The UFC returns to Las Vegas on Sunday, May 29, for UFC Fight Night: Almeida vs Garbrandt. The Octagon returns home for the first time since two of the world’s best fighters, Demetrious Johnson and Jon Jones, fought for their place on the pound-for-pound rankings. There are no top pound-for-pound fighters on this fight card, but several could be headed in that direction in the future.
The main event between rising undefeated prospects Thomas Almeida and Cody Garbrandt is a dream fight for many MMA fans. Neither man has a household name, but both men could be the subject of water-cooler conversation on Monday morning — well, maybe Tuesday morning, if you’re out hiking, camping or just enjoying the great outdoors on Memorial Day weekend. This fight isn’t one to catch later, though. This is the type of fight that gets you off your couch and screaming in your living room. Almeida brings 21 wins and 16 knockouts into this bout with the surging American striker, who brings eight wins and seven knockouts of his own into the high-stakes bantamweight headliner.
In the co-main event, former UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barão returns to the Octagon after 10 months on the sidelines. Barão has been itching, scratching and clawing his way back into relevancy after dropping two championship bouts to T.J. Dillashaw. He makes his return to the cage at featherweight against the heavy-hitting Jeremy “Lil’ Heathen” Stephens. Stephens is stepping back into the cage after dropping a decision to top-five featherweight Max Holloway in his last fight. Stephens is under the impression that Barão is a mere fraction of the fighter that ran up an incredible 33-fight unbeaten streak.
The rest of the fight card features exciting scraps between well-matched fighters. Veteran Jorge Masvidal steps back in the cage against striking specialist Lorenz Larkin. Excitement won’t be lacking when middleweight striker Vitor Miranda clashes with the incredibly durable Chris Camozzi. Paul Felder will look for another highlight-reel knockout when he takes on The Ultimate Fighter 2 alum Josh Burkman in another fight that is sure to entertain. Former women’s bantamweight title challenger and Olympic medalist Sara McMann returns to fight the scrappy striker Jessica Eye. More heavy-handed strikers riddle the card when Abel Trujillo takes on late replacement Jordan Rinaldi, Roufusport fighter Eric Koch takes on K-1 veteran Shane Campbell and unbeaten Brazilian Alberto Uda takes on Jake Collier.
The featured Fight Pass prelim showcases top-10 bantamweights fighting for their place among title hopefuls. Unbeaten super prospect Aljamain Sterling takes on the tough and rugged Bryan Caraway. The winner can surely make a case for another marquee fight in the bantamweight division.
The UFC Fight Pass prelims air live at 6 p.m. ET. The Fox Sports 1 prelims begin at 7 p.m. ET, and the Fox Sports 1 main card airs live at 9 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Justyn Likes and Zach Aittama preview the event in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Thomas Almeida and Cody Garbrandt are two of the top up-and-comers in the UFC’s bantamweight division. Both men are undefeated, so, barring some strange circumstances, one of these men will suffer his first loss at UFC Fight Night 88. Who emerges with their unblemished record intact? Will both men eventually enjoy title reigns, or is one of these competitors destined to tumble down the ranks in a hurry?
Likes: A match-up between Garbrandt and Almeida should have all fans excited at this point. We will be seeing two young fighters, both 24, who should be contenders in the UFC’s bantamweight division for years to come. With the way both fighters fight stylistically, we’re also going to witness two fighters performing highlight-reel finishes for many years as well.
Almeida has already provided us with a few great stoppages. Last July at UFC 189, he knocked out Brad Pickett with a flying knee. He followed that up with a vicious knockout of Anthony Birchak. However, a spectacular finish, let alone a win, will not be forthcoming for the Brazilian Chute Boxing prodigy.
Garbrandt has a bit less hype to his name, but he has the tools to leave this fight with his record unblemished. His stand-up, most notably his boxing, is as good as that of anyone on the UFC’s roster — it should come as no surprise, too, from someone with over 30 amatuer boxing fights. Go back and watch Garbrandt’s UFC debut fight against Marcus Brimage and you’ll see a left hook that repeatedly lands flush. It’s also short and compact and leaves the boxing fan in me in awe.
That left hook will be the deciding factor in this affair. When I look at Almeida, I see a fighter who leaves too many opportunities to be countered. Several of his opponents have been able to capitalize on these openings, albeit none of them have done so well enough to win. When Almeida fought Pickett, he was almost finished by a left hook in the first round. Garbrandt is going to land one of those hooks either while Almeida is rushing in or on a counter, and the Brazilian will not have the opportunity to answer back.
