The UFC makes its return to Sweden at the Tele2 Arena in Stockholm for UFC on Fox 14 with some very important fights at the light heavyweight level. Alexander Gustafsson fights in front of his countrymen and women for the first time in three years as he faces the tough and powerful Anthony “Rumble” Johnson.
This will be Gustafsson’s first fight since last March, and it has title shot potential written all over it. Johnson faces the same fate after posting some entertaining knockouts and rising to the top of the UFC’s 205-pound division in his second tenure with the promotion. Champion Jon Jones awaits the winner of their fight, and the Swedish crowd will get an extra kick out of rooting for their hometown fighter to get past Johnson and secure that shot.
In the co-main event, the legendary Dan Henderson looks to get back into the win column after a devastating loss to Daniel Cormier last May. In this middleweight affair, Henderson faces another former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion in Gegard Mousasi. Mousasi is also looking to rebound from a loss after Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza submitted the former amateur boxer last September.
Two additional bouts round out the main card. Light heavyweights Phil Davis and Ryan Bader will seek to solidify themselves in the top 10 of the 205-pound division and make a march toward title contention in the division. Meanwhile, at featherweight, Akira Corassani takes on Sam Sicilia in what should be a very entertaining striking battle.
UFC on Fox 14 takes place on Jan. 24 with two fights airing on UFC Fight Pass at 4 p.m. ET. The rest of the preliminary card will air on Fox Sports 1 beginning at 5 p.m. ET. The four-fight main card takes place on Fox at 8 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Vince Carey and Sal DeRose break down the night of fights for your reading pleasure in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Anthony “Rumble” Johnson has been a revelation since abandoning the extreme — and often botched — weight cuts to 170 and 185 pounds. As a light heavyweight, he has re-entered the UFC and impressed in wins over Phil Davis and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Now, he’s set to take on Alexander Gustafsson, the one man who really gave Jon Jones a run for his money. Will Rumble be able to keep it up, or is Gustafsson going to slam the brakes on Rumble’s rise toward title contention?
Carey: I’ll admit I pretty much wrote Rumble off when he was released by the UFC a few years back. However, since he stopped trying to kill himself via weight cut and started fighting in his natural division, he’s been awesome. Between the stretch of highlight-reel knockouts he scored during his time away from the Octagon and his back-to-back wins over top-10 competition since his UFC return, Johnson seems to have finally put it all together and is showing the skills that many of us thought he was capable of in his first UFC run.
Despite all of that, I see Rumble getting beaten by Gustafsson in this one, and I’m not sure that it’s going to be all that close. While Johnson’s striking has steadily improved over the course of his career to the point that he’s one of the better and more dangerous strikers in his weight class, Gustafsson’s movement and footwork are extremely good and I have a hard time believing that Rumble is going to be able to land enough against the Swede to pull off an upset here. Gustafsson has picked apart solid strikers like Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Thiago Silva in the past and avoided getting hit with a big shot, and I think he’ll have similar success against Rumble.
The wild card in this fight is going to be Johnson’s power, which Gustafsson is going to have to avoid at all costs. “The Mauler” can definitely take a punch, but not many people are left standing when Johnson connects with a big punch or kick, no matter how tough they are. Getting clipped by one of Rumble’s bombs is the worst-case scenario for Gustafsson. The thing is, I just don’t see Rumble being able to land the shot he needs to win this fight, and therefore Gustafsson should win this handily by decision. Johnson’s getting to the point where we can take him seriously as a title contender, but he’s not ready to fight for that belt quite yet.
DeRose: I guess I’ll make my own admission here as well: I’ve made quite a few “Rumbleweight” jokes. If you would have told me that after his release from the UFC, Johnson would be back in the promotion a few years later and would be in range of a title shot, I probably would have asked if you had escaped from an insane asylum. But now it looks like I have my own crazy pills to take, as this is indeed where we find ourselves.
Like my esteemed colleague Mr. Carey, I’m picking Gustafsson for almost all the reasons he listed. Gustafsson has very good footwork and movement to help avoid Johnson’s power edge, which is almost at video-game levels of crazy power. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if Johnson gets popped for having bionic hands after the fight and it is revealed that he was secretly the Terminator all along, but built to fight in MMA instead of for SkyNet.
