The UFC sure does know how to make a good first impression.
While one would naturally expect the promotion to feature its most popular fighter of Filipino descent (Mark Munoz) during its first event in the Philippines, the UFC has also chosen one of the most anticipated fights of the year as the card’s headliner. Both Frankie Edgar and Urijah Faber have been ranked at or near the tops of their respective divisions for the better part of a decade, and on Saturday the two will square off with a possible featherweight title shot going to the winner. Among hardcore fight fans, this is a dream match. The two are virtually even on paper, but circumstances have conspired to keep them in separate weight classes until this weekend.
The very exciting featherweight contest is supported by a middleweight scrap between Gegard Mousasi and Costas Philippou, both of whom are currently ranked in the UFC’s top 15. Mousasi’s success outside the Octagon has not necessarily translated to immediate domination in the UFC, and on Saturday he’ll face the always-dangerous Philippou, who has seven wins by knockout or TKO. While the result won’t carry as much importance as the weekend’s main event, the result should determine which of these two 185-pounders might still have a glimmer of hope to contend.
And then there’s Munoz. We’d be hard-pressed to find a fighter more well liked, regardless of the venue, but the former middleweight contender should get a thunderous ovation from the Filipino crowd as he steps into the Octagon for the final time. For his MMA swan song, he’ll face Luke Barnatt, a rangy middleweight whose only professional losses have come by split decision. Munoz will certainly have the crowd on his side, but a victory on Saturday is far from guaranteed.
UFC Fight Night: Edgar vs. Faber takes place Saturday, May 16, from the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City, Philippines. The action begins at 7 a.m. ET with two contests on UFC Fight Pass, followed by the remaining preliminary bouts airing on Fox Sports 1 at 8 a.m. ET and the main card, also on Fox Sports 1, at 10 a.m. ET. Combat Press staff writers Vince Carey and Eric Reinert break down the fights in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Former champions Frankie Edgar and Urijah Faber enter the main event following some impressive recent performances. It’s been seven years since Edgar lost to someone outside of a championship affair, and it’s been more than nine years since Faber did the same. Of these two highly successful contenders, which man can keep up his trend of winning non-title affairs?
Carey: There aren’t many fights that get booked that cause me to behave like a child waiting for dark on Halloween, but I’ll gladly admit that when this fight was made I sent a text message full of happy expletives to every fight fan in my phone. I’ve been hoping for a fight between Edgar and Faber for a long time now. Like most fight fans, I’m extremely excited to see what’s going to happen on Saturday. Whether or not you believe the fight deserves the “super fight” label it was given when it was announced, this is still a battle between two all-time greats from the lower weight classes of our sport and one of the most anticipated non-title bouts in recent memory.
The best part about this fight is that, even though it isn’t taking place for a belt, both men have proven they still belong among the elite in their last few outings. Edgar was an absolute monster during 2014, destroying B.J. Penn and Cub Swanson on the mat and on the feet before earning stoppage victories in both bouts and stretching his current winning streak to three straight. Meanwhile, Faber was able to rebound effectively from a controversial bantamweight title loss to Renan Barao early in the year and come out strong in his next two outings, where he finished Alex Caceres and Francisco Rivera. Now, with winning streaks under their belt and a wide-open title picture following this summer’s championship botu between 145-pound kingpin Jose Aldo and challenger Conor McGregor, this fight has major title implications to go along with the hype.
It’s hardly fun to try to make a prediction in a fight between two guys as well rounded as Edgar and Faber. It’s rare that you get a fight where any possible scenario wouldn’t be a surprising finish. When you have two fighters this evenly matched on paper, you kind of have to pick your poison and hope for the best. I’m taking Edgar to win by decision. He’ll use his boxing and footwork to land a little more than “”The California Kid” on the feet and mix in a takedown here and there to keep Faber guessing. However, the fight could easily go the other way and I wouldn’t be surprised.
