The dust hasn’t fully settled from last weekend’s UFC 203 card quite yet, but there’s no rest for the wicked and even less for the fight fan, so we here at Combat Press have already got you covered as you gear up for UFC Fight Night 94 in Texas.
Saturday night’s main event features an important battle between top-10 lightweights Dustin Poirier and Michael Johnson. The surging Poirier looks to make it five straight against the slumping Johnson, who’s fallen in the rankings after back-to-back losses to Nate Diaz and Beneil Dariush. Both fighters have been amongst the best in their division for a long time now, but after continually coming up short in high-profile match-ups, a loss for either main in a headlining situation will be disastrous.
The co-main event is another huge match-up between ranked fighters. Middleweight knockout artist Uriah Hall seeks to climb back into title contention against the streaking Derek Brunson.
Throw in lightweight Evan Dunham’s fight with former World Series of Fighting champion Rick Glenn on short notice and a plethora of entertaining scraps set for the main card, and it looks like we could be in for a fun night of fights in the Lonestar State.
UFC Fight Night 94 kicks off with a couple of prelims on UFC Fight Pass at 7 p.m. ET before moving over to Fox Sports 1 for the remainder of the preliminary card at 8 p.m. ET. The main card gets underway at 10 p.m. ET, also on Fox Sports 1. Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Vince Carey are here to help get you ready for a couple of big-time fights in Texas in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Dustin Poirier is undefeated through four fights since moving up to the lightweight division. Does he finally garner serious consideration as a title challenger if he beats Michael Johnson?
Huntemann: The UFC’s lightweight division continues to be a murderer’s row. Just when one elite fighter (Rafael dos Anjos) gets knocked off his perch, a slew of new ones take his place. The division is easily five fighters deep with guys who can stake a legitimate claim to a title shot — and six deep, if you count Conor McGregor. Is Poirier among them? At the moment, I would say no. Right now, it’s dos Anjos, Tony Ferguson, Edson Barboza, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Nate Diaz ahead of Poirier; in that order. If McGregor officially decides to try his hand at lightweight, I’ll throw him in there, too.
Unfortunately, even if Poirier defeats Johnson, which I think he will, he still won’t garner attention as a serious title contender. Will he receive some attention? Sure. But he needs to knock off one of the aforementioned fighters above him in order to be considered a legitimate threat.
None of this is to diminish what Poirier has accomplished since moving up to lightweight. A four-fight winning streak, with three knockouts, is a significant achievement. It’s not Poirier fault that he joined such a deep and talented division — probably the most talented in all of mixed martial arts. It’s a tough ceiling to crack, and Poirier won’t crack it right now, even if he defeats Johnson. But he still has an opportunity to do so going forward.
Carey: I want to consider Poirier as a contender with a win this weekend, because five in a row at lightweight is far from easy. He’s fought some quality guys since making the move to 155 pounds. However, Mr. Huntemann is right. There are just too many guys in front of the former featherweight contender for him to make the leap just yet.
Still, a win over a top-10 guy like Johnson is a hell of a way to make a statement. I’ll echo my colleague’s pick and take “The Diamond” to get the job done in the main event.
Poirier has looked phenomenal since moving to the lightweight division, especially in his recent win over Bobby Green a few months ago where he blasted the former top-10 fighter in less than three minutes in an extremely one-sided affair. That’s just Poirier’s biggest win, too. He’s fought quality guys in all four of his lightweight bouts and is building quite the resume in a short time at 155.
I’m expecting a one-sided affair here. Johnson hasn’t looked his best as of late, whereas Poirier is quickly becoming a dark horse in the division. A quick finish wouldn’t be a shocker. Even if it’s a five-round fight, though, I like Poirier’s striking to frustrate Johnson and earn him a lopsided decision.
Then, Poirier just needs to call out a big name and earn one more victory before he will be taken seriously as a title threat. He has plenty of options to choose from for his next target, too..
The UFC is still relying on the highlight-reel knockout that Uriah Hall delivered on The Ultimate Fighter 17, which took place four years ago, as the primary promotional material for upcoming Hall fights. Hall has delivered a few big finishes since then, but he keeps enduring setbacks, such as his most recent loss to fellow borderline contender Robert Whittaker. Is Derek Brunson another fighter who will hand Hall a loss, or can Hall add to his highlight reel on Saturday night?
Carey: Even though it’s four years later, I really can’t get too upset with the UFC continuing to use the highlight-reel footage to promote Hall. Why the hell wouldn’t they? It was awesome! In the same way that we’re never going to see Edson Barboza fight without watching him kick Terry Etim’s face into the stratosphere or we’ll always get treated to a good front kick to the face highlight before an Anderson Silva fight, Hall’s knockout is one of those that is going down in MMA history. Every time we see Hall on our screens until the day he retires, you can expect to see that highlight.
