Obviously, it’s a major bummer that Alexander Gustafsson has been forced out of his main event match-up with Gegard Mousasi. The surging Swedish contender was the biggest name on this card, and that fight was easily the most impactful and compelling.
But even without the original main event, the card still contains a number of potentially exciting pairings, and it features some fighters capable of using this opportunity to step into the spotlight. These international events have traditionally been short on major names but long on entertaining performances, and I don’t expect Saturday’s show at the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm to be any different.
Here are the under the radar athletes to watch this weekend as the UFC returns to Sweden.
Watch Saturday’s UFC event in Sweden on Sportsnet at 2 p.m. ET. Also, catch preliminary fights starting at 10:50 a.m. ET on sportsnet.ca.
FIGHTERS TO WATCH
Fighter: Diego Brandao Record: 16-8 Opponent: Pablo Garza
With the featherweight division continuing to get better and better with each passing event, the time is now for Brandao to start living up to some of the promise he showed in winning Season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter.
While his loss to Darren Elkins looks better now as “The Damage” continues to climb the divisional ladder, Brandao has been out of action since defeating Joey Gambino back in October, and has fallen off the radar a little. He is an explosive striker with a solid submission game, but showed conditioning issues in his loss to Elkins.
Brandao works with the all-star cast of coaches and athletes at Team Jackson-Winkeljohn, so there is the possibility of him putting it all together at any time and having a breakthrough performance. Garza is the kind of dangerous middle-of-the-pack opponent he needs to be able to defeat in order to keep climbing the ladder, and there is no time like the present for “Ceara” to start building a nice little win streak.
Fighter: Robert Peralta Record: 16-3 Opponent: Akira Corassani
“Problems” is one of those fighters who has overtaken Brandao in the division, even though he too has been out of action for what feels like an eternity. Last time out, Peralta made quick work of Jason Young in September, showing again why he was able to establish himself as a darkhorse contender in the featherweight division in 2012.
Unbeaten in his last 10 appearances (9-0 with one no contest), the 27-year-old California native still hasn’t received a step up in competition, but that could change with another impressive showing this weekend in Sweden.
There are a lot of fights scheduled for the 145-pound weight class in the coming months, which should make for a busy fall for the featherweights as well, and Peralta is certainly capable of putting himself into the running for a marquee opponent with another good win here. He has blistering power and very good leg kicks, and Corassani has shown a tendency to stand-and-trade, so Peralta could get the chance to showcase his striking on Saturday.
If he does, there is definitely the possibility of another quick and vicious knockout like we saw from him last time he stepped into the cage.
Fighter: Adlan Amagov Record: 11-2-1 Opponent: Chris Spang
This will be Amagov’s debut at welterweight, so there is always the possibility that the cut to 170 pounds has an impact on how he’s able to perform. That said, I’m sure Greg Jackson and company will have their charge fully prepared and in the best condition possible for his UFC debut.
Even though this will be Amagov’s debut, he’s in a bit of a “do or die” situation here. There is no shortage of talent in the welterweight division, and he’s coming off a controversial win over Keith Berry last time out. Before that, Amagov was finished in under two minutes by Robbie Lawler, another Strikeforce fighter who has since moved down the scale since returning to the UFC.
The 26-year-old Chechen has the talent to be a solid addition to the depth chart and is capable of stealing the show with his offence. The knock against him early in his Strikeforce run was that he was a little wild and didn’t have the best conditioning, but I expect those issues will be corrected now that he’s been training in Albuquerque.
Spang is also a Strikeforce convert and enters off a quick knockout win over Nah-Shon Burrell, so Amagov certainly can’t take him lightly. This is an opportunity to make a statement, and I expect Amagov to make the most of it.
Fighter: Conor McGregor Record: 12-2 Opponent: Marcus Brimage
If you’re looking for a fighter with serious star potential on the undercard of this event, look no further than McGregor. A two-division champion with the Cage Warriors promotion, the Irish featherweight has the right combination of talent in the cage and moxie outside of it to be an immediate hit with the UFC audience.
Brimage is a very good test for the incoming McGregor, as he’s brought the hype surrounding Jimy Hettes and Maximo Blanco to a halt in consecutive contests, and has shown steady improvement since his time on The Ultimate Fighter.
McGregor has already started working his way towards the spotlight without even setting foot in the UFC cage. He stole the show when he appeared on The MMA Hour, and he was featured in an MTV documentary last month as well. The attention he’s received is not without reason either, as he boasts a perfect finishing rate, with one submission and 11 TKO/KOs in his 12 career victories.
Should McGregor push his winning streak to nine this weekend, don’t be surprised if the man known as “Notorious” gets an accelerated push in the featherweight division going forward.
Fighter: Ben Alloway Record: 12-3 Opponent: Ryan LaFlare
Alloway, a member of Team Australia on The Smashes, made it through to the semifinals of the competition before losing to teammate Brad Scott, but he was slotted into the finale and broke through with an impressive first-round knockout win over Manuel Rodriguez.
He enters his post-TUF debut on a six-fight winning streak, and at 32 years old, he is a little older than your standard UFC newcomer. As such, we should see a sense of urgency from “Benny Blanco” going forward.
LaFlare sports a perfect 7-0 mark heading into his freshman effort in the UFC, but he has been facing mediocre competition on the regional circuit to date. Alloway’s performance against Rodriguez opened some eyes, and though it will be difficult to duplicate, it’s clear that he has some finishing ability and the potential to deliver a memorable performance whenever he steps into the cage.