The UFC returns to Sydney, Australia, on Saturday with a card that went from very interesting to a downright mash-up.
The headline fight was supposed to be a heavyweight affair between Aussie fan-favorite Mark Hunt and former M-1 champion Marcin Tybura. However, Hunt was pulled from the card about a month out due to medical reasons and former UFC heavyweight champ Fabricio Werdum has stepped in as a replacement. In addition, Jesse Taylor was supposed to fight Belal Muhammad, until The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption winner popped positive for banned substances and was replaced by Tim Means. Another main-card bout was to feature former TUF contestants Bec Rawlings and Joanne Calderwood, but Calderwood pulled out last week, leading to the promotional debut of Jessy “Jess” Rose-Clark. Those are now the last three fights on the main card.
Werdum is coming off a submission of Walt Harris last month to return to the win column. He badly needs a win over the eighth-ranked Tybura to get back in any sort of title hunt. Tybura, on the other hand, went from facing the No. 5 heavyweight to the No. 2 heavyweight, which means a win over Werdum could lead directly to a title shot. This is a pivotal match-up for both big men.
Rose-Clark got handed a pretty sweet gift when the 7-4-1 Aussie fighter drew the replacement to take on Rawlings. Rawlings has had a rough stretch over the last four and a half years, going 3-5, and she enters the cage on a two-fight losing streak. Jessy “Jess” may be making her Octagon debut, but she’s facing the rare unranked fighter who also carries a name, so it is a good entry into the promotion.
The other aforementioned replacement fight carries a tough load for Muhammad, who takes on the incredibly nasty Means. Means is coming off a controversial decision win over Alex Garcia. It was a change of pace for Means after coming up short in back-to-back fights against Alex Oliveira. Muhammad has picked up two decisions in a row. Both fighters are badly in need of a statement win to remain relevant in a super-stacked UFC welterweight division.
Rounding out the main card, there are a clash between welterweights Jake Matthews and Bojan Velickovic, a middleweight showdown between Canadian Elias Theodorou and Aussie judoka Dan Kelly, and, finally, Alexander Volkanovski’s battle with UFC debutante Shane Young.
The action kicks off with three preliminary-card bouts on UFC Fight Pass at 6:30 p.m. ET. From there, it’s off to Fox Sports 1 for the four remaining prelim affairs at 8 p.m. ET. The action will stay on Fox Sports 1 at 10 p.m. ET for the main card. Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Dan Kuhl preview the event in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Marcin Tybura enters the heavyweight headliner on the heels of a victory over Andrei Arlovski. Can he keep the train rolling against Fabricio Werdum?
Huntemann: I’m not going to lie. I was pretty disappointed that Mark Hunt was pulled from this fight with Tybura. I understand that it was done in the best interest of Hunt’s long-term health, and I completely support that. However, any time Hunt headlines an FS1 fight card, a highlight-worthy performance is basically guaranteed. Just ask Roy Nelson, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, Frank Mir or Derrick Lewis.
Tybura has won three fights in a row, including two by knockout. But he faces a significant upgrade in competition against Werdum, who’s fought some of the best heavyweights in the world recently. Even though his last opponent, Walt Harris, was a last-minute replacement, Werdum finished him quickly and showed he should still be considered as one of the top title contenders.
Only three of Tybura’s 16 career wins have gone the distance, so he’s definitely a dangerous opponent that Werdum should not take lightly. However, besides his loss to UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, Werdum seems to do a good job avoiding dangerous strikers who are hunting for a finish. Werdum’s experience and varied skill set in striking and jiu-jitsu will come into play here.
Werdum suckers Tybura in and clamps on a submission for the win. In the process, he puts himself back into the title conversation.
Kuhl: Tybura has a chance to make a big impact this weekend.
Ever since Werdum lost his title, I don’t have that much faith in his No. 2 status. Tybura was already set to fight Hunt, another top-five opponent, in what was sure to be a dynamite fight. However, with Werdum sitting in second place, this is a huge opportunity for the Polish fighter to prove that he belongs in the upper echelon, and a win will surely get him a title fight.
Tybura has extremely heavy hands. While Werdum may have the upper hand in the ground game, Tybura isn’t likely to let it get there. Werdum can be knocked out, and that’s what will happen somewhere before the middle of the second round.
While it might not hold co-headlining status, the middleweight scrap between Elias Theodorou and Daniel Kelly is perhaps the second most contender-relevant fight on the main card. Theodorou has just two losses, and they came against borderline top-15 guys Thiago Santos and Brad Tavares. Kelly, meanwhile, has only lost to Sam Alvey and the UFC’s No. 7 middleweight, Derek Brunson. Can either of these men use a victory here as a launchpad into the rankings at 185 pounds?
Kuhl: A win for either of these guys, especially a dominant win, could boost the victor into the UFC’s top 15. This is especially true since there are some guys in there that could easily fall out, like Lyoto Machida, Uriah Hall or Krzysztof Jotko. There’s also Paulo Borrachinha. The Brazilian is undefeated, but the only big name he has fought is Johny Hendricks, and beating today’s Hendricks is nothing to write home about. Technically, Theodorou or Kelly could easily have taken that spot, but I understand the politics behind it.
Kelly is 40 years old, a four-time Olympic judoka, and, as mentioned in the question, has only lost to a couple of top-tier knockout artists. The real problem for Kelly will be Father Time. He needs a win over Theodorou or he will likely never be ranked. He can do it, but his Canadian counterpart is no pushover.