The real question here is whether or not Hall’s entire career will end up being defined by one kick, because, as we’ve mentioned, it’s now four years later and, outside of an impressive knockout of Gegard Mousasi, there hasn’t been much to get excited about when it comes to “Primetime.”
As much as I love to watch his highlight reel, there might not be a fighter in the sport that’s more frustrating to watch. This is due to the hit-or-miss nature of his performances. Occasionally Hall looks great and every bit as scary as the fighter we watched destroy his competition on the way to the TUF final, but most of those performances have come against lackluster competition.
Throw Hall into the cage with another up-and-coming fighter or a top contender, and things almost never go his way. That could spell trouble against a guy like Brunson, who seems to be hitting his stride. The Strikeforce veteran has posted an impressive 6-1 record since entering the Octagon, including wins in his last four outings, and he’s exactly the type of fighter Hall has struggled to overcome in the past.
Honestly, it’s going to take multiple good performances in a row from Hall before I can start to take him seriously. I don’t see it starting against someone who’s looked as good as Brunson. The former Strikeforce fighter has been begging for an opportunity to fight a top-10 guy, which only makes me feel better about this pick: Brunson by a pretty convincing decision.
Huntemann:The Ultimate Fighter has pretty much been the highlight of Hall’s career. That and maybe his victory over Mousasi last year, which was highlight reel-worthy in its own right. Plus, Hall really was a stone-cold killer on TUF. It’s a crying shame he wasn’t able to translate his success on the show into success in the Octagon up to now. However, the UFC still uses footage from 2009 of Dan Henderson knocking Michael Bisping into next week. So why not still use footage of Hall’s knockouts?
That said, I don’t see Hall having much success against Brunson either. Brunson has three first-round knockout victories in a row, so we know that he has absolutely no qualms about going in for the kill. Unfortunately, Hall has already displayed a noticeable lack of the killer instinct that he had in spades on TUF. It started with his loss in the show’s finale to Kelvin Gastelum. If he does not pull the trigger against Brunson, it will continue here and turn out to be a very short night for Hall.
Brunson will deliver a finish worthy of consideration for the highlight-reel himself against Hall and enter the discussion as a middleweight title contender in the process.
Evan Dunham was set to fight hard-hitting Abel Trujillo on this card, but a late injury forced the latter out of the bout. Trujillo has been replaced by former WSOF champion Rick Glenn. Can Glenn come in on barely a week’s notice and pull off a win in his UFC debut, or will the combination of a short-notice fight and Dunham’s veteran savvy be too much to handle?
Huntemann: Dunham seems to have undergone a career resurgence since going 0-3 in a murderer’s row of fights against Rafael dos Anjos, Donald Cerrone and Edson Barboza. He’s since gotten past two other tough fighters, Ross Pearson and Joe Lauzon, and seems to have righted the ship, but he is still in the weeds in the lightweight division.
However, let’s not sell Glenn short. Even though he’s stepping up on short notice, he boasts a winning streak and faced quality fighters Lance Palmer and Georgi Karakhanyan while in the WSOF. Glenn hasn’t tasted defeat in nearly two years, so he’s definitely not some noob who’s going to be overwhelmed by the bright lights of the UFC stage.
This fight will go the distance and turn out to be a brutal, hard-fought affair. Hell, this may steal the show as “Fight of the Night.” However, whether it’s having a full fight camp under his belt, training with an also-resurgent team in Xtreme Couture or just being a tough bastard, Dunham gets the win here.
Carey: Yes, this fight will likely belong to Dunham, but I’d have a much harder time saying as much if Glenn was coming in with a full camp and not on roughly 10 days’ notice. The WSOF doesn’t exactly have the quality of fighters that the UFC boasts in the lightweight division, but Glenn looked impressive during his time there. His current three-fight winning streak since he lost the WSOF belt to Palmer has been pretty solid as well. Under different circumstances, I’d be a bit more excited for his debut. Glenn is a quality lightweight, but this is a tough way to start his UFC career.
It’s hard to find many fighters, period, that have fought the quality of competition that Dunham has gone toe-to-toe with over his long and prosperous UFC career. In fact, Dunham is one of the few guys that can look at Glenn’s WSOF title and shrug his shoulders. I’m not trying to slight Glenn here, but his WSOF resume pales in comparison to a record that features fights against former UFC champ dos Anjos, Donald Cerrone and Sean Sherk. Dunham won’t be intimidated by a former WSOF titleholder.
A hungry Dunham will work his way to a dominant decision to earn his first win of the calendar year.
Chris Wade had the look of another young, babyface fighter on the rise. He won his first four UFC fights before being derailed by savvy veteran Rustam Khabilov earlier this year. Was Wade’s fast start a mirage? Will he come up short against Islam Makhachev, or does Wade get back on track and regain his footing in a deep and talent-laden lightweight division?
