Inside the Cage Blog
Joe Rogan said it. Dana White has hinted at it. Twitter and social media are blowing up about it. Apparently, there is a big announcement headed to the UFC, focusing in on the women’s division.
What this groundbreaking news could be is anyone’s guess. Rumors are circulating that former Strikeforce champion Gina Carano is making a return to MMA. Others speculate that that UFC has signed unbeaten prospect Holly Holm while others are pining for the signing of Cristine “Cyborg” Santos. Whatever the announcement ends up being, it will be a big one for the UFC and MMA.
Why? Because it centers on Ronda Rousey, the current women’s bantamweight champion and star of the MMA world. In all likelihood, this announcement will feature the arrival of a new challenger or rival to Rousey, creating another opportunity to put women’s MMA at the forefront.
The Santos signing would be the biggest; “Cyborg” is perceived to be the only real threat to Rousey if she could make the 135-pound limit.
Before we get to that, the UFC returns with another international fight card streamed only on UFC Fight Pass for those fans in North America. Unlike last week’s card which started promptly at 6:30am from Macau, China; the main card begins at 3pm eastern and features the number one contender in the UFC’s Light Heavyweight Division
No. 1 Alexander Gustafsson (15-2) vs No. 11 Jimi Manuwa (14-0)
Gustafsson makes his return to the cage following an epic war versus champion Jon Jones at UFC 165 where he gave the champion everything he could handle before faltering late, losing a decision victory. It was one of those fights that some fans clamored for an immediate rematch, as Gustafsson was the first fighter to ever force Jones to make a comeback late to retain his title.
Instead of a rematch, Gustafsson gets a fight near his home soil in London, England against unbeaten striker Jimi Manuwa in a fight that is his to lose and should put him right back in a fight for the UFC Light Heavyweight Title.
He’s always been a powerful striker whose size and reach cause headaches for his opponents. What surprised most was the wrestling he showed versus Jones, taking the champion down several times throughout their fight. It’s obvious that Gustafsson has benefited from training with former All-American Phil Davis and former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz.
He’ll need it all against Manuwa, an unbeaten muay-thai kick boxer that is 3-0 in the UFC. He’s a dominating striker that has won 13 of his 14 fights via knockout. He’s incredibly strong for the division and the variety for which he attacks flusters most of his opponents.
Here is the catch. How good is Manuwa? Yes, he’s unbeaten both in the Octagon and in his MMA career. Yet, he has never faced any fighter with the talent, size and variety of skills that Gustafsson has. Plus, two of his three UFC victories ended in victory because his opponents, Cyrille Diabate and Ryan Jimmo suffered injury in the fights and were unable to continue.
It’s just too tall a task to ask.
My prediction, Gustaffsson via TKO (Rd 1)
No. 13 Michael Johnson (15-8) vs Melvin Guillard (48-13-3)
In a matchup of talented lightweights and former training partners, the streaking Johnson steps in on short notice to battle the explosive Guillard.
Both fighters are outstanding athletes that likely could have found success in another sport.
Johnson, who replaces Ross Pearson on the card, has won two fights in a row and seems to be finally living up to the hype that surrounded him during his stint on the Ultimate Fighter. Under the tutelage of famed Blackzillians striking coach Henry Hooft, Johnson outclassed Joe Lauzon in Lauzon’s hometown of Boston and then knocked out Gleison Tibau in his last UFC appearance.
Guillard has been up and down throughout his entire UFC career. Since winning 5-fights in a row in 2010-11, the “Young Assassin” has gone 2-4-0-1 since. He’s a brutalizing striker with lethal knees and his athleticism does make him difficult to be taken down.
Both Johnson and Guillard are susceptible to the submission; nine of Guillards 12 losses of come via submission. Johnson has been submitted six of his eight losses. Plus, as mentioned above, Guillard did train with Johnson in South Florida for a while.
I believe that Johnson is the better overall fighter, has improved in his career and should earn the victory.
My prediction, Johnson via decision
Brad Pickett (24-8) vs Neil Seery (13-9)
I’d like to know what the record is of MMA Fighters that compete in the UFC without a Wikipedia page. That's the scenario when Pickett makes his flyweight debut against UFC newcomer Serry.
Serry is a late replacement fighter for former top contender Ian McCall, who was set to welcome the former bantamweight Pickett to the 125-pound division. Instead, “One Punch” has the welcome mat ushered out by Seery, who has competed on the European scene and has won six of his last seven.
Pickett, who owns a victory over the current flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson has one punch KO power, hence the nickname. He’s extremely durable and his wrestling is extremely underrated.
This should be a walk in the park (or cage) for Pickett.
My prediction, Pickett via KO (Rd 1)
Gunnar Nelson (11-0) vs Omari Akhmedov (12-0
In a battle of two welterweight prospects, Nelson and Akmedov put their unblemished records on the line in the main card opener.
Nelson entered his UFC career with a bit more hype than Akmedov.
