Let’s do it. Cutting it close here, with the prelims getting ready to start up, but the UFC is killing me with three events in eight days, and there was also a Bellator event on Spike last night. Tonight we’ll find out who’ll challenge Cain Velasquez for the Heavyweight title.
Rafael dos Anjos vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov
This is a close fight, much closer than the betting lines (Nurmy -250) would indicate. Dos Anjos looked better than ever before against Cerrone, mixing in some potent Muay Thai with his always-excellent takedowns and top control. I’d love to see him grab the win here, but Nurmagomedov is a brutal matchup: he has absurdly good takedown defense, a great clinch game, and the ability to do serious damage in transition. RDA probably has the advantage at striking range, though with Nurmy’s improvement that isn’t a given, and if he can keep the fight there he has a good chance of winning. I just don’t think he can for all three rounds. Nurmagomedov, unanimous decision.
Yoel Romero vs. Brad Tavares
This should be a fun, high-paced matchup between two guys who like to throw real volume on the feet. Tavares has developed into a clean and methodical combination striker, while Romero’s strengths are his next-level power and athleticism, which nicely flow together with his unorthodox kickboxing style. I’m inclined to think that the latter will carry the day here, given that Tavares is hittable and probably can’t threaten with takedowns the way that accomplished wrestlers like Brunson and Markes could. Romero, unanimous decision.
Edson Barboza vs. Donald Cerrone
I’m a huge fan of both of these guys, and I don’t want either to lose. With that said, Cerrone’s fought and beaten much better competition, and he’s looked absolutely outstanding in his last two outings, with none of the slow-starting malaise that’s plagued him in the past. Both Cerrone and Barboza are fairly extreme rhythm strikers, and whoever gets their timing and range first should take this; based on the Martins and Dunham fights, and Barboza’s epically slow start against Danny Castillo, I think that’s more likely to be Cerrone. Combine that with his underrated takedowns and grappling, and I think he takes a competitive decision. Cerrone, unanimous decision.
Liz Carmouche vs. Miesha Tate
Much like Ronda Rousey, Alexis Davis, Sarah Kaufman, and Marloes Coenen before her, Miesha Tate is exactly the caliber of opponent that Liz Carmouche doesn’t have the tools to beat. She’s great against small, or less grapple savy opponents who can be overwhelmed by her bullying takedown game, but any opponent with a bit of size, strength and chops on the mat can tear her apart. Tate by one-sided decision.
Travis Browne vs. Fabricio Werdum
I think Browne has been undervalued for quite some time, and while he’s the favorite here I wouldn’t be surprised if by Saturday afternoon those lines shift towards even money. Werdum’s best chance at a takedown is if Browne overcommits on a strike and is driven to the ground while off balance. Werdum’s best striking comes from in the clinch, and I don’t think he can bully Browne there. If it does go to the ground then Browne is probably cooked, but as long as Browne can dictate the pace, fight from the outside, and really string together some effective strikes, then he’ll come out as the victor once again. Browne by TKO, round 1.