Carlos Condit (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC on Fox 21 Preview and Predictions

If you manage to still have something left in the tank after UFC 202, there’s more MMA heading your way. There’s another UFC fight card lined up this very next weekend, in fact. It’s also one you don’t need to shell out 60 bucks to see.

The UFC will go north of the border to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, for another live card on Fox. The main event could go a long way toward determining the next No. 1 contender in the UFC’s welterweight division.

Many expected Carlos Condit to receive an immediate rematch after his last fight, a title challenge against Robbie Lawler, ended in a split decision loss for Condit following one of the best fights of the year. However, we all know what has happened since then. Tyron Woodley received a title shot against Lawler instead, knocked the champ out in the first round and now calls himself the welterweight champion.


Now, Condit has to go through possibly the best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter on the planet to get another crack at the belt. That man, of course, is Demian Maia.

The co-main event features Anthony Pettis, a fighter seeking redemption. The former UFC lightweight champion drops down to featherweight and faces Charles Oliveira.

This Fox card also features the return of Paige VanZant, fresh off her appearance on Dancing With the Stars.

Even if this card lacks the overall hype that UFC 202 enjoyed with the rematch between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz, there is still no shortage of well-known fighters for fans to enjoy.

Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Dan Kuhl are here to preview all the action on the UFC on Fox 21 card, which begins with the UFC Fight Pass prelims at 4 p.m. ET, followed by additional preliminary-card bouts on Fox at 6 p.m. ET and then the main card, also on Fox, at 8 p.m. ET.

Carlos Condit and Demian Maia square off in a welterweight headliner that could put the winner in line for a title shot. Condit has fallen short against a number of the welterweight elite — he even suffered a TKO loss to current champion Tyron Woodley, though that loss came as the result of an injury — but he always puts up a very competitive effort. Is he doomed to the same fate against Demian Maia?

Kuhl: Condit has been one of my favorite fighters since I first saw him fight at WEC 25 in 2007. When I first saw him fight, I immediately felt that he was destined to be a champion. He’s super well rounded, with a great MMA ground game and phenomenal stand-up. But ever since the dissolution of the WEC, he has very much fallen into the rut of “always the bridesmaid, never the bride.”

Maia, on the other hand, is the quintessential Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert. He is not only one of the top three BJJ players to ever compete in MMA, but he is one of the best ever in the entire world of BJJ. It was no surprise to see him come into pro MMA on an undefeated 11-0 run before Nate Marquardt sent him airborne and unconscious on a single punch at UFC 102. Since then, his losses have only come by decision against current champs, former champs and top contenders in two different divisions.

Condit has had a spotty record since losing the UFC interim welterweight belt to Georges St-Pierre almost four years ago. Meanwhile, Maia has gone on a five-fight winning streak that includes dominant victories over Matt Brown, Gunnar Nelson and Neil Magny in his last three outings. While he hasn’t had a knockout win over anyone since Dong Hyun Kim over four years ago, Maia has definitely figured out how to increase his striking proficiency just enough to set up his ground attack, which is unmatched in the welterweight division. Condit is still the same exciting well-rounded fighter that is awesome at everything, but the best at nothing, and that could prove the turning point in this fight.

Maia is six years the elder of Condit, and this will certainly be his last potential title run. Condit has not been able to string anything significant together in the last half-decade. Does Condit have the chance for one of his dazzling knockouts? Of course. However, Maia appears to be in his true prime, and, even on a winning streak, his back is against the wall, because, while a win may not guarantee a title shot, a loss will ensure that it will never happen again.

Maia takes this one by submission.

Huntemann: To be fair, Condit is a former champion. I know, I know. I’m nitpicking, because Condit was only the interim welterweight champion while the actual champion at the time, GSP, was injured, and because Condit was a titleholder in the WEC, not the UFC. But Condit has worn gold around his waist before, and I think he can again.

