The UFC takes to England once again, and while there are no hometown heroes in the UFC on FUEL TV 7 main event, I doubt you’ll find anyone complaining in the ticket line. With Dominick Cruz sidelined for an extended period of time, Renan Barao is forced to defend the interim title, taking on the young and ultra-talented Michael McDonald. Also, we have a possible number one contender stop in the Featherweight division, as Cub Swanson faces Dustin Poirier in another explosive contest.
There’s a lot of action on the card, so let’s get right into it and see how the chips fall.
Renan Barao vs. Michael McDonald:
Barao came into the WEC and UFC riding a tidal wave of hype, yet that wave has carried him through all comers and into the embrace of his first title strap. Operating like a smaller version of fellow champion Jose Aldo, Barao’s game is similar in the striking department, yet he combines surprisingly strong takedowns into the mix as well. Fighting smart and picking his spots, Barao has beaten a stellar roster of boxer/wrestlers, yet faces an entirely new challenge in Michael McDonald.
McDonald is another fighter that made a splash on his way into the organization and hasn’t tasted defeat since coming under the Zuffa umbrella. A highly technical kickboxer, McDonald has torn into some exquisite strikes such as Chris Cariaso and even former champion Miguel Torres with his dynamic offensive and deceptive power. Oddly, it’s his matwork that appears to be the most dangerous aspect of his game to my eyes, and this lends him a terrifying quality as an opponent.
This fight is money and the intrigue factor is high for one simple fact: Neither guy has faced someone like the other. With Barao fighting a non-stop stream of boxer/wrestlers, McDonald will give him many new looks, and McDonald’s largely kickboxing oriented foes don’t have the power takedown and stiff muay thai of Barao. I think Barao has bested the better competition overall, but his game is that of a fast fighter with a few attacks. Yes, he’s great at those few attacks, but McDonald is a next level striker that can circumvent most of Barao’s offense if he can survive it initially and get his timing. On the mat, I think McDonald has this handily with fast hips off his back and great positioning from top, which is something Barao might not realize about his multi-faceted foe. A spectacular match, but one McDonald takes by a hair.
Cub Swanson vs. Dustin Poirier:
A surprising fighter to be in a possible contenders spot, Cub Swanson was largely written off during his WEC days as a talented fighter unable to gut out wins or put away even semi-legitimate fighters. Being consigned to dark matches and battling injuries, Swanson would reemerge after a loss to Ricardo Lamas as new fighter, willing to go for broke in the cage, and coming out on top on a three fight win streak. Using a wealth of skills and now a new-found aggression, Swanson is set for another top flight competitor in Dustin Poirier.
Poirier was famous for smoking Josh Grispi in Grispi’s “tune-up” fight before he faced Jose Aldo, and while he was brought low by Chan Sung Jung, he’s rebounded and looked sharp in his last outing. A volume puncher with an offensive BJJ game, Poirier is a punishing fighter to go against, as he can pull wins out of nowhere and is certainly not afraid to trade shots with an opponent. With a possible title shot on the line here, you can be sure he’ll give Swanson no room for error and expect none himself.
This is the best kind of bout in my mind, as Poirier is a consistent battler who stands firm against any fighter, while Swanson has been known to flake out in matches, but when he’s on, he’s nearly unstoppable. The best Cub Swanson will absolutely poleax Poirier with his straight right hands and rapid in-and-out offensive abilities, while a doubtful Swanson will be picked apart against the cage by Poirier. With Swanson being on such a tear lately, I can’t see him sinking into self-doubt anytime soon and expect him to come out guns blazing, putting Poirier away in the second round.
Jimi Manuwa vs. Cyrille Diabate: An explosive fight between two very different strikers makes for a glorious bout. Manuwa is perhaps the greatest raw offensive talent since Brian Foster, where one touch from his fist can send an opponent reeling. Diabate himself packs some power, but his age has shown in a few of his fights recently, and this isn’t a fight for a tired old man to get into. Diabate has a shot if he can fight cool and pick his spots, but Manuwa will look to walk him down with vicious KO shots. It’s a toss-up, but I like Manuwa’s unorthodox punching style to catch Diabate by surprise before he can make defensive adjustments, putting The Snake out in the first round.
Gunnar Nelson vs. Jorge Santiago: A fighter that has thus far slid under the MMA radar, Gunnar Nelson may have a coming out party here, taking on legit welterweight Jorge Santiago. Nelson’s blend of bare knuckle karate and world-class BJJ is a formula for utter domination and I don’t think Santiago packs enough firepower in enough areas to do anything about it. Call it the wacky prediction of the year, but I think Nelson knocks Santiago out early in the first round and turns many heads in the process.
James Te-Huna vs. Ryan Jimmo: Jimmo made a statement in his UFC debut with a 7 second KO of Anthony Perosh, but he meets a whole other kind of Aussie in James Te-Huna. Te-Huna brings massive power in both his stand-up and takedowns, with his ground and pound being some of the most relentless since vintage Tito Ortiz. Jimmo is good at what he does, but Te-Huna isn’t going to stand still and let Jimmo set up his strikes, instead plowing the karateka over and working him with ground and pound for an eventual TKO.
Che Mills vs. Matt Riddle: Hometown hero Che Mills will take on a world-wide fan favorite in Matt Riddle. Mills is one of the most underrated strikers in the sport, with the perfect blend of technique, power and speed. While his takedown defense and matwork are his weak points, Riddle has shown he’s in this for the FOTN checks more so than any kind of win bonus, and its doubtful Riddle makes this a grappling match. While Riddle could surprise us all but shooting or working into the clinch, I think it more likely that he decides to box Mills and finds himself flat-out unconscious a couple of minutes into the fight.
Paul Sass vs. Danny Castillo: Unapologetic guard puller Paul Sass will look to rebound from his first professional loss, taking on the hard-hitting Danny Castillo. Any fight with Sass is dicey due to his love of leglocks and urgency to engage in a grappling bout, but Castillo has some outstanding wrestling and crippling power. Something we haven’t seen in a long time is Castillo’s ease in knocking out opponents inside their guard, and I think we’ll see a repeat of some WEC bouts as he pile drives Sass into La-La land early in the fight.
Andy Ogle vs. Josh Grispi: A likable TUF cast member given a chance more on his personality than any elite fighting skills, Andy Ogle will face off against Josh Grispi in a pivotal fight. Ogle is aggressive and tore up the UK scene before coming into the UFC, but isn’t really at the level of the rough Featherweight division. While Grispi’s record has turned sour fast, he’s a competent fighter with a few defensive holes that Ogle will need to exploit. Ogle needs to take Grispi into deep water to win this fight, but I’m not convinced he survives the journey, losing to a submission in the early stages of the bout.
Tom Watson vs. Stanislav Nedkov: One of the best Middleweights in the UK, Tom Watson will take on Bulgarian product in another must-win fight. These two are similar fighters, operating as boxer/wrestlers, with Watson having more emphasis on the former and Nedkov more on the latter. Nedkov’s KO power is ever-present, though his delivery has shown almost no improvement since starting MMA, and this will be Watson’s out to win the fight. Try as he might, Nedkov can’t get the takedown and can’t land the KO as Watson lumps him up and walks with a decision win.
UFC on FUEL TV 7 takes place at the Wembley Arena in London, UK.