Category Archives: Fight Preview

One Punch: Dan Henderson’s Most Important Fight

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Tonight’s UFC Fight Night 32 will put two of mixed martial arts’s biggest icons: Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort against Dan “Hendo” Henderson, a rematch from their Pride fight in 2006. Let’s state the obvious that this fight is a must win for both fighters especially since both are still as dangerous as any young gun and are still vying for a title shot. But for Hendo, this is do or die. This is his most important fight. He has to beat Vitor Belfort. His entire career depends on it.

Divergent Paths

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Both Hendo and Belfort have a combined 29 knockout wins in their careers. All of Belfort’s wins in the UFC have come via finish. That’s right. Out of the 12 UFC opponents he has beaten, he has submitted two and knocked out ten. The Phenom has looked phenomenal, excuse the bad pun, as of late. Thank a little TRT exemption – but his last two wins, both spectacular finishes against middleweight contenders, Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold means he’s on a path of destruction back to contendership (listed #2 ranked middleweight by UFC.com).

Hendo in contrast has lost his last two fights by split decision to former light heavyweight champions, Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida. A lot of the naysayers may think Hendo’s on a downtrend and retirement may be in the horizon but Hendo stated he has no plans of and wants to fight for at least two more years. That’s plenty of time to get back into title contention.

Before Hendo lost his last two fights, he was Jon Jones’s next opponent until his injury infamously made history by cancelling the first ever UFC 151. This and being on a two-fight losing streak pretty much has Hendo on the back end of a short line of contenders for another shot. But one punch can change everything. One knockout can change Hendo’s fortunes for good. But he has to be the one pulling it off.

Turning Back Time: 2011

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Hendo is only two years removed from a magnificent 2011, which was arguably his greatest year since his Pride days. In 2011, Hendo knocked out highly-touted Black House prodigy, Rafael “Feijao” Calvacante to win the Strikeforce light heavyweight championship. He followed this up with come-from-behind knockout of the legendary Fedor Emelianenko, the first time the great Russian has been felled mid-fight by strikes.

And as an encore to the year, Hendo engaged Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in what many pundits and fans alike have called one of the greatest fights in MMA history. He would win the war by unanimous decision.

Hendo would go 3-0 for the year, which would earn him the aforementioned title shot against Jones. But it’s worth noting that his wins have come with asterisks. Cavalcante as highly regarded as he was isn’t a top ten light heavyweight at least not in the UFC. Fedor was on the downswing of his career coming off of two losses and several fight metrics had him losing to Rua.

TRT or Retirement?

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Since his injury in 2012 and bowing out of the title fight, Hendo just has not looked the same. He certainly didn’t seem as explosive in both his fights against Rashad and Machida and has looked slower and more sluggish. Being permitted a TRT exemption isn’t good news, it’s more concerning. But should Hendo decide to undergo it, would it make a big difference?

TRT users indeed report “increased alertness and well-being, increase in lean muscle mass and concomitant decrease in body fat” (source: Gan EH, “A UK Epidemic of Testosterone Prescribing 2001-2010) . It has certainly helped the resurgent Vitor Belfort as he has looked like a new man, arguably at his best ever since he’s fought professionally. It’s also helped Chael Sonnen as he submitted Rua within just a round. But it didn’t really help either man against Jon Jones.

A reinvigorated Hendo could definitely end up like Vitor Belfort. There’s no guarantee but should Hendo lose to Belfort, and should he lose badly (as in first T/KO loss), maybe retirement is a better path?

Does Hendo want to fade away like other greats before him: Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Rampage Jackson and the abovementioned Fedor Emelianenko?

Hendo is a man of great pride and he has aged gracefully. I’m sure he as well as any of his fans believe he’s capable of putting on even more fights but what if he isn’t? As a Hendo fan, I would hate to see him get trashed on his way out of MMA.

One Punch

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One punch. Sometimes that’s all it takes to end a fight. And it can happen at any moment against anyone. It happened to Anderson Silva against Chris Weidman, the greatest mixed martial artist of his time flattened by a punch. Hendo and Belfort are both familiar with the power both possess. Whether it is Hendo who uncorks an “H Bomb” and floors Belfort or the Phenom finally accomplishes what over 30 fighters couldn’t and that is to stop Hendo in his tracks with punches (or a kick).

If Belfort loses, he’d be slightly derailed from his hopes of another title shot (since the fight is taking place at light heavyweight, he will still be technically unbeaten at middleweight since losing to Anderson Silva). But if Hendo loses, this could put him on the verge like what Frank Mir is currently facing.

If Hendo wins however and if he does so in spectacular fashion, he’ll be back in the hunt since the only men who have beaten Belfort in the UFC are or will be in the Hall of Fame. One punch could change Hendo’s fortunes: back in title contention or one step closer to retirement or the purgatory of the gatekeeper status.

As such, this would be Hendo’s most important match. It isn’t for a title. It isn’t of the same magnitude as the Fedor or Anderson Silva fight and it likely isn’t Hendo’s last. But it could very well be one that would define his legacy. One punch: Hendo goes back on the road to the title… or the road to the end.

