The UFC invites us to enjoy some Sunday brunch with some Sunday punch, live from Zagreb, Croatia. #4 heavyweight Ben Rothwell takes on former UFC heavyweight champ Junior Dos Santos in the main event, with prelims beginning at 10:30ET on UFC Fight Pass, and the main card following on FS1. Let’s break down the fights and help you decide who to place in your lineups.
Ben Rothwell ($9,700) vs Junior Dos Santos ($9,700)
Dos Santos is just 2-3 in his last five fights, whereas Rothwell is riding a four-fight win streak, choking out legends in the process. He made Josh Barnett tap in his last fight, which was simply shocking. Rothwell has added a devastating submission game to his repertoire, a beautiful thing to accompany his massive size and durable chin. Relying on Dos Santos just seems foolish at this point. Look for Rothwell to employ the GoGo Choke yet again, as he continues to make his way toward a title shot.
Derrick Lewis ($9,100) vs Gabriel Gonzaga ($10,300)
Derrick Lewis may not be a ranked UFC heavyweight, but he’s one of my favorites to watch. “The Black Beast” is one of the biggest power punchers in the sport. You wince at home when he connects. He is always a threat to end a fight with one punch. Gabriel Gonzaga, now in his second UFC stint, is a world-class grappler who fell in love with the knockout punch. His best game plan would be to get inside and get Lewis to the ground, but Gonzaga is inefficient and at times simply unwilling to take fights to the ground. So he’ll probably try to stand and bang with Lewis, at his own peril.
Francis Ngannou ($9,800) vs Curtis Blaydes ($9,600)
I have covered Curtis Blaydes’ career in Chicago since he was an amateur fighter, and even back then you could tell he would one day make it to the bigs. I’ve had the privilege of calling his fights cageside for the XFO, and you will quickly see that he has the skills to stay in the UFC. His striking is powerful though a little raw, and his wrestling is outstanding. He will have a speed advantage on most of his opponents. If he gets top position he is an absolute nightmare. He’ll bloody his opponents with ground and pound, and it’s near impossible to get up when he’s on top. Blaydes is a replacement for the injured Bojan Mihajlovic, and Ngannou will wish he was fighting him instead of Blaydes.
Marcin Tybura ($9,500) vs Timothy Johnson ($9,500)
Until the snooze fest that was his last bout with Jared Rosholt, Timothy Johnson had won 8 straight fights, finishing them all. Rosholt, recently cut by the UFC, slowed down each and every one of his fights to a near halt, so disregard that loss when assessing Johnson. Look more to his UFC debut against Shamil Abdurakhimov, a stellar performance that ended with a first-round KO. Tybura will not be an easy test though. The former M-1 champ is a finisher, notching 11 finishes in his 13 wins. This seems like a must-play fight due to the high finishing rates of the combatants. On paper this is a close matchup, but I like Johnson via ground and pound to take it early.
Igor Pokrajac ($8,800) vs Jan Blachowicz ($10,600)
Pokarajac is back in the UFC, primarily to fight in front of the Croatian audience. The end of his previous UFC run was awful, dropping 4 of his last 5 fights, with the other a no-contest. Blachowicz burst onto the scene with his big knockout of Ilir Latifi. Since then he’s been scrapping, with decision losses to Corey Anderson and Jimi Manuwa. The main question here is if Blachowicz can finish Pokrajac, who has been knocked out six times in his long career. I’m going contrarian and not playing this fight, as I think Pokrajac will make it to the final bell. $10600 in salary on a decision isn’t going to help you win tourneys.
Cristina Stanciu ($8,200) vs Maryna Moroz ($11,200)
Stanciu makes her UFC debut with a perfect 5-0 record, but her opponents in those fights are a combined 12-13. Taking on Moroz will be a huge step up in competition for her. Moroz spoiled a lot of lineups in losing to Valerie LeTourneau back in August, but that won’t be the case here. She’ll tap Stanciu in short order.
Nicholas Dalby ($9,000) vs Zak Cummings ($10,400)
Cummings sole loss in the UFC came from a Gunnar Nelson choke, and there is no shame in that. Cummings himself has an excellent ground game, as Dalby will find out. Cummings is averaging just about 70 FPPF (Fantasy Points Per Fight), and I think he will submit Dalby, handing him the first loss of his career. That will be good for at least 70, possibly 120 points, depending on the round.
Alejandro Perez ($10,100) vs Ian Entwistle ($9,300)
Entwistle’s first two UFC fights have been action-packed. He was knocked out by Dan Hooker in his debut, then landed a slick heel hook to make Anthony Birchak tap in his second fight. He hasn’t fought in over a year. He will immediately dive for a leg right after the bell, and Perez will surely know he has to defend that with intensity. Perez destroyed the leg of Scott Jurgensen in his last fight, and he definitely has the striking advantage. But knowing that Entwistle will be hunting for his leg might put him on his heels a bit. I think Perez will do enough to win the rounds, but ultimately this will go to a decision.
Mairbek Taisumov ($11,400) vs Damir Hadzovic ($8,000)
The good news: Taisumov is a stone-cold lock, likely to knock Hadzovic out inside of the first round. The bad news: everyone will be all over this. Still, you can’t go wrong in selecting Taisumov, but understand he will be highly owned across the board, whether it’s a GPP or cash game.
Filip Pejic ($9,400) vs Damian Stasiak ($10,000)
I love what I’ve seen from Pejic. He’s able to connect with hard strikes from unorthodox positions, and he closes the gap very well, getting in and out while landing a strike in the process. He has fast hands and good power. He defends well off his back and is very flexible, almost rubbery, which allows him to defend takedowns well and also win scrambles. Stasiak found out what a UFC fight is like when he took on veteran Yaotsin Meza, losing that one via decision. Pejic is much quicker than Meza, and I think that spells doom for Stasiak. He has a sneaky uppercut that lands with pinpoint accuracy. I think that will be the punch to end it in what will be a slight upset.
Rob Whiteford ($9,200) vs Lucas Martins ($10,200)
Martins was very impressive during his recent three-fight winning streak, scoring two KOs and a technical submission. That streak propelled him to get a shot at some of the featherweight division’s better fighters, and he has not fared well. He dropped a split decision to Darren Elkins then got dropped by Mirsad Bektic in his last fight. Whiteford represents an opponent that he can certainly handle. He’ll have a sizable height and reach advantage, and should be able to keep Whiteford at bay if he keeps a fast pace, and keeps the fight on the feet. I think he will do both, and earn the victory on the judges’ scorecards.
Cyril Asker ($8,700) vs Jared Cannonier ($10,700)
Cannonier felt the power of big Shawn Jordan in his UFC debut, getting knocked out in the first round. He caught a right hand just over the top of the ear, which caused him to hit the deck. It’s too bad because he was just getting comfortable in the Octagon, and was hanging tough with Jordan. He moves very well and worked both kicks and punches. I’m excited to see him again, and I think he will wreck the newcomer Asker in short order.
Alessio Di Chirico ($8,900) vs Bojan Velickovic ($10,500)
Both fighters will make their UFC debuts in Croatia. Velickovic has faced some UFC fighters and has more experience than Di Chirico, and he also fights southpaw, which can be problematic for younger fighters, especially if they’ve not gone up against them before. I’m not comfortable looking for a Velickovic finish, but I do think he will win the fight. There are plenty of other options in that price range that are more known quantities.