At 29 years old, Theodorou has nothing but time on his hands — and those are some dangerous hands. If he’s not going the distance, he’s knocking people out. His two losses were marathons against the aforementioned Tavares and Santos. The biggest problem for him is that he doesn’t hold many high-profile wins. He needs to make a dominant statement in this fight. A win over Kelly might not give Theodorou a top-15 spot, but it will get him within one fight of divisional relevance, which is all he can ask for at this point.
It’s really hard to picture this one ending in a finish, unless someone gets a flash knockout or Kelly can land a submission. Both of these guys will try to make it the distance, and while Kelly holds the hometown advantage, Theodorou will likely generate the higher output en route to a unanimous decision.
Huntemann: I’ve been a fan of Kelly for a while, ever since his comeback win against Antonio Carlos Junior last year. I also want to state, for the record, that I accurately predicted Kelly’s wins over Chris Camozzi and Rashad Evans. It’s easy to dismiss Kelly, because he looks like the dad you see doing his grocery shopping on a Saturday morning, as many good fathers do. But even though Kelly has the “dad bod” look down to a fine art, his nickname isn’t “Judo Dan” for nothing. He’s only lost two fights in his career for a reason.
Theodorou is an equally likeable fellow. If you don’t follow him on Twitter, you should. He’s funny, affable, down-to-earth and puts the annoying “MMA Fan” trolls in their place without being nasty. And yeah, Theodorou can fight, too.
This is going to be a pleasant fight to watch. Of the two fighters, Kelly is more likely to see a breakthrough to the top 15 at middleweight with a win. He has already shown he can beat good fighters in Carlos Junior, Camozzi and Evans (even if Evans clearly isn’t the “Suga” Rashad we all remember and love). Kelly was violently knocked out by Brunson in his last fight, but that’s not really surprising, because Brunson can do that to almost anyone.
Theodorou has enjoyed a solid UFC career, and his hair is truly #LifeGoals for all of us, especially me. However, it seems like he just can’t get over the hump. It’s been more than two years since he last won a fight via a finish. All that said, however, Theodorou will win. As my esteemed colleague already stated, he is the younger fighter and has speed, quickness and athleticism on his side. Kelly will use all his veteran savvy and give Theodorou all he can handle, but Theodorou will pull this one out.
Jessy “Jess” Rose-Clark, Tai Tuivasa, Nadia Kassem and Adam Wieczorek — do we need to know these names?
Huntemann: Tuivasa is undefeated in his five-fight professional career, with all five of those wins coming by way of first-round knockout. So, you know what? Let’s go with him. Tuivasa’s opponent, Rashad Coulter, was knocked out in his UFC debut by fan-favorite Chase Sherman, in a fight where Coulter only landed 36 strikes to Sherman’s 103. If Coulter starts slow again in this fight, he might have traveled all the way to Australia just to be yet another first-round knockout for Tuivasa.
Kuhl: Keep an eye on Kassem, for sure. The Aussie has been successful as both a flyweight and a strawweight. She’s gone undefeated, all by stoppages, through her combined pro and ammy careers. She’s a versatile fighter who can cover both divisions, which is a huge benefit. Expect the 21-year-old Australian Top Team prospect to have a bright future.
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 the evening’s headliner, Marcin Tybura. Wieczorek has a fellow beast of an opponent in Hamilton. This will be fun to watch.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Kuhl: How about the lightweight match-up between recent UFC welterweight and former Pacific X-treme Combat lightweight champ Frank Camacho and former BRACE lightweight titleholder Damien Brown?
Camacho has destructive hands. Brown can win anywhere. Camacho is 0-1 in the UFC. Brown is coming off a knockout loss to Vinc Pichel. Both men are desperate to make a name for themselves, and that usually makes for a great fight. It only helps that they both bring it and don’t typically leave the outcome to the judges.
Huntemann: Let’s go with the prelim fight between Nik Lentz and Will Brooks.
These two men were supposed to square off a couple months ago, but Lentz had to pull out after being hospitalized during his weight cut. Brooks has been a disappointment, frankly, in the UFC after being a dominant champion in Bellator MMA. A third consecutive loss might make Brooks pine for the warm embrace of Scott Coker once again.
If Brooks wants to stay in the UFC, he probably has to lay it all on the line in this fight. Lentz is all too eager to engage in fun scraps, which is what Brooks will probably have to do to keep his UFC career going. So, we might end up benefiting from the former Bellator champion’s desperation.
Pair this card with…
Huntemann: Your favorite Mark Hunt t-shirt. You should want to show your solidarity with him, as he was none too pleased at being removed from this card. I mean, come on. We all wanted to see Hunt and Marcin Tybura throw down, right?
Kuhl: I’m going with curry lobster. Only because I’ve never had it before, and, until now, I’ve never seen some of these combatants fight before. Both should be highly entertaining, nonetheless.
Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 10 p.m. ET)
HW: Fabricio Werdum vs. Marcin Tybura
Women’s FlyW: Bec Rawlings vs. Jessy “Jess” Rose-Clark
WW: Tim Means vs. Belal Muhammad
WW: Jake Matthews vs. Bojan Velickovic
MW: Elias Theodorou vs. Daniel Kelly
FW: Alexander Volkanovski vs. Shane Young
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
FlyW: Ryan Benoit vs. Ashkan Mokhtarian
LW: Will Brooks vs. Nik Lentz
HW: Anthony Hamilton vs. Adam Wieczorek
LW: Damien Brown vs. Frank Camacho
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 p.m. ET)
Women’s StrawW: Alex Chambers vs. Nadia Kassem
FlyW: Eric Shelton vs. Jenel Lausa
HW: Tai Tuivasa vs. Rashad Coulter
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