It will be difficult to live up to the excitement of this past weekend's Fight Night, however, a handful of rising prospects will be looking to put on a standout performance this Saturday evening at the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas, Nevada. The card is to be headlined by a pair of heavy-handed grapplers between Arman Tsarukyan and Mateusz Gamrot, who are both looking to squeeze into the top 10 of the UFC's Lightweight division. The co-main event sees veteran Neil Magny face the surging Shavkat Rakhmonov in what promises to be a sturdy test for the Kazakhstani prospect.
As for the rest of the card, we have several interesting match-ups to look forward to, including the return of former Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov's cousin Umar Nurmagomedov, who looks to follow in the footsteps of his kin by keeping an unblemished record. We will also be treated to the return of Jiu-Jitsu ace Rodolfo Vieira and an always-game Thiago Moises.
If you are a fan of high-level grappling and dynamic striking, this card is for you.
Arman Tsarukyan wasn't done any favors by UFC match-makers when he was paired up against future number 4 ranked Islam Makhachev in his promotional debut, however, the Armenian-Russian gave the AKA representative all he could handle for three competitive rounds. Despite coming up short in his debut, every educated mixed martial arts fan saw the promise in Tsarukyan's game.
Coming into the UFC, Tsarukyan already held the accolades of Master of Sport in Freestyle Wrestling and Mixed Martial Arts, as well as the hype behind an impressive twelve-fight win streak. These skills were on full display as Tsarukyan seamlessly blended his strikes with explosive level changes into takedowns. Although a little wilder in his shot selection during his early UFC tenure, "Ahalkalakets" has polished up his striking in recent fights, now favoring intercepting straight punches over looping shots.
Now riding a five-fight win streak, Tsarukyan will look to keep the momentum going and climb the ranks of the shark tank that is the UFC's Lightweight Division.
On the flip side, Mateusz Gamrot came into the promotion with an eerily similar story to Tsarukyan; Gamrot transitioned to MMA with a decorated background in the sport of Freestyle Wrestling, as well as submission grappling. Once again, UFC match-makers pitted two hot prospects against each other in their respective debuts when the 17-0 Gamrot was set to face Guram Kutateladze at UFC Fight Night 180. The battle was closely contested, with Gamrot coming out on the losing end of a split decision.
Despite the rocky start, many fans saw the massive potential as "Gamer" showcased a stellar ability to explode into level changes, as well as angle out to finish his takedowns. As many thought, the Polish warrior bounced back from defeat by securing three straight stoppage victories over Scott Holtzman, Jeremy Stephens, and Diego Ferreira.
Many times in fights where we have two high-level grapplers we get a stalemate of sorts in that department and end up with a striking contest. Whether or not that comes to fruition, the Verdict Community seems confident that this bout will go the distance in Tsarukyan's favor, with 40% predicting a Decision win for the Armenian-Russian.
To be the best, you have to beat the best. Shavkat Rakhmonov isn't quite there yet, but this will certainly be a step in the right direction if he can manage to earn a victory over 26-fight UFC veteran Neil "The Haitian Sensation" Magny. Magny represents a unique type of test for up-in-comers; not only does Magny hold the coveted number 10 slot in the UFC's Welterweight rankings, but he is also a measuring stick of sorts for green prospects.
What makes Magny a tough out for just about anyone is not only his well-roundedness, but more importantly the admirable intangibles that he possesses. As previously stated, Magny has seen a wide variety of skills inside the UFC Octagon. He has fought wrestlers, grapplers, strikers, judokas, and the list goes on. He also consistently displays a high level of conditioning and durability that he has become somewhat known for. What this means for the undefeated marauder, Shavkat Rakhmonov, is that he will likely be tested in all facets of the modern mixed martial arts game.
Magny comes into this bout with a two-fight win streak, both via decision. Conversely, "Nomad" has looked like an unstoppable force, holding a perfect fifteen-fight win streak, all by stoppage, and just three of those being under the UFC banner. The Verdict Community seems confident that not only will Shavkat Rakhmonov continue to add names to his flawless resume, but he will also earn a knockout victory in the second round.
It isn't always pretty, but more often than not the Heavyweights come to throw heat. Fingers crossed, that saying will ring true when Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series alum Josh Parisian faces off against fellow striker Alan Baudot. Candidly, these two men have the least hype of all the main card bouts this weekend, but frequently the lesser-known fighters provide solid entertainment value.
Both men will likely come out in the orthodox stance looking to strike from the outside. The key differences in styles here are fairly simple; Parisian heavily favors a jab and kick-heavy approach whereas Baudot prefers to blitz in more with looping shots. If past is prologue, expect Parisian to poke and prod from the outside with low kicks, teep kicks to the gut, jabs, and potentially some dirty boxing from the clinch.
