The UFC's interim heavyweight championship is on the line this Saturday, November 15 (10 P.M. EST, Pay Per View), as challengers Mark Hunt and Fabricio Werdum headline UFC 180 at Arena Ciudad de México.
Filling in for heavyweight titlist Cain Velasquez, who, less than a month ago, was forced from the bout with a sprained MCL and a torn meniscus, Hunt (10-8-1, 5-2-1 UFC) may be the promotion's most unlikely title contender for its Mexican debut. But the native New Zealander has delivered some of the sport's most vicious hits, including a September 20 knockout of Roy Nelson.
For Werdum (18-5-1, 6-2 UFC), who is in the midst of his second run in the UFC, the shot at promotional gold comes on the heels of four consecutive victories, including a five-round decision over Travis Browne seven months ago. And while Werdum has shown consistent improvement and promise in his striking game, the second-degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has always been known for his submission prowess.
Like many classic striker-versus-grappler matchups, the odds favor Hunt on the feet and Werdum on the ground; the Brazilian has also had the added benefit of training at Mexico City's 7,000-foot altitude for a full eight weeks. But it will ultimately be Hunt's undeniable and devastating knockout power that proves the difference, as the "Super Samoan" takes this contest, and the interim belt, via second round KO.
Co-main event: Kelvin Gastelum vs. Jake Ellenberger
Even before welterweight Gastelum (9-0, 4-0 UFC) made his UFC debut in April 2013, winning the seventeenth season of The Ultimate Fighter, Ellenberger (29-8, 8-4 UFC) was already near the title picture at 170 pounds. But coming off back-to-back losses, most recently at UFC 173, Ellenberger has slipped out of contention, while Gastelum, 23, continues to climb the ranks.
For Ellenberger, a strong wrestler with knockout power, the key will be to bring the fight to his opponent, firing off tight punches from close range. Gastelum will rely on his wrestling and pressure to up his Octagon win streak to five.
And while Ellenberger will come out strong, looking for the finish early, Gastelum will continue his improbable run, knocking off yet another higher-ranked opponent, this time by decision.
Dennis Bermudez vs. Ricardo Lamas
Currently riding a seven-fight win streak, featherweight Bermudez (14-3, 7-1 UFC) has looked untouchable in 2014, stringing together back-to-back finishes. And for his latest step up in competition, Bermudez faces former 145-pound title challenger and BJJ black belt Lamas (14-3, 5-1 UFC), who competed for the belt at UFC 169.
Since suffering his lone UFC loss in the finals of the fourteenth season of The Ultimate Fighter, Bermudez has transformed from a wrestler with top game into a dynamic mixed martial artist, transitioning from one discipline to the next, while Lamas has remained one of the world's top featherweights with his mix of wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
This contest is quite evenly matched, as both athletes have diverse skill sets on the ground and on the feet, but ultimately the edge goes to Bermudez, who takes this one by decision.