He is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt from Iceland who suffered both an MCL tear and survived a potential life threatening car accident to make his return in the Octagon. He uses his karate background in the standup, but prefers to take the fights to the ground where he’s earned seven of his eleven victories via submission. It has been since February of last year that he competed in the Octagon, so meeting a fellow prospect like Akhmedov makes sense at this point in his career.
Akhmedov is another one of those Russian Sambo fighters that invaded the UFC last year. He’s a big welterweight that also thrived in freestyle wrestling during his amateur career. He’ll be a tough out for anyone in the division.
However, fighting near his home, I think Nelson has this fight to win.
My prediction, Nelson via submission (Rd 2)
A week removed from an MMA week that included a standoff with police, marijuana and a gruesome injury to one of the sports top stars, the UFC returns to action with their face, superstar UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey headlining UFC 170 from Las Vegas.
The event is a monumental one for the UFC. This is the second event headlined by Rousey in a title fight, the first at UFC 157, which did over 450,000 Pay Per View buys. More importantly the main event marks the first time ever that two Olympic medalists meet in a fight; Rousey who won a bronze medal in judo at the 2008 Summer Olympic games and her opponent Sara McMann, who claimed a silver medal in wrestling at the 2004 Athens games.
Hoping to garner any interest that the 2014 Olympic Games has created, the UFC is expecting a banner night.
Now to the fights:
Ronda Rousey (8-0) vs No. 4 Sara McMann (7-0)
I know that my co-host on “Inside the Cage” Frank Zaffere is not a fan of Rousey. He’s not a fan of women’s MMA. Yet, it has become an integral part of the sport, the brand and the UFC. Rousey is the most captivating figure in the sport. With the recent injury to Anderson Silva and the departure of Georges St. Pierre, it is Rousey that has taken the throne of the UFC’s leader and face. She is one of those love em’/hate em’ athletes that forces you to have an opinion, for better or worse.
Her talent is undeniable. She’s unbeaten in MMA and only one of her eight career victories has not come in the first round, her last fight vs Miesh Tate which went to the third. All of the wins have come via arm bar, and she has continued to grow as a striker and grappler. Until someone proves they can stop her (especially the Armbar) Rousey is going to continue leading the charge for MMA. Plus the fact that UFC asked to step right into a training camp immediately following her victory over Tate in December. She’s also slated to appear in films like Fast & the Furious 7 and The Expendables 3 among others.
Many will argue that McMann will be her toughest challenger to date.
Fresh off her steamrolling of Sheila Gaff at UFC 159, McMann has been ushered into the title fight. Despite the similarity in records, McMann has far less “high-level” experience than Rousey. The wrestling credentials she brings in are of the highest variety and her top game is sensational. McMann is very strong for the weight class and her no nonsense and humble attitude are a perfect difference for the matchup with Rousey.
However, this is the first five-round fight she’s prepared for and Rousey is just on another level. She’ll be better on her feet and also come far more prepared with her footwork, timing and balance. I suspect that despite an initial push, Rousey should be able to have her way with McMann and remain unbeaten.
My prediction, Rousey via submission (Rd 2)
Daniel Cormier (13-0) vs Patrick Cummins (4-0)
From the most hyped matchup, we turn to the best storyline of the card. Cormier was originally supposed to make his light heavyweight debut against former champion Evans, but a knee injury forced “Suga” off the card and the UFC in search of a replacement opponent.
In fact, originally the UFC was going to remove Cormier from the card completely, but the former Olympian would have none of it, feeling that the strain he put on his body to make the 205 weight class, deserved competition this weekend. In steps Cummins, a former two-time All-American wrestler from Penn State who is making his UFC debut.
Here’s the background on Cummins. Apparently the former walk-on at Penn State was a training partner of Cormier’s back in 2004 when he was training for the Olympics, of which he finished fourth. The rumor mill is that he forced Cormier to cry during training, but “DC” as adamantly denied those allegations.
Last week, Cummins was working as a barista, unable to sign with the UFC (or any other promotion) because apparently no one wanted to fight him. He was fired from his job making coffee after taking a call from Dana White.
Probably a good thing, all of his victories have come in the first round, two via submission and two via knockout. He certainly is an athlete and posses knockout power in both hands.
Yet, against Cormier, he meets a Top 3 ranked heavyweight making his 205 debut; a man on a mission to meet rival Jon Jones inside the cage. He comes from one of the best camps in MMA, the American Kickboxing Academy, and his clinch game is some of the best in the sport. The biggest question (or favor) that Cummins could get is that the weight cut was so overwhelming that it has hurt Cormier’s cardio, forcing Cummins to look a taking the fight into later rounds.
Cormier has faced far greater competition in MMA and has the fortune of a full training camp under his belt. Despite it being a great Cinderella story and made for TV movie, I’m siding with DC
My prediction, Cormier via decision
No. 4 Rory MacDonald (15-2) vs No. 6 Demian Maia (18-5)
The most intriguing matchup on the card is between Top 6 welterweights MacDonald and Maia, both looking to get back on the winning track after losses in their last appearances.