I’m not sure why the UFC didn’t give Condit an immediate rematch against Robbie Lawler following their classic match-up at the beginning of the year. It’s a moot point now, since Lawler was knocked out by Woodley late last month, but it’s also part of the reason why this fight against Maia is such a dangerous one for Condit. As my colleague pointed out, Maia is probably the best pure BJJ fighter on the planet, whereas Condit prefers to keep things standing. Condit is known as a dangerous striker, but he hasn’t had a submission victory since 2008.

However, Maia’s striking still isn’t on par with Condit. Condit is one of the smartest fighters in the UFC, too, so he knows to use his striking, footwork and angles to keep Maia at bay and prevent the Brazilian grappler from taking him to the mat, where Condit would be in serious trouble.

Condit will employ a similar strategy to what he utilized against Nick Diaz. He’ll pick and choose his strikes in order to avoid a ground game with Maia. It may not be the sexiest way to fight, but it will be effective enough for Condit to be awarded the victory and possibly another title shot.

Anthony Pettis is set to make his featherweight debut against Charles Oliveira. Will Pettis find success in his new division, or are his days as a contender behind him? Does a victory for Oliveira over a former UFC champ finally make the case for a “do Bronx” title shot?

Huntemann: Pettis picked a pretty shrewd time to make the move down to featherweight. The division is very much on hold until interim champion José Aldo gets his rematch against current champion Conor McGregor. This scenario can give Pettis the opportunity to make a statement against Oliveira and perhaps position himself to be next in line for a title shot sooner rather than later. There was a time when Pettis might have faced Aldo when both were champions at lightweight and featherweight, respectively. If we can still be treated to that match-up down the line, all the better as far as I’m concerned. However, Pettis/McGregor would definitely be no slouch, either.

That said, Pettis has to get past a very dangerous fighter in Oliveira, who’s won five of six and whose loss to Max Holloway only came after Oliveira suffered an unfortunate injury early in the fight. Oliveira is known for his submissions. Four of his last five victories have come in that fashion. He is a tall, rangy fighter with great reach — almost Gumby-esque, really — but this fight will be his toughest test to date. Pettis is more than athletic in his own right and can bust out unorthodox moves at a moment’s notice — just ask Benson Henderson.

The more I think about it, this fight can be a No. 1 contender bout at featherweight. If Oliveira upsets Pettis, it would be hard to deny him a title shot. If Pettis defeats Oliveira, we could see another dream match-up unfold pitting Pettis against either McGregor or Aldo. There’s a lot riding on this fight for both guys.

Kuhl: There was a time, almost six years ago, when Pettis looked like he was the man to reckon with at 155 pounds. His first fight in the UFC, against Clay Guida, seemed almost surreal, as he dropped his promotional debut. It was almost expected that he would climb the ladder again, which he did, but then came Rafael dos Anjos, stealing his belt, followed by Eddie Alvarez, who beat him by split decision and went on to subsequently steal the strap from dos Anjos. These were somewhat reasonable losses that could have been avenged, but after his last loss to Edson Barboza, Pettis sealed his own fate in the lightweight division.

This was really the prime time for “Showtime” to make the jump to 145, and as a former dominant champ, he really did deserve a top-ranked guy like Oliveira. Oliveira may be long for his division, but he is the same height as Pettis and only has a two-inch reach advantage. The Brazilian may also be a BJJ black belt, but Pettis has never been stopped. In fact, Pettis actually has more submissions than he does knockout wins, which a lot of people don’t realize because his striking is so phenomenal. I absolutely love this match-up, and it is well deserving of a co-headliner slot at a minimum.

The former champ is badly in need of a win, and, while Oliveira is on a great run, Pettis has every tool needed to put a stop to that momentum. Either man could get an eventual title shot — and that may not be far away once the featherweight stalemate ends — but Pettis has a lot more to lose than Oliveira. While desperation does not always work well for Pettis, I feel this new chapter will give him a fresh start, and his striking and submission defense will be enough to overcome the Brazilian through three rounds.

