The UFC heads to Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg, Germany this weekend for the first time in promotional history. UFC Fight Night 93 features a number of the top European fighters in the UFC, including a few native Germans, and overall it should be a fine way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Here are the top five things to watch for on this weekend’s Fight Pass-only offering.
1) Former Heavyweight Champions Clash in Main Event
Two former UFC heavyweight champions meet in the main event of UFC Fight Night 93 when Josh Barnett meets Andrei Arlovski. Barnett, nicknamed “The Warmaster,” is 38 now, and in his last outing earlier this year against Ben Rothwell he suffered the first true submission loss of his career when he was choked out. It was a disappointing outing for Barnett, who is a grappling wizard, and there were rumors he might hang up his gloves, but clearly the loss lit a fire in him and he wants to right the ship and get back in the win column.
Standing across the cage from Barnett will be Arlovski, who himself is 37 now. “The Pitbull” returned to the UFC in 2014 and picked up four-straight wins, but 2016 hasn’t been kind to the veteran from Belarus, as he’s been knocked out in two-straight fights by Stipe Miocic and Alistair Overeem. If Arlovski can find solace in those losses, at least he knows the two men he lost to are fighting for the heavyweight belt next week at UFC 203. Getting back to the matchup, Barnett was the UFC heavyweight champion in 2002, and Arlovski was the champ back in 2005. Both men are much older now and far from their prime, but in the heavyweight division, all it takes is one punch to win a fight, and both Barnett and Arlovski hit hard. This is a five-round fight and if either man is going to make one last run at the belt they will need an impressive win in this bout, meaning fans can expect a very exciting fight when these two big boys hook up in the headliner of UFC Fight Night 93.
2) Gustafsson Gets Tuneup Fight with Blachowicz in Co-Main Event
It was three years ago this September when Alexander Gustafsson came close to dethroning Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title at UFC 165 in one of the best fights in MMA history. Since then, Gustafsson has had a tough go inside the Octagon. He did rebound after the Jones loss with a knockout win over Jimi Manuwa, but after that he suffered a brutal knockout loss to Anthony Johnson in his hometown of Stockholm, Sweden, and then he lost a split decision to Daniel Cormier in his next fight after that. Still just 29, Gustafsson seriously contemplated retirement after the loss to Cormier, but decided to return to the Octagon and make another run for the title. In his comeback fight, the UFC matchmakers have done him a favor and given him a tuneup fight against Jan Blachowicz. No offense to Blachowicz, who is a solid fighter in his own right, but Gustafsson is a near-elite light heavyweight, and this is clearly a mismatch on paper. Still, it’s a must-win fight for Gustafsson. He’s proven in the past he’s an amazing fighter and hopefully he’s found the motivation inside of him to make another run for the belt, because a dominant Gustafsson is a scary fighter, and a fighter who could very well hold the UFC light heavyweight title one day.
3) Latifi Gets Step Up Against Bader
The UFC needs new light heavyweight contenders, and Ilir Latifi could be that guy. The 33-year-old Swede is currently riding a three-fight win streak in the UFC over Gian Villante, Sean O’Connell and Hans Stringer, and overall is 5-2 in the Octagon. In a division void of fresh contenders, a fighter on a long win streak is going to stand out, and a win over Ryan Bader at UFC Fight Night 93 would give Latifi four wins in a row. Other than Gegard Mousasi, who beat Latifi in his short-notice UFC debut, Bader is the best fighter Latifi has fought to date. It’s a tough matchup for Latifi, who like Bader, is a wrestler with knockout power in his hands. The UFC matchmakers clearly like what they’ve seen from Latifi as well, and if he can beat Bader, he’ll jump into the top-10 of the UFC light heavyweight division which will likely earn him a top-five opponent his next time out, and if he wins that, who knows, maybe a title shot.
4) Germans Hein, Ayari, and Sobotta Fight in Home Country
There aren’t many Germans in the UFC, but three of them will fight on home soil in Hamburg. In a main card bout, Nick Hein will take on Tae Hyun Bang in a lightweight matchup. Hein is 3-1 in the UFC and on a two-fight win streak and has a good personality, but he needs a finish if he wants to get a bigger step up in competition. This fight with Bang, who tends to, ahem, stand and bang in his fights, should be exciting and represents a good chance for Hein to get a win over a quality opponent, though a finish would obviously be ideal.
Aside from Hein, on the prelims two more Germans fight. The first is welterweight Jessin Ayari, who is making his UFC debut against Jim Wallhead, who is also making his UFC debut. Ayari is currently riding a six-fight win streak that earned him a shot in the UFC, and now it’s up to him as to what he does with this opportunity of a lifetime.
The third German who competes on the card is Peter Sobotta, who went 0-3 in his first UFC stint and who is 2-1 in his second, most recent stint inside the Octagon. Sobotta takes on Nicolas Dalby in a welterweight fight on the prelims. Sobotta was knocked out with a body kick by Kyle Noke in his last outing so he’ll need a win to stick around in the UFC, and with the home crowd cheering him on, this is a good opportunity for him to get a much-needed victory. If the UFC wants to hold more future events in Germany, they need German fighters to succeed, so the local MMA fans are certainly looking for the home-town fighters to show up.
5) Underrated Khabilov Goes for Third Win-Straight in 2016
One of the most underrated lightweights on the UFC roster is Rustam Khabilov, who takes on Leandro Silva on the preliminary card. Khabilov made his UFC debut in 2012 and has gone 5-2 overall in the promotion including a notable win over Jorge Masvidal, but for whatever reason he continues to fly under the radar. Since losing two-straight fights to ranked fighters in Adriano Martins and Benson Henderson, Khabilov has really come into his own, and so far he’s earned two hard-fought wins in 2016 over Chris Wade and Norman Parke. The Russian is having a good year, but the fact that he’s on the prelims against an opponent coming off of a loss is proof he needs to do more to get the attention of the UFC matchmakers. Khabilov has become a bit of a decision machine, and in a stacked division it’s hard to stand out when you’re only winning on the scorecards, but a win over Silva, especially a stoppage, should earn him another chance against a top-15 opponent.
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