The one area where my opinion differs from that of my fellow writer is in whether we think Johnson can get that power shot to land flush. I can totally see it happening, and that game-changing power is what makes this fight so difficult to predict. Gustafsson might get relaxed here and there, allowing Johnson opportunities to charge in all crazy-like. Then, Johnson throws a crisp overhand right over Gustafsson’s incoming jab and, boom, the Swede drops to the mat and Johnson follows up with ground-and-pound. It’s that easy to imagine.
Gustafsson needs to use his reach advantage in this fight to avoid that scenario playing out. The second Gustafsson lets Johnson close the distance, the fight has a serious chance of being over. I’m sticking with Gustafsson, as I like his home-field advantage he holds in Sweden. However, I’m not counting out Johnson.
Dan Henderson is old. We’re talking Randy Couture levels of old for an active UFC fighter. He has also lost four of his last five fights. Will his fight with Gegard Mousasi turn out to be one of those scary fights that makes fans question Henderson’s decision to continue his career?
DeRose: Henderson is indeed really old in terms of an MMA fighter, let alone a UFC fighter. I’m pretty sure he is old enough to be the father of a good portion of the roster. His wizard-like age aside, however, this isn’t a scary fight that will make me question the continuation of his legendary career.
While I am taking Mousasi to win this fight, he has had a lot of trouble putting away any of the top-tier fighters in his division. Whatever the weight class, Mousasi has always disappointed when the big fights come around. Picking him here will probably come back to bite me.
Mousasi isn’t going to dominate Henderson over the course of three rounds. Henderson is a tough guy and has survived a lot of beatings. He is just 2-4 since returning to the UFC — with two wins over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua standing out as his highlights — but he has only fought the best the UFC has to offer. Henderson’s chin has been tested many, many times. So much so, in fact, that I’m pretty sure he’s older in cage years than his actual age of 44. Henderson still has a chance with that winging right hand of his, or he can use his wrestling to get Mousasi to the mat.
So, Mousasi won’t dominate Henderson to the point of making this a scary fight. It’ll actually be a very close fight. Unless Mousasi suddenly gains the skills necessary to beat top opponents, Henderson should be fine.
Carey: I’m with Sal on this one when it comes to Henderson’s health. I’ll even take it a step further and say I’m actually more concerned about Mousasi’s ability to come out of this one unscathed.
As my colleague pointed out, Mousasi has never really come through when he’s had a chance to make a statement against a significant opponent. It’s hard to picture him blowing everyone away and finishing Henderson here. While Henderson has admittedly taken some punishment during his current UFC stint, he has still only been knocked out one time in over 40 career fights and that came due to a Vitor Belfort head kick that might have put away anyone on the roster.
The worst-case scenario for Henderson is that he gets completely overwhelmed by Mousasi’s speed and ends up eating pitter-patter punches all night en-route to a decision loss. But, even then, I think we’ll view this fight as more of a dominant decision win than an actual beatdown. Furthermore, Henderson isn’t the type to sit back and let himself get teed off on, so if he starts to get overwhelmed he’ll likely just go for broke and try to turn the fight into a brawl anyway.
Sal’s right in thinking that this fight is probably going to be close. I’m also far from confident in my Mousasi pick here. I’m expecting 29-28 scorecards, probably a split decision and a lot of controversy, but I’ll guess the judges like Mousasi’s output a little more than “Hendo’s” aggressiveness and award Mousasi with the decision nod.
Akira Corassani and Sam Sicilia have both been mixed bags in the UFC since their time on The Ultimate Fighter. Does a win here for either fighter put them back on the right path, or are both guys destined to be mid-level TUF fighters who never threaten the top of the division?
Carey: I’m not very high on either one of these guys, but I’m definitely looking forward to their fight this weekend. Both men are in desperate need of a win in order to make sure they hold on to their jobs following this fight, and the odds are that they’ll both be long gone from the UFC before they’re ever in title contention. Therefore, this fight on network television could easily end up being the biggest in the career of both men. Since Corassani and Sicilia both love to scrap, this should be a highly entertaining affair.
