Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC Fight Night 56 Preview and Predictions

The injury bug may have bitten the UFC again heading into UFC Fight Night 56 but, while the original main event between Jimi Manuwa and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua may be off, there’s still plenty of reasons to get excited for the card.

After an injury forced Manuwa to the sidelines, the UFC quickly regrouped and threw together an intriguing fight between Rua and rising star Ovince St. Preux, who was initially set to meet Francimar Barroso on the same card. With OSP coming off a demoralizing loss to Ryan Bader in his last bout, he is in desperate need of a win over Shogun this weekend. The stakes will be equally high for Rua, who is looking to get back to .500 in his up-and-down UFC career.

Helping fill out the card is a high-stakes flyweight fight between Ian McCall and John Lineker, with the winner likely to emerge as the frontrunner for the next shot at Demetrious Johnson and the flyweight title. McCall has a well-documented history with the champion and would obviously love to get another crack at defeating “Mighty Mouse,” but standing in his way will be Lineker, who likely would have already earned a title fight at some point if he could get his weight-cutting issues under control.


The fight card is set to kick off from Uberlandia, Minas Gerais, Brazil, with UFC Fight Pass streaming a prelim bout starting at 7:30 p.m. ET, and a five-fight preliminary card airing on Fox Sports 2 at 8 p.m. ET. From there, the action heads to Fox Sports 1, where the main card will start at 10:30 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Sal DeRose and Vince Carey square off to preview the card in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Mauricio “Shogun” Rua is just 3-4 since his title loss to Jon Jones. He’s only 32 years old, but he already seems to be on the downside of his career. He was set to fight Jimi Manuwa, but now he’ll meet Ovince St. Preux instead. OSP is just one year younger than Shogun, but he seems to be at a vastly different stage of his career despite a loss in his last outing. Will OSP rise to this occasion, or does Shogun still have something left in his tank?

DeRose: Injury strikes yet again and creates what actually may be a worse match-up for Rua. While St. Preux doesn’t have the knockout power of Manuwa, he has the wrestling to be a threat to Rua all night.

OSP is indeed in a vastly different stage of his career despite that small age difference. It really is a night-and-day difference between their two careers. Rua has been a dominant champion, a fan-favorite and one of the most feared strikers in MMA. OSP hasn’t had any of that and is still in the infantile stages of his career, working his way up the rankings to get a title shot.

OSP should rise to the occasion here and take the win. The short notice doesn’t help Rua’s situation. Sure, both guys have been in camps for this event, but they were training for different fighters.

OSP will most likely look to take this fight to the mat with his wrestling. If he’s successful, then Rua will wither away. It’s an easy victory for OSP. Vince can pick on Tennessee all he wants, but this Volunteer is actually going to do something (unlike the university since Peyton Manning left for the pros).

Carey: What, you think I can’t write about OSP without taking a shot at Tennessee football? Okay, I don’t have much faith in myself either, but I’ll give it a shot.

I agree with Sal that this may actually be a tougher fight for Shogun due to OSP’s size and wrestling ability, but I don’t think the task is going to be impossible. While Rua may not have the takedown defense he had in his prime, he is still competent enough to stay on his feet against most opponents or, at the very least, find a way to reverse position and get back up. Whether or not he’ll be able to hold off the sheer strength and control that OSP brings to the table is a different story, though. Furthermore, the last second change is going to affect Rua far more than it will OSP.

If Shogun would have been preparing for a wrestler leading into this fight, I’d have no hesitation in picking him. However, the fact that he was likely expecting a brawl with Manuwa, a feared striker, makes this tricky. I fully expected OSP to look to take his original opponents—first, Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante, and then Francisco Barroso—to the floor. Well, that game plan won’t change against a dangerous striker like Rua. If St. Preux comes out, sprints after Rua and tries to take him to the mat, it’s very possible that St. Preux could score an early lead and not look back.

While it’s true that Shogun’s UFC record is mediocre, he still hasn’t lost a fight to anyone that isn’t either a future Hall of Famer or a bona fide contender at 205 pounds. Since OSP is neither of those things, I’m not dismissing Shogun quite yet.

Since it’s a huge star like Shogun standing across the cage from OSP, don’t be surprised to see the less accomplished American fighter give the MMA legend just a little too much respect early in the fight, and that’s going to be what hurts St. Preux. OSP should obviously go out and attempt to get the fight to the floor as soon as humanly possible, but I have a feeling he’s going to push his luck for a bit too long and end up on the wrong end of one of Shogun’s bombs. At that point, Rua’s finishing instinct is going to kick in and, suddenly, Vols fans will be in the same position they are in every Saturday, shaking their heads and wondering what went wrong after yet another loss.

