The UFC is finally back!  After six weeks with only The Ultimate Fighter Live to hold us over, MMA crazed fans are craving a full event.  The UFC is delivering their first European event of the year as it visits Sweden for the first time ever.

However, many North American fans will look through the preliminary fights and begin to wonder “who are these guys?” The preliminary card alone features six debuting fighters, the majority coming of those coming from Europe, and another four fighters who only have one UFC fight.  Needless to say, these are not the household names of the sport but does that really matter?  These are top prospects from around the world getting a chance to showcase their skill on the big stage with a chance of making their dream come true.

Tom DeBlass is a top Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor and undefeated MMA fighter debuting against elite striker Cyrille Diabate in a contrast of styles. Two of Sweden’s top prospects are squaring off for the right to join the biggest MMA promotion in the world when Simeon Thoresen meets undefeated Besam Yousef.

The preliminary card will stream live on Facebook starting at 12:30 p.m ET, with the main card to follow at 3 p.m. ET on Fuel TV.

The MMA Corner’s panel of Richard Wilcoxon, Josh Davis and round table newcomer, Joe Schafer, break down the six-fight undercard.

FW: Jason Young (8-5) vs. Eric Wisely (19-7)

Davis: There is no doubt that both of these fighters are in need of a win of they expect to be invited back to the UFC. Young is currently riding a two-fight losing streak suffering decision losses to Dustin Poirier at UFC 131 and Michihiro Omigawa at UFC 138. A third straight loss will certainly be the end of Young’s UFC tenure. Wisely is coming off of a submission loss to Charles Oliveira at UFC on Fox: Evans vs. Davis.

Wisely is without question the more experienced fighter between the two and has fought the better competition, but he can not let that go to his head.  Wisely will however need to use his experience to his advantage to help control the pace of this fight.  In order for Wisely to be victorious he will need to use is his experience to keep Young guessing and constantly moving backwards.  From there Wisely will be able to use his striking to set up some takedowns and work for a submission.

Young on the other hand needs to be the aggressor in this fight using his superior striking to dictate the pace of the fight. Young is an English striker and does not have the best wrestling; however, he does know a thing or two about submissions. Even though he has them in his arsenal if he is going to come away victorious he will need to turn this fight into a stand up war.

Both fighters have much to lose and truly are fighting for their UFC lives.  At the end of the night though there can be only one winner at it will be Wisely who gets the win via unanimous decision.

 

Jason Young (R) connects with a right hand (Sherdog)

Wilcoxon: While both of these fighters will definitely be looking for a win, entertainment value still matters to the UFC. For that reason, if Young has another good showing, even in a loss, he very well could still be around.   Young has established himself in his first 2 fights in the UFC as a tough as nails scraper who loves to strike.  However, even when taken down, he has shown an excellent ability to scramble.

Wisely will be forever remembered by me as the guy who lost by a calf slicer. However, to be fair, that is the only time he has ever been stopped.  He does hold wins over UFC veterans Hermes Franca and Matt Veach.  Wisely will hold the wrestling advantage and the advantage in the submission game.

This fight will be determined by Wisely.  He cannot get drawn into a standing war with Young even though he has found some success on his feet in his career. Young is just plain better standing.  Wisely will also have to use his striking to set up his takedowns and be tight on Young to limit Young’s scrambling ability.  While I do think Wisely could win, I think he has to be perfect mentally and that is a lot to ask.  I will take Young to outpoint Wisely on the way to a split decision victory.

Schafer: Ouch, that calf crusher-slicer-demoralizer hurts me just writing about it. Richard is on the money when he says Wisely will have to quickly take Young to the ground, but it’s hard to say if that extraordinarily odd submission loss will haunt Wisely’s mental game, causing him not to pull the trigger. Of course, the likelihood of a proven striker like Young to pull off some ground magic on Wisely is pretty far from reality.

Wisely’s experience should be his key to victory here. Young possesses dynamic striking—which was displayed in earnest during his two losses—but I’m not convinced that will be enough to get his hand raised. As long as Wisely is wise enough to wisely move from side to side and not stay in front of Young, he should be able to dictate where the fight goes. I’m going with both Josh and Richard on this one: Wisely via split decision.

