Dustin Poirier (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC Fight Night 120 Preview and Predictions

It’s been nearly seven years since Anthony Pettis dazzled us all with his patented “Showtime” kick against Benson Henderson to close out WEC 53 in spectacular fashion.

It’s been more than three years since Dustin Poirier served as little more than cannon fodder for the tsunami of hype surrounding Conor McGregor.

Now, Pettis is nearly three years removed from his title reign in the UFC’s lightweight division. “Showtime” dropped the title and lost three in a row before shifting to featherweight for a two-fight stint that included a failed interim title bid against Max Holloway. Pettis has won one fight since his return to the lightweight division, but he’s a meager 2-4 over his last six fights and just 7-5 since that big day at WEC 53.


Meanwhile, Poirier has seen his stock rise since the loss to McGregor. He had been 8-2 going into the fight with the Irishman, and his UFC resume already included a victory over future champ Holloway. After McGregor, Poirier has gone on to accumulate five wins, a no-contest and just one defeat. He’s competed solely at lightweight for this stretch, and his list of victims includes Yancy Medeiros, Joseph Duffy, Bobby Green and Jim Miller. He fell against Michael Johnson and drew a no-contest call against Eddie Alvarez.

It would seem these men are headed in opposite directions, but momentum is a fickle thing. Can Pettis reverse course and make it back-to-back victories in his return to 155 pounds? Can Poirier finally take the scalp of another high-level opponent?

The UFC’s trip to Norfolk, Va., also includes a slew of very familiar names to anyone who has tuned into the promotion’s events over the last decade or more. Matt Brown meets Diego Sanchez at welterweight, heavyweight Andrei Arlovski returns to action against Junior Albini, Nate Marquardt fights fellow middleweight Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira, Joe Lauzon clashes with lightweight scrapper Clay Guida, and two interesting bantamweight affairs take place when Raphael Assunção meets Matthew Lopez on the main card and John Dodson locks horns with Marlon Moraes on the prelims.

The UFC Fight Night 120 preliminary card truly is loaded, too. Beyond Dodson and Moraes, fans will have the opportunity to enjoy a women’s strawweight affair featuring Tatiana Suarez and Viviane Pereira, as well as separate bouts featuring Angela Hill and Sage Northcutt.

The action kicks off at 6:30 p.m. ET with three fights on UFC Fight Pass. Then it’s off to cable television for four prelim bouts on Fox Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET. Finally, the main card gets underway at 10 p.m. ET, also on FS1. Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Bryan Henderson preview the event in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Dustin Poirier is 5-1 with one no-contest since moving to lightweight. Now, he draws Anthony “Showtime” Pettis, a former UFC lightweight champion who has limped to a 2-3 mark since losing his belt to Rafael dos Anjos. Will Poirier make a statement with a win here, or does Pettis get back on track?

Huntemann: Before Showtime’s last fight against Jim Miller, I’d have said that Poirier would probably cruise to a win pretty easily. Poirier has looked like a brand new fighter at lightweight. He hasn’t had to go through as brutal a weight cut, which has helped tremendously. Poirier has surged lately, and a win over Pettis should put him in the title conversation against his old rival, Conor McGregor.

However, Pettis really impressed against Miller, who is always a tough out. His striking looked crisp, he had good movement, and he had moments where he looked like the Pettis of old — you know, the guy who electrified everyone during his days in the old WEC and during his first run to the UFC lightweight title.

Pettis should stay at lightweight. He struggled with his weight when he competed at featherweight, and he just didn’t look good when he lost to Max Holloway late last year. While Pettis looked more like his old self in his last fight, he’s now facing the wrong fighter at the wrong time. Poirier’s powerful striking has helped him surge up the UFC lightweight rankings, and Pettis will serve as another step toward Poirier’s redemption.

Henderson: The 28-year-old Poirier is certainly climbing the ranks. He has a previous win over the aforementioned Holloway from several years ago, and he’s recently added some impressive showings against the likes of Carlos Diego Ferreira, Yancy Medeiros, Joseph Duffy and Bobby Green. Even he barely eked past Miller in their fight at UFC 208.

If he can implement his ferocious striking game, Poirier is difficult to beat. Ferreira, Medeiros and Green all succumbed to strikes against Poirier, who now has 10 knockouts of some form since making his pro debut in 2009. However, the concern comes when Poirier meets a striker who knows how to use range to his advantage. We saw this when he met McGregor, and it also came into play against Cub Swanson and Michael Johnson. Swanson decisioned Poirier, and McGregor and Johnson each finished him with strikes in the first round.

