Here are my thoughts on the fights set to take place on Friday apart from the main event and co-main event:
John Howard vs. Ryan LaFlare
I’m very high on LaFlare as a welterweight prospect. After overwhelming victories over Benny Alloway and Santiago Ponzinibbio, LaFlare was tested by a much tougher opponent in the underrated Court McGee. Despite facing an opponent in McGee who fights at a tremendous pace, LaFlare was able to land more strikes en route to a unanimous decision victory. LaFlare has quick, accurate punches and does a great job of transitioning from throwing strikes to shooting for a takedown without telegraphing the shot.
I picked John Howard to win his last fight against Siyar Bahadurzada and considered his fight against Uriah Hall to be 50-50. I felt Howard matched up well with both fighters but I hate this fight for him. Both fighters are capable of landing takedowns, but LaFlare has shown better ability to get back to his feet after being taken down. LaFlare is also the far better striker as Howard lands just 1.79 significant strikes per minute. It seems likely that LaFlare will win on points in this one.
Pick: Ryan LaFlare by decision
Beneil Dariush vs. Ramsey Nijem
I wish I knew more about just how good Dariush is, but I just don’t have a lot of footage to draw from. From what I’ve seen, he’s a slick Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter with good power in his hands. He seems to be the kind of fighter who’s a threat to finish quickly, as he did against Charlie Brenneman in his UFC debut. What I’m not sure about is Dariush’s ability to strike with volume and his ability to wrestle.
Ramsey Nijem is similiar to Brenneman in that he’s a good wrestler who gets finished far too easily. Nijem has been knocked out multiple times (and I mean OUT) and was submitted by James Vick as well. However, when Nijem is conscious he’s actually a very respectable striker to go along with his wrestling ability. If he doesn’t get finished by Dariush then I like his chances of winning by decision.
The betting public currently has Dariush as the favorite at -225. With my lack of knowledge on Dariush, it would be foolish to assume I know something the markets don’t.
Pick: Beneil Dariush by submission
Daniel Omielanczuk vs. Jared Rosholt
I understand why the UFC wants to have some depth in its heavyweight division, but… ugh. Rosholt is a great example of how being a high-level wrestler is no guarantee of becoming a great MMA fighter. Against Walt Harris, Rosholt was dropped twice by strikes before rallying to win by unanimous decision. For some reason it took until the third round for Rosholt to attempt a single takedown despite having very little striking ability. Rosholt ended up winning two rounds out of three, but it wasn’t an impressive debut to say the least.
That makes Daniel Omielanczuk an appropriate opponent for Rosholt. Omielanczuk was getting legitimately out-struck by Nandor Guelmino before winning by sudden knockout in the third round. Like Rosholt, Omielanczuk is a virtual statue on the feet, moving very slowly and not defending strikes well at all. Omielanczuk does at least have some talent for submissions, which he’ll probably need if he wants to win this fight. Rosholt should be able to land takedowns and grind out a decision as long as he actually goes for takedowns. Trust me when I say that neither of these guys has a long UFC future ahead of them.
Pick: Jared Rosholt by decision
Johnny Bedford vs. Rani Yahya
There are some fighters I have a really good read on… and then there’s Rani Yahya. I always think of Yahya as a one-dimensional grappler who should lose to anybody with above-average takedown defense. Yahya is supremely slick and talented on the ground but not much besides that. After taking another look, I think I’ve underrated Yahya’s ability to land takedowns. Overall, Yahya completes just 32 percent of his takedown attempts. That number underrates Yahya’s takedown abilities because while most fighters give up on takedowns if their opponent shuts them down, Yahya just keeps going for it because he has no other choice.
This match against Johnny Bedford is interesting, because while Bedford should have a clear advantage in striking and takedowns, he has a particularly poor history with submissions. Nine of Bedford’s ten career losses are by submission including his last fight against Bryan Caraway. To be fair, the Caraway loss is the only time Bedford has tapped out since 2009, but then again, Bedford hasn’t had to face anybody nearly as good as Yahya on the ground. With 15 minutes to work, it seems like Yahya should eventually be able to land the takedown and catch Bedford in some sort of submission hold.
Pick: Rani Yahya by submission
Thales Leites vs. Trevor Smith
I’m surprised to see Leites listed as a -460 favorite to win this fight. Don’t get me wrong, Leites is definitely the better mixed martial artist, but he’s still a very flawed fighter. He doesn’t have much in the way of striking offense and his takedowns aren’t as consistent as they need to be. Leites has been successful in recent fights but he’s the kind of fighter I’m not sure should be a -460 favorite against anybody in his weight class.
Then again, when I look at the skills Smith brings to the table, it starts to make sense. Smith’s best offense is with submissions, most notably guillotine chokes. I’ll be shocked if Smith wins this fight by that method, which means he probably needs to use “sprawl and brawl” tactics to win. Unfortunately for Smith, he hasn’t shown much ability to defend takedowns (just 47 percent) or strikes (44 percent). It’s possible that Smith can keep the fight standing and win on points, but it’s much more likely that Leites is able to at least take Smith down and control him, and possibly finish the fight.
Pick: Thales Leites by decision
Chris Camozzi vs. Andrew Craig
Through five UFC fights, Andrew Craig hasn’t shown any particularly remarkable skill in mixed martial arts. He’s a competitive striker who has shown fairly good ability to defend takedowns, but the data shows far more negatives than positives. In the UFC, Craig has been out-struck, out-wrestled, and out-grappled. He’s running a deficit in every statistic, from significant strikes to takedowns to submission attempts. Most troubling is that after being knocked down twice in his loss to Luke Barnatt, Craig has been knocked down four times.
Supposedly Craig’s background is in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which means he should go for takedowns against Chris Camozzi. Camozzi does one thing in MMA fights, and that’s “stand and bang.” He’s ten fights into his UFC career now and has yet to land a single takedown. What keeps Camozzi competitive is that he sets a very good pace and lands strikes at a very consistent rate. He should be able to out-point Craig as long as it stays standing.
Craig doesn’t have much of a history of landing takedowns, and UFC fighters rarely adapt to their opponents. I have a feeling Craig will be too happy to engage Camozzi in a striking battle, and will probably lose on points and possibly by knockout. I hope I’m wrong, and Craig does try to take Camozzi down, because then he could definitely score an upset.
Pick: Chris Camozzi by decision
Jim Alers vs. Alan Omer
Omer is a very aggressive fighter offensively. He likes to repeatedly throw punching combinations standing and packs decent knockout power by featherweight standards. Omer also has a very solid ground game, with good positional control, punishing ground and pound, and quality submissions. Omer’s aggression is often his downfall, however, as he leaves a lot of openings for his opponent to hit him with hard standing strikes and get good takedown attempts and ground positions on him.
I think Omer could beat a number of featherweights in the UFC, but Jim Alers is a particularly difficult opponent for him. I loved what I saw from Alers on tape. I saw Alers throw controlled, powerful strikes and land a nice lateral drop before I figured out that his strength is actually his submission game. Alers has serious talent in all disciplines of MMA and brings an impressive 12-1 record with him into the UFC. I can easily see Alers getting into the top ten at 145 pounds.
For more on Alers, I highly recommend Patrick Wyman’s prospect feature on him here.
Pick: Jim Alers by submission