John Lineker and Ian McCall are in the conversation as the next flyweight to earn a title shot against champion Demetrious Johnson. Is a third fight between McCall and Johnson interesting? Should McCall get another shot? Does Lineker deserve a shot, or should he make weight at least for one more fight before getting a shot?

Carey: This is easily the most meaningful fight on Saturday night, and probably the one I’m most excited for as well. McCall may not have a record over .500 inside the Octagon, but don’t doubt that he’s one of the five best flyweights on the planet when his head is on straight. No one has come closer to beating “Mighty Mouse” at 125 pounds, and as much as Johnson has improved since his flyweight debut a few years ago, I’d really like to see if “Uncle Creepy” could repeat some of his success from their first meeting. Johnson admittedly fared much better against McCall when they fought a second time, but it’d still be interesting to see which McCall would show up for a title fight.

I’m not quite as enamored with the idea of Lineker getting a shot at the champion, though. But as long as the Brazilian can make weight and pull off a victory, I couldn’t exactly complain. Lineker has plenty of talent and his knockout power could pose a bit of a threat to Johnson, but he’s still made weight in just over half of his UFC fights and it’s going to be hard to trust that he won’t ruin a title fight by missing weight. Due to how shallow the pool of contenders is at flyweight, Lineker has to be granted the next title fight if he wins against McCall. However, I’d imagine the UFC would feel the need to surround the fight with a solid main card in case Lineker can’t hit 125 pounds.

Maybe it’s because I’m so skeptical about Lineker’s weight-cutting situation, but I have a strong feeling McCall’s going to impress here and earn himself a third fight with the champ. Lineker may have five wins inside the Octagon, but he hasn’t fought anyone that can strike like McCall can, and “Uncle Creepy’s” ability to stick and move while avoiding a big shot is going to end up being Lineker’s kryptonite. There’s always the chance that Lineker lands one big shot and ends McCall’s title hopes, but it’s much more likely that McCall bounces around the cage like a violent Richard Simmons and empties Lineker’s gas tank by the end of round two en route to an easy decision win.

DeRose: Vince is right that this fight is the most meaningful bout on the entire card. Both guys could make legit claims to a date with the flyweight kingpin for that sweet, sweet UFC gold.

Lineker’s aforementioned weight-cutting issues could easily derail this fight faster than finding out Rob Schneider is in the new movie you really wanted to see. It’s bad, but it could totally happen. Given Lineker’s history, it’s nearly a 50/50 shot and I’d actually bet on him missing the mark. With that being said, if Lineker makes weight and wins, he should at least go once more to prove he can make the cut consistently. The UFC wouldn’t want another Renan Barao situation on its hands.

I will say this: McCall does deserve a shot at Johnson, and it would be an interesting fight considering how close their previous affairs have been. However, Johnson has become so much better since they last fought and continues to get better with each passing fight. “Mighty Mouse” is probably the most dominant champion on the roster outside of women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.

I agree with Vince that McCall will earn a victory on Saturday night over Lineker. McCall isn’t going to be like Richard Simmons inside that ring, but like a kid who got a ton of Skittles and Crunch bars for Halloween and decided to eat them all in one night. For the parents out there with kids or anybody who has had to deal with a kid on a sugar rush before, you know how hard it is to stop someone with that much energy and how draining it can be to contain them. McCall is going to be bouncing off the walls with energy, wearing Lineker out and taking the decision in the process.

Warlley Alves looked like a killer by finishing all three opponents en route to his The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 3 title this year, but Alan Jouban looked excellent in his UFC debut over Seth Baczynski as well. Both fighters seem to have a ton of potential and are worth keeping an eye on, so we’ll keep it simple for this one: Who wins on Saturday, but more importantly, which guy do you think has a brighter future in an extremely tough welterweight division?

DeRose: I typically don’t see bright futures for guys coming off of TUF or those who only have one UFC fight, especially considering they’re in a deep division like the 170-pound weight class. That being said, I’ve seen more from Alves and I’ve liked his performances on TUF.

Jouban has only had one fight inside the Octagon. It was a really impressive knockout of Baczynski. Meanwhile, Alves looked good in all of his fights after his split decision win to get into the TUF house. The one knockout and two submissions caught my eye. Alves will have the home-court advantage and, since it’s a Brazilian crowd, that will bring out something different. Brazilians typically fight a lot better at home, and I don’t see that changing with this fight.

