On Sunday night, local time, the UFC lands back at the Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg, Germany for the second time in the promotion’s history for UFC Fight Night 134. The main event and co-main event both feature pivotal light heavyweight match-ups consisting of three, top-10 combatants.
Headlining the card will be the long-awaited return of eighth-ranked former champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, who has been sidelined since March 2017. Shogun is on a three-fight winning streak, but hasn’t fought outside of his home country of Brazil since December 2013. He was originally supposed to fight second-ranked Volkan Oezdemir, but the Swiss fighter was moved to a different event, and was replaced by Anthony “Lionheart” Smith.
Smith is coming off his light heavyweight debut just last month when he disposed of former champ Rashad Evans with a nasty knee only 53 seconds into their fight. This sent Evans into retirement, and skyrocketed Smith’s popularity. The Nebraskan quickly jumped at the chance to take on another high-profile opponent with a chance to jump up in the rankings.
The co-main event features Glover Teixeira and Corey Anderson. Teixeira was originally supposed to face Ilir Latifi in a battle of three-versus-four, but Latifi had to pull out due to injury and was replaced by Anderson. Teixeira is coming off another crushing knockout as he beat Misha Cirkunov back in December, and Anderson was able to take a decision win over Patrick Cummins in April. Both men are in the top 10, and looking to inch closer to a title shot.
The main card rounds out with a great mix of veterans and newcomers across four divisions, including Stefan Struve, Marcin Tybura, Abu Azaitar and David Zawada.
The event kicks off on UFC Fight Pass with three early prelims at 10:30 a.m. ET. The action then shifts to Fox Sports 1 with four preliminary bouts starting at 12 p.m. ET. The six-fight main card will stay on Fox Sports 1 starting at 2 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Zach Aittama and Dan Kuhl will preview the event in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Pride legend and former UFC champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua sees action for the first time in roughly 16 months. The Brazilian draws Anthony Smith, a proven finisher who made waves in June with a 53-second knockout of another former UFC titleholder, Rashad Evans. Can Smith put away another big name in this bout?
Aittama: Smith has already made a name for himself in the Octagon since debuting with a victory over Leonardo Guimarães in 2016. Since that time, Smith has stopped former perennial top-15 fighter Hector Lombard, The Ultimate Fighter 23 winner Andrew Sanchez, and WSOF veteran Elvis Mutapcic. Smith’s massive frame gave him a big advantage during his years at middleweight, however. “Lionheart” earned his biggest victory over former UFC champion Rashad Evans following a move up to light heavyweight. Smith used his dangerous clinch game to frame up Evans for a big knee that put an end to the fight less than a minute in.
“Shogun” Rua is one of the legends of the sport. The younger of two brothers to make their mark in Pride Fighting Championship over a decade ago, Rua went on one of the greatest calendar year runs in MMA history when he won the 2005 Pride light heavyweight grand prix with victories over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona. Shogun started his roller coaster UFC career when he signed with the promotion in 2007. Rua cemented his place in the history books by winning the UFC light heavyweight championship against Lyoto Machida. Now, Rua finds himself on the longest winning streak of his UFC career following three consecutive victories over Gian Villante, Corey Anderson, and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Rua was even recently mentioned by two-division UFC champion Daniel Cormier as a potential opponent to defend his light heavyweight title later this year.
Of course, that would only come if Shogun can defy the odds again and get past another hungry contender. Unfortunately for the Brazilian, the odds are already stacked against him. Shogun hasn’t fought in 16 months. Despite victories in his past three fights, Shogun hasn’t exactly dominated his opposition. Shogun met resistance against Anderson in a contentious decision that a few people have suggested was a hometown decision at UFC 198 in Brazil. Outside of his potential drawbacks leading into the bout, Shogun is still one of the most skilled fighters outside of the upper echelon of the division. Rua can take the fight anywhere, which will be massively important against a fighter who will walk into the Octagon as the bigger man.
