and undoubtedly speaks volumes about the upper management’s feelings towards Belal’s potential. Jouban holds a 4-2 record since debuting back in 2014. He boasts a high-level muay thai skillset with the jiu jitsu to match, training under Eddie Bravo at 10th Planet in LA. I can’t recall a single one of Jouban’s performances that could be categorized as boring. Hell, I can’t think of one that you could appropriately call “pretty good”. Something about the way this guy fights just keeps you glued to the TV. This is the sleeper pick for Fight of the Night on Thursday’s card, and that’s because Belal Muhammad fights with the same attitude. In the end, I think Muhammad takes the W in this one. The future is bright for this kid and I believe his journey to stardom begins on the 7th.
Nick’s Pick: Belal Muhammad (+115 via Bovada)
Joseph Duffy vs. Mitch Clarke
For a long time, Joseph Duffy has been living in the shadow of Conor McGregor. Or perhaps more appropriately, he’s been famous for casting a shadow on the notorious one. Known around most circles as “the guy who submitted Conor,” Duffy has had an aura of intrigue around him since joining the UFC back in March of 2015. The reality met the expectation as his first two fights combined for less than a single round worth of action. In his debut, he knocked out Jake Lindsey in just 1:47. In his sophomore appearance, he submitted Ivan Jorge in 3:05, totaling just 4:52 of time in the Octagon. The UFC felt it appropriate to increase the level of competition in his next bout, matching him up against perennial top-contender Dustin Poirier at UFC 195. Things didn’t go Duffy’s way, although there’s something to be said about going the distance with a guy like DP.
Mitch Clarke is a Canadian submission specialist who has yet to make more than one Octagon appearance in a calendar year since debuting back in 2011. During this time, he’s amassed a 2-3 record, most recently dropping a decision to Michael Chiesa last April. While he holds a victory over the highly-touted Al Iaquinta, it would appear that this is very much being looked upon as a tune-up fight for Duffy. The oddsmakers seem to agree with this notion, as they’ve made Duffy a four-t0-one favorite heading into the bout. Personally, I view this more as a trap fight for Duffy. Clarke is experienced and dangerous and far-from an easy win. It’s for that reason that I disagree with the odds. However, I still believe Duffy takes home the win. He’s well-rounded and can finish the fight anywhere it goes. There’s won’t be any breathing room for Clarke in this one, and it’s only a matter of time before Duffy finds a way to win.
Nick’s Pick: Joseph Duffy (-400 via Bovada)Check out our latest podcast episode featuring a conversation with Cortney Casey.