Junior dos Santos (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC on Fox 13 Preview and Predictions

The first UFC on Fox show was more of an experiment than a full-fledged MMA event. You’ll recall that the promotion’s inaugural Fox presentation consisted of precisely one fight—granted, it was a heavyweight title fight—and some background features to fill out the rest of the hour-long timeslot. The show went well, all things considered, and the UFC has continued to put together cards for Fox featuring some of its best fighters.

Few previous UFC on Fox cards could likely match the quality of the one we’ll see on Saturday night, though. At the top of the card sits second-ranked UFC heavyweight Junior dos Santos, the man who emerged as the heavyweight champion after knocking out Cain Velasquez in that first UFC on Fox event and who has looked pretty much unstoppable against anyone other than the current champion (who beat dos Santos badly in their two fights after UFC on Fox 1). Opposite the former champion stands heavy-hitter Stipe Miocic, who carries an impressive 12-1 professional record to the Octagon that includes eight wins by knockout or TKO. Miocic is currently riding a three-fight winning streak, and a victory over dos Santos puts Miocic immediately in the interim title picture.

The co-main event here is also no joke. Third-ranked lightweight Rafael dos Anjos could very well earn a title shot against Anthony Pettis with a win on Saturday. His only recent loss is to Khabib Nurmagomedov, and he looked like a world-beater when he knocked out former lightweight champion Benson Henderson in his most recent fight. That said, Nate Diaz has on multiple occasions taken a fighter on a hot streak and cooled him right down. Remember how convincingly he defeated both Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller when the two were also considered among the best in the division? Should be a great one.


Also gracing UFC on Fox 13 is a heavyweight contest between Alistair Overeem and Stefan Struve. Despite recent setbacks in the Octagon (he’s 1-3 in his last four fights), Overeem remains in the 11th spot in the UFC’s heavyweight rankings. While the hype train behind Overeem has slowed considerably in the last couple of years, we all remember what he did to Brock Lesnar in his UFC debut, not to mention the fact that he went unbeaten in the 11 fights that preceded it. He’ll welcome Struve back to the cage after a 21-month layoff from competition. Before Mark Hunt broke Struve’s lower jaw in two, Struve was riding a four-fight winning streak of his own (including a win over Miocic). Twenty-three of Struve’s 25 professional wins have come inside the distance, so this should no doubt be an exciting scrap.

Opening the card is another heavyweight showdown between ranked fighters. In their 24 combined professional victories, Gabriel Gonzaga (No. 12) and Matt Mitrione (No. 14) have won by decision once. Mitrione has knocked out the last two guys he’s faced, and Gonzaga did the same to the two men who opposed him before Miocic (a fight Gonzaga would lose by decision). Gonzaga also has that slick ground game that has earned him nine submission wins, though this one isn’t likely to go the ground. Again, 24 combined wins, only one by decision. No wonder this one is opening the main card on Saturday night.

UFC on Fox: Dos Santos vs. Miocic takes place in Phoenix, with the preliminary fights beginning on UFC Fight Pass at 3:30 p.m. ET and continuing at 5 p.m. ET on Fox. The main card, also broadcast on Fox, begins at 8 p.m. ET. Combat Press writer Eric Reinert welcomes colleague Reo Hurskainen as the two preview the card in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Junior dos Santos has notched wins over Fabricio Werdum and Mark Hunt, but it was the latter two who recently competed for the UFC interim heavyweight championship. Now, JDS is playing contender-level gatekeeper to Stipe Miocic. Can dos Santos climb his way back into contention based on a win over Miocic, or does his fate ultimately lie in Werdum’s ability to beat Cain Velasquez?

Hurskainen: In this clash of heavyweights, the No. 2-ranked dos Santos battles the No. 4-ranked Croatian Miocic. JDS is coming off of over a year-long layoff and a fifth-round TKO loss to the champion, Velasquez. It is very interesting to see how he has improved his game and if he has learned from the mistakes he made against the champion. Miocic is 12-1 in his professional career with his only loss coming to Struve, who also fights on the card. Since then, he has racked up a three-fight winning streak in which he has defeated Roy Nelson, Gabriel Gonzaga and Fabio Maldonado. This is clearly the toughest test of his career and I’m not sure if he’ll be up for the challenge just yet.

Miocic’s shot at victory lies in mixing it up. He has pretty good boxing, and he is a game opponent for JDS to return against. However, Miocic just hasn’t faced the competition dos Santos has seen and he doesn’t have championship-level experience either. Dos Santos knows exactly what it takes to be successful and win these big fights. The Brazilian’s experience and skill set is just on a different level at this point.

