By: Travis Hedland
One week removed from their biggest weekend of the year in International Fight Week, the UFC touches down in Glasgow for Fight Night 113. A card that lacks in star power but features several match-ups with ranking implications, it’s the companies first visit to Scotland since July of 2015 when Michael Bisping defeated Thales Leites on his road to the Middleweight Championship. Is it possible that two years from this event, Gunnar Nelson or Santiago Ponzinibio could rise to claim a title belt of their own? Absolutely, but we’ll get there. Let’s start with my prediction for fight of the night and take a look at some of the most interesting fights on the card.
Steven “Braveheart” Ray (21wins – 6 losses) -140 (betting favorite) vs. Paul “The Irish Dragon” Felder (13 wins – 3 losses) +120 (betting underdog)
A barn-burner pairing of two skilled strikers that will likely look to stay on the feet and impose their will, the resumes of these two men leave little doubt that they’ll provide an exciting fight for the Scottish fans. It’s tough to say if either man has a definitive edge standing up but if you had to find a consensus it would likely be Felder. A kick boxer with good forward pressure and great timing on his counter punches, we’ve seen him beat up other talented fighters like Daron Cruikshank, Danny Castillo and Josh Burkman, and we’ve seen him look great in losing efforts to the likes of muay thai expert Edson Barboza. However, the “Irish Dragons” key to victory could be his ability to recognize when to mix in a takedown to keep his opponent honest. Steven Ray has been known to give up some easy takedowns in his career, and some of the decisions he makes while grappling leave room for questioning and often lead to his losses. His exchanges with Joe Lauzon in his last fight are an example of this, though he was admittedly able to get back to his feet and dig in with body shots to outpoint the former lightweight contender after the final bell. While surviving the ground exchanges with a slick veteran like Lauzon certainly makes a statement on Ray’s skills, he hasn’t shown a level of consistency on the mat that leads you to believe he’s overlooking Felders submissions. Many believe Steven Ray is a fighter on the climb, with well rounded skills that are still developing. I’ve seen a lot of predictions that he’ll finish Felder with a TKO, but I’m riding with the underdog on this one. I think Felders striking will be even more technical as he continues to work with world-renowned trainer Duke Roufus, and he’s a much larger man and should have a strength advantage in the clinch or on the mat should the situation arise.
PREDICTION: Paul Felder via 3rd Round TKO or 29-28 Decision
#8 Joanne Calderwood (11 wins – 2 losses) -220 (betting favorite) vs. #14 Cynthia Calvillo (5 wins – 0 losses) +180 (betting underdog) The co-main event features a much more interesting match up of styles than it’s previous featured fight. Joanne Calderwood is a very talented muay thai fighter; tall, rangy and generally large for the 115 pound division as was evidenced by her missing weight for this fight. She fights in an abnormally upright stance that allows her to rain down a variety of kicks from any angle. Her front kicks could be especially key against the much shorter Calvillo, who will need to get inside to have any hope of winning. Calvillo may be smaller, but is hardly a lost cause on the feet. The Team Alpha Male product has a good boxing base, especially a looping jab she’s able to snap out at her opponents and follow with power shots from either hand. I was at UFC 210 in Buffalo, NY and saw her out strike Pearl Gonzalez before tapping her out in the third round. The one thing that was clear to me is that she gained confidence as the fight went on, and as she gains confidence her punching will open up and become much more fluid. Joanne Calderwood is not Pearl Gonzalez, though. She’s by far the toughest opponent of Cynthia’s young career, and the path of least resistance is not trying to feint her way inside and box through kicks to a decision. If she can, she’s likely to shoot in for takedowns when the opportunity arises. She’ll have to avoid the clinch, as Joanne has brutal knees, and rely more on traditional single and double legs. In 2 fights Cynthia’s only landed 2 takedowns and defended 50% of the ones against her, but her wrestling is better than the stats suggest. Once she moves into scrambles she’s very comfortable as her 2 submission wins will attest to, and Calderwoods only two career losses were first round tap outs. I think Cynthia makes a strong case for herself in the division, and mimics that result.
PREDICTION: Cynthia Calvillo via second round armbar
#8 Gunnar Nelson (16 wins – 2 losses – 1 draw) -160 (betting favorite) vs. #14 Santiago Ponzinibbio (24 wins – 3 losses) +140 (betting underdog)
In a traditional pairing of the striker and the grappler, rising prospect Santiago Ponzinibbio puts his winning streak on the line against the surging Gunnar Nelson who is looking to move on to a top 5 opponent. It’s no secret that Gunnar will try and get the fight to the mat, but he’s not the type to sell out for that strategy. He won’t be afraid to stand with the aggressive kick boxer, though their contrasting styles make it tough to outright predict how the exchanges could go. He works at an extremely low pace on the feet, landing less than 2 strikes per minute according to fight metric. He’s also not particularly high level defensively, though he’s proven extremely durable in his career and never been finished. Don’t be fooled, he can hit you with a hammer. He’s content to allow minutes of inactivity to pass before sniping an opponent with a long and looping shot if they aren’t careful; just ask Zak Cummings, Alan Jouban, and Brandon Thatch, all of whom were sat down by the Icelandic slugger. Ponzinibbio is an almost completely contrasting kickboxer known for his great footwork and movement, and a unique ability to counter off his back foot or pressure forward with his jab with equal proficiency. Gunnar is faster, Santiago is more defensively technical. Ponzinibbio is not as durable, and has been knocked out twice. Nelson has won 12 of his 16 wins by submission, and Ponzinibbio has KO’d 13 of his 24 victims. The quality of competition is one sided though; Gunnar has faced legitimate contenders, while Santiagos best finish was Court McGee, a tough but not elite fighter. While some believe Santiagos footwork will force Nelson to take awkward wrestling shots and miss the hips, I disagree. Ponzinibbios takedown defense is an uninspiring 60%, and I think Gunnar closes the gap with exceptional speed, disguising shots to wrap you up then simply overpowering you before dragging you down to his world. On the mat, he’s the best in the division not named Damian Maia. He has razor elbows and great ground and pound, and he’s an expert at taking the back and choking his victims out. 12 of his 9 submissions have been by guillotine, rear naked choke, or neck crank. Most analysts believe Gunnar will get Santiago down early, and when he does it will be trouble as the SBG Ireland product looks bigger and stronger at every event he competes in and miles ahead in technical skill. However the question is whether he’ll be able to whether that storm and get back to his feet, picking apart Nelson and dragging him into the later rounds and out of his comfort zone. I wouldn’t count on it.
PREDICTION: Gunnar Nelson via first round rear naked choke