Beyond The Odds series shines a spotlight on the intangibles of three fighters for each UFC card. Here are three of the more intriguing fighters competing at UFC Stockholm.
One of the more polarizing featherweights in the industry makes his annual return to the UFC’s Octagon on Saturday night. Mr. Finland is back! Makwan Amirkhani, an Iranian born fighter of Kurdish descent with a 14-3 professional record looks to continue his winning ways when he takes on 18-2-1 Englishman, Chris Fishgold.
Last time out, we saw Makwan Amirkhani earn a split-decision victory over former UFC talent Jason Knight. In that fight, Amirkhani showed some improved striking early on, and eventually fell back on his power wrestling after facing adversity. Since that bout, Amirkhani spent 10 months further sharpening his tools on the feet, competing in 6 amateur boxing matches in that time. The last 2 months of Amirkhani’s camp was invested cultivating his overall game at SBG with John Kavanagh.
If you’ve watched any of Chris Fishgold’s fights, then you are familiar with his Tasmanian Devil-like blitzes and maximum effort. A challenge of Fishgold’s style is that chaos exposes mistakes in technique that can be capitalized upon by higher level opponents. Calvin Kattar made quick work of Fishgold in the Brit’s UFC debut after the former Cage Warriors vet emptied his clip, and even Daniel Teymur saw moments of success in their respective bout.
Expect to see Chris Fishgold go balls to the wall once again from the opening bell, as he appears to know no other way these days besides a 5 round anomaly in 2016. This could potentially pose problems for Amirkhani, who must be ready for a blitz. Despite being dropped in the Knight fight, Amirkhani is typically defensively sound, absorbing a measly 1.60 strikes per minute inside of the Octagon. Makwan will need to chain wrestle as well as scramble out of tough positions early. Amirkhani may be able to utilize his 4” reach advantage and some of his new boxing techniques on the feet if the fight stays standing after Fishgold gasses. Give me Makwan Amirkhani, the +109 underdog with a DraftKings price tag of $7,900. I’ll be interested to see if Amirkhani bucks a trend, and takes another fight in 2019.
The 6’5” Swede returns home to take on a 45-fight veteran in Anthony Smith. Both combatants are coming off of title fight losses to UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, Jon Jones. It is reasonable to question each fighter’s motivation after taking a loss on the biggest stage, though we also need to factor in the skills they bring to the table.
This will be Anthony Smith’s 6th fight since 2018. He has been incredibly active, quickly rising through the ranks after moving from middleweight to the light heavyweight division. Despite the recent ascension, when it comes down to it we are looking at an aggressive striker with a big heart who lacks the technical prowess to compete against elite fighters in the division. I have a real problem with rostering someone who, only a few years ago was getting teed off on by Josh Neer, a bloated lightweight. Take a brief look at Smith’s resume, and then watch some of his fights. You’ll see an imposing individual who overcommits and also makes critical errors. I don’t put a lot of stock into his wins against shopworn veterans Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Rashad Evans. They didn’t have an answer for Smith’s aggressive striking-based blitzes. A tactical practitioner such as Alexander Gustafsson, who also possesses great movement, should solve this riddle.
Some have already written off Alexander Gustafsson as an elder statesman who is nearing the end of his tenure as a fighter. I believe that narrative is a bit premature, as the Allstars Training Center product recently turned 32 years of age, and only has 23 professional fights under his belt. When it comes down to it, “The Mauler” is a man of few words, and lets his fists do the talking. We saw he wasn’t on Jon Jones’ level, though many aren’t. The man has shown us his skillset in previous fights versus Daniel Cormier and others. Gustafsson still possesses tremendous footwork, great head movement, and a high volume technical striking approach that should cause Anthony Smith problems throughout this fight. I’m picking the -285 favorite to get the job done here on home soil. As the highest priced fighter on the slate at $9,300 from a DraftKings perspective, Gustafsson will have the luxury of 5-rounds to pick Smith apart and rack up points.
Damir “The Bosnian Bomber” Hadzovic fighting out of Denmark took the long way to MMA. Hadzovic, a war-torn refugee, was a bodybuilder as a youngster, and only found martial arts in his twenties. The late bloomer, now 32 years old, has found a willing dance partner in the likes of California’s Christos “The Spartan” Giagos in what should be an intriguing lightweight matchup. Both fighters will look to capitalize on their strengths and expose what appear to be glaring weaknesses of their opponents. Let’s get right to it and dig a little deeper here.
Christos Giagos is no stranger to competing in enemy territory. The 16-7 veteran has fought some killers in his day. Although he’s sustained much more than a few brief moments of success, the fact is that Giagos has a tendency to burn himself out late in many of his fights. Giagos is a well-rounded Black House MMA product with a wrestling base, and an ongoing concern is that he is usually huffing and puffing mid-way through the second round, despite looking to be in phenomenal shape. There is inherent danger in facing someone like Hadzovic who is extremely durable and carries his power into the later rounds. This should be another big test for both fighters.
Damir Hadzovic, 13-4, was put in some precarious situations on the ground versus high level grapplers such as Marcin Held and Alan Patrick, yet he refused to be finished in either fight. Perhaps his BJJ purple belt helped to fend off submissions, or maybe it was a testament to his resiliency as a human being. The fact is that there was no quit in “The Bosnian Bomber” despite being grounded multiple times in each fight. Hadzovic was given a reprieve from grappling heavy opponents in last two fights, and saw immediate success on the feet. Damir impressively out-struck Nick Hein, and pound out Polo Reyes in his last two outings.
In this matchup between Christos Giagos and Damir Hadzovic, I see a battle of skill and will. I think we’ll see Giagos have success early and fade late as he has done many times before. One round does not make a fight, and despite exhibiting suspect takedown defense, Hadzovic should be the one standing when this is all said and done. I’m siding with the -175 favorite with the $9,100 DraftKings price tag.