With UFC International Fight Week well and truly here, fans around the world are gearing up for an action packed weekend of top-class MMA. Friday showcases The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 27 Finale, where we will see the newest addition to the UFC roster crowned, followed by the hugely anticipated UFC 226 on Saturday where arguably the first “Superfight” will actually come to fruition – two top-tier champions from the upper echelon of the UFC weight classes meet to see who is the baddest man on the planet. Daniel Cormier, the current light heavyweight champ will look to cement himself in the UFC history books by taking the heavyweight strap from dominant Stipe Miocic.
However, with all of the hype around the highly touted main events, it is easy to forget about some of the matchups that are lower down on the card. On closer inspection, there is an array of talent, divisional implications and darn right banging fights ready to go for our viewing pleasure.
Attention casual and hardcore fans alike – here is a list of our top 5 forgotten or overlooked fights which have potential to be tremendously entertaining.
5. John Gunther vs. Allan Zuniga (TUF Finale Prelims)
It has been made very clear in this season’s TUF that John Gunther (6-2) is an intriguing character. He has told tales of his Alpaca shearing day-job, made a raft (successfully) from empty water bottles, and entertained the house (and viewers) with his quirky character.
However for any fight fan, by far his most captivating attribute of Gunther is his willingness to take damage in a fight – this was proved true in his fight with Mike Trizano during the TUF competition. Although completely outclassed with his striking arsenal, John relentlessly moved forward, taking a copious amount of damage in the process. There is something awe-inspiring about watching a man constantly walk his opponent down and never release the forward pressure valve, and John Gunter will certainly give you that commodity.
Standing across the cage will be Allan Zuniga (13-1). A fellow Team Miocic fighter that was beaten in his opening fight against a talented Joe Giannetti, Allan doesn’t mind obliging in the “stand and bang” department either.
This is a dream matchup for anyone hoping for fight that throws caution to the wind. What makes it more palatable, is that Gunther was seriously outclassed against Trizano and Allan was too against Gianetti. With both fighters somewhat lacking in the striking department, but by all means over qualified with heart and determination, it gives a certain degree of a level playing field. It may not be the prettiest of matchups, but I would expect fireworks.
4. Matt Bessette vs. Stephen Peterson (TUF Finale Prelims)
Bessette (22-8), a former CES featherweight champion, will attempt to make good on his second UFC opportunity after falling short in his UFC debut. “The Mangler” graced the octagon for the first time at UFC 220 in January, but the 33-year-old a unanimous decision loss to Enrique Barzola to snap an eight-fight unbeaten streak that dated back to August 2015.
Peterson (16-7) also is searching for his first UFC triumph. “Ocho” made his promotional debut in February and lost a unanimous decision to Brandon Davis at UFC Fight Night 126. It wasn’t all bad, though; despite coming out on the losing end, The 27-year-old still cashed an extra $50,000 with “Fight of the Night” honours where he went toe to toe for three rounds, impressing the UFC brass.
With both gentlemen being at similar stages in their career and head hunting for their first UFC win, and neither afraid of throwing leather, fans can expect a competitive and exciting fight from two high level, technical brawlers.
3. Uriah Hall vs. Paulo Henrique Costa (UFC 226 Prelims)
Let’s not get this twisted, this could be over quick.
Undefeated Paulo Henrique Costa (11-0) has managed cement his name as a terrifying prospect within the UFC middleweight division. With lop-sided wins over once UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks, Oluwale Bamgbose and Adriano Balby amongst others, Costa is yet to record a decision in his professional career. All of his fights have ended in stoppage (usually in pretty devastating fashion).
Built like a NFL line-backer and possessing pin-point accuracy in his striking repertoire, he has yet to be involved in any adversity in the UFC up to now. One would assume he will be looking for blood since he had to pull out of the previous scheduled fight with Hall due to injury.
Looking to humanize “Barrachinha” will be striking connoisseur, Urijah Hall (13-8). “Primetime” will return for the first time since a scary weight cut forced him to withdraw from a matchup with Vitor Belfort at UFC Fight Night 125 in January. Hall last competed at UFC Fight Night 116, where he halted a three-bout skid with a second-round TKO of Krzysztof Jotko.
What we can just about guarantee, is two high-level striking based middleweights looking to make a statement in the division and take their opponent out. I would recommend tuning in early for this one – it may not last too long.
2. Curtis Millender vs. Max Griffin (UFC 226 Prelims)
Max Griffin (14-4) recently evened up his UFC record and notched a notable win after scoring an upset decision victory over Mike Perry in February. The 32-year-old former regional-show champion suffered a decision loss to Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos in his previous bout but picked up a $50,000 “Fight of the Night” bonus with the performance.
He meets Curtis Millender (15-3), a former Fight Club OC champion and Bellator fighter who’s is coming in to the form that has been predicted. The 30-year-old scored a notable knockout – and earned a “Performance of the Night” bonus – of former UFC title challenger Thiago Alves in February on fairly short notice. He’s now won seven straight fights dating back to mid-2016, and his past three victories have all come via knockout.
Carrying on with our trend of fight of the night winners, these two ambitious welterweights are hitting the pinnacle of their careers, and both have a lot to prove going in to this one. Not to mention, both are seeking a number next to their name in the UFC welterweight division, and it will be expected once the winner emerges. Expect this to be a classy, technical showdown without lack of action.
Gokhan Saki vs. Khalil Rountree (UFC 226 Main Card)
Taking the top spot in our top 5 are a pair of light heavyweight knockout artists, Gokhan Saki (1-1 MMA, 83-12-1 Pro Kickboxing) and Khalil Rountree Jr (6-2).
Saki is the creme de la creme of professional kickboxers with a barely believable 59 knockout wins on his record. It is fair to say he has pretty much perfected the art of striking.
A desire for a change of scenery (and a slight increase in wage packet) has led him to return to MMA in September 2017 for the first time in well over a decade. In his comeback, fans were treat to a thrilling war and knockout victory over Henrique da Silva inside the Octagon.
Very few are going to be willing to stand with “Turkish Tyson” for obvious reasons, but Rountree might just be one of them.
Rountree, a TUF product, hits insanely hard and is one of the division’s better prospects, even if he is still rough around the edges. He has vicious KO wins over Paul Craig and Daniel Jolly. Rountree is arguably short in the experience department, but makes up for it with great athleticism and a definite instinct for violence. Four of his six victories came via knockout, and odds are Rountree will attempt to put Saki on the mat as well.