The UFC once again comes to us from the country that Mel Gibson helped make more commonly known with the timeless classic Braveheart (yes, before our U.K. readers get all bent out of shape, that was sarcasm), Scotland. So, of course, this card’s main event features a fighter from Iceland taking on a fighter from Argentina. I mean, it makes perfect sense, right?
Gunnar Nelson will continue to try to live up for what feels like the umpteenth time to his still-not-yet-realized potential by taking on Santiago Ponzinibbio (try saying that three times fast). Nelson looks like he may finally be ready to take the next step in his career after winning his last two fights by submission, but Ponzinibbio has lost only once in roughly the last four years, with a few first-round knockouts during that time. So Ponzinibbio likely won’t just lay down and let Nelson waltz his way into the welterweight top five.
In the co-headliner, Scotland’s own Joanne Calderwood looks to halt the momentum of the surging Cynthia Calvillo. After winning her first two UFC fights by submission, Calvillo has emerged as another talented addition to an already-deep strawweight division. Calderwood would like to rebound from a first-round loss to former title contender Jessica Andrade in her last fight, after winning two of her first three UFC bouts. Will “JoJo” bring the spirit of William Wallace into the Octagon and emerge victorious in front of her Scottish brethren?
The UFC Fight Pass prelim card starts at noon ET on Sunday, July 16, with the Fox Sports 1 prelim card starting at 1 p.m. ET and the main card to follow on FS1 at 3 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Zach Aittama are here to get you ready for all the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Welterweight fighter Gunnar Nelson has been able to climb to within one or two wins of a title shot before, but he always faces a setback. First, it was a loss to Rick Story. Then, a defeat at the hands of Demian Maia. Can Nelson get past his latest opponent, Santiago Ponzinibbio, or does the Argentinian possess the ability to stifle Nelson’s title aspirations once again?
Aittama: Ponzinibbio is the type of fighter that can make this fight much harder than it needs to be for Nelson. The Argentinian is never out of a fight until the very end. “Gente Boa” uses his aggression as his primary weapon. Time and time again throughout his UFC career, he’s been able to put on impressive performances against the lower and mid-tier fighters in the welterweight division.
After losing to Ryan LaFlare in his Octagon debut, Ponzinibbio battled minor knee injuries before finally making it back to the Octagon in late 2014 against Wendell Oliveira. He put his Brazilian opponent away in less than 90 seconds and has since been on a roll. Ponzinibbio has won six of his past seven, with his lone setback coming against top-10 welterweight Lorenz Larkin after a back-and-forth, “Fight of the Night” performance. He has since bested Court McGee, Zak Cummings and, most recently, Nordine Taleb. If you throw in the fact that he was the first man to hand Sean Strickland a loss, he has one of the more impressive recent runs in the welterweight division. With all that said, his toughest opponent outside of Larkin will be waiting for him across the cage in Scotland.
Nelson, 28, has finally broken his four-fight streak of trading wins and losses with his most recent performance against Alan Jouban at UFC Fight Night 107. After back-to-back wins over Jouban and former top-10 welterweight Albert Tumenov, Nelson is primed to return to the form he showed following his UFC debut, when he won four straight. Nelson might not be the guy to challenge for the title in the future, but these are the types of match-ups that will determine if he can find some consistency and make the necessary improvements to potentially get there. His only career setbacks have come to top-10 welterweights Story and Maia, the latter of whom is fighting for the title this month.
If Nelson sticks to the game plan and avoids heavy exchanges inside the pocket, he could have a somewhat easy night. His inconsistencies in some of his fights have led to his losses. However, with two impressive performances in a row and potentially a third after this fight, maybe it’s time to put that narrative to bed. Nelson gets it done with a submission inside of five rounds.
Huntemann: Oh, how I missed reading your epic tomes, Zach. When I was laying on the beach on my vacation, I thought to myself, “You know what I miss? Reading 500 words when 50 will do.”
