The UFC returns to Hamburg this weekend with two legendary Heavyweights headlining the card along with some familiar names.
Hamburg sees the return to the octagon of Alex Gustafsson and a rare appearance outside the U.S. for Ryan Bader. For the European fans we welcome back Nicolas Dalby, Peter Sobotta, Scott Askham and see the long awaited UFC debut of ‘Judo’ Jimmy Wallhead. I’m covering the main card as usual with 5Dimes providing the odds.
Bader v Latifi:
It was eight months ago but you’d forgive Ryan Bader if his ears were still ringing after having his clock cleaned inside 90 seconds by Anthony Johnson. That loss put the skids on a 5-0 streak that pushed the nearly man almost to the point of title contention. As Glover Teixeira can attest to, there aren’t many guys who can take a punch from ‘Rumble’ and live to tell the tale. Bader goes to the back of the line again and waits for his number to be called again.
Ilir Latifi has demonstrated in his short UFC career to date that he knows how to deliver a punch, and he can certainly take a couple. Notoriously durable he has been stopped just once in seven fights at this level; that being a first round body kick by Jan Blachowitz. All other fights, barring his debut, have been wins and all barring one finishing in the first round. His debut was one of those times were nothing whatsoever was expected of him as he was a three day substitute for teammate Alex Gustafsson against the veteran Gegard Mousasi.
Bader is arguably the better fighter of the two, more rounded and developed with a better training camp. What he doesn’t have is a chin that has anything like the durability required to be a champion at 205lbs. If Latifi can connect early with a solid punch then we could be seeing a massive upset. I don’t foresee that happening though and the class of Bader should shine through in the 2nd round.
Recommendation: Ryan Bader – 2 units at -210(1/2) @ 5Dimes
Gustafsson v Blachowitz:
Alex Gustafsson gets another chance to shake off his MMA ‘nearly man’ tag. Gustafsson, who has dropped three from his last four, has been desperately unlucky in his pursuit of the gold. Firstly, he put on a Fight of the Year winning performance in his loss to Jon Jones three years ago; a fight that many pundits had him winning. Secondly, he ran into a resurgent ‘Rumble’ who finished him in the first round in Stockholm, a fight that nearly saw him into retirement. Finally, he was on the wrong end of a split decision loss to new champion Daniel Cormier. Again, this was a fight that many had him winning. Going so close but narrowly missing can only see you so far before the losses start to add up.
Former KSW Light Heavyweight champion Jan Blachowitz makes just his fifth UFC appearance, looking to move his record from 2-2 to a more respectable 3-2. In order to achieve this he needs to get through one of the toughest, most awkward fighters that he has ever faced. Against a power puncher like Jimi Manuwa, and a solid wrestler, like Corey Anderson; he came up short. Those are but two of the strengths of the Swede and surely his best path to victory is an early finish.
I really like Gustafsson for this one, and he is a heavy betting favourite as expected. This is arguably a mismatch and really should be a set up for Gus to put on an impressive performance in Europe. Its possible that he does enough to finish the durable Pole, but in reality its more likely to be a one-sided decision. I’m going to chance Gus to put on a show and end it early though.
Recommendation: Alex Gustafsson Wins Inside Distance – 2 units at -140 (7/10) @ 5Dimes
Arlovski v Barnett:
Belarussian by birth, but residing in the USA its no surprise to see Andrei Arlovski wheeled out for the last couple of European cards. He is big enough in name value to headline, but not so big that a loss would damage him too badly. When making his return to the UFC in early 2014 it was like he never went away, rattling off 5 wins on the bounce, and against decent opposition too. The cracks reappeared when he stepped up a level. Firstly he faced the now-champion and was finished inside a minute. Then he faced the now-challenger and fared little better. Top 5, maybe, but top 3 is now beyond him. A loss may see him cut again, albeit unlikely but he is now more of a fun booking than anything meaningful.
The very same can be said about Josh Barnett. The Warmaster returned to the UFC a little earlier than Arlovski but has fared worse. Inactivity has been his biggest opponent, limiting him to just four fights, going 2-2 along the way. In fighting they say you are only as good as your last fight, Barnett’s was against Ben Rothwell and this grappling legend found himself submitted for the first time in his career. Before anyone points out that he has two other submission losses to his name, those were verbal taps which are entirely different to a ‘proper’ tap.
These types of match-up can go either way, and with this being a five round fight, between two guys in their late 30’s, it probably will. Either Barnett will dominate and go for the finish – a submission is unlikely since nobody has ever made Arlovski tap – or Arlovski will land flush on Barnett to send the big man sprawling. One thing I know, or at least I think I know, is that it isn’t going 25 minutes. Not a cats chance in hell.
Recommendation: Fight Won’t Go The Distance – 4 units at -400 (1/4) @ 5Dimes