Donald Cerrone (Rob Tatum/Combat Press)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC Fight Night 118 Preview and Predictions

The UFC’s expansion into international markets continues this weekend when the promotion brings yet another fight card to our friends across the pond in Europe. This time the location is Poland. Even though the UFC won’t be on American soil, it is bringing a bona fide piece of Americana to our Polish brethren with this fight card’s main event.

You could make the argument that Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone embodies the perception many people in other countries have of America. He wears a cowboy hat. His nickname is “Cowboy.” He partakes in such fun activities as windsurfing, jetskiing, mountain biking and the like. His beer of choice is Budweiser. Yessir, it’s difficult to find a more accurate representation of “MURICA” than Cerrone.

Cerrone is representing America in Poland against Darren Till, the undefeated Englishman who will undoubtedly have his toughest test to date. Although Cerrone has lost his last two fights, he’s still among the best the UFC has to offer. Cerrone is still dangerous and able to finish his opponents in a myriad of ways at any given time. Will Cerrone do America proud across the pond? Or will Till show he’s ready to compete with the elite in the UFC’s welterweight division?


The co-headliner represents a homecoming for Polish native Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Kowalkiewicz welcomes Jodie Esquibel to the UFC. This will be Esquibel’s UFC debut as a strawweight, after previously competing in Invicta FC as an atomweight and strawweight. Kowalkiewicz was submitted by perennial strawweight contender Claudia Gadelha in her last fight, so she’s likely looking to dispatch Esquibel quickly and immediately get back into the strawweight title conversation.

This fight card will be broadcast exclusively on UFC Fight Pass on Saturday, Oct. 21. The preliminary card begins at 11:30 a.m. ET, with the main card to follow at 3 p.m. ET. Until then, Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Dan Kuhl are here to get you ready for all the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Darren Till is still undefeated, and that includes a 3-0-1 run in the UFC. He is finally getting a significant step up in competition when he faces Donald Cerrone, who has lost his last two outings. Does Till make a statement, or does Cerrone get back on track?

Kuhl: Cerrone gets back on track.

Till, who primarily has a solid background in Muay Thai, may have had a successful start to his UFC career, but successful and impressive are two very different things. His best outing was arguably his majority draw against Nicolas Dalby, which earned both guys “Fight of the Night” honors, but that was his sole fight that he did not win. Cerrone is a huge step up in the ranks.

This is Donald Cerrone. This is the former Ring of Fire lightweight champ, four-time WEC/UFC lightweight contender, black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, black belt in Greg Jackson’s Gaidojitsu, and former Muay Thai champion. In fact, Cerrone has more UFC performance bonuses than Till has total fights. Cerrone is an icon of the sport.

That all being said, Till’s chances are not exactly zero. The 24-year-old will have a reach advantage. He doesn’t have nearly as many miles on his chassis, either, and while he is from England, he spent a few years in Brazil, training and fighting on the local circuits. Till is a solid striker who has spent half of his life as a kickboxer.

Yet, it’s still difficult to think that Till has any chance against Cerrone. Not only is Cerrone just as good as Till on the feet, if not better, but he is a far superior grappler. Cerrone will get his one to the ground for a submission before the end of the second round. Coming off two losses, the “Cowboy” will not let this one slip through the cracks.

Huntemann: I’m inclined to agree with my esteemed colleague.

While Cerrone appears to be starting the downswing of his career, he’s still the toughest challenge Till will have up to this point, by a healthy margin. The toll of all the entertaining wars Cerrone has bestowed upon us over the last few years are starting to catching up to “Cowboy.” Cerrone is 34 years old, so he ain’t exactly a young man anymore. The fire that he usually possesses hasn’t been there in his last couple of performances, but he has enough left in the tank to keep the young buck Till at bay.

Till has a very bright future, but it’s been two years since he last finished a fighter in the Octagon. Cerrone is a better fighter than that previous Till opponent, Wendell Oliveira. Could Till give Cerrone a competitive bout and make it go the distance? Absolutely, but let’s skip the technical nuance and breakdown for this fight — it’s not necessary. Cerrone is just a bridge wee bit too far for Till to cross.

Former atomweight standout Jodie Esquibel hasn’t yet found her groove as a strawweight. She lost on The Ultimate Fighter 23 and then went 1-1 at 115 pounds while fighting under the Invicta FC banner. In her Octagon debut, she’s seemingly getting thrown to the wolves against Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Is there anything in Esquibel’s game that suggests she’ll pull off the upset?

Huntemann: Am I the only one who thinks this fight is a significant step down for Kowalkiewicz? While she was submitted in the first round in her last fight against Claudia Gadelha, Kowalkiewicz did defeat the current No. 1 contender to the strawweight title, Rose Namajunas. Kowalkiewicz is also one of the two fighters who, however briefly, made champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk look beatable when they squared off at UFC 205 last year.

Now the third-ranked Kowalkiewicz is facing a UFC newcomer who used to fight at 105 pounds and who has a .500 record as a strawweight in Invicta FC. I mean no disrespect, of course, to Esquibel. She went the distance with highly touted prospect Alexa Grasso while competing in Invicta and defeated another tough fighter in Jinh Yu Frey. Esquibel obviously belongs in the cage.

It’s possible that the UFC just really wanted Kowalkiewicz to fight in her home country, and Esquibel was the only fighter willing to step up to the plate. If that’s the case, I applaud her. But much like Till, Esquibel may have just bitten off a little more than she can chew. Kowalkiewicz will defeat Esquibel rather soundly.