I kid, I kid. To the matter at hand. Nelson seems to be another one of those fighters who just seems to be a wee bit more sizzle than steak (Joe Duffy, anyone?). There’s no doubt Nelson is talented — you don’t amass a record of 16-2-1 if you don’t have at least some skill — but, as this question states, when Nelson seems to slip on the metaphorical banana peel whenever he looks ready to solidify himself as a title contender. There was the surprising defeat to Story and then he got absolutely ragdolled by Maia — which really isn’t a bad thing, since Maia is among the best jiu-jitsu practitioners in the world. Nelson seems to continually find himself pressed up against the glass ceiling.
Unfortunately, his road doesn’t get any easier against Ponzinibbio, who hasn’t lost in over two years. This should be the Argentinian’s toughest fight since his last loss to Lorenz Larkin in 2015. However, this will be the fight where Nelson gets his mojo back. He’s still a ways away from a title shot, but defeating Ponzinibbio, who has finished 19 of his 24 victories, would be a step in the right direction. Nelson has experienced quite a bit of growth since his loss to Maia, and that will continue to be on display here. Nelson will pull it out.
Cynthia Calvillo ran through her first two UFC rivals with ease, but now she draws a match-up with perennial contender Joanne Calderwood. Calderwood has suffered two official submission losses and one submission defeat in exhibition competition over the last three years. Is this the perfect fight for Calvillo?
Huntemann: This is the fight I’m actually looking forward to the most.
Calvillo has looked very impressive in her first two UFC fights. She dominated Amanda Cooper in her debut and had a very entertaining scrap with fellow bombshell Pearl Gonzalez at UFC 210 earlier this year. She’s still a long way from title contention, but her grappling and submission prowess that has been on display in her first two UFC fights could present a good counterbalance to the Muay Thai striking of Calderwood. This could yet again be an entertaining, if cliché, striker-vs.-grappler match-up.
It’s hard what to make of Calderwood right now. She seemed to be a dark horse on the 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter, which crowned the first UFC women’s strawweight champion. There was talk that winning her first fight after the show ended would merit Calderwood a title shot, but then she was upset by Maryna Moroz. She rebounded nicely with back-to-back wins before losing again to Jessica Andrade last year, so it seems that Calderwood is in a bit of purgatory right now. A win over a highly-touted prospect like Calvillo in front of her home crowd could easily put “JoJo” back on the right path.
Aittama: This fight is very much in the mold of a striker-vs.-grappler contest.
Calvillo’s last performance displayed her continued work to improve her stand-up. There were some good things to take away from the assault of punches she landed on Gonzalez in the first round, but there are just as many flaws in her approach. She wasted a lot of energy throwing strikes that Gonzalez was able to deflect, avoid or simply block. Calvillo was throwing at a very high volume in the first round, which wasn’t sustained through the three-round contest. Not only was she throwing more than she could handle, but she was only throwing strikes to the head of Gonzalez, which directly led to her ineffectiveness in damage. Calvillo failed to work the body or the legs. She failed to keep Gonzalez guessing what her next attack was going to be. These are changes Calvillo hopefully has made coming into her next bout against not only the best fighter she has ever faced, but by far the best striker she has ever fought.
Calderwood looked like a world beater when she was rising up the Invicta FC rankings. She was picking apart her opponents and leaving no doubt she would one day challenge for a title. Taking her setbacks aside, Calderwood’s resume is very good. It features wins over top-five atomweight Seo Hee Ham, top-15 strawweight Cortney Casey, and former title challenger Valérie Létourneau. When Calderwood can set her rhythm on the feet, she beats most of the top fighters in the strawweight division in a striking battle. Unfortunately for the hometown girl, she won’t be getting an easy match-up against Calvillo’s high-level grappling game.
Calderwood has had her own ups and downs as a UFC athlete. The only difference is Calvillo’s drawbacks were that of a younger, less-experienced fighter. Calderwood is a very experienced fighter, but she is a one-note fighter when the fight hits the ground. Maybe it has been her unwillingness to get outside of her training comfort zone, or maybe it’s just that her application of what she’s learned has been lacking. However, she has a serious problem defending off submission attempts. She was arguably beating the aforementioned Andrade before the skilled former title challenger locked up a guillotine choke after jumping guard. Calderwood also fell short with an early armbar to Moroz in a fight where she was a nearly 7-to-1 favorite to win.
