The UFC returns to New Jersey with their mid-range Fight Night series, this time featuring a main event with hometown hero Jim Miller against top lightweight Donald Cerrone. The card also features striking standouts like John Lineker and Edson Barboza as well as respectable names like Evan Dunham and Rick Story.
Will Jim Miller be able to get past the stand-up prowess of Cowboy? Is this Cowboy's chance to do the same against Miller? I answer those questions and more with my predictions for tonight's fights.
What: UFC Fight Night: Cerrone vs. Miller (UFC Fight Night 45)
Where: Revel Hotel and Casino, Atlantic City, New Jersey
When: Wednesday, the one-fight Fight Pass card starts at 6:30 p.m. ET, the four-fight FOX Sports 1 card starts at 7 p.m. and the six-fight main card starts on FOX Sports 1 at 9 p.m. ET.
Donald Cerrone vs. Jim Miller
Who doesn't love this fight? And who doesn't love either competitor's marriage of grit with technical skill? The problem, though, is that it's not clear that Miller is good at something Cerrone can't handle. Worse, Cerrone's size difference, even for something as punching up above normal height, will cause problems for Miller. I expect these two to have moments where they neutralize each other and other times where it's an all-out assault. In the end, though, Cerrone won't be controlled on the ground and has the distance to keep Miller at bay or on the defense as they strike.
Edson Barboza vs. Evan Dunham
This is another very tough fight to call. Both guys have precisely the sort of weaknesses the other fighter can exploit, at least in theory. Barboza falls prey to the wrestler-boxer who can mix it up and tap his shaky chin. Dunham can be overwhelmed when he fails to vary his offense. The question here is who is going to have their way. I'm going to side with Barboza, only because I don't think Dunham has the requisite fire power in the stand up game to get Barboza off of his. Dunham should at least make for some scary moments, but Barboza should be able to weather the storm.
Rick Story vs. Leonardo Mafra
Mafra can bang, but against Story, I'm not convinced he'll be able to do much else. And while Story hasn't looked great (or at least consistent), when he's on, there's nothing in Mafra's skill set that suggests the Brazilian can stand up to him. As long as Story doesn't get too reckless with forward pressure or standing still when Mafra's back is against the cage, this is his fight to lose.
Justin Salas vs. Joe Proctor
Here are two fighters with meat and potatoes games, but Salas is the slightly more polished of the two. He has more athletic wrestling that doesn't require use of the fence, is quicker and overall, probably a better athlete. Proctor can wear on people, but Salas has shown he can go the distance. I suspect he'll be able to establish the takedown at some point and grind out a top control decision from there.
John Lineker vs. Alptekin Ozkilic
Lineker made weight, which either means he's drained beyond belief or got his weight cut exactly right this time. We don't know for sure, but based on how he looked on the scales, it appears to be the latter case. That's bad news for Ozkilic. Lineker's wild style of striking does make him susceptible to the takedown. Once there, he's typically shown enough defensive fundamentals to at least survive if not more. I don't think Ozkilic will get routed, at least not early. But he can't hang with the Brazilian power puncher on the feet. Once he tastes the power, Lineker should have much more ease in handling Ozkilic's subsequent takedown attempts. Maybe 'The Turkish Delight' survives, but I have a very difficult time seeing how he takes two of three rounds.
Lucas Martins vs. Alex White
This is a tough pick, but the odds makers have White as the favorite. I respect that and can absolutely see the logic that favors him, but I'm going to side with the Brazilian. What makes this bout hard to predict is that both guys have suspect defense. Plenty of offense, yes, but there isn't much head movement between them. White put Estevan Payan away, but he ate a series of hard rights before he did. Payan might be shopworn, or White packs a huge punch, but either way, he was getting tagged. Martins has also been torn to pieces by superior strikers at times. The outcome will be decided by a combination of who is more durable and more offensively potent. White has the edge is durability, but lacks the same kind of well-rounded muay Thai that Martins has.