WATCH: TOMMY TOE HOLD – FIGHT BREAKDOWN
After an incredible UFC 207 card to end the year 2016, the UFC is back in 2017 with its latest offering, UFC Fight Night 103, which takes place Sunday at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona.
The card has been hit hard by injuries and lost its co-main event between Bryan Caraway and Jimmie Rivera at the last minute, but there are still a number of intriguing fights on the card, including the return of the legend BJ Penn in the main event against top prospect Yair Rodriguez.
Here are the top-five things to watch for at UFC Fight Night 103.
Penn Returns Against Rodriguez
The main event of UFC Fight Night 103 sees MMA legend BJ Penn ($7,000) return to the Octagon when he fights hot-shot prospect Yair Rodriguez ($9,200) in a five-round featherweight bout. Penn is a former two-division UFC champion and is 12-6-1 overall in the UFC since 2001, but at 38 he is in the twilight of his career. He hasn’t fought in over two years and is just 1-5-1 in his last seven fights, although to be fair to him, he’s been fighting elite competition. He is one of the sport’s all-time greatest fighters, of that there is no doubt, but it’s clear his best days are behind him. His last win came in 2010 against Matt Hughes, and since then he has been getting beaten badly in his fights, with a TKO loss to Frankie Edgar his last time out that was particularly tough to watch.
For whatever reason, Penn has the itch to fight again and came out of retirement for this fight against Rodriguez, a fighter who looks like a future champion. He’s 5-0 in the UFC and at 24 continues to get better and better. Obviously Penn represents the highest-profile fight of his career, but if Rodriguez can win this fight he will make a name for himself and could be fighting for the featherweight belt before the end of the year.
Analysis: It would be nice to see Penn turn back the clock and go out on a high note, but I can’t see it happening. Rodriguez is ultra talented and the speed difference should be a huge factor in this fight as Rodriguez should be able to dance circles around the older, slower Penn. I’m looking for Rordriguez to dominate this fight and maybe even knock Penn out.
Grappling Wizards Lauzon, Held Face Off
Two ground wizards meet in the co-main event as Joe Lauzon ($8,500) takes on Marcin Held ($7,700). Lauzon is 13-9 in the UFC and is coming off of a split decision loss to Jim Miller which halted the momentum he had after knocking out Diego Sanchez at UFC 200. Lauzon is one of the toughest fighters in the sport and has proven to be a dangerous fighter as he has 12 finishes in his 13 UFC wins. He has underrated knockout power, a fantastic submission game and a solid wrestling base. He’s just a very solid fighter and is the ultimate gatekeeper at 155lbs.
As for Held, the former Bellator standout is 0-1 in the UFC, losing to Sanchez in his debut last year. Held is known for his leg locks, and he’s a master of them, but he hasn’t really evolved his game, and it’s been disappointing since a few years ago it looked like he had a ton of potential to be a champion in this sport. He’s still only 24, so he has time on his side, but I wouldn’t be surprised if his UFC career flames out at this point judging by how poor he looked against Sanchez, a fighter at the tail end of his career.
Analysis: I like Lauzon quite a bit. Held was disappointing in his UFC debut, and Lauzon is one of the toughest fighters in the UFC lightweight division. I see Lauzon really taking it to Held in this fight and possibly stopping him early. At this price it’s hard to pass on Lauzon in my opinion.
Veterans Saunders, McGee Square Off
An exciting welterweight bout between veterans sees Ben Saunders ($8,400) fight Court McGee ($7,800). Saunders is 7-4 in the UFC over two stints, and this will be his third stint in the UFC after being cut last year and then tapping out Jacob Volkmann on the regional circuit in 17 seconds to get his job back. Saunders is a really big welterweight and is incredibly dangerous as he has big power in his kicks and an amazing submission game. The one knock on him is his chin, as he’s been knocked out four times, but, overall, he’s a very well-rounded fighter.
As for McGee, he’s 7-4 in the UFC and is coming off of a win over Dominique Steele. McGee is a cardio machine and nine of his 11 UFC fights have gone to decision, with him winning five of those decisions. He has solid wrestling and an underrated submission game, but the problem with McGee is that he doesn’t have much knockout power and his chin hasn’t looked great lately. That keeps his ceiling capped to that of a gatekeeper, but he still has the capabilities of pulling out a few more wins in the UFC.
Analysis: This should be a good scrap, but I lean towards Saunders here. He has a long reach, is the better striker, has the better ground game and is more of a finisher. McGee is a cardio machine and could pull out a decision, but I think Saunders is going to inflict a lot of damage on McGee here and maybe even finish him. I would take a hard, long look here at Saunders.
Moraga Fights In Important Flyweight Bout
The opening main card bout is a flyweight matchup between John Moraga ($8,100) and Sergio Pettis ($8,100). Moraga is 5-4 in the UFC and is currently on a two-fight losing streak. Overall he has shown glimpses of greatness in the UFC, such as submitting highly-regarded prospect Justin Scoggins, but he has faltered when he’s stepped up in competition. In his last fight he suffered a disappointing loss to Matheus Nicolau. Moraga is definitely one of the more dangerous finishers in the flyweight division, but at 32 years of age he appears to be on a decline.
As for Pettis, he’s 5-2 in the UFC and is currently on a two-fight win streak. He has a ton of talent, and at 23, he has a lot of potential, but overall, his UFC career has been a bit disappointing. All of his wins are by decision, and he hasn’t proven he can finish opponents at this level, so his ceiling might not be as high as some of us thought it once was. However, he still has a lot of time to prove the doubters wrong.
Analysis: It’s another tough fight to call, but I lean towards Moraga slightly here. He’s more experienced, more of a finisher and he will have the Phoenix crowd behind him. I have a hard time trusting Pettis these days and think this could be a tough fight for him. I don’t think I’ll be looking to either of these fighters as a fantasy option, however.
Strawweights Fight On Prelims
The featured Fight Pass battle sees a pair of women’s strawweights in desperate need of a win meet when Nina Ansaroff ($8,100) takes on Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger ($8,100). Both fighters are 0-2 in the UFC, so they are likely fighting to keep their job on the UFC roster. Ansaroff is a talented striker with a wealth of experience against high-level competition, but she is a mediocre 6-5 in her career. Her problem is that if she cannot secure a finish, she often loses a decision.
Jones-Lybarger, meanwhile, is 6-3 in her career. She’s a pretty talented fighter as well, but she’s the opposite of Ansaroff as she doesn’t finish fights, but instead wins decisions. So it’s very much a tale of polar opposites here, but at the same time both are similar in that they need a win.
Analysis: This is probably going to be a close fight, but I do favor Ansaroff here. She is a very talented striker, and despite Jones-Lybarger having the hometown advantage as she trains near Phoenix, I just think Ansaroff can get the job done with her superior striking. That being said, I think this fight is going to decision, so I think you’ll be better off looking for other fighters on the card to draft.
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