Calderwood may always be the fighter that falters when it hits the mat, but it’s hard not to factor in her size in this contest. The UFC has finally decided to add the women’s flyweight division. If Calderwood can navigate the dangers on the mat and find a way to win on the feet, her next move could be up to a weight class that fits her better. She already has a win at 125 pounds in the UFC over the aforementioned Létourneau. After the inaugural women’s flyweight champion is crowned following The Ultimate Fighter 26, Calderwood will be in a prime position to be the first challenger for the strap.
James Mulheron, Justin Willis, Galore Bofando, Danny Henry, Daniel Teymur and Amanda Lemos — do we need to know these names?
Aittama: The most athletic fighter in this group is far and away Galore Bofando. The skilled striker comes from a kickboxing background and his striking resembles that of a point karate fighter. He moves well, throws a diverse array of attacks, and has good control of the distance and timing in every range. Bofando has lost in his MMA career, but on his own accord. His only career defeats have come from illegal knees to a grounded opponent. His striking will most certainly make him a threat to most fighters, but his size and strength have got him by on the ground against lesser competition. Bofando is a wild card heading into his UFC debut. However, given the right match-ups going forward, he could make a big splash along the lines of someone like Michael Page in Bellator.
Scotland’s own Henry is a two-time EFC Africa featherweight champion. He has shown off his power to the South African fans with big-time knockdowns and knockouts throughout his career. He is a well-rounded fighter with 10 career wins, which gives him a slight experience advantage over the undefeated Daniel Teymur.
The aforementioned Swedish prospect is the younger brother of David Teymur, who just made an impressive debut against Lando Vanatta. Daniel hopes for the same success in his debut. The Swede is an aggressive striker who pushes a fast pace in his fights. He has first-round finishes in all six of his career wins. However, he was given an unbelievable second chance in his 2015 fight against Emerick Youmbi in Switzerland. Teymur was brutally knocked down and stopped, only to have the referee restart the fight after Teymur complained about the stoppage. Teymur would go on to win the fight by submission.
Lemos is a heavy-handed striker with a knack for taking a beating and still putting her opponents away. The Jungle Fight women’s bantamweight titleholder looked impressive in her last outing against Mayra Cantuária. She was able to continue her unbeaten streak with a perfectly timed knee as Cantuária closed the distance. Lemos, 30, is an interesting addition to the 135-pound weight class, but her first opponent is a difficult one. Due to her toughness and resilience — two traits Lemos has yet to face in her career — Leslie Smith is likely to hand Lemos her first loss.
Willis, who fights out of the American Kickboxing Academy, has had some hype attached to his name for a few years. The 29-year-old was scheduled to make his UFC debut against top-15 heavyweight Marcin Tybura at UFC 208 before his weight cut went south and the fight had to be canceled. Willis was defeated in his professional debut, but he has since gone on to win four bouts, including three by way of stoppage. His biggest win is a New Year’s Eve knockout of Deep megaton champion Yusuke Kawaguchi.
Willis meets the United Kingdom’s James Mulheron. “The Juggernaut” has built a sort of cult following as the long-reigning Made 4 the Cage heavyweight champion. He has topped many of the well-known heavyweights in the United Kingdom, including Neil Grove, Ruben Wolf, Neil Wain and Stav Economou. A fight against the skilled, but relatively unknown Willis is an appropriate test for both of these fighters’ UFC debuts.
Huntemann: I’m going to go ahead and provide a little teaser of my answer to the next question in this little preview. I’m looking forward to seeing Lemos’ debut against Smith. Lemos has finished all six of her career victories, and Smith is just tough as nails and doesn’t back down.
Don’t sleep on Lemos. She can finish Smith and make a memorable entrance to the women’s bantamweight division.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Huntemann: Make sure you catch the first fight on the UFC Fight Pass preliminary card between Leslie Smith and Amanda Lemos.
Smith’s win-loss record may not wow you, but she was willing to step up and welcome Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino to the UFC last year when not many people seemed eager to do that, or said they would before quickly backing away from those statements (looking at you, Holly Holm and Miesha Tate).