MacDonald is the new-age mixed martial artist, focusing his amateur background on the sport of MMA as opposed to any one particular discipline. He was thought to be the next in line for a shot at the title until Robbie Lawler (who is now fighting for the title) derailed that. Yet, MacDonald is huge for the division, has an outstanding jab (learned from his training partner St. Pierre) and is well versed in every discipline available. He’ll have to work from distance to keep Maia at bay.
Why? Because Maia, who was on a three-fight win streak as a welterweight before being outworked by Jake Shields, will look to stick to him like glue.
Maia is considered the best jiu-jitsu practicer in the sport and at 170 pounds, is a beast for the division. That is where he’ll have the advantage and if he can close the distance and drag MacDonald to the ground, he’ll have a chance.
The Vegas odds makers heavily favor MacDonald, but I like the upset.
My prediction, Maia via decision
No. 15 Mike Pyle (25-9-1) vs TJ Waldburger (16-8)
Two scrappy welterweights also looking to get back on track meet at UFC 170 with the veteran Pyle meeting jiu-jitsu specialist Waldburger.
Pyle, who we last saw getting knocked out by Matt Brown at UFC on Fox, is well rounded and will be the better striker on Saturday night. Waldburger will want to do what he does best, get this fight to the ground to try and secure the submission.
I think Pyle is just too much.
My prediction, Pyle via TKO (Rd 3)
Robert Whittaker (12-3) vs Stephen Thompson (8-1)
In a showcase of renowned strikers, “Wonderboy” Thompson and Whittaker open up the card. Thompson came to the UFC with lots of hype, a 57-0 kickboxing record and a heritage to boot; his father is a well-known Karate instructor who began teaching his son karate at age three. His UFC career began with a glistening head kick KO of Dan Stittigen and has been followed up with victories over Nah-Shon Burrell and Chris Clements.
Whitaker is another level of striker, the welterweight winner of the Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes season who has gone 2-1 in his three-fight UFC career. Whitaker also comes from a karate background and is extremely difficult to put away.
Watch as two standup fighters contest on the ground, which should hold true in MMA. Thompson is better on the feet, but Whittaker is better everywhere else.
My prediction, Robert Whittaker via TKO (Rd 2)
The world of MMA took a massive turn this week and it wasn’t for the good. With the Olympics going on right now in Sochi, it almost resembled a speed skater crashing into a wall. Perhaps Shaun White’s failed attempt at a third consecutive gold medal in the half pipe is a more practical analogy. Shocking. Uncommon. Yet, forgettable in two-weeks.
Hopefully that will be the case with the now former UFC Light Heavyweight Thiago Silva, current women’s bantamweight Jessica Eye or TUF contestant Tyler Manawaroa. Silva, who allegedly held up his ex-wife at gunpoint and threatened to start shooting up a jiu-jitsu school in South Florida, is current in jail awaiting trial. Eye blantlently lied about testing positive for marijuana post her UFC debut win against Sara Kaufman, yet is still employed by the UFC and is fighting Alexis Davis in two weeks at UFC 170. Manawaroa, a 19-year old contestant on the Ultimate Fight Nations series is apparently never going to have a job with the UFC for a racist tweet he made two years ago, as a 17-year old.
Couple that with the recent injury to Rashad Evans, forcing him off next week’s UFC 170 card, and we can say it was not a good week for the UFC and MMA.
But, as we’ve come to learn not only with Dana White and the UFC, but also in all sports, this time will pass. Nick Diaz eventually found is way back to headlining pay per views, Nate Marquardt is back on the UFC roster and even Chael Sonnen, who faced federal charges several years ago, is a mainstay.
With that being said, the UFC returns to action after a “Bye” week with UFC Fight Night 36 from Brazil, with a lot of middleweight title implications in place.
Now to the fights:
No. 4 Lyoto Machida (20-4) vs Gegard Mousasi (34-3-2)
The main event features two former light heavyweight champions looking for the opportunity at middleweight gold with Machida making his second appearance at 185, Mousasi making his first in the UFC.
Most MMA fans can think back to the “Machida” era when Lyoto, this karate expert that drank his own urine, went unbeaten in MMA all the way to knocking out Rashad Evans and claiming the UFC Light Heavyweight Title. Machida stumbled since winning gold at 205, going 4-4 over his last eight fights. But that is mostly against top competition like Jon Jones, Shogun Rua and Rampage Jackson.
He moved down in weight and made a spectacular debut against Mark Munoz in October, knocking the former Oklahoma State wrestler out with a head kick. Machida was always an undersized, light heavyweight and his karate counter striking style is very difficult to deal with. Machida uses timing and distance better than most in the sport and if you can take him to ground (which is one of the most difficult things to do), he is a black belt in jiu-jitsu.