Kuhl: My colleague is not the only one to think this is a step down.

Again, that’s not a rip on Esquibel at all. It’s just really hard to see a recent strawweight title contender face a hit-or-miss promotional newcomer, who is only 1-1 as a strawweight, in a co-main event. Esquibel is gritty and has taken some tough fighters the distance, but Kowalkiewicz is taller, longer and has only lost to the champ and former top contender. This is not a good entry into the UFC for Esquibel, but, at the end of the day, she’s in and, in some cases, that’s all that matters.

The Jackson-Winkeljohn prospect will have problems on the feet, and she will likely have problems on the ground as well. However, she has every chance in the world to make it the distance, and that will be a victory in and of itself. Expect Kowalkiewicz to take this by unanimous decision.

Oskar Piechota, Nasrat Haqparast, Adam Wieczorek, Ramazan Emeev and Aspen Ladd — do we need to know these names?

Kuhl: It’s not every day that we can say this about UFC newcomers, but yes, straight across the board. Every single one of these prospects is worth keeping an eye on at this stage in their respective careers.

Piechota is a world and Polish grappling champion. He’s the former Cage Warriors middleweight champ, and he’s undefeated in his pro MMA career. This guy has finished every opponent by either submission or knockout. He has a solid build for a middleweight.

Haqparast is undefeated in the last five years. He only lost in his pro debut. Since then, the 22-year-old German fighter has knocked out all of his opponents, most in the first round. He faces 29-fight veteran Marcin Held, who is almost purely a grappler. This will be an interesting match-up.

Wieczorek is physically huge. The 6-foot-5 Polish heavyweight is undefeated in the last three years. He can win a fight anywhere it goes, and his only loss came against Marcin Tybura, the former M-1 champ who is now 3-1 in the UFC. Wieczorek has a fellow beast of an opponent in Anthony Hamilton.

Emeev is also a former M-1 champ who can win anywhere the fight goes. Not only does he have the toughest match-up against Sam Alvey, but he also has defeated some bigger names in the past, including Mario Miranda, Maiquel Falcão and Vyacheslav Vasilevsky.

Finally, there’s Ladd. She is probably the toughest to gauge in the bunch, primarily because she is also the most inexperienced. Granted, she is undefeated in her five pro fights, which were all in Invicta FC, and she beat the likes of The Ultimate Fighter alum Sijara Eubanks and Amanda Cooper, but it’s really too early to tell if she can make waves in the UFC.

Of the five fighters, I’m most closely watching Piechota, Haqparast and Emeev.

Huntemann: Gee, Dan. Why don’t you just snatch up the whole list for yourself?

Luckily, my colleague didn’t exactly hoard the one name people should keep an eye on: Ladd.

The women’s bantamweight division in the UFC is in dire need of some fresh blood. Amanda Nunes has already come close to cleaning out what is a pretty shallow group of fighters. Ladd shouldn’t immediately catapult to title contention, but she has the potential to become a contender down the line. Out of her five total pro fights, her last fight earlier this year in Invicta was the first one where she didn’t finish her opponent.

Ladd gets a good first test in Lina Länsberg, who is one of the brave few to have stepped into the Octagon with Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino and lived to tell about it. Ladd can be a breath of fresh air in what’s becoming a stagnant division. She’ll win her UFC debut.

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

Huntemann: I’m not sure there’s any other answer to this question than the bout between Artem Lobov and Andre Fili. These guys are among the two most entertaining fighters in the UFC that not many people talk about. Lobov won over many a fan with his performance against Cub Swanson earlier this year, and Fili has been involved in some memorable finishes, both good and bad. This fight can help make a Fight Pass-only card get off to an exciting start.

Kuhl: I’m really excited for the contest between Ramazan Emeev and Sam Alvey. Alvey is always exciting to watch, and Emeev is super tough with a fairly impressive background. This could easily be the “Fight of the Night.”

Pair this card with…

Kuhl: My grandma was Eastern European, and I grew up eating dumplings and sauerkraut, so that’s my go-to for events in that part of the world. Since this will likely be the last event in that neck of the woods for the remainder of this year, it’s time to bust out the old classics.

Huntemann: Since this fight card takes place in Poland, and no one enjoys a good stereotype more than me, I say you pair it with your favorite brunch dish. The card starts at 11:30 a.m. ET, so that’s still the brunching hour, yes? Just don’t forget the Polish sausage. See what I did there?

Fight Picks

Fight Kuhl’s Pick Huntemann’s Pick
Main Card (UFC Fight Pass, 3 p.m. ET)
WW: Donald Cerrone vs. Darren Till Cerrone Cerrone
Women’s StrawW: Kowalkiewicz vs. Esquibel Kowalkiewicz Kowalkiewicz
LHW: Jan Błachowicz vs. Devin Clark Błachowicz Clark
MW: Jonathan Wilson vs. Oskar Piechota Piechota Piechota
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 11:30 a.m. ET)
LW: Marcin Held vs. Nasrat Haqparast Held Haqparast
HW: Anthony Hamilton vs. Adam Wieczorek Wieczorek Hamilton
BW: Brian Kelleher vs. Damian Stasiak Kelleher Kelleher
MW: Ramazan Emeev vs. Sam Alvey Alvey Alvey
FW: Artem Lobov vs. Andre Fili Fili Fili
WW: Warlley Alves vs. Salim Touahri Alves Alves
BW: Josh Emmett vs. Felipe Arantes Emmett Emmett
Women’s BW: Aspen Ladd vs. Lina Länsberg Ladd Ladd