Five questions for UFC Fight Night: Nogueira vs. Nelson

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After a two week layoff, the UFC is back and hosts another event outside of the United States. They return to Abu Dhabi for the first time since UFC 112 in what was possibly the worst main event of all-time between Anderson Silva and Demian Maia. They come into Abu Dhabi with a main event that should guarantee a exciting finish. Antonio Minotauro Nogueira versus Roy Nelson is an intriguing fight, despite both fighters somewhat on the decline. It was very wise of the UFC to bring over a true legend in Nogueira and a massive fan favorite in Nelson.

This is an overall solid card featuring the return of Tatsuya Kawajiri, who will face Clay Guida. This may be a win or go home situation for Guida, who is 1-3 in his past four fights and hasn’t pleased many people with his recent change in fighting style. John Howard faces Ryan LaFlare in an intriguing welterweight bout, along with the highly touted prospect Beneil Dariush against Ramsey Nijem in the opening bout to the main card. I’m joined by Thinesh John, who is our correspondent from Asia covering all of their events along with specifically focusing on potential match-ups after events in the UFC.

1. What preliminary bout are you most looking forward to?

John: Hands down, Jim Alers vs. Alan Omer. I’ve been following both fighters for a while now and they’re intriguing prospects at a 145-lbs. Alers captured the Cage Warriors title last year and has since defended it twice. His grappling prowess is something I feel Omer will have to contend with because he’s able to pull off a variety of submission attempts once he gets the fight to the canvas. He doesn’t have the best footwork for MMA but he possesses power, accuracy and speed with his strikes.

Iraq’s Omer has basically been plying his trade in the European scene and in my humble opinion, I think he’s ready and of UFC caliber. Although he came up short in his hunt for the BAMMA title, he has faced credible opponents in the past. I would give Omer the edge with his striking skills but I’ll have to nod in Alers’ favor if and should the fight hit the mat.

Strk: My original choice was Chris Camozzi versus Andrew Craig which was an intriguing bout featuring two fighters, who always bring it. It was reported this morning that Craig had to pull out of the fight, due to a severe illness. While both fighters don’t excel in one particular area, they are both constantly pushing the pace and always know how to stay active. You rarely see a lull moment in any of their fights.

I’m going to have to agree with Thinesh on this one. I’ve been watching Alers over the past year or so and he was one of the true standouts in Cage Warriors. His strength for a featherweight is pretty incredible, along with his relentless pace. Omer has been considered as a prospect to look out, so I’ll certainly be watching his performance closely. This preliminary card is full of potential one-sided fights., which is another reason why I’m siding with Omer vs. Alers. We are here to watch competitive fights right?

2. Beneil Dariush has been getting praised as a prospect to look out for in 2014. Are you a believer in the hype or is it too soon to truly judge him?

John: He’s only ever had one fight in the UFC but he has racked up a pretty impressive record in the regional circuit. And, if I may, submitting a veteran like Charlie Brenneman in your UFC debut is no easy task. But with that said, in my humble opinion, I just think it’s too early to judge him. He’ll definitely shift some eyes if he puts on a good run, and as the fights are expected to get harder as he progresses up the ranks, we’ll certainly see if Dariush is a prospect in his next couple of bouts or so.

His opponent, Ramsey Nijem, is a UFC veteran who’s had a bit of a roller coaster ride but he is a handful for fighters in his weight class. You can guarantee he’ll be a good test for Dariush in this one.

Strk: It’s definitely far too soon to label Dariush, as a prospect to watch out for. Usually my rating system for prospects is after at least two wins. While I do respect the opinion of Jake Ellenberger and Mark Munoz, who have spoken highly of Dariush, it’s still far too soon.Dariush is very explosive and has an excellent opportunity to shine on the main card.

It may be a Fight Pass card, but I’m expecting this to be one of the higher watched events even on a Friday morning in America. That’s what happens when you feature two fighters in a main event with massive fan bases. If he can stuff Ramsey Nijem’s take-down attempts and keep the fight standing, it will be his fight to lose. Nijem is susceptible to leaving himself too open, which is a bad recipe against someone as explosive as Dariush.

3. John Howard has rejuvenated his career by beating Uriah Hall and Siyar Bahadurzada, who are two fighters that many people had high expectations for. Can he handle the technical crafty striking of Ryan LaFlare?

John: Admit it – you didn’t picture him getting his hands raised in any of those bouts.

But you can’t deny that Howard has improved by leaps and bounds since his first stint with the outfit, and I, for one, have never questioned his knockout ability. Even so, Howard isn’t the sort of fighter who uses a lot of footwork and I think that falls right into the hands of LaFlare, who managed to outpoint a talented striker like Court McGee in his previous fight. LaFlare is as talented as they come and I believe he has all the elements to be a future champ at 170-lbs. I could see Howard possibly going for a takedown or two to mix things up but then again, I just think LaFlare has too much in his arsenal to lose this one.