This one is just too much fun and too close to call. I’m hoping for our MMA version of a “Thrilla in Manilla” this weekend.
Reinert: My colleague nails it here. While there’s no belt on the line in Saturday’s main event, the match-up between Edgar and Faber is one for the ages. Had things gone just a little differently for each fighter, we might have seen UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar moving down to featherweight to try to steal the 145-pound belt from years-long champion Urijah Faber.
Even absent the dream scenario of a dual-title fight, neither of these fighters has done anything to indicate he’s lost a step, with virtually all of their combined losses coming to guys who either were at the time or still are among the absolute best in their respective divisions. Despite their more advanced MMA ages — Edgar is 33, Faber will be 36 on fight night — they both remain dangerous fighters who are still more than capable of stopping the show.
On Saturday, though, I’m going with Edgar by decision. His convincing November win over Swanson, a man who was also considered a top featherweight contender, shows that Edgar still has what it takes to go up against the very best. Edgar will get the next shot at the featherweight belt, and deservedly so.
Gegard Mousasi has been handed two setbacks in his five-fight UFC stint, and both losses came to top contenders. Will we ever see Mousasi take the next step and earn a title berth, and does that begin here against Costas Philippou?
Reinert: It might be tempting to take Mousasi’s No. 7 ranking among UFC middleweights as a sign that he’ll get through Philippou without too many problems, but this fight isn’t as easy to call as some might think.
Sure, Mousasi has racked up a 3-2 record since his 2013 UFC debut, but two of those wins (including his most recent) were against guys — Mark Munoz and Dan Henderson — who are definitely past their respective primes, and his two losses came in fights that would have propelled Mousasi into title contention had he emerged victorious. Couple this with the fact that Mousasi has been fighting professionally for 12 years, and it makes one wonder how much longer Mousasi can remain competitive at MMA’s elite level.
Philippou is certainly no tomato can, either. He currently occupies the No. 12 spot in the UFC’s middleweight rankings and has compiled a respectable 6-3 record inside the Octagon. His win over Tim Boetsch in 2012 propelled him into the group of 185-pound contenders among whom he currently sits, and against Mousasi he’ll be looking to continue the success he experienced in his most recent fight, a knockout win over Lorenz Larkin.
A few significant things are working against Philippou here, though. Like Mousasi, Philippou has fallen short against fighters ranked in the middleweight division’s top five, and he’ll have spent more than a year out of competition when he steps into the cage on Saturday. What’s more, Philippou is at a bit of an age disadvantage at 35, and while Mousasi does have quite a bit of proverbial MMA mileage on his body, he remains just 29 years old.
Barring another knockout from Philippou, I think Mousasi takes this one by submission. While this win would certainly keep him in the contender conversation, he’ll need to prove himself against the Luke Rockholds and Yoel Romeros of the division before getting a shot at the belt. He’s certainly got all the tools, but he’s starting to run out of time.
Carey: Eric may be right that a win on Saturday morning won’t come as easy as most think for Mousasi, but I’ll second his pick and predict the former Strikeforce champion takes home a victory. Yes, Mousasi has lost two of his five inside the Octagon, but the level of competition he’s fought far surpasses what Philippou has had to deal with as of late. Mousasi, a top-10 middleweight, should not be ashamed of his losses to Lyoto Machida and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, and even if Henderson and Munoz are past their respective primes, those wins from Mousasi outshine anything Philippou has done during the same stretch.
Philippou rebounded from a pretty terrible showing against Rockhold to knock out Larkin, but that was over a year ago. Philippou is now 35 years old and has claimed just one win since the start of 2013. Mousasi may not be beating the guys in the top five of the division, but it seems like that’s a result of a disparity in skill sets more so than because of the mileage starting to add up. Mousasi has a year or two left of sitting in the middle of the top 10 of the division. He may even pop into the top-three range if things fall his way. Philippou, not so much. If Philippou loses this fight, his next outing will be really important if he wants to remain relevant in the middleweight rankings.
