The UFC returns to Germany this weekend with two legendary Heavyweights headlining the card along with some familiar names. Hamburg sees the return to the Octagon of Alex Gustafsson and a rare appearance outside the US for Ryan Bader. While for European fans we welcome back Nicolas Dalby, Peter Sobotta, Scott Askham and await the long overdue UFC debut of ‘Judo’ Jimmy Wallhead. I’m covering the main card as usual with providing the odds.
Ryan Bader vs. Ilir Latifi
It was eight months ago but you’d forgive Bader if his ears were still ringing after having his clock cleaned inside 90 seconds by Anthony Johnson. That loss put the skids on a 5-0 streak that pushed the nearly man almost to the point of title contention. As Glover Teixeira can attest to, there aren’t many guys who can take a punch from ‘Rumble’ and live to tell the tale. Bader goes to the back of the line again and waits for his number to be called once more.
Ilir Latifi has demonstrated in his short UFC career to date that he knows how to deliver a punch, and he can certainly take a couple. Notoriously durable, he has been stopped just once in seven fights at this level – that being a first round body kick by Jan Blachowitz. All his other Octagon fights, barring his debut, have been wins and all barring one finishing in the first round. His debut was one of those times were nothing whatsoever was expected of him as he was a three-day substitute for teammate Gustafsson against wily veteran Gegard Mousasi.
Bader is arguably the better fighter of the two, more rounded and developed with a better foundation and camp. What he doesn’t have is a chin with the durability required to be a champion at 205lb. If Latifi can connect early with a solid punch then we could be seeing a massive upset. I don’t foresee that happening though and the class of Bader should shine through in the second round.
Recommendation: Ryan Bader – 2 units at -210(1/2) @5Dimes
Alexander Gustafsson vs. Jan Blachowitz
Gustafsson can create another opportunity to shake off his MMA ‘nearly man’ tag with a big performance in Hamburg. The Swede, who has dropped three from his last four, has been desperately unlucky in his pursuit of UFC gold. Firstly, he put on a ‘Fight of the Year’ performance in a loss to Jon Jones three years ago – a fight that many pundits had him winning.
Secondly, he ran into a resurgent ‘Rumble’ Johnson, who finished him in the first round at home in Stockholm, a fight that nearly saw Gustafsson sink into retirement. Finally, he was on the wrong end of a split decision loss to new champion Daniel Cormier. Again, this was a fight that many had him winning. Going so close but narrowly missing can only see you so far before the losses start to add up.
Former KSW light heavyweight champion Blachowitz makes just his fifth UFC appearance, looking to advance his record from a moderate 2-2. In order to achieve this he needs to get through one of the toughest, most awkward fighters that he has ever faced. Against a power puncher like Jimi Manuwa and a solid wrestler like Corey Anderson, he came up short. Those are but two of the strengths of the Swede and surely his best path to victory is an early finish.
I really like Gustafsson for this one, and he is a heavy betting favourite as expected. This is arguably a mismatch and really should be a set up for Gus’ to put on an impressive performance in Europe. It’s possible that he does enough to finish the durable Pole, but in reality its more likely to be a one-sided decision. I’m going to chance Gus’ to put on a show and end it early though.
Recommendation: Alex Gustafsson Wins Inside Distance – 2 units at -140 (7/10) @5Dimes
Andrei Arlovski vs. Josh Barnett
Belorussian by birth, but residing in the USA, it’s no surprise to see Andrei Arlovski wheeled out for the last couple of European cards. He is big enough in name value to headline, but not so big that a loss would damage him too badly. When making his return to the UFC in early 2014 it was like he never went away, rattling off five wins on the bounce, and against decent opposition too.
The cracks reappeared when he stepped up a level. Firstly he faced the current champion, Stipe Miocic, and was finished inside a minute. Then he met the next title challenger, Alistair Overeem, and while he fared little better he still suffered a consecutive defeat. Top five, maybe, but top three appears beyond him. A loss would all but end his title aspirations, as ‘Pit Bull’ is now really more of a fun fight headliner than a serious contender.
The very same can aksi be said about Barnett. ‘The Warmaster’ returned to the UFC a little earlier than Arlovski but has fared far worse. Inactivity has been his biggest opponent, limiting him to just four fights, going 2-2 along the way. In fighting they say you are only as good as your last fight, Barnett’s was against Ben Rothwell and this grappling legend found himself submitted for the first time in his career. Before anyone points out that he has two other submission losses to his name, those were verbal taps which are entirely different to a submission tap.
These fan fights can go either way, and with this being a five-rounder, featuring two guys in their late 30’s, anything could happen. Either Barnett will dominate and go for the finish – a submission is unlikely since nobody has ever made Arlovski tap – or Arlovski will land flush on Barnett to send the big man sprawling. One thing I know, or at least I think I know, is that it isn’t going 25 minutes. Not a cats chance in hell.
Recommendation: Fight Won’t Go The Distance – 4 units at -400 (1/4) @5Dimes