Back for the first time since Michael Bisping defended his crown in early October, the UFC ends a four-week absence as it embarks on a 10-event run through the end of 2016. It all starts Saturday with UFC Fight Night 98 in Mexico City.
Will Rafael dos Anjos be able to bounce back from a rough loss? Can Tony Ferguson shine on the greatest stage of his pro career? How will Alexa Grasso fare against UFC-level talent? Can Diego Sanchez hold off against a highly touted grappler?
We try and answer some of these questions in our latest set of predictions for UFC Fight Night 98:
- Enrique Barzola def. Chris Avila via decision
- Marco Polo Reyes def. Jason Novelli via TKO
- Alex Nicholson def. Sam Alvey via KO
- Dogulas Silva de Andrade def. Henry Briones via KO
- Erick Montano def. Max Griffin via submission
- Marco Beltran def. Joe Soto via decision
- Erik Perez def. Felipe Arantas via decision
- Martin Bravo def. Claudie Puelles via decision
Alexa Grasso vs. Heather Jo Clark
One of the more touted prospects to make her UFC debut in recent years, Alexa Grasso gets a matchup against a serviceable opponent in Heather Jo Clark. Despite having more experience as a professional fighter, it’s relatively clear that this was a fight created to help Grasso shine.
She’s the better hand striker, capable of leaving her opponents in a bruised and bloody mess much like the division’s champion, Joanna Jedrzejczyk. While the stoppage victories don’t come as frequently as most fight fans would hope, her volume-heavy style makes up for it. Grasso’s ability to keep her opponents moving backwards should work well against a veteran opponent in Clark here.
Prediction: Grasso def. Clark via decision
Beneil Dariush vs. Rashid Magomedov
A pair of fighters who’ve enjoyed extended winning streaks but enjoyed almost zero of the fanfare that typically follows, Beneil Dariush and Rashid Magomedov lock horns in a battle of virtual unknowns in the casual fanbase.
A technical volume striker, Magomedov rides a remarkable 12-fight winning streak (four in the UFC). While he’s a marvel to watch on the feet, his inability to find the finish has, and will continue, to mar his popularity inside the Octagon. It should work relative wonders against Dariush though.
Dariush is a strong grappler with solid striking, but unless he manages to close the distance and stop Magomedov from unloading, it likely won’t be a good night for the Kings MMA fighter.
Prediction: Magomedov def. Dariush via decision
Ricardo Lamas vs. Charles Oliveira
From B.J. Penn to Charles Oliveira, Ricardo Lamas loses a marquee matchup and inherits a tougher, lesser-known test at 145 pounds.
While Lamas has earned a great deal of success based on his ability to get the fight to ground and bully his opponents on the canvas, he’d be wise to avoid a grappling matchup with Oliveira here. Yes, Anthony Pettis managed to submit “Do Bronx” last time out, but Lamas hardly has the crafty, sneaky submission skills that “Showtime” does. That said, he should be able to push his way forward and work from close range to win the striking battle and control the pace with intelligent clinching.
Though Oliveira has the size advantage here, we’ve seen Lamas outwork larger fighters in the past.
Prediction: Lamas def. Oliveira via decision
Diego Sanchez vs. Marcin Held
A particularly interesting matchup for a variety of reasons.
For one, Held is recognized as arguably the top submission fighter the 155-pound division has to offer. Diego Sanchez, however, has never been submitted in his lengthy professional career. Secondly, Held’s ability to win largely stems from his ability to bring his opponents to the ground. Whether he manages to slip in a submission is one thing, but his aptitude as a smothering grappler certainly plays a role in 22-4 record.
That said, while Sanchez has had a number of bad losses in recent years, almost all of them stem from being outworked on the feet, not the canvas. For all his flaws, Sanchez is a strong grappler capable of staying on the feet.
It all generally comes down to that, really. I’ll take my chances with the Polish fighter here though.
Prediction: Held def. Sanchez via decision
Rafael dos Anjos vs. Tony Ferguson
One of the handful of interesting matchups destined to take place atop the UFC’s lightweight division in November, Rafael dos Anjos looks to bounce back from a devastating first-round loss to now-champion Eddie Alvarez back in July. Tony Ferguson, meanwhile, looks to pick up his first victory over an elite fighter in the UFC.
Dos Anjos has made a name for himself as one of the more durable juggernauts at 155 pounds. A propensity to move forward and do as much damage as possible, the Brazilian’s skill-set has improved leaps and bounds over the last five years. Not only is he a capable striker that’s defeated the likes of Benson Henderson and Donald Cerrone, but he’s a noteworthy grappler that managed to use his takedown prowess to defeat Anthony Pettis and Nate Diaz, as well. He’s about as complete a fighter as they come in the UFC, regardless of how badly he was stopped by Alvarez last time out.
While not quite as textbook as the former champion, it’s hard to deny that Ferguson is equally as well-rounded. Unorthodox as they come, Ferguson’s sharp boxing skills and remarkably crafty submission skills make him about as dangerous of a threat the division has to offer. While he didn’t look particularly outstanding against Lando Vannata at UFC Fight Night 91, something tells me this is the coming-out party Ferguson has desperately needed.
Prediction: Ferguson def. dos Anjos via submission