The Octagon heads to Poland for UFC Fight Night: Gonzaga vs. Cro Cop II, and you’ll need UFC Fight Pass to see this one go down. The card features the return of the legendary Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, dynamic striker Jimi Manuwa and a pair of undefeated fighters going at it in Joanne Calderwood vs. Maryna Moroz. Let’s break it down.
Gabriel Gonzaga ($10500) vs Mirko Cro Cop ($9200)
“Right leg, hospital. Left leg, cemetery.” Those are the famous words of Mirko Cro Cop, the former PRIDE star and fan favorite. He makes his return to the Octagon for the first time since 2011. Can Cro Cop still deliver those deadly head kicks at the age of 40? Ask Satoshi Ishii, who ate one of those patented Cro Cop head kicks last December. It was the second time Cro Cop knocked him out in a span of four months. However, Gabriel “Napao” Gonzaga is a much different beast than Satoshi Ishii. In fact, in their first battle in 2007, Gonzaga was the one landing the head kick, knocking Cro Cop out at UFC 70. No, that’s not likely to happen again, but the result will be the same. This time though, Gonzaga will finish Cro Cop with strikes, something that will be hard to watch for his legion of fans.
Pick: Gonzaga by KO/TKO
Jimi Manuwa ($10000) vs Jan Blachowicz ($9400)
Manuwa vs. Blachowicz is a fantastic light heavyweight matchup. Manuwa is known for his highlight-reel finishes, with 13 of his 14 wins coming by way of knockout. He lost for the first time in his career against Alexander Gustafsson in March of 2014, but he remains deadly and dangerous. Blachowicz won his UFC debut in devastating fashion with a knockout of Ilir Latifi, his sixth straight win. But the key here will be pace and speed. Manuwa will dictate the pace and he has more speed than Blachowicz. This one might be fun for a spell but eventually Manuwa will do what he does best: knockout his opponent.
Pick: Manuwa by KO/TKO
Sheldon Wescott ($10400) vs Pawel Pawlak ($9000)
Wescott vs. Pawlak features two fighters both coming off UFC debut losses. Pawlak got absolutely nothing going against Peter Sobotta last May, landing just 21 significant strikes over three rounds. He was also taken down three times and had his guard passed five times. Wescott didn’t muster up much in his debut either, getting knocked out by Elias Theodorou and landing just 13 significant strikes. Pawlak has more power and has ended fights with vicious elbows on several occasions. Wescott is a well-rounded fighter, and he is also making his debut at 170, where he will be a big welterweight. Wescott probably holds advantages in speed and all-around skills, but it’s too tempting to take the Pawlak fighting in front of his countrymen in Poland. I think his ground game will surprise Wescott, and that’s where Pawlak unleashes extreme violence. He’ll end the fight on the ground from top position.
Pick: Pawlak by KO/TKO
Joanne Calderwood ($11700) vs Maryna Moroz ($7600)
Calderwood vs. Moroz is a battle between two undefeated fighters, both hoping to move up the rankings and eventually get a title shot at 115. Moroz will be making her UFC debut, and she has finished all five off her opponents with four by armbar and one knockout. Calderwood put up some sick Draft Kings numbers in her TUF Finale fight in december, landing 109 significant strikes and throwing a whopping 271 in total. Calderwood held a major reach advantage in that fight, but her style remains the same: throw a lot of strikes, something that piles up points in Draft Kings MMA. Calderwood is not a big power puncher though, so I expect her to take this one on points while Moroz demonstrates that she is definitely a UFC-caliber fighter.
Pick: Calderwood by decision
Leon Edwards ($9900) vs Seth Bacyznski ($9500)
Simply put, it’s win or go home for Bacyznski. He’s lost four of his last five fights, and a loss against Edwards would surely mean his dismissal from the UFC. While “The Polish Pistola” will have the crowd behind him, his opponent is tough as nails. Edwards is diverse in his striking attacks and has a powerful left hand. Bacyznski will hang for a little while before the speed and punches add up, then Edwards will finish the job.