When it comes to future title reigns, don’t count on it for Almeida unless he becomes a more patient fighter. He’s been hit far too much in a few of his fights because of his recklessness and tendency to stand and bang. That approach will not work against elevated competition. A title reign is possible for Garbrandt, but it’s still premature to say he will rise that far. His solid wrestling, which we haven’t seen him employ much of yet, and his boxing certainly give him a much better recipe for future success at an elite level.
Aittama: I would like to start off by saying my colleague brought up some great points about Garbrandt’s wrestling and boxing abilities, but there are a few arguments I need to make in the contrary.
I’m going to say this up front before beginning my argument in favor of the Brazilian: Garbrandt’s wrestling is his most likely path to victory. Garbrandt is a great transitional wrestler, moving seamlessly from striking to takedowns and back to using his hands. He is a confident boxer with good footwork and awareness of his surroundings. He throws a crisp one-two and throws a counter hook with the best of them. That powerful left hook that put away Brimage is an impressive tool in his striking arsenal.
But this is where the opinions of me and my colleague begin to differ.
The shots Garbrandt landed to put Brimage away were impressive, but Brimage is not Almeida. In fact, Almeida will be a huge step up in competition for Garbrandt, not the other way around. Almeida has already shared the cage and rose victorious against the aforementioned Pickett and Birchak, as well as Yves Jabouin, Valdines Silva and Caio Machado. He has been in firefights. He’s been in crazy wars. He’s taken heavy shots and survived. Pickett dropped him cold, more than once, and Almeida’s first instincts were to control his opponent with calculated scrambles and an underrated defensive grappling game. Almeida combines his speed and athleticism with his ability to get heavy on his hips during his sprawl to defend takedown attempts.
Almeida has to hope his athleticism holds up against the equally athletic Garbrandt. Almeida holds a few advantages if he can keep this fight standing. My colleague talked about the Brazilian’s impressive left hooks against Brimage, but, again, the differences between Brimage and Almeida cannot be ignored. Besides the height difference, Brimage is a southpaw who is far from active on the feet, whereas Almeida is an aggressive orthodox fighter with multiple layers to his destructive offensive attack.
Almeida’s style matches well against Garbrandt’s low-output, single- or two-punch combination striking. Garbrandt will be looking to land his one-two, maybe a single switch kick or a counter left hook, but he rarely throws more than two punches at a time. His finishing combination in his most recent outing against Augusto Mendes was the rare exception. Mendes was clearly outmatched on the feet, throwing strikes just to throw and with no clear intentions. He was over-aggressive and Garbrandt capitalized in his typical fashion of pushing forward with a striking blitz. This time he added the one extra strike — a right hand following a strong left hook — he needed to put Mendes away. That shot won’t come as easy against Almeida.
Almeida covers distance exceptionally well. He closes aggressively with straight punches and follows up his strikes with more strikes or foot movement, sometimes leading to more movement and strikes, and more strikes, and more strikes. Almeida’s blistering output has helped him rack up an impressive number of significant strikes landed per minute, a whopping 6.82. In Almeida’s Octagon debut against Tim Gorman, the Brazilian phenom threw an astounding 15.8 strikes per minute, or one strike every 3.79 seconds over the course of 15 minutes. He landed 55 percent of his strikes and picked up his striking output as the fight went on. In his most recent outing, Almeida landed at a 48 percent clip against Birchak before he went Nelmarking and left Birchak in a crumbled mess with one right hand.
Statistics can be misleading sometimes, and I believe that’s the case with Almeida’s “openings to be countered,” as my colleague put it. If one were to glance at the statistics of both men’s striking defense, it would appear Almeida takes way more punishment on the feet. This is a statistic that needs to be examined further to reveal the entire story. Almeida throws at a much higher volume than Garbrandt, which in turn leaves himself open to be countered. Almeida has been hittable, but I won’t go so far as to say he’s been reckless, as my colleague suggests. He usually attacks in controlled bursts and with defensive responsibilities in mind, but he can be hit with a well-timed strike. Almeida has taken twice as many strikes as Garbrandt, but fighters have also thrown twice as many strikes his way. Garbrandt stands tall and doesn’t always navigate range successfully. Almeida usually leans right and can open himself up to be countered, but he moves in and out of range well. His ability to escape Garbrandt’s attacks and throw back in kind will be a major key to his success in this fight.