Remember that “Showtime” kick Pettis used against Benson Henderson? That took creativity, but it also came out of the Roufusport fighter’s excellent grasp of range. If he can find that same effective use of range against Poirier, this fight could definitely sway in his favor. However, this would require Pettis to be aggressive out of the gates, which hasn’t been his style lately.

The win over Miller was impressive, but it hardly signals the return of Pettis to championship form. His losses to dos Anjos, Eddie Alvarez and Edson Barboza are a much better measure of his ability to win fights right now in the lightweight division. This should be a very competitive scrap, but Pettis is going to fall again on the scorecards.

If you had to give UFC Fight Night 120 an extended name, what would it be?

Henderson: How about, “UFC Fight Night 120: Where Are They Now”?

We have a card that features a solid main event, but the supporting cast includes Matt Brown, Diego Sanchez, Andrei Arlovski, Nate Marquardt, Joe Lauzon, Clay Guida and Court McGee. Did we travel through a time warp here? Most of these guys have been mainstays in the UFC for the better part of a decade, and almost all of them are far from title contention.

The funny thing is, this card has a really solid foundation that just seems to be utilized in a funky way. The UFC is obviously giving more weight to the past than the future here. Bantamweights John Dodson and Marlon Moraes would make for a perfect co-headliner, but they’ve been relegated to the prelims. The same holds true for strawweights Tatiana Suarez and Viviane Pereira. Angela Hill also lands on the prelims. Sage Northcutt, too.

Big names draw, so this makes sense. However, it definitely gives this event a throwback feel. On a positive note, a majority of the prelims do air on Fox Sports 1 right alongside the main card, so even the casual fans won’t be left in the dark about Dodson, Moraes and the women’s strawweights.

Huntemann: This is an excellent question. I like Boss Man’s suggestion, too. “Where Are They Now” sounds quite apropos when you review this fight card. I’m going to play on that a little bit with my own suggestion: “UFC Fight Night: What Could Have Been.”

Let’s start with the main event. Pettis looked like one of the next all-time greats when he won the UFC lightweight title and was putting on electrifying performances against the likes of Donald Cerrone, Benson Henderson, Joe Lauzon and Gilbert Melendez. But since losing his belt to Rafael dos Anjos, he just hasn’t looked like the same guy. Now, it seems possible he will never achieve the success he once did.

The rest of the card is littered with names who, at one time or another, appeared pegged for great success. Brown. Sanchez. Arlovski. Marquardt. Raphael Assunção. Guida. Dodson. Moraes. For various reasons, none of these fighters have quite achieved that success.

Oh, what could have been.

Karl Roberson — do we need to know this name?

Huntemann: Roberson is probably a fine and talented fighter. Frankly, though, nothing on his resume really wows. Sure, he’s undefeated, and he gets top marks for that. Yeah, he knocked out a guy in 15 seconds on UFC President Dana White’s latest pet project. But how many of the guys on White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series show really seem like they are destined for great things? If they were, they wouldn’t need to perform in front of the UFC head in a glorified UFC Gym for table scraps.

I don’t mean to poo-poo Roberson so much, for the record. In all likelihood, he’s a swell guy and a talented fighter. However, he’s kicking off the UFC Fight Pass preliminary card against someone who actually seems like a much more intriguing fighter. Besides his awesome nickname — “The Dentist” — that someone, Darren Stewart, has finished five of his seven victories by knockout. If we need to know anyone’s name, I reckon it’s Stewart.

Henderson: I can’t say I completely agree. While Roberson might not ever achieve UFC championship status, his 15-second knockout victory on DWTNCS came against Ryan Spann. Spann is a tough veteran fighter who is well known to MMA fans that have tuned in to Legacy Fighting Championship and Legacy Fighting Alliance events. Spann’s three most recent losses before his fight with Roberson came against undefeated fighters Trevin Giles, Robert Drysdale and Leo Leite, and the Leite and Giles fights went the distance. To put that into perspective, Spann’s only recent losses came against a guy (Giles) who is now undefeated through one UFC outing, an elite grappler (Drysdale) whose own UFC career was only destroyed by his own insistence on using performance-enhancing drugs, and a two-division Legacy FC champ whose only career loss came to top-10 light heavyweight and UFC veteran Phil Davis.

So, let’s give Roberson some credit for his win over Spann. Now, what about the rest of his record? Well, he stopped his previous three opponents, who now sport a combined 18-9 mark, in the first round. His pro debut was his only fight to go the distance. That’s pretty impressive in my book.