Smith is known for his violent finishes, even before his time in the UFC. He has stopped 22 of his 24 wins with a near split between submission and knockout victories. Rua has been hurt, stunned and stopped before, but his toughness has helped him out of bad spots before. However, Smith has the type of power that could thwart any potential comeback if he can hammer in those final coffin nails should he drop the former UFC champion. With a win, Smith catapults his name into the top-10 of a division in serious need of new blood, at the age of 29.
Kuhl: It’s easy to argue that the Evans fight was a gimme for Smith. The 38-year-old former champ was all but done prior to the fight. He had lost four in a row, hadn’t won since 2013, and had not looked anywhere near his best in a long time. In his current UFC run, Smith has not only taken out aging veterans, but up-and-comers, as well. However, Shogun is in a much different place than Evans.
The Brazilian is durable, plain and simple. He may have a little ring rust, but let’s not forget that he is a 16-year veteran of the sport, who competed in Pride 1. Compared to today’s Evans, Shogun is a woodchipper that can take down the biggest trees. In his last three fights — the longest winning streak of his UFC career — he has proven he can still go the distance, and also that he still has stopping power. When you look at the list of names on the losing side of his UFC career, it’s not exactly tomato cans, either. History is probably his biggest foe at this point, because historically speaking, he might be due for a loss. And, the Smith he’s fighting is not the Smith who lost to Thiago Santos.
Prior to the Evans fight, Smith was a middleweight. While he was successful in his career fighting at 185 pounds, he always looked a half-step behind where he looked in training. This was due to the fact that he had basically been killing himself trying to make weight. The Nebraskan would cut hard from 220 to 185, and then blow up to almost 230 after his fights, because his body was so stressed out. It was affecting his performance, including his speed, stamina and power.
After the Santos fight, the UFC put Smith under a new contract as a light heavyweight, and the Evans fight was just a taste of what’s to come. Shogun is fighting a Smith with a new lease on life, and not the Smith that he has been watching tape on. I believe that the former champ is in for a big surprise, as Smith will be fresh, powerful and ready to bring the war.
I have Smith pulling off a surprising knockout finish somewhere late in the fight to catapult himself into the 205-pound rankings.
Glover Teixeira and Corey Anderson take the co-headlining slot. How important is this fight to the light heavyweight title picture?
Kuhl: Well, Teixeira versus Latifi was very important to the light heavyweight picture until Latifi had to pull out due to injury on July 5. That was a bout between two top-five guys, and probably should have served as the main event over Shogun. That being said, Anderson is still ranked ninth in the division, and a win over third-ranked Teixeira would catapult the former TUF competitor into the top five. I don’t see that happening.
There is no secret to Teixeira’s game. He crushes people standing, he’s got a black belt in BJJ, and he has only lost to the best guys in the world, like Jon Jones, Anthony Johnson and Alexander Gustafsson. The Brazilian does have the ability to be knocked out, but that’s only because he presses the action hard. Anderson has a slight size advantage, and obvious age advantage, but the 28-year-old has a tall order to fill with his toughest opponent of his career.
I see this one ending quickly. Teixeira will do what Teixeira does, and he will likely take home some form of knockout win before the midpoint of the fight.
Aittama: Anderson looked impressive in his one-sided beating of Patrick Cummins, especially in the first round, where Anderson landed 50 strikes, or one strike every six seconds. Anderson was able to mix in his striking with his wrestling against a tough, durable opponent. The fight was a step in the right direction. However, Anderson now dives into the deep end of the light heavyweight division against top-five opponent Teixeira.
Like my colleague alluded to, this is a difficult match-up for Anderson, despite holding a physical advantage over the 38-year-old. For Anderson to achieve any success in this fight, he needs to use his jab (which has been under-utilized throughout his career), his wrestling pressure and size against the cage. Anderson needs to wear down Teixeira and hope he can outwork and outscore the Brazilian contender over the course of three rounds. That’s easier said than done since Teixeira is as well-rounded a fighter as they come. Teixeira proved that with his grappling dominance over Jared Cannonier and his impressive first-round stoppage over rising light heavyweight prospect Misha Cirkunov in his most recent outing.
Outside of one massive uppercut against Anthony Johnson and a series of strikes in the fifth round against Alexander Gustafsson, Teixeira hasn’t been stopped since his first professional fight, all the way back in 2002. Anderson won’t offer a serious threat to the remarkably durable Brazilian on the feet, so The Ultimate Fighter 19 winner will need to put together the perfect game plan to unseat one of the mainstays at the top of the 205-pound division. Like Dan, I don’t see it materializing for Anderson. Teixeira stops the bout inside the distance.
Abu Azaitar, Darko Stošić, Pingyuan Liu, Nad Narimani and Khalid Taha — do we need to know these names?
Aittama: Serbia’s Darko Stošić rides an eight-fight winning streak into his UFC debut against three-time Octagon veteran Jeremy Kimball. Stošić won the Final Fight Championship heavyweight title against Strikeforce veteran Dion Staring. The 26-year-old is a bulldozer who tries to run straight through his opponents with power-punching and non-stop, destructive ground and pound. Stošić is an interesting addition to the light heavyweight division, which is in dire need of some new blood.
Germany’s own Abu Azaitar is an aggressive fighter with a knack for picking off some top European talent like Jack Marshman, Martin Zawada and Krzysztof Kulak. The 32-year-old brings an eight-fight winning streak into his debut against dangerous Brazilian striker Vitor Miranda. The World Series of Fighting and Absolute Championship Berkut veteran is an intriguing addition to the middleweight division, but his debut fight is a difficult veteran of the sport, who has never been knocked out during MMA competition. That said, Azaitar’s fight-finishing ability on the ground could potentially lead to a stoppage. Miranda’s last two opponents were tough, grinding strikers Marin Vettori and Chris Camozzi, and both beat him by decision.
Narimani makes his UFC debut following a massive win over Paddy Pimblett for the Cage Warriors featherweight title. Narimani has won five of his past six fights, including four stoppage wins inside the Cage Warriors cage. The 31-year-old is a heavy-handed pressure fighter with good control on top if his opponent chooses to take it there. He takes on fellow newcomer, Khalid Taha.
Taha, 25, makes his UFC debut in his home country following an impressive submission victory over Hamza Alkooheji at Brave CF 12 in May. Taha participated in the 2017 RIZIN bantamweight grand prix with a victory in the opening round over Keita Ishibashi and a loss against DEEP champion Takafumi Otsuka in the quarterfinals. Taha is an exciting, fight-finisher with 10 of his 12 wins by stoppage.
The bout could be a display of both fighter’s skills. Taha has the higher upside long term, but Narimani could deliver exciting fights in certain European markets. Expect a technical, fast-paced fight with potential for an exciting stoppage.
China’s Pingyuan Liu brings an eight-fight winning streak to his Octagon debut. Liu was originally scheduled to debut at UFC Fight Night 122 in Shanghai, but an injury took him off of the card. Liu is a finisher with a well-rounded skill set, but his level of competition has been favorable during his time fighting under the Wu Lin Fang banner. Liu is a solid grappler with submission ability off of his back, flashed knockout power in his past fights, and has shown the physical tools to compete at the highest level in China. He hasn’t fought a top-level talent yet. Damian Stasiak is a proper test on the ground for Liu, who is getting an opponent who will push him. Liu is a strange addition to the Germany card, but with so many fighters on roster, I guess fighters will have to take fights outside of their ideal market.
