The consensus heading into UFC Fight Night 115 is that the card is lacking quality matchups and is on the lower-end of the excitement metre.
At first glance, it makes sense. The bout between Alexander Volkov and Stefan Struve is a questionable choice for the main event. Volkov shouldn’t be the A-side of any UFC main event right now, let alone be headlining the entire card. The main card also features two fights in which a UFC newcomer has been called in on late notice to save the day. Also, the preliminary card features bouts such as Thibault Gouti (0-3 in the UFC) vs Andrew Holbrook, which is not exactly a mouth-watering matchup.
Despite all of this, the UFC’s extended break will inevitably result in MMA fans eagerly watching UFC Fight Night 115 live as it takes place in Rotterdam, Netherlands. For all of those who are tuning in for the UFC’s return this weekend, you don’t want to miss the five fights below.
1 Leon Edwards vs Bryan Barberena
Leon Edwards is one of the most gifted strikers in mixed martial arts. His artistic combinations and eloquent technique combine with pinpoint precision to spell disaster for his opponents. When Edwards is the perfect distance from his opponent, he can pepper them with strikes and cause devastating harm.
Bryan Barberena, on the other hand, is a straight-up in-your-face brawler. Barberena prides himself on smothering his opponent's operating distance and turning the fight ugly. A breakout victory against Sage Northcutt at UFC on FOX 18 marked the moment that we started to view Barberena as a supreme opportunist.
This fight doesn't really need any further explanation; it's the always-intriguing matchup between two contrasting styles.
Read more: Leon Edwards vs Bryan Barberena
2 Zabit Magomedsharipov vs Mike Santiago
Mike Santiago and Zabit Magomedsharipov will both be making their UFC debuts on the weekend in Rotterdam, yet enter with contrasting pathways to the organisation.
Magomedsharipov is up there with the most-hyped talents on the entire roster; a crazy fact considering that he has yet to compete in the UFC. Mark Henry and his team have heaped praise on Magomedsharipov since he arrived from Dagestan, touting his exquisite striking abilities and world-class potential.
Santiago competed last week at Dana White's Contender Series 7. Santiago completely steamrolled Mark Cherico in the first round and looked to have done enough to earn a contract with the UFC. To the surprise of many viewers, Dana White and the matchmakers decided to pass on Santiago and his impressive 11-fight winning streak and instead award contracts to Joby Sanchez and Benito Lopez. So, when Santiago was called up to fight Magomedsharipov on short notice, there was really no chance Santiago was going to deny them.
Despite this fight being arranged on very short notice, it has all the shapings of a barnburner. Magomedsharipov's debut has the potential to be as mesmerising as Daenerys Targaryen riding a dragon on Game of Thrones. To do this, however, he needs to find a way to defeat Santiago, who is always looking for the finishing blow.
3 Darren Till vs Bojan Velickovic
You may have raised your eyebrows when you noticed that Bojan Velickovic is featured in a 'must-watch' fights segment. That's completely fair. Velickovic had consistently disappointed during his time with the UFC and looked to be doing the same until he landed a game-changing right hook on Nico Musoke at UFC Stockholm. Velickovic was entering the third and final round behind on one of the judge's scorecards and instead of maintaining his previously established pace like he had done in previous fights, 'Serbian Steel' instead became more aggressive and found a way to finish the fight.
Darren Till returned from an extended layoff to completely dominate Jessin Ayari with his Muay Thai skills. Till walloped Ayari all night long and knocked him down numerous times, but Ayari kept finding a way back to his feet. Till employs some of the most deadly striking techniques in mixed martial arts and is always looking for ways to land razor sharp elbows on the head of his opponent.
After defeating Ayari, Darren Till explained:
When I’m in there, I feel invincible. It's like nothing can touch me. I’m only a beginner in the division, and I know that, but if I’m not fighting for the belt, then I might as well quit. I want the belt, so I want to fight and fight and fight until they call me and I get that belt.
Velickovic stands in the way of Till's meteoric rise this weekend in Rotterdam and you don't want to miss this fight.
4 Mairbek Taisumov vs Felipe Silva
Mairbek Taisumov will be fighting for the first time since April 2016 when he faces Felipe Silva this weekend at UFC Fight Night 115.
Taisumov steps into the UFC's octagon in Rotterdam with four consecutive KO/TKO victories under his belt. Taisumov isn't one for standing around in the cage for too long and his longest any of these four opponents lasted was 1:30 into the second round.
Silva throws his strikes with the intention to kill as well. When he debuted against Shane Campbell back at UFC on FOX 21, Silva marched forward behind huge haymakers. Silva's hands are like heat-seeking missiles and he was able to locate his target and put an end to Campbell's night after just 73 seconds.
Will either of these guys show respect for the other's power? Or will they stand in the middle of the octagon and throw down? Strap yourselves in.
5 Alexander Volkov vs Stefan Struve
While it's easy to be critical of this fight as UFC Fight Night 115's main event, it's definitely an intriguing matchup between two heavyweights with some positive momentum.
The most interesting aspect of this matchup is how each of these fighters will handle being in there with somebody of extreme stature like themselves. Volkov, at 6'7", has always been the taller opponent and has entered the octagon with a sizable height and reach advantage. This time, however, he'll enter the fight a full three inches shorter than his opponent. It's unusual territory for Volkov, which makes it all the more interesting.
Likewise, Struve has always entered fights with a massive height and reach advantage. Despite this, Struve has often found that these benefits almost play against him. Struve over-relies on his height and seems to assume that his opponent cannot reach him. So, instead of defending strikes with his gloves or moving his head, he moves backward in a straight line with his chin pointed towards the roof. Struve was an entire foot taller than Daniel Omielanczuk, and yet Omielanczuk managed to land some punches on Struve by rushing forward into his range.
This fight is likely to be a very entertaining battle between two enormous mixed martial artists, and the winner will be making a noticeable push through the UFC's heavyweight division.
Read more: Alexander Volkov vs Stefan Struve
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