In the wise words of Timon the Meerkat in our childhood favorite film The Lion King, “You’ve got to put the past behind you.” This is exactly what MMA fans are doing now that the dust has settled on the aftermath of UFC 229. It stands without question why it was such an unforgettable moment in MMA history, but for all the wrong reasons. The UFC hopes to give fans what they are looking for when UFC Fight Night 138 rolls around on Saturday in Canada.
The main event features two rising light heavyweight contenders looking to cement their place in the division and lock down a chance to capture UFC gold. Anthony “Lionheart” Smith takes on Volkan “No Time” Oezdemir in a fight that fans need right now. Both men are on the rise. Oezdemir is coming off a failed title bid, while Smith has been busy taking out two former champions. It’s a fight that could easily propel Oezdemir back into the title picture or could allow Smith to emerge as a true force within the division.
The co-headliner, which has its ties to the UFC 229 brawl, originally was set to feature Conor McGregor teammate Artem Lobov against Khabib Nurmagomedov teammate Zubaira Tukhugov. After the brawl, Tukhugov was removed from the bout and Michael Johnson was pegged as his short-notice replacement. It’s a tough fight for both men, who will seek to show why they belong in the sharktank known as the UFC’s featherweight division.
UFC Fight Night 138 kicks off with the preliminary card at 6:30 p.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass, followed by the remaining prelims at 8 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 2. The main card kicks off at 10 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1. Combat Press writers Matt Petela and Matt Quiggins break down the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Anthony Smith has really broken out since moving up to the light heavyweight division. Does he continue his run when he meets Volkan Oezdemir? Is Smith capable of becoming a contender at 205 pounds?
Petela: I don’t put much stock in Smith’s fights against Rashad Evans and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Both guys are well past their prime and should have hung up the gloves before stepping into the Octagon with Smith. Oezdemir is far and away the best fighter Smith will square off against, and “No Time” will send “Lionheart” back down the light-heavyweight ladder.
This is a better division for Smith than middleweight, though. He looks stronger and healthier without having to drop the extra 20 pounds. With Daniel Cormier about to be stripped and Jon Jones squaring off against Alexander Gustafsson to crown a new champion, Smith can become a mainstay in the top five of the weight class. Right now, however, Oezdemir will prove to be too much and put Smith away before the final bell.
Quiggins: I would like to hope so. The light heavyweight division is in need of fresh faces that could potentially challenge for the title and have relevance in the division. The Jones/Gustafsson II fight is for the title, but it’s time for new blood to come forward.
Oezdemir and Smith both have the skills to do so, but there is just something about the quiet storm that Smith brings into his bouts. He has finished two former light heavyweight champions — both by first-round knockout, no less. My colleague may argue that Rua and Evans are past their prime, but it’s an impressive feat nonetheless. Smith has the personality the division needs and the channelled aggression to make for exciting fights. If he can keep Oezdemir from landing a vicious knockout punch, then he’ll score the second-round knockout and move on to fight for the title within his next two bouts.
The fallout of the post-fight brawl between the camps of Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor lands squarely on the co-headliner of this card, where the UFC opted to pull Nurmagomedov’s teammate, Zubaira Tukhugov, from his bout with McGregor ally Artem Lobov. Now, Lobov is set to meet Michael Johnson instead. Did the UFC’s move help or harm Lobov’s chances of victory?
Quiggins: It’s hard to believe that the night we all should remember for Nurmagomedov’s submission of McGregor will always be shadowed by the post-fight brawl. The aftermath created a last-minute opponent change for McGregor’s teammate Lobov.
On paper, Lobov and Johnson have less-than-stellar records as of late. Johnson holds a dismal 2-5 mark in his last seven bouts, while Lobov sports a 3-4 record over the same number of recent appearances.
The opponent change will both help and hurt Lobov. There will not be all the extra animosity stemming from the post-fight brawl and chance of it happening again. However, Johnson is hungry to get back-to-back wins for the first time since 2014 and will likely feel he has something to prove. This will drive Johnson to a decision victory over Lobov.
Petela: Lobov might be the highest-profile non-contender in UFC history, outside of CM Punk. Unlike Punk, Lobov has some real talent and the ability to string a few wins together at featherweight. The brawl certainly drew more attention to Lobov’s upcoming fight, but there is less pressure on him now that he is not being asked to even the score between Team Nurmagomedov and Team McGregor.
Johnson is starting to remind me more and more of Marcus Dupree, the subject of ESPN’s The Best That Never Was. Since knocking out Dustin Poirier in 2016, Johnson has looked lackluster at best. He was molly-whopped by Nurmagomedov and submitted by the seemingly indestructible Darren Elkins. Even in his controversial victory over Andre Fili, Johnson was unimpressive. It seems like he is more hype than hope.
Lobov will be able to put the final nail in the coffin of Johnson’s UFC career.
Jonathan Martinez, Chris Fishgold, Don Madge and Te Edwards — do we need to know these names?