Of Garbrandt’s past UFC opponents, oddly enough, it’s Henry Briones who is the closest comparison to Almeida. Briones is a competent striker with a somewhat similar base style to Almeida. He isn’t nearly the aggressive fighter that Almeida is, but he had his moments that could mirror Almeida in his fight with Garbrandt. When Briones closed distance and threw his jab, he hit Garbrandt almost every time. The very first jab he threw put a dent into the right cheek of the Ohioan. Briones had success avoiding Garbrandt’s one- and two-strike combinations by simply moving away and circling off of the power hand. These are all traits that Almeida will employ, and at a much higher pace.
Almeida has another big edge heading into the standing exchanges: a seven-inch reach advantage. Garbrandt stands tall when he is striking, something he can get away with by moving his head, utilizing his shoulders and, most importantly, his body movements and footwork. The problem with being such an active mover is that it could potentially leave him in a position to get hit if he takes the wrong path or moves in one direction rather than the other. Almeida closes distance so well with his right hand and combination punching that Garbrandt can’t afford to make many mistakes on the feet, or he will find himself in the loss column for the first time.
As for title aspirations, both men have bright futures. Predicting prospect development is tricky business. A fighter can be an absolute athletic freak or a true master of his craft, but if he can’t put it all together on fight night, all of that potential goes out the window. For every great early prospect prediction I’ve made, such as Renan Barão and Kyoji Horiguchi, I’ve also made bad ones like Willamy “Chiquerim” Freire and Akitoshi Tamura. Almeida has been on the top of my list, and many other prospect lists, for a few years now. Whether or not he eventually fights for a title, Almeida has already proven he is a UFC-caliber fighter and athlete. As for Garbrandt, I could see him eventually working his way to the top of the division, but he has just eight fights in his career and his ceiling is still up for debate.
This is a fight that has major implications in the bantamweight division. An impressive win could catapult either man into the title-fight discussions. I think that man will be Almeida after he cracks Garbrandt with a few heavy striking combinations, but it won’t be an easy fight by any means.
After a lengthy run at or near the top of the UFC bantamweight division, Renan Barão is now headed to featherweight. He won’t struggle with weight cuts as much, but can he attain the same levels of success at 145 pounds? Is Jeremy Stephens a serious threat to provide a rude welcome — and a loss — to the Brazilian in his featherweight debut?
Aittama: Barão will be headed back to featherweight after spending much of the past six years fighting against the top fighters the bantamweight division had to offer. Barão entered the WEC in 2010 with an impressive 22-fight unbeaten streak he compiled competing on the Brazilian regional circuit at 65 kilograms. He was one of the fastest rising prospects in the sport at the time, and Barão continued to prove that sentiment by overcoming every obstacle put in front of him. He submitted eventual flyweight title challenger Chris Cariaso in his final WEC bout before making his Octagon debut against Cole Escovedo at UFC 130 in late 2011. Barão kept his winning and unbeaten streaks alive heading into the biggest test of his career in his next fight, a co-main event showcase against bantamweight division stalwart Brad Pickett at UFC 138. Barão put on one of the best performances of his career when he torched Pickett in his hometown with a high knee and follow-up hooks to drop the top-10 fighter. Barão quickly took Englishman’s back and locked in the rear-naked choke in the first round to the childlike giddiness of Joe Rogan on commentary. Barão made his name on that wild one-round fight, but he had to win another fight against former top-10 bantamweight Scott Jorgensen before he would finally get his well-deserved UFC title shot when the UFC decided to create an interim title in the wake of Dominick Cruz’s long injury layoff.
Barão earned his 29th win of his 30-fight unbeaten streak when he outworked perennial top-five bantamweight Urijah Faber over the course of 25 minutes at UFC 149. Barão didn’t stop after capturing the title in Calgary. He kept his winning streak alive with a comeback win over heavy-handed youngster Michael McDonald and a spinning back kick knockout of striker Eddie Wineland. Barão was scheduled to face Cruz to unify the bantamweight titles at UFC 169, before another injury kept the champion sidelined. The UFC had to pull Cruz out of the fight, but the company also stripped him of the title. Barão was once again set to face Faber in a title fight, this time with no interim tag involved. Barão made quick work of Faber after dropping him multiple times in the first round.