I don’t have much faith in Mousasi ever getting over the hump and earning a title shot, but crazier things have happened. That’s not exactly a glowing endorsement, but Mousasi should win this fight and get himself a fight against someone in the top five. One name that my colleague mentioned stands out: Yoel Romero. That match-up seems just fine. Regardless, a win in his next major opportunity is crucial, because his time is running out.
This weekend marks the UFC’s first trip to the Philippines. Given the enthusiasm displayed toward boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao by so many of the country’s 100 million residents, can the UFC capitalize and grow its fanbase in the Philippines, or will this be a one-time-only affair?
Carey: Remember a couple of years ago when Mark Munoz drew thousands of fans for an open workout in Manilla? It’s pretty safe to say this isn’t going to be the only stop the UFC makes in the Philippines over the next few years. Some countries just love combat sports, and the Philippines may end up being just as much of an MMA hotbed as Brazil or Canada after the UFC works its magic this weekend. Between the headliner and the final fight of Munoz’s career, there’s a lot for the Filipino fans to get excited about this weekend, and the crowd is going to blow people away with their enthusiasm.
Sadly, there is going to be a limit to how often the UFC will return to the country. Throwing the fights on Fox Sports 1 in the morning is a cool novelty this time around, but that’s only happening because the main event is such a huge draw. It seems far more likely that the next few UFC cards in the Philippines end up on UFC Fight Pass with a little less star power on the card. The Philippines, like another high-profile Asian MMA spot in Japan, will probably only get one event a year. Still, a fight card a year would be awesome for a country as MMA crazy as the Philippines.
Reinert: What would truly cement the Philippines as an MMA stronghold, of course, is the emergence of a Filipino superstar in the vein of Pacquiao. Such a development is years from happening, if ever, but if even one UFC fighter from the Philippines breaks into his or her division’s top ranks, the UFC could easily craft another Manila card around that fighter’s mere presence.
Also, there are currently 23 casinos in the Manila metropolitan area (many of which are government-owned), with two more under construction. Manila is a two-hour flight from Hong Kong/Macau, a three-hour flight from Bangkok and a four-hour flight from Tokyo. What am I getting at? Manila can easily serve as a hotbed for high-rolling gamblers during the days and nights surrounding any UFC card that might originate there, so the city is probably going to roll out the proverbial red carpet for the world’s top MMA promotion in an effort to secure additional events.
Neil Magny’s current six-fight winning streak rivals anyone in the welterweight division, but despite his winning ways he’s been unable to draw a ranked opponent. Hyun Gyu Lim isn’t the top 10 guy that Magny has been hoping to fight, but Lim is still a step up in competition and is looking for a big opportunity of his own. To keep it simple, which man pulls off the win and looks to make some noise at 170 pounds after this weekend?
Reinert: I’ll keep my answer similarly simple: Magny’s impressive winning streak might not have the same list of big-name victims as, say, Georges St-Pierre or Jon Jones, but six in a row is six in a row, and I can’t bet against that, especially considering the first five of those wins all came in 2014. Magny is on a roll, and it’s going to take a very special fighter to put a stop to his momentum.
The one thing Lim will have working in his favor on Saturday is the venue. Lim’s home base of Seoul, South Korea, is about a four-hour flight to Manila, so roughly the equivalent of a cross-country flight in the United States. Magny’s trip, on the other hand, will involve flying more than 18 hours before adjusting to a 14-hour time-zone difference. If anything would give Magny an excuse to be a little off his game, it’s that arduous travel requirement.
Magny is, however, sure to overcome any jet lag he might experience. Lim might not be a household name, but he is the guy Magny needs to get past in order to start getting some big-time opposition. That should be sufficient motivation, and I predict a convincing decision win for the American.
