UFC on Fuel 7: 6 Things to Watch for at Barao vs. McDonald
And just like that, we have another fight week on our hands.
After a scant one-week break from UFC action, the promotion returns to Fuel TV on Saturday night with a London card headlined by an interim bantamweight title fight between champ Renan Barao and Michael McDonald. Next week, we roll on to Anaheim, where Ronda Rousey will defend her women's bantamweight title in the first-ever women's fight in the UFC.
But first, it's jolly old England and the male bantamweights, not to mention a few other fights that will almost certainly be violent and thrilling. I'll tell you about those in the following pages, along with other things you should keep an eye on this Saturday night.
Shall we get started? We shall.
Has the Michael McDonald Era Arrived?
Paul Abell-USA TODAY Sports
Michael McDonald has been undefeated since 2009—including his stretch in the WEC and UFC—but it wasn't until his April 2012 knockout of Miguel Torres that he well and truly arrived.
The nature of the bantamweight division is such that McDonald, despite being an imminent contender for the interim crown, isn't a household name. The most well-known fighter in the division is still Urijah Faber, and outside of (real) champion Dominick Cruz, no other fighter in the division gets much attention outside of the hardcore community.
But McDonald hopes to change that, and he has quite some time to do so. This is a fighter who was born in 1991, just two years before the birth of the UFC, and yet he's already contending for a title. He's incredibly gifted, not just for someone so young, for a fighter of any age. And in taking on Barao, he has a chance to dethrone a fighter who has been nothing but dominant throughout his career.
McDonald may well be the future of the division. If so, we might see him take the first step toward greatness on Saturday night.
Dustin Poirier vs. Cub Swanson: Fight of the Night
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
As I sit here typing up these words you're reading, it's hard for me to imagine a better Fight of the Night contender than Cub Swanson vs. Dustin Poirier. If you're a gambling degenerate and you enjoy tossing a few bones on the occasional prop bet, you might want to go ahead and consider putting a few bucks down on this one being given Fight of the Night honors.
The fight was originally scheduled as Swanson taking on Dennis Siver, which would've been a pretty great fight on its own. But when Siver went down with an injury and Poirier took his place, well, I'd be lying if I said my violence-meter didn't start tingling just a bit.
It's a great stylistic matchup between two top featherweights. Swanson has reinvented himself in the UFC and is nearing title contention, while Poirier remains near the top despite a loss to Chan Sung Jung last year.
This one is the co-main event for a reason: Because it's going to be awesome. And you don't want to miss it.
Gunnar Nelson: The New, Smaller Fedor?
Photo courtesy of UFC.com
Gunnar Nelson terrifies me just a little bit, much the same way Fedor Emelianenko used to terrify me.
Fighters, much like every other athlete on the planet, tend to be emotional creatures. They celebrate, they cry and they mourn losses with intensity.
Which is why it's just a little bit creepy when Nelson goes in the cage, defeats his opponent and then conducts his post-fight interviews, all while wearing the same blank look on his face.
Seriously. The expression never changes. It feels like fighting might be akin to a science experiment for Nelson, because no matter how great his performance or how quickly he dispatches his opponent, his face betrays no emotion.
Emelianenko's blank stare became one of his trademarks as he evolved into one of the best fighters in the world. I'm not saying Nelson is at Emelianenko's level, but he certainly can be. His ground skills are otherworldly and can take him a long way.
What I'm saying, I guess, is that the fighter who shows no emotion is infinitely more terrifying than the fighter who does. And if I'm Jorge Santiago, I'd be very worried about facing Nelson on Saturday night.
Can Paul Sass Kick Off a New Winning Streak?
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Until he lost to Matt Wiman at UFC on Fuel 5 last year, Paul Sass was undefeated.
He'd run up quite the winning streak—13 fights in a row, to be exact—and he'd scored three straight wins over tougher competition each time out in the UFC.
He even had a pro-wrestling style finishing move; much like Ronda Rousey's armbar, Sass's triangle was nearly guaranteed to finish a fight. That's the reputation you get when you score nine of your 13 wins using the exact same move.
Wiman ended that, but Sass will look to start off a new winning streak on Saturday when he takes on the very tough Danny Castillo. Sass will almost always look for that triangle, but Castillo is an excellent wrestler with the ability to negate submission attempts.
With Michael Bisping apparently unable to secure a title shot, and Dan Hardy exiting the scene after one more year of fighting, the UFC is desperately seeking to create new British stars who can headline these United Kingdom events.
Can Sass be that guy? Sure. But first, he has to get through Castillo, and that's much easier said than done.
Tom "Kong" Watson: Player or Pretender?
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Tom Watson was the darling of the British mixed martial arts scene from his 2006 debut up until his signing with the UFC in 2012.
Known for his colorful entrance—the one where Watson wears a gorilla mask—Watson enthralled British fans with his personality and his winning ways. I can even recall a time when the U.K. fans entertained the idea of Watson taking on Anderson Silva.
Most of that ended when Watson lost to Brad Tavares in his UFC debut last September, but "Kong" still has plenty of potential to be a British superstar for the UFC.
His opponent on Saturday is no pushover. Stanislav Nedkov has the ability to surprise you, especially when matched up with much better fighters. Watson will need to execute one of his best career performances in order to win.
Ulysses Gomez Has a Chance to Climb Flyweight Ranks
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Before coming to the UFC, Ulysses Gomez was known as one of the best flyweights in the world, mostly while fighting in Tachi Palace Fights—the promotion that was known as the home of the best flyweights before the UFC opened up the division last year.
His UFC debut was a letdown, as Gomez was finished in under four minutes by John Moraga—the man who will next face Demetrious Johnson for the flyweight title.
Moraga is a very good and tough fighter, but Gomez is better than what he displayed in that fight. He still has the ability to be a top contender, especially in a division with just 12 fighters currently under contract.
A win over Phil Harris would help send Gomez skyrocketing up the division, but it won't be easy. Harris is a very experienced fighter and is a tough out for anyone, but I fully expect Gomez to come out firing on all cylinders.