It might seem like an unlikely setting for a title eliminator, but two of the light heavyweight division’s top contenders are about to throw down in Moncton, New Brunswick.
Recent title challenger Volkan Oezdemir looks to get back on the championship track when he faces Anthony Smith, a former middleweight who has made an instant impact at 205 pounds with sub-two minute KOs of past champions Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Rashad Evans, in Saturday’s main event.
The co-headliner features noted Conor McGregor ally Artem Lobov facing off with former top-10 lightweight Michael Johnson, who is stepping in on less than two weeks’ notice as a replacement for Zubaira Tukhugov. This new matchup might not have the same personal stakes as the original (McGregor and Tukhugov became embroiled in a physical confrontation at UFC 229 when McGregor’s rival and Tukhugov’s teammate Khabib Nurmagomedov exited the cage following the main event, sparking a brawl), but there is still plenty on the line for both men.
In other main card action, light heavyweights Misha Cirkunov and Patrick Cummins battle to maintain their spot in the rankings, Andre Soukhamthath faces short-notice replacement Jonathan Martinez in a bantamweight bout, light heavyweights Gian Villante and Ed Herman collide, and veterans Alex Garcia and Court McGee meet in a welterweight bout.
What: UFC Moncton
Where: Avenir Centre in Moncton, New Brunswick
When: Saturday, Oct. 27. The three-fight UFC Fight Pass preliminary card begins at 6:30 p.m. ET, the four-fight FOX Sports 2 preliminary card begins at 8 p.m. ET, and the six-fight FOX Sports 1 main card begins at 10 p.m. ET.
Volkan Oezdemir vs. Anthony Smith
Expect this one to go down as advertised.
Of their combined 45 wins, 39 have come by way of knockout or submission for Volkan Oezdemir and Anthony Smith, and with positioning near the top of the contenders’ list on the line, they’ll both be looking for the kill.
Smith has proven to be extraordinarily difficult to knock out in recent years, suffering just one loss via strikes this past February. It will be interesting to see how much Smith’s durability actually benefits from no longer making a grueling cut down to 185 pounds as there was hardly any time for his chin to be tested in his recent wins over “Shogun” and Evans.
He’s going to absorb some shots from Oezdemir, a skilled kickboxer who showed mystifying KO power in his wins over Jimi Manuwa and Cirkunov. At times, it looks like Oezdemir only needs half-an-inch to generate the kind of force one would normally expect to see from an overhand right or an uppercut. This makes him absolutely lethal in the clinch and Smith would be wise to avoid that particular situation early.
At some point, unless he’s able to get the better of Oezdemir from range, Smith will have to take a risk if he’s hunting for a finish, and you get the sense that he’s poised to run right into a fight-ending blow from Oezdemir. Make it a dozen knockout victories for “No Time” on Saturday.
Michael Johnson vs. Artem Lobov
It should be easy to write off Artem Lobov in this matchup, shouldn’t it?
Michael Johnson will have a massive reach and overall size advantage, plus he’s faced and beaten much better competition than Lobov has. According to most oddsmakers, this is a no-brainer pick. And yet because Lobov is so difficult to actually put away and he keeps turning up like the proverbial bad penny, there is still an ounce of doubt that he might catch Johnson with something and steal this one.
It doesn’t help that Johnson has had his share of odd losses in the past, which always makes it scary to write, “Michael Johnson definitely has this.” His featherweight stint has been less than inspiring as well, with a submission loss to Darren Elkins in January followed by a close split nod over Andre Fili the following August. With less than two weeks to properly prepare, it’s entirely possible that “The Menace” comes out flat against Lobov.
But there is simply too much evidence to discount Johnson’s superior striking and wrestling, barring any weirdness on fight night (and this is MMA, so make of that what you will). Johnson by unanimous decision.
Misha Cirkunov vs. Patrick Cummins
This is a winnable, yet dangerous fight for Misha Cirkunov. It’s easy to forget that Cirkunov was once on a similar path to Oezdemir, carving out a path to a title shot with finishes in his first four UFC fights only to be derailed in 28 seconds by the Swiss striker and then beaten by the more experienced Glover Teixeira.
In Patrick Cummins, Cirkunov gets an opponent who can certainly be knocked out, but who is also capable of making fighters look bad with his grind-it-out style. Cummins’s strategy is going to be to close the distance and be first when it comes to shooting for takedowns.
Though Cirkunov doesn’t have elite takedown defense, he’ll be the superior athlete in this matchup, which will make it difficult for Cummins to get too deep on any of his shots. Even if this does go to the ground, Cirkunov’s active submission game and knack for knowing when to go for the finish should prevent Cummins from simply settling in to Cirkunov’s guard.
Cirkunov’s willingness to grapple and embrace the grind will get him the win here and if he can soften Cummins up on the feet first, he may also become the first fighter to cause “Durkin” to tap out.
Andre Soukhamthath vs. Jonathan Martinez
UFC newcomer Jonathan Martinez has a tall order (pun intended) ahead of him as takes on Andre Soukhamthath at 135 pounds.
A lanky fighter with the frame of a flyweight, Martinez will be giving up pounds and reach to Soukhamthath, and that’s going to be a major problem considering how hard Soukhamthath hits. “The Asian Sensation” has some serious pop in his hands and all it will take is one good crack to change the landscape of the fight.
Martinez could pull off the upset if Soukhamthath dares to spend a prolonged period of time in Martinez’s tricky guard, and that’s certainly possible given that Soukhamthath has displayed questionable fight IQ in the past.
All Soukhamthath has to do is play it smart and he’ll walk out with a knockout victory or a unanimous decision.
Gian Villante vs. Ed Herman
The matchmakers knew exactly what they were doing when they put these two together. If the people of New Brunswick are hoping for a brawl on the main card, then Gian Villante and Ed Herman will be happy to oblige.
Since moving up to light heavyweight, Herman has rarely made use of the Brazilian jiu-jitsu expertise that made him a prospect at 185 pounds when he first began his UFC career. The 38-year-old has so far been content to slug it out in his new division with mixed results.
He may regret taking this tact against Villante, a rock-headed New Yorker who will be thrilled to stand and trade with Herman until one of them drops. As the larger man with the longer history of knocking folks out, look for Villante to come out on the right end of this slugfest.
Alex Garcia vs. Court McGee
Intriguing contrast of styles here as the methodical Court McGee will attempt to navigate Alex Garcia’s potent bursts of offense. There’s definitely a blueprint for beating Garcia at this point, one laid out by Ryan LaFlare and Tim Means. Both of those fighters managed to avoid Garcia’s takedowns and use crisp boxing to outpoint him.
McGee has always been an effective volume striker, a trait that rarely leads to dynamic finishes even as it has kept him competitive in the UFC. Theoretically, that could frustrate Garcia, but McGee’s inability to threaten him in any meaningful way means that Garcia will be open to absorbing some punches if it means he can get into grappling distance.
A lot of this fight will take place against the fence, with Garcia pressing against McGee to try and drag the action to the mat. McGee’s takedown defense has always been solid so fans will have to sit through some monotonous stretches.
Garcia should be favored here for his superior athleticism and greater finishing potential, but don’t be surprised if this one goes to a close decision.
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