The UFC is back this weekend, with the Flyweight Championship on the line as the 125lbs kingpin, Demetrious Johnson looks to make the fourth defence of his belt against the rising Dagestani, Ali Bagautinov.
The rest of the card is pretty solid and features a number of matchups that carry a degree of interest and intrigue, so let’s not waste any more time and dive straight in to the UFC 174 main card preview.
UFC Flyweight Championship
(C) Demetrious Johnson vs. (#4) Ali Bagautinov – 125lbs.
Demetrious Johnson put in a career-defining performance last time out, KO’ing Joseph Benavidez back in December. Many had Benavidez tabbed as the guy to unseat Johnson and as the one who would be doing the starching. Johnson continues to display evolution from fight to fight, and in his rematch with Benavidez, he showed the kind of punching power few knew he was capable of. Bagautinov finds himself in a title fight having rattled off an 11-fight win streak with three of those victories coming inside the Octagon and the most recent being a decision victory over the sometime-flyweight, John Lineker back at UFC 169.
You can read a more in-depth preview of Bagautinov’s chances here, but I’m here to just give you the skinny. Despite going very much under the radar, for me, Bagautinov could pose the biggest threat to Johnson’s crown that we have seen so far. Bagautinov has the required wrestling and striking to challenge, but ultimately falls down on speed, which, to be fair, is the case for pretty much every flyweight. Johnson is a supremely gifted fighter who only seems to be improving, and while I feel Bagautinov could run him closer than he is being given credit for, Johnson takes this by virtue of being the better all-round fighter.
Prediction – Johnson via decision
(#2) Rory MacDonald vs. (#3) Tyron Woodley – 170lbs.
While the announcement that the winner of the Robbie Lawler-Matt Brown tussle will challenge Johny Hendricks for the belt tainted the significance of this matchup ever so slightly, this is still a fight with a lot riding on it. Both men are very much in the hunt for the belt and a win for either combatant will likely see them as the next, next number one contender for the UFC welterweight championship.
MacDonald has all the tools to be a future champion in the UFC with his methodical, technical approach to fighting, but looks afraid to pull the trigger recently. This is not the case with Woodley, who has looked scary in recent bouts, mixing speed, athleticism and power effortlessly. If Woodley can fight his own fight and not get sucked in to a MacDonald gameplan, this one is his to upset.
Prediction – Woodley via decision
(#9) Ryan Bader vs. (#12) Rafael Cavalcante – 205lbs.
While these two have had their chances to threaten to break in to the elite of the division and not quite grasped that particular nettle, this is a very well matched-up bout between two very talented gatekeepers. Both men bounced back from defeat in their latest outings, with Bader taking home the decision win against Anthony Perosh and ‘Feijao’ stopping Igor Pokrajac via strikes, both at the back end of 2013. ‘Feijao’ carries serious power in his hands and is the more accomplished striker of the two, but Bader can also throw leather and will hold a significant advantage in wrestling that will likely see him through, maybe even by knockout.
Prediction – Bader via KO/TKO
(#14) Brendan Schaub vs. Andrei Arlovski – 265lbs.
This might not be the pinnacle of heavyweight MMA, but I am looking forward to this one nonetheless. Who doesn’t love a heavyweight scrap with two guys whose chins are shot to bits but still willing to press forward and throw down? It feels like an impossible task to pick a winner here with each man just as likely to be knocked out as the other, but I’m going to side with the more technical striker Arlovski. Just don’t put any money on this one.
Prediction – Arlovski via KO/TKO
(#13) Ovince St. Preux vs. Ryan Jimmo – 205lbs.
I have been a fan of St. Preux since his Strikeforce days and feel that he has a lot of potential, but I’ve always been sceptical of his ability to put it all together come fight night. Jimmo is a sound technician and will prove a tough test, but I’m backing OSP to just about take this one.
Prediction – St. Preux via decision