Edson Barboza has delivered nine of his 12 wins by KO or TKO. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The Ultimate Fighting Championship will visit California’s capital for the first time in six years on Saturday, when UFC on Fox 9 goes down from the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.
Headlining the main-card broadcast on the Fox network will be a flyweight title rematch pitting Demetrious Johnson against Joseph Benavidez. Earlier, the show’s preliminary draw airs live on Fox Sports 1 and Facebook, highlighted by a pivotal lightweight showdown between Edson Barboza and Danny Castillo.
Barboza is a striker who needs no introduction, but just in case you have been living under a rock for the past two years, I will give you one anyway. The Brazilian-born lightweight was both blessed and cursed in 2012, earning “Knockout of the Year” honors for his sublime finish of Terry Etim before suffering Sherdog’s “Upset of the Year” at the hands of Jamie Varner. This year has been less topsy-turvy for the knockout artist, who crushed the smaller Lucas Martins in January and then did the same thing to grappler Rafaello Oliveira in July.
In Castillo, Barboza faces a hard-punching wrestler who made his name in the World Extreme Cagefighting arena before joining the UFC more than three years ago. “Last Call” has won five of his last six bouts and proved in his ugly-but-effective split decision win over Anthony Njokuani that he possess the skills to negate a lanky striker’s offense by closing the distance.
It will be no easy task, but if Castillo can put Barboza on his back or rough him up on the inside, as Varner did, I could see him halting the Brazilian expat’s momentum. Conversely, if Barboza can lay a bunch of those devastating leg kicks on Castillo and keep the 34-year-old on the end of his range, it could be a short night for the WEC vet.
Barboza’s pivotal lightweight clash with Castillo is just one reason to scope the UFC on Fox 9 undercard. Here are four more:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: UFC on Fox 9 Free Fan Pick’Em
‘Crusher’ Coming Up
Court McGee has looked sharp since dropping to welterweight to kick off 2013, and I have to believe that trend will continue when he takes on the undefeated Ryan LaFlare.
“Crusher” scored a unanimous decision win over durable veteran Josh Neer in February and followed that excellent performance with a hard-fought split decision triumph over Australian striker Robert Whittaker six months later.
LaFlare, meanwhile, has thus far been perfect in his pro career, earning seven finishes in the New Jersey-based Ring of Combat organization before grinding out Ben Alloway and Santiago Ponzinibbio in his first two UFC appearances. A savvy grappler, the 30-year-old has used his wrestling and scrambling ability to overwhelm his UFC opponents up to this point.
If the New Yorker can drag “The Ultimate Fighter 11” winner to the mat, I like his chances to outwork him on the floor. Standing, however, McGee should hold a distinct advantage and could become the first man to best LaFlare in the cage. Which welterweight will keep his winning streak alive?
Healy’s High and Low
I need not recount the sad tale of ill-advised marijuana smoke inhalation that transformed Healy’s beautiful victory over Jim Miller into a no-contest and cost “Bam Bam” $100,000 in bonus money. Reporting that made me sadder than I was in seventh grade after seeing “The Phantom Menace” for the first time. Healy returned to the Octagon in September but could not return to his winning ways, running into highly regarded prospect Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 165.
With Healy now staring at possible back-to-back Octagon losses, how will the durable veteran respond when he meets Green, another younger, faster opponent currently on a roll?
While it seems cruel that a knee injury to John Dodson will deprive us from watching him welcome Scott Jorgensen to the UFC flyweight division, I was nevertheless pleased to see Zach Makovsky step in as a replacement for “The Magician.”
“Fun Size” has been on a roll since receiving his Bellator MMA release, winning back-to-back fights and capturing the Resurrection Fighting Alliance flyweight belt. Makovsky possesses a lightning-quick single-leg takedown, and his standup and timing are continually improving.
Jorgensen, meanwhile, will make his inaugural cut to 125 pounds -- a place he probably should have been all along considering the size of some the UFC’s best bantamweights. Jorgensen possessed plenty of power to finish at 135 pounds, and I imagine that quality will only be amplified at flyweight.
Can Makovsky plant Jorgensen on his back and keep him there or will “Young Guns” come out blazing?
Speaking of flyweights, Alp Ozkilic appears to be a fine prospect at 125 pounds, and you would be wise to check him out.
The UFC’s first Turkish-born competitor, Ozkilic, who fights out of St. Peters, Mo., enters the Octagon with a Greco-Roman background and a pro record of 8-1. The 27-year-old will replace injured ex-title challenger John Moraga against Darren Uyenoyama, a wily veteran known for his submission skills.
How will Ozkilic perform in his UFC debut? Will the two-time National Junior College Athletic Association All-American serve notice to the rest of the division or will Uyenoyama teach him a lesson about what it means to compete in the big leagues?