Live from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA on Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2 and UFC Fight Pass, Sat, Sept 16, 2017
--- Main Card (Fox Sports 1: 10pmET/7pmPT) ---
Middleweight - 185 lbs: Luke Rockhold (15-3) vs David Branch (21-3)
Welterweight - 170 lbs: Mike Perry (10-1) vs Alex Reyes (13-2)
Middleweight - 185 lbs: Hector Lombard (34-7-1) vs Anthony Smith (27-12)
Lightweight - 155 lbs: Gregor Gillespie (9-0) vs Jason Gonzalez (11-3)
Welterweight - 170 lbs: Kamaru Usman (10-1) vs Sergio Moraes (12-2-1)
Heavyweight - 207-265 lbs: Justin Ledet (8-0) vs Azunna Anyanwu (14-4)
--- Prelims (Fox Sports 2: 8pmET/5pmPT) ---
Lightweight - 155 lbs: Olivier Aubin-Mercier (9-2) vs Tony Martin (12-3)
Heavyweight - 207-265 lbs: Daniel Spitz (5-1) vs Anthony Hamilton (15-7)
Middleweight - 185 lbs: Krzysztof Jotko (19-2) vs Uriah Hall (12-8)
--- Fight Pass Prelims (UFC Fight Pass: 7:30 PM EST/4:30 PM PST) ---
Lightweight - 155 lbs: Gilbert Burns (11-2) vs Jason Saggo (12-3)
It has been over an entire year since we last saw Luke Rockhold make a UFC appearance and the last time we saw him, he was the UFC Middleweight champion of the world. Of course, that is until brash Brit, Michael Bisping came along. And we all know how that chapter of Rockhold's career ended... Rockhold was scheduled to compete in November of last year in a rematch with Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza but was forced out after tearing his ACL thus putting him on the shelf all the way until this Saturday.
The man welcoming him back to the octagon will be none other than the highly underestimated by most, WSOF double champ of the Middleweight and Light Heavyweight divisions, David Branch. No stranger to five round fights and oozing confidence, Branch presents a very interesting and tough challenge for the returning Rockhold. Whoever wins this intriguing match up will surely put themselves one or two fights at most away from a title shot
Jotko vs Hall
It's pretty incredible to see how far Uriah Hallhas fallen since his season of The Ultimate Fighter. He was being hyped up as the new and improved, next generation version of Anderson Silva. Which seemed pretty reasonable if you watched TUF 17. But...most MMA fans that were more than casual viewers knew that Hall may have just been a product of looking stellar against weak competition. Hall has looked pretty great in most of his wins but just seems to falter when facing the best of the division(minus his spectacular spinning back kick on Gegard Mousasi in their first fight).
Krzysztof Jotko fits that bill. Currently ranked at #10 in the division, Jotko will look to rebound off of his five fight win streak halting loss to David Branch back in May. Hall, on the other hand, is riding a three fight win streak and will be hungrier than ever to get back into the win column as he might need it to save his spot on the UFC roster.
Krzysztof Jotko presents a pretty tough challenge for the versatile counter striking heavy, Hall. A very well rounded and rangy fighter, Jotko's biggest key to victory will essentially be to avoid being hit with an explosive counter kick from Hall which is what he's best at. Jotko would also be very smart to try and get Hall to the ground where we've seen Hall be susceptible in the past. As long as he can avoid sneaky submission threats on the ground and big counters from Hall, Jotko should be able to win somewhat handily.
But Jotko can't get reckless with his attacks which is possible considering he was a bit gun shy in his last outing which many think is what cost him the victory. If Hall can take advantage of this, his chances go up significantly. This fight really just depends on how each men approach it in terms of aggression.
Prediction: Jotko RD2 (T)KO
Usman vs Moraes
Kamaru Usman is among the next wave of top Welterweights breaking their way into the top 10. He has all the potential in the world to be a champion and could be there sooner rather than later. Booking has just been his biggest enemy so far as somewhat seen in this match up with Sergio Moraes. Perhaps it hasn't been so much an "enemy" as the UFC has just been building Usman up slowly. None the less, a true definition of a dark horse, Moraes has quietly amassed a UFC record of 6-1-1 with his only loss coming in his debut bout which was at Middleweight against Cezar Ferreira.
A world champion Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and black belt, Moraes actually holds a first round submission victory over top 10 Welterweight, Neil Magny. Usman is a fantastic, very strong and smothering wrestler so a ground battle could indeed go down which makes the fight super interesting with both styles considered. But as seen in Usman's last fight with Sean Strickland, his striking is continually improving and his power is starting to show. Moraes doesn't have bad striking, but pretty average which could be enough to get by vs Usman but it depends on how much he's continued to improve. Usman has the clear power advantage and with his strength advantage and smothering top game, he should be able to avoid any submissions on route to a ground and pound finish or clear decision victory.