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The Fight of the Year You (Probably) Didn’t Watch

November 19, 2011

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Two men engaged in one of the greatest fights in combat sports history. Both men traded blows in a back-and-forth tilt that left both exhausted, bloodied but not broken.  It wasn’t only the Fight of the Night, but the Fight of the Year. And maybe the Fight of the Decade. And only 269,000 people got to see it.

No, I’m not talking about the legendary Dan Henderson – Mauricio “Shogun” Rua fight, which aired at the same time on the UFC 139 PPV. I’m talking about Bellator LVIII, which aired for free on MTV2. The best thing? It’s still available on Youtube for free courtesy of Bellator. Check it out:

The Greatest Lightweights outside the UFC

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Michael Chandler. Eddie Alvarez. If you’re a casual MMA fan – and by that I mean you only occasionally catch a UFC PPV in a bar and any names outside of Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, GSP and Dana White are foreign to you – then the likelihood is you have not heard of either fighter.

Michael Chandler is currently ranked as the #4 Lightweight in the world by Sherdog and may be the best current lightweight not in the UFC. An NCAA Division I wrestler, Chandler is undefeated at 12-0 with 10 of those wins coming via stoppage (5 KO, 5 submission). Among his notable wins are the aforementioned Eddie Alvarez (below), Rick Hawn, Tristar Gym teammate of UFC Welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre and longtime pioneer Akihiro Gono. Chandler’s muscular physique, strong ground game and heavy hands have many comparing him as a “mini-GSP” and the comparisons are not too outlandish if you look at his body of work.

Eddie Alvarez is currently ranked as the #9 Lightweight in the world by Sherdog and is the former Bellator Lightweight champion. Before he lost the title to Michael Chandler, he was pretty much Bellator’s alpha dog. As one of the company’s pioneers, he was its first ever lightweight champion and posted a seven-fight winning streak beating UFC vets Josh Neer and Roger Huerta and current Featherweight champion, Pat Curran in the process. Overall he sports a 24-3 record with 14 wins coming via KO and 7 by submission. Alvarez is one of the better boxers in MMA but most notable would be his ability to recover quickly despite being rocked in his fights.

The Road to the Rematch

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Since their epic title fight two years ago, Chandler and Alvarez have been on a collision course right back to each other. It was only a matter of time before they finally faced each other again. Pardon another UFC reference but it isn’t too different from Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos, two premiere fighters who were a cut above the rest. Chandler and Alvarez have mowed down the competition at lightweight.

Michael Chandler has finished his last three opponents, the aforementioned longtime MMA vet Akihiro Gono in a non-title bout, Rick Hawn and David Rickels. Chandler never looked in danger in any of the fights, ending two of them in under a minute into the first round!

Eddie Alvarez had a more interesting story. After his loss to Chandler, he would knock out renowned Japanese submissionist, Shinya Aoki, avenging his previous loss from Dream. Rolling on that momentum, he would then knock out Patricky Freire in one round. Then a contract dispute had Alvarez verbally agree to fight for the UFC until Bellator invoked a clause to re-sign him and all the legal battles ensued.

With that thankfully settled, the rematch two-years-in-the-making HAD to happen.

Bellator CVI: Michael Chandler vs Eddie Alvarez II – All on the Line

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The Lightweight World Championship is the most obvious prize on the line in the fight but it comes down to more than that. These two are the best fighters in the company and two top ten lightweights. Whoever wins this would hold not only the title but bragging rights as the company’s alpha dog.

Michael Chandler is fighting for his undefeated streak. He’s fighting to prove his win over Alvarez in the first fight wasn’t a fluke and he’s fighting to keep solidifying his legacy as one of the greatest lightweight MMA fighters to have ever stepped into the cage.

Eddie Alvarez will be fighting to regain his championship, a title he held and practically owned for two years since its inception in 2009. He’s fighting to beat the only guy who has beaten him within the company and the only guy to have knocked him down his throne. He’s also fighting to win back his spot in the UFC should he have future plans to sign with the bigger company. Dana said he won’t sign any losers. Consider his rematch with Chandler Alvarez’s audition into the big boys club.
Both fighters will also be fighting to make a bigger mark for the company. Bellator, despite being the second largest MMA circuit in the USA is still a relative unknown to the eyes of most casual fight fans and is still dwarfed by the UFC. Another exciting clash that would garner “Fight of the Year” could mean an inevitable trilogy fight putting Chandler and Alvarez and Bellator in an iconic position if only ever for this series of fights.

Bellator CVI

Main Card (Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET)

Michael Chandler vs. Eddie Alvarez
King Mo Lawal vs. Emanuel Newton
Pat Curran vs. Daniel Straus
Joe Riggs vs. Mike Bronzoulis
Mike Richman vs. Akop Stepanyan

Undercard (Watch live here at 7 p.m. ET)
Joe Williams vs. Jesse Juarez
Brandon Halsey vs. Hector Ramirez
Mike Guymon vs. Aaron Miller
Joe Camacho vs. Cleber Luciano
Darren Smith vs. Josh Smith

 

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UFC Fight Night 30: Enter the Dragon

*Betting Odds courtesy of MMA Mania

Lyoto Machida (-360) vs Mark Munoz (+300)

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Former Light Heavyweight Champion and karate master Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida makes his middleweight debut against Mark “The Filipino Wrecking Machin” Munoz. Machida comes in as a late replacement to Michael Bisping who pulled out due to an eye injury. