With four fight cards in just seven days, it’s hard to blame fight fans if they’ve forgotten about the UFC’s debut in Scotland this weekend, but the promotion is ending a busy week with a decent fight card to kick off Saturday morning.
European superstar Michael Bisping takes on former title challenger Thales Leites in the card’s headliner, with UFC vets Ross Pearson and Evan Dunham taking the co-main event slot. In addition, there are a plethora of exciting fighters looking to make their mark in the Octagon set to compete this weekend. From rising Irish star Joseph Duffy to Scotland’s own Joanne Calderwood, this fight card is full of high-potential fighters that can make serious waves if they can come through in the clutch.
The event, which takes place in Glasgow, Scotland, is set to kick off early Saturday morning for U.S.-based fight fans. The card gets started at a.m. ET with two prelims on UFC Fight Pass before heading to Fox Sports 1 an hour later to kick off the rest of the card. With 10 bouts set to air, a few more prelim fights will start the televised card before the main card kicks off at p.m. ET.
Combat Press writers Bryan Henderson and Vince Carey break down the card in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
It’s been more than six years since Thales Leites fought Anderson Silva for the UFC middleweight title in an extremely forgettable fight. One fight later, he was out of the UFC. After a long road back that took him to various corners of the world and five different promotions, Leites rejoined the UFC in 2013 and racked up five wins to reinsert his name in the top-10 discussion. Is he capable of earning another title shot, or will it be an uphill battle after his abysmal showing against Silva? Will it all be a moot point after he runs into Michael Bisping in the UFC Fight Night 72 headliner?
Henderson: The Silva-Leites fight was a definite stinker, and the UFC only needed the excuse of the Brazilian’s loss to Alessio Sakara, a non-contender, via split decision as a reason to hand Leites a pink slip. It was a dark period in the former title challenger’s career, but he emerged as a better fighter.
His stint on the regional scene produced a 6-1 run in which Leites defeated a number of fellow UFC veterans and one future UFC fighter. His lone loss came via submission to Matt Horwich, but Leites avenged the loss by choking out Horwich in a rematch. That win put the Brazilian back in the UFC, where he has steadily climbed the ladder. His two most recent victories came against Francis Carmont by way of TKO and Tim Boetsch via submission.
It’s safe to say that Leites has redeemed himself. He faced Silva in an era when the “Spider” was viewed as untouchable. Leites, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt who even now only has four victories via strikes through 29 professional fights, was simply outgunned in that affair and didn’t have the wrestling chops to effectively ground Silva. His recent run of victories, which includes two of his TKO finishes, is proof that Leites has grown in the striking department while also continuing to show strong grappling skills. The real question is whether the UFC has forgiven Leites for his performance in the Silva fight. Demian Maia turned in just as embarrassing of a performance against the then-champ and didn’t face the UFC’s wrath in quite the same way, so it’s highly likely that the company won’t hold a grudge over something that happened six years ago.
So, can Leites earn another title shot? Sure. Will he? No. He’s been paired up against Bisping, the toughest possible obstacle to any middleweight contender’s title dreams. The outspoken Brit has become the true gatekeeper to middleweight contention. Those who have defeated him in recent years include Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort, Tim Kennedy and Luke Rockhold. Two of these men went on to challenge for gold, and a third appears to simply be waiting on a date and location for his own title shot. Meanwhile, Bisping has contributed to a halt in the momentum of several other fighters, including C.B. Dollaway and Brian Stann. Leites might be vastly improved, but he’s not in the same league as Sonnen, Belfort, Kennedy and Rockhold.
Leites was probably behind on the scorecards and he was tagged several times in his fight with Boetsch. Bisping has a solid striking arsenal and some knockout power, plus he’s quite skilled at avoiding takedowns and defending against submissions. Bisping is a tall challenge for the Brazilian, and it’s difficult to imagine Leites clearing this hurdle.
Carey: The more I think about this question, the harder I think it’s going to be for Leites to earn himself a title shot since his first crack at winning a title was memorable in the worst possible way. It takes a couple of truly abysmal performances for the UFC to cut a fighter one fight removed from a title fight. When Leites was released following a split decision loss, most fight fans probably assumed that was the last we’d hear from him inside the Octagon. Even getting back into the UFC, let alone title contention, has been equal parts impressive and unlikely for the former title challenger, but there’s no denying he’s earned it with his recent performances. Still, as good as Leites has been since he’s been back in the UFC, he’s still looking at a really long and tough road ahead of him if he expects to get near the middleweight belt again.