Strk: His victory over Hall still blows me away based on how consistent he was in closing the distance. He got inside Hall and really pressured him through three rounds. While he isn’t very lanky, Howard has serious power and can overpower many welterweights. That was evident in slamming Bahadurzada at UFC 168, which will be on his highlight-reel for years to come. After picking against him in his past two fights, surely I’ll have to learn my lesson here right?

LaFlare is a former state champion wrestler, so I don’t think he’ll get overpowered against the cage like Hall did. He can certainly handle himself by being so athletic. His sprawls are smooth, while he continues to evolve as a striker. You see fighters with a reach advantage constantly use their jab, as a way to be effective. While LaFlare does that, he prides himself on being diverse and not allowing his opponents to get into a rhythm. This could easily be fight of the night based on how action packed and even this fight seems to be on paper. I’m leaning towards Howard, but LaFlare’s wrestling credentials and improved striking have me reconsidering. This will be the biggest test in LaFlare’s young career, while toughest test for Howard since he’s returned to the UFC.

4. Clay Guida is another fighter that seems to be on the downside of his career. Has his striking limitations caught up to him or were his recent losses due to bad match-ups?

John: Yes, to a great extent, he’s been in some tough match-ups against the division’s elite so that might explain his poor run. But, let’s face it: that doesn’t take away anything from his string of recent woeful performances. He’s past his prime and he’s in the declining phase of his career. Moreover, I don’t consider punching air as a striking technique although that seems to be what Guida’s resorting to these days. His ‘unorthodox’ movement might quiver most opponents but knowing Kawajiri from his JMMA days in the Asian region, the Japanese fighter won’t be fazed by any of that.

Strk: It’s hard to classify Guida’s main issue Has the weight cut taken a toll on him? I’ve always considered him to be one of the bigger lightweights. Now he’s fighting at featherweight and it seems like a poor move. He struggles to close the distance, since he’s usually slower than most of his opponents. Obviously many people have criticized his change of style, where now he’s relying more on timing rather than being all over his opponent in rapid fashion.

The change of style has affected his performances, but you can’t rule out the caliber of his opponents. Chad Mendes, Gray Maynard (at the time), and Benson Henderson are all championship-caliber fighters. There is no shame in losing to any of those fighters, which is why it’s foolish to count him out. Still it’s hard to be successful; when you clearly have striking limitations yet still rely on timing. Why Guida has changed his style of non-stop pushing the pace and outworking his opponents doesn’t make any sense. That’s what made him into a contender at one point. I’d lean towards his limitations over actual opponents because of how poor his performances were against Maynard and Mendes.

5. Are you worried that the main event could be a complete dud? I know Antonio Silva versus Mark Hunt was an absolute classic during the last time, a heavyweight fight went five rounds. You can’t rule out Nelson is notorious for having cardio issues and Noguiera doesn’t fight with the same pace he used to in his prime. 

John: Both fighters are facing their own sets of issues. As you aptly pointed out, Nogueira is nowhere near his prime and his past fights are good examples of that. He does, however, have a very good Boxing pedigree which I believe he’ll use to keep Nelson at bay. Nelson’s knockout abilities are well-respected but the Brazilian has a vast striking experience to deal with that. Furthermore, with both fighters having a world-class BJJ base, you could see them canceling each other out on the ground, and keeping the fight standing.

Clearly, Nelson’s bad cardio has been well documented in the past and with Nogueira not being the fighter he once used to be, it could turn out to be a fairly lackluster affair in the last few rounds or so. The first two rounds, or thereof, could provide some sparks though. Both fighters will be eager to get back in the win column so it would be sensible to think that they might go for it in the opening stages.

Strk: You never want to have a negative mindset about a fight between a legend and fan favorite. This is a unique matchup, considering both fighters are proven finishers. Still it’s clear that both fighters aren’t built to fight in the latter rounds. We’ve seen Nelson put his hands on his knees trying to catch his breath after the first round in his past two losses. Who can forget his embarrassing performance against Frank Mir, where he struggled to even throw combinations in the latter rounds? His cardio is infamous for being his main downfall.

Noguiera always looks in fine physical condition, but that’s not the proper way to rate a fighter’s cardio. Junior Dos Santos is a prime example of that, who has proven to slow down considerably in latter rounds despite looking like a machine. It does concern me that Noguiera isn’t very active anymore and takes off a considerable amount of time in between fights. If this fight goes into the third round, it could really get ugly to watch. We could see bar brawling or clinching against the fence for a significant portion of the round. If Nelson doesn’t catch him with his signature overhand right early on or Noguiera can’t lock in his signature guillotine, then this could become painful to watch. I’m still intrigued by the fight, but my expectations aren’t very high.

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