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UFC Fight Night 116: Rockhold vs Branch

Main eventing a card largely geared around some fun action and larger divisional progression, you have former middleweight champion Luke Rockhold returning to action for the first time since losing his title to Michael Bisping.  He faces off against former World Series of Fighting middleweight and light heavyweight champion David Branch. This is set up for him to put himself first in line for a title shot after Bisping defends his title in November and then settles his business with interim champion Robert Whittaker.

Middleweight: Rockhold vs Branch
Luke Rockhold took a prolonged break after losing his title to Michael Lisping unexpectedly on short notice. This was first due to a knee injury that may have contributed to the loss, as well as a dispute with company president Dana White over the complicated middleweight picture and pursuing a modelling career in the meantime.

Rockhold is largely a kickboxer on the feet with an excellent ground game, dominating former champion and prodigious grappler Chris Weidman after an ill-conceived wheel kick to win the belt. He will likely be even better on the feet in this contest after training with coach Henri Hooft in preparation.

Branch is primarily a grappler with solid boxing fundamentals on the feet. He is not the most watchable fighter around, but he has developed an effective grinding style. He trains his Jiu Jitsu with New York based mastermind John Danaher, so will be a problem off his back if the fight goes there.

Welterweight: Mike Perry vs Alex Reyes
Alex Reyes steps in on 3 days’ notice after Perry’s original opponent Thiago Alves withdrew after being stranded in Florida by Hurricane Irma. Reyes is a career lightweight making his UFC debut with a 12-2 record. This, therefore, will in all likelihood be Perry adding another highlight to his reel. Whilst not the most refined fighter, Perry has excellent physical skills that could make him a problem in the division – whilst also using an exciting style that ensures he will be able to progress quickly.

Middleweight: Hector Lombard vs Anthony Smith
Lombard, a former Olympic judoka, tries to stop his losing run against Anthony Smith, a journeyman beginning to make himself a fixture in the middleweight division. Lombard will be at a significant size disadvantage, being 7 inches shorter than the more prototypically sized Smith. Lombard compensates for this by being heavily muscled and trying to get his opponent out of the contest before this costs him his stamina.

This likely won’t make it to the judges’ cards, as the two have combined for 16 decisions out of 80 total fights. Smith has the more balanced method of victory, however this is unlikely to come into play with Lombard’s grappling abilities.

Lightweight: Gregor Gillespie vs Jason Gonzalez
Undefeated prospect Gillespie comes into this contest with the veteran Gonzalez – the extremely heavy favourite. With a wrestling base, Gillespie seeks to get his opponent to the ground and either batter them or grab a submission to break them and obtain the win. He does have some power in his hands but is not the most developed technically. Gonzalez has handy power striking and some submission prowess off his back and in transition. The submission will in all likelihood be his only chance at beating the possible future top 10 lightweight Gillespie.

Welterweight: Kamaru Usman vs Sergio Moraes
Top prospect Kamaru Usman ventures closer to a meaningful matchup against the experienced grappler Moraes. While there is every chance this could settle into the traditional grappler vs grappler kickboxing match, it will probably be Usman pushing for the clinch and takedown game. Osman has trained under Henri Hooft, so therefore has some decent Dutch style kickboxing – but largely seeks to do his work in the wrestling game.

He has won all 4 of his non Ultimate Fighter UFC bouts via decision, with Moraes having only been in one fight that didn’t go the distance out of his 5 contests since 2015. In all likelihood this will drag its way to the scorecards either through an ugly kickboxing battle or a grinding affair.

Heavyweight: Justin Ledet vs Azunna Anyanwu
Anyanwu comes into this as a short notice replacement for Dmitry Sosnovsky, after appearing on the first episode of this summer’s clunkily named Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series.

Ledet last stepped into the Octagon last November, beating Mark Godbeer by rear naked choke in Belfast for his second UFC contest. This has likely been set to try to kick the main card off with the bang of an explosive knockout. Anyanwu has some power in his right hand but will probably be taken down by Ledet, who showed in that last contest that he is willing to ground a power striker which will be even more likely with a short notice opponent to reduce the risk of an upset.

Undercard
The opening matchup on the preliminary card should also be fairly interesting, featuring Luke Sanders vs Felipe Arantes. Sanders dominated his last contest against Iuri Alcantara before falling prey to a kneebar out of nowhere. He will use a wrestling based approach, making the most of ride positions to land some nasty ground and pound. He could be a rising fighter in the bantamweight division.

Callum McPhail

Featured image courtesy of benyupp via Flickr. License here.

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