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UFC Fight Night: Swanson vs. Lobov predictions

Cub Swanson, left, hopes to continue his rise up the featherweight ranks Saturday against Artem Lobov. Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The UFC is headed to Nashville's Bridgestone Arena on Saturday, with a featherweight main event between Cub Swanson and Artem Lobov.

The matchup caught many by surprise when it was first announced, as Swanson is coming off a thrilling win against Doo Ho Choi in December and is highly ranked. Lobov is 2-2 overall in the UFC.

It's a "stay-busy" kind of fight for Swanson, 33, and a chance to headline an event. For Lobov, it's an opportunity to score what would easily be the biggest win of his career.

Let's take a closer look at this weekend's UFC Fight Night event with MMA analyst Brett Okamoto's predictions.

Cub Swanson (24-7) vs. Artem Lobov (13-12-1)

Featherweight
Odds: Swanson -700; Lobov +500

Breakdown: As you might have heard by now, this is sort of a weird main event.

Maybe not quite indefensibly bad weird. But definitely odd. Swanson is a tried-and-true featherweight stud. One of the best in the world. Lobov is a career .500 hitter, against middling opposition; not someone you picture headlining a UFC event.

In Lobov's defense, he's coming off the best performance of his professional career, a three-round unanimous decision over Teruto Ishihara in November. Ishihara isn't a perfect featherweight by any means, but Lobov completely had his way in Northern Ireland. He kicked out Ishihara's lead leg with regularity, froze him with steady feints and countered with the right hand beautifully all night.

Plenty of observers will sarcastically tell you Lobov's best attribute is he is friends and longtime training partners with UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor. They'll also tell you his style is set to mimic McGregor, which isn't entirely untrue. Lobov's upright stance, hands down, pressure-counter style does borrow heavily from his SBG Ireland stablemate. And that does present some problems.

Lobov's style can lend itself to getting hit, and he sometimes falls in love with throwing single, power counters. The same observations could be made about McGregor, but the one massive difference is that McGregor carries that unearthly power. McGregor is a knockout artist, whereas Lobov has only four KO finishes in his career. He has been forced to go the distance far more often than his famous teammate, and as he tires, he's not hard to find.

A five-round fight favors Swanson, who is a naturally lean, high-pace featherweight with no history of gassing out. He's one of the most creative strikers in the game, and can be very awkward to deal with in the pocket. When he finds his groove -- and it's quite obvious when it happens -- few mixed martial artists are more entertaining and unpredictable.

If there is one area for Lobov supporters to grasp onto, it's that Swanson will get drunkenly wild. And as much as Lobov has not earned the title of "elite featherweight" yet, the timing of his counter-striking is genuinely great. If Swanson goes off-roading and starts throwing flashy combinations out of a Jet Li movie, it's not unreasonable to think Lobov could lay into him with a full powered counter right.

Swanson is not an overwhelming wrestler, but he's got good instincts -- especially in chaos. Opponents will forget completely about his submission skills in a firefight, and Swanson will surprise them with a takedown. It's worth noting he has 15 finishes, and a healthy seven of those have come via submission. Lobov remains a work in progress off his back.

Prediction: Swanson via TKO, fourth round.

Diego Sanchez (27-9) vs. Al Iaquinta (12-3-1)
Lightweight

Sanchez is bringing all heart, as usual. Iaquinta is coming off of a two-year layoff, but let's not forget he was on a four-fight winning streak that included a victory over Jorge Masvidal. How much will the time off effect him?

Prediction: Iaquinta via decision.


Ovince St. Preux (19-10) vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima (15-4-1)
Light heavyweight

St. Preux has not looked good during a 1-4 skid, and it feels as if this slide is really starting to snowball. Perhaps a home game will snap the Knoxville, Tennessee native out of his funk.

Prediction: St. Preux via submission, first round


Joe Lauzon (27-12) vs. Steven Ray (20-6)
Lightweight

Is it the talented 27-year-old Ray's time to shine? Or does Lauzon have too many tricks up his veteran sleeve? Ray is a terrific athlete with good scrambling ability, but Lauzon is so clever. Interesting matchup.

Prediction: Lauzon via submission, second round.


Jake Ellenberger (31-12) vs. Mike Perry (9-1)
Welterweight

Ellenberger is far more experienced and has wrestling in his back pocket, but he also has been knocked out three times in three years. And Platinum Perry doesn't throw softly.

Prediction: Perry via TKO, second round.