17/08/2018

UFC Atlantic City: What’s at stake and who should win this weekend on the Jersey Shore?

Hace 4 meses

UFC Atlantic City: What’s at stake and who should win this weekend on the Jersey Shore?

Will Cub Swanson, Frankie Edgar ward off "end of the road" talks? Who walks out of A.C., Lee or Barboza?

Will Cub Swanson, Frankie Edgar ward off "end of the road" talks? Who walks out of A.C., Lee or Barboza?

This may come as a surprise to you, but there is a UFC event this weekend in Atlantic City and it’s actually quite good.

While not a pay-per-view or a network television event, Saturday’s return to Boardwalk Hall — which last hosted the Octagon way back at UFC 53: Heavy Hitters — boasts a pretty strong collection of fights on the main card, including crucial contests in the lightweight, featherweight, middleweight and bantamweight divisions.

Why it hasn’t been getting much attention is a mystery to me, but on the eve of the event, it’s time to break down the talking points to consider heading into each of the six main card pairings and offer up some quick thoughts on who will come away victorious.

MORE: Demetrious Johnson is still the man in SN pound-for-pound rankings

Jim Miller vs. Dan Hooker

Most people probably won’t think of this as a “prospect vs. veteran” pairing because Hooker has been around the UFC for a while now (this is his ninth appearance), but the New Zealander just turned 28 in February and enters Saturday’s contest on a two-fight winning streak made up of stoppage victories over Ross Pearson and Marc Diakiese.

Lightweight is always flush with fresh talent, but Hooker has a chance to establish himself as a bit of a late bloomer to keep an eye on going forward if he can notch another victory here.

Miller will draw level with Michael Bisping for the most career UFC appearances (29) when he makes the walk again this weekend and already owns the record for the most victories in the history of the lightweight division (17), so he’s got a chance to add to that and pull ahead of both Anderson Silva and Rafael dos Anjos in the career victories column.

Far more importantly, however, this is a bit of a “figure out what I’ve got left” fight for your favorite fighter’s favorite fighter as the 34-year-old is in the midst of a three-fight skid and looked washed last time out against Francisco Trinaldo. More than he has at any previous point in his career, Miller needs to bounce back with a win lest he want to be bombarded with questions about calling it a day and moving on to something else.

Prediction: Hooker has looked very good in his last two since moving to lightweight and Miller had nothing for Trinaldo in Brazil last fall, but I’m a sucker for the Sparta, N.J. representative and I think he’s able to make this ugly and outwork Hooker in a close, entertaining contest. Jim Miller by decision.

Aljamain Sterling vs. Brett Johns

This is one of those sneaky-good fights that more people should be excited about because Sterling is a proven top-10 talent desperate to bounce back after getting knocked out by Marlon Moraes while Johns is an unbeaten upstart who asked for this pairing and is keen on making the most of it.

It’s been a few years now since Sterling landed in the UFC and while he’s done pretty well overall, it also feels like the Serra-Longo Fight Team member has underachieved. Getting knocked out by Moraes is nothing to hang your head about, but “Aljo” talks a lot of mess and fancies himself a future champion, so if he’s going to start making a run at the top of the division, he needs this one — bad.

Johns is in a nice spot heading into this one: the winner of three straight in the Octagon, 15-0 overall and guaranteed to get the “well, he simply bit off more than he can chew at this point” treatment if he comes up short against Sterling. If he’s victorious, however, the undefeated Welshman will rocket into the top 10 and likely find himself in some even bigger pairings later in the year.

Prediction: Sterling has the experience advantage in terms of the quality of competition he’s faced, but Johns is a gamer and the more active of the two in the cage. At the end of the day, I think Sterling’s penchant for being patient and throwing singles gets him in trouble and “The Pikey” comes away with the biggest win of his career. Brett Johns by decision.

David Branch vs. Thiago Santos

I get frustrated when people moan about cards like this weekend’s offering, but fail to see the value a matchup like this: a top 15 middleweight pairing featuring a dude on a four-fight finishing streak and a veteran looking to bounce back after having his 11-fight winning streak snapped by a former champion.

Both guys need this one for very different reasons.

Branch crushed during his time under the World Series of Fighting banner. He won two belts, collected 10 consecutive victories and returned to the UFC looking like someone who could make some waves in his second run inside the Octagon.

But then it was the same old uninteresting grind in his return and a loss to Luke Rockhold in his second sophomore appearance. Now you’re forced to wonder if he was simply dominating mediocre competition or if he’s actually capable of being a real factor in the top 10 going forward?

As for Santos, this is his chance to prove the same thing, but he’s coming at it from the complete other end of the spectrum. While he stumbled the first time he got close to cracking the top 10, the former Brazilian paratrooper has been rolling recently and fighting with more ferocity and aggression, which is awesome because he’s a legit knockout artist and all kinds of fun to watch in the cage.

