The UFC heads to Portland, Oregon for the first time since 2009 for UFC Fight Night 96, which takes place Saturday night at Moda Center. It’s a fun little fight card, one that features a fantastic five-round non-title main event between bantamweights John Lineker and John Dodson in the main event, as well as a number of other under-the-radar matchups.
Here are the five things to watch for at UFC Fight Night 96. On a side note, new scoring changes go into effect for this card, also you’ll now get to pick six fighters for your DraftKings lineups now.
1) Lineker and Dodson Meet in Exciting Main Event
UFC fans in Portland are being treated to an incredible main event as top-10 bantamweight contenders John Lineker ($8,100) and John Dodson ($8,100) will go to war for five rounds or less in what could be a “Fight of the Year” candidate. Lineker, who is only 26, is an impressive 9-2 in the UFC and is currently riding a four-fight win streak, including a brutal knockout win over Michael McDonald in his last outing. After missing weight four times at 125lbs, UFC president Dana White forced Lineker to move up to 135lbs, and since moving up he’s looked even better than ever, going 3-0 with wins over McDonald, Francisco Rivera and Rob Font. Lineker may only be 5’3″ and weigh 135lbs, but there is a reason he is nicknamed “Hands of Stone,” as 13 of his career 28 victories have come via knockout, including five knockout wins in the UFC. The winner of three post-fight bonuses in his last five contests, Lineker is one of the most exciting fighters in the world, and a few more big wins may net him a coveted title shot in the stacked UFC bantamweight division.
Much of the same can be said for his opponent, Dodson, who is 7-2 overall in the UFC with five knockout wins in the Octagon. Like Lineker, Dodson is a knockout artist despite only being 5’3″ and 135lbs, and in his return to bantamweight in his last outing, he needed only 37 seconds to knock out veteran Manny Gamburyan. Dodson was one of the top flyweights in the sport, but after suffering two losses to UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, Dodson decided to move back up to 135lbs and so far it’s looked like a good move for him. Dodson is 32 years old, though, so his window of opportunity is quickly closing, but as he showed against Gamburyan, he still has at least one more title run left in him.
2) Brooks Looks to Continue Climb Up Lightweight Ladder
Former Bellator lightweight champion Will Brooks ($9,000) will look to make it 2-0 in the UFC when he takes on Alex Oliveira ($7,200) in a fun co-main event matchup. Brooks is an impressive 19-1 in his MMA career and is currently riding a nine-fight win streak, with a decision win over Ross Pearson in his UFC debut over the summer. Brooks is already ranked in the top-15 in the UFC’s official rankings and a win over Oliveira would help him continue on his path towards getting the lightweight strap.
As for Oliveira, the Brazilian “Cowboy” is a solid 4-2 in the UFC since making his promotional debut just last year. He has been bouncing between 155lbs and 170lbs, but now seems set on making a run in the lightweight division. Both Brooks and Oliveira have been impressive in the Octagon and this co-main event bout will help determine which one of these two men is a future title contender in the UFC lightweight division.
3) Smolka Gets Replacement Opponent Moreno in Showcase Fight
One of the up-and-coming fighters in the flyweight division is Louis Smolka ($9,400), and the Hawaiian will look to improve to on his current four-fight win streak when he takes on UFC newcomer Brandon Moreno ($6,800) in the opening main card bout. Smolka, who is just 25, is already an impressive 5-1 overall and looks like he has all the skills to be a force at 125lbs. He was originally supposed to fight Sergio Pettis in what would have been an extremely fun fight, but Pettis pulled out of the fight with an injury and was replaced by Moreno, who is fresh off a loss on The Ultimate Fighter Season 24. Smolka is expected to win this fight and for good reason, but perhaps Moreno can have a good showing and prove his worth as well. It’s hard to ever know what to expect from a fight booked on such short notice, but considering this is the flyweight division, I think fans can expect a high-paced, action-packed bout.
4) Burkman Hopes to Stave Off Pink Slip Against Newcomer Ottow
Josh Burkman ($8,900) made his UFC debut over a decade ago during the Ultimate Fighter Season 2, and the veteran has put together a solid career in the Octagon, going 6-8, 1 NC over two different stints (with stops in World Series of Fighting and the regional circuit along the way), but he is only 1-3, 1 NC since returning to the UFC last year. That’s not a good record, and the fact he also suffered his first-ever career TKO loss to Patrick Cote during this recent skid further shows he’s on the decline. Burkman was supposed to fight Bobby Green in what would have likely been a must-win fight for both men, but after Green pulled out with an injury Burkman now takes on replacement opponent and UFC newcomer Zak Ottow ($7,300) in a lightweight contest.
Ottow is on a four-fight win streak, but his level of competition on the regional circuit during his win streak has been poor. For Ottow, beating Burkman would catapult his career, but for Burkman, this is a must-win fight because if he loses, he’ll likely be getting a pink slip from the UFC. With so much on the line, I am curious to see how Burkman performs under such intense pressure against Ottow, who really has nothing to lose in this contest.
5) Veterans Marquardt, McCrory Meet in Fight Pass Main Event
The main event of the Fight Pass portion of the card is a middleweight bout between veterans Nate Marquardt ($8,200) and Tamdan McCrory ($8,000). Marquardt, who is 12-9 overall in the UFC, has fallen on hard times as of late. The former title contender has lost six of his last eight fights and in his most recent outing he was knocked out cold by Thiago Santos. Marquardt showed last year he still has the potential to pull off an upset, as he did against CB Dollaway, but considering he’s been knocked out four times in his last seven outings, it’s just very hard to pick Marquardt to win a fight at this point of his career.
As for McCrory, he’s 4-4 overall in the Octagon, including a 1-1 record in his most recent stint with the promotion following his release from Bellator. After defeating Josh Samman in impressive fashion in his UFC comeback fight last year, he was surprisingly knocked out by Krzysztof Jotko in his last fight and is now in a must-win situation. Both Marquardt and McCrory, for all their flaws, are almost always in exciting fights, so it made sense this was the bout chosen as the Fight Pass headliner, but it’s clear both are on the decline, and this fight will show which of the two has a bit more left in the tank and which one should consider hanging up their gloves.
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