I’m hoping for an all-out brawl in this one, but I have serious doubts as to how long it will last. Those concerns stem from the state of Corassani’s chin. The New York-based Swede has been stopped by punches for every single loss of his MMA career. Since he’s gotten to the UFC, the knockouts have become more frequent. After ending up stretched out on the canvas in his last two fights, I have no faith in Corassani’s ability to take a solid punch, and I’m even less confident since he’s fighting a power puncher like Sicilia.
As for Sicilia, this might be a perfect match-up for the Washington native since it’s doubtful his sketchy ground game will be tested against another brawler. Over half of Sicilia’s career losses have come by submission, including a recent tapout loss to Katsunori Kunimoto in September, and his tendency to get caught on the ground is what has hampered his chances at becoming a contender so far. That won’t be a problem on Saturday, and the most likely scenario is that we get to see a good scrap from two guys that like to throw down and go out on their sword.
I think Sicilia wins this one early and remains in the middle of the pack in the division until he develops a better ground game or ends up on the chopping block. As for Corassani, well, don’t be surprised if this is the last time we see him in the Octagon.
DeRose: I’ll go the opposite way here and pick Corassani to win this fight. The oft-injured Corassani is 3-2 in the UFC and his two losses aren’t surprising, considering they have come against two good fighters in Dustin Poirier and Max Holloway.
Sicilia, on the other hand, is 2-4 in his featherweight tenure in the UFC and hasn’t really looked impressive. He has certainly been entertaining, but nothing about his performances has ever really stuck out. Meanwhile, Corassani has had a few of those moments, especially on TUF. His biggest weakness is his grappling, but we won’t have to worry about any of that here.
So, it comes down to who wins in a striking match and I think Corassani takes that. That would be Corassani. Sicilia will want to make it a brawl and we might see glimpses of that in this fight, but Corassani does have effective striking when he wants to and, if that guy shows up, he will pick apart Sicilia from the outside.
Vince can mention that Corassani has been knocked out a bunch over his career, sure, but the level of talent he has faced in the UFC has been excellent and that experience should certainly give him an edge in this fight.
As for contending in the division, I can’t see either guy really being more than a mid-tier gatekeeper in the UFC. Both guys are lacking in areas, especially grappling, that are detrimental to anybody who wants to try to contend at featherweight. There are some good grapplers at 145 pounds, like Frankie Edgar at the top or even guys like Nik Lentz, Charles Oliveira and Clay Guida. So, with those holes specifically, it’ll be tough for either fighter to succeed or even get into the top 10.
Ryan Bader and Phil Davis have had lengthy and mostly successful UFC careers, but neither fighter has ever been able to break through the glass ceiling and become a title contender at 205 pounds. Can the winner of this fight make a step into contention again, or is this just a battle between two of the more high-profile gatekeepers in the UFC?
DeRose: Davis was close, once upon a time, but then he lost to Rashad Evans. He was close again recently after a questionable decision win over Lyoto Machida, but then he lost his next fight to Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. So, in the case of Davis, yeah, absolutely he can still get past the whole “gatekeeper” label.
Bader is a different story. He was never really as close to title contention as Davis. His record doesn’t scream contender, either. Bader had three high-profile fights against highly ranked opponents in the past three years. One was against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, a top-10 fighter at the time, and Bader used his wrestling to control the fight. The other two didn’t go so well for Bader. He lost to Lyoto Machida and Glover Teixeira, with both fights ending in knockouts.
Bader hasn’t really shown anything beyond a really good wrestling base. You can say the same for Davis, but overall Davis has improved in the past few years in other departments. If I had to pick one to make it back into contention, it would be Davis. He certainly has the better upside.
Carey: I gave up on Bader as a title contender a long time ago. If Davis fought in another division, I’d probably convince myself that he is done as well. However, since “Mr. Wonderful” currently resides in a light heavyweight division that’s as shallow as any division in the sport, I can’t quite count him out yet.