WW: Simeon Thoresen (16-2-1) vs. Besam Yousef (6-0)

Wilcoxon: This preliminary bout features two of Sweden’s own squaring off with the possibility of continuing with the UFC on the line.  I expect some fireworks as these fighters try everything they can to impress the UFC brass.

Simeon Thoresen works for a submission (DanHerbertson/Sherdog)

Thoresen is the protégé of Joachim “Hellboy” Hansen.  However, while Hellboy is known for his striking, Thoresen prefers the submission game.  Fourteen of his victories have ended with his opponent tapping out.  He has some experience with mid-size shows and has competed in BAMMA and the Japanese promotion Deep.

Yousef is an undefeated prospect that has shown well-rounded skill.  He has stopped five of his opponents, two by knockout and three by submission.  He is the reigning Zone FC welterweight champion.

Thorsen has a significant experience advantage.  And while he does have a few losses on his record, he has also competed against solid competition.  The same cannot be said for Yousef.  Only two of Yousef’s opponents even had a win in their career heading into their bout with Yousef and none of them had a winning record, either at the time of their fight or in their career since.

Yousef has a bloated record and a lack of experience.  I have Thoresen winning this easily with a first or early second-round submission.

Schafer: Damn Richard, you know your stuff (hopefully there’s something left to say about this fight). These are two relatively unknown fighters getting a chance to showcase why we should be excited to see them throwdown in the Octagon again. More importantly, both fighters are competing for local bragging rights — Yousef is a Syrian-born Swede and Thorsen is a little “hellion” from Norway.

These are the types of fights that easily fly under the radar, due to the lack of name recognition, but have the ingredients to make up for it. Debuting in the UFC is a big deal that has changed career trajectories for the better or worse — and what better way to make that push to the next level than doing it in your worldly neighborhood.

So, like with any bout with added personal investment, comes two sides of the coin. I predict this contest will either produce fireworks or be the “Snoozefest of the Night.” Too often do we see newcomers battle their nerves more than their opponents, causing fighters to become far too cautious.

Besam Yousef (MMAViking.com)

Wilcoxon’s prediction sits well with me. I’m hoping to see a dog fight on the ground — especially since we don’t get to see that too often — between two guys with a combined 17 submission wins to their credit. Of course, as we know when two guys excel in the same discipline, they tend to stubbornly keep the fight where they are both equally mediocre and that can be the catalyst to a snoozefest scenario.

At the end of the day, I doubt Thorsen will waste much time getting the fight to the ground where he’ll have a chance to extend his rear-naked choke streak to three.

Davis: Even though these two fighters are relatively unknown in the United States, do not sleep on this fight.  These are two of the more exciting fighters that Sweden has to offer and both have highlight reel finishes.

Thoresen not only has the experience he has the overall better skill set. Thoresen will have an advantage in striking, wrestling and submissions.  This is however why the fight game is so exciting.  On paper Thoresen should certainly win this fight but I would not be shocked if Yousef pulled off the upset.

I will make it unanimous, Thoresen will win this fight and he will do it in the first round by TKO.

LW: Yoislandy Izquierdo (6-0) vs. Reza Madadi (11-2)

Schafer: I can sense a familiar theme emerging from the preliminary portion of the event: fresh (European) faces pitted against each other in a shared promotional debut. Both Izquierdo and Madadi have yet to compete under the Zuffa banner, making Saturday night the first time either man has graced the Octagon.

Madadi is a Swedish-Iranian fighter with an extensive background in wrestling, starting at the young age of 10. Throughout his athletic journey, Madadi has competed in many smaller promotions, most recently winning the Superior Challenge Lightweight championship and stringing together a win streak over guys we’ve actually heard of: Junie Browning, Carlo Prater and Rich Clementi.

It goes without saying, his opponent has the skill set to spoil the party. If it were easy in the UFC, everybody would be fighting there and nobody would be watching.

Izquierdo is a southpaw Cuban-American fighter with solid all-around skills and effective in-ring creativity, coming off two knockout victories against Chris Garcia and Patrick Cenoble in a Florida-based promotion called Championship Fighting Alliance. He’s proven to be very methodical in the cage, waiting for openings to land accurate strikes rather than throwing up hail marys. Though, against Garcia, Izquierdo had issues defending the takedown and getting back to his feet.

With homefield advantage and a wrestling pedigree to use against Izquierdo’s weakness, be on the lookout for Madadi to start fast to avoid any unnecessary stand up exchanges and to score early takedowns. I think Madadi has a convincing, yet grinding, unanimous decision victory in his immediate future.

 

Yoislandy Izquierdo (L) will look to keep his perfect record intact (William Musacchia/Sherdog)

Davis: Joe said it best when he said that “If it were easy in the UFC, everybody would be fighting there and nobody would be watching” and that truly is the case for these two fighters. This is another fight between two completely different fighters and could be a long night for whichever fighter is unable to implement their game plan.

If this fight stays on the feet, Izquierdo should be able to take advantage of the striking game to dictate the pace of the fight and set up the rest of his game plan. However, if he is going to win this fight he is going to have to either stop a takedown or show marked improvement in his ground skills. If Madadi is able to stay patient, get the takedown and bring the fight to the ground, he should have no problem grinding out a decision.

Izquierdo certainly has a puncher’s chance to win this fight but it won’t be enough. Madadi will walk out of the cage the victory as he will win this fight by unanimous decision.

 

Wilcoxon: I don’t have much to add on this fight. Madadi’s wrestling background would have me leaning that way to begin with, but once you include the competition he has faced and beat, in addition to his current six-fight win streak and well-rounded skills, and I think it will be a long night for “Cuba”.

As Josh said, the undefeated Izquierdo has a puncher’s chance but that is about it. I will make it unanimous and go with Madadi. However, he has won the majority of his fights by submission and see no reason why he won’t finish this one as well.

MW: Francis Carmont (17-7) vs. Magnus Cedenblad (10-3)

Wilcoxon: This is another bout with a European flair.  Carmont is French while Cedenblad is Swedish.

The Frenchman has made a number of changes in his game recently.  He dropped from light heavyweight to middleweight so he was on more even ground with US-based fighters who cut larger amounts of weight.  He also packed his bags and moved to Montreal to train with Georges St-Pierre out of Tristar gym.  And, of course, debuted in the UFC.

Cedenblad has primarily competed in Sweden throughout his career.  After suffering back-to-back losses to start of his career, he has a 10-1 record and is currently on a seven-fight win streak.  His fights tend to end early; seven of his victories and two of his defeats have ended in the first round.

While Carmont is going to be the betting favorite, I really think this fight is a toss-up. Cedenblad has faced solid competition and has dominated many of them.  He has shown a well-rounded game and a killer instinct.  The only negative for Cedenblad is that this will be his first step into the Octagon and the big show. Nerves and jitters could take away from his game and for that reason I will take Carmont to eek out a decision.

 

Davis: This is another fight that could steal the show.  As Richard stated Carmont will be the heavy favorite but this fight really could go either way. Both fighters could win this fight anywhere the fight goes.

As Richard pointed out Cedenbald is currently on a lengthy win streak and loves to overwhelm his opponents and end the fight as quickly as possible.  Carmont however, has faced some tough competition and trains with some of the best fighters in the world.  It is going to be a tough task for Cedenbald to come out and overwhelm him.

This fight really is going to come down to who wants it more and who trained harder. Regardless of what the odds makers would like you to believe these two match up very well against each other.

Many fighters have struggled with the pressure of fighting under the lights of the UFC and this being Cedenbald’s first fight in the UFC in his hometown I think he is going to struggle.  I agree with Richard, Carmont will win this fight via decision.

Schafer: Before I say my bit, I would like to state for the record that I like croissants more than meatballs, but IKEA more than those crybabies on the French national soccer team. I’m sure you can understand my dilemma as I tried to apply nonsensical comparisons to this particular fight. I hear crickets; leaving me to assume you’re not impressed by my performance?

Magnus Cedenblad (nyheter24.se)

Fine; my unstable digression is over…for now.

Personally, I’m enjoying all the European flair on this card. It makes good commercial sense and also gives us a chance to examine the international talent pool; watch fighters we wouldn’t normally get to.