White claimed that with a win (and in spectacular fashion) Machida could meet the winner of the upcoming Chris Weidman-Vitor Belfort title fight. That wouldn’t be a problem except for overlooking Mousasi.
“The Dreamcather” won the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Title, and is one of the most accomplished fighters that was late to the party in getting to the UFC roster. His debut in the Octagon was supposed to be against 205 lb title challenger Alexander Gustafsson, but an injury forced The Swede’s off and his unknown sparring partner Ilir Latifi into action; it ended in a unanimous decision victory for Mousasi.
He posses an excellent combination of boxing, kickboxing and judo and has fought for every major promotion in the world. He owns victories over Jacare Souza, Mark Hunt and Babalu Sobral. The issue is that he hasn’t come close to the level of competition that Machida has seen and most pundits (including myself) thought was going to be blitzed by Gustafsson had they fought.
Machida is too difficult a puzzle to solve and fighting in Brazil, is a killer.
My prediction, Machida via TKO (Rd 2)
No. 3 Jacare Souza (19-3) vs No. 8 Francis Carmont (22-7)
More interest for me is in the co-main event with Souza and Carmont, two middleweight fighters actually ranked in the Top Ten. With Mousasi not having a 185-pound fight yet in the UFC, he’s not there. Therefore, the Brazilian Jacare known as the “Alligator” meeting Carmont, who has won 6-fights in a row and is on the verge of being the unknown title challenger at middleweight, could make more sense as challenger to the Weidman-Belfort winner.
Souza has been on a tear. Since a disappointing loss to Luke Rockhold in Strikeforce, Souza has won five fights in a row, four of them in the first round and two of them by brutal knockout. This all from the man many consider to be the best ground specialist in MMA. Souza is so confident on the ground that he’s exclusively worked on his feet and it’s paid off. He’s a multiple World Jiu-Jitsu Champion Gold medalist and world champion in submission grappling.
Carmont is an interesting case. Here’s a teammate of former welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre that has won all six of his fights in the UFC. Like Machida, he’s been a difficult puzzle to solve and impossible to takedown. He has size for the division and uncanny knack to keep the fight where he wants, typically on the feet. A win over Souza would be the biggest of his career and force his way into the title picture.
Unfortunately a trip to Brazil against Jacare is a bit too much for the one known as “Limitless”.
My prediction, Souza via submission (Rd 1)
Erick Silva (15-4) vs Takenori Sato (17-8)
In other action on the fight card, we get the typical filter of Brazilians vs foreigners. In welterweight, blitzkrieg Silva welcomes Sato to the UFC.
Silva, who at a time was the next big thing coming out of Brazil, has been up and down in his UFC career, splitting his six contests (although one was a DQ that should have clearly been a KO win). He is a blitzing striker and uses the brutal combination of power and quickness to overwhelm his opponents; just ask Charlie Brenneman. His last time out, he was cruising against Dong Hyun-Kim before getting caught and knocked out on his feet.
Sato enters the UFC after conquering the welterweight division in Pancrase. He comes from a catch wrestling a judo background, but taking this fight on short notice and going to Brazil, it’s an uphill climb.
My prediction, Silva via TKO (Rd 1)
Viscardi Andrade (15-6) vs Nico Musoke (11-2)
Also in the card is another welterweight clash between former Ultimate Fighter Brazil “Bad Boy” Andrade vs Musoke, who made his UFC debut on short notice with a win over Alessio Sakara.
Not much has been seen by either of these fighters. Andrade lost in the quarterfinals of the Ultimate Fighter, but is a long welterweight that showcased knockout power with a TKO victory in his UFC debut. Musoke is a well-rounded wrestler who trains with the aforementioned Gustafsson.
If anyone of the foreigners is going into Brazil with the upset, it will be Musoke
My prediction, Musoke via decision.
Charles Oliveira (16-4) vs Andy Ogle (9-3)
In the fight card opener, submission specialist Oliveira takes own British banger Ogle. Ogle will have the advantage on the feet while Oliveira, who is a black belt on the ground, has submitted some of the best in the game.
I think he does it again.
My prediction, Oliveira via submission (RD 1)
There is so much MMA news, I don’t know where to begin. So, I just will:
Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva allegedly got into a brawl during filming of the Ultimate Fighter Brazil Season 3, becoming the first pair of coaches to actually engage in a fistfight during filming.
UFC President Dana White made several announcements this week, indicating that he thinks former UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva will indeed return to the Octagon, that he hopes TRT usage is taken out of the sport, that the announced Chris Weidman vs Vitor Belfort fight is slated for July 4th weekend, plus that a win by featherweight champion Jose Aldo on Saturday could propel him to a super fight against lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.
And why not? Traditionally the UFC puts on a huge card during Super Bowl weekend, this year being no exception, yet this is the first time the UFC is in the same city as the NFL.
Sure, some NFL representatives did not take to the UFC stealing a bit of the thunder of the big game during radio row and media day, but you can’t blame the UFC for riding the coattails of the most popular sporting event of the year and making these major news announcements.
