The term “legend” is used a little too often in such a young sport. MMA hasn’t even been around for a quarter of a century yet, and it seems like every card has someone fans or media are calling a legend. But what else can you call Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira?

Nogueira began fighting 15 years ago in the stacked Rings King of Kings tournament, where he finished as the runner-up one year and the winner the next. He then rose to popularity in Pride FC, where he claimed the heavyweight title, had a huge rivalry with Fedor Emelianenko and didn’t lose a fight to anyone except Emelianenko for six years. Even in the UFC, Nogueira had a good run. He chased Tim Sylvia out of the organization and claimed the UFC title.

Roy Nelson has been in the background of the sport for nearly as long. He gained notoriety for his appearance as well as his fighting skills. He really became known for his belly in the now defunct IFL, where he won the heavyweight title. Nelson entered the UFC through The Ultimate Fighter, where he dominated the field.

UFC Fight Night 39 finds the two matched up in the main event. In addition, the co-main event features top ranked featherweight Tatsuya Kawajiri trying to gain relevance in the UFC against longtime UFC veteran Clay Guida.

UFC Fight Night 39 takes place Friday, April 11, at the du Arena in Abu Dhabi. The entire event airs live on UFC Fight Pass. The preliminary card kicks off at 11:50 a.m. ET, and the main card follows at 2 p.m. ET.

The MMA Corner’s Sal DeRose, Gregory Chase and Richard Wilcoxon preview the entire nine-fight lineup in this edition of the Round Table.

LW: Beneil Dariush (7-0) vs. Ramsey Nijem (8-4)

DeRose: Beneil Dariush is the favorite to win this fight in only his second UFC appearance. He certainly has the skill set to dispatch quickly of the former TUF runner-up, Ramsey Nijem.

Dariush’s edge in this fight comes in the striking department. He has some good striking skills mixed with the power to knock down Nijem, who has two knockout losses in his career. Nijem hasn’t been known as a devastating striker, and he certainly will be looking to go the other way here.

Nijem is a powerful wrestler. He has a very aggressive style that could throw off Dariush in his sophomore effort in the UFC. Nijem will certainly look to close the gap and shoot for the takedown to beat Dariush on the ground and grind out a decision. However, Dariush has a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu background that has won him four fights via submission, including his last fight against Charlie Brenneman, who, like Nijem, had the wrestling ability to grind out a decision win.

I’m picking Dariush to win this fight based purely on the fact that he has more avenues to victory—submission, knockout or lasting to a decision.

Chase: Dariush might be the favorite, but Nijem is going to come out on top in this one. Nijem hasn’t really shown his true potential, but this fight will be the opportunity he’s been waiting for.

Nijem’s past few fights have been sort of up and down, but he is well-rounded, as is Dariush. On the feet or on the ground, this fight could go either way, but if I had to give the advantage to one, it would be Nijem on the ground. This is where he could much more easily win the fight, but he will opt to trade for a while, at least initially.

Nijem will be smart enough to avoid the submissions, and he will ultimately have a good showing in trading blows with Dariush. Nijem is also capable of dominating him on the ground. I will give a decision win to Nijem, but won’t count out a potential finish for him early on.

Wilcoxon: If Dariush’s last fight never happened, this would be an easy pick for Nijem. Nijem has strong wrestling and improving striking. He has utilized his wrestling to control where the fight happens, standing against submission specialists and taking fights to the ground against big strikers.

However, Dariush’s last fight did happen, and he dominated Brenneman. Brenneman is also a great wrestler with improved striking, and he’s probably more athletic than Nijem.

That makes me think Dariush has to be the favorite going into this fight. Nijem has lost two fights via submission and Dariush likes to win that way. I see Dariush winning by a guillotine in the first round.

WW: John Howard (22-8) vs. Ryan LaFlare (10-0)

Chase: John Howard has been doing quite well for himself. But then again, his opponent’s 10-0 record isn’t something to ignore. Ryan LaFlare is coming in with nothing but victory on his mind. He faced a tough opponent in Court McGee in his last outing. Although LaFlare’s stats on paper are impressive, this is a fight I see Howard taking.

