Luke Barnatt has finished four of his last five opponents. | Photo: David Lethaby/Sherdog.com
Just one week removed from a trip to China, the Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday will once again touch down in London for UFC Fight Night 38.
Headlined by a pivotal light heavyweight clash between former title contender Alexander Gustafsson and hard-hitting Brit Jimi Manuwa, the event takes place at the O2 Arena and airs live on UFC Fight Pass at 12:30 p.m. ET/9:30 a.m. PT.
Here are five reasons to stay indoors and catch the UFC Fight Night 38 undercard:
WELL, IT’S THE ‘BIGSLOW’
Luke Barnatt is a work in progress, to be certain, but he is also a prospect worth your time as a fight fan.
The lanky middleweight’s nickname of “Bigslow” could not be more appropriate, but his methodical in-cage approach has nevertheless netted him seven consecutive victories and five finishes, the last of which came at the expense of a tough customer in Andrew Craig.
Craig is not the fastest, strongest or most skilled guy on the UFC middleweight roster, but he is solid everywhere. Most importantly, he will not beat himself. He can be outclassed or knocked out, but you are not going to break him mentally. This is why Barnatt’s win so impressed me.
Sure, the big Brit is still learning how to use his massive reach most effectively; and yes, he celebrated a bit prematurely when he had Craig hurt the first time and nearly gave the American the window he needed to turn the tables, but it would be a mistake to sweep Barnatt’s final, violent flurry under the rug. Craig had never before been stopped, and that is exactly what Barnatt accomplished, hurting the ex-Legacy Fighting Championship titleholder in the standup before taking his back and forcing Craig to submit to a rear-naked choke.
The bottom line: Barnatt is a dangerous young man when he plays to his strengths. I would like to see him collect another “statement win” against Swedish talent Mats Nilsson. If Barnatt wins decisively, I think bigger fights should come his way in 2014.
RETURN OF THE ‘SNAKE’
It has been a more than a year since Cyrille Diabate was forced to retire against Manuwa due to a calf injury. How will the veteran perform when he steps back into the Octagon against Ilir Latifi?
A long and dangerous striker, Diabate has made a career out of beating up people from a vertical position. Personally, I thought the Frenchman would fare better against Manuwa than the bookmakers suggested, but the Brit proved to be the clear aggressor in their UFC on Fuel TV 7 scrap last year.
Still, I have to wonder what would have happened had Diabate not suffered the calf injury. Manuwa is most effective -- as most power punches are -- when he is fresh. Regardless, Manuwa deserved the victory, and Diabate must now shift his focus toward a stocky Swede in Latifi.
Presumably back to full strength and healthy, Diabate should walk into the cage as the favorite against “The Sledgehammer.” Can the 40-year-old pick apart his burly foe from the outside or will Latifi find a way to rough him up from close quarters and on the mat?
‘STUNNING’ OR SUSPECT
Roland Delorme is a tough one to peg at 135 pounds.
“The Ultimate Fighter 14” alum’s attractive qualities are obvious. His aggression and capable ground game have carried him to a 3-1 record in his Octagon career, though an additional knockout defeat to the hard-punching Francisco Rivera was later changed to a no-contest after “Cisco” failed his post-fight drug test.
Delorme loves to advance position and hunt for submissions -- an approach that is always appreciated by those of us on the couch.
However, the jury is still out on whether the jiu-jitsu and judo practitioner can round out his game and become a contender in the ultra-tough UFC bantamweight division. Now entering the cage for the first time since his September decision loss to Alex Caceres, the Canadian will look to right his ship at the expense of Davey Grant.
During his stint on “The Ultimate Fighter 18” Grant looked like a straight killer. Then came the live finale.
Yes, much credit should be given to Chris Holdsworth for putting forth a superior effort and taking the fight to the “Team Rousey” ace, but something just did not look right with the Englishman that night. Unlike Holdsworth, we only got to see Grant compete twice on the show before his appearance at the live finale, as Anthony Gutierrez failed to make weight in the semifinal round. Holdsworth may truly be that much better than the Brit, but my gut tells me otherwise.
The good news: Grant has been given a second chance. I believe his showdown with the seasoned Delorme will tell us much about what the 28-year-old intends to accomplish as a UFC bantamweight.
Cue my mandatory gushing over the flyweight division.
I just cannot help myself these days, and I would be lying to you if I expressed anything other than pure delight about Louis Gaudinot facing Phil Harris. Both of these 125-pounders have plenty of questions to answer regarding whether they can perform consistently in the UFC flyweight division, especially considering both currently own Octagon records of 1-2.
Gaudinot has struggled against larger opponents, first falling to “The Ultimate Fighter 14” bantamweight castmate Johnny Bedford and then succumbing to Tim Elliott in his last fight. Conversely, Harris most recently came up short against the heavy hitter that Gaudinot defeated in his lone UFC victory: John Lineker.
“Billy” will not have to worry about Gaudinot’s punching power coming anywhere near that of Lineker’s but the green-haired New Yorker is certainly capable of out-scrambling the Brit and catching him in bad spots on the canvas, as Darren Uyenoyama did in Harris’ 2012 UFC debut.
Which of these flyweights will get back in the win column?