Petela: I’ve been waiting to see Fishgold make his UFC debut since the UFC announced his signing earlier this year. He’s been choking people to sleep in Europe for years, and it’s about time the UFC gives him a chance to show off his skills on the world’s largest stage. Fishgold is getting thrown straight into the deep end against Calvin Kattar, who, outside of his recent loss to Renato Moicano, has looked like a world-beater and was on a 10-fight winning streak. This fight has all the makings for a “Fight of the Night,” and, win or lose, both guys could see their stock and popularity rise.
Cage Warriors has produced some of the best talent the UFC has ever seen, including Michael Bisping, Dan Hardy, Gegard Mousasi and some guy named Conor McGregor. Fishgold is talented enough to one day be mentioned in the same conversation as those former Cage Warriors champions who became legends in the UFC.
Edwards is another guy who we should have a close eye on. He burst onto the scene with a 28-second knockout of Austin Tweedy on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, and he gets the call to the big show in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. He trains out of the MMA Lab in Arizona with John Crouch, one of the best coaches on the planet. Edwards has dynamite in his hands, but he got into MMA after a lifetime of wrestling. Expect him to show off a variety of skills against Don Madge.
Quiggins: It’s not often that you see a fighter who has fought his entire professional career in just one organization. This is exactly what Don Madge has done. All 11 of his fights have come under the EFC Africa and EFC Worldwide banner. Madge is currently on a four-fight winning streak. He attempts to finish the fight anywhere it goes. He’s only gone to the judges twice, where he has been handed a loss and a draw. Madge started his career in 2011. Seven years later, he’s only got those 11 fights to his name. He’s coming into one of the deepest and most competitive divisions in the business, and his fight against Edwards will show if he is ready to compete outside of South Africa’s top promotion.
Edwards, like his opponent, is not a fan of the judges. He currently boasts a 6-1 record, with six first-round knockouts, including some that have come in less than a minute. His only blemish came in 2014. Edwards comes in with experience fighting for Bellator, the Resurrection Fighting Alliance, WFF, Tachi Palace Fights and Shogun Fights. He has the experience needed to make it in the division, and he will be an exciting fighter to watch grow.
I don’t know how fans would feel about this, but Fishgold’s nickname should be “The Liverpool Strangler.” He has been victorious in 17 of his 19 bouts, and he has submitted 12 of his opponents. In addition, a total of 10 of those submissions came in the opening frame. His addition to the lightweight division will show if the level of competition he has been taking on over the pond is anywhere near what it will be in the UFC.
It’s been over a year since Martinez stepped inside the cage. It’s going to be a tough return for him when he takes on Andre Soukhamthath. Martinez is a young and hungry fighter whose only loss came due to an illegal knee. He has knockout wins in almost every round, a sign that he can still be dangerous until the final bell.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Quiggins: Gian Villante and Ed Herman.
Both men have a kill-or-be-killed mentality. They will be looking to steal the show from the main event, especially given that they are each coming off a decision loss in their last bout. Villante should snag this one with a second-round finish.
Petela: Stevie Ray is one of my favorite fighters to watch. Win or lose, I am never bored when he throws down. The best example was his fight in April 2017 against Joe Lauzon. Lauzon put a hellacious beating on Ray in the first round, but Ray was able to come back and make the fight ultra-competitive en route to a majority-decision victory.
Ray’s fight with Jessin Ayari will be a fight the fans talk about after the event, even though it takes place on the early prelims.
Pair this card with…
Petela: I expect to see some good old-fashioned, gritty, slobberknockers on this card, which is why I’ll be pairing it with the grittiest beer on the planet, Pabst Blue Ribbon. Nothing says let’s watch two men or women stand in front of each other in a battle of will like PBR. From the Fight Pass prelims through the main event, this is what we’ll see from this fight card.
Quiggins: Proper Twelve. (I’m kidding of course.) Pair this card with a Pumking,an imperial ale from New York’s Southern Tier Brewing Company. It is Halloween and all. Seriously, this beer, particularly the Rum Barrel-Aged version, packs a serious punch. This is exactly what I expect from this card. The main event features two knockout artists, and hopefully the prospects fighting for their places in the UFC hierarchy will follow suit.
Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 10 p.m. ET)
LHW: Volkan Oezdemir vs. Anthony Smith
FW: Artem Lobov vs. Michael Johnson
LHW: Misha Cirkunov vs. Patrick Cummins
BW: Andre Soukhamthath vs. Jonathan Martinez
LHW: Gian Villante vs. Ed Herman
WW: Court McGee vs. Alex Garcia
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 2, 8 p.m. ET)
WW: Nordine Taleb vs. Sean Strickland
LW: Nasrat Haqparast vs. Thibault Gouti
FW: Calvin Kattar vs. Chris Fishgold
Women’s BW: Sarah Moras vs. Talita Bernardo
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 p.m. ET)
LW: Don Madge vs. Te Edwards
HW: Arjan Bhullar vs. Marcelo Golm
LW: Stevie Ray vs. Jessin Ayari
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