Davis is a talented grappler and can dominate 90 percent of the fighters in his division on the mat, but his striking and ability to close the distance still leave a little to be desired. That’s shown in the fights where he’s struggled recently. In both his lopsided loss to Rumble and his controversial win over Machida, Davis struggled to get the fight to the mat and ended up stuck on the feet against a superior striker.
Most of the top guys at 205 pounds sport good takedown defense and better striking, so Davis is either going to have to improve dramatically or adapt his game in order to compete with the best in the division, because his current skill set hasn’t been as effective as he might have hoped.
The only reason I’m considering Davis and not Bader is because eventually the UFC is going to have to start scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to picking contenders for Jones. Since Bader lost to Jones at UFC 126 and has struggled to get an impressive win since that time, it’s safe to count him out with a loss this weekend. On the other hand, Davis has a solid name on his resume in Machida, regardless of how controversial the decision may have been, and, more importantly, he has never fought “Bones.” For that reason alone, I can’t count “Mr. Wonderful” out of the title picture just yet.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Carey: I’m turning my attention toward the opening fight between Neil “2Tap” Seery and Chris Beal, a contest that could produce some fireworks.
After scoring a “Performance of the Night” check with a flying-knee knockout in his UFC debut and then beating up Tateki Matsuda his last time out, Beal is making his flyweight debut on the heels of a successful two-fight stint in the UFC’s bantamweight division. “The Real Deal” already had massive power at 135 pounds, and if it transfers down to his new weight class, Beal could be a very scary fighter for most of the guys at 125.
We’ll find out quickly how well this new weight will serve Beal, though, as Seery is a solid veteran who’s going to push the pace and make sure Beal’s cardio is ready for the gauntlet that is a flyweight fight. If Beal is prepared, he’ll pick up a knockout win and keep his undefeated record intact. However, if Seery gets an opening, he’s going to go for broke. Either way, it should be a pretty fun fight.
DeRose: I’ll go with Nikita Krylov and Stanislav Nedkov.
These two guys have yet to go to decision in their seven total UFC fights. Krylov has a tendency to walk into punches, and with someone like Nedkov who will wildly throw overhand rights, it could lead to some great moments. Nedkov has some cardio problems, but he gave Thiago Silva a hard time over the course of their fight.
It should be a crazy fight. Both guys will probably be winging it, and I’m always a sucker for that. Krylov is just straight reckless, which should lead to some great exchanges.
Pair this card with…
DeRose: I wish the New York Rangers were playing so I could suggest pairing this card with the greatest Swede of them all, King Henrik Lundqvist, but I’ll go to something on a smaller scale and say to pair it with some great food and beer. The main card is fantastic and will culminate with a fight to determine the No. 1 contender at 205 pounds. All three light heavyweight fights are going to be great matches and some great food to go along with it is always a necessity.
Carey: First things first, Lundqvist isn’t the great Swede of them all. Tennis legend Bjorn Borg is still alive and kicking it, and he’ll hold onto that title until further notice. Anyway, I’d pair this card with some sort of Swedish cuisine. Sadly, I know nothing about Swedish cuisine, so my only suggestion is to buy a few bags of Swedish Fish candy and cook up some Swedish meatballs. Maybe you can call up the Swedish Chef from the Muppets for some pointers? All jokes aside, this is a fun card and definitely one to enjoy with a few friends and a few beers. If you can pull off some Swedish food, consider it a bonus.
Main Card (Fox, 8 p.m. ET)
LHW: Alexander Gustafsson vs. Anthony “Rumble” Johnson
MW: Dan Henderson vs. Gegard Mousasi
LHW: Phil Davis vs. Ryan Bader
FW: Akira Corassani vs. Sam Sicilia
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 5 p.m. ET)
WW: Nico Musoke vs. Albert Tumenov
WW: Kenny Robertson vs. Sultan Aliev
FW: Andy Ogle vs. Makwan Amirkhani
LHW: Nikita Krylov vs. Stanislav Nedkov
LW: Mairbek Taisumov vs. Anthony Christodoulou
FW: Mirsad Bektic vs. Paul Redmond
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 4 p.m. ET)
HW: Viktor Pesta vs. Konstantin Erokhin
FlyW: Chris Beal vs. Neil Seery
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