The UFC makes its debut in Albany, New York this Friday when it comes to Times Union Center for UFC Fight Night 102. On paper, it’s a pretty weak card as it lacks stars competing on it, but often times the cards that no one expects to be good end up being exciting, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens before judging it.
Here are the top-five things to watch for at UFC Fight Night 102.
Heavyweights Clash In Main Event
The main event of UFC Fight Night 102 is a five-round heavyweight bout between Derrick Lewis ($9,100) and Shamil Abdurakhimov ($7,100). The 31-year-old Lewis has emerged as a fan favorite because of both his must-follow social media presence as well as his fighting inside the Octagon. Lewis is 7-2 in the UFC and has won his last four fights in a row. He has huge knockout power in his fists, particularly if he can take his opponent down and get on top and rain down ground and pound, and for a big guy he also has very good cardio. However, his chin is definitely a concern as he’s been knocked out twice in the UFC. Still, he’s one of the heavyweight division’s fighters to watch for in 2017, and coming off the biggest win of his career over Roy Nelson, he has a chance to move into the top-10 with a win this weekend.
Abdurakhimov is 2-1 in the UFC and has won his last two fights. On paper he’s a pretty well-rounded fighter, but overall he has been a pretty big disappointment inside the Octagon considering the hype he had prior to making his UFC debut. At 35, he doesn’t have much time to make a run in the heavyweight division, and this booking against Lewis was surprising when it was announced, as it looks like a matchup between one fighter headed for the top-10 and one fighter who could be released from his contract with another loss.
Analysis: Lewis is a knockout machine and the UFC wants him to get a big win in this fight to move up the heavyweight ladder. In Abdurakhimov’s loss to Tim Johnson, he was taken down and TKOed via ground-and-pound. Look for Lewis to do the same thing. I like Lewis at $9,100 as a finish is highly likely within the five rounds.
Ngannou Faces Hamilton In Co-Main Event
The heavyweight division’s top prospect looks to improve to 4-0 in the UFC when Francis Ngannou ($9,700) takes on veteran Anthony Hamilton ($6,500). The 30-year-old Ngannou has already knocked out his first three opponents in the UFC and the promotion is clearly building him up slowly by giving him a slight step up in competition each time he fights. He is a huge physical specimen with raw athleticism and massive punching power and one day could compete for the title.
Hamilton, his opponent, is 3-3 in the UFC and is coming off of a knockout win in his last fight. Like Ngannou, Hamilton is a big body with massive punching power, but at 36 he is no longer in his prime, and he hasn’t shown much durability in his MMA career, having been both submitted and knocked out on multiple occasions.
Analysis: I think Ngannou is going to win this fight by knockout. He is super expensive at $9,700, but he should be able to get a first-round finish, so I recommend giving him a long look for your squad.
Exciting Light Heavyweight Matchup
A pair of light heavyweights meet in main card action when Corey Anderson ($9,000) takes on Sean O’Connell ($7,200). Anderson, the former Ultimate Fighter winner, is 5-2 in the UFC overall and is coming off of a controversial split decision loss to Maurcio Rua, a fight many observers thought he deserved to win. Anderson is only 27 and in a division that needs prospects, he stands out as someone who could one day contend for the belt. He is a great athlete who has a solid wrestling base and improving striking, and he keeps getting better every time we see him. However, his chin seems to be a bit shaky, which is definitely something to watch out for going forward.
The 33-year-old O’Connell, meanwhile, is only 2-4 in the UFC and has lost his last two fights, but he is an extremely exciting fighter to watch as evidenced by his three “Fight of the Night” awards. O’Connell is a well-rounded fighter with good striking fundamentals and solid cardio, and he should make for a great opponent for Anderson to test his skills against.
Analysis: While I do expect Anderson to win the fight, I think O’Connell could have some value here at $7,200 as I expect him to land a high volume of strikes. He’s a guy to think about if you are taking some of the more expensive fighters for your other picks.
TUF Winner Sanchez Takes On Veteran Smith
Andrew Sanchez ($8,700) returns to the Octagon for the first time since winning The Ultimate Fighter when he fights Trevor Smith ($7,500) in a middleweight bout. Sanchez, who is 28, won TUF with his wrestling, and his grappling is what he’s going to use to try and have a successful career fighting in the UFC, although he is still developing the rest of his game. He is a durable guy who can grind opponents out and is very physically strong.
This is an interesting matchup against the veteran Smith, who is 4-3 in the UFC and coming off of back-to-back wins. Like Sanchez, the 33-year-old Smith is a grappling based fighter and his ground game has looked extremely solid in his last few outings. The problem with Smith is if he can’t implement his wrestling game, he has to stay on his feet and strike, and not only does he not have much in the way of a standup attack, but he also has a poor chin, having been brutally knocked out on multiple occasions.
Analysis: I think Sanchez should win this fight by decision, but it’s going to be a grind. I think it’s best to pass on him at $8,700.
Lightweight Prospects Go To Battle
A pair of lightweight prospects meet on the preliminary card as Frankie Perez ($7,000) takes on Marc Diakese ($9,200). Perez is actually returning from a short-lived retirement, which came as a shock because he was coming off of a knockout win over Sam Stout and also because he’s only 27. Perez is a well-rounded fighter with a solid ground game and improving striking. If he is motivated to continue his fighting career, he could have success in the UFC.
Diakese, who is only 23, is a perfect 10-0 in his MMA career and knocked out Lukasz Sajewski in his UFC debut. Diakese has a powerful striking attack and although his ground game is still a work in progress, he’s young enough and talented enough to make the necessary improvements to be a force to be reckoned with at 155lbs.
Analysis: I’m looking for Diakese to win the fight by knockout. $9,200 is a high price to pay, but I think he does have a good chance to get a finish in this fight.
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