As much as I’d love to sit here and speculate as to exactly how badass Leites would need to be in order to convince the UFC to give him another shot at gold, it’s ultimately not going to matter much following this weekend. Bisping is the premier gatekeeper in any division right now, and a win over the Brit has become almost a guaranteed title opportunity over the years. However, I have a really hard time coming up with ways for Leites to win this fight.
Bisping is an extremely frustrating match-up for fighters that aren’t either naturally gifted in the striking game or possess the wrestling acumen to take the sturdy Brit to the mat. Leites has neither of those things, so he’s going to have to hope one of two things happens in order for him to win this fight.
The first is simple and possibly his clearest path to victory, which is to throw his right hand with reckless abandon and go for the kill if he hits Bisping on the money. It’s almost become a running joke to see Bisping in trouble at least once in each fight, and more often than not the strike that puts “The Count” in trouble is a right hand.
The second is to capitalize if Bisping decides to mix things up by taking the fight to the mat. Bisping’s awesome ability to throw off his opponent’s rhythm by scoring the occasional takedown is a strong point of the Brit, but he’d probably be better off avoiding that strategy against a high-level black belt in Leites. Bisping’s submission defense is normally really, really good. However, if he decides to take the fight to the floor, then Leites needs to go for broke in order to try to lock down a finish. I’m not convinced that Leites is going to be able to get it to the mat of his own accord, so this scenario might be his only chance to utilize his submission offense.
I’ve enjoyed watching Leites defy the odds and undergo quite the career resurgence over the last couple of years, but that ends this weekend. Bisping wins by TKO during one of the middle rounds.
This will be the UFC’s fourth card in eight days, and that provides a chance for the likes of Ross Pearson and Evan Dunham to grab a co-headlining slot. Do these two lightweights deserve such a high status on a UFC card?
Carey: Should these two co-headline a UFC card at this point in their career? Probably not. Am I mad about the fact that they are? Absolutely not.
This is a crowded seven days for the UFC, and while the company probably could have pulled a fight from one of its other events that would be better suited for co-main event status, it’s unlikely that any such fight would be as much guaranteed fun as this scrap between Pearson and Dunham should be. These guys have 10 UFC bonus awards between the two of them and have both been around long enough that fight fans should feel fairly comfortable in knowing exactly what to expect in this one — a fun fight with minimal title ramifications. Obviously, the UFC could have done much better if it wanted some star power or ranked fighters in the co-main event slot, but for a card on a Saturday afternoon, Pearson vs. Dunham is fine.
But enough about whether these two deserve their placement on the card. What they deserve is to have people actually start talking about the fight that should be the odds on favorite to win “Fight of the Night” honors. Due to the toughness both fighters have displayed so often, it’s incredibly difficult to pick someone to win this one. Both men love to throw leather, so we could be in for an extremely technical bar-room brawl style of fight if we get lucky this weekend.
One thing I feel should definitely be mentioned, though, is that there’s a lot on the line for Dunham in this match-up. The six-year UFC veteran found a way to get back on track in his last fight, where he scored a decision win over Rodrigo Damm. But prior to the victory, he had dropped three straight fights, albeit to good competition. A fourth loss in five fights is a rough position for any fighter to be in, but things get even sketchier in a deep division like lightweight. It’s possible that Dunham could be looking for a new home if he isn’t able to earn the win this weekend.
Pearson’s probably the better fighter at this point in his career, and he is still my pick to win this weekend. However, a desperate Dunham could be an extremely dangerous Dunham, and it’s very possible that this fight could go either way.
Henderson: The frequency of UFC cards these days is all that’s needed to account for a Pearson-Dunham co-headliner. With the roster spread thin, it’s just a matter of finding two fighters who tend to entertain and pairing them up. It’s as simple as that, and it’s an easy formula when the fights with immediate title implications on a Fight Night card end at the main event.
My colleague already touched on Dunham’s recent troubles. The 33-year-old veteran’s recent win over Damm did halt a three-fight skid, but it also allowed him to emerge from a stretch in which he had indeed lost four of his last five. A loss to Pearson would make the second time in a year for Dunham to be 1-4 in his last five. That’s almost certain pink-slip territory for most fighters. Furthermore, Dunham hasn’t posted a performance bonus since 2012, so he can’t really lean on that aspect of his losing efforts to provide him with job security.
Dunham’s only argument could reside in the level of competition he has faced over his last seven fights. He has defeated the likes of the aforementioned Damm, borderline contender Nik Lentz and UFC mainstay Gleison Tibau. His losses came against contenders T.J. Grant, Donald Cerrone and Edson Barboza and future champ Rafael dos Anjos.
