UFC on ESPN+ 16: Cowboy vs. Gaethje Full Preview

This Saturday it will be a clash of two fan-friendly fighters in Justin Gaethje and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Along with 12 other fights broadcasted on ESPN+ (TSN 4 in Canada), starting at 5PM EST, the fight will headline “UFC on ESPN+ 16.” The show doesn’t feature as much Canadian talent as most shows up North, the reason being that UFC’s last show within the country, UFC 240 in July had tons of the promotion’s talent from the region. Let’s look at the card from start to bottom.

Bout 1: Kyle Prepolec (12-6) vs. Austin Hubbard (10-3) (Lightweight)

Starting off the evening will be a meeting between two fighters looking to bounce back from a debut loss. Canadian Kyle Prepolec lost to Tristar talent Nordine Taleb via decision back in May, on the undercard of UFC on ESPN+ 9. In the same month, Austin Hubbard also lost via unanimous decision to Davi Ramos. Both having tough opponents to enter the promotion against, they’ll get a more fair pairing this time around.

Bout 2: Louis Smolka (15-6) vs. Ryan MacDonald (10-1) (Bantamweight)

Back in March, Louis Smolka took his first loss since his return to the UFC to Matt Schnell. Hoping to avoid another loss streak that could knock him out of the promotion like it did in 2017, Smolka will aim to defeat Ryan MacDonald on Saturday. MacDonald is less experienced in the promotion, losing in his debut against Chris Gutierrez earlier this year, also getting his first loss as a pro. Both with something to prove, Smolka and MacDonald have an important fight early on the show.

Bout 3: Chas Skelly (17-4) vs. Jordan Griffin (17-6) (Featherweight)

It’s do or die for Chas Skelly. For the first time in his career, the American fighter is on a two-fight losing streak. Now coming back from a 10-month layoff, Skelly lost previously to Jason Knight and Bobby Moffett. He was paired up with Jordan Griffin, who lost his UFC debut to Dan Ige back in December. Griffin comes from the Contender Series, being signed after getting a round one rear naked choke victory on the show.

Bout 4: Brad Katona (8-1) vs. Hunter Azure (7-0) (Bantamweight)

Canadian prospect Brad Katona was handed his last professional loss in his last appearance. A winner of The Ultimate Fighter 27, the Manitoban fighter defeated Matthew Lopez before dropping to Merab Dvalishvili back in May. He will aim to bounce back against undefeated Hunter Azure in this preliminary bout. Azure comes from the most recent season of Dana White’s Contender Series. He previously found success in the regional LFA promotion. Both early in their careers, 

Bout 5: Cole Smith (7-0) vs. Miles Johns (9-0) (Bantamweight)

Still somewhat early in the show is a high level matchup between undefeated bantamweights. Cole Smith made a successful UFC debut in May, fighting in Ottawa. Before then, the fighter had attained a large number of his wins in the regional Canadian promotion Battlefield Fight League (BFL). Miles Johns extended his undefeated record this summer, defeating Richie Santiago via decision in Dana White’s Contender Series, earning a contract. Smith has the home court advantage, but can Johns be the victor in his promotional debut?

Bout 6: Augusto Sakai (13-1-1) vs. Marcin Tybura (17-5) (Heavyweight)

Finishing off the preliminary portion of the card will be a heavyweight fight. Augusto Sakai, who is currently riding a three fight winning streak will face Marcin Tybura, who is 1-3 in his last four fights. While the matchup seems lopsided on paper, the Vegas betting odds are pretty close. Augusto Sakai arrived in the UFC via a contract signing in the Brazil spinoff series of Dana White’s Contender Series. Tybura has been in the promotion for a longer time, debuting in 2016 after racking up lots of wins in the promotion M-1.

Bout 7: Misha Cirkunov (14-5) vs. Jimmy Crute (10-0) (Light Heavyweight)

Misha Circukov will look to hand Jimmy Crute his first loss as the main card begins. Cirkunov hasn’t had a great 2019, being on the less desirable side of a knockout of the year contender back in March, taking a flying knee from Johnny Walker. Crute came in through the contender series and has proven himself as an interesting fighter and a versatile one, getting a submission and striking victory so far. Cirkunov is from Latvia, but trains out of Xtreme Couture in Toronto, Ontario, making him a proxy Canadian fighter on this card.

