We wouldn’t expect a FUEL card in London to be “stacked” in the traditional sense. But although this coming Saturday’s UFC on FUEL 7: Barao vs. McDonald event is low on star-power, it’s actually loaded with great matchups. Here’s why these fights are worth paying attention to…
1. The main card is a hot mess of blue-chip prospects.
Even more so than UFC on FUEL 7′s headliners, I’m excited to see the return of three guys who looked like juggernauts in their UFC debuts. First, we’ve got our old pal Ryan Jimmo, who entered the Octagon on a 16-fight win streak at UFC 149 and proceeded to sleep Anthony Perosh in just seven seconds, then gave fans their money’s worth by busting out a celebratory robot. Can he possibly repeat that performance this weekend against James Te-Huna?
Also in the light-heavyweight division, 12-0 Nigerian-English mauler Jimi Manuwa — who has never been to the third round in his entire career, by the way — will face Cyrille Diabaté, five months after Manuwa whipped Kyle Kingsbury to a doctor’s stoppage TKO after ten minutes of action. And finally, Icelandic grappling master Gunnar Nelson will follow up his swift choke-out of Damarques Johnson with a fight against Jorge Santiago, in a welterweight bout that will probably go very badly for Santiago.
The prelims also feature a few more guys who almost fit in the same “hot-prospect” category, including Stanislav Nedkov — who’s still technically undefeated after his loss to Thiago Silva was overturned in November — and Paul Sass, the submission wiz who took the first loss of his career against Matt Wiman in September.
2. Michael McDonald could become the youngest UFC champion ever* — and by a fairly wide margin.
When Jon Jones TKO’d Mauricio Rua to win the UFC light-heavyweight title at UFC 128, he was 23 years and nine months old. If Michael McDonald defeats Renan Barao for the interim bantamweight title in the UFC on FUEL 7 headliner, he’ll become a UFC champion at just 22 years and one month old. And make no mistake — “Mayday” McDonald has legitimately paid his dues for the opportunity. McDonald began competing professionally at the age of 16, and his current eight-fight win streak dates back to October 2009, when he was smashing everyone in his path as an 18-year-old in Tachi Palace Fights. Now 4-0 in the UFC and coming off first-round knockouts of Alex Soto and Miguel Torres, McDonald is a truly prodigious talent, and could give Barao the toughest test of his own phenomenal career.
3. Will Josh Grispi suffer the most dramatic career-implosion in UFC history?
Okay, this is more of a “reason to be morbidly curious” than a “reason to be completely psyched,” but it’s still worth mentioning. In 2010, Josh Grispi was one of the hottest featherweights on Earth, following an explosive 4-0 run in the WEC where he scored first-round stoppages of Mark Hominick, Micah Miller, Jens Pulver, and LC Davis. Grispi was booked to face Jose Aldo in the UFC’s first-ever featherweight title fight at UFC 125, but Aldo was forced to withdraw due to injury. Instead, Grispi faced newcomer Dustin Poirier in a non-title bout on the card, losing a unanimous decision and his title shot.
Later that year, Grispi took a rebound fight against George Roop, and wound up getting TKO’d in the third round. Finally, a bout against Brazilian journeyman Rani Yahya ended in another loss last August, this time by first-round submission. Now, “The Fluke” is facing TUF Live castmember Andy Ogle, who is officially 0-1 in the UFC. If Grispi manages to lose this one, he’ll almost certainly find himself released from the organization — the final chapter in a stunning reversal-of-fortune for his fight career.
4. Cub Swanson vs. Dustin Poirier is a great f*cking fight.
Like Cowboy vs. Pettis at UFC on FOX 6, this is the one matchup on the card that is virtually guaranteed to produce something spectacular. Swanson is on the hottest run of his career with consecutive knockouts of George Roop, Ross Pearson, and Charles Oliveira — and is usually the first guy that Greg Jackson-defenders point to as evidence that Yoda is not ruining the sport. Meanwhile, Poirier’s last four fights ended in three submission victories and an incredible Fight of Night performance against Chan Sung Jung. Swanson vs. Poirier could end in a swift and savage knockout, or it could turn out to be an unforgettable three-round war, but there’s no way it’ll be boring.