I completely agree with both of you: this will be a much closer fight than what Vegas has on the books. In fact, I’d like to take one step further and say this will be a case when conventional wisdom doesn’t pan out like it should.

What I like about Cedenblad is his eagerness to engage, he looks for finishes at a high rate, and his jerky stance and energy can really throw more conventional guys for a loop. He is also very well-rounded on his feet and on the ground. I have a feeling this young fireball will be able to shoulder the pressures of fighting in Sweden; in fact, even let it work to his advantage.

Combine all of that with a chance to fight in the octagon, I predict Cedenblad will pull off an upset, defeating Carmont by a gutsy decision victory.

LHW: Cyrille Diabate (17-8-1) vs. Tom DeBlass (7-0)

Schafer: Cyrille Diabate was originally slated to go head-to-head with “The Last Viking” Jorgen Kruth, a highly accomplished kickboxer and undefeated mixed martial artist, before the Swede was sidelined by injury. For all of you kickboxing enthusiasts, Kruth being replaced last minute is a heartbreaker because not only is he widely considered the greatest kickboxer Sweden has produced, but Diabate is no slouch when it comes to the eight-point attack system. This would have been an exciting display of striking between two elite kickboxers, both around the same age, with no interest in taking things to the ground.

Oh well, injuries are a common nuances in combat sports. So, that leaves us with Diabate taking on newcomer Tom DeBlass, an undefeated New Jersey fighter, who trains at Ricardo Almeida’s gym. His last victory was against Randy Smith for the Ring of Combat heavyweight title, coming by way of heel hook back in February of this year.

Now, instead of staring across the Octagon at an opponent with a similar skill set — willing to play his game — Diabate is faced with a stylistic nightmare. DeBlass is an explosive, stocker fighter who shouldn’t have much trouble getting inside on the slower Diabate and taking him down to the mat, where there is a good chance those long limbs may very well find themselves popping at the joints in an armbar or heel hook.

After splitting a four-fight campaign in the UFC, Diabate has been unimpressive in most areas — minus a few momentary flares of success throwing combos with his hands. Overall, his ground game, takedown defense and cardio have all been points of concern that compliment DeBlass’ strengths quite nicely.

I have DeBlass winning his debut, defeating the older Diabate by a first or second-round submission.

 

Tom DeBlass (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Wilcoxon: Joe did an excellent breakdown of what the fight should have been before injury struck.  I think it is a disappointment to everyone.

However, DeBlass is no joke. He is the reigning Ring of Combat heavyweight and light heavyweight champion. He is a BJJ black belt who is a Pan American Jiu-Jitsu Champion, No-Gi World champion, and American National Jiu-Jitsu Champion.

These fighters are almost polar opposites.  While DeBlass is a monster on the ground, Diabate is a monster striking.  While Diabate has some issues with his wrestling and submission game, DeBlass has some issues with his striking. Whereas Diabate stands 6-foot-6 with long limbs, DeBlass is a squat 5-foot-11.

Diabate will need to keep this fight at a distance where he can land solid strikes without get taken down.  He will need to stick and move which is not his strength. However, Diabate did have a full training camp while DeBlass is fighting on two weeks notice and debuting in the Octagon.  I can see this fight going either way. Whichever fighter can dictate where the fight happens will win.  Since DeBlass is an East Coast guy, and I admittedly wear bias on my sleeve, and will go with him for a first-round submission. 

Davis: This is a very interesting fight because not only do we have two fighters that are polar opposites in styles but there is a seven-inch difference in height between the two. As Joe pointed out, it should not be hard for DeBlass to get inside of the taller and slower Diabate and once he gets the body lock this fight will go to the ground.

For me the key to this fight is whether or not DeBlass can withstand the punches that he is going to have to eat to get inside. If DeBlass gets this fight to the ground it will not be long before he dismantles Diabate and takes one of his limbs home with him.

On the other hand, if Diabate connects with a power shot it could be lights out for Deblass.

Again I have to make it unanimous here. No bias on my part, just a belief that DeBlass will be able to get this fight to the ground and get a submission.  Deblass wins this fight by first-round submission.