Prediction: Usman RD1 (T)KO
Lombard vs Smith
Anthony "Lionheart" Smith will be getting the highest profile fight of his career when he takes on former Bellator Middleweight champion, Hector Lombard. In his last fight, Smith pulled off an amazing comeback TKO late in the third against The Ultimate Fighter season 23 winner, Andrew Sanchez so he has all the momentum he could ask for going into this one. As for Lombard, he'll be looking to snap a three fight losing streak and save his job.
Anthony Smith has proven to be a very durable fighter who's never out of the fight. Opponents of Smith may be better off putting him out cold or grabbing a limb for a submission because there's just no quit in this guy. Hector Lombard had all the potential and hype in the world when he came over from Bellator holding a magnificent record of 31-2-1, but has since hit some bumps in the road since and maybe not been as great as he was touted to be. But that doesn't mean Lombard isn't still one of the most dangerous opponents someone can have standing across from them at either Middleweight or Welterweight.
Known primarily for his great combination of speed, strength and KO power, many forget that Lombard is a fourth-degree black belt in Judo. His biggest weakness in his career has been his poor gas tank which gives Smith a very good chance to pull off another upset if he can avoid Lombard's big power hooks. The likelihood of this one going the distance is pretty slim. Anthony Smith has only gone to a decision in 3 of his 39 fights.
A closer fight than many may realize, the biggest factor will be whether or not Smith will start fast or let Lombard dictate the pace. He really has no reason not to with the monstrous length advantage he'll have over Lombard... Smith stands at 6'5" with a 77" reach where as Lombard is 5'9" with a 71" reach.
Prediction: Lombard RD1 (T)KO
Perry vs Reyes
Thiago Alves was the initial opponent for Mike Perry but complications with his family and the unfortunate events pertaining to Hurricane Irma, he pulled out of the fight. In steps the newcomer, Alex Reyes.
What we know about Alex Reyes: He's the brother of UFC Light Heavyweight prospect, Dominick Reyes. Fights at Lightweight with a 13-2 record and hasn't lost a fight since his second pro fight and has finished his opponent in all of his 13 victories(9 KO/TKOs, 4 Submissions). But Reyes has only fought once since 2016.
Reyes is obviously a dangerous opponent and short notice should favor him as the underdog. He has nothing to lose and everything to gain, unlike Perry. The competition level difference is drastic though. Perry will be the toughest challenge of his young career and Perry has proven that he's one of the more dangerous strikers at 170 lbs.
In fights like these, predicting upsets is just something someone would do on a whim. All we can hope for is a great fight and a solid new addition to the UFC.
Prediction: Perry RD2 (T)KO
Rockhold vs Branch
Let's just delve right into the match up here. Luke Rockhold has some sensational head kicks, specifically his question mark kick and for my money, the best body kicks in all of MMA. Not many can absorb his left body kick without obvious discomfort on their face afterward. When on the ground, his top control is phenomenal. That topped with his violent ground and pound and various ways to submit, Luke is one of the most talented Middleweights we've ever seen.
David Branch is no joke when it comes to the best at 185 and 205. Branch defended each of the two WSOF titles he held simultaneously and hasn't lost in 11 straight with his last loss coming by decision to Anthony "Rumble" Johnson. A very well rounded fighter, Branch can essentially do it all. His takedowns are hard to defend and when fully committed he rarely doesn't get it. But Rockhold has fantastic counter wrestling as seen in his bout with Tim Boetsch.
A black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Branch can quickly become trouble once he gets his opponents on the mat. Meaning, we could see some awesome grappling exchanges between the two if the opportunity presents itself. As for Branch's striking abilities, he's very good defensively and utilizes distance quite well with his sharp boxing and sneaky power. In fact, Branch only takes 0.87 strikes per minute in the UFC. That's the lowest all-time according to FightMetric.
The octagon control battle should be interesting to see in this one as both enjoy countering and don't often strike with combos. One of Luke's favorites punches is the counter right hook when backing up. As a Southpaw, this strike lands almost always since Luke's right hand is closer to his opponent than his left and he times it wonderfully.
The factor that most fans and analysts have been discussing is one that isn't related to their in cage abilities. That being, if Rockhold isn't taking Branch seriously enough like many believe was true in his last fight with Michael Bisping where Bisping came in on short notice and shocked the world with a first round KO. Branch has all the talent and confidence to play spoiler and Rockhold is never short on confidence himself so this fight will certainly be a fun one to watch play out.
Prediction: Rockhold UD
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