Johnny Bedford has not dropped back-to-back bouts in more than five years. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The Ultimate Fighting Championship makes its return to the United Arab Emirates on Friday, when Abu Dhabi hosts UFC Fight Night 40.
The show will be broadcast in its entirety on UFC Fight Pass, highlighted by a heavyweight main event pitting onetime International Fight League champion Roy Nelson against former Pride Fighting Championships titlist Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
The main draw kicks off at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT, with the preliminary portion of the bill beginning at 11:30 a.m. ET/8:30 a.m. PT. Here are five reasons to hunch over your work computer and catch the undercard:
I feel like Johnny Bedford is a much better fighter than what he showed against Bryan Caraway.
Granted, Caraway is simply in a different class than an undersized Louis Gaudinot or Marcos Vinicius Borges Pancini -- both of which Bedford blasted in unceremonious fashion -- but I still did not feel like Bedford performed up to his abilities.
When Bedford is at his best, he is a pure finisher, a lanky bantamweight who can emphatically end a fight with just a strike or two. He puts his combinations together well and mixes up his techniques, and when he has a man hurt, he measures him with efficient offense instead of running in hog-wild like a little kid hauling tail down the stairs on Christmas morning.
Bedford will now face Rani Yahya, a jiu-jitsu ace who presents many of the same challenges that Caraway did. If Bedford allows him to, Yahya will absolutely grind on him, put him on his back and try to drown him with his technical and decorated ground game. By contrast, if Beford can keep this one standing, he has an excellent shot of catching Yahya on the chin, particularly in rounds two and three. The question: Can Bedford keep Yahya where he wants him?
RANI ON THE REBOUND
After a three-year stint at featherweight, Yahya will return to the bantamweight division for his meeting with Bedford.
Yahya has competed at both 145 and 135 pounds throughout the second half of his career, but I am pretty surprised to see the Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championship gold medalist return to bantamweight considering the success he found in his last six fights in the heavier division.
True, his most recent outing against Finnish veteran Tom Niinimaki resulted in a split decision defeat, but prior to that setback, Yahya had gone 4-1. During that span, the submission specialist scored victories over former World Extreme Cagefighting king Mike Thomas Brown, Josh Grispi, Mizuto Hirota and Josh Clopton. The only blemish in that five-fight stretch came courtesy of ex-UFC title contender Chad Mendes -- the man long regarded as the world’s second-best featherweight.
Yahya will now cut to 135 pounds for the first time since April 2010, when he was outpointed by Takeya Mizugaki at WEC 48. Will the Brazilian be able to ground Bedford and kick off his bantamweight return on a high note?
WELL, IT’S ‘THE BIG SHOW’
Like Bedford, I think that Jared Rosholt did not show his best stuff in his last outing.
The younger brother of UFC alumnus Jake Rosholt and a former NCAA Division I wrestling finalist, “The Big Show” began his career with four straight wins before suffering a second-round knockout under the Legacy Fighting Championship banner. Rosholt rebounded from the defeat, however, notching four more victories before making his UFC debut opposite Walt Harris in November.
Though his inaugural Octagon effort resulted in a victory, it was also anything but a perfect performance, with Rosholt grinding out the fight’s final minutes in top control after a competitive opening two rounds.
Perhaps going 15 hard minutes in his UFC debut will serve Rosholt far better than a quick, decisive victory would have. I, for one, am curious to see just how the big man has improved his game over the last four months. He will have the opportunity to showcase his abilities when he takes on surging Polish talent Daniel Omielanczuk.
CAMOZZI VS. CRAIG
Sometimes, one can find simple joy in a fight with absolutely no larger divisional implications. Such is the case with Chris Camozzi and Andrew Craig.
There is little to discuss here from a technical standpoint. Camozzi is likely the tighter striker of the two, but both competitors are as durable as they come. Neither man can afford a loss right now, but I doubt that such a factor would affect either fighter’s performance. Both middleweights have made a name from bringing it hard and going out on their shield when necessary.
If the combat gods are not unusually cruel, this one, by all accounts, should amount to a donnybrook. I do not know which of these two will come out on top, but I do know you should watch.
Thales Leites is another middleweight to keep an eye on.
While the Brazilian has not been as exciting as either Craig or Camozzi of late, his ceiling is probably much higher. Additionally, Leites has posted eight wins in his last nine outings, two of which came in his return to the UFC.
Leites positionally dominated both Tom Watson and Ed Herman, and I think the 32-year-old can do the same to plenty of UFC middleweights. To that end, I would not be surprised if the Brazilian made another run at the top 10 in the next year.
Of course, Leites will first need to get by Trevor Smith, an unorthodox Strikeforce veteran who has never seen a scramble he did not like. Can Leites put “Hot Sauce” on his back and hold him there? If so, he will almost surely be the owner of a three-fight Octagon winning streak.