So, with UFC 169 being such a huge card, let’s get to the fights.
Renan Barao (33-1) vs No. 1 Urijah Faber (30-6)
The main event features a rematch between current UFC Bantamweight Champion Barao against the greatest lighter weight fighter of all-time, Urijah Faber. This fight only takes place because Barao’s original opponent, Dominick Cruz suffered yet another injury during training and was stripped of his bantamweight title.
Joe Rogan says it best, “Renan Barao is a monster.” The Brazilian has not lost in 32 straight fights, including going 8-0 under the WEC/UFC banner. He has run rough shot over everyone in his path, using his fine combination of submission skills and striking. Of those eight wins, five have come via stoppage. And the other three, dominating performances.
It’s true that Faber has a great shot to dethrone Barao as the 135-pound kingpin. The “California Kid’ is coming of a “Fighter of the Year” 2013 when he won four in a row, three of the four wins coming by stoppage; add to the fact that he’s faced Barao before (and his teammate Jose Aldo) with knowledge of what to expect from the Brazilian.
Here’s the thing, Faber has lost the last five title fights he’s been in. Yet, he keeps getting opportunities because he’s that good. He’ll have to use his speed and distance to keep Barao at bay, avoiding the dreaded leg kicks whenever possible. Plus, Faber (along with the rest of the Team Alpha Male Team) will have even more tutelage under Duane Ludwig as his new striking coach since the last time he met Barao. For the champion, he should be comfortable wherever the fight goes and (although I'm not in favor of it), play it safe against Faber.
My prediction, Barao via decision:
Jose Aldo (23-1) vs No. 2 Ricardo Lamas (13-2)
In the co-main event, Barao’s teammate and consensus pound for pound number two fighter in the world Jose Aldo meets another challenger in Lamas. Like his teammate, what Aldo has done in MMA is remarkable. 16 straight wins for the champion including five consecutive title defenses as the UFC Featherweight Champion.
It seems that Aldo is always one fight away from a huge payday, whether it be in a super-fight against another champion or his eventual (and much rumored) move to the 155-pound division on a full time basis.
Whatever the case may be, Aldo deserves all the accolades he is receiving. His striking, especially the leg kicks, are some of the best in MMA and his submission game is top notch. He’s also an explosive fighter, as seen with his knees in his knockout victories over Cub Swanson and Chad Mendes. He also has some of the best takedown defense in the game, something that could prove to be a challenge for the wrestler in Lamas. The one (and only) knock on Aldo is his tendency to gas out in the later rounds. He’s very similar to BJ Penn in that regard; Penn is consequently training with Aldo and Barao for his upcoming fight with Frankie Edgar.
Lamas is a great story. Training down with the Miami Masters and hailing from my hometown of Chicago, Lamas has won four fights in a row to earn the right to challenge Aldo, the last a brutalizing of Erik Koch last January at UFC on Fox. He’s an explosive wrestler with knockout power who wrestled an All-American level at Division III Elmhurst College.
I won’t say that Lamas has absolutely no chance in this fight. That wouldn’t be true in MMA in general. To win, Lamas will have to take Aldo into deep waters to snatch the upset. I’m talking deep, deep waters, surviving the blitzkrieg attach and hoping the championship rounds will allow him to steal a fight.
I don’t see it happening. Aldo is a beast and should coast to a win.
My prediction, Aldo via TKO (Rd 2)
No. 10 Frank Mir (16-8) vs No. 9 Alistair Overeem (36-13)
In the evenings other featured contest, former champions Frank Mir and Alistair Overeem fight in a conventional WWF “Loser Leaves Town” Match. Mir has lost three in a row for the first time in his career, two of them via knockout while Overeem has lost two in a row, both by knockout and both after he was dominating fights (against Bigfoot Silva and Travis Browne).
In an age of the sport where big contracts are cast aside, both Overeem and Mir were at one time the great heavyweights of the sport and are still being paid handsomely for it. Whatever its skill, age, or perhaps in Overeem's case a change in their training, the division has passed them by. Yet, I won’t doubt either of their skills. Mir is great in the clinch (probably his shot at beating Overeem) and is the greatest heavyweight submission fighter in the sports history. His performances against Antonio Noguiera are something legends are made of and he’ll have a distinct advantage on the ground against the “Demolition Man”.
Overeem is one of the best strikers in the game and he should be on a 13-fight win streak headed into this fight instead of a two-fight losing streak. His performances against Silva and Browne were dominating, until he gassed, disrespected and get caught by both guys. But that is MMA.
Overeem switched from training in South Florida with the Blackzillians and moved his camp back to Thailand. He looked slimmed down in the UFC 169 Countdown videos and at the weigh-ins. His goal will be to go for the kill early and I think the knees to the body will be key.