Howard should be mindful of LaFlare’s ground game, but I don’t think we will see it go there. Howard can score the win if he keeps it standing. The devastating power in his strikes will certainly be on the mind of LaFlare, and it is what will get Howard the win. Howard’s speed and power will be too much for LaFlare. Wen put on the defensive, LaFlare will look to get this to the mat.

Howard is a refocused fighter, and he is just starting to get his groove back inside the UFC. Expect a traditional Howard fight come Fight Night 39. Howard by TKO.

Wilcoxon: I like what LaFlare brings to the table. He has a very well-rounded game that allows him to compete on his feet or on the ground. He also comes out of the same promotion that gave us Chris Weidman and Uriah Hall. But he has never fought those guys, and that is why I will also go with Howard.

Howard has a strong wrestling base and likes to strike. He has shown improved technique and power. He also has some ground skills defensively, but he hasn’t won a fight via submission since 2007. The biggest edge Howard has in this one is the level of competition he has faced. He has been in there more times against better competition and showed he can hang with anyone.

I see Howard outstriking LaFlare on the way to a unanimous decision.

DeRose: I’m going to pick Howard based on the fact that he is more well-rounded. If he wants to take it to the ground, he can. He should be wary of LaFlare’s ground game, but if he wants to go there he can most certainly utilize his wrestling to take it there.

Howard is also the better striker and has more power in his hands to end this fight quickly. The striking will certainly play a role. This fight will either stay on the feet for its duration or Howard will utilize his strikes to set up his takedowns and grind out LaFlare.

Howard is just too much for LaFlare to handle right now and should take this fight by TKO in the third.

FW: Clay Guida (30-14) vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri (33-7-2)

Wilcoxon: Tatsuya Kawajiri is a legend overseas, but he is still trying to establish himself on this side of the Pacific Ocean. He is unusual for a Japanese fighter. He is big and strong for the weight class. He also has a strong wrestling base. This has helped him compile a long winning streak. In fact, it has been true of Kawajiri’s entire career, in which he has only lost to elite fighters.

Clay Guida was once the long-haired wildman. However, he changed his style to be more strategic. Guida has great wrestling and the cardio to go for days. He has always been able to push the pace and tire out his opponents. However, Guida has been on a bit of a skid that saw him leave the lightweight division and produce mixed results at featherweight.

Although Guida has the skill set to test Kawajiri, I don’t think he has the skill set to win unless we see the old Guida push the pace to claim a decision. Kawajiri has more options—power in his hands, plus submission skills—and he is no stranger to going the distance either. Kawajiri should take this one by a late submission or decision.

DeRose: This fight could go one of two ways. It could go the way of recent Guida fights and be a boring example of just how dominating a good wrestling base, or it could go the way of the old lightweight Guida and turn into one of the tantalizing brawls that made us once love Guida for his heart.

Guida has a good enough wrestling base to neutralize Kawajiri’s submission skills in this fight. He was able to neutralize someone like Anthony Pettis, who has a good submission game off his back, and I don’t think Kawajiri and Pettis are even in the same class.

Now comes the tough part: do I pick Guida in the striking game in this fight or not? Guida has certainly been the aggressor in previous fights and outstruck everybody while turning every fight into a brawl. Lately, though, Guida has been much more conservative and utilized his wrestling to win fights.

Kawajiri has never been highly impressive to me, whereas I feel that Guida’s previous experience and overall skill set is a nightmare for Kawajiri. Guida sets this fight up early with takedowns and wears down Kawajiri with strikes later en route to a decision win.

Chase: Who doesn’t love to see Guida fight?! You are sure to see a scrap, and probably some bleeding while Guida just gets going.

Kawajiri is on a big winning streak, and he does bring some dangerous submissions to the table. If Guida stays busy and doesn’t make foolish mistakes on the ground, he should be able to avoid this, though.