Pick: Edwards by KO/TKO
Bartosz Fabinski ($10200) vs Garreth McLellen ($9200)
Everything about this fight screams for an early finish — the tough part is picking who will be the finisher. McLellen is a submission-specialist, currently riding a six-fight winning streak. Five have come by way of submission — four by rear naked choke and one by guillotine. Fabinski has won four straight and has ended eight of his 11 wins with first round KOs. Fabinski has a reach advantage and the home crowd. McLellen has never fought outside of his native South Africa. Fabinski will likely bully McClellen, but he’ll have to be careful of his sub game. If he does that he will score the victory.
Pick: Fabinski by decision
Sergio Moraes ($11300) vs Mickael Lebout ($8100)
Moraes is finally back in the Octagon after a long layoff, and he’ll face France’s Mickael Lebout. Moraes had a nice run before being shelved by injuries. His last bout was an impressive first round finish of up and comer Neil Magny, whom he submitted with a triangle choke. Prior to that he choked out Renee Forte at UFC 153. Magny is an outstanding wrestler and is very good at defending subs, so that makes it even more impressive. Lebout is making his UFC debut and according to scouting reports he’s not adept at defending takedowns. That means it’s uh-oh time for him against the a great grappler in Moraes. Maybe not in round one, but Moraes will get this fight to the ground and win by submission.
Pick: Moraes by submission
Damian Stasiak ($10000) vs Yaotzin Meza ($9400)
Last time I saw Yaotzin Meza I had that distinct feeling that his days as a top level competitor were finished. He fought Sergio Pettis last June, and seemed content to let Pettis dictate the pace. The problem with that is Meza didn’t do a good job of counter-punching, his combinations looked slow and his punches lacked bite. Enter Stasiak: a 25-year-old with five wins in a row, four by submission. This is likely to go bad for Meza early in the fight, when Stasiak gets him to the ground and chokes him out.
Pick: Stasiak by submission
Daniel Omielanczuk ($10100) vs Anthony Hamilton ($9300)
Omielanczuk did fight the most impressive talent before coming to the UFC, and I don’t think his 16-4 record is completely indicative of his skill set. That’s a nice way of saying he beat a lot of cans earlier in his career. He did knock out Nandor Guelmino at UFC 165, but followed that up with a dreadful performance against Jared Rosdholt last April. Hamilton is coming off a brutal first round loss to Todd Duffee, which somewhat spoiled his dominance against Ruan Potts at UFC 177. Hamilton is bigger and has a reach advantage. Omielanczuk will not last three rounds against Hamilton like he did against Rosholt; Hamilton has too many weapons at his disposal for that to happen. Look for “The Freight Train” to put Omielanczuk to sleep with with a kick or big right hand.
Pick: Hamilton by KO
Aleksandra Albu ($9800) vs Izabela Badurek ($9600)
Badurek will be right at home fighting in Poland, against an opponent with just one professional fight in Aleksandra Albu. While both fighters are making their UFC debuts, all of Badurek’s fights have been in Poland. She also has a solid ground game she can rely on, with all five of her wins coming via submission. This is a fight I will stay away from in my Draft Kings tourneys, but if I need to fit a salary slot I would pick Badurek.
Pick: Badurek by decision
Stevie Ray ($10300) vs Marcin Bandel ($9100)
Poland’s Bandel has one UFC fight under his belt, but it was a first-round knockout loss last October. Stevie Ray has fought in the Cage Warriors and BAMMA promotions, and has fought former UFC fighter Curt Warburton and the dangerous Nicolas Musoke. Bandel has made a living out of submitting people, but the book on him says he lacks a solid striking attack. Four of Ray’s five losses have come by submission. So the conventional wisdom is that if Ray keeps it standing he will win while Bandel needs to get it to the ground to win. My belief is Ray has already done battle against better opponents than Bandel, just not in the UFC. I look for him to take it by decision.
Pick: Ray by decision
Taylor Lapilus ($10300) vs Rocky Lee ($8700)
Yet another double-UFC debut in this bout, featuring Taiwanese fighter Rocky Lee against France’s Taylor Lapilus. Lee was on “The Ultimate Fighter: China,” but this will be his official UFC debut. Despite that experience, Lee is still relatively green with only three pro fights, against opponents who had little experience as well. But I was not impressed with Lapilus after watching a few of his fights. I didn’t see one skill that I thought stood out. This is a tough fight to call, but based on what I’ve seen I think Lee will take it. At $8700 that would be a solid value pick if he scores the win.
Pick: Lee by decision