Barão was unbeaten in 33 fights, he won 22 straight and was finally getting recognized as one of the best fighters in the world, regardless of weight division. Barão made a quick turnaround with the UFC needing a new headliner for UFC 173 after Vitor Belfort and Chris Weidman had to pull out of their scheduled middleweight title fight. Barão was originally slated to face the surging Raphael Assuncao before Faber’s teammate, T.J. Dillashaw, stepped in to replace Assuncao after the Brazilian was unable to continue. Barão was an almost 10-to-1 favorite heading into the fight, but Dillashaw brought something into the championship fight that many of his past opponents lacked. Dillashaw’s striking style under the tutelage of Duane “Bang” Ludwig was developing at an incredible rate. Barão was the popular pick as the fight drew closer, but the feeling in the air during that May evening in Las Vegas was ripe with historical meaning. The promotion was finally getting behind a fighter that spent nearly nine years unbeaten. The UFC promoted him as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, and UFC President Dana White even placed him atop his rankings.
That all came crashing down just a few minutes into the opening round. Dillashaw rattled the brain of Barão with a huge right hand and from then on, the fight was completely in favor of the young American prospect. Dillashaw capped off the brutal five-round beatdown with a left high kick and punches half way through the final round. The fight would go down as one of the biggest upsets in UFC championship history. Barão looked like a fighter who was broken. He appeared like he would never be the same fighter following the devastating defeat.
That’s exactly what top-15 featherweight Stephens is hoping for. Stephens said Barão is a fighter who is “mentally broke.” His confidence in his power will be a huge ego boost heading into the fight with the former bantamweight king. Stephens has had mixed results in the win and loss columns, but one thing has stayed consistent: he has fought some of the world’s best at featherweight and lightweight. Stephens has showcased the power in his hands, knees and kicks, with his best win coming all the way back in 2008 when he knocked out current UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos with a monstrous uppercut. Despite the huge power in his hands, two of his biggest knockout wins have come with his knees and feet. Stephens recently went toe-to-toe with top-10 featherweight Dennis Bermudez in a “Fight of the Year” contender at UFC 189 in July 2015. Stephens capped off the violent fight with a fadeaway jumping knee with his back against the cage. He crumbled “The Menace” with one final knee to earn himself another fight against a top-10 opponent. Stephens was controlled and outworked in that shot to move up the featherweight rankings, losing a decision to Max Holloway at UFC 194 in December.
Stephens has defeated the fighters he was supposed to beat throughout his career, but he doesn’t have a top-10 win on his resume outside of his most recent victory. He was out-grappled and defeated by slick submission artist Charles Oliveira in a fight that could give us a glimpse into the potential outcome of Sunday night’s co-headliner.
Barão will be the one who has to answer all of the questions, however. He passed out and hit his head while trying to make weight for his first scheduled rematch against Dillashaw at UFC 177, putting him outside of the promotion’s good graces when the unheralded Joe Soto had to step in on just two days’ notice. Barão earned a third-round submission over Mitch Gagnon before getting his third crack at Dillashaw in July. Dillashaw once again outstruck the Muay Thai stylist with a more dynamic striking output. Barão got his licks in too, but he was never ahead in the fight and by the end of it looked like a fighter that may never recapture his championship aura, much in the same vein as Junior dos Santos. But much like dos Santos in his most recent outing against Ben Rothwell, a durable fighter like Barão can recollect his senses, get healthy and come back to the cage with a new career outlook.
That is exactly what I believe happens in this fight. Barão is one of the very best grapplers in the bantamweight division, and he is surely at the top of the featherweight division despite never stepping foot inside the Octagon at 145 pounds. Barão has been effective in fights where he needed to use his wrestling and top control to get the job done. Expect him to channel his former submission-hunting ways and aggressively look to get this fight to the mat. Barão will likely test his own abilities on the feet, but if the fight starts slipping away, we could see him switch to one of his slick takedowns against the cage. Stephens is out to get back in the win column as well, but his inconsistent performances against top-level fighters is likely to continue this Memorial Day weekend. Barão gets his first win in the featherweight division and quickly shoots up the rankings.
