After a big week last week where we returned to winning ways the UFC returns with a Friday/Saturday double-header. I won’t be covering the TUF Finale so will instead move straight to the big Fox card.
A number of fan favourites are making their return this weekend over four main card fights that are sure to get any gamblers pulse pumping. Let’s analyse the main card with odds provided by 5Dimes and see if you agree with my picks.
Gonzaga v Mitrione:
Kicking off the main part of the show is a returning Gabriel Gonzaga against Matt Mitrione. Gonzaga has spent the best part of 2014 missing after a lopsided loss to tonight’s headliner Stipe Miocic in January. That loss put the skids on a promising run for the one-time challenger sending him to the back of the queue again. At 35 years of age and an 11 year veteran Gonzaga will be aware that this time is all but up. Is there a final run at the belt in him though?
Mitrione makes a quick follow up to his comfortable win over Derrick Lewis in September. Not a lot can be said about a fight that lasted 41 seconds but the disparity in class was evident as ‘Meathead’ steamrollered through the UFC newcomer. Heavy-handed, but technically limited, Mitrione knows that a good performance against highly respected Gonzaga can once again lift him back up those all so important rankings.
I am not quite sure how Mitrione opens as favourite over Gonzaga but unless some major cash comes rolling in for the Brazilian then it happens. From my own perspective I see things very differently and have Gonzaga as the fighter with more paths to victory. Gonzaga can take Mitrione down and submit him, he can also knock him out on the feet, and with that I’ll be taking him inside the distance.
Recommendation: Gonzaga wins inside distance +150 (6/4) @ 5Dimes
Overeem v Struve:
Dutch kickboxers collide in the second of three heavyweight fights on the main card as Stefan Struve looks to make his long awaited comeback from injury. Struve, as you may remember, was scheduled to face Matt Mitrione earlier this year but had to withdraw on fight night due to heart palpitations. That was supposed to be his return from a broken jaw suffered at the hands of Mark Hunt. Many felt that was that for the young Dutchman but return he has and he takes on a countryman in a fight that could have ramifications for both men.
Fighting out of Holland, yet born in Hounslow, England is former K1, Dream, Strikeforce and Pride Heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem. The only fighter to ever hold such an exclusive set of belts in combat sports the UFC gold has thus far eluded him. A promised title shot evaporated after a high testosterone reading saw him sit out nine months of 2012 before making a comeback, going 1-3 in the process. Since defeating Brock Lesnar in his debut his only success has been a laborious over Frank Mir in a performance that failed to impress.
Many moons ago I wrote that I will never tip Overeem again, and I have no intention of changing my mind. Although occasionally exciting to watch his overconfidence and lackadaisical attitude has cost me too much money and I’d even find a bet against him if he was fighting Demetrious Johnson! No, I am going to give Struve the benefit of the doubt. He has a striking game that has finished tougher fighters than Overeem (Miocic, for example) and as long as he comes into the octagon fit and focused he could very well be another man to expose the chin of Overeem, without ruling out the possibility of submitting him. Struve inside the distance is tasty enough for me to take a nibble.
Recommendation: Gonzaga wins inside distance +315 (16/5) @ 5Dimes
Dos Anjos v Diaz:
For fans of the Skrap Pack there is little better to see than the likes of Gil Melendez return after a year out closely followed by the Diaz brothers. First up into the octagon is younger brother Nate. After an unsuccessful stint at Welterweight Diaz returned to the 155lb scene and promptly racked up three wins on the bounce to earn a title shot. One of those wins was a complete schooling of Donald Cerrone which essentially secured a shot at then champion, Benson Henderson. Nate was dominated in that fight two years ago and has only been seen twice since as he was finished by Josh Thomson, returning the favour against Gray Maynard six months later.
Rafael Dos Anjos has been something of a revelation over the last three years. I first noticed him on a Facebook prelim dropping a split to Gleison Tibau. Since that fight he has racked up five wins on the bounce including a decision over Donald Cerrone. That led to an unsuccessful title eliminator against Nurmagomedov. Dos Anjos bounced back stronger though, finishing Jason High in the second round and incredibly Benson Henderson in the first, becoming the first man to score a knockout, technical or otherwise against the former champ.
Despite fan favouritism for Diaz it is very difficult to see beyond Dos Anjos. They have both faced similar levels of fighter, both taking wins in each respective bout but the absence will not have assisted Nate in any way. Josh Thomson ploughed through him and exposed him badly and he doesn’t have the skillset of Nurmagomedov who is the only fighter to dominate the Brazilian of late. A year ago I would have tipped Dos Anjos by decision but he has recently found that he likes knocking people out and that seal has now been broken with Diaz. Inside the distance is the pick here, but only just.
Recommendation: Dos Anjos wins inside distance +277 (11/4) @ 5Dimes
Dos Santos v Miocic:
In yet another bout featuring a fighter on the comeback trail is the main event involving former champion Junior dos Santos and Stipe Miocic. For dos Santos this marks his return to the octagon after 14 months away. The last time we saw him he was battered for 23 minutes by Cain Velasquez before his body literally gave up. It was shocking to watch a fighter get beaten that badly and not be pulled from the fight by his corner. Junior was simply unable to find his range and was taken down time after time by a marauding Velasquez that it was almost a mercy when the end came. Prior to meeting Velasquez the Brazilian had looked near unbeatable in the UFC as he ploughed his way through a who’s who of modern heavyweights.
Stipe Miocic has really started to turn some heads in a relatively shallow division and finds himself in the position of potentially being only a fight or two away from a title shot. After suffering the first and only loss of his career against Stefan Struve he has taken one-sided decisions over Roy Nelson and Gabriel Gonzaga to propel himself up the rankings. When this matchup was scrapped back in May he despatched the late replacement and tough as nails Fabio Maldonado inside the opening minute. Dos Santos is no Maldonado and this represents the biggest test of his career by a long, long way.
With a good training camp and some good fortune dos Santos will have been able to exorcise the ghosts of his fights against Velasquez, such was his torment at the hands of the current champion. He remains the best number two in the division by a long way and I include everyone in that statement, even the current Interim titleholder Fabricio Werdum. Miocic has the power and talent to finish most fighters but he is untested against the elite and this is as close as he’ll get to elite in a while. If he can beat JDS then he must face the eventual winner of Velasquez v Werdum, of that there can be no doubt. Sadly, I don’t see it happening as he will be picked off by the striking of dos Santos en route to a knockout as the fight hits the championship rounds.
Recommendation: dos Santos wins by KO/TKO -155 (4/6) @ 5Dimes