A year-long layoff always raises question marks, but I do not believe it will be an issue for dos Santos. He’s a professional and isn’t fazed by any of that. I actually think this layoff could have been a great thing for him as a fighter. Take enough time off to heal, get back to training and improve on his skill set—I think that’s exactly what he has done. Let’s also not forget about the fact that, despite the new tricks he’s added to his arsenal, JDS is probably the best boxer in the UFC. If he connects cleanly, his opponent is in big trouble. As always, keeping the fight standing is his best key to victory. He needs to find his range and start looking often for the highlight-reel knockout.

This one goes to the former champion.

Reinert: First, let me offer a warm welcome to Reo, who makes his Toe-to-Toe debut here. Great to have him on board!

Now, let’s get one thing straight: The only reason Hunt fought for the interim title against Werdum was due to a late injury to Velasquez. Had dos Santos not already been tied up with Saturday’s fight against Miocic, we very well could have seen the affable Brazilian headlining UFC 180 instead. Dos Santos’s win over Werdum is also relevant, but it happened all the way back in 2008, and the current interim champion has improved considerably since then, as he’s demonstrated by winning five consecutive UFC fights. I don’t know that a hypothetical rematch between Werdum and dos Santos would yield the same results (first-round TKO for Junior) as the first, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

While I’ll agree with Reo that dos Santos’s boxing is very good, I don’t know that it’s the best in all of MMA. Is his technique sound? Absolutely, but it’s the power behind his shots that has played an even larger role in his professional success. Unfortunately, we’ve also seen dos Santos’s chin tested in a major way by Velasquez. At times, their second and third fights were almost difficult to watch because of how badly dos Santos was being beaten, and the path to those losses began when Velasquez connected some powerful punches of his own to dos Santos’s head.

I point this out only to say that Miocic could very well give dos Santos the same treatment if he’s able to land some good shots before dos Santos can establish his offense. Keep in mind that dos Santos and Miocic are just about the same size, and Miocic has a three-inch reach advantage over the former champion. I don’t think this fight will be as convincing a victory for dos Santos as some might think.

I do, however, think dos Santos will ultimately emerge victorious at the end of Saturday’s fight. This one is actually a little tough to call, because Miocic hasn’t really been threatened by anyone other than the aforementioned Struve, but I do think dos Santos finds a way to win and likely gets a shot at Werdum’s belt if Velasquez continues to be unable to compete. If Velasquez makes a successful comeback, though, dos Santos could find himself in Joseph Benavidez territory; that is, ultra-successful against everyone in his division except the champion, who has beaten him twice in convincing fashion.

Rafael dos Anjos may be the most improbable of lightweight contenders. Now 7-1 through his last eight, dos Anjos has been lined up with Nate Diaz. Is Diaz capable of stealing the momentum away from dos Anjos? And if he can’t, will the UFC show the outspoken Diaz the door?

Reinert: As we mentioned in the intro, Diaz has taken up-and-coming contenders and bashed them back to reality on more than one occasion, and on its face, Saturday’s co-main event seems to be another opportunity for him to do the same to dos Anjos. Unlike in those previous fights, though, Diaz will not emerge the dominant victor this weekend.

For starters, Diaz is just 1-2 in his last two fights, including losses to Benson Henderson and Josh Thomson. These two opponents are certainly no slouches, but both were fights Diaz had the skills to win. Granted, his most recent fight ended in his TKO victory over Gray Maynard, but Maynard was far from the title contender he used to be when that bout took place in late 2013. The year-long layoff probably didn’t do Diaz too much harm, but he’ll face a truly dangerous veteran when he returns to the Octagon this weekend.

Dos Anjos has been fighting in the UFC’s crowded lightweight division since 2008, and he has compiled an impressive 11-5 victory in that time. Obviously, he’s looked his absolute best as of late, and the knockout victory over the aforementioned Henderson will clearly be one of his career’s highlights. He’s not done yet, though. Expect a three-round war on Saturday night, with dos Anjos emerging as the bloody victor.

As for Diaz, he’s probably got a career in the UFC for as long as he a.) wants one and b.) continues to put on the sort of fan-friendly performances for which he and his brother have become so well known. The second criterion is not in doubt. It’s that first one that’s a little unclear. Diaz has been an outspoken critic of his employers in the past, and recent events don’t indicate a slowdown in that criticism. It’s not a question of whether Diaz will continue fighting, but where we’ll see him ply his trade. Win or lose, Diaz’s continued UFC tenure after Saturday is anything but guaranteed.

