UFC FIGHT NIGHT 116 MATCHUPS
A breakdown of the fights on the main card of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 116 card at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, with picks from the Review-Journal’s Adam Hill and Heidi Fang:
Luke Rockhold (15-3) vs. David Branch (21-3)
Line: Rockhold -525
Storyline: Rockhold will make his first walk to the cage since losing his belt with a stunning first-round knockout loss to Michael Bisping in June 2016. The former champion is one of the most athletically-gifted fighters in the entire sport and can finish opponents on the feet or mat with either power or finesse. There may be some concern about where he’s at mentally entering this fight, however. He took time off, publicly sparred with the UFC about who he would fight in his return and then sought out a new training camp to prepare for his comeback. All that said, he’s in a whole different class than Branch on paper. Fortunately for Branch, none of that matters. He’s a tough veteran who just finds a way to win fights and is more than capable in all aspects of the game. Branch went 2-2 in his first UFC stint and went on to become a two-division champion in World Series of Fighting after he was released. He won his return to the UFC in May with a split-decision win over Krzysztof Jotko and can score the biggest win of his career should he find a way to upset Rockhold. Branch has very little to lose in the matchup, which also makes him dangerous. It’s a tricky position for Rockhold to be in as a win won’t do much to boost his profile, but a loss would cause him to plummet in the rankings.
Hill’s Pick: Rockhold by third-round knockout
Fang’s Pick: Rockhold by decision
Mike Perry (10-1) vs. Alex Reyes (13-2)
Line: Perry -450
Storyline: Perry possesses unbelievable power, especially for the welterweight division. His attitude has rubbed many fans the wrong way since he joined the UFC last year, but nowhere close to as much as his right hand has bothered opponents. Perry bounced back from his only career loss in December to knock out Jake Ellenberger in April and get back on track. He was looking forward to a big showcase bout against Thiago Alves until Alves was forced to pull out of the fight earlier this week. Instead, Perry draws a UFC newcomer in Reyes. While he only had three days to prepare and has never fought above lightweight before, Reyes has been in training camp preparing for a fight in a regional promotion back in California. His younger brother Dominick made his UFC debut earlier this year and needed just 29 seconds to record a knockout win. If big brother can have anywhere near that kind of success, there will be a big party back in Victorville, California.
Hill’s Pick: Perry by second-round knockout
Fang’s Pick: Perry by first-round knockout
Hector Lombard (34-7-1, 2 No Contests) vs. Anthony Smith (27-12)
Line: Smith -150
Storyline: Lombard is still a physically imposing presence at 39 and has plenty of power left in reserve. The problem for him has been that it has only been available in short bursts. Lombard has lost three straight fights, including two by knockout. Those finishes have come after Lombard emptied his tank early and had difficulty finding anything in reserve. He was able to hurt those opponents early on, so it’s very possible his team will make the adjustment to throw everything at an early finish and hope the strategy is successful. Lombard’s probably not winning after the fight gets out of the first round, anyway. Smith is lanky and uses his range well. He can be susceptible to takedowns and Lombard, an Olympian in judo, is more than capable of getting the fight to the ground. Smith will almost certainly look to just extend the action early and take over once he sees Lombard breathing hard.
Hill’s Pick: Lombard by first-round knockout
Fang’s Pick: Smith by third-round knockout
Gregor Gillespie (9-0) vs. Jason Gonzalez (11-3)
Line: Gillespie -425
Storyline: Gillespie was already a highly-touted prospect when he followed a decision victory in his UFC debut with a 21-second knockout of Andrew Holbrook in April. That performance has only raised expectations even more on the former NCAA wrestling champion. Gillespie continues to improve his all-around game, but has that elite wrestling ability to fall back on when things get rough. It may even be a first option in this matchup. Gonzalez is a solid striker and could frustrate Gillespie a bit with his style. Gonzalez is also overmatched in the wrestling department and may not offer a whole lot of resistance to takedowns. Gillespie shouldn’t worry about following up the spectacular early knockout and instead just work on gaining experience and continue his winning streak. That may not be pleasing to the fans, but it should make for a successful night.
Hill’s Pick: Gillespie by decision
Fang’s Pick: Gillespie by second-round submission
Kamaru Usman (10-1) vs. Sergio Moraes (12-3-1)
Line: Usman -650
Storyline: Usman has firmly established himself as one of the best and most dominant wrestlers in the division. The frightening thing for the rest of the UFC’s welterweights is how much his striking is improving. While he is more than capable of using his takedowns and unparalleled top control to grind out victories, Usman continues to make strides in his standup game. He may try to show that off even more in this matchup. Moraes is incredibly dangerous on the ground so Usman may not be putting himself in a great spot if he tries to keep Moraes pinned to the mat where he can search for opportunities to use his ground skills. Moraes does have some power in his strikes, though he doesn’t possess the sharpest technique. This may be a good chance for Usman to showcase his continued improvement with his strikes.
Hill’s Pick: Usman by second-round knockout
Fang’s Pick: Usman by decision
Justin Ledet (8-0, 1 No Contest) vs. Zu Anyanwu (14-4)
Line: Ledet -425
Storyline: Anyanwu probably has an edge in power, but that may be his only advantage going into this fight. Sometimes that’s all it takes in the heavyweight division. He had a solid showing on “Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series,” putting him in position to get a phone call when Ledet needed a replacement opponent on this card. If he can find a place for his big right hand, Ledet may regret agreeing to the switch. Ledet has a massive reach and should be able to stop that from happening by keeping Anyanwu on the outside. Ledet has also recorded five submission victories in his young career and should have the edge if the fight unexpectedly goes to the mat. Ledet has won both fights since coming to the UFC and could be in great position in a fairly shallow division with a third straight.
Hill’s Pick: Ledet by second-round knockout
Fang’s Pick: Ledet by third-round knockout
Contact Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-277-8028. Follow @adamhilllvrj on Twitter.