Paige VanZant makes her return to the UFC and will have her first fight since losing to Rose Namajunas last year. It looked like VanZant might leave MMA behind for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood after her performance on Dancing With the Stars, but the improved Bec Rawlings will welcome VanZant back to the UFC instead. If VanZant wins this fight, does she resume her perch as the UFC’s next big female star? Conversely, should a win by Rawlings put her in the conversation for a strawweight title shot?

Kuhl: I very rarely call my shot like this, but Van Zant will not win this fight. She is in way over her head. Images aside, Rawlings is a gritty fighter with a chip on her shoulder, and Van Zant is not the opponent for a girl with a chip on her shoulder. Namajunas proved that first-hand.

The 27-year-old Aussie Rawlings put on a display against her last two opponents that offered a glimpse of the future of this killer in the strawweight division, while Van Zant has had to squeeze training in with her reality and social-media appearances after her four-and-a-half round drubbing by Namajunas over eight months ago. This fight is shaping up to be much of the same and maybe worse for the youngster. Rawlings is coming in taller, stronger and angrier. She is definitely the superior striker in this match-up.

Even if the 10th-ranked VanZant wins this fight, which is only likely if she gets a chance to utilize her grappling, she should be at least a couple fights from a title shot. I only say “should” because the way the UFC matchmaking has gone lately, it’s definitely become less of a merit-based system than a ticket-based system. If Rawlings wins, she is at least two fights away from a title, as well.

I see Rawlings coming into this fight ready to use her length and determination to take it three full rounds to outpoint Van Zant on the feet, serving up a unanimous win for the Australian fighter.

Huntemann: I’m not nearly as pessimistic about VanZant’s chances as my esteemed colleague. While the UFC definitely pushed VanZant too hard, too soon initially, she simply ran into a better all-around fighter in Namajunas, her recent loss to Karolina Kowalkiewicz notwithstanding.

Rawlings has definitely improved, particularly with her striking, since she began training full-time at Alliance MMA. VanZant is a good striker, too, and possesses some excellent grappling and ground-and-pound, as we saw in her dominant performance against Felice Herrig. Rawlings has also been known for her submissions, particularly early in her career, but has she gotten too far away from that aspect of her game with her newfound love of the stand-up?

My contemporary is right: Rawlings will definitely have a chip on her shoulder going into this fight. She likely feels once again that the UFC is giving VanZant preferential treatment and that she represents an “easy fight” for VanZant to get the young star back in the win column. Rawlings will make VanZant earn a victory, and VanZant will indeed earn it. But regardless of who wins, both fighters are multiple victories away from even being considered for a title shot.

The fight between Joe Lauzon and Jim Miller poses a showdown of 32-year-old veterans who may have seen their best days, but people thought the same thing about Robbie Lawler before his recent title run. Who will win this one, and does either man have a Lawler-type title run in him?

Huntemann: If you put a gun to my head and made me pick one of these guys, I would probably go with Lauzon as the answer to the question. He is still one of the most exciting fighters in the UFC and is a submission (and post-fight bonus, I might add) machine. Though “J-Lau” has been with the UFC for going on a decade already, he could have a run to the top in him. However, the depth of talent in the lightweight division would make this task extremely difficult.

Since I picked Lauzon to be more likely to experience a career renaissance, that also means I’m picking him to defeat Miller. While Miller has had a long and distinguished career in the UFC, and that gnarly gash he opened up on Lauzon’s face when the two met the first time in 2012 still haunts my dreams, Miller’s best days are behind him, despite his recent knockout of the ageless Takanori Gomi.

Kuhl: I agree on pretty much all counts.

