UFC Fight Night 128 - New Jersey Breakdown
Edson Barboza vs Kevin Lee
Another pair of killer lightweights headline for the third UFC event in a row with Edson Barboza and Kevin Lee looking to put on a show in New Jersey. This is a compelling match-up with elite yet contrasting skills and although they are both coming off a loss, a couple more wins will put them back in title contention.
Barboza is coming off a dominant loss to the recently crowned champion Khabib Nurmagomedov who out-grappled the Brazilian for the entirety of the fight as he was unable to defend the takedown and unleash his devastating striking.
Lee’s loss was less humiliating but was finished by Tony Ferguson with a sublime triangle choke in the third round which snapped a five-fight winning streak.
Both are desperate to bounce back to prove their championship calibre in a contest which will no doubt come down to the striking of Barboza and the grappling of Lee.
Lee has to look at Barboza’a fight with Nurmagomedov as a blueprint for victory. Lee’s wrestling is not quite at the level of Nurmagomedov but to be honest, nobody’s is. Like Barboza, Lee is an athletic beast and feels he will take him down at will but also promises to come into this fight more evolved and may even attempt to trade strikes.
Barboza is aware his best chance of walking away with a win is putting Lee to sleep and with his ferocious striking and array of kicks, he can end the fight in a flash but only if he can keep the distance and avoid the takedowns.
Three rounds with Nurmagomedov is the best preparation for Lee as long as Barboza’s confidence is still intact. He knows he is going to have to start fast and violent and utilise his energy before Lee initiates the clinch/takedown but five rounds will play into Lee’s favour.
Winner: Lee via Submission
Frankie Edgar vs Cub Swanson
The co-main event for UFC Fight Night 128 features a rematch between veterans who are both coming off two ruthless finishes courtesy of Brain Ortega. He brilliantly submitted Cub Swanson back in December and delivered Frankie Edgar’s first knockout loss of his career only last month.
This is a very short turnaround for Edgar who is desperate to fight in his home state of New Jersey but has another incredibly dangerous opponent in front of him. Swanson is grateful for the chance to fight a legend of the sport but is very confident of getting the better of the former lightweight champion.
Their fight back in 2014 went the way of Edgar who outlasted Swanson until the fifth round and finished the fight with a neck crank. This fight will also start and remain at a fierce pace as these two guys thrive on a relentless output with an immense level of cardio.
They will both battle it out on the feet for the start of the fight at least with Edgar combining technical boxing with his trademark head movement and Swanson will match his pace but with more wild and aggressive striking.
Swanson will have to be wary of the takedown as Edgar level changes brilliantly in-between striking combinations and although Swanson is more than effective on the ground, takedowns will be crucial for Edgar in earning a decision.
It is always hard to bet against Edgar, but after such a brutal knockout with a substantial amount of miles on the clock, even the very best become more vulnerable to head strikes, especially fighting so soon after a loss. Swanson’s unorthodox style may just allow that fight-ending blow and the biggest win of his career.
Winner: Swanson via KO/TKO
Justin Willis vs Chase Sherman
Two seismic sluggers in the shape of Justin Willis and Chase Sherman arrive to New Jersey in search of a big knockout to put the heavyweight division on notice.
After Willis lost his first professional fight he has been on a tear, winning all six fights with four knockouts with the most recent coming in his last fight against Allen Crowder.
The more experienced Sherman has had five UFC fights but only managed to win two of them and is hoping to bounce back from his most recent fight which ended in a frantic knockout against Shamil Abdurakhimov.
This fight is unlikely to go the distance with the unholy power these men possess in their hands. Although Willis is on a six-fight win streak, Sherman is his toughest test to date but it just takes one power strike for the fight to finish and both men are capable of it.
This could go either way but with the threat of the takedown, Willis has more tools at his disposal and will just have the edge going into this one.
Winner: Willis via KO/TKO
David Branch vs Thiago Santos
This is a great match-up in the middleweight division between the former World Series of Fighting middleweight and light heavyweight champion David Branch and Brazilian Thiago Santos.
Santos arrives in the best form of his life with four wins and four knockouts on the bounce over Anthony Smith, Jack Hermansson, Gerald Meerschaert and Jack Marshman.
Branch on the other hand is coming off a loss to Luke Rockhold back in September last year but this was after an 11-fight win streak and he is desperate to regain the form that made him a two-division champion.
Santos is a bonified knockout artist and with the confidence gained from his last four fights, he will look to take Branch’s head off from the get go. Branch is Santos’ most accomplished opponent by a distance and has to be wary of the diverse threat he brings.
Branch does not have the power of Santos but he is a wizard on the ground and will look to set up takedowns with combinations. They are both well-rounded but the striking of Santos and the ground skills of Branch is at such a high level they may decide to avoid each other’s strengths but Branch may just have more class to take the fight into his realm.
Winner: Branch via Decision
Aljamain Sterling vs Brett Johns
Many believed Aljamain Sterling had the skills to be competing at championship level by now but he has struggled to get a run going in the deep and competitive bantamweight pool. However, he is still only 28 and has the talent and experience to get to the top but now has a prodigy from Wales to get through.
Brett Johns is incredibly well-rounded and has built upon his elite level Judoka with Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu which he has displayed in his unbeaten run. He now hopes to make Sterling his fourth and biggest win of his UFC career who is coming off a sickening knockout to Marlon Moraes who sent him to another planet with a vicious knee..
Sterling’s last fight was painful to watch but he promises to bounce back strongly. He has the speed and power to trouble Johns on the feet where he may decide to keep the fight.
Sterling usually relies on his wrestling but Johns is a beast of a grappler and has not only displayed elite Judo throughout his career but has proved he is just as dangerous on the mat with one of the best submissions of the year - a rare calf slicer over Joe Soto.
This is a close fight to call and although Sterling has the experience fighting at the top level, Johns has looked sensational so far.
Winner: Johns via Decision
Jim Miller vs Dan Hooker
One of the longest serving UFC fighters, Jim Miller, welcomes an up-and-coming Kiwi to the octagon who is looking to add his biggest name to his record.
Hooker is 5-3 in the UFC but is coming off two huge finishes over Ross Pearson and Marc Diakiese. He brutally knocked out Pearson with a knee and submitted the extremely dangerous Diakiese with a guillotine choke.
Miller is coming off three losses but these were against top contenders in Dustin Poirier, Anthony Pettis and Francisco Trinaldo. Although Miller is struggling at the end of his career, you can never count him out and he not only has the experience but also the skill level to put Hooker away.
Hooker has proven he is a natural finisher and is as equally dangerous on the feet as he is on the mat but Miller’s ground skills are a notch above most lightweights. The combination of wrestling and elite level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has allowed him to amass 13 submissions so Hooker will try and keep the distance.
This has to be one of Hooker’s toughest opponents but if he utilizes his significant reach advantage effectively he will be able to negate the strengths of Miller and inflict match-winning damage on the feet.
Winner: Hooker via KO/TKO