Alves will have to watch out for Jouban’s power. We have seen what Jouban is truly capable of when he lands—he has seven wins by some form of knockout. Alves will most likely take this fight to the mat and submit Jouban to earn a fifth submission victory.

However, even if Jouban was to get the win, Alves remains the fighter with the brighter future. Jouban is also a full eight years older than Alves, which kind of caps his potential considerably. Alves is 23 years old and has the whole world in front of him—at least, I hope so, considering I’m also 23 and hope I have that amount of potential, too.

Carey: If you’re looking for an early “Fight of the Night” pick, we may have found a winner. Like Sal, I was really impressed by both of these fighters in their UFC debuts, and I’m looking forward to this fight. However, we’ve got some very different ideas on how it all ends.

Jouban’s striking was both solid and incredibly entertaining against Baczynski, but the quality that Jouban possesses that makes him truly exciting is what I like to call “The Matt Brown.” There’s something in Jouban’s style that tends to lead to ultra-aggressive fights, and although he may not be quite as good as “The Immortal” when he gets into those situations, he’s still pretty effective. That trait is going to come in handy against Alves, because while Sal is dead on when he says the Brazilian would win this fight on the mat, I also believe Jouban is going to make it nearly impossible for someone as aggressive as Alves to stick to his game plan.

I’ve got Jouban drawing Alves into a war and scoring the win, but I’ll agree with Sal and say that Alves has a really bright UFC future. Welterweight is a shark tank and I’d expect it to take a few years before Alves is able to get himself into the mix, but I do think it’s going to happen and wouldn’t be surprised to see him ranked in the UFC’s top 10 one day.

Leon Edwards is not only making his UFC debut, but is stepping out of the confines of England for the first time in his career. He has six finishes on his record and hasn’t been to a decision since November 2012. Can Edwards make a statement in his UFC debut and start a climb up the ladder, or is Claudio Silva and the home-field Brazilian advantage going to be enough to spoil his debut?

Carey: I’m really looking forward to the UFC debut of Edwards, but he’s going to have a hell of a test in front of him due to the mat skills possessed by Silva.

Edwards would be undefeated if not for a disqualification loss early in his career. Outside of that one blemish, his resume is pretty impressive. With six straight wins and most of his career victories coming by stoppage, Edwards seems like exactly the sort of welterweight prospect the UFC needs out of the United Kingdom right now. If he can continue his winning ways, he could definitely be an asset for the company in the future.

In order for that to happen, though, he’s going to have to find a way to keep Silva off of him. As Brad Scott found out earlier this year, that’s easier said than done. Silva may not be the most gifted takedown artist in the UFC, but he makes up for it with a lot of tenacity and grit. It’s safe to say he’s going to continue pushing forward even if Edwards starts lighting him up with punches. It was a late push in the end of the fight that secured Silva his first UFC win against Scott, and if Edwards can’t put the Brazilian away, he could risk the same fate as his fellow countryman.

Silva had enough trouble consistently getting the fight to the floor against Scott, so Edwards is capable of playing the spoiler in this affair. It is important to note, however, that Silva’s last fight was at middleweight and takedowns could come easier for him at 170 pounds. There’s a very real possibility that Silva will be too big and strong for Edwards to fend off his takedown attempts for 15 minutes, but I’m banking on the change of weight class not playing too much of a factor.

DeRose: My only introduction to Silva came in his fight with Scott earlier this year. Edwards, meanwhile, is an exciting prospect who displayed his impressive finishing ability in his run in BAMMA, where he stopped all five of his opponents.

Vince’s analysis of Silva was on the mark. The Brazilian is a grappler, but he has trouble getting the fight to the mat. Silva got the unanimous decision victory in his UFC debut, but I wonder how effective he will be against Edwards. Silva needs to get this fight to the mat in order to win, but is he capable of succeeding? Silva, like Edwards, could also be undefeated if he was not disqualified in his first career fight. He has been on a tear since then, working his way to his sophomore fight for the UFC.

Edwards is interesting. I hesitate to pick in favor of fighters making their debut when I preview Bellator events, and I think it’s even tougher to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat when competing in the UFC. If anyone can do it, though, it’s Edwards. He is in a fight that is designed to allow him to shine. Edwards should have worked takedown defense for this fight. If he comes in with even a smidge of training in that area, he should be fine to light up Silva with his striking, which is the bread and butter of Edwards’s game.