The other piece of this is that middleweight is in a weird place right now and everyone is jockeying for prime matchups in the second half of the year. The winner of this one could land a marquee opponent with the right kind of performance and from there, another quality wins could very well have them in contention by the end of the year.

Prediction: Branch is very good at making things slow and plodding, but Santos is too explosive, too aggressive, too dynamic to get dragged into a battle along the fence or controlled on the ground. I anticipate he’ll come out launching heaters and connect with something nasty inside the distance. Thiago Santos by TKO.

Chase Sherman vs. Justin Willis

There’s a little moment happening in the heavyweight division right now as a handful of fresh faces are starting to make a little noise and gather some momentum and this fight is all about figuring out if either of these two (but primarily Willis) is capable of joining that collective.

Sherman is a moderately entertaining social media presence and a guy that fights with little regard for his own health, which means he’s generally fun to watch. The Alan Belcher protégé is 2-3 through his first five UFC appearances and coming off a loss, so he needs to rebound in order to ensure he doesn’t become a late alternate in the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix.

But Willis is the real attraction here.

The former collegiate football player trains at AKA and everyone there sings his praises. After a tepid showing in his debut, “Big Pretty” put a walloping on Allen Crowder in his second showing to run his winning streak to six. He doesn’t look the part of a possible late bloomer with upside, but the 30-year-old has a strong athletic pedigree, comes from a great camp and has shown flashes of potential.

If Willis can keep his winning streak going, he’ll have a chance to get on the “Tai Tuivasa Fast Track to Contention” in the second half of 2018.

Prediction: Willis can crack and Sherman has a tendency to stop punches with his face. You do the math. Justin Willis by TKO.

Frankie Edgar vs. Cub Swanson

Where do I begin?

On the Swanson front, this one is a chance at redemption after getting outclassed by Edgar when they faced off as headliners in Austin, Tex. a couple years back. More importantly, it’s an opportunity to show he’s still got plenty left in the tank. Losing to Brian Ortega last time out is no biggie and dropping one here wouldn’t be a major issue either, but the key is “Killer Cub” needs to be competitive and not get trucked or else he’s going to start hearing whispers about being on the downside of his career.

The weird thing is that a win could also put him right in the thick of the title conversation, which means there is a pretty wide range of potential outcomes here for the proud new papa and Swanson needs to make the most of this opportunity to land somewhere close to the happy side of things on Saturday.

As for Edgar, he first needs to show that he’s not making a crazy mistake by rushing right back into the cage just a bunch of weeks after getting stopped for the first time by Ortega at UFC 222. Secondly, this is a chance to show that losing to Ortega was just one of those things — a rough night at the office where the young upstart with superstar potential was the better man — and that it was not the start of an overall decline.

Much like Swanson, a win keeps “The Answer” in the title mix (or just outside of it), but another bad loss is going to have people chattering. While he might not get the credit he’ll deserve if he dominates Swanson again here, an “I’m clearly not done yet” type of performance would do Edgar a lot of good this weekend.

Prediction: I was in attendance when these two fought in Austin and I just don’t see what has transpired since that changes the outcome? Edgar was too quick, too varied and too tactical for Swanson that evening and I think he will be here too. Frankie Edgar by decision.

Edson Barboza vs. Kevin Lee

It’s all kinds of crazy to me that there is a matchup between the No. 5 and No. 6 fighters in the deepest, most competitive division in the UFC headlining this event and yet very few people seem to be talking about at all.

What gives? Did everyone forget Barboza is almost always fun to watch and that Lee is a swaggering 25-year-old who still has legitimate championship potential? This is an outstanding fight and it makes no sense to me that people aren’t more hyped for it.

There really isn’t that much at stake here for Barboza. He’s basically entrenched as the guy with the clipboard standing by the velvet rope that decides who is worthy of entering the upper echelon in the lightweight division. He’s not losing that role with a loss and a win over Lee isn’t going to make anyone suddenly forget what happened to him against Khabib Nurmagomedov late last year.

But Lee has a chance to really take another step forward here by beating Barboza. Some people (though not me) weren’t convinced he deserved the interim title shot he got last fall against Tony Ferguson and seemed to have moved on from him since that setback.

But here’s the thing: I actually think that loss will end up doing wonders for Lee and eventually turn into the moment we look back on as when he took the next step forward in his development.

With a victory here, he’ll cement his standing as a top 5 talent in the 155-pound ranks and put himself in the mix to face someone of note later this year as things start to shake out at the top of the division.

Prediction: There is always the potential of Barboza landing something lightning quick and hellacious early in this fight that ends things in a hurry, but the more likely scenario is Lee replicating Nurmagomedov’s takedown-heavy approach and looking for a finish on the canvas. Kevin Lee by submission.

Ver noticia en Trending

Temas Relacionados: