Khabib Nurmagomedov sports 14 finishes among his 21 victories. | Photo: Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com
Just three days removed from its last event, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, apparently hell bent on making us all tap to strikes with its sheer volume of programming, returns with UFC on Fox 11 on Saturday at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.
The main draw airs live on Fox’s premier network, highlighted by a heavyweight No. 1 contender’s bout pitting surging Jackson-Wink MMA rep Travis Browne against Pride Fighting Championships and Strikeforce alum Fabricio Werdum.
Just prior, Fox Sports 1 and UFC Fight Pass will handle the undercard, which will showcase several notable matchups, including a lightweight clash pitting Rafael dos Anjos against Khabib Nurmagomedov.
This pairing of top 155-pound talents is particularly crucial, even within a division in which parity is the rule rather than the exception. Dos Anjos will walk into the matchup riding a five-fight winning streak, during which he topped the likes of Evan Dunham, Mark Bocek and Donald Cerrone. In Nurmagomedov, the Brazilian faces a man who has never before experienced defeat. The unbeaten Dagestani has been perfect through 21 pro outings, topping Thiago Tavares, Abel Trujillo and Pat Healy last year.
The winner of this fight will likely stand a victory away from a title shot, considering lightweight champion Anthony Pettis’ planned “Ultimate Fighter” coaching stint opposite Gilbert Melendez. However, plenty of elite competition is out there for the victor. I would love to see a matchup with either Josh Thomson or T.J. Grant, provided they can get healthy this year. Alternatively, a booking with the winner of Benson Henderson’s clash with Rustam Khabilov also has me chomping at the bit. I have a feeling 2014 is going to be quite a year for the lightweights, and either Nurmagomedov or dos Anjos will be a big part of that.
This pivotal lightweight clash is but one reason to tune in for the UFC on Fox 11 prelims. Here are four more:
‘GAMEBRED’ AND THE GRIZZLY
If Jorge Masvidal fighting Pat Healy does not get your blood pumping, then you need to find a new sport. Good luck trying to name two more game fighters in any weight class. These guys can flat-out tear down the house, and they have made careers out of doing precisely that.
Masvidal is the more technical puncher, to be sure. The Floridian would be wise to watch the masterful paint job that Bobby Green put on Healy, just as Healy would be wise to watch Khabilov’s gutsy decision victory over Masvidal.
If Healy can close the distance and grind on his lankier foe, this one should go the way of the Sports Lab export. Conversely, if Masvidal can keep Healy on the end of his jab and avoid expending too much energy in the first two rounds, it should be smooth sailing for the former Strikeforce title challenger.
Which of these lightweights will right his ship in this intriguing style matchup and get back in the win column?
TWO YEARS WITHOUT THIAGO
If you do not watch it carefully, time has a habit of getting away from you. Such is the case with Thiago Alves.
When Alves’ bout with Seth Baczynski was announced, I basically performed a double-take at my computer screen. I had all but forgotten about “Pitbull,” not because his talent was easy to overlook but rather due to his long bout of inactivity.
After a few moments, however, the Alves memories began to flood through my head. The American Top Team representative rattled off seven straight wins from October 2006 to October 2008, the most memorable of which was likely his crushing technical knockout of hall of famer Matt Hughes. Despite missing weight for that bout, Alves was nevertheless dominant, burying the former champion with a nasty knee at UFC 85.
It has been two years since Alves has stepped into the Octagon. How will he perform when he meets Baczynski?
MY MEIN MAN
Jordan Mein is hopping back into the Octagon for his first time since Matt Brown put the hurt on him one year ago, and I could not be happier.
Mein is just 24 years old but already has 36 pro fights to his credit. Prior to the Brown defeat, the Canadian had won nine of his previous 10, with his only loss in that span coming to Tyron Woodley in a split decision. Despite his age, “Young Guns” possesses some of the smoothest boxing in the welterweight division, and I think he is just a piece or two away from becoming a serious contender at 170 pounds.
Now paired with Hernani Perpetuo, Mein will look to erase the memory of his defeat to Brown at the expense of the reigning Shooto titlist. Can he get the job done?
FLYWEIGHTS UP FIRST
The men hunting Demetrious Johnson are arguably the most talented competitors in all the UFC.
The flyweight division has steadily grown and improved over the last two years, and Dustin Ortiz is a fine example of the strides the UFC’s lightest division has taken in recent times. Ortiz was initially expected to face Alptekin Ozkilic at UFC Fight Night 40, but that pairing was pulled just a week out from the event when “The Turkish Delight” went down with an injury.
As a result, Ortiz will now square off with unbeaten Octagon newcomer Ray Borg. This could be a dangerous fight for Ortiz, who enters into this confrontation on the heels of a controversial split decision defeat to John Moraga in January.
The ground game is where these flyweights work best, but I am also interested in the striking that may unfold in this bout. The standup exchanges could easily decide which of these up-and-comers walks away with the win.
Which of these flyweight prospects will use the other as a stepping stone on his way to bigger things?