The UFC descends on Glasgow this weekend for a fun (Although kind of thin) night of fights. As is tradition when hosting cards in a targeted geographic market, the deck is stacked with fighters of either Scottish or otherwise Northern European descent. Hell, even Icelandic headliner Gunnar Nelson has adopted Ireland as an at least part-time home, training with Mystic Mac and SBG-Ireland.
Although the pure stakes of these fights are low, there is a lot of intrigue to be found by the fans and even more momentum to be gained by a number of the combatants, so let’s dive in.
The Main Event
Our Main Event pits the fan favorite Icelander Nelson against the surging Argentinian Ponzinibbio and is a primarily a vintage striker vs. grappler match up, with some given caveats. The draw, from a viewership and business, as well as I’d argue fight fan, perspective is the enigmatic, top-10 Welterweight Nelson, who I mentioned above has somewhat of a home-field advantage in the UK thanks to the extensive training he does there.
Nelson finds himself perennially on the edge of contention and should get a top-5 opponent with a win here, having won his last two bouts since falling to the current #1 contender, both by submission. As a fighter, Nelson is primarily known for his grappling, having won a gold medal at the 09′ Pan American Games (no-gi) and having finished 12 of his 16 wins by getting the tap. On the mat, he has made everyone except the human backpack/swaddle/body cast known as #1 contender Demian Maia look incompetent, and if you find the stoic way Nelson approaches any interpersonal situation enamoring, then the robotic dissection he performs on his helpless grounded opponents would be a downright riveting experience. This is even more impressive when you consider Nelson is almost unanimously considered undersized for the division (and it’s worth noting the aforementioned Maia used to fight at 185). The -160 favorite is also no slouch on the feet. He won all sorts of Karate championships growing up until he shifted his focus to BJJ at 16, and his background lends itself to the unusual stances, movements, and strikes he shows. Expect some cool side body/leg kick combos. Also expect “Gunni” to get hit because his defense isn’t always excellent, although it’s entirely possible he just uses it as another way to get the fight to the ground (half kidding).
Ponzinibbio has won four straight and has looked fantastic doing it. While also a BJJ black belt, and it’s worth noting he has never been submitted, he does his best work on the feet. While there is zero doubt he has solid technique standing, Ponzinibbio has never encountered a brawl he didn’t like. Do a quick search of his highlights and you’ll see that he doesn’t mind taking a couple to get his back. He truly trusts his chin and will hang in the pocket waiting for his shot. “Gente Boa” has power in both hands – particularly if you’re a nerd like me look for a sneakily vicious lead left hook – and has knocked out 13 of his opponents over 24 wins. With a victory over a name like Gunnar Nelson, Ponzinibbio will also be in line for a top-5 opponent. With a big knockout, he could get a sweet bout with a Cerrone/Lawler type.
Summary: What’s really interesting/potentially volatile about this fight is that both guys have a tendency to get hit. That would seem to give Ponzinibbio the edge as he has more knockouts/power and thus is a candidate to land the deciding shot, but on the other hand he also hasn’t been staring down as heavy compeition as Nelson, save Lorenz Larkin, who KO’d the +140 underdog. Net net, I see this fight playing out a lot like Nelson’s fight against Brandon Thatch: Ponzinibbio will walk down and throw bombs at the Icelandic matman until he gets too close or too cocky at which time via take down or knockdown – it wouldn’t really matter who goes down unless Nelson is asleep – Nelson gets a hold of his horizontal opponent and grinds and slips and twists until he has a neck or a limb. Nelson by 2nd round sub.
Fan/MMA Nerd Fight of the Night
I wanted to stick with the ME, but I’m going with Calderwood Vs. Calvillo. It is always intriguing to see if Calderwood will finally live up to her promise and put on a macabre Muay Thai clinic, especially in a case like this where she is facing a much less experienced and opponent. In the other corner, you have the straweight division party crasher Calvillo, who came out of nowhere in March and has won her first two UFC bouts by submission. Already fighting for the 3rd time in 2017, Calvillo is a Team Alpha Male member which means she has the boxing/wrestling/grappling skill appropros for a pugilist from the Northern California gym. To that end, yes, those two submissions were by rear-naked choke.
