The UFC will head to Rio Rancho this coming Saturday for a high stakes fight in the light heavyweight division. Corey Anderson, fresh off a stunning KO of Johnny Walker, will be facing off against Jan Blachowicz for the second time. Anderson handily won the decision last time back in 2015. This time around, the two will more or less be fighting for a crack at Jon Jones and Blachowicz is much improved. If Anderson wins, it is very likely that he will be the next to fight Jones at light heavyweight, assuming Jones doesn’t vacate the belt any time soon in chase of other ventures.
Anderson opened as a slight favorite and the line has only expanded in his favor.
Beyond the entertaining main event, the UFC’s 167th Fight Night is a relatively stacked card. The event has a solid mix of regional/hometown favorites and features several fights that project to be razor close. One could easily argue that this is a better fight card top to bottom than UFC 247.
So after going one for 2 two in straight picks for 247, I’m going to give four selections this go around. Two picks are rookie numbers, I’ve gotta get those numbers up. So without further introduction, let’s get to it.
Casey Kenney (+146) vs. Merab Dvalishvili (-172)
This bantamweight bout will feature the up and coming Casey Kenney against the experienced Merab Dvalishvili. Kenney (13-1-1) overall, has yet to lose in two UFC bouts. An underdog in both fights, Kenney was able to secure two very impressive wins.
The first was a close decision win over Ray Borg, who will also be fighting on the card. The fight was heavy on grappling, which is standard for any Borg fight, but Kenney was able to slightly edge the former flyweight #1 contender out. Granted, Borg had missed time due to injury, including an injury sustained thanks to the infamous McGregor bus incident. Kenney was the first fight for Borg in a little over a year and a half, so that may have played a role. However, that doesn’t take anything away from Kenney’s performance in the fight. He was quicker with his transitions and was able to splash onto the UFC scene in a big way.
His next fight came at UFC 241. Kenney was squared up with Manny Bermudez at bantamweight but Bermudez missed weight. Kenney accepted the catch weight fight against the then undefeated Bermudez and was able to secure yet another underdog victory. Kenney again displayed elite grappling and was able to flip the much bigger Bermudez over quite quickly. The Indiana native again showed elite grappling and begged Dana White to allow him to display some striking skills in his post-fight interview.
Dvalishvili has won his last two fights and is known for heavy wrestling pressure. For many fighters, this is overwhelming and Dvalishvili is able to secure decision wins. The Georgian born Dvalishvili has also demonstrated an ability to secure take-downs at will, which looks good in the eyes of the judges.
That said, we’ve seen elite scrambling from Casey Kenney while Dvalishvili has struggled to hold opponents down. If Kenney can scramble quickly and get off some strikes, he can out point Dvalishvili to a decision. Kenney’s striking is somewhat of a wild card that we haven’t been able to see at the UFC level.
I totally see the path to a decision for Dvalishvili, but I think Kenney has this one. He’s been an underdog several times in his career and come through, which is something that has to be taken into account.
Pick: Casey Kenney
Rogério Bontorin (+120) vs. Ray Borg (-150)
Ray Borg will be returning to flyweight for the first time since 2017, when he lost to Demetrious Johnson in a title fight. As we talked about for the last fight, Borg is an elite grappler known for his speed. As for Bontorin, he is no grappling slouch himself. The Brazilian has a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu and has won both of his UFC appearances.
Neither is truly great with the hands, though Borg showed progression at one time. This fight will be heavy on grappling and it’s tough to see where Bontorin truly has an edge on Borg. The Tuscon born Borg also has much more UFC experience than Bontorin and has a handful of unanimous decision victories to his name. Bontorin won his last fight via doctor stoppage while the fight before that was a split decision victory.
Ultimately, I think Borg is just slightly better everywhere and will be able to edge out a close decision win in a competitive fight.
Pick: Ray Borg
John Dodson (+140) vs. Nathaniel Wood (-170)
13th ranked bantamweight John Dodson will be taking on London based prospect Nathaniel Wood in his home state of New Mexico. This looks to be one of the more exciting fights on the card and could easily work as a co-main.