Carey: I’ve been riding the Magny winning streak and predicting victories for the American in his last few fights, but I’m going to go against what’s been working for me and take Lim this weekend.
Lim only has to travel about a fourth of the amount of time, and that will make a difference when it comes to two guys that should be pretty evenly matched otherwise on fight night. Lim fights at an insane pace, and Magny, battling jet lag, might struggle to keep pace with the Korean.
Another thing I like about Lim in this fight is that he has a 79-inch reach, which is only an inch shorter than that of Magny, who’s usually the much longer guy in his fights. Magny has been using his reach really well during this winning streak after struggling to utilize it early on in his UFC career. Lim’s aggression may serve him well in that regard. If he can push forward, he should be able to negate the minimal reach advantage of Magny rather quickly and start to work his own game.
I feel like I’m sort of playing with fire here by picking against the red-hot Magny, but Lim is a tough guy to finish and I don’t see Magny picking him apart the way Tarec Saffiedine did in Lim’s lone UFC loss. If Lim doesn’t hesitate and is able to come after Magny fast and furiously before the American can establish his jab, then he should win this fight.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Carey: Admittedly, I’m not all that enthused by anything on this card that we haven’t already discussed, but there should be a pretty entertaining match-up between Jon Tuck and Tae Hyun Bang on the prelims.
Tuck is sporting a 2-2 record in the UFC, but his fights have been decently entertaining thus far and he’s not afraid to go for broke if he’s down on the scorecards, a great ingredient for a sleeper fight.
Bang scored an awesome come-from-behind knockout win over Kajan Johnson in a bonus-winning outing in his last UFC appearance, and his initial Octagon scrap with Mairbek Taisumov was pretty entertaining as well.
Winning a “Fight of the Night” check on this card may end up being impossible due to the main event, but this one could steal the early part of the show.
Reinert: Near the very bottom of the card is an intriguing flyweight fight between Jon delos Reyes and Roldan Sangcha-an, both of whom are looking for their first UFC win.
Delos Reyes dropped his flyweight debut in September, but that loss did come to recent title challenger Kyoji Horiguchi. Sangcha-an, who hails from the Philippines, went 4-0 as a professional before losing his first UFC fight in June.
What makes this fight between guys with a combined 0-3 UFC record so interesting? I like the fact that they have been to decision just once each in their combined 16 pro fights, with delos Reyes only having been out of the first round twice.
I don’t expect either to compete for Demetrious Johnson’s belt anytime soon, but chances are we’re going to see one of these flyweights get his hand raised after an exciting finish on Saturday.
Pair this card with…
Reinert: A bloody mary and a breakfast burrito. With a main-card start time of 10 a.m. ET, it might be a little too early for beer and pizza, but we can accommodate accordingly.
Carey: Let’s go with a good night’s sleep on Friday. Being the dedicated fight fan that I am, if I’m going to go out and have some fun on the weekends it tends to be on Friday night, so I can watch the fights on Saturday. With the main card starting early Saturday morning, that leaves no room for Friday-night shenanigans if you want to be fully alert by the time Edgar and Faber hit the cage. Mix it up and go out on Saturday instead.
Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 10 a.m. ET)
FW: Frankie Edgar vs. Urijah Faber
MW: Gegard Mousasi vs. Costas Philippou
MW: Luke Barnatt vs. Mark Munoz
WW: Hyun Gyu Lim vs. Neil Magny
FW: Yui Chul Nam vs. Phillipe Nover
FW: Mark Eddiva vs. Levan Makashvili
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 a.m. ET)
LW: Tae Hyun Bang vs. Jon Tuck
LW: Kajan Johnson vs. Lipeng Zhang
WW: Li Jingliang vs. Dhiego Lima
FW: Ning Guangyou vs. Royston Wee
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 7 a.m. ET)
FlyW: Jon Delos Reyes vs. Roldan Sangcha-an
BW: Nolan Ticman vs. Zhikui Yao
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