Smith is just a tough chick, period. Lemos is coming into the UFC undefeated; Smith doesn’t back down. This should be an entertaining scrap to kick off the day’s festivities.
Aittama: I like my colleague’s choice for the sleeper fight. Smith and Lemos are going to bring it from the opening bell. However, the clear sleeper on this card is the flyweight showdown between TUF 24 alum Alexandre Pantoja and Irish MMA trailblazer Neil “2Tap” Seery.
Pantoja fell short on the show against Hiromasa Ogikubo in the semifinals. However, the 27-year-old Brazilian won an incredible back-and-forth fight against Eric Shelton earlier this year in his UFC debut. Shelton was criminally underrated on the show, but he made it to the semifinals against the eventual TUF winner, Tim Elliott.
Pantoja, the show’s No. 1 seed, knocked off Brandon Moreno in the opening fight of the competition. Pantoja defeated top Asian MMA prospect Kai Kara-France in his second TUF bout before dropping a two-round decision to the two-division Shooto champion and eventual TUF 24 runner-up Ogikubo. Pantoja didn’t start providing his exciting performances in the TUF house, but he consistently brought relentless pressure to his opponents long before his UFC debut. The Brazilian is one of the best flyweights outside of the UFC. He cemented those claims with a huge submission win over former Legacy FC champion Damacio Page in an AXS TV champion-vs.-champion showdown in 2015. He is finally in the UFC and a true threat to the division’s top 10.
Pantoja’s dance partner for the evening, Seery, will make the walk to the Octagon for the last time in his career. His two previously scheduled retirement fights against Ian McCall fell through. Now, Seery faces one of his toughest opponents to date in front of a U.K. crowd. The matchmaking for this fight doesn’t exactly favor Seery. However, this is the type of fight that could bring exactly the kind of violence that makes for an unforgettable skirmish.
We don’t yet know if Seery will be able to end his career on a high note, or if he gets dominated over 15 minutes, but there is one thing every fan can rely on: he won’t go down without a fight.
Pair this card with…
Aittama: The sun. This event takes place much earlier than normal for the fans in the United States. If you would rather get outside and enjoy the sun this summer, this could be your opportunity. The card doesn’t feature the name value that captures the casual fans, but if you do decide to stay inside and watch the show, you will be rewarded with an exciting night of fights. If you decide to watch, then break out the grill and catch all of the sizzling action from Scotland with some company. Hell, you could even watch the fights outside with some ingenuity and determination.
Huntemann: I could be incredibly stereotypical and say a plate of haggis, but I’ve probably already annoyed our U.K. readers enough. It’s summer in the northern hemisphere, and it’s likely hot and humid where you are. So relax in some air conditioning; that’s what I’ll use. Bask in the glory of AC as you eschew the heat and humidity to stay inside and watch some fights.
|Fight||Aittama’s Pick||Huntemann’s Pick|
|Main Card (Fox Sports 1 , 3 p.m. ET)|
|WW: Gunnar Nelson vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio||Nelson||Nelson|
|Women’s StrawW: Cynthia Calvillo vs. Joanne Calderwood||Calderwood||Calvillo|
|LW: Stevie Ray vs. Paul Felder||Ray||Felder|
|MW: Jack Marshman vs. Ryan Janes||Marshman||Marshman|
|LHW: Paul Craig vs. Khalil Rountree||Rountree||Rountree|
|HW: James Mulheron vs. Justin Willis||Willis||Mulheron|
|Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1 , 1 p.m. ET)|
|WW: Danny Roberts vs. Bobby Nash||Roberts||Roberts|
|FlyW: Neil Seery vs. Alexandre Pantoja||Pantoja||Seery|
|WW: Charlie Ward vs. Galore Bofando||Bofando||Ward|
|LW: Danny Henry vs. Daniel Teymur||Henry||Teymur|
|Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass , 12 p.m. ET)|
|BW: Brett Johns vs. Albert Morales||Johns||Johns|
|Women’s BW: Leslie Smith vs. Amanda Lemos||Smith||Lemos|