Dodson is of course a grizzled UFC veteran who has fought plenty of killers over his career. He has wins against Pedro Munhoz , Eddie Wineland, Tim Elliot and T.J. Dillashaw in a TUF finale. Dodson’s losses are respectable to say the least. He most recently showed that he has quite the chin in going to the card following an absolute onslaught from Petr Yan. Since late 2015, Dodson’s losses are to Yan, Jimmie Rivera, Marlon Moraes, John Lineker and Demetrious Johnson. The losses to Moraes and Lineker were split decisions and Dodson has never been stopped in 31 pro fights.
John Dodson is a prime example of the need to look past the record when evaluating fighters.
With that said, Dodson is 36 and isn’t showing the same speed/volume combo that once made him so great. Dodson is still lightening fast and it will be interesting to see how Wood adjusts, but the veteran simply hasn’t been generating enough offense in recent fights.
As for Wood, he was champion at Cage Warriors before heading over to the UFC. He has secured submissions in all three of his UFC appearances and has shown elite grappling ability. Wood is very aggressive in top position and oftentimes is able to overwhelm his opponents on the ground. None of Wood’s UFC opponents have been able to do much of anything on the ground against Wood and it is insanely unlikely that Dodson will be any threat here.
On the feet, Wood is a calculated, technical striker who has looked very impressive at times. His best striking perhaps came against Andre Ewell, a bout in which Wood was able to land several heavy overhands that stumbled his opponent. Three straight submissions give the impression that Wood is a grappling menace when in reality, he’s very balanced.
The only things working against Wood in this fight are home state advantage for Dodson and the fact that his style leaves him vulnerable at times. Wood typically gets cracked once or twice over the course of his fights and although he has been able to endure it thus far, Dodson is a step up in competition. It seems inevitable that Dodson will win some exchanges and get in some quick 1-2’s before retreating from the pocket.
That said, Wood is bound to catch Dodson eventually if both fight the way they typically do. Dodson’s decline in volume is also a bad indicator for him, as he’s going to need it to win this one. If and when the fight goes to the ground, Wood should have no problem at least racking up top control.
Dodson has fought some big names but Wood very well may be on their level. This should be entertaining, but Wood will eventually secure the decision
Pick: Nathaniel Wood
Jan Blachowicz (+185) vs. Corey Anderson (-230)
The rematch between Corey Anderson and Jan Blachowicz will serve as the night’s main event and carries high stakes for the light heavyweight division. Either fighter could realistically get a title shot with a win here, especially in the case of Anderson.
Both veterans, Anderson was able to dominate their first match. He ground and pounded Blachowicz to a unanimous decision and was never really in trouble. This go around, Blachowicz has improved his take-down defense and demonstrated some powerful striking against the division’s elite. It is highly unlikely that the fight is anything close to the route it was the first go around.
That said, I still like Anderson here. The 30 year old is coming off of a stunning knockout of Brazilian prospect Johnny Walker, a fighter many thought (and think) could take down Jones. Anderson was very emotional post-fight as he felt he had been disrespected in the build-up.
As we’ve seen countless times, momentum matters in MMA and Anderson certainly has plenty right now. He is currently riding a four fight win strike in addition to the highlight reel KO over Walker. That momentum will be carrying over into this fight.
Skills wise, Anderson is one of the most well rounded fighters in the division. His striking only gets better and his wrestling has always been high level. Even if Blachowicz has improved his take-down defense, I still see lots of clinch control for Anderson. Corey should also eventually score a take-down or two and will likely take control in the latter rounds, should it get there.
Of course Blachowicz is no slouch either. He has great power, though he has been inconsistent with it at times. He’s a very talented fighter who could beat most of the division but I think Anderson’s volume, wrestling and gas tank will prove too much for him.
Corey Anderson will ultimately walk away with another unanimous decision.
Pick: Corey Anderson