Likes: Stephens is a threat to almost any fighter in the featherweight division, but the threat stops when a fighter is ranked in the top 10. My colleague already highlighted this unfortunate fact for Stephens.
There is no doubt about how this fight will turn out. Barão is one of the best fighters out of any organization, and it will not be long before he is charging up the rankings and earning a title shot at featherweight.
The time off will have gotten Barão as mentally focused and prepared as he will ever be. He is not “mentally broke” by any means, and Stephens will find out why his statement is as foolish as it is incorrect. People are placing too much emphasis on Barão’s last two losses against Dillashaw. That is the only fighter Barão has struggled to overcome, and it is understandable, too, considering Dillashaw is the second best bantamweight alive behind the aforementioned Cruz. Dillashaw was just a bad match-up for the Brazilian because of the pacing he puts forth. Barão struggled to keep up after the cut to 135 pounds sacrificed his cardio.
At 145 pounds, cardio will no longer be an issue for Barão. Expect a finish by Barão in the second round.
Aljamain Sterling is back on UFC Fight Pass after recently re-signing with the UFC. Is Sterling’s place opposite Bryan Caraway in the featured prelim fitting for a match of top-10 bantamweights, or would the fighters have benefited more from being on the Fox Sports 1 main card? Will fighting on UFC Fight Pass hinder Sterling’s bid for a shot at the bantamweight title, or will Caraway be the one to stop his title hopes?
Likes: Sterling’s placement on Fight Pass yet again is a head-scratcher.
You have a fighter who is ranked in the top 10, yet we haven’t seen him fight on national television in over a year… and we won’t see him there this weekend, either. If he leaves victorious, which he should, it’s hard to give him a title shot. He just hasn’t been promoted properly. Fans that follow the UFC religiously certainly know who he is, but what about the casual fan who doesn’t own a Fight Pass subscription? They’re left to read tweets and site results to get some glimpse of Sterling’s performance.
I understand Eric Winter and the UFC’s initiative to further the UFC brand with the subscription service, but enough is enough. It’s time to put Sterling on a televised card and seize the opportunity to push a talented, charismatic young fighter.
Aittama: Sterling certainly has all the makings of a future champion, but what about Caraway? Is “Mr. Tate” that unheralded that he isn’t at least being thought of as having even a slight chance of beating Sterling? Caraway has quietly built an impressive record with wins over Eddie Wineland, Erik Perez and Mitch Gagnon. He is a skilled grappler who can definitely hold his own on the feet. Caraway has continued to make improvements in his game since losing in the semifinals of season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him grind out a victory on Sunday night.
That said, I am leaning (heavily) towards Sterling. The 26-year-old is fresh off of signing his new UFC contract after big submission wins against top-10 bantamweights Takeya Mizugaki and Johnny Eduardo. Sterling’s unorthodox striking attack continues to improve as he trains alongside former UFC champions Matt Serra and Chris Weidman.
Sterling will likely close the distance with his kicks and work in his wrestling takedowns in the clinch and against the cage. Sterling has something to prove after being given another fight on UFC Fight Pass and not the main card. His post in the featured prelim most likely signifies he needs another win or two to fight for the title. If he beats another top-10 bantamweight, there is no doubt he will be scheduled for a marquee fight on an upcoming marquee event. If I was UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby, I would pair Sterling against another top bantamweight on the main card of the UFC event in Madison Square Garden in Sterling’s home state.
Sterling gets it done. Now let’s hope the UFC jumps on the bandwagon.
Sara McMann and Jessica Eye are headlining the prelims. Both fighters are also trying to bounce back from consecutive losses. Will either of these fighters make another run in the division and become a contender once again, or has that ship sailed?
Aittama: Eye last stepped into the Octagon late last year against Julianna Pena on the main card of the UFC 192 pay-per-view. She had trouble keeping her larger opponent off of her in the first and third frames en route to dropping a unanimous decision. Eye had moments of success throughout the bout, though. She held Pena against the cage and defended a couple of takedown attempts. Eye landed a takedown of her own in the second round that she used to advance position and lock on an arm-triangle choke. Pena did a good job defending the tight choke with good use of her hips and feet to remain out of danger while Eye tried to use the choke to pass. Eye landed her shots on the feet, but she continued her career trend of not being able to stay out of the clinch and off the cage when she needed to. She has had trouble staying at range and keeping her opponents away long enough to land her powerful punches. Eye is a brawler at heart, and that’s what could keep her from ending her two-fight skid.