My prediction, Overeem via TKO (Rd 1)
No. 5 John Lineker (23-6) vs No. 7 Ali Bagautinov (12-2)
UFC Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson needs challengers, and he might have one with the winner of this fight. Lineker, who finally made weight as a flyweight, comes in the heels of a four fight win streak, yet two of those fights were at a catch weight of 129 pounds. He struggled again to make weight, needing an extra hour to shed a pound on Friday.
Still, Lineker is a blitzing Brazilian with knockout power and the skillset to keep fights on their fight. That will be challenged against Bagautinov, who is another one of those Russian sambo fighters (an Olympic Gold Medalist) on a hot streak in the UFC with great takedowns
This fight is a virtual pickem, but I’m siding with the Brazilian. I think his power will frustrate Bagautinov and throw him off his game.
My prediction, Lineker via decision.
Jamie Varner (21-6-1) vs Abel Trujilo (11-5)
The fight card opens up with entertaining lightweights Varner and Trujilo. Varner is the former WEC Lightweight Champion possessing knockout power and good wrestling. Trujilo is on a tear, showcasing explosiveness and power. He’s settle down with the Blackzillians in Florida and maybe I'm biased towards the multiple “Inside the Cage” guest, but his power, speed and precision should overpower Varner.
I have the upset. My prediction, Trujilo via TKO (Rd 2)
How can MMA not be the top of mind this week? Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman did his best WWE impression following his team’s 23-17 victory of the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, turning the video viral. His callout of Niners receiver Michael Crabtree, a player he’s developed a rivalry with, shear emotion and passion as he outperformed his rival when it matters most.
So, we ask the question, was it in bad taste? Does it relate to UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey refusing to shake the hand of Miesha Tate after her victory at UFC 168?
There certainly is some correlation, but not in the negative. I will not bash Sherman nor Rousey for their actions. They were caught in the moment and have every right to do or say what they please.
Plus, like Rousey, who is has become one of the most polarizing figures in MMA, Sherman is the talk of the Super Bowl. Our athletes should not be ostracized for these actions, it makes the fight game (or sports) more interesting.
We’ll see at the end of next month when Rousey headlines her second UFC Card.
Shifting our focus to this weekend, the UFC returns this Saturday night with another edition of UFC on Fox, headlined by a critical lightweight fight.
Now to the fights:
No. 1 Benson Henderson (19-3) vs No. 4 Josh Thomson (20-5)
The former lightweight champion Benson Henderson returns to the Octagon for the first time after losing his title belt to Anthony Pettis at UFC 164, taking on another former champion (from Strikeforce) in the previous top contender Josh Thomson.
Henderson needs this fight. His transition from the WEC to the UFC was a successful one, claiming the UFC lightweight title from Frankie Edgar and successfully defending the belt against Edgar, Nate Diaz . Henderson is a beast for the lightweight division and has showcased outstanding striking, grappling and submission skills throughout his UFC tenure. But, the los (and how quickly it came) causes concern for a future rematch.
Still “Bendo” remains one of the most difficult fighters in MMA to figure out and stop. He fights at a relenting pace and typically dictates the direction every one of his fights go. A win vs Thomson would once again position Smooth with an opportunity to become UFC champion.
That same opportunity is available for Thomson. He was briefly linked to a title shot, but instead finds himself in a contender fight that could put his career finally towards the top lightweights. His injuries have prevented that thus far, but his UFC return put everyone on notice, becoming the first man to stop Nate Diaz due to strikes with a head kick KO of the former title challenger.
Thomson possesses great striking and wrestling game, plus executes game plans before and during his fights. His fights with Gilbert Melendez in Strikeforce are classics and tutelage from the American Kickboxing Academy make him a tough out for anyone.
The question on Saturday night is who will dictate the fight, and early. Both guys are fast starters and neither one essentially showcases a weakness. When Thomson has lost, he’s lost because of the striking battle. For Henderson, it’s one in the same and a true weakness has only been displayed then the fight’s been brought to him.
I have a feeling about Thomson, but my gut goes with Henderson for being the better all-around fighter.
My prediction, Henderson via decision.
No. 8 Stipe Miocic (10-1) vs No. 12 Gabriel Gonzaga (16-7)
Top 12 heavyweights collide in the co-main event with knockout artist Stipe Miocic taking on Brazilian jiu-jitsu blackbelt Gonzaga.
Miocic came into the UFC with tons of hype from his amateur career. The former baseball star and golden gloves champion has seven knockouts in his MMA career and showed that he is ready for a step up in competition following a unanimous decision beat down of Roy Nelson.
Gonzaga has resurrected his career following a brief stint away from the UFC. This is a fighter that despite his skills on the ground, likes to knock guys out. Since he returned to the Octagon, he has knocked out Shawn Jordan and Dave Herman and submitted Ben Rothwell. His one slipup was against Travis Browne, who is fighting for a shot at the title at the next UFC on Fox.
