The UFC heads north of the border to Vancouver's Rogers Arena on Saturday, June 14 (10 P.M. EST, Pay Per View), as flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson (19-2-1, 7-1-1 UFC) attempts the fourth defense of his 125-pound title in the UFC 174 main event against Russian standout Ali Bagautinov (13-2, 3-0 UFC).
Johnson, who is making his first appearance of 2014, has been perfect since dropping down to flyweight more than two years ago, dismantling opponents with his mix of dizzying speed, precise striking, and dominant wrestling. And after scoring a devastating knockout in his last outing, Johnson looks to dash the hopes of yet another challenger and further distance himself from the rest of the 125-pound pack.
Standing across the cage from him, however, will be Bagautinov, a powerful puncher and Sambo practitioner, who has yet to taste defeat inside the Octagon, rattling off three consecutive wins since joining the UFC less than one year ago, the most recent coming at UFC 169.
Bagautinov presents few obstacles for Johnson, owner of some of professional MMA's best cardio and conditioning. And although the Russian, who is currently riding an 11-fight win streak, has some of the heaviest hands in the flyweight division, he will have difficulty landing his biggest shots against Johnson, on account of the champion's speedy footwork, use of angles, and blistering pace.
While Johnson owns distinct advantages in every facet of the MMA game and should dispatch of Bagautinov in a dominant unanimous decision, expect this contest to go the full five rounds, as neither man has ever been stopped via strikes or submission during their careers.
Co-main event: Tyron Woodley vs. Rory MacDonald
A battle of top-five welterweights, this contest between Woodley (13-2, 3-1 UFC) and British Columbia's own MacDonald (16-2, 7-2 UFC) expects to clear up some of the congestion among the 170-pound ranks and propel the winner closer to a title shot.
Woodley, an elite wrestler with knockout power, has looked impressive in his last two matchups, earning a pair of KO/TKO victories. But in MacDonald, Woodley will face a multidimensional opponent who can nullify all of his strengths with a stifling jab and a well-rounded game.
MacDonald, who was once hailed as the heir apparent to the welterweight crown, is a complete mixed martial artist, combining high-volume striking with a solid top game. However, Woodley's wrestling and strength will prove to be too much for the young Canadian, as he grinds his way to a decision victory.
Ryan Bader vs. Rafael Cavalcante
After winning his first five contests inside the Octagon, The Ultimate Fighter season 8 winner Bader (16-4, 9-4 UFC) has struggled to find consistency, last stringing together consecutive wins more than two years ago. However, there is no time like the present for Bader, a former NCAA All-American wrestler, as he squares off against Cavalcante (12-4, 1-1 UFC), a former Strikeforce champion at 205 pounds.
Cavalcante, who is making just his third UFC appearance, combines heavy striking with black belt-level Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. But after peaking in the Strikeforce promotion in 2010, Cavalcante has appeared to lose a step.
Look for Bader to threaten with takedowns early, setting up strikes for a TKO victory in the first round.
Brendan Schaub vs. Andrei Arlovski
It has been more than six years since Arlovski (21-10, 10-4 UFC), a former UFC heavyweight champion, last competed inside the Octagon. But after winning six of his last seven fights (along with one No Contest), Arlovski is back with the UFC, taking on former training partner Schaub (10-3, 6-3 UFC).
Schaub, a BJJ brown belt and former professional football player, is coming off an impressive submission victory in his last outing at UFC 165; however, his chin has always proven to be his weak spot, all three of his losses coming via knockout.
For Arlovski, the return to the UFC is already a moral victory, as many believed his career was finished after a four-fight skid dating back to 2011. And while the Belarusian still has the power to knock Schaub out cold, the American's speed, agility, and Jiu Jitsu will prove to be the difference.
Brendan Schaub takes this one via TKO.
Ryan Jimmo vs. Ovince St. Preux
Less than two months ago, Nova Scotia native Jimmo (19-3, 3-2 UFC) made quick work inside the Octagon, landing a knockout punch inside the first round to record his third UFC victory. A month before that, St. Preux (15-5, 3-0 UFC) took home a "Performance of the Night" bonus for his use of the rare Von Flue Choke in a technical submission win at UFC 171.
The knock on Jimmo has always been his tendency to fight for points rather than go for the win, while St. Preux has faltered against top competition.
And although St. Preux is the more well-rounded fighter, Jimmo will somehow find a way to win yet another fight on home soil, slowing the pace and stalling the American en route to a win by decision.