Saturday, July 2, 2022

UFC Stockholm Predictions: Gustafsson vs. Smith

UFC Stockholm (Main Card) Confidence Level Scale

1: Gun to the head, forced to choose 

2: Minimum confidence

3-4: A small level of confidence

5-6: Significantly clearer path to victory for one person.

7 – Strong confidence.

8-9: Extremely confident.

10 – Bulletproof Confidence, barring freak occurrence

Daniel Teymur (6-3) vs. Sung Bin Jo (9-0)

Daniel Teymur is desperate to earn his first UFC victory and to do so, he will need to hand Sung Bin Jo his first professional loss. The keys for Teymur to achieve this begins with him leaning on his kickboxing experience to give him an advantage in what will likely be a standup battle. Bin Jo is longer, however, so that could discredit the earned expertise of Teymur in some, if not most exchanges if Teymur does not fight a sharp, tactical fight. In close range, Teymur does have damaging elbows, and closing the reach gap will altogether be key for the native Swede.

For Sung Bin Jo, he will need to use his length throughout the bout and up his volume a bit more than what he has been accustomed to doing. If he doesn’t, Teymur will turn up the volume enough for the both of them. If Sung Bin Jo is able to hurt Teymur or drop him, look for Sung Bin Jo to go in for the kill with all that he has, as his killer instinct has yet to fail him, with none of his nine professional fights going the distance.  

Ultimately, I believe that Bin Jo will prove too flat-footed and inexperienced for Teymur who has the kickboxing experience to make up for the MMA experience that is commensurate with Bin Jo’s.  I also expect Teymur to get off to a faster start than Bin Jo, who will probably be overwhelmed in his UFC debut in his return to competition after a year-plus layoff and in his first fight outside of Asia.

Prediction Daniel Teymur

Confidence Level: 3/10

Damir Hadzovic (13-4) vs. Christos Giagos (16-7)

Damir Hadzovic fights like a man who was handed nothing in life and has come from humble beginnings. His improvement and steady development as a fighter reflects the same work ethic. You can expect the grit that Hadzovic carries in the Octagon to be on display once again tomorrow night, and he could claim another his victory with a prone Christos Giagos at his feet.

Christos Giagos’s best chance at victory is to push the pace and arrive with a wrestling-heavy game plan. Hadzovic has struggled with grapplers in the past, albeit of a higher level than Giagos, so Giagos should look to dictate the pace early with his aggressive blitzes, especially with Hadzovic being the slow starter that he is. Giagos is an average fighter, but he is an above average wrestler with a particularly effective single leg that could get the fight to the canvas.

I believe Hadzovic to be a hard worker who is not satisfied to just be in the UFC. He is constantly looking to improve and to put on better performances. As such, I expect his takedown defense to have improved enough to stifle someone who is only an above average wrestler, especially if he continues to pump the knee to remind Giagos that if he makes a false entry, he could end up chalked out in the same fashion as Marcin Held. And whether it’s a win as flashy as the Held KO or if Hadzovic outlasts Giagos with more heart and resolve, I predict Hadzovic will take home the win.

Prediction: Damir Hadzovic

Confidence Level: 3/10

Makwan Amirkhani (14-3) vs. Chris Fishgold (18-2-1)

This is a very intriguing fight in the featherweight division, as both men will look to earn their second straight victory in a fight that has swiftly become a grudge match. For Makwan Amirkhani, his biggest path to victory is to make good on the wrestling he has been doing since the age of four and out-grapple the biggest grappling threat he has faced in his career thus far, Chris Fishgold. Because if the fight stays standing, although Fishgold has many a holes in both his offense and defense, he still poses the much larger threat in the striking department. And after the shove from Amirkhani during the faceoff in addition to all of his trash talk leading up to this fight, Chris Fishgold may put even more umph into his already full-blast bombs that he launches.

For Amirkhani to win this fight, he has to make it a grappling contest where he can let his excellent scrambling ability shine through and look to earn a 10th submission victory, which will not be easy against the black belt Chris Fishgold, but it is not a long shot. A well-timed flying knee during a reckless takedown entry from Fishgold could net Amirkhani a win as well.