Kuhl: The two I’m keeping my eyes on are Azaitar and late-replacement David Zawada. These two German fighters are highly ranked in Europe, have finishing skills, and are on winning streaks in some the top regional promotions across the pond. Fighting on their home soil brings a ton of motivation and the crowds will have their backs, so it will be fun to see if they can deliver.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Kuhl: I’m very interested in the match-up between David Zawada and Danny Roberts. Both men are seasoned veterans who finish most of their fights. Roberts was supposed to be facing Alan Jouban for his seventh Octagon appearance, but when Jouban pulled out on short notice, Zawada stepped up for his promotional debut. Zawada is riding a five-fight winning streak, including three knockouts and one submission, and he will fighting on his home soil in Germany. This should be a great fight.
Aittama: European heavyweights Stefan Struve and Marcin Tybura look to break their two-fight losing streaks when they battle in neutral territory.
Poland’s Tybura has showcased why there was hype around him prior to his UFC career. Four fights into his promotion tenure, Tybura knocked off former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski. Tybura couldn’t continue his winning ways when he faced off with former champ Fabricio Werdum or top-10 opponent Derrick Lewis. However, Tybura had his moments in a back-and-forth affair with Lewis that featured as the co-main event. Tybura has established himself as a formidable foe in the UFC heavyweight division.
Stefan Struve is still one of the youngest heavyweights in the top-15 despite signing with the UFC in 2009. Struve has never been able to consistently top the best heavyweights the world has to offer. That said, Struve holds 12 wins inside the Octagon, including massive wins over former champions Stipe Miocic and Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira. Struve is a dangerous opponent whether the fight takes place on the ground or the feet. Struve’s obvious height and reach advantage doesn’t always come into play on the feet, but it most certainly does on the ground where Struve is active and dangerous off of his back.
The fight is important for both fighters. Struve could potentially re-enter the top-10 with a victory and Tybura solidifies another big name match-up if he impressives against the 20-fight UFC veteran.
Pair this card with…
Aittama: Following the completion of an all-European World Cup Final, there is still time to enjoy some European heritage in the way of violence. Seventeen of the 26 fights on the card are European, including five German athletes. Germany’s football players couldn’t get their hands raised in the World Cup, but you can raise your hands with a nice, light-bodied Kölsch whenever a European fighter gets their hand raised following an exciting finish. Try a refreshing, flavorful Tart Peach Kölsch from Ballast Point or a Sprang from Trillium Brewing to take in all of the action.
Kuhl: This is only the promotion’s sixth trip to Germany, and over half of my heritage traces back to that country, so I’m keeping it traditional. A good veal bratwurst, legit mustard, and, of course, Frank’s kraut. I’ve tried several ways to make this meal, but my favorite is still to parboil the brats in German beer before quickly grilling to get some sear on the outside. Also, I prefer to slowly warm the sauerkraut for about 30 minutes first, instead of taking it right out of the can. No reason to put cold kraut on a hot brat.
|Fight||Aittama’s Pick||Kuhl’s Pick|
|Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 2 p.m. ET)|
|LHW: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Anthony Smith||Smith||Smith|
|LHW: Glover Teixeira vs. Corey Anderson||Teixeira||Teixeira|
|MW: Vitor Miranda vs. Abu Azaitar||Azaitar||Azaitar|
|HW: Stefan Struve vs. Marcin Tybura||Tybura||Tybura|
|LW: Marc Diakiese vs. Nasrat Haqparast||Diakiese||Diakiese|
|WW: Danny Roberts vs. David Zawada||Zawada||Zawada|
|Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 12 p.m. ET)|
|LW: Nick Hein vs. Damir Hadžović||Hein||Hein|
|WW: Emil Meek vs. Bartosz Fabiński||Meek||Meek|
|FW: Nad Narimani vs. Khalid Taha||Narimani||Narimani|
|LHW: Justin Ledet vs. Aleksandar Rakić||Ledet||Ledet|
|Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 10:30 a.m. ET)|
|BW: Manny Bermudez vs. Davey Grant||Bermudez||Bermudez|
|LHW: Jeremy Kimball vs. Darko Stošić||Stošić||Stošić|
|BW: Damian Stasiak vs. Pingyuan Liu||Stasiak||Liu|