After a very satisfying UFC 178, where we turned 5 units into 10 we move on to yet another double header this weekend.
The UFC returns to Stockholm, Sweden on Saturday for the second consecutive year with Icelandic sensation Gunnar Nelson headlining. In the early hours of Sunday morning it heads to Halifax, Canada with Rory MacDonald headlining in front of a home crowd. As with all double headers as there are very few lines released in advance I have taken the pick of both cards and put into one write up.
Corassani v Holloway:
When Akira Corassani was signed up for this card and booked to face Korean Zombie, Chan Sung Jung I said to myself “there is no way he is going to win this fight” as it was almost a complete mismatch on the head to head. When Jung was forced off the card with injury and replaced with Max Holloway the Sweden crown lost a fan favourite but gained a more competitive match. Corassani had been on a three fight streak before running into Dustin Poirier and being knocked out early in the second. Despite sounding like a combination of Japanese and Italian it is from Sweden where Corassani hails and was never going to miss the opportunity to fight at home
With only six weeks in the books since his last fight this is a very quick reappearance for Max Holloway as he looks to retain the momentum of his own three fight unbeaten run. Probably best known for being the first man to take Conor McGregor the distance, albeit with McGregor suffering an ACL injury along the way. He has racked up an impressive record of 6-3 in just two and a half years in the UFC and this will be his fourth appearance of 2014, matching Donald Cerrone fight for fight.
While this matchup is far better for Corassani than Jung, it is still a mismatch. Holloway is a far superior fighter to him and over time the ranking positions will illustrate this perfectly. At just 22 years of age Holloway has a very bright future, one that will be taken to a fourth consecutive win on Saturday with the bookmakers and I agreeing that it will be by knockout.
Recommendation: Method of Victory – Max Holloway by KO, TKO or Disqualification – 5/4 (+125) @ 888Sport
Nelson v Story:
With arguably his toughest test to date Gunnar Nelson rides back into down on his metaphorical horse. The epitome of cool the Icelander puts his undefeated record on the line against Rick Story. Nelson only fought in July in Dublin, Ireland and this bout represents the fastest turnaround he has had in the UFC as he looks to make up for lost time; he spent over a year out through injury, all the while capitalising on his impressive performances. ‘Gunni’ as he is better known has been making statements in the press that he feels he is only two fights away from a title shot; while that may be a little ambitious in words his performances certainly merit the discussion.
Becoming the 14th fighter to crack the enigma code of Nelson is American fighter, Rick Story. The man known to his fans as ‘The Horror’ has lived up to his name in the past few years as a horrible run of form has failed to see him secure back to back victories in almost four years. Better known as one of only two men to hold a victory over current Welterweight king Johny Hendricks he certainly possesses the ability to progress but seems to come unstuck when faced with highly skilled opponents, particularly those with a solid BJJ base.
If fought on paper then this fight is all Nelson. He has the ability, skills and composure to take out Story at will; however this will be fought in an octagon so the rules change. Although Nelson has demonstrated submissions that are on par with the best the UFC has ever seen he was taken the distance by Jorge Santiago, the only non-submission win in his last eight fights. Nelson was sluggish at times in that fight and it could have cost him dearly. Similar could be said for his win over Cummings in Dublin. To most onlookers Cummings took the first round before being submitted in the second; if Nelson starts that slowly against Story then it could be a different ending altogether. With that being said I have to go with the form and the form says Nelson by submission. Neither fighter have been five rounds before and while that may prove telling, it should favour the less battle worn fighter.
Recommendation: Method of Victory – Gunnar Nelson by Submission – 11/10 (+110) @ Paddy Power
Assuncao v Caraway:
With a returning Dominick Cruz being granted a title shot after just one win in three years you can be forgiven for Raphael Assuncao asking what he needs to do to be granted the same concession. While Cruz is the ex-champ Assuncao actually beat the current champ almost exactly one year ago today. In fairness it was some questionable judging that gave him the win but the history books do not contain chapters over questionable judging. He beat Dillashaw; he is 6-1 in the UFC and 6-0 on his present run. What more needs to be said?
I’ll apologise for once again referring to Bryan Caraway as ‘Mr Miesha Tate’ continuously. Caraway has another opportunity to break free from the shadow of his more recognised partner in a fight that could conceivably determine who faces the winner of Dillashaw v Cruz in 2015. Caraway may have already found himself as the mandatory challenger if not for a split decision loss to Takeya Mizugaki that split a decision run of victories. A win here could see him elevate his position to #4 in the UFC official rankings and make that knock on the door just a decibel or two louder.
If Caraway is to win this fight then he needs to really excel in his submission game, preferably looking for the early stoppage. The issue he has here is that the Brazilian is no slouch on the ground himself and holds a heavy advantage in both cardio and durability. If Caraway doesn’t get the submission win then he more often than not loses; from 19 wins he holds a single on both knockout and decisions. Assuncao carries a significant height disadvantage which translates to a major physical advantage as those extra four inches in height are dispersed around a more solid and powerful physique. I can only foresee a long night ahead for Caraway and a comfortable decision, and next title shot, for Assuncao.
Recommendation: Method of Victory – Raphael Assuncao by Decision – 5/4 (+125) @ Boylesports
MacDonald v Saffiedine:
Rory MacDonald gets the opportunity to continue his rise as Canada’s second favourite son (after mentor and training partner Georges St Pierre) by fighting again in his home country. The UFC clearly wants to book MacDonald as a fighter who the Canadians can get behind in his fourth appearance there. MacDonald seems to be upholding his end of the bargain but there are still questions over his style and fan friendliness. His performances have, on occasion been outstanding, but against the higher level he resorts to point fighting or labours at times. That doesn’t sell PPV’s like GSP did in his early years and may prevent him really getting that push. With GSP out of the picture we should be seeing a rampant MacDonald who is charging towards the title that he would never fight his friend and mentor for.
Tarec Saffiedine has remained undefeated since a 2011 loss to Tyron Woodley in Strikeforce but injuries have prevented him from more regular competition and therefore on the periphery of genuine contention. He impressed in his debut against Hyun Gyu Lim, in Singapore earlier this year and many felt that if he pressed a little harder he could have had the fight stopped long before the judges were needed. That fight came a year after Strikeforce folded and was delayed by injury; it was injury again that kept the Belgian off of UFC 172 and a fight against Jake Ellenberger. At 28 he has a lot of time on his side but year-long injuries can dramatically shorten a fighter’s life span and he needs to start gaining some traction if he wishes to fight for a title.
As this fight goes I give the edge to MacDonald in almost every area of his game with a single exception; he has never been five rounds before. Saffiedine has only faced this twice but it was his last two fights so the training camps will be conditioned for 25 minutes. If Saffiedine is the high level opponent that we all think he is then it is unlikely MacDonald will be putting him away as we have seen with the likes of Woodley, Maia, Ellenberger, Penn et al. The bookmakers are giving away very little here. I favour MacDonald to take a close decision but at 5/6 there is far more value in taking either to win on points at 4/6. It’s a small price differential but it does give Saffiedine the chance to steal a win and cash the bet anyway.
Recommendation: How the Fight will end – Points – 4/6 (-150) @ Paddy Power