McMann will certainly have an advantage in the wrestling department, and she’ll actually be facing an opponent who won’t completely tower over her. Meanwhile, she is at a clear disadvantage if this fight remains on the feet. Eye was able to bust up the face of Pena every time Pena attempted to close distance. McMann was a victim of the ferocious counter striking of upcoming title challenger Amanda Nunes in her most recent outing at UFC Fight Night 73 in August. Nunes was able to land her strikes at will and use her size and strength to defend McMann’s shot attempts. Nunes hurt McMann with punches and pounced on her back immediately, eventually sinking in the first-round rear-naked choke submission.
McMann’s outing against Miesha Tate didn’t look much better for her on the feet. McMann took the first round on all three of the judges’ scorecards, but she took a beating the rest of the fight. Tate’s output earned her a 10-8 score in the third round on two scorecards. McMann had serious trouble with inactivity against the tough veteran Lauren Murphy in 2014, arguably losing two of the rounds despite being in top position. She obviously didn’t impress many fans either in her 66-second TKO loss to Ronda Rousey at UFC 170. Her last really impressive outing came in 2013 in her UFC debut against a very overmatched grappler in Sheila Gaff. It’s tough to give much credence to McMann as a title challenger in the future after such a tough stretch of losses over the past two years. The one takeaway from all three of her losses is that she has only ever lost to the very best fighters in the division.
Eye fought tough against the elite of the division, fighting to a very close decision with Alexis Davis in 2014 and defeating Sarah Kaufman in 2013 (before the fight was overturned when Eye tested positive for marijuana).
Out of the two fighters, the former Olympic medalist McMann might have been given the nod as the fighter to challenge for the title (in her case, for the second time), but I tend to give Eye the better chance to make some adjustments to her fight game. She is in a great place to make those changes, training with the likes of newly crowned UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic and top-10 welterweight Matt Brown at Strong Style Fitness Center in Ohio. McMann may get her hand raised if she can repeatedly get Eye down, but the 29-year-old Eye can get some good shots in and steal the victory.
Likes: McMann and Eye have a glaring flaw in their game that has prevented them from getting over the hump.
In McMann’s case, it’s clearly been her lack of striking ability. The fight against Nunes is a great example of an instance where McMann failed to hold her own on the feet. If she can’t get takedowns and keep her opponent on the mat, then she struggles. Until she develops competent striking tools, her competitors will keep their hands lower, looking to stuff a takedown without fear that McMann will make them pay for doing so. McMann might be too far into her career to change that part of her game drastically and rise back up to contender status.
I definitely feel more optimistic about Eye’s future. She has crisp boxing, and her grappling will get better as time goes. She is still young in this sport. My colleague is also right to say that she is at a perfect place to improve and learn from the heavyweight champ. If she can do just enough to keep a fight on the feet, Eye can be a serious threat to almost any bantamweight and will have the ability to rise back to contender status.
Eye will take the big first step when she defeats McMann.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Likes: After losing as a heavyweight to Antonio Carlos Jr. in the TUF Brazil 3 Finale, Vitor Miranda has gone on a three-fight winning streak. He is also competing at middleweight now, a decision he made after the loss to Carlos Jr. It was an easy decision for Miranda to make, too. He was undersized for a heavyweight, but he is one of the most dangerous strikers in the middleweight division. Look at his past three fights. There was the vicious head kick that led to a TKO against Jake Collier. There was the TKO against Clint Hester. And there was another vicious head kick that stopped Marcelo Guimaraes at UFC 196. This fight is a sleeper match-up because people are sleeping on Miranda.
Miranda’s opponent, Chris Camozzi, is no slouch. He is a veteran who is able to make key adjustments mid-fight to earn a victory. His last match-up he earned a “Performance of the Night” bonus when he landed a brutal knee to finish Joe Riggs. Camozzi is currently on a two-fight winning streak since stepping up to fight Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza on a week’s notice in a losing effort. Camozzi has good striking, an iron chin, and is more than willing to stand and trade with Miranda. Camozzi, despite his limited background on the mat, is also a very good grappler who can try to take the fight to the ground if Miranda’s striking overwhelms him. If he does take Miranda down, it could be a short night. Camozzi has a variety of submissions he’s good at locking up.
All this makes for not only a sleeper fight, but a possible “Fight of the Night” as well.
