This Saturday, April 19th the UFC is putting one of the strongest free cards on Fox. The card is headlined by a bout in which the winner is “guaranteed” a shot at Cain Velazquez for the heavyweight title. I put guaranteed in quotes because Fabricio Werdum was guaranteed a shot over the summer when he beat Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera, but after Cain settled his trilogy with Junior dos Santos in October, he injured his shoulder, and now Werdum has to face Travis Browne for a shot at the title. Werdum has a daunting man in his way of earning that once guaranteed title shot in Browne, and even with the improved striking that he showed against the likes of Roy Nelson, Mike Russow and Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera he should look to use his 9-time world championship BJJ game rather than standing with Browne. While those three fights are no small feat, Roy Nelson has lost every fight, but one, when his opponent has avoided his first round barrage in the UFC, Russow got cut from the roster and Big Nog is nearing retirement.
Browne has won 3 straight knockout of the night bonuses against Gabriel Gonzaga, Alistair Overeem and Josh Barnett, all in the first round. Gonzaga was on a resurgence in the UFC, Overeem was coming off of his first MMA loss since 2007 and Barnatt was coming off of a dominant performance over Frank Mir. Browne hasn't been to the ground much with opponents especially in his recent fights, but with the training he is receiving at Jackson's, especially world class game-planning, it is doubtful that his ground game will be his downfall in this fight. I don't see Werdum's wrestling game being strong enough to take Browne to the ground, and I see this fight turning out much like Werdum's fight against Junior dos Santos once Browne can find his chin. Werdum has shown much improved striking against Nelson, but with Nelson's well known lack of cardio that is not nearly as impressive as Browne's comeback KO of former K-1 World Grand-Prix champ Overeem. Whether its elbows during a takedown attempt, a kick or punch I can only see Werdum being kept at distance by the 6'7” Browne, and despite his best efforts to avoid the striking of Browne the end is inevitable. Browne came in heavier than usual, and Werdum came in lighter than usual which may favor that Werdum will be more agile to avoid the power of Browne, but that weight difference will make Browne harder to takedown and without that option it is likely only a matter of time before its lights out, and Browne will look to cash in his title shot later this year.
The co-main event pits two former title challengers in the women's bantamweight against each other to determine who will stay relevant in the upper echelon of the division and who will take another step in the wrong direction. Tate is coming off 2 armbar losses against reigning champ Ronda Rousey, a controversial TKO loss after besting Cat Zingano for the better part of 10 minutes and an armbar win over the now Julia Kedzie. Liz Carmouche was also submitted by Rousey her UFC debut, beat Jessica Andrade by TKO, and, most recently, lost a decision to current contender Alexis Davis. Since we have only had women in the UFC for a year the division is up for the taking, and the winner of this bout will secure their spot as an elite gatekeeper at worst, possibly challenging Rousey again after a long enough winning streak at best. Both Tate and Carmouche have strong enough grappling and striking to rack up several wins by TKO and submission, but I see the takedowns, game-planning and experience of Tate enough to get her a unanimous decision. Carmouche's background with the armed forces suggests that she won't break mentally, but unless she can really dominate or finish Tate which is unlikely, Tate should get her hand raised.
Donald Cerrone is facing off against Edson Barboza on the second bout on the Fox card. Ceronne is coming off a vicious head kick KO over Adriano Martins in his last fight and an impressive triangle choke win over Ed Dunham before that, both wins coming in the first round. Cerrone lost a decision to Rafael dos Anjos before those two wins and has stated publicly that he wants to fight 6 times this year because he is broke. Expect Cerrone to try to take home another bonus as well, to add to his 13 combined UFC and WEC of the night bonuses. Barboza is a talented muay thai fighter who famously knocked out Terry Etim with a spinning wheel kick back in 2012. Barboza had a hiccup against Jamie Varner who handed him his first career loss by TKO, and has been on a 3 fight winning streak since that loss. Barboza has 8 of his 13 wins coming by KO or TKO and will likely look to out work Cerrone on their feet. Cerrone, who owns 14 submission wins likely won't mind striking with Barboza provided he can find his rhythm, but if that doesn't work he should have a big advantage on the ground and will look to take the fight there. I believe Barboza won't have the takedown defense to keep the fight standing should Cerrone want to go there, and I expect Cerrone, despite looking a little bit drawn out at the weigh in, to dictate the pace of this fight on the way to a unanimous decision victory.
The first fight on the Fox card is Brad Tavares facing the dangerous Yoel Romero. Brad Tavares has looked good over the course of his 5 fight winning streak, but with all 5 fights going to decision, he needs to stay on his A game for the full 15 minutes facing a fighter like Romero. Romero is on a 3 fight winning streak with all of his wins coming by KO or TKO, and after being dominated for the better part of 3 rounds before breaking Derek Brunson's jaw and earning a TKO in the third, Romero proved he's no stranger to adversity. I expect Tavares to be able to dictate the pace of this fight, he has proven he can get the nod after 15 minutes in his past 5 fights. Romero's only hope is likely catching Tavares with something that will stun him, and finishing the fight from there. While this may be an unlikely scenario for many fighters, I think with 15 minutes to work Romero will find his window of opportunity easier than Tavares will be able to avoid it, and I see Romero finding that window to earn a TKO in the second round. Romero has the potential to make a big climb in the middleweight ladder with a win in this fight, and I see him making a statement to do so.
Now these next two fights somehow ended up on the prelim card on Fox Sports 1, and while I know this article is for main card predictions I felt that these next two fights are worthy of being mentioned. I find it rather questionable that Rafael dos Anjos vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov is on the prelim card, as both fighters are ranked about Cerrone and Barboza in the UFC's rankings. To add to the mystique, Cerrone's last loss was to dos Anjos, and dos Anjos has been on a 5 fight winning streak with Cerrone being his most recent victim. Nurmagomedov is an undefeated wrestling phenom who recently came out publicly and admitted that a video, which has been circulating the internet for years, of a kid wrestling a bear was actually him in his youth, so there is certainly no questioning his mental fortitude coming into this bout. Nurmagomedov was last set to face off against recent title challenger Gilbert Melendez before the bout was cancelled. I believe this prelim bout will be more important for the landscape of the lightweight division than Cerrone vs. Barboza. I expect Nurmagomedov to absolutely dominate dos Anjos in the wrestling department and use that ability to avoid the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game of dos Anjos on the way to a dominant unanimous decision. Before that fight is the return of Thiago Alves again Seth Baczynski. Alves is a former title challenger, and with GSP gone a couple strong performances should shoot him straight to the top of the welterweight division. The stockier Alves will likely look to land his power on the lankier Baczynski who is 1-2 in his last 3, and if Alves has really recovered from his 4 surgeries in his 2 year layoff this bout should serve as a mere warm up bout on his route back to the top. I see Alves winning by TKO in the second round, but he needs to be cautious after such a long layoff because Baczynski is not a fighter to write off, and the most dangerous fight is the fight that you're supposed to win.
What are your thoughts on the fights set to air on Fox and Fox Sports 1 tonight? Please comment below with any ideas and feedback