Here’s hoping that MMA fans don’t have any plans for a social life on Saturday. Starting just after noon, UFC Fight Night 53 will have 11 fights from Sweden, which should end somewhere around 5pm ET. Then you’ll have about two hours to eat, perhaps bathe yourself, and just maybe tell your loved ones that you’re still alive before UFC Fight Night 54 kicks off at 7pm ET. The UFC’s debut in Halifax features twelve fights in total, with the main card consisting of six bouts on Fox Sports 1 starting at 10pm ET (11pm for those live in Halifax, meaning they won’t be free until about 2am). The six preliminary bouts are scattered across Fox Sports 2 and UFC Fight Pass. Let’s take a closer look at those bouts now. The preliminary “main event” is in the lightweight division, and it’s one of just three fights on the entire card to not feature a Canadian fighter. Strikers Daron Cruickshank and Anthony Njokuani will hopefully make the fans forget about national allegiances, as they could put on a very exciting fight. Cruickshank has shown off the power in his diverse striking arsenal over his past three bouts, despite going 2-1 in those contests. He rocked Jorge Masvidal badly in the first round of their fight, but went on to lose a decision. Prior to that, he set up finishes of Erik Koch and Mike Rio with head kicks (the Rio kick was of the spinning heel variety). Cruickshank has struggled against technical strikers (Masvidal and John Makdessi) in the past however, which makes this bout against Njokuani an intriguing one. Njokuani has been under Zuffa employ since 2009, but only has a 7-7 record to show for it, so his longevity is due in large part to his striking style. He hasn’t shown great power of late though, with just one of his three UFC victories coming by TKO after all of his WEC wins came that way. He has alternated losses and wins since August 2010 and is coming off of a loss to grinder Vinc Pichel. Will the trend continue, or will the betting lines hold up and see Cruickshank come through as a -145 favorite (bet $145 to win $100) at Several Bookmakers? Staying in the lightweight division, the line is far more skewed for ‘TUF Nations’ runner-up Olivier Aubin-Mercier and Jake Lindsey. Both fighters lost their UFC debuts, as Aubin-Mercier dropped a decsion to Chad Laprise while Lindsey was infamously stopped by heel strikes to the body against Jon Tuck. The perception based on those two results is clear in the betting line, as Aubin-Mercier currently sits at -430, with Lindsey a +380 underdog (bet $100 to win $380). Aubin-Mercier was a very talented judoka before making his way to MMA as he held a spot on Canada’s national team, and that comes through in his game. His takedowns from the clinch are solid, and his strength is once the fight hits the mat. In contrast, Lindsey is a librarian. He also put together a decent run of wins in the Midwest before getting called up to the UFC, but it was clear he wasn’t ready for the step up. It could be argued that Aubin-Mercier is an even tougher matchup for him than Tuck was, so the expectation is that the Canadian will give the hometown fans something to cheer about. As a sidenote: Lindsey’s stoppage loss to Tuck was so bizarre, that even Sherdog’s fight finder didn’t know how to score it. Despite being 9-1 in his career, he has both a TKO and Submission loss according to their Fight Finder.
Remaining at 155 for one more bout, Jason Saggo welcomes Paul Felder to the UFC. Saggo impressed in his UFC debut, dispatching Josh Shockley inside the first round. He brings a very effective submission game to the cage, although he favored his ground-and-pound against Shockley. Taking on Felder, Saggo will certainly want to get his ground game working early. Felder, the former CFFC lightweight champion, is a talented striker who has seen six of his eight victories come by way of TKO. His level of competition has not been great to this point — his biggest wins are over TUF veterans Marc Stevens and Julian Lane — so Saggo will be a significant step up in competition, but the Renzo Gracie fighter seems confident that he can handle it. The odds on this bout are the second-closest on the entire Halifax card with Saggo a -165 favorite and Felder +155, and it has a lot to do with the relative inexperience of both men against name competition. At flyweight, Paddy Holohan makes his return to the UFC after a dominant victory over Josh Sampo. Coming off a nearly two-year layoff, Holohan shocked almost everyone by beating Sampo in every aspect of the game en route to a first-round rear-naked choke victory. He looks to continue the momentum with a much shorter layoff against late replacement Chris Kelades in Halifax. Kelades is from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia — essentially the same city as Halifax — and should have a great deal of crowd support heading into this bout, but with less than a week to prepare for the bout it will be tough sledding. He does have the grinding style which has given Holohan problems in the past. Notably Holohan was outwrestled in his bid to get into the TUF house against another Canadian in Josh Hill. Kelades tends to fade over the course of fights though, so the short notice should only mitigate those issues. Holohan is favored at -305, but that number has actually come down from the opener of -405, meaning Kelades has been getting some respect with bettors, and he could prove them right if the crowd is able to give him the same boost Holohan received back in Dublin in July. Moving to UFC Fight Pass for a pair of bouts, welterweights Albert Tumenov and Matt Dwyer will be looking to add another knockout to their resumes. Of their 20 combined MMA wins, 16 have come via (T)KO, meaning another stoppage could be in the cards here. Tumenov has shown flashes of being a next level fighter in his UFC career thus far, but also gassed badly in his debut which led to him dropping a decision against Ildemar Alcantara. He rebounded in fine fashion with a first-round KO of Anthony Lapsley and looks to continue that momentum against the debuting Dwyer. The Kelowna, British Columbia native holds win over the likes of DaMarques Johnson and Shonie Carter, and is very rangy for the welterweight division at 6’4″. His technique isn’t the cleanest, and he has been hit a fair bit in his previous outings, but he has shown durability and power in his hands which could come in handy against a big hitter like Tumenov. Those attributes have seen Dwyer garner some respect from bettors, as he dropped from an opening price of +325 to a current number of +260. The change on Tumenov has been a bit more drastic, going from -475 to -290. It seems a strange way to book the first ever card in a location, but the first UFC fight in Halifax will not feature a Canadian fighter. Instead, Brazilian prospect Pedro Munhoz makes his third Octagon appearance opposite wrestler Jerrod Sanders. Munhoz was thrown into the deep end by the UFC facing top 5 bantamweight Raphael Assuncao. He predictably dropped a decision in that spot, but rebounded nicely with a TKO of Matt Hobar in his return bout. The 28-year-old should continue to show off his well-rounded game in what looks like it will be a long UFC career. 34-year-old Jerrod Sanders doesn’t have quite the same long-term prospects as Munhoz, but he looks to even his UFC record at 1-1 in a more suitable weight class for himself. His UFC debut was at 155 on short-notice, but he used it as a way to get his foot in the door. He arguably has a tougher matchup here despite the weight difference, but his physical tools could help drastically. Bettors aren’t so sure however, as Munhoz is the second-largest favorite on the card at -475, with the comeback on Sanders at +420. All of these fights can be seen on Fox Sports 2 and UFC Fight Pass, beginning at 7pm ET.