Aittama: When skilled strikers Jorge Masvidal and Lorenz Larkin enter the Octagon on Sunday night, there won’t be any fans still sitting at the end of the fight. When these highly skilled strikers meet, there won’t be much waiting.
Masvidal is a precise boxer who has rounded out his martial-arts game at one of the world’s best fight camps, American Top Team. Hel began his MMA career in 2003, and he has not backed down from a challenge yet. Masvidal has beaten and fought many of the world’s top fighters at lightweight and now welterweight. He has finished 13 of his 29 professional wins, including 11 by way of knockout.
Larkin won’t back down from this challenge either. The former light heavyweight will carry a rather large size advantage into the hotly contested bout. It’s a size difference he has showcased since making the drop to welterweight at the beginning of 2015. Larkin was impressive in back-to-back knockout victories against John Howard and Santiago Ponzinibbio. He was getting eaten alive by the right hand and punching combinations of Albert Tumenov in his last outing, but Larkin fought back in the second and third rounds and nearly left Tumenov unable to walk after repeated damaging leg kicks.
Masvidal looked impressive on short notice against Benson Henderson despite losing the five-round decision. He hurt Henderson on a few occasions with precision striking inside range. Masvidal did well in the scrambles, but he tired as the fight went on.
Masvidal won’t have to contend with the extra 10 minutes against Larkin, giving him even more opportunity to aggressively pursue a submission if Larkin leaves an opening. Larkin will need to employ his dynamic kicking offense to keep Masvidal from getting comfortable in boxing range. Either way this fight plays out, it’s a can’t-miss affair.
Pair this card with…
Aittama: Nelmarking. There are a plethora of highly skilled strikers on this exciting Fight Night card, but the one man that is above them all is Thomas Almeida.
Almeida has become a spectacle that can only be labeled as can’t-miss television. We only have to go back one fight to see some of that magic. Almeida thrashed Anthony Birchak in a manner that could only be described by one of the more popular terms in the Twitter-verse: Nelmarking.
To be Nelmarked is to be left in a heap against or near the cage with your legs bent underneath your unconscious body. The term was coined after popular former UFC fighter Tank Abbott left Steve Nelmark slumped over himself against the cage at UFC Ultimate Ultimate 1996. Nelmark had the soul knocked clean from his body — that’s the only way he could have experienced the entire ordeal. “I wasn’t even knocked out,” Nelmark said when discussing the fight. “If you watch the fight, it looks horrible because I just collapse. He hit a part of my nervous system that knocked my motor functions out. I collapsed because I couldn’t move. But I never lost consciousness.”
This card has the likelihood of producing the famous knockout with the amount of powerful punchers on the docket. Don’t miss the opportunity to see a sight almost as rare as the Lochness monster or Bigfoot. Hey, I said almost.
Likes: A BBQ. It’s Memorial Day weekend, so gather as many people as possible, fire up the grill, sit back and enjoy fights while you stuff your face. And while you’re stuffing your face, up the ante: eat 135 Twinkies to celebrate the future of the bantamweight division. Hell, bust out the American flag t-shirt you bought as an impulse purchase and wear it.
|Fight||Likes’s Pick||Aittama’s Pick|
|Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 9 p.m. ET)|
|BW: Thomas Almeida vs. Cody Garbrandt||Garbrandt||Almeida|
|FW: Renan Barão vs. Jeremy Stephens||Barão||Barão|
|WW: Tarec Saffiedine vs. Rick Story||Story||Story|
|MW: Chris Camozzi vs. Vitor Miranda||Miranda||Miranda|
|WW: Jorge Masvidal vs. Lorenz Larkin||Larkin||Masvidal|
|LW: Paul Felder vs. Josh Burkman||Felder||Felder|
|Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 7 p.m. ET)|
|Women’s BW: Jessica Eye vs. Sara McMann||Eye||Eye|
|LW: Abel Trujillo vs. Jordan Rinaldi||Trujillo||Trujillo|
|MW: Jake Collier vs. Alberto Uda||Uda||Uda|
|LW: Erik Koch vs. Shane Campbell||Koch||Koch|
|Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6 p.m. ET)|
|BW: Aljamain Sterling vs. Bryan Caraway||Sterling||Sterling|
|HW: Chris De La Rocha vs. Adam Milstead||Milstead||Milstead|