This Sunday, UFC Fight Night 88 will kick off with a fantastic evening of combat action. From the Fight Pass prelims all the way to the main event, the card is stacked with great bouts. When you have this many intriguing fights, especially the ones that are set up to be possible title eliminators (both bantamweight fights look to achieve this), there are many different lineup building options.
In this sport, even the heaviest favorite can be toppled. Enter the mighty underdog. A couple well-chosen dogs can make all the difference. This week, there are four athletes you should absolutely consider adding to your teams.
Aljamain Sterling is a legitimately talented athlete hailing from the Serra-Longo fight team. He’s a purple belt in BJJ under former UFC welterweight champion, Matt Serra, and his grappling skills seem to improve with each outing. He’s got excellent takedown defense and most importantly, he’s undefeated in 13 pro bouts.
That said, Bryan Caraway, a veteran of 27 fights, has tons of experience going his way. He has a very respectable 20-7 record, and is tough as nails. His last bout with former WEC champion, Eddie Wineland was an absolute clinic, and of his last 4 bouts, he’s won 3 of them. His grappling is also excellent, demonstrated by 17 submission victories.
Caraway’s experience and durability are hard to ignore, and he also seems to be laser focused on the task at hand, not engaging much in the “mental warfare” that Sterling has thrown his way. For the price, Caraway is the best value underdog on the card.
Caraway via decision
This bout is a very important one for both ladies. Both have dropped 3 of their last 4 fights. Both have struggled mightily since joining the UFC. Of the two, I feel that Eye is the better overall athlete and has the best striking. She trains out of the same gym Stipe Miocic does and is a tough, gritty fighter. Her standing arm triangle choke of Zoila Gurgel is one of the best highlight reel moments in WMMA history, and her fight with Leslie Smith was also historic after she literally punched Smith’s ear off.
McMann, despite her Olympic silver medal in wrestling, seems to struggle with putting her MMA game together as a whole. Her fight with Shayna Baszler ended with her getting a controversial decision win, as well as her split decision victory over Lauren Murphy. In my opinion, she lost both those fights. She was out-wrestled by Miesha Tate and taken out with lightning precision by Amanda Nunes. She’s also a little long in the tooth, especially when you consider she’s been competing at a high level since the age of 14.
Eye’s grit and excellent striking game will be the biggest factor here and should net her the win.
Jessica Eye via TKO
Lorenz Larkin has looked great since making the drop down to 170. He was way undersized for the middleweight division, which is likely a contributing factor to 4 of his 5 losses. He has good striking and serious knockout power, but he’s at a serious disadvantage on the ground, as his grappling has always been the glaring weakness in his overall skillset.
Masvidal is an exceptionally polished striker who makes the most of his jab (a rarity in this sport) and works angles like a pro boxer. He’s got great timing, excellent head movement and real knockout power. His elbows are lethal, and on the ground he is an experienced grappler that does well in scrambles.
Experience and a much more refined, technical skillset will be the biggest factor going toward a Masvidal win, and if he gets this to the ground, it’s going to be a dismal night for Larkin.
Masvidal via decision
From the surface, Thomas Almeida looks to be a killing machine. He’s got a perfect 20-0 record with 19 of those wins being finishes. Most of his fights have been on the international or regional circuit to a list of largely unknown talent. His wins in the Octagon have been to some tough vets on the downside of their careers, one prospect and a TUF competitor who was released after their fight. He’s got a capable ground game, but has been taken down and he’s been dropped, as well. His recovery and ability to get back to his feet is great, but the openings for a well-placed takedown and/or a well-placed punch are aplenty.
Garbrandt is a very good technical striker with real power. He has a perfect 8-0 record, and like Almeida, is a finisher, having only gone the distance once. His wins are also to a who’s who of unknown talent on the regional circuit, and the ones inside the Octagon have been to up and coming fighters, so the strength of schedule is fairly comparable to Almeida’s. He trains out of Team Alpha Male and has access to a variety of excellent wrestlers, so he may carry in a slight advantage on the ground.
Basically this is a fight between two really hot prospects that are trying to get in that coveted Top 5 for a crack at a title eliminator, likely with the winner of Sterling/Caraway. I give the slight edge to Garbrandt due to polished striking and Almeida’s tendencies to leave himself open for takedowns and his willingness to leave openings to being dropped.