Pearson has had a better recent run. He’s 4-2 with one no-contest over his last seven fights, and his loss to Diego Sanchez in Albuquerque, N.M., was one of the most questionable verdicts in UFC history. Essentially, Pearson could be considered 5-1 with one no-contest, making him a somewhat worthy candidate for the high slotting on this card.
Dunham flashed a lot of potential early in his UFC career, but he’s really struggled to find consistency in the last five years. He’s gone 4-6 in that stretch, making it all the more remarkable that he’s hanging on to a roster spot. Pearson, on the other hand, appears to be just a few adjustments from putting things together and going on a streak. Yet, Dunham makes a stiff test for the Brit.
In terms of their records, Dunham and Pearson might not deserve the co-headlining spot in the lineup. However, their past performances, a bit of name recognition among fans and Pearson’s potential to finally put things together and build on his knockout finish of Sam Stout provide the necessary elements to make for a compelling match-up.
After suffering a controversial upset loss in his UFC debut against Claudio Silva, welterweight prospect Leon Edwards rebounded in a major way when he took out UFC veteran Seth Baczynski in just eight seconds in April. Is it likely that the Jamaican-born Brit, who is just 23 years old, can work his way through the insanely deep welterweight division and become a player at 170 pounds, or was the loss Edwards suffered in his debut proof that some of the hype the BAMMA veteran has gained is unwarranted?
Henderson: Other than Jon Jones, not many fighters can claim to be at the height of their game at such a young age. Some fighters can take a decade or more to live up to the hype (yes, I’m looking at you, Robbie Lawler). So, to expect Edwards to arrive in the Octagon and demolish everything in his path is a bit much. Fighters are going to have their stumbles, and it’s not like Edwards was thoroughly embarrassed by Silva in their fight. One judge scored it in favor of the Brit, and Sherdog’s play-by-play panel would have handed down a split verdict in favor of Edwards had they been the official judges of the contest.
So Edwards lost a close fight. His other defeat was a disqualification due to an illegal knee. Hell, Anderson Silva, arguably the greatest fighter of all time, had already been stopped twice via submission before he even got to the UFC. No, I’m not saying Edwards will be the next Anderson Silva, but let’s not go making career projections about unwarranted hype based on one loss. Edwards is young. He has plenty of time to continue to improve his all-around game, and he could grow into a championship-caliber fighter. Or not.
His eight-second finish of Baczynski is proof of the Brit’s potential, and it also validates any hype that Edwards carried into the Octagon after a perfect five-fight run under the BAMMA banner. Edwards stopped three of those BAMMA opponents in the first round, and he has seven stoppages total in his pro career. Baczynski, who has lost five of his last six, isn’t exactly the best fighter the UFC has to offer, but he has been good enough to notch wins over Matt Brown and Neil Magny, albeit before either man made giant leaps in their own skill sets.
My final answer to this question is going to lie somewhere in between the two extremes. Edwards won’t necessarily work his way through the division and become a contender, because he’s going to struggle to fend off the division’s best wrestlers and stay on his feet. However, he’s still capable of establishing himself as a solid mid-tier fighter at the very least. He’ll make a move in that direction with a win over his UFC Fight Night 72 opponent, Pawel Pawlak.
Carey: I’m mostly in agreement with my colleague. There’s no reason to overreact to the close loss that Edwards suffered in his debut. As talented as Edwards is, he’s still young. Between Edwards drawing a tough stylistic match-up and enduring the Octagon jitters that every fighter experiences in their debut, it’s tough to put too much stock into his split decision loss. Edwards made quite the statement with his win over Baczynski a few months later. However, due to the cutthroat nature of MMA fans, he’s not going to get another mulligan until he’s fighting top-notch competition.
Edwards is probably going to go as far as his ground game allows him to go. He was by far the superior striker in his loss to Silva, but the glaring weakness in Edwards game revealed itself when the Brazilian took him to the mat. Silva had all kinds of control in the latter half of the fight.
As awesome as the flash knockout Edwards scored in his last outing was, it also didn’t really answer any questions concerning his ground game, and I’m actually hopeful that Pawlek can get Edwards to the mat once or twice this weekend so we can see if the Brit has made any improvement towards getting off of his back. Edwards is so lethal on the feet that improving his takedown defense could be the key to actually becoming a player at 170 pounds, but there are so many strong wrestlers in the welterweight division that things could go south in a hurry if Edwards doesn’t get a little better on the mat.