Hurskainen: The always colorful Diaz returns to action on Dec. 13, and I gotta say I’m excited for this one.

Diaz has had over a year off due to different types of unhappiness with his UFC deal. I do not think that this layoff is gonna matter at all, though. Diaz is a hard guy who is ready to fight anywhere, at anytime (if the contract pleases him). And he finds himself in a great spot to climb to the top by beating dos Anjos, who’s currently ranked as high as No. 3 in the stacked lightweight division.

Dos Anjos is no slouch. His 7-1 mark through his last eight contests inside the Octagon says it all. The tough Brazilian holds victories over guys like Henderson and Donald Cerrone. However, Diaz’s in-your-face style and trash talk inside the cage is gonna mess with dos Anjos like it has with many others. I strongly believe Diaz can confuse dos Anjos during the fight and control the contest with his outstanding boxing.

Although officially ranked at No. 14, Diaz is way above that number in my books. The Stockton fighter is gonna take this one by TKO by overwhelming his opponent pretty much like he did against Maynard. This fight is not going the distance.

Waaaaay down in the prelims of UFC on Fox 13 is a bantamweight fight between the debuting Henry Cejudo and 11-2 Dustin Kimura. Cejudo began his MMA career with a ton of hype, due to his previous success as an Olympic wrestler, but repeated issues making the 125-pound flyweight limit have curtailed many fans’ enthusiasm about the 6-0 fighter. Presuming he doesn’t have the same issues now fighting at 135, what can we reasonably expect out of Cejudo’s UFC tenure?

Hurskainen: That’s a great point. Now that he probably doesn’t have to struggle with the weight cut so much, I see things getting really exciting.

Cejudo is a highly touted prospect, and he has all the potential of being something great. If he keeps his weight in check, we could be looking at a true future superstar. Cejudo will handle the pressure and earn a win over Kimura in his UFC debut.

Reinert: Aside from his Olympic pedigree, the thing that gives me the most hope for Cejudo is his age. At just 27, he’s far from “over the hill” when it comes to mixed martial arts, and if he can handle taking on slightly larger opponents than he has thus far in his career, he’s certainly got the tools to make a successful bantamweight run.

Of course, Kimura isn’t just going to let Cejudo make him his first UFC stepping stone. “The Diamond” was 9-0 when he entered the UFC, a record that included just one win by decision. He knocked out Chico Camus in his UFC debut, but has gone just 1-2 since.

Against Kimura, Cejudo must be prepared for the Hawaiian’s considerable submission skills. One has to think that Cejudo is going to try to take this fight to the mat as quickly as possible, but once he’s there, he’s going to have to mind his arms, legs and neck. Thus far, Cejudo has won all six of his pro fights, but Kimura will represent the biggest threat yet. We’ll get a good handle on Cejudo’s true potential after Saturday, but that Olympic-caliber wrestling definitely gives him an immediate advantage over many others in the bantamweight division.

Alistair Overeem is 2-3 in his UFC stint after most recently being knocked out by Ben Rothwell in the first round. Overeem came to the UFC with a lot of hype and that victory over Brock Lesnar continued to increase his stock. However, after losing to Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Travis Browne, he found himself in a sort of a limbo. Should Overeem lose his next fight to Struve, is the UFC going to be forced to cut him? Or does he once more deserve another chance?

Reinert: Do I think Overeem’s best days are likely behind him? Yes. Do I think his pre-UFC success was due in no insignificant part to activities other than his technical training? Absolutely. Do I think Struve is going to beat Overeem on Saturday? I sure do.

But do I think Overeem should then be cut from the UFC? Absolutely not.

For starters, the UFC’s heavyweight division is positively bereft of stars. Recently successful or not, Overeem is a well-known name who can easily be used to fill out the main-card portion of an event, and that value alone will keep him in the Octagon until he simply cannot compete against anyone in the division. He does have three UFC losses, but they were to Bigfoot (No. 8 in the division and a former title challenger), Browne (currently No. 3 in the division and very much in the title conversation) and Ben Rothwell (the 10th-ranked, 262-pound guy with bricks in his fists who has won 20 fights by knockout or TKO), so it’s not like Overeem has been losing to cans.

