155 lbs: Justin Edwards vs. Ramsey Nijem
Ramsey Nijem is easily better at fighting than Justin Edwards is. He’s the much superior wrestler – Nijem has a 16:4 takedown ratio against 9:11 for Edwards. Edwards has landed 24 percent of his takedown attempts and only defended 27 percent of his opponents’. If Nijem wants to take Edwards down he should definitely succeed at it.
Nijem is also the better striker. He lands 3.02 significant strikes per minute, to 2.52 for Edwards. He absorbs just 1.34 significant strikes per minute, compared to 3.03 for Edwards. Nijem is the better striker, he’s the better wrestler… he’s the better fighter.
And Edwards might win anyway because Nijem just gets finished so easily. Against Tony Ferguson: first-round KO loss. Against Myles Jury: second-round KO loss. Against James Vick: first-round submission loss. The whole idea of being a wrestler in MMA is based on being difficult to finish.
I just can’t pick Edwards here. Edwards is a fighter who has lost UFC bouts against Clay Harvison, John Maguire, and Brandon Thatch. A fighter who loses to Clay Harvison should not end up beating Ramsey Nijem… but we’ll see.
Pick: Ramsey Nijem by decision
155 lbs: Elias Silverio vs. Isaac Vallie-Flagg
Silverio had a very nice performance in his UFC debut, limiting Joao Zeferino to just 11 significant strikes and one takedown in 16 attempts. Now he’ll be dropping to lightweight to take on Isaac Vallie-Flagg, who hasn’t competed since his victory over Yves Edwards last February.
Vallie-Flagg is a very different fighter than Zeferino. Vallie-Flagg is a scrappy striker type who stands in the pocket and takes a lot of strikes but lands even more. In 30 minutes of action Vallie-Flagg has landed a whopping 209 significant strikes, about seven per minute. That’s a pace opposing lightweights will struggle to keep up with.
We’ll have to see a different kind of fight from Silverio this time if he wants to improve to 2-0 in the UFC. Instead of sprawl and brawl tactics Silverio will have to either match Vallie-Flagg’s striking pace, control the fight with takedowns, or win by knockout. I like Vallie-Flagg to out-pace Silverio in this one but it’s not a high-confidence prediction.
Prediction: Isaac Vallie-Flagg by decision
185 lbs: Brian Houston vs. Trevor Smith
Houston made his UFC debut against rising middleweight Derek Brunson, and as I suspected it was just too much, too soon for him. Houston entered the fight at just 4-0 with none of his wins being against truly tough competition. Brunson knocked him down quickly and finished him off by submission.
Watching Houston on tape, he’s clearly talented but his inexperience shows as well. He throws strikes from the hip, winging them at his opponents and looking to hit home runs with every strike. In three of his four wins he succeeded, winning by quick knockout each time. That kind of game plan doesn’t work well in the UFC.
With that said, Trevor Smith’s game is the ground game, and he might have some trouble getting Houston there. Smith has only landed 25 percent of his takedown attempts in his Strikeforce/UFC career, more often being forced to work off his back. I doubt Smith will be able to take down the physically imposing Houston early.
Even so, Houston is a very raw prospect and his wild style may cause him to get exhausted quickly. Now it’s possible that we’ll see an improved Houston in this fight, but I can’t count on that. I have to assume Houston will continue to be wild, and Smith will eventually take advantage of that to get Houston to the ground and submit him.
Pick: Trevor Smith by submission
125 lbs: Alp Ozkilic vs. Louis Smolka
If it seems like Alp Ozkilic fought just recently it’s because he competed last month against Darren Uyenoyama. He’s back to take on the debuting Louis Smolka.
Ozkilic is an aggressive fighter with sloppy striking. He throws wide, looping punches that can be dangerous if they land flush but also leave his chin badly exposed. Ozkilic also isn’t an accurate striker at all. He puts a lot of energy into his techniques so even though he’s a flyweight he may be prone to fading later in fights. The strength of his game is his grappling – he’s very good at advancing to a dominant position on the ground.
Despite his flaws I think Ozkilic should win this fight against the debuting Louis Smolka. Watching Smolka on tape, it’s clear that his boxing leaves a lot to be desired (he gets hit very easily) and he’s very inconsistent when shooting for takedowns. Like Ozkilic, Smolka does his best work on the ground but I expect Ozkilic to be more effective in the takedown game.
The result is a fight where I believe Ozkilic should succeed in both landing hard strikes and preventing Smolka from taking him down.
Pick: Alp Ozkilic by decision
155 lbs: Vinc Pichel vs. Garett Whiteley
If it wasn’t for the entrance of Tae Hyun Bang into the UFC lightweight division, Vinc Pichel and Garett Whiteley would have the two lowest FPR scores in that weight class.
Pichel is an aggressive striker who hits fairly hard and has good conditioning to go along with it. He’s the kind of fighter who’s at his best when he’s applying a tremendous amount of pressure to his opponent. Pichel’s weaknesses are his takedown defense and his striking defense – he’s easy to take down and he’s easy to hit.
Pichel’s lack of takedown defense was on display in a spectacular way in his UFC debut against Rustam Khabilov. Khabilov basically just slammed Pichel repeatedly until something broke.
With that said I think Pichel deserves his status as a favorite against Garett Whiteley, whose UFC debut was a very unimpressive loss to Alan Patrick. I see Pichel’s pressure being too much for Whiteley to handle and resulting in a TKO finish.
Pick: Vinc Pichel by TKO
155 lbs: Charlie Brenneman vs. Beneil Dariush
We know who Charlie Brenneman is – a wrestler who primarily wins by scoring takedowns and maintaining top control, with limited striking abilities. We don’t know who Beneil Dariush is… so let’s find out. Here are some videos of Dariush in action:
There’s not a whole lot of footage here: 36 seconds against Trace Gray, 76 seconds against Dominic Gutierrez, and about 80 seconds against Vance Bejarano. Even with this limited footage we can learn a few things:
1) Dariush is definitely a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter who aggressively seeks submissions
2) Dariush is willing to pull guard and concede top control to his opponent
3) Dariush hits reasonably hard but his striking is very sloppy
The problem with Dariush’s career so far is a lack of UFC-caliber competition. Gray is 3-2, Gutierrez is 6-18, and Bejarano is 1-3. It’s not so easy to quickly submit an opponent in the UFC.
I have to think Brenneman will aggressively seek top position and Dariush will give it to him. I’m skeptical that Dariush will be able to submit Brenneman with an armbar from bottom position or anything similar. Until Dariush proves he can dominate the ground game against tough competition I have to pick the superior wrestler to grind out a victory.
Pick: Charlie Brenneman by decision