Here’s the fun side story of this fight. Miocic, of Croatian background, grew up idolizing MMA legend Mirko CroCop. Gonzaga put himself on the MMA map with one of the most brutal KO”s ever recorded in the octagon, a head kick KO of CroCop back at UFC 70.
Stipe will have the advantage on the feet with his boxing skills, plus has the wrestling background to keep the fight there. If he does, he should cruise to the win. Gonzaga, despite his tendency to the put the lights out of his opponents, will look to take this fight to the ground.
I think that athleticism and hand speed will be too much for Gozaga.
My prediction, Miocic via TKO (Rd 2).
No. 8 Donald Cerrone (21-6) vs Adriano Martins (25-6)
If you don’t like “Cowboy” Cerrone, I don’t know what is wrong with you. Cerrone is the athlete you like to cheer for, home team or not; entertaining, talented and exciting. The longtime veteran and former lightweight title challenger recently submitted Brazilian jiu-jitsu blackbelt Evan Dunham and is 4-2 in his last six fights. He possesses devaistaiting kicks, knockout power and the toughness that’s earned him ten post fight bonuses throughout his career.
Martins story has yet to be written despite 31 professional fights. What we know is that he is also a Brazilian jiu-jitsu blackbelt whose notable wins include former UFC veteran Jorge Gurgel and a submission of the night winner vs Daron Cruickshank who is fighting on tonight’s undercard. Cerrone will be a dramatic step up in competition.
Martins has never seen the power and talent of a beast like Cerrone. That will overwhelm him.
My prediction, Cerrone via TKO (Rd 1).
No. 10 Darren Elkins (18-3) vs Jeremy Stephens (22-9)
In a fight that could easily win one if not two post fight bonuses, entertaining featherweights Elkins and Stephens open the card. Elkins is a talented featherweight that has only faltered against top of the division talent whereas Stephens is looking nasty at 145 following a knockout victory in Brazil against Rony Jason. He went 5-6 at lightweight, so the drop in weight is looking like a smart choice.
Elkins is a strong featherweight who also was a lightweight, going 6-1 since the drop to 145, his lone loss to former title challenger (and likely again) Chad Mendes.
What happens? Either Stephens rolls over Elkins like Mendes did and should warrant title contention or Elkins will control Stephens throughout the fight and win the decision.
My prediction, Elkins via decision.
We’ve now had three weeks to contemplate what happened at the end of 2013. During the last two months, the MMA world perhaps lost two of the greatest of all time, Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre. Silva broke his leg in his rematch bid against Chris Weidman, potentially sidelining the former champion for six to nine months, if not ever while the month before, GSP abruptly asked for time off following a narrow decision victory over Johny Hendricks at UFC 167.
Silva has hinted a comeback following rehab and the UFC have seemingly cut ties with St. Pierre. No crystal ball can predict if and when either superstar will return.
On the plus side, Travis Browne has forced his way into the heavyweight title picture, now lining up for a co-main event slot against Fabricio Werdum at UFC on Fox 11 in Orlando, Ronda Rousey is a budding star and will return to the Octagon quickly on February 22nd in a headlining bout against Sarah McMann at UFC 170, while nobody on the lightweight roster wants to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov.
This week the UFC returns Wednesday with UFC Fight Night live from Atlanta.
Now the fights:
No. 6 Luke Rockhold (10-2) vs No. 10 Costas Philippou (12-3)
Both Rockhold and Philippou are coming off of high-profile losses their last time in the Octagon and are in much need of a win. Rockhold is the former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion that was on the receiving end of one of Vitor Belfort’s highlight reel knockouts of 2013 while Philippou put up a dud against Francis Carmont, ending his 5-fight win streak.
Rockhold’s background comes in both wrestling and jiu-jitsu and is one of the most athletically gifted fighters in the sport of MMA.
On his way to winning the Strikeforce title, he got a unanimous decision victory over Jacare Souza and knocked out Keith Jardine. His grappling is second to none and his size causes a lot of problems for his opponents.
Philippou is an interesting story. He’s a fighter that was unheralded entering the UFC, but if you ask former coaches Ray Longo and Matt Serra, Costas is a talent on the verge of stardom. However, when he started to have success in the cage utilizing his bruising boxing skills, he opted to switch training camps eyeing an eventual matchup with current champion Chris Weidman. He is extremely plodding when he fights and utilizes strength to push his opponents against the cage looking to dirty box. His most excellent fight was against Tim Boetsch, knocking him out last December.
This matchup, like most in MMA, comes down to who is going to use their skills better when the moment arrives. Rockhold is an overwhelming favorite and should be, his skill set is just better than Philippou. He should utilize his athleticism to keep distance from the dirty boxing of Costas will look to employ and should get the finish in the second round.
My prediction, Luke Rockhold vs TKO (RD 2).