Guida’s style is fast-paced, and that will cause issues for Kawajiri. It will be hard for him to deal with Guida’s tenacity, and we will see him backpedaling and hoping for a good counter opportunity. He might try some takedowns, but even if successful, I see Guida exploding to his feet and then getting back into throwing combos.

Octagon control will be solely for Guida, and his striking will get the better of Kawajiri. Guida by decision or a second-round TKO.

HW: Roy Nelson (19-9) vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (34-8-1)

Chase: What a match-up. Roy Nelson and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira are two very durable guys who have very different fighting styles. Have to give ground game to Nog, as long as he’s the one in mount. And the stand-up edge goes to Nelson, because it will be very hard for Nogueira to win by trying to knock out Nelson. Call it the beard or a sheer natural gift, but Nelson is a tough dude to knock out.

Cardio, though, has to go to Nog. If Nelson gets dragged into the later rounds, it just plays more into Nog’s technical skills and gives him a much better chance of coming out the clear victor.

This is a fight that will come down to a big haymaker from Nelson or technique from Nogueira. On the ground, it will be hard for Nog to submit Nelson, but the Brazilian might be able to grind out and pick apart Nelson. Nelson is the one much more likely to get a finish in this match-up, though. I don’t think Nelson will submit Nog, but he certainly could land one flush and then drop the Brazilian.

Nelson with the knockout.

DeRose: This is a good match-up, indeed, but I’m thoroughly not sold on this as a main event. Nelson is on a two-fight losing streak, and Nogueira lost his last time out and holds a 2-3 mark over his last five fights. This fight is way past its expiration date.

Nogueira and Nelson share similar skill sets. Both men are top-notch jiu-jitsu practitioners in the heavyweight division. Nogueira was once the most unsubmittable person on the planet, but his last two losses, to Fabricio Werdum and Frank Mir, have been submission defeats.

Do I think Nelson is on the level of a Werdum or Mir in terms of grappling ability? No, certainly not. But Nelson is definitely up there and poses a dangerous threat on the ground. Nelson’s most urgent and lethal weapon lies in his hands.

Nelson has knockout power and the ability to receive like no other. Nogueira’s striking will be overwhelmed in this fight as Nelson utilizes his patented “swing for dear life and hope it hits the other guy’s face” method of knocking out opponents.

Nelson takes the fight by knockout.

Wilcoxon: If only this fight happened years ago. Nogueira was the legend who couldn’t be finished. The saying was always, “Nog didn’t lose, he just ran out of time,” which referred to his iron chin and unmatched ground game. Nelson, on the other hand, was the big-bellied everyman who was underestimated at every turn and just needed a chance. But times have changed.

Nogueira’s body has been through wars. His chin is no longer unbreakable, and he has been alternating wins and losses since 2008. Injuries have caused longer and longer layoffs. Nogueira still has the heart and the unbelievable ground technique, but his body isn’t what it used to be.

Nelson feels like the younger man in this one, even though the two fighters are the same age. He hasn’t fought on the big stage for as long. However, Nelson also isn’t the same guy he was years ago. Although he has added the dimension of a big punch and still has his ground skills, he also has shown some defensive holes that have been exploited.

At the end of the day, my heart wants to pick Nog for all the years of entertainment and dominance. But my head says Nelson will win this. Nelson can probably survive on the ground and he has a big power edge in the stand-up department. One of those big right hands will get through and drop Nogueira to end this fight.

Preliminary Card
FW: Jim Alers (12-1) vs. Alan Omer (18-3)

DeRose: I don’t know where to go with this fight. Both guys could win this fight on the feet. Jim Alers has demonstrated improved striking in his last few fights, and Alan Omer has the power to duke it out with just about anyone. Both guys have the ability to win this fight wherever it goes, but I’ll take Omer to land the knockout blow and give Alers his second knockout loss.

Wilcoxon: I am going the other way on this. Certainly, Omer has more power in his hands, but both fighters prefer the ground. That is where Alers shines. Alers has been the much more active of the two recently, and that experience will allow him to survive on his feet until it hits the floor. Alers wins by second-round submission.

