This weekend’s spectacle comes courtesy of Hamburg, Germany and fans can look forward to a stellar line up of fights. Unfortunately this card has been plagued by injuries; including to Irelands own Ash “The Bash” Daly who was due to take on former Invicta FC champion Michelle Waterson, which means the official fight card only has eleven bouts rather than the usual twelve. Nonetheless, this UFC Fight Night has an exciting main card that is topped off by two household named heavyweights as Andrei Arlovski takes on “The Warmaster” Josh Barnett, although both men are in the twilight of their careers fireworks will be expected as these veterans of MMA will look to stake one last claim for a title shot before they finally bow out of the sport. In the co-main event or what can be considered the “people’s main event”, Sweden’s Alexander Gustafsson returns after an eleven month absence as he takes on Polish powerhouse Jan Blachowicz in a light-heavyweight slugfest that could potentially leave one man asleep on the canvas. The final two fights to complete the main card is another light-heavyweight battle between Ryan “Darth” Bader and “The Sledgehammer” Ilir Latifi and the fight that should send the Barclaycard Arena into meltdown; Germanys pride and joy, cop/actor/mixed martial artist Nick Hein takes on Tae Hyun Bang in the curtain raiser for the main card. For fans watching in Europe, these are the fight cards we live for; UFC being on at a reasonable time. The card kicks off live on BT Sport at 8 while the under card can be watched live on Fight Pass so there can be no excuses for missing out on a great night of fights, make sure you are tuned in and don’t miss out.
As always, I will now break down all the main card fights, give my predictions and of course put my own “Armchair Expert” title on the line.
ANDREI ARLOVSKI vs. JOSH BARNETT
These two men are legends of the sport, both have had careers that have spanned nearly twenty years, through several MMA organisations but this will be the first time that these two heavyweights face off against one another. Although they are perhaps entering the final stages of their respective careers a victory could open the door for a final run at gaining UFC gold in a division that currently lacks of serious challengers. What also makes this fight that bit more appealing is the different backgrounds in MMA both these fighters have; Arlovski specialises in sambo while Barnett’s bread and butter is his wrestling, it is virtually a striker taking on a wrestler; the origins of UFC. Arlovski resigned with the UFC in 2014, beginning his second stint with the company by winning four straight before recently recording back to back TKO losses at the hands of Stipe Miocic and Alistair Overeem. At 37 years of age it would be easy to say Father Time has caught up with Arlovski after those two bad losses but when you have the punching power of “The Pit-bull” it just takes one clean connection to end the contest. Josh Barnett has had an indifferent spell with the organisation since he resigned in 2013 going 2-2, “The Warmaster” is an accomplished wrestler who has a knack of locking in submissions; 20 of his 34 victories have come by way of submission. For Arlovski to win he needs to avoid the takedown as frequent as possible, for Barnett he needs to be certain he gets Arlovski down and keeps him there. The way I see this playing out is Barnett implementing the clinch often and taking him down from there and working in some ground and pound as he grinds out a decision victory. I think Barnett wins this but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say he makes Arlovski tap for the first time in his career.
Barnett by submission.
ALEXANDER GUSTAFSSON vs. JAN BLACHOWICZ
Alexander Gustafsson makes his return to the octagon for the first time since his loss to current champion Daniel Cormier last October. Injury has kept the giant Swede on the side-lines for the past eleven months and “The Mauler” is ready to make the dash for a title shot again. Gustafsson is the only man to have pushed Jon Jones to the brink of defeat when they met at UFC 165, a fight that many believe Gustafsson actually won. He has many of the same attributes as Jones; his height, reach, punching power and wrestling, make him a difficult opponent to fight against and his solid chin has only ever being breached once; by none other than “Rumble” Johnson. Jan Blachowicz won’t be a push over for Gustafsson, the Polish native is a hard hitter who has a slick ground game and has a love for locking in a rear naked choke. The “Prince of Cieszyn” comes into this fight on the back of a dominant decision victory against Igor Pokrajac and he will be looking to replicate that outcome again but Gustafsson is a huge step up in competition for him. Blachowicz best chance at winning is by mixing up his strikes and landing takedowns, he needs to push the pace to test the cardio of Gustafsson and see if there are any lasting effects from his long layoff. Gustafsson needs to do what he always does; dominant an opponent, from the moment the bell sounds he will take the centre of the octagon and hunt Blachowicz down, firing of lightning quick combinations, at 6ft 5’ he is an imposing figure but he is extremely nimble on his feet which makes him so hard to hit. Gustafsson should win this with ease but it may go the three rounds.
Gustafsson by decision.
RYAN BADER vs. ILIR LATIFI
Ryan Bader has fought under the UFC banner for eight years amassing a record of 13-5, those 5 losses have come against elite level opposition including Jon Jones, Tito Ortiz, Lyoto Machida, Glover Teixeira and Anthony Johnson but despite being a constant in the light-heavyweight rankings he is yet to have a title shot. Bader is an outstanding wrestler who mixes it up well with his boxing and although he isn’t the most exciting fighter on the roster, he makes sure he gets the job done but Bader will face a similar opponent as himself when he squares off against Ilir Latifi. “The Sledgehammer” comes into this fight in fine form, winning his last three contests; two of them coming by KO. Latifi is a huge specimen with extraordinary strength which makes him such a dominant wrestler and with both men holding high levels of wrestling this is where the battle could be decided. Both men are tremendous at taking opponents down and keeping them there, it will be interesting to see who goes for the takedown first in this one and it could boil down to who keeps who down the longest. Latifi probably has the heavier punches but I think his wrestling is slightly less than that of Bader’s and unless he keeps the fight on the feet, he won’t be able to outpoint him, once Bader can hold him down and do enough damage he should come out victorious.
Bader by decision.
NICK HEIN vs. TAE HYUN BANG
The golden boy of German MMA makes his return from a year long absence; the talented lightweight, is a national judo champion and has only lost twice in his 16 fight career. Over the years Hein has become more well-known for his acting skills rather than his skill as a martial artist but he still remains a fighter at heart and will be sure to remind fans of this come Saturday. His opponent; Tae Hyun Bang has a professional record of 18 wins and 9 losses; 2-2 with the UFC and although the Korean is vastly more experienced, most of his fights have taken place on local shows against lesser opponents than Nick Hein. Bang is a great puncher with some serious power and if he can keep the distance he could unsettle Hein but I think the fact Hein is a southpaw and has tremendous speed will cause him too much trouble. Hein is too well rounded and is the more commanding fighter, he should control from start to finish.
Hein by decision.
Best of the Rest.
Jessin Ayari vs. Jim Wallhead
Wallhead to win.
Peter Sobotta vs. Nicolas Dalby
Dalby to win.
Taylor Lapilus vs. Leandro Issa
Lapilus to win.
Jarjis Danho vs. Christian Colombo
Colombo to win.
Scott Askham vs. Jack Hermansson
Askham to win.
Rustam Khabilov vs. Leandro Silva
Khabilov to win.
Ashlee Evans-Smith vs. Veronica Macedo
Evans-Smith to win.
Bet of the Day.
The adventurous bet: all 11 predictions in an accumulator is about 133/1.
The conservative bet: A Double chance on Josh Barnett to win by KO or submission is evens.
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