Tony Ferguson vs. Katsunori Kikuno
Tony Ferguson is a great example of a fighter whose striking looks better than it actually is. He has fluid movement and his punches look good, but he’s relatively easy to hit at the same time. That’s a problem against Katsunori Kikuno, a Kyokushin karate stylist who is excellent at keeping his opponent at distance with well-timed kicks to the legs and body. Kikuno also has a powerful straight right hand that he likes to attack with after backing his opponent into the ropes/fence.
Kikuno is the type of fighter who focuses on minimizing his opponent’s damage and landing strikes without being hit back. He also has a black belt in Judo and is an excellent guard passer from top position. Kikuno showed off that aspect of his game in his debut victory over Quinn Mulhern, passing guard nine times en route to a unanimous decision victory.
Ferguson is definitely the more aggressive fighter and it will be interesting to see how the clash of styles plays out. Ferguson’s best option is probably to shoot in for takedowns as Kikuno has struggled off his back, being submitted by Eddie Alvarez in particular. However, Ferguson’s clear preference in the UFC has been to stand and strike. The betting public clearly likes Ferguson here at -270, but I think they’re overlooking Kikuno, whose skilled kicking game and evasion should make him a tough opponent. Ferguson’s offensive striking and wrestling ability are just enough for me to pick him, but I think this is a closer fight than people expect.
Pick: Tony Ferguson by decision
Chico Camus vs. Chris Holdsworth
Camus enters this fight at 3-1 in the UFC, but that’s after facing four non-strikers in Yaotzin Meza, Kyung Ho Kang, Dustin Kimura, and Dustin Pague. He’ll be facing another opponent who favors submissions over striking this time around in Chris Holdsworth, who is 5-0 with five wins by submission, and that doesn’t include a run of submission wins on The Ultimate Fighter.
Camus will want to avoid the ground game against Holdsworth at all costs; he’s struggled on the mat in the UFC as he’s been taken down five times, had his guard passed 13 times, and been caught in six submission attempts, one of which forced him to tap out against Kimura.
Even then, I’m not convinced that Camus will have much of an advantage standing. He’s up 95 to 68 in significant strikes against some of the worst strikers in the UFC bantamweight division. Holdsworth is probably a better striker than the likes of Kimura and Pague, and he performed pretty well standing against Chris Beal on The Ultimate Fighter. I suspect that Holdsworth will keep it close on the feet and eventually drag Camus to the mat and finish this fight.
Pick: Chris Holdsworth by submission
Mitch Clarke vs. Al Iaquinta
Clarke began his UFC career with two dismal performances as he was stopped by John Cholish and dropped a split decision to Anton Kuivanen (and that should NOT have been a split decision). After landing just 23 significant strikes in 24 minutes against Cholish and Kuivanen, Clarke had a much better performance in his last fight, landing 43 significant strikes in a decision victory over John Maguire.
It was nice to see Clarke get a win, but make no mistake about it: he’s still near the bottom of the UFC lightweight division. With that in mind, I hate this fight for him. He’s taking on an aggressive striker in Al Iaquinta, a harsh change from the grappler in Maguire. Iaquinta is the better striker, hands down. He’s much more aggressive, much more accurate, and much more successful in the UFC.
Iaquinta’s weaknesses in the UFC have been a lack of finishing ability and a tendency to give up bad positions on the ground, a habit that cost him dearly against Michael Chiesa. Clarke does have six submission victories on his record, but he hasn’t shown much ability to land takedowns in the UFC, and Iaquinta is not an easy fighter to take down. I anticipate that Iaquinta will keep this one standing and it will be a rough night for Clarke.
Pick: Al Iaquinta by decision