Carey: Truth be told, a loss to someone like Khabilov isn’t the worst thing for an up-and-coming fighter. Wade may not have gotten the victory, but the setback is going to end up being a really good learning experience for him. Wade, who is only 28 years old, still has plenty of time to pull things together and work toward another step up in competition in the near future if he can get back on track soon.
While Wade didn’t exactly take out the top of the pecking order during his four-fight winning streak to kick off his UFC career, just going on that kind of run at all inside the Octagon is impressive, especially in the cutthroat lightweight division. Even after suffering his first setback, Wade is in a good spot. While I’m not completely on board with Wade as a future contender, I do feel that he’s going to be able to regain his winning ways and put on a good performance against Makhachev this weekend.
The 24-year-old Dagestani fighter’s win over Leo Kuntz was a nice start to his UFC career, but Wade’s handful of Octagon wins are hard to ignore. Even though Makhachev may be better than anyone the New York-based fighter has beaten thus far, Wade feels like a guy who’s going to make some noise in the lightweight division for quite some time. He won’t become a contender, but he could easily have a career that mirrors the career of fellow main-card fighter Evan Dunham. This means he should take out anyone that isn’t a serious threat in the division, and Makhachev isn’t that guy.
Wade wins by decision.
Huntemann: I feel like we’re starting to see a resurgence of fighters from the region of Russia/eastern Europe and the surrounding countries. Obviously, we had legend Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic from Croatia. Now, we have Russian star Khabib Nurmagomedov, who has all the tools to be a champion. His fellow Russian, Khabilov, got by Wade and is in the midst of a three-fight winning streak. Khabilov has been in the Octagon with fighters like Benson Henderson, Jorge Masvidal and Yancy Medeiros, so he was definitely proven. He was a good test for Wade at the time, and Makhachev is a good test for Wade now.
Makhachev suffered his first pro loss in his last fight, in the first round against Adriano Martins. Both Makhachev and Wade have received their first taste of adversity in the UFC. How will they respond? I expect Makhachev to give Wade all he can handle, but Wade will weather the storm and outwork Makhachev for a hard-fought victory.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Huntemann: The preliminary card bout between Augusto Montaño and Belal Muhammad could be a coming-out party for either guy, but particularly for Muhammad.
Though Muhammad lost his UFC debut earlier this year to Alan Jouban and suffered his first professional loss in the process, he entered the fight as the undefeated reigning Titan FC welterweight champion. He even knocked out veteran Steve Carl to win the belt, and Carl himself was a former champion in the WSOF.
Montaño had his six-fight, three-year winning streak snapped in his last fight, a loss to the since-retired Cathal Pendred in 2015. It’s a safe bet that he, too, has a bad taste in his mouth coming into this fight. Both men probably want to put on a good showing to redeem themselves, and this could translate into an entertaining fight for the fans.
Carey: The opening bout of the night’s main card between Chas Skelly and Maximo Blanco is a hell of a scrap.
Skelly just suffered a minor setback against Darren Elkins, one of the featherweight division’s premier grinders, earlier this year. Before the loss, Skelly was on a four-fight winning streak and had taken out a few of the exciting under-the-radar guys from the 145-pound division. Now he looks to get back on track against Blanco, who’s had an up-and-down UFC career.
Blanco usually brings the heat and makes his fights worth watching at the very least. On a night with a lack of big names, this is actually one of my most anticipated fights on the card. It should be a good one.
Pair this card with…
Carey: A day full of college football! I can’t be the only one who’s ecstatic to have something to do every Saturday before fight time rolls around, and there are a couple of big-time match-ups this weekend. One in particular to watch: third-ranked Florida State has to walk into Louisville’s house and try to slow down quarterback Lamar Jackson, who’s scored a ridiculous 13 touchdowns in two games. Good luck with that.
Huntemann: College football? This is MMA, son! That said, this card will likely find its way onto my DVR while I enjoy the game between Michigan State and Notre Dame on Saturday night (go Irish!).
Oh yeah, we need to pair this card with something. How about some 5-Hour Energy, or maybe even a Red Bull? Many of the fights on this card feature fighters from the UFC’s lighter weight classes, which means there is ample opportunity for fireworks and exciting performances. You’ll need to keep up with all the action and not fade as yet another late night of watching fights goes by, so an energy drink will come in most handy, methinks.
Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 10 p.m. ET)
LW: Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Johnson
MW: Uriah Hall vs. Derek Brunson
LW: Evan Dunham vs. Rick Glenn
WW: Roan Carneiro vs. Kenny Robertson
LW: Chris Wade vs. Islam Makhachev
FW: Chas Skelly vs. Maximo Blanco
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
FW: Sam Sicilia vs. Gabriel Benitez
WW: Augusto Montaño vs. Belal Muhammad
BW: Joey Gomez vs. Jose Alberto Quiñones
MW: Antônio Carlos Júnior vs. Leonardo Guimarães
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 7 p.m. ET)
WW: Randy Brown vs. Erick Montaño
BW: Albert Morales vs. Alejandro Perez
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