On Baudot's end, expect a more in and out approach consisting of the left hook, right overhand, and lots of bouncing. Between the two, Parisian is a much slower starter and requires time to accelerate, whereas Baudot likes to start guns a-blazing, sometimes to his detriment. Hopefully, we get a typical heavy-handed KO here, however, the Verdict Community expects Alan Baudot to pick up a decision victory.
The UFC's Lightweight division is punishing. The reason why that fact is so important to bring up in the context of this matchup is to point out that neither of these men are ranked in the top 15. That isn't an insult to either of these fighters, but a compliment, as Thiago Moises and Christos Giagos both have very respectable games.
Despite Moises being a Black Belt and Giagos being a Brown Belt in jiu-jitsu, both of these men largely prefer to strike. Moises has shown a much more composed and reactive counter striker style from the orthodox stance in recent bouts, whereas Giagos is a switch stance fighter who elects to blitz in and out with flurries. Although it's somewhat of a crude over-simplification, this fight is a bit of a throwback match-up to the old-school style vs style fights, Moises being more of a traditional muay thai/ jiu-jitsu style fighter and Giagos being a karate/ wrestler style fighter.
Despite losing his last two fights, Moises has shown some very clean boxing technique, as well as the ability to mix in a good low kick. He also has a very dangerous guard and is excellent at getting back to his feet after being taken down. Giagos, on the other hand, is coming off a loss to the headlining Arman Tsarukyan. Expect to see plenty of bouncing, blitzing, stance switching, and blast double legs from "The Spartan". The Verdict Community is fairly confident that this fight will go the distance, with Thiago Moises getting his hand raised.
When the name Nurmagomedov is attached to a card, it is probably wise to tune in. Despite being cousin to the all-time-great Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, Umar Nurmagomedov has a game that is unique all on its own. Nurmagomedov does possess some of the similar qualities that his relative was known for. His takedowns, top control, pressure, ground and pound, and submission threat are all incredibly formidable, however, what makes Umar stand out from Khabib is his ability to kick. Nurmagomedov is a real threat from kicking range. He will throw anything from a low kick, body kick, teep kick, front kick, high kick, question mark kick, hook kick, and just about any other kick you can think of.
Umar's game is heavily predicated on kicking until his opponent can close the distance, to which his answer is the Dagestani grapple heavy attack that is all too familiar. Once on the mat, Nurmagomedov is a finisher. He will grab a body lock to pass the guard, force his opponent to expose their back, attach to them as if his life depends on it, and look to sink in a rear-naked choke, which he has 6 of on his record already.
Nate Maness is not to be overlooked though, as "Mayhem" is on a four-fight win streak, three of those being by way of stoppage. What seems to make Maness so formidable thus far is his height. Nate Maness is a staggering 5'10", which certainly makes him one of the tallest athletes in the UFC's Bantamweight division. Being tall is only part of the equation though, as you must know how to effectively use your height and reach, and it seems like Maness does as he already has two stoppage victories in the UFC. As you could probably guess, The Verdict Community has Umar Nurmagomedov pegged as a huge favorite, with the majority of users predicting a first-round submission victory for the Dagestani standout.
The UFC wanted to set the mood by opening the main card with an absolute banger. Relatively unknown to the casual audience, Chris "The Action Man' Curtis more often than not lives up to his nickname and it will certainly be put to the test when he faces one of the greatest jiu-jitsu practitioners of all time in Rodolfo "The Black Belt Slayer" Vieira. In a classic striker vs grappler matchup, Curtis will almost certainly try to keep this fight on the feet and Vieira will most likely look to take the fight to the ground.
Curtis is coming into this contest with a seven-fight win streak, including finishes over the likes of Phil Hawes and Brendan Allen. Ironically, "The Action Man" has shown to be a bit of a slow starter, however, he is extremely defensively sound. Curtis typically looks to cover and roll with the punches until he can make his reads. Once he does decide to go on the attack though, he has exhibited some excellent counterpunching.
Vieira on the other hand has a much more conservative striking style, especially after showing some conditioning issues against Anthony Hernandez. Vieira's weapons of choice of late have been the jab, the right cross, and a variety of low kicks. These, however, are all secondary to his elite-level grappling game. Vieira frequently will punch into blast double legs, usually finishing them along the fence. Once he has you down, Vieira is a bloodhound in his hunt for the back. If Vieira is unable to finish with his signature rear-naked choke, he is also very inclined to take the mount position in search of the arm triangle.
The Verdict Community is predicting a first or second-round KO for "The Action Man" Chris Curtis, however, make sure you tune into this one as it is almost guaranteed to not go the full 15 minutes.