In conclusion, will Calderwood’s promise finally rear it’s tattooed head or will Calvillo take the back of her first taste of top tier competition?
Intriguing Fighter to Watch
Stevie Ray – “Braveheart” has gone 5-1 in the UFC over the last 2+ years, kicking things off with back to back knockouts. He’s exciting, young, and full of potential. He also is on the last fight of his contract and is the latest of the fan favorite, high-profile fighters to be publicly going into free agency and really not committing to, or possibly knowing, what lies ahead. This is after the UFC just yesterday, 7/13, resigned fellow popular UK export Joseph Duffy to a new contract after Duffy was very outspoken about wanting to get what was coming to him, so I’m a little more optimistic for Ray than I was after WME-IMG told Gegard Mousasi to not let the door hit him in the ass. Ray’s problem is there is probably much more of a limit to the payday he can ask for from another organization as he does not have quite the popularity level or ranking to leverage that Duffy, Mousasi, or Aljo Sterling did. He’s in an awkward middle ground, a draw but not a huge one, a major prospect but not yet a title challenger. This worries me the UFC could see him as completely replaceable, and they may not be wrong. Consider this fight Ray’s contract year, and he is going to be looking to end Paul Felder’s night violently to earn a max deal.
Another Fighter to Watch
Joanne Calderwood – “JoJo” is a fan favorite for two reasons. One is her appearance, and I don’t mean this in a sexist way at all, although the fact that she has a cherubic look does create a fun juxtaposition to her chosen occupation. However, beyond that she has crazy hair styles, a million colorful tattoos, an all-world Scottish accent, and a cat-that-got-the-canary smile.
The other reason for her fandom, curiously as she has been around since 2015, is her background and hype coming in, which have given way to tepid results at best. Coming into TUF 20 (the 115lb divison’s intro) and the UFC, JoJo was both a revered and successful kickboxer (her specific style is Muay Thai) and then MMA fighter, compiling a 19-2 record in the former and an 8-0 record in the latter. More importantly to the UFC, half of those 8 MMA wins were by KO or TKO. Her UFC tenure has been a different story however. While she still goes to battle, the urgent violence we thought she’d bring just isn’t there. She at times seems distracted, unfocused, and maybe even sort of timid and unsure. She did go through some personal shit, worse that it involved her professional life as well. Pretty much she was dating the coach at her since-the-beginning gym for like a decade and when that fizzled the whole gym situation got stressful and she had to leave for her own sake. She’s now at Tristar Gym in Montreal, of GSP and Head Coach Firas Zahibi fame, and has looked better, although she got guillotined in her last fight by a savage Jessice Andrade. Calderwood has also spoken in the past of welcoming the seemingly imminent 125 women’s division so maybe the weight cut to 115 is now just a little much for the soon to be 31 year old. Here’s to her getting back to the win column.
-I’d be remiss not to mention this will be Neil Seery’s last fight. The Irish flyweight has compiled a 16-12 record (3-3 UFC) over an excellent 12 year career. When the 125ers arrived to the UFC, Seery was there to bring a consistent veteran presence and face to a sort of clunking along, too-top heavy division, fighting 6 times in 2 years before taking the last year off. Cheers to 2tap. Slainte.
-Middleweight prospect Jack Marshman, from Wales, is an Afghanistan combat vet and former paratrooper. Probably the overall biggest badass on the card.
-A lot of fighters who hail from smaller countries or places with not a huge fight scene support each other, Scotsmen Stevie Ray and Paul Craig do not. Because of a twitter beef or some shit.
-Justin Willis was pulled from his short-notice, heavyweight debut in February due to….a bad weight cut. The thiccc AKA prospect is 5-1 and faces English debutant James Mulheron. I really hope this doesn’t go past the 1st.
-I don’t mean to keep sweating Calderwood, but given my blog earlier thisweek and what I said about Ray, it is worth mentioning that she has also been open, albeit passively, about fighter pay issues. More to the point, she has mentioned needing to go home and work a regular job to afford to go back and train at Tristar.