No. 14 Lorenz Larkin (14-1) vs Brad Tavares (11-2)
A blitzing striker in Larkin meets another one in Tavares in a fight critical for both men looking to crack into the top ten of the UFC Middleweight division
Larkin has speed, agility and range for which when he comes on the attack, cannot be overlooked. He has tree trunks for legs and will look to beat up Tavares from that standpoint, using a variety of leg kicks and head kicks. His record is respectable, the lone loss was a controversial decision to Francis Carmont; a fight many believe that Larkin won.
Tavares is a veteran of the Ultimate Fighter Reality series and boasts a 7-1 record in the Octagon, his lone loss coming at the ends of wrestler Aaron Simpson.
If you’ve ever seen a dog snatch onto a bone, that’s the fighting style Tavares brings. He’s a rabid beast inside the cage and has a variety of skills that benefit him. UFC President Dana White thinks that Tavares can be a star in the Octagon. I agree and think Wednesday night is his coming out party. His overall skills set for wrestling, jiu-jitus and striking, near the level of Larkin, will be enough.
My prediction, Tavares via unanimous decision.
No. 7 TJ Dillashaw (9-2) vs No. 8 Mike Easton (13-3)
The bantamweight division is wide open right now, which means that a win by either Dillashaw or Easton is uber important to the progression of their careers. In fact, in could be argued that Dillashaw was on the verge of a title shot until he lost a controversial decision to Raphael Assuncao in Brazil.
He’s a gifted athlete and wrestler training with Team Alpha Male and the speed by which he fights goes hand in hand with the success that he’s had. The issue for TJ is how good is he; the four wins he’s had in the UFC are against opponents nowhere near the top ten. His two losses, to Assuncao and in the Ultimate Fighter Finale against John Dodson, were indeed top-flight competition.
Easton is a big and powerful bantamweight, so appropriately he is named “The Hulk”. Like Dillashaw, all of Easton’s wins have come against fighters not in the Top Ten and his losses have come against the aforementioned Assuncao and Brad Pickett. Easton will want to stand and trade with Dillashaw and if he can, secure the mount looking to unleash some heavy ground & pound.
When he’s been able to dictate where the fight goes, Easton has tremendous amounts of success. I don’t think he’ll be able to keep up with the pace and speed of Dillishaw. The only chance for Easton is to catch him early in the fight.
My prediction, Dillashaw via decision.
Yoel Romero (6-1) vs Derek Brunson (11-2)
Some fighters you just wonder how they cut weight. Maybe it’s the Cubans because Hector Lombard has the same body type and they both train at the American Top Team. Romero is an Olympic Silver Medalist in freestyle wrestling perhaps best known for defeating Cael Sanderson on three separate occasions. His two wins in the UFC have both come via brutal knockout all while because his wrestling acumen helped him keep the fight on the feet. Both of them were spectacular.
He’ll get tested against Brunson, who is a former Division 2 All-American that trains at Jackson Submission Fighting. Brunson is no stranger to big moments; he made his UFC debut against Chris Leben on short notice and outworked the longtime UFC veteran on his way to a unanimous decision victory. He also is highly skilled on his feet, four of his eleven wins coming by knockout.
This fight has the potential for being fight of the night. Both guys are extremely skilled wrestlers and both have knockout power. They both come from great gyms.
For this one, I think “the Soldier of God” Romero gets it done.
My prediction, Romero via KO (Rd 2).
No. 4 John Moraga (13-2) vs No. 15 Dustin Ortiz (12-2)
Flyweights collide on the main card when former title challenger Moraga meets the upstart Ortiz. Moraga comes from a great background, a two time All-American freestyle wrestler from Arizona State. He cemented himself into the flyweight title picture with two UFC wins over Ulysses Gomez via KO and Chris Cariaso via submission. However, when he met Demetrious Johnson for the title, he was dominated and ended up losing via submission in the fifth ground.
Several times in that title fight, Moraga hurt Johnson. In the end, Johnsons’ speed and wrestling did Moraga.
Now he gets his first crack back in the Octagon against Ortiz, a young budding star that the UFC has big things planned for, if he’s successful. And why not? He trains at Roufusport, which is current home to UFC Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis and stalwarts Ben Askren, Sergio Pettis and Erik Koch. Plus, Ortiz Mexican heritage could be another selling point to the UFC’s eventual debut in Mexico.
He possesses knockout power, tremendous recovery skills and fights with tons of heart.
I think that Moraga (despite his talent) is highly overrated and I like Ortiz with the upset.
My prediction, Ortiz via submission (Rd 3).
Cole Miller (20-8) vs Sam Sicilla (12-3)
The evening starts with featherweight Cole Miller and Sam Sicilla. It’s a classic submission ace vs striker battle. Miller is the veteran, having fought 15 times in the Octagon compared to the four of Sicilla. Miller is long and rangy and will fight at distance, only closing when he take Sicilla to the ground.
In contrast, Sicilla will look to strike and land a big power shot.
I’m going t be selfish here and pick (and root) for Miller, only because he’s had a war of words with rising featherweight Connor McGregor and I’d like to see them throw down.
My prediction, Miller via submission (Rd 2).