Fight Picks – UFC Fight Night 53 and 54

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Another week, another two UFC cards. Sweden and Canada both play host to the Octagon on Saturday with Irish interest on both cards. Let me run you through the headlining bouts as well as the match ups with Irish fighters before I give my picks for all 23 fights on the night.

Gunnar Nelson vs. Rick Story

In his first headlining bout, Gunnar Nelson will be looking to make a real statement against veteran Rick Story. Nelson brings one of the most unusual skillsets in MMA to the party with his karate stance and elite jiu-jitsu.

Story is a much more common fighter who loves a dogfight, has strong wrestling and packs a punch. Expect Nelson to either be all the way in or all the way out on the feet as he uses his greater speed to pounce on Story. The American will look to close the distance and land the big shot or takedown but will have to be extremely careful not to give up position on the ground to ultra-dangerous Nelson. For me, I’m not sure if Story can go 25 minutes without Nelson getting an advantageous position on the floor where he only needs a millisecond to pounce.

My pick – Nelson via submission

Cathal Pendred vs. Gasan Umalatov

Cathal Pendred and Gasan Umalatov not only look alike but also have a very similar fighting style. Both men are built like fire hydrants and have improving striking but are best suited to grinding out opponents from the clinch or on the deck. The Russian has 15 wins in his 18 fights and has never finished with both of his UFC fights to date going to a decision. Pendred, the former Cage Warriors welterweight champion, improves with every outing and moves back down to 170 lbs here after his stint at middleweight coming off of The Ultimate Fighter.

Despite them being similar fighters, I think Pendred is better in nearly every area. The Dubliner is huge for the weight and his ungodly strength will play a huge part in a bout where positioning is tantamount to victory. The only worry is that Pendred is sometimes a slow starter and gets caught in bad positions – if he can stop that from happening he should take this one over the three rounds.

My pick – Pendred via decision

Rory MacDonald vs. Tarec Saffiedine

Headlining the second event on Saturday night will be the welterweight contender bout between Canadian Rory MacDonald and Belgium’s Tarec Saffiedine. MacDonald has been on a real roll since losing to Robbie Lawler last year and will put himself directly in line for a title shot should he beat the last ever Strikeforce champion on Saturday.

Saffiedine is an elite kickboxing stylist who pounds the lower half of the body with some of the best kicks in the game. MacDonald is a rangy, athletic striker who pumps the jab into his opponents face and attacks from long the outside. MacDonald is undoubtedly the more well rounded of the two and far superior on the floor. Against Saffiedine, I think the old Rory MacDonald will come back and takedowns followed by sharp elbows could be his quickest route to victory. Wherever it goes, though, I think the Canadian crowd will go home happy.

My pick – MacDonald via knockout

Paddy Holohan vs. Chris Kelades

Originally scheduled to fight Louis Gaudinot on Saturday, Dubliner Paddy Holohan now faces Chris Kelades after the green-haired American pulled out just a week before the scheduled bout. Kelades is a local boy from Nova Scotia whose only fight on the big stage to date was a decision loss to Malcolm Gordon at Bellator 119 in May of this year. He is given a real baptism of fire here in his first UFC fight against the in-form Paddy Holohan.

The SBG fighter will be fighting inside the Octagon for the second time after his crushing win over Josh Sampo at UFC Dublin in July. Holohan is a jiu-jitsu whizz with hugely improving striking and looks like he can get the better of Kelades wherever this fight goes. The Canadian, who trains with TJ Grant at Fit Plus MMA, has yet to be finished in his MMA career and will be looking to secure his place in the promotion with a good performance on Saturday. I see Holohan winning this fight, though, and with reports of an improved kicking arsenal that could be his method of victory.

My pick – Holohan via knockout

SHORT PICKS

Akira Corassani vs. Max Holloway – Holoway via decision.
Ilir Latifi vs. Jan Błachowicz – Latifi via KO.
Niklas Bäckström vs. Mike Wilkinson – Niklas via KO.
Magnus Cedenblad vs. Scott Askham – Magnus vis decision.
Nico Musoke vs. Alexander Yakovlev – Musoke via KO.
Dennis Siver vs. Charles Rosa – Siver via KO.
Tor Troéng vs. Krzysztof Jotko – Jotko via decision.
Mairbek Taisumov vs. Marcin Bandel – Taisumov via decision.
Zubaira Tukhugov vs. Ernest Chavez – Tukhugov via decision.

Raphael Assunção vs. Bryan Caraway – Assuncao via submission.
Chad Laprise vs. Yosdenis Cedeno – Laprise via decision.
Elias Theodorou vs. Bruno Santos – Elias via KO.
Nordine Taleb vs. Li Jingliang – Taleb via KO.
Mitch Gagnon vs. Roman Salazar – Gagnon via submission.
Daron Cruickshank vs. Anthony Njokuani – Cruickshank via KO.
Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs. Jake Lindsey –  OAM via submission.
Jason Saggo vs. Paul Felder – Saggo via decision.
Albert Tumenov vs. Matt Dwyer – Tumenov via decision.
Pedro Munhoz vs. Jerrod Sanders – Munhoz via submission.

BONUS PICKS

Fight of the night – Raphael Assunção vs. Bryan Caraway and Gunnar Nelson vs. Rick Story.

Performance of the night – Rory MacDonald, Paddy Holohan, Gunnar Nelson and Niklas Bäckström.

BET OF THE WEEK

This week the bet is a straight five-way accumulator of Pendred, Holohan, Nelson, Musoke and Assunção which works out just around 5/1.

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook Facebook.com/seansheehanmma