Bout 8: Antonio Carlos Junior (10-3) vs. Uriah Hall (14-9) (Middleweight)

Moving down a few weight classes but still staying on the heavy side of the scale, Antonio Carlos Junior and Uriah Hall face off in the next bout. Carlos Junior lost to Ian Heinisch in May, breaking a five fight winning streak that he had before. Hall on the other hand is coming off a third round TKO victory over Bevon Lewis. He previously lost to middleweight contender Paulo Costa, getting finished in the second round.

Bout 9: Michel Pereira (23-9) vs. Tristan Connelly (13-6) (Welterweight)

Michel Pereira has quite the resume of being an entertaining fighter. This was known before his UFC debut but further solidified when he touched down in the promotion back in May. For context, Pereira has viral videos online from his Road FC days where, whether they were allowed or not, would land standing moonsaults and moonsaults off the cage. Yes, like the pro wrestling move. In his UFC debut, Pereira stopped Danny Roberts in under two minutes. His performance included breakdancing, tears, a flying knee and some explosive hands. He’ll be tested on the big stage for the second time on Saturday, facing Tristan Connelly who will be making his UFC debut after fighting in Canadian regionals. Some were concerned that Pereira wouldn’t fight on the show after his original opponent Sergey Khandozhko pulled out of the show. Luckily, an opponent was found. On Friday, Michel Pereira weighed in at 172 pounds, two pounds over the welterweight limit. While his fight is still scheduled, he forfeited 20% of his fight purse to Connelly.

Bout 10: Todd Duffee (9-3) vs. Jeff Hughes (10-2) (Heavyweight)

To say that Todd Duffee has been gone for a while would be a cruel understatement. Duffee hasn’t been under the bright lights since 2015, when he lost to Frank Mir. After battling back from numerous injuries including a knee injury which was infected with MRSA, Duffee has finally been cleared to return. He won’t have an easy welcome back though, as he faces Jeff Hughes, who has been an active fighter the whole time. Coming from Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA), Hughes punched in his UFC ticket with a first round win over Josh Appelt in 2018. His UFC debut didn’t give him what he desired, as he took a scorecard loss over Maurice Greene.

Bout 11: Glover Teixeira (29-7) vs. Nikita Krylov (26-6) (Light Heavyweight)

The co-main event features two ranked light heavyweights in Glover Teixeira and Nikita Krylov competing. Krylov is only two fights into his second UFC stint, but a recent win over Ovince St. Preux made him crash the rankings, put at the #13 spot. Teixeira has had a great 2019, currently riding a two-fight winning streak, stopping both fights via submission.

Bout 12: Donald Cerrone (36-12) vs. Justin Gaethje (20-2) (Lightweight)

The main event of the evening is “Cowboy” Donald Cerrone facing Justin Gaethje. Both fighters have had a pretty exciting year. Moreso the case for Cerrone. His year started off early, getting a win over Alexander Hernandez via the second round. The fight was billed as prospect versus veteran, with the veteran prevailing in the end. Fast forward four more months, Al Iaquinta went 25 minutes with Cerrone, with all three judges awarding Cerrone the win. Worth noting that took place in Ottawa, making this show the second Canadian appearance this year for Cerrone. 

Most recently, Cerrone faced Tony Ferguson on the undercard of UFC 238. The fight was a close and intense one, ending prematurely after an eye of Cerrone swelled up, causing a doctor to end the bout before the third round. Cerrone has been known throughout his career for fighting frequently. At 36-years-old, 2019 is the seventh year in a row that he has fought three or more times within a year.

Justin Gaethje hasn’t fought nearly as many times as Cerrone, but has seen success in his last two appearances. Just over a year ago, it took Gaethje less that 90 seconds to finish James Vick, putting himself in the win column after being finished by Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier. Earlier this year, Gaethje stopped Edson Barboza within a round, finishing him with a right hook. Gaethje is known for his fighting style which encourages his opponent to throw and even land punches on him.

On Wednesday, Gaethje told media that he suffered an eye infection recently that risked his withdrawal from the fight. Despite saying he’s able to compete, and obviously he’s been cleared to fight by the commission too, he claimed that he was sensitive to light.

UFC will have another ESPN+ broadcast a week from tomorrow, taking place in Arena Ciudad de Mexico in Mexico City, Mexico. With 12 scheduled bouts currently, the show is set to be headlined by Yair Rodriguez and Jeremy Stephens. UFC’s next pay-per-view will take place in early October, with Israel Adesanya attempting to take Robert Whittaker’s UFC Middleweight Championship.