Chris Fishgold is a strong enough grappler to where he should be able to keep the fight on the feet when Amirkhani inevitably shoots for a takedown. He is the bigger, stronger, and angrier fighter, and he strikes me as a man who will fight emotionally when provoked. After all, he already fights recklessly in a standard bout, one can imagine what his style will be when he has hostile feelings for his opponent.

Chris Fishgold’s standup has improved throughout his career, even though his entries are sloppy and his defense is questionable at best. His standup was still good enough to hold his own against technical striker Calvin Kattar prior to getting TKO’d and it also looked strong in his last outing against Daniel Teymur. The biggest concern for Fishgold is that he may tire later in the fight, allowing Amirkhani to land point-scoring takedowns. But something tells me that Fishgold will be coming for Amirkhani’s head, and all it takes is one of his wild throws to hit the bullseye.

Prediction: Chris Fishgold

Confidence Level: 6/10

Jimi Manuwa (17-5) vs. Aleksandar Rakic (11-1)

The Swedish audience should be satisfied with their new co-main event, as they have themselves a certified banger when Jimi Manuwa takes on another rising light heavyweight upstart in Aleksandar Rakic. Just two years ago, the term “light heavyweight upstart” would have been a refreshing utterance in what was arguably the stalest division in the promotion, but we are now in an era where the word “another” can even be added to that phrase. Where does Aleksandar Rakic rank in the growing list of light heavyweight prospects? Jimi Manuwa will be the perfect litmus test to find out.

For Jimi Manuwa, he will need to be aggressive early, as the first round will be his best chance to win this fight. Manuwa is often criticized for having a suspect chin, but when you look at the blows he absorbed from Thiago Santos, it’s laudable that Manuwa was even able to take as much as he did before being put out. The question is, if Manuwa returned fire like he did against Thiago Santos, could Rakic’s chin hold up? Manuwa should look to find out by turning this fight into the slug out that many fans are already expecting. Because much like the main event, if this fight becomes a technical striking battle, it clearly favors one fighter, and in this case that man is Aleksandar Rakic.

Aleksandar Rakic is the more athletic, technically sound, fleet-footed fighter here, not to mention the younger fighter who is on a completely different career trajectory than his 39-year-old counterpart on a three-fight losing streak. If I’m Rakic, I lean on my speed advantage, circle around in the first round to make Manuwa chase and tire himself out while landing pop shots every now and again, which is how Rakic usually fights anyway: punching one strike at a time and not in combinations. Then, in the second round, Rakic should look to pick up the pace and make a statement, which I believe he will.

Prediction: Aleksandar Rakic

Confidence Level: 6/10

Alexander Gustafsson (18-5) vs. Anthony Smith (31-14)

There are some similarities between this fight and the co-main event. Alexander Gustafsson’s game plan should be clear: get back to the Gustafsson who was heavy on movement, an in-and-out fighter who right when you think he’s point-fighting you, next thing you know you’re sporting a crimson mask on the wrong end of a mean uppercut. Anthony Smith loves to bang, but I just do not see his footwork remotely approaching that of Gustafsson’s. So what we have is Alexander Gustafsson being the better striker and the fighter with the better footwork. The only possible advantage Smith has on the feet is power, but the problem is, even Smith’s power is not one-punch scary, and Alexander Gustafsson is one of the toughest SOB’s in the division. I have a hard time seeing Smith put Gustafsson away.

But if he does put Gustafsson away, it will not be because Smith turns the fight into a brawl. That is a strategy that would be better suited for Jimi Manuwa against Aleksandar Rakic. In that fight, Rakic is the superior technical striker with better footwork, just as Gustafsson is to Smith, but Manuwa has more game-changing power and Rakic also hasn’t proven to be as durable as Gustafsson. Therefore, the brawl option, while far from worthless, is not the best path to victory for Smith.

Instead, Anthony Smith should look to switch it up with Gustafsson and make it a grappling match where he would earn another submission victory with the aid of his black-belt Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The only problem is, Gustafsson’s takedown defense is wicked, and Smith is not a great takedown artist.

Smith always has a chance. He may not have one-punch KO power but stranger things have happened than Smith knocking out an opponent, no matter how good that opponent is. But I don’t see it happening due to Gustafsson’s footwork and durability, and I also do not see Smith being able to take Gustafsson down if he tries to take that route.

Prediction: Alexander Gustafsson

Confidence Level: 8/10

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