It almost feels silly trying to project the career of a 23-year-old fighter with the kind of potential Edwards seems to have, but my fellow writer did pretty well with his analysis. At least for the foreseeable future, the top of the welterweight division has too many dominant wrestlers for me to feel confident about Edwards making the leap. But there’s no reason to believe he won’t be in the UFC for years to come and possibly even become a contender someday. Edwards has a lot of time to improve his game, which is already pretty solid, and I think we’ll be seeing a lot of him inside the Octagon in the coming years.
Joanne Calderwood’s last UFC outing turned out to be a shocker. She got caught in an armbar within the first 90 seconds of the fight and lost to Maryna Moroz. Was that a fluke or will Calderwood’s struggles extend to her fight with Cortney Casey-Sanchez, a UFC newcomer who steps in on eight days’ notice to replace the injured Bec Rawlings? Will a big win over Casey erase the memory of Calderwood’s loss and immediately put her back into strawweight title contention?
Carey: You can’t take anything away from Moroz’s win over Calderwood a couple of months ago. The UFC newcomer looked fantastic in victory, but something seemed incredibly off with Calderwood before her last performance. “JoJo” ended up citing personal problems for her less-than-stellar performance in April, and while normally it’s hard to put a ton of stock into an excuse like that, it was clear something was up. Everything from Calderwood’s demeanor before the fight to her aggressiveness inside the cage seemed to be affected. Moroz earned her victory, but it definitely wasn’t against the usual Calderwood.
Since it was seemingly a personal issue that caused “JoJo” to come out flat in her last outing, it’s really difficult to know if Calderwood will be able to bounce back quickly and get back to form this weekend. The problem last time around wasn’t a broken hand or an injured knee that Calderwood could physically power through if the problem was still lingering. This is a straight up mental issue, and if “JoJo” doesn’t have her head on straight, then the “fluke” that caused her to lose her last bout could easily end up coming into play again.
Since there’s no way of knowing Calderwood’s mental state heading into Saturday, I can only assume that she’s going to be back to form. That means trouble for the newcomer, Casey-Sanchez. When Calderwood’s on, she is one of the most dangerous 115-pound women on the planet. Since she’s going to have a lot to prove after her previous outing, I’m expecting the Scot to put on a show in order to force fight fans to forget about her last performance.
There’s no chance that Calderwood can immediately get back to where she was in the title picture before her loss to Moroz. The division has added a couple of contenders over the last few months, and they have overtaken Calderwood in the hunt for a title shot. However, a big win here would put Calderwood right back into the thick of things, and that’s what I’m expecting to happen after “JoJo” makes a statement with a stoppage win this weekend.
Henderson: Calderwood’s loss to Moroz came as a huge shock. The Scottish fighter had been perfect against tough competition in Invicta FC, Cage Warriors and the UFC before running into Moroz, whose resume contained few significant names. Calderwood, an established contender, was knocked down the ladder, while another contender was seemingly born.
Now, Calderwood needs to show that the personal problems that contributed to her first pro loss aren’t going to contribute to a second defeat. The promotion originally gave her a solid but beatable opponent in Rawlings. Now, though, she gets another relative unknown in Casey-Sanchez. The 28-year-old newcomer has two submission finishes and two victories via strikes, and she could play spoiler to Calderwood. However, I have too much faith in Calderwood’s abilities to believe that the Scottish fighter goes on a two-fight skid. “JoJo” has a strong striking arsenal and she’ll be determined to silence any critics. Calderwood might not get the finish, but she’ll take a decision victory at the very least.
The strawweight division is extremely deep at the moment. We just witnessed Michelle Waterson’s UFC debut in a strong showing against Angela Magana, Moroz has stolen Calderwood’s thunder and Tecia Torres is back on track. With Jessica Aguilar also joining the UFC roster and Paige VanZant quickly rising through the ranks, Calderwood will have her work cut out for her. She fell to No. 9 in the UFC rankings, and she’s facing a non-ranked newcomer here. An impressive knockout finish could help the Scottish fighter reclaim some of her momentum, but she’ll need to pick up a couple of wins before she re-enters the title mix.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Henderson: Everyone will finally be shaking their Conor McGregor hangovers by the time this card kicks off, but the UFC Fight Night 72 lineup features the last man to defeat McGregor before the flamboyant Irishman ascended to super stardom inside the Octagon. That man, of course, if Joseph Duffy. Duffy, who already has one UFC victory under his belt, meets Ivan “Batman” Jorge, who spent years as a top Brazilian prospect before finding mixed results in the UFC.
