The next card after a major UFC Pay-Per-View (PPV) will always feel like a bit of a letdown. Sometimes it feels like a letdown because the names are not as big, or there are no titles on the line. An sometimes it’s a letdown simply because the fight card is actually bad. Unfortunately for UFC Fight Night Johnson vs Poirier in Texas, on paper it seems it is the latter. I will be tuning in because I’m a fight freak and will watch just about any professional combat sport. However, I cannot blame fans for tuning in for the only two last two fights on this card, as they are the only ones with ranked opponents fighting one another. It appears the casual fans are staying away for this one as there are still plenty of cage side seats still available as of this morning for a fight happening tomorrow night. Too be fair to the UFC, you do not need ranked guys fighting one another to have an entertaining interesting fight. When you hold fights every week, it is a challenge to keep the cards full of stars or big matchups. Even if the overall card is relatively weak, the last two fights of the night are compelling ones that will have top 10 ranking implications in both the 155lbs & 185lbs divisions. I’ll break down those two fights and make my predictions in hopes of fattening your wallets.
Notable Main Card Fights:
Urijah “Prime Time” Hall (9th) vs Derek Brunson (10th) (Middleweight 185lbs)
Preview: Urijah Hall was originally scheduled to face MMA Legend Anderson Silva back at UFC 198 but Silva required emergency gall bladder surgery scraping that fight. Hall has now been on ice since his last fight a November loss to Robert Whitaker. In what is definitely a disappointment in comparison of significance to fighting a legend like Silva; Hall now gets the super athletic and powerful Derek Brunson now instead. Hall is one of the more perplexing fighters to figure out since he fought his way into the UFC via a runner-up finish on the ‘Ultimate Fighter’ show. He’s shown glimmers of having dynamic and devastating striking, similar to that of Lyoto Machida when he first burst into the UFC. However, he’s also lost a couple fights to fighters many would not view on the same talent level as Hall, because he simply did not engage enough with them. Hall appears to need an aggressive striker to encourage him to unleash his strikes and counter-shots he likes to throw. However, strong grapplers, wrestlers, or guys who are very patient with their attack seem to give Hall problems. Brunson falls into both of those categories as he will definitely trade aggressive shots on his feet, but has no problem grappling along the cage or on the mat. He also employs a phenomenal takedown defense, having never been taken down in his UFC & Strikeforce career. Fortunately, Hall’s game plan for success does not involve taking his opponents to the mat. Hall will also enjoy the arm and significant leg reach advantage despite being an inch shorter than Brunson. Brunson has a history of getting knocked out against other hard-hitting middleweights. This gives Hall a realistic chance to stop him if he can find a successful rhythm for his striking. Brunson will look to disrupt Hall’s rhythm by attempting to clinch along the cage when possible, and change levels constantly preventing Hall from being able to use his striking to hurt him.
Odds: (Brunson -180) vs (Hall +155)
Prediction: I was a little surprised to see Brunson as a clear favorite from the Odds makers for this fight. However, considering Brunson’s losses have come to only top of the food chain fighters, and he is riding a three fight win streak it makes a little more sense. Hall is coming off a loss, and mentally will have to find a way to get up for a top 10 fighter instead of a MMA legend he was set to fight. I can definitely see Brunson confusing Hall, and smothering him along the cage throughout the fight if Hall can’t establish his striking early. Despite these factors I like Hall at plus odds here. He is a dynamic striker, and if Brunson tries to trade with him like he did against Yuel Romero, I think the same result will occur: Bruson getting laid out on the mat. I think Hall’s reach advantage will allow him to avoid Brunson’s powerful strikes and clinch game. I think when Brunson attempts to close the distance Hall will catch him coming forward and finish this fight in a impressive fashion.
(Hall (+155) via Knockout)
Main Event (Non-Title Fight)
Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier (7th) vs Michael “The Menace” Johnson (10th) (Lightweight 155lbs)
Preview: Dustin Poirier has been a man on a mission after his knockout loss to Conor McGregor at UFC 178. He is on a four fight win streak, three of which coming via 1st round KO/TKO. His opponent Michael Johnson however is currently on a two fight losing streak and enters his fight against Poirier hoping to hold on to his top 10 ranking with a victory. Johnson will hold a very small height, and reach advantages over Poirier. Johnson will look to use his strong wrestling skills against Poirier, do to him being susceptible to takedowns. Both men have solid striking so I don’t see any real clear advantage for either fighter if the fight stays standing. The most interesting factor that may decide this fight is the length of it. It is the main event of the night meaning it will be 5 rounds in length instead of the normal 3 rounds. Michael Johnson has never been in or had to prepare for a 5 round fight, while Dustin Poirier has twice in his career. I think this fight is pretty close to even with each fighter being only marginally better in certain categories with the exception of ‘endurance’. Johnson will need to get a finish early, or win enough early rounds and pace himself in case this fight goes the distance due to his past cardio issues. Poirier may find success late in the fight if he’s able to pressure Johnson to expel most of his energy in the early rounds; because of his relentless style.
Odds: (Poirier -155) vs (Johnson +135)
Prediction: This is a tough fight to call despite one fighter coming in on a long win streak, and the other having a two fight losing streak. Poirier’s average takedown defense worries me against Johnson’s wrestling. He will likely have to avoid or deal with an early takedown in this fight. If he can get out of or avoid an early ground and pound session from Johnson without a lot of damage I like his chances. Johnson has a tendency to tire as the fight progresses, and he could find himself entering the 4th and 5th rounds with nothing left in the tank. Poirier knows that he needs to put Johnson away if he wants to climb into the top 5 in a loaded Lightweight division. I think Poirier will employ a very smart measured aggressive strategy in this fight. He’ll make Johnson earn every single inch in that octagon, forcing him to test his cardio which has been proven suspect throughout his career. I think Poirier gets a late TKO in the 4th or 5th round.
(Dustin Poirier (-155) via late ref stoppage)
Prediction Record Year to Date (11-8-0) (-$78)
-Record & predictions based on Win vs Loss predictions only. Unless specified otherwise I use increments of $100 (for + odds predictions) & $110 (for – odds bets) as hypothetical wagers for each prediction.
-Predictions & Records are for entertainment value only
*Stats via www.UFC.com