WW: Papy Abedi (8-1) vs. James Head (7-2)

 

Davis: With both fighters coming off of losses these two will certainly want to come out and make a statement and prove they belong in the UFC. Nobody wants to suffer back-to-back losses so I expect both fighters to not only fight aggressive, but smart as well.

Abedi is coming off the first loss of his career at UFC 138 against Thiago Alves. In addition to making his UFC debut against Alves, he was also making his welterweight debut and it showed in his performance as Alves completely overwhelmed him. Abedi wants to show the world that his loss to Alves was just a bad night and that he is deserving of competing against the best fighters in the world. If he is going to win this fight he will need to do it with his striking. Abedi is a solid striker with knockout power in both hands and he will need to take advantage of this. In addition to his striking power he is also a Judo black belt and will look for throws from inside the clinch.

James Head is coming off of a submission loss to Nick Ring at UFC at UFC 131 and after recovering from an undisclosed injury that forced him out of UFC 138, he now returns to action by making his welterweight debut. Head is a solid all-around fighter with great Muay Thai and excellent ground skills.  If Head can stay away from the knockout punch he certainly has more ways to with the fight. His overall striking is better than Abedi’s, but he does not have the same power. Though Head is not a Judo expert, if this fight goes to the ground he is more than capable of holding his own.

Head is the better overall fighter, but this fight could go either way. Both fighters have several ways that they could win the fight but when the it is all over, Head will get his hand raised. Head wins this fight by unanimous decision.

Papy Abedi (Ryan O'Leary/Sherdog)

Schafer: I agree, Head has more tools to choose from in search of victory, but it’s unfair to count out Abedi. For his UFC and welterweight debut, he drew one of the best 170-pounders in Thiago Alves— not an easy task and yet he was able hold his own. He was able to maintain Octagon control, land some power, and force Alves on the retreat.

While maybe that bout misrepresented what Abedi is capable of, it also exposed holes in his game. He is clearly more comfortable pushing forward, firing off wide haymakers, and in the clinch. But, that doesn’t remedy the problems Head brings in the wrestling and BJJ departments. Not to mention, those outside power punches with little defense are more than ideal for Head to utilize his own counter-striking arsenal.

Look for Head to counter fight his more aggressive opponent. Abedi’s success in this fight really relies on his ability to be patient and fight defensively. If he can sprawl well on Head, keep him standing, he’ll have a better chance winning than getting tangled up in a submission on the ground.

Conversely, Head has fewer things to worry about coming from Abedi, e.g. Getting clipped early in the fight.

This is just one of the many tightly-contested preliminary bouts on this Sweden card. I’ve got Head submitting Abedi in the third round.

Wilcoxon: In the final fight of the preliminary card, we should get great fireworks.

Abedi will be fighting in his homeland. He is cigar-chomping tough guy. Abedi is now a black belt in judo who has worked hard on his striking both in the clinch and out. He has also spent some time recently with Alliance MMA with Lloyd Irving to help round out his game. His only loss was to Thiago Alves in his last fight.

Head is dropping down a weight class for this fight.  He was a boxer for a number of years and has a purple belt in BJJ. He holds a win of UFC veteran Gerald Harris.

While Head is a legitimate threat to anyone and I would not be surprised to see him pull out a win, I will dissent from my colleagues and go with Abedi to take this one. I feel there are a few factors that give him the edge. First, Head is dropping a weight class. As we all know, that can either give him an advantage or leave him completely drained.

The second thing that makes me think Abedi is has the edge is that his only loss came to an elite fighter in Alves. Head has lost to both Nick Ring and Jesse Forbes and I would not call either of them elite. His win over Harris may have been more of a fluke than a sign of things to come. And finally and most importantly, Abedi has something that doesn’t show up on paper; he is a freak athlete and I have learned, when all else appears equal, take the athlete to win the fight.

Top Photo: Cyrille Diabate (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

About The Author

Richard Wilcoxon
Staff Writer

An East Coast native, Richard Wilcoxon grew up a die hard fan of traditional team sports. In the early 1990's, he stumbled onto the sport of MMA and has been hooked ever since. He started writing about the sport on his Sporting News member blog in 2005 where he worked to spread his passion for the sport. He eventually became an official staff writer for Sporting News' "The Rumble" MMA/boxing blog before joining The MMA Corner.