The upcoming UFC Fight Night card from New Zealand will be full of local talent, especially on the prelim card, where several former Ultimate Fighter Nations competitors will get a second chance to compete in the Octagon.
At the top of the list is former Team Australia fighter Jake Matthews, who was not only one of the youngest competitors to make the show, but also one of the rawest talents in need of some molding. Now several months since the show filmed, Matthews will look to make good on his potential when he faces a fighter with pro boxing experience in Dashon Johnson.
Also in action will be former middleweight Vik Grujic, as he drops down to 170 pounds to face fellow Australian Chris Indich in a pivotal fight for both of these fighters as they look to find a home inside the Octagon.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll take a look at some of the preliminary card fights from New Zealand, and considering how many new faces there are on this show, there's plenty of room to one up the competition with the picks and predictions from these bouts.
JAKE MATTHEWS VS. DASHON JOHNSON
This fight between up and coming lightweights is really a battle of control.
Johnson is a former pro boxer with striking roots running through his veins and eight first round finishes out of his nine professional fights. The record and status of those wins do come under question, however, when examining Johnson's level of competition. His opponents have a combined 13-39 record with 12 of those wins coming from one fighter. In other words, Johnson has been facing a lot of inexperienced or outmatched fighters so the reality is, nobody can be sure what to expect from him in his UFC debut.
A lot of the same can be said for Matthews who only has seven pro fights while coming out of Australia, which is still not on the same level in regards to training as many of the big camps in the United States, Canada or Brazil. But following his stint on the reality show, Matthews picked up shop and moved to New Mexico for several weeks, where he worked with former coach Kyle Noke as well as the guru of MMA himself, Greg Jackson. Training on a daily basis with lightweights such as Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone could only make Matthews better and that's worth betting on in this fight.
Matthews got out wrestled in his one loss on the Ultimate Fighter, but he should have the superior ground skills and overall stand-up game in this fight. He has to watch out for Johnson's hands because regardless of his record, his pedigree speaks to the kind of boxing he's practiced over the years. Still, Matthews should be able to control the distance, drag this fight to the floor and overwhelm Johnson to get a stoppage or submission win inside the first two rounds.
CHRIS INDICH VS. VIK GRUJIC
Former TUF teammates square off in this bout, as Vik Grujic moves down from middleweight to face Chris Indich, who is known for his toughness and endurance in fights.
Grujic had a brilliant performance on the reality show when he took down Judo specialist Luke Harris and absolutely bludgeoned him with elbows to get a first round TKO, but since that time the Australian hasn't had much to brag about. He lost his second fight in the semifinals and then spent the majority of 15 minutes on his back eating punches and elbows from Nordine Taleb at the TUF Nations finale in April. Still, the potential is there for Grujic to bring the fight to Indich, especially if he opts for a ground attack. Let's also not forget that for the past few months, Grujic has been training at the Alliance Training Center, home to several top UFC fighters, including Dominick Cruz, Jeremy Stephens and Myles Jury.
Indich has shown tremendous heart in his fights between the reality show and the TUF Nations Finale, but it's clear the clinch and ground game are his weak spots. He's a good striker with power in his hands, so Grujic can't play around on the outside too long or this fight could shift directions in a hurry. Indich cannot allow himself to get pressed against the cage or taken down or it's going to be another long night in the Octagon for him.
Unfortunately if Grujic cuts down to welterweight effectively, he'll have the power and takedown ability to put Indich on the mat and give him nightmares until the final horn sounds. If Grujic decides to just stand and trade with Indich, however, this fight could easily go the other way in a hurry. The safe bet remains with Grujic, but it all comes down to strategy.
NEIL MAGNY VS. RODRIGO DE LIMA
UFC veteran Neil Magny takes on newcomer Rodrigo de Lima in an interesting clash of styles on the UFC Fight Night card in New Zealand.
Coming out of Brazil, de Lima is a submission specialist, and at just 22 years of age he has a lot of potential to grow into an even better fighter. He's got a slick variation of submissions that can come from everywhere and he's finished fights in the past by rear naked choke, triangle choke, and kimura, just to name a few. This fight will take him out of his comfort zone, however, as de Lima is a regular of the Brazilian fight scene and this will require a lot of travel for his UFC debut.
Magny is no easy test for his first fight either, as the former Ultimate Fighter contestant comes in on a two-fight win streak looking better than ever before. While Magny's past losses have mostly come by way of submission, the confidence he's shown in his hands while mixing in some good wrestling has made him a well-rounded threat in the division. Magny keeps opponents guessing with his 3.21 strikes landed per minute while also throwing in just over two and a half takedowns per 15 minutes. He also defends takedowns at just under 73 percent, which doesn’t sit well for de Lima, who has to want this fight on the ground.
Look for Magny to frustrate and counter the young Brazilian before lighting him up with strikes throughout the first two rounds until he has very little left in the gas tank for the final five minutes. Magny has been to decisions in both of his last two wins, so conditioning isn't a problem for the Colorado-based fighter, and this should be a third victory in a row when he leaves Australia on June 28.
GIAN VILLANTE VS. SEAN O'CONNELL
Just because this is the first fight of the night, don't be fooled into thinking that it doesn’t have the possibility of also being the Fight of the Night. These two bangers out of the United States throw heavy, throw hard and they will throw the kitchen sink at each other looking for the finish.
Villante has had his share of bad luck in a few of his UFC performances, but don't judge him purely by his record because this New York-based fighter has all the talent to make a good run in the division with the right kinds of performances. A close friend of middleweight champion Chris Weidman, Villante is an athletic freak with dynamite in his hands. The problem Villante has had, especially in his last fight against Fabio Maldonado, is the tendency to punch himself out early and having nothing left late. He has to use bursts of controlled aggression, and if he can maintain a steady pace, this is Villante's fight to win.
O'Connell is no pushover, and following a knockout loss to Ryan Jimmo in his UFC debut, there's no doubt he wants to make a better second impression. O'Connell is also a knockout puncher with plenty of finishes on his record, but for this fight he has to play defense early and hope he can draw this out into the later rounds. The more time that ticks away on the clock, the better things are for O'Connell.
It's not easy to bet on those kinds of odds, however, and this should be a chance for Villante to get back in the win column while possibly picking up a bonus when the night is over, depending on how the other fights play out for the rest of the show.
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