If either man has a good run left in him, that man would be Lauzon. Both men are gritty, high-level grapplers. Both have several performance-bonus accolades. Both haven’t strung together any significant winning streak in at least a decade or more. This one is anyone’s ballgame, especially since Lauzon just knocked out Diego Sanchez in the first round at UFC 200, which nobody has done since B.J. Penn in 2009, and Miller did the same to Gomi the same night. Gomi’s previous two fights ended in the same manner, including his outing against none other than Lauzon.

On paper, this is a great match-up, but Lauzon appears to have a lot more left in the tank than Miller. If patterns tell us anything, Lauzon is actually due for one more win before his next loss. So, career renaissance or not, he will take this one from Miller, more than likely by decision.

Unfortunately, though, I don’t feel either of these guys has a Lawler-esque title run in them, especially with the state of the lightweight division. There are way too many guys ahead of them, and by the time either man would get a shot, they would be more than halfway to 40. That’s not very likely.

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

Kuhl: Sam Alvey and Kevin Casey.

This is a great fight to headline the prelim card. Both guys have almost a decade of fighting under their belts. One is a striker. The other, a black belt in BJJ. Both men have as much to win as they do to lose.

While Alvey is the striker in this affair, his last fight ended in a submission over the best grappler of the last season of The Ultimate Fighter. Alvey has very much positioned himself as the wrecker of dreams for former TUF contestants. Casey, on the other hand, is the BJJ black belt. He has also been spotty, at best, outside of regional action.

All of Casey’s losses have come by knockout. Alvey has more knockout wins than Casey has total fights. Alvey by knockout in the first or second round.

Huntemann: A fine choice, but you should also keep an eye on the preliminary bout between Chad Laprise and Thibault Gouti.

Laprise won The Ultimate Fighter: Nations to some fanfare in 2014 and looked to be a young fighter on the rise, particularly after his victory over the Sage Northcutt Slayer, Bryan Barberena. However, Laprise has since lost back-to-back outings to Ross Pearson and Francisco Trinaldo. Now he could be in danger of being yet another TUF alum who fails to live up to the hype of his victory.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, as they say. Laprise may come out with guns blazing in this fight.

Pair this card with…

Huntemann: A massage chair. Let’s face it; as fight fans, we’re all coming down from a pretty big high after UFC 202 and everything that came with it. While we may pump ourselves up once again for this card, many of us may need to take it easy and relax while doing so. Therefore, I suggest you guys find your favorite massage chair, La-Z-boy, loveseat, or what have you, and kick back, put up your feet and just relax and take it easy while you watch some solid fights. No need to overexert yourselves two weekends in a row.

Kuhl: Well-planned food and bathroom breaks, and something to do in between fights. We all know that the UFC and Fox will make sure to drag out breaks in the action to hit their pre-set time windows for the free televised cards, but you will not want to miss the beginning of any one of these fights. More than most of the recent cards, every single one of these bouts has a chance for a quick, first-round finish, so do not miss the top or bottom of each hour. This card has the potential for some of the most exciting finishes of the year.

Fight Picks

Fight Kuhl’s Pick Huntemann’s Pick
Main Card (Fox, 8 p.m. ET)
WW: Carlos Condit vs. Demian Maia Maia Condit
FW: Anthony Pettis vs. Charles Oliveira Pettis Pettis
Women’s StrawW: Paige VanZant vs. Bec Rawlings Rawlings VanZant
LW: Jim Miller vs. Joe Lauzon Lauzon Lauzon
Preliminary Card (Fox, 6 p.m. ET)
MW: Sam Alvey vs. Kevin Casey Alvey Alvey
FW: Enrique Barzola vs. Kyle Bochniak Barzola Barzola
MW: Garreth McLellan vs. Alessio Di Chirico McLellan McLellan
LW: Felipe Silva vs. Shane Campbell Silva Campbell
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 4:30 p.m. ET)
LW: Chad Laprise vs. Thibault Gouti Laprise Laprise
MW: Adam Hunter vs. Ryan Janes Janes Hunter
LW: Jeremy Kennedy vs. Alex Ricci Kennedy Kennedy