Get the scoop on the early contests of UFC London, including the scrappy Stevie Ray clashing with Kajan Johnson, plus a heavyweight slugfest.
After a week off from their furious schedule, the UFC returns overseas for UFC London. No, the card isn’t overly impactful, but there does appear to a number of gems if you look closely. Then again, that appears to be the narrative for any card in this day and age… and that includes the PPV’s.
Typically, I like to highlight prospects to keep an eye on in the early prelims. There are a few prospects that offer promise, though I’m not sold on their ability to develop into mainstays, much less stars at this point. Magomed Ankalaev has looked really good on film and has some solid wins on his resume, including UFC vet Wagner Prado. However, I’m not sold quite yet. The same could be said of both Nasrat Haqparast and Nad Narimani, who square off in the opening contest. I’m unlikely to be sold after they do the damn thing, but we’ll all have a better idea of what they can do after this weekend.
The prelims begin at 1:45 PM ET/10:45 PM PT on Fight Pass this Saturday.
Paul Craig (9-2) vs. Magomed Ankalaev (9-0), Light Heavyweight
After an exciting back-and-forth debut against Luis Henrique da Silva in which he walked out with a slick armbar victory, Craig has now dropped two contests in a row. That took the shine off his star and he’s now being used as fodder for an exciting new prospect in Ankalaev. That doesn’t mean Craig is guaranteed to lose as he’s extremely resilient and willing to eat some punches in order to secure a takedown… not that it’s the best approach to take given the newfound questions about his chin. If Craig does get the fight to the ground, there may not be a more aggressive submission artist in the division, with all but one of his victories coming by tapout.
Ankalaev isn’t quite the specialist Craig is, but he’s a skilled enough striker that Craig will be at a disadvantage on the feet. A Muay Thai striker with a dangerous clinch – Craig’s area of strength in the standup as well – expect Ankalaev to stay on the outside and throw his punch-kick combinations. He’s not the best athlete, but he’ll be able to run circles over the awkwardly lanky Craig. Ankalaev’s wrestling isn’t elite, but he’s thrown around a few of his opponents like ragdolls, showing potential to improve. Given he’s only been a pro for four years, it’s unlikely his development in that area stays where it’s at.
I’m usually leery towards recommending a contest to watch between a pair of names unknown to causal fans at 205, but I feel pretty good about this one. Craig is as aggressive as they come and Ankalaev’s killer instinct is top notch. This bout isn’t going the distance. I’m going with the younger and more athletic prospect, largely due to Craig’s questionable chin. Ankalaev via KO of RD1
Kajan Johnson (22-12-1) vs. Stevie Ray (21-7), Lightweight
Following his KO loss to Tae Hyun Bang in his UFC debut almost four years ago, few expected much out of Johnson. He’d already been fighting for well over a decade at that point and had suffered a broken jaw a short time earlier. Those type of injuries can derail a career. Since that time, Johnson has reeled off three straight wins, including a major upset of Brazilian Adriano Martins. Will his improbable run continue against Ray?
Ray ended up taking this contest on short notice after Rustam Khabilov was forced to withdraw due to injury. There were questions whether Ray would return as his contract was up and he was coming off an upset loss to Paul Felder this past summer. Only about a month ago was it reported that he had re-signed. Largely a boxer, Ray does an excellent job of mixing up his punches with high levels of volume while traditionally proving strong in the clinch despite being finished by Felder in close quarters.
A question in Johnson’s durability was the biggest reason most believe the end of his career was nigh, but he’s held up well enough in recent contests. Then again, Martins was the only opponent with certified punching power he’s faced since losing to Bang. However, in the process, Johnson showed power that had not been seen before. Has he improved his technique to become a legit power puncher or was the KO a fluke?
There is a fluky feel to Johnson’s recent string of success. He had a pair of opponents who washed out of the UFC quickly before upending Martins. Ray has struggled with wrestlers – he landed a total of two significant strikes over fifteen minutes while being smothered by Alan Patrick – and larger opponents. Johnson is lankier – a reach advantage of about 5 inches – and can wrestle a bit, but he’s hardly the force Patrick is. There is a path to victory for Johnson, but I favor Ray as his aggressiveness will afford him more opportunities to break Johnson’s chin than Martins. The Scot does the UFC brass a favor in beating down one of their bigger headaches outside of the cage. Ray via TKO of RD2
Mark Godbeer (13-3) vs. Dmitry Sosnovskiy (10-0), Heavyweight
Despite possessing a winning record in the UFC thanks to wins in his last two contests, there are few who would say Godbeer has proven himself to be a UFC talent. One win came via controversial DQ of Walt Harris while the other was over an inexperienced Daniel Spitz who took the contest on short notice. Spitz’s quick finish over Anthony Hamilton does make Godbeer’s win over Spitz look better, but there is still reason to doubt the upside of the brawling Englishman.
Sosnovskiy has been on the UFC roster for about 20 months now, having his contests scuttled due for various reasons. He was a largely a wrestler on the European scene, securing a number of ground-and-pound finishes. What is most worrisome is his long absence from competition, his last bout coming in May 2015. Then again, that could be reason for optimism as he has only been a pro since the fall of 2012. Perhaps he’ll come back vastly improved….
If Godbeer can keep the fight on the feet, this fight is his for the taking as the athletic Sosnovskiy is very shaky in his standup. However, Godbeer’s takedown defense leaves much to be desired. If he’s flat on his back, his advantage in the striking department does him no good. Godbeer is a bit chinny as well, so expect Sosnovskiy to find a finish before time’s up. Sosnovskiy via TKO of RD2
Nasrat Haqparast (8-2) vs. Nad Narimani (10-2), Lightweight
Y’all remember a year ago when vaunted prospect Paddy Pimblett dropped his Cage Warriors title at featherweight? Given it was regional MMA, maybe you don’t. Regardless, Narimani was the man who pulled off the upset. Unfortunately, Narimani’s name has largely been forgotten as he hasn’t fought in the year since that time and it wasn’t exactly a barnburner of a fight. Nonetheless, the Englishman can entertain in the right circumstances as he is a skilled scrambler and is constantly up in his opponent’s face with non-stop pressure. Narimani’s striking is somewhat limited, largely throwing single straight shots or hooks. Then again, it was enough to frustrate Pimblett….
Given he had a full camp heading into the contest and is fighting in his natural weight class, Haqparast is the early favorite. He shows a lot of raw power and speed in his hands, though he still has some work to do on his technique. Nonetheless, he is dangerous even if he doesn’t continue to improve. Haqparast also showed better than expected submission defense, avoiding any serious submission attempts from noted grappler Marcin Held.
Narimani proved in his win over Pimblett that he is capable of developing an effective game plan and executing it. Does he have enough time to do that against Haqparast? Haqparast isn’t a great wrestler by any means, but he was better than expected in his UFC debut against Held. His size advantage and more diverse striking should prove to be too much for the Englishman. Haqparast via decision