PREVIEW & PREDICTIONS
Written by @NickRiznerMMA
Picture Credit: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
Michael McDonald vs. John Lineker
Ah, it’s nice to have Michael McDonald back. One of the most dangerous bantamweights on the roster, his two year absence from the sport was a noticeable one. After an impressive 15-1 start to his career, including a 4-0 beginning to his stint in the UFC, McDonald met the seemingly-unstoppable Renan Barao in his first defense of the interim bantamweight title. Although he took the champ late into the fourth round, he was ultimately submitted and forced to start his climb back up to the top. The fight was on Fuel TV, if that helps put the time frame in perspective.
McDonald rebounded from the loss in nearly four years by winning an absolute war against Brad Pickett on the first ever Fox Sports 1 event. For his efforts, he was awarded with Fight of the Night, Submission of the Night and, of course, the victory. His next fight would come against the timeless veteran Urijah Faber and would ultimately serve as the crowning achievement of Faber’s time with Duane Ludwig. It was a simpler time in Sacramento, but let’s get back to the fight at hand.
Michael McDonald would spend the next two years battling various injuries before successfully returning to the cage in January of this year, submitting Masanori Kanehara via 2nd round rear-naked choke. I usually try to avoid the term ‘tune-up fight,’ but in this case, it was pretty undeniable that this was the case. This next fight will be anything but. A legitimate threat to every 135 pounder on the planet, John Linker is a legitimate contender for the bantamweight belt. The rankings don’t indicate as such, but talent wise, this could very-well determine who will be next to challenge the champ. If not right away, very soon.
After a long stretch at flyweight – a place where the scale often posed a bigger threat to Lineker than his opponent – John has returned to bantamweight where he looks better than ever. He ran through Francisco Rivera in just over two minutes, earning Fight of the Night and a win over a highly ranked member of his new division. He then took on the rising prospect Rob Font, and handled him decisively as well. But Michael McDonald will likely be his toughest test yet. He’s appropriately positioned in the #5 spot, providing a very obvious pathway to title contention. I’m sure Lineker is well-aware of this fact and will fight accordingly. Expect a war in this one as both guys fight aggressively and neither is taken down easily. But ultimately, I expect the slight underdog to pull this one out, likely be a hard-fought decision.
Nick’s Pick: Michael McDonald (+150 via 5Dimes)
Tony Ferguson vs. Landon Vannata
Before we begin, let’s take a brief moment of silence for the loss of Ferguson vs. Chiesa.
Damn, that was going to be an exciting fight. This fight game is a tough business more often than not, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less when it breaks your heart. And this was a major heart-breaker for me. But we must move on. We must persevere. So let’s start with this Landon fellow.
Landon Vannata is an undefeated prospect out of the Jackson-Wink camp with eight wins to his name. While he’s been upping the level of competition in the past year or so, the early days were riddled with perennial journeymen, all of which have losing records except for the 2-2 Adrian Apodaca and the 11-10 J.P. Reese. Now this isn’t to say that Vannata can’t dismantle the UFC Lightweight Champion if given the opportunity. It just means that he has little to no experience fighting a UFC caliber opponent. And Tony Ferguson may very well be the best 155er in the world.
Since losing to Michael Johnson back in May of 2012, Tony has been on an absolute tear through the one and only loss of his UFC career. The other ten Octagon appearances have ended in victory, more-often-than-not in spectacular fashion. The welterweight winner of TUF 13, Tony immediately dropped down to lightweight and began climbing the ranks. Aside from the aforementioned Michael Johnson setback, Tony has looked flawless, especially in 2015 where he went 3-0 against the division’s best, earned four post-fight bonuses in the process. He capped it all off with an amazing 2nd round d’arce choke of Edson Barboza; good enough for Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night on December 11th. This will be his first time competing in 2016 and while nothing is guaranteed in MMA, this is about as close as you get.
Nick’s Pick: Tony Ferguson (-800 via 5Dimes)
Tim Boetsch vs. Josh Samman
Josh Samman is one of the most interesting figures in MMA. Fighter, writer, promoter, philosopher, musician, teammate, coach. The list goes on. His skillset is as diverse as it is compelling, and he’s most certainly got the personality to become a star. After making himself out to be a villain of-sorts, while appearing on the 17th season of The Ultimate Fighter, he has since become a fan-favorite in the eyes of UFC fans; a reputation that had existed long before that in his home state of Florida. His head kick knockout of Eddie Gordon served as the perfect catalyst for what Josh was capable of inside the Octagon.
With a damaged leg and a heavy heart, Josh Samman used one of the only weapons he had – a left high kick – and earned a victory on the birthday of his late-girlfriend, who he tragically lost the year before. It was the sort of emotional sports moment that becomes an instant classic, earning Josh Samman 2014 Knockout of the Year honors from many media outlets. He followed this performance with a highlight reel submission of Caio Magalhaes the following summer, but fell short against Tamdan McCrory last December in a back-and-fourth affair. Now the author of an amazing book, entitled The Housekeeper: Love, Death and Prizefighting, he will be looking to get back on track against a dangerous veteran in Boetsch.
Tim Boetsch is the biggest name that Josh has ever squared off against, and despite his disappointing record of late, he is an extremely dangerous opponent. A heavy-handed brawler with an aggressive style, one mistake against Boetsch could lead to any fighter’s demise. I could see this being a stand-up war if Josh decides to keep it in this area. If so, Josh will likely be the more technical striker and the one who gets the job done in the undoubtedly-wild exchanges. That being said, Josh may decide to take it to the ground and secure a submission. Tim has solid wrestling base, but has proven to be susceptible to high level jiu-jitsu in the past. I believe Josh Samman has what it takes to end the fight anywhere and for that reason, I’m picking him to win.
Nick’s Pick: Josh Samman (-230 via 5Dimes)Check out our latest podcast episode featuring Adam Milstead & Dinis "Sweetbread" Paiva