In 2010, Duffy added McGregor to a long list of victims in a streak of choke submission wins that extended across seven fights. Duffy won three more contests after defeating McGregor and then challenged for the vacant Cage Warriors lightweight title. He came up short in the title bid against Ivan Musardo, but he rebounded with two more wins and then signed with the UFC. His debut came at UFC 185, where he needed less than two minutes to finish Jake Lindsey. The 27-year-old has had his stumbles, but he’s a skilled striker and a proven finisher on the mat. He’s only seen the scorecards once in 14 pro fights and he has only suffered one loss (plus a defeat in exhibition competition on The Ultimate Fighter 12).
Jorge has a much higher tendency to go the distance, but he makes for the perfect next test for Duffy. Jorge is a 30-fight veteran with 26 victories under his belt. The Brazilian is 2-1 inside the Octagon and he won’t be a pushover for Duffy. Jorge has suffered two losses via strikes and is at his best on the ground, where he’s tallied 13 submission wins. He’ll want to get Duffy to the canvas, so we could see some entertaining scrambles mixed in with striking exchanges where Duffy presses the action.
The UFC has big dreams for McGregor, and a rematch with Duffy might be among them. It would certainly make for a compelling headliner somewhere down the road. Duffy has to make a case for such a huge potential fight, though, and his match-up with Jorge provides the perfect chance for him to continue to build on his debut performance.
Carey: Does Duffy vs. Jorge count as a sleeper fight when you could pretty convincingly argue that it’s one of the two most anticipated fights on the card? I think a lot of MMA fans are interested in seeing the last man to defeat McGregor, especially after the Irishman proved he’s legit with his interim title victory over Chad Mendes, but I digress.
I will stick with the Irish theme, however, because I’m expecting a war between Paddy Holohan and Vaughan Lee on the prelims. With a 2-1 record in the Octagon, Holohan has put on some entertaining bouts in his short career, especially in his “Fight of the Night” loss to Chris Kelades in October, and I think he’s ready to put on another show against a tested UFC vet in Lee. With the UFC in a full-blown Irishmania at the moment, Holohan has a chance to earn a lot of momentum with a good performance here, and a good performance for Paddy is usually fun to watch.
Nothing has come easy in Lee’s UFC career. He started off losing a split decision to recent flyweight title challenger Chris Cariaso and was intended to be fed to a returning Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto in his second bout. Then Lee scored an upset over the Japanese legend. He’s been alternating between appropriate matchmaking and getting thrown into the cage against top-10 talent. That inconsistency in matchmaking shows when looking at Lee’s record: he’s alternated wins and losses for the duration of his seven-fight UFC career. The good thing for the Brit is that his trend indicates he’s due for a victory. However, with this being his first fight at 125 pounds, we could be looking at a different fighter than the one we’re used to seeing in the Octagon.
Pair this card with…
Carey: A pot or two of coffee. As one who usually likes to sleep in a bit (or more than a bit) on the weekends, I sometimes tend to almost sleep-watch some of the prelims on these early morning cards as I attempt to wake up. However, I have a feeling I’m going to want to be awake and alert pretty quickly for this one, which features a heavyweight fight kicking off the evening and Marcus Brimage’s energy hitting the cage soon after. A few cups of Folger’s will be essential.
Henderson: A donut. Saturday mornings don’t usually spell MMA for me. Instead, they spell a morning with my son at the well-known Albuquerque establishment of Rebel Donut, where we get the weekend started with some good eats. These early cards have the potential to throw off that routine, especially when a main card starts at 1 p.m. ET, but I’ll still find time to grab a donut and then get around to the fights. The point is, enjoy your Saturday morning and don’t let the fights dictate your schedule too much. It’s what the tape-delayed viewing convenience of UFC Fight Pass and a cable DVR were meant for, after all.
Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 1 p.m. ET)
MW: Michael Bisping vs. Thales Leites
LW: Evan Dunham vs. Ross Pearson
LW: Joseph Duffy vs. Ivan Jorge
Women’s StrawW: Joanne Calderwood vs. Cortney Casey-Sanchez
WW: Leon Edwards vs. Pawel Pawlak
LW: Leonardo Mafra vs. Stevie Ray
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 11 a.m. ET)
FlyW: Patrick Holohan vs. Vaughan Lee
LHW: Ilir Latifi vs. Hans Stringer
LW: Mickael Lebout vs. Teemu Packalen
FW: Paul Redmond vs. Robert Whiteford
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 10 a.m. ET)
BW: Marcus Brimage vs. Jimmie Rivera
HW: Chris de la Rocha vs. Daniel Omielanczuk
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