Chase: I have to side with Richard on this one. Although Omer might have some power, this will be a ground match-up and a very technical fight. Alers could pull off the quick submission. Let’s say it comes in the first round.

MW: Chris Camozzi (19-7) vs. Andrew Craig (9-2)

Wilcoxon: Chris Camozzi and Andrew Craig, two tough fighters who are not the best finishers or the most technical, meet in this one. This may be a loser-leaves-town fight, with Camozzi on a two-fight skid and Craig going 1-2 in his last three. For his height, Camozzi has been remarkably hittable throughout his career. His chin will probably get tested again in this one. But on the ground, he will have a big advantage. Craig does enough on the feet to edge out a close decision win.

Chase: I disagree. Camozzi is the much better fighter. He is much hungrier for this win, even though both men are coming off losses. Camozzi has the better experience, which will show when they meet inside the Octagon. Camozzi by decision.

DeRose: I, too, will give Camozzi the edge in this fight. He carries the experience edge (fights against Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Francis Carmont) and the advantage in the ground game. Craig has been surprisingly lackluster in his last two fights. In fact, the highlight of his last three outings came in a win over an aged and obviously deteriorating Chris Leben. Camozzi by decision.

MW: Thales Leites (22-4) vs. Trevor Smith (11-4)

DeRose: Despite Trevor Smith’s NCAA Division I wrestling skills, Thales Leites takes the edge in grappling between these two middleweights. His black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has been well showcased in the UFC, and he has beaten far superior talent. Leites is certainly a tough step up in competition for Smith. Leites gets the win by submission.

Chase: The wrestling is much better in Smith, but on the ground, you run into the danger that is Leites. His jiu-jitsu will be the deciding factor here, and it will be a clear mismatch of talent. Leites by submission, and an impressive one at that.

Wilcoxon: This is just a bad style match-up for Smith. He likes to go to the ground, but, unfortunately for him, that is where Leites lives and thrives. Leites has more experience against better fighters. He will end this fight early with a submission victory.

BW: Johnny Bedford (19-10-1) vs. Rani Yahya (19-8)

Chase: In a clash of bantamweights, Rani Yahya gets my nod over Johnny Bedford. Yahya, much like Thales Leites in the preceding bout, will benefit from the possession of a superior ground game. Yahya is going to submit Bedford and get back on the winning circuit. First-round submission win for Yahya.

Wilcoxon: This fight is a real style mismatch. Bedford is a jack of all trades, but a master of none offensively. Yahya is the opposite. He is a submission and grappling wizard. Bedford has lost nine fights via submission. The odds don’t look great for the former TUFer. Yahya gets the second-round submission.

DeRose: Bedford had a lot of potential coming off of The Ultimate Fighter based purely on how big he was for his division. All three of his UFC fights have ended in a stoppage—two in his favor, one against—but he hasn’t faced someone like Yahya just yet. Yahya has an excellent submission arsenal. Seeing as Bryan Caraway was able to put away Bedford with a submission, Yahya is more than capable of doing the same. Yahya by submission in the second.

HW: Daniel Omielanczuk (16-3-1) vs. Jared Rosholt (9-1)

Wilcoxon: The UFC is looking for a infusion of talent at heavyweight. It’s latest effort to that end comes in matching up two of its newer fighters. I feel like there are really only two endings for this fight: either Daniel Omielanczuk gets the stoppage or Jared Rosholt gets a decision victory. This is really a coin flip, but three rounds is a long time to survive, so I will go with Omielanczuk to score a late third-round knockout.

DeRose: It’s a risky bet to take a heavyweight going three rounds, and I certainly think both fighters are capable of ending this fight. Either guy could end it on the feet. With both newcomers looking to cement a place in the UFC’s heavyweight division, the fight will end early. Rosholt by knockout.

Chase: I have to disagree with Richard’s prediction. Rosholt is going to win by knockout, and he will do it early in the fight. Omielanczuk has some hands, but Rosholt’s hands will be better. Rosholt by knockout late in the first round or some time during the second frame.

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.