I don’t know if I can say I see Edwards making a run to the top. It certainly will be a tough task in the welterweight division. There is a lot of talent at 170 pounds and a lot of guys who can take Edwards down and grind him out. Edwards makes a statement in this fight with a knockout that will silence the Brazilian crowd, but as far as being at the rungs on the 170-pound ladder? It’s difficult to envision that. We’ll see, though.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

DeRose: Almost the entire card is comprised of male athletes, but there is a women’s 115-pound match, between Juliana Lima and Nina Ansaroff, which could stand out as the evening’s sleeper fight. The division is still relatively new to the UFC, and this is one of the few 115-pound contests the UFC will put on before it finally crowns a champion at the end of this year with the conclusion of The Ultimate Fighter 20.

Lima and Ansaroff will want to continue to build upon the attention for strawweights that has risen since the new season of TUF premiered in September. Both fighters have a lot of experience against the top ladies of their division. Lima’s resume includes such notables as Katja Kankaanpaa and Joanna Jedrzejczyk, and Ansaroff has clashed with the likes of Carla Esparza and Barb Honchak.

Lima made her UFC debut in July against Jedrzejczyk. Lima lost the fight by unanimous decision, but she had the right mindset to start off strong against Jedrzejczyk and make the first round exciting. Unfortunately, she couldn’t keep that pace over the next two rounds.

Ansaroff is on a five-fight winning streak and hasn’t been past the second frame in any of those fights, including her impressive knockout over Munah Holland at Invicta FC 7.

These two ladies will go in there with something to prove. Since Lima is Brazilian, the crowd will certainly get into it, especially if Lima finds a way to dominate the early going and opens the same way as her last fight.

Carey: This is more of a sleeper fighter than a sleeper fight, but I’m really looking forward to seeing more out of two-time NCAA All-American Colby Covington this weekend. After smashing Anying Wang in just under three minutes in his UFC debut, Covington is set to take on Wagner Silva, a TUF Brazil vet looking to get his first win inside the Octagon. I don’t see things ending well for Mr. Silva.

Covington had a lot of hype heading into his debut due to his time spent as Jon Jones’s college roommate at Iowa Central Community College, but for some reason that made everyone overlook the fact that he was a ridiculously good collegiate wrestler in his own right. Now training out of American Top Team and working with high-level fighters like Jorge Masvidal, it’s hard not to be intrigued by Covington’s potential, especially since he has such a solid foundation with his wrestling career.

Although he’s got some great credentials and an undefeated record, Covington isn’t quite worthy of the label of can’t-miss prospect quite yet. However, he’s well on his way. As long as he can prove he has some submission defense and pull off a win while in Brazil this weekend, the American Top Team product will likely have a few more eyes on him the next time he hits the cage.

Pair this card with…

Carey: Some otimismo, which is Portuguese for optimism. I’ll admit this card has a serious lack of star power outside of the top two fights, and it would be really easy to wait until the last hour of this card and just watch the headliner and co-headliner. Don’t do it. Between the surefire brawl between Alves and Jouban on the main card and the handful of up-and-comers to watch on the prelims, there should be plenty of good action on Saturday night, even before the fun truly begins with McCall and Lineker. I’m not saying this will be the fight card of the year or anything, but underwhelming cards on paper sometimes come up big when they actually happen. This event has that kind of vibe.

DeRose: All that leftover Halloween candy. Tons and tons of candy. You have two UFC cards in the same weekend, as the UFC airs UFC Fight Night: Bisping vs. Rockhold on UFC Fight Pass one night prior to this Brazilian show. In order to keep up, you’ll need as much energy as possible, especially considering this event’s five-fight main card doesn’t air until 10:30 p.m. on Fox Sports 1. This one is going deep into the night. Either take a nap before or dine on the finest candy you can get your hands on. No, Payday and Fifth Avenue bars do not count as exceptional candy, so stay away from that.

Fight Picks

Fight DeRose’s Pick Carey’s Pick
Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 10:30 p.m. ET)
LHW: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Ovince St. Preux St. Preux Shogun
FlyW: Ian McCall vs. John Lineker McCall McCall
WW: Warlley Alves vs. Alan Jouban Alves Jouban
WW: Claudio Silva vs. Leon Edwards Edwards Edwards
Women’s StrawW: Nina Ansaroff vs. Juliana Lima Ansaroff Ansaroff
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 2, 8 p.m. ET)
FW: Diego Rivas vs. Rodolfo Rubio Rivas Rivas
MW: Caio Magalhaes vs. Trevor Smith Magalhaes Magalhaes
WW: Dhiego Lima vs. Jorge Oliveira Lima Lima
LW: Leandro Silva vs. Charlie Brenneman Brenneman Silva
BW: Thomas Almeida vs. Tim Gorman Almeida Almeida
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 7:30 p.m. ET)
WW: Wagner Silva vs. Colby Covington Covington Covington