This isn’t to say Roberson is going to run away with a victory in his UFC debut. He should engage Stewart in a blow-for-blow war on the feet until one of these 205-pounders drops. It really is a coin flip for who might land a knockout shot, but Roberson also sports a couple of submission victories and therefore has more routes to victory. The new guy will get the win here, and he should provide fans with plenty of fun fights during his UFC tenure.

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

Henderson: This one’s tough. I’m torn between the women’s strawweight scrap featuring Tatiana Suarez and Viviane Pereira and the bantamweight clash between John Dodson and Marlon Moraes. However, I see the potential for Suarez to grind her way to a shutout win over Pereira, who has already gone the distance twice in her UFC career. That leaves Dodson and Moraes to provide more fireworks than their female counterparts. And this is definitely something they can do.

Dodson displayed plenty of power as a flyweight, but he loses some of that edge by moving up 10 pounds to compete as a bantamweight. Still, he delivered a finish in his first fight back in the division when he stopped Manny Gamburyan. He lost a close fight against bantamweight contender John Lineker in his next fight, but he has since rebounded with a decision nod over Eddie Wineland. Dodson is a very quick and powerful fighter whose style can be very unorthodox.

Moraes, the former World Series of Fighting bantamweight titleholder, was on the wrong end of a split decision in his Octagon debut against Raphael Assunção, but the defeat served as the Brazilian’s first loss since 2011. Perhaps it was just a combination of the Octagon jitters and an extremely tough first opponent. Moraes knows how to throw heavy leather — he has eight career knockout victories and scored three knockouts in defense of his WSOF title. He also has an excellent grappling base that has led to five career submission victories.

These guys could stand and bang or scramble all day long. Regardless, they should provide a solid contender for the evening’s “Fight of the Night” award.

Huntemann: OK, can we have a new rule for these previews: You can only pick one fight for this question. This is the second time in a row I’ve had my choices bogarted by a fellow contributor because he just had to keep all the fights to himself. OK, rant over.

I’m going with the preliminary fight between Sage Northcutt and Michel Quiñones.

This is Northcutt’s last chance to show us there’s something actually special about him, besides his washboard abs and the fact he looks like a Ken doll. Can Northcutt actually fight? Or is he just a fitness model masquerading as a fighter?

Quiñones was knocked out in his UFC debut in June, but he won five in a row on the regional circuit before that. He has his five knockout wins on his resume, too.

It won’t be easy going for Northcutt, but he could come out and show us something, finally.

Pair this card with…

Huntemann: Since the theme of this fight card seems to be fighters who were notable names at one point — and perhaps still are — I get a heavy feeling of nostalgia the more I think about this event. So dig out your old “Members Only” jacket, find a pair of Air Jordans and pump them up, and put on your old Wham! Cassette. That’s right, kids. I said cassette. It was a thing, look it up. It’s all about reliving the good ol’ days.

Henderson: An effort to tune in to the prelims, even if you normally would not do so. As I said earlier, the UFC has a weird way of arranging the lineup for this card. While the main card definitely features plenty of big names, the prelims deliver the bigger opportunity for a glimpse into the not-so-distant future of the UFC’s bantamweight and women’s strawweight title pictures. With fighters like John Dodson, Marlon Moraes, Tatiana Suarez, Viviane Pereira and Angela Hill in action early in the evening, this is the rare prelim card that really, truly counts for something. Better yet, it’s all right there on Fox Sports 1, the same channel where you’ll find the main card.

Fight Picks

Fight Huntemann’s Pick Henderson’s Pick
Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 10 p.m. ET)
LW: Dustin Poirier vs. Anthony Pettis Poirier Poirier
WW: Matt Brown vs. Diego Sanchez Sanchez Sanchez
HW: Andrei Arlovski vs. Júnior Albini Albini Albini
MW: Nate Marquardt vs. Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira Marquardt Ferreira
BW: Raphael Assunção vs. Matthew Lopez Assunção Assunção
LW: Joe Lauzon vs. Clay Guida Lauzon Guida
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
BW: John Dodson vs. Marlon Moraes Moraes Dodson
Womens StrawW: Tatiana Suarez vs. Viviane Pereira Suarez Suarez
LW: Sage Northcutt vs. Michel Quiñones Quiñones Northcutt
Women’s StrawW: Angela Hill vs. Nina Ansaroff Hill Hill
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 p.m. ET)
WW: Sean Strickland vs. Court McGee McGee Strickland
LHW: Marcel Fortuna vs. Jake Collier Collier Collier
MW: Karl Roberson vs. Darren Stewart Stewart Roberson