It really is incredible to have such a stacked UFC Fight Night card just one week before a big pay-per-view event (UFC 199). So incredible, in fact, that we’ve decided to try and give some of this weekend’s fights the hype they deserve.
Almeida vs. Garbrandt
It might seem a little redundant hyping a fight that has been given the main event slot, but with UFC 199 looming large just ahead, the UFC Fight Night 88 headliner has flown somewhat under the radar.
Thomas Almeida and Cody Garbrandt are two of the bantamweight division’s most exciting up-and-coming talents – making this fight a rare and exciting treat in that we get to see two rising contenders go head-to-head, rather than taking separate routes to the title. Almeida is undefeated, as is Garbrandt (though the former is much more experienced with 21 pro MMA bouts to Cody’s eight), which means both men are putting everything on the line by facing each other on May 29th.
Excitement is pretty much a guaranteed thing when either of these men step inside the cage, so bringing them together could see things taken to a whole other level – we might even see a World MMA Awards ‘Fight of the Year’ contender emerge. Cody has finished all but one of his pro MMA opponents, while the Brazilian has bagged post-fight bonuses in all four of his UFC outings.
With Urijah Faber about to challenge Dominick Cruz for the 135lb title, and former champ TJ Dillashaw the only other legitimate contender presently hovering at the top, the winner of this one could very well find themselves within reaching distance of that gold belt very soon.
In short, this is one to watch.
Barao vs. Stephens
Former bantamweight champ Renan Barao moves up to make his featherweight debut this weekend following a 10-month layoff. He will meet veteran powerhouse Jeremy Stephens in what looks like it will be a battle of supreme technique (Barao) vs. overwhelming power (Stephens).
After losing the title to Dillashaw in a one-sided beatdown before being crushed once more in the rematch, Barao – a big man for the 135lb division – has decided to jump up in weight where his speed could prove to be a real threat to many 145lb’ers. One such man who could prove susceptible to such quickness is Stephens, who favors raw KO power over a more tactical approach – something which has often cost him as shown by his 11-11 UFC record.
But what Jeremy may lack in strategizing he more than makes up for in the eyes of the fans by always looking to entertain. With five post-fight bonuses under his belt he’ll no doubt be looking for another one here, while Barao will be surely be looking to impress and make his mark in a new weight class.
Saffiedine vs. Story
Rick Story returns to the Octagon for the first time since his October 2014 win over Gunnar Nelson, following a string of unfortunate injury-related events. And in Tarec Saffiedine he may have himself the perfect dance partner.
Although he hasn’t been able to put together a string of wins when facing upper-level competition, Story has remained one of the most aggressive UFC welterweights since making his debut with the promotion in 2009. Even when seven of his 11 UFC wins have come by way of decision (including a victory over former champ Johny Hendricks), Story always fights to the best of his ability and does his utmost to keep the crowd entertained. We can only hope for more of the same from the American here after such a long layoff.
Belgian striking sensation Saffiedine, meanwhile, will be looking to double-up on the success he had in January when he beat Jake Ellenberger via decision. The former Strikeforce 170lb champ is one of the UFC’s few ranked welterweights that could go toe-to-toe with Story in terms of stand-and-trade action, as well as pure aggression.
Here’s hoping these two deliver by doing what they do best.
Sterling vs. Caraway
Fight Pass headliners don’t get much better than this – two top contenders in their division (bantamweight, in this case) finally getting to settle the score after building the heat with some good ol’ fashioned social media trash talk.
Aljamain Sterling is perhaps the only other exciting up-and-coming contender aside from Garbrandt and Almeida at 135lb and a win here over a tested veteran like Caraway could be enough to see him put into a fight for the next title shot. Sterling is undefeated at 13-0 and has finished three of his four UFC opponents. Add that to his flamboyant personality and skills on the mic and you have the perfect recipe for entertainment.
Caraway hasn’t fought since July last year when he beat former WEC champ Eddie Wineland via decision. He himself isn’t known to be a particularly exciting fighter but his name value adds plenty of watchability to this bout and, with his excellent submission skills, he is arguably the biggest threat yet to Sterling’s promising title run.
UFC Fight Night 88 takes place May 29th at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.