So first.. last week’s foray into China’s MMA scene.
We did pretty well for ourselves over at FFF until the co-main. One of my favs in EZ took a beating from the Leech and ended up going down, but that didn’t sting as much as Zhang’s wildly impressive first-round KO of the champ.
Weili Zhang seems to be a serious force with that kind of power and although that Chinese juice may have played a little factor in things, no one will have an easy out against someone like her.
We have a highly anticipated Lightweight title reunification bout between Khabib and Dustin Poirier, as well as other Lightweight stars, not to mention numerous prospect matchups from the Eastern part of the world!
*Quick note: The card order may not be perfect. I pride myself on getting these picks out before anyone else!*
Belal Muhammad vs. Takashi Sato (WW)
Belal Muhammad (15-3, 6-3 UFC) had a four-fight winning streak interrupted by top-notch prospect Geoff Neal, but turned it around against Curtis Millender. Muhammad is an wrestling dependent fighter who bases his game around control time. Almost all of his UFC fights have gone the distance, win or loss, due to the slow paced control of Muhammad, which can be incredibly aggravating against even a ground-savvy opponent.
Japanese star Takashi Sato (15-2, 1-0 UFC) came into the UFC on the right foot with a second round knockout of aging prospect Ben Saunders. Prior to that TKO, he was getting picked apart by Saunders and even outgrappled in moments. When shit hits the fan, Sato is an incredible boxer with fight-changing power but a disappointing volume and absolute failure on the ground.
This is a one-sided match. Muhammad worked over Curtis Millender, a power striker with a defensive ground game to much success at UFC 236. Sato has the power, but is entirely unreliable on the floor and it remains his biggest failure. This will be a grindfest that will almost certainly end with Muhammad’s hand raised.
Take the Shot: Belal Muhammad via Unanimous Decision
Nordine Taleb vs. Muslim Salikhov (WW)
Nordine Taleb (15-6, 7-4 UFC) has become some sort of journeyman for the Welterweight division. He is a calculated kickboxer with dangerous power with 7 knockouts to his name. On top of that, he has good wrestling with some dominating top control. Taleb has a lot of solid skills, but none that stand out and his worst nightmare is in specialist fighters.
Few fighters are as entertaining as Muslim Salikhov (14-2, 1-1 UFC). “King of Kung Fu” has proven that Dagestanis aren’t just wrestling, having 11 wins by KO in all sorts of creative ways, including 4 knockouts by spinning kicks. The biggest struggle for Salikhov has been his ground game, with both of his losses coming in submission.
The play for Taleb is going to be to get this match to the floor. He has the wrestling to hand a decision loss to the Russian, but if he gets tied up in a striking war, he will lose. The range and feinting will be too much for the standard kickboxing of Taleb too handle, so he needs to isolate Salikhov on the mat for the win. I don’t have confidence that Taleb can do that for all three rounds, making this a dangerous out for the Frenchman.
Take the Shot: Muslim Salikhov via Round 3 Knockout
Zak Cummings vs. Omari Akhmedov (MW)
After an upset victory over Trevin Giles, Zak Cummings (23-6, 8-3) will be returning against one of the Dagestani grapplers of the night. If you’re the superstitious type, Cummings has been on a track of two wins, then a loss. Guess what, he’s off two wins. The jiu-jitsu ace can get it done with guillotines but doesn’t like to instigate the grappling exchanges, instead looking for his opponent to go in.
Omari Akhmedov (18-4-1, 6-3-1 UFC) has been on a winning streak for his past four fights (aside from a draw with Marvin Vettori). “Wolverine” likes to get it done with his wrestling and use his striking more as a means to get it into the close range. He does have some real power, but usually cannot get it done even when he has an opponent hurt.
Cummings has real strengths on the ground, but we have seen him struggle constantly against good wrestlers. On top of that, he doesn’t have good power or volume to handle an onslaught of strikes. The power and overall control of Akhmedov should make this an easy stylistic match for him.
Take the Shot: Omari Akhmedov via Unanimous Decision
Don Madge vs. Fares Ziam (LW)
Don Madge (8-3, 1-0 UFC) quickly became a fan favorite last November with his head kick KO of Te Edwards. The highlight reel knockout was not the only thing making “The Magic Man” an immediate prospect. He has incredible power and Muay Thai striking, but threw up numerous submission attempts that SHOULD have been successful and were just one inch off the money. Every single victory of Madge’s has come in a finish, which keeps him incredibly exciting.
At first glance, Fares Ziam (10-2) may seem like a very similar fighter to Madge. Ziam is a similarly dangerous Muay Thai striker out of France with a variety of striking possibilities, deadly power, and the same range Madge utilizes. The difference I notice is Ziam’s struggle with wrestling. Both of his losses have come in a submission and although he does have four submissions of his own, he seems to be significantly less skilled on the mat than Madge.
For all of these two fighters’ relative skill on the mat, I don’t see a chance of this going to the ground. Both of them don’t go for takedowns and are more responsive to the ground action when they are not initiating. I see the power and pressure of Madge taking over quickly in this match. Although Ziam is certainly able of dishing out a beating on his own, he needs range and his own pacing to find success.
Take the Shot: Don Madge via Round 2 Knockout
This is the way to kick a card off!