Struve is also not a can, and he will surely try to use his considerable length to keep Overeem at bay. Overeem’s best chance here is to chop down Struve with leg and body kicks, but that’s pretty much it. K-1 champion or not, good luck landing a head kick on a guy who is seven feet tall. And if this one goes to the mat, it’s all over for Overeem. As impressive as Struve’s kickboxing is, he’s actually won 16 of his 25 pro victories by submission. Overeem has only tapped out twice in his long career, but Struve has the skills to do it if the fight goes to the ground.

While not a gimme for Struve, particularly after the long layoff from competition, he likely gets his hand raised on Saturday. As for Overeem, the only way he leaves the UFC is if he wants to, because regardless of whether he gets back to his once-dominant form, people still really want to see him fight.

Hurskainen: Overeem certainly has that certain star power in him, but his recent performances have left people wondering if he is at the twilight of his career.

The UFC should at least give some thought about letting him go if he loses. I’m still not sure whether the promotion would do it, though. The fact is, Overeem is exciting. Whether he knocks somebody out or gets knocked out, he really hasn’t been in a boring fight inside the Octagon.

And therein lies Overeem’s value. His physical frame is intimidating enough to get people excited to see him throw down with any heavyweight the UFC can serve up. So, no, I don’t think the UFC will cut him, even if he loses. However, it probably should.

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

Hurskainen: I have to say that it’s the flyweight showdown between John Moraga and Willie Gates.

Moraga brings a similar in-your-face attitude to that of the Diaz brothers, and that is always a great recipe for an exciting contest. Perhaps it’s not that much of a sleeper, but I can see it being one in some people’s eyes.

The main card is loaded with some heavy firepower, so the prelims are forced to get less attention than usual. If you plan on watching the prelims, however, this is a fight you won’t want to miss.

Reinert: Easy call for me. The preliminary co-main event, as it were, is between undefeated strawweights Claudia Gadelha and Joanna Jedrzejczyk, and it is a doozy. Gadelha currently occupies the third spot in Combat Press’s Women’s MMA Rankings and notched a decision victory in her UFC debut this past July. Jedrzejczyk is ranked fifth, and she earned her own decision victory in her first UFC fight, which took place just 10 days after Gadelha’s win. I think my Mid-Week Report co-host Riley Kontek would agree that these are the two best strawweight fighters not currently competing on The Ultimate Fighter, and we could very soon see either fighting for the division’s title. Do not miss this fight.

Pair this card with…

Reinert: MMA evangelism. No, I’m not talking about those churches where dudes fight and then talk about being saved; I mean spreading the word about the beauty of MMA to your friends through this card. It’s not often an MMA event with such enormous potential for excitement makes its way to network television, and Saturday’s show provides a tremendous opportunity to enlighten the curious. If your friends have a TV, they can watch Saturday’s card, so get on social media and spread the word!

Hurskainen: A nostalgic re-viewing of the first UFC on Fox main event. This main card is loaded with familiar fighters and let’s admit it, people love heavyweights—and, apparently, so does Fox. This is once again a top-notch Fox card that ranks up there with the best of them. Junior dos Santos was on the first-ever UFC on Fox event, so this is a full circle in a sense. But this time he’s looking to keep himself relevant and at the top of the heap, instead of fighting for the championship. I’d pair this one with the very first Fox card. It’s easy to market big guys swinging at each other, and the main event has all the ingredients for a highlight-reel finish. This is an all-around solid card and should be a great night of fights to attract people to watch, especially because it’s free.

Fight Picks

Fight Hurskainen’s Pick Reinert’s Pick
Main Card (Fox, 8 p.m. ET)
HW: Junior dos Santos vs. Stipe Miocic dos Santos dos Santos
LW: Rafael dos Anjos vs. Nate Diaz Diaz dos Anjos
HW: Alistair Overeem vs. Stefan Struve Overeem Struve
HW: Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Matt Mitrione Mitrione Mitrione
Preliminary Card (Fox, 5 p.m. ET)
FlyW: Willie Gates vs. John Moraga Moraga Moraga
Women’s StrawW: Claudia Gadelha vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk Gadelha Gadelha
WW: Joe Riggs vs. Ben Saunders Saunders Saunders
LW: Drew Dober vs. Jamie Varner Varner Varner
MW: Derek Brunson vs. Ed Herman Herman Brunson
LW: Joe Ellenberger vs. Bryan Barberena Ellenberger Ellenberger
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 3:30 p.m. ET)
LW: David Michaud vs. Garett Whiteley Whiteley Michaud
BW: Henry Cejudo vs. Dustin Kimura Cejudo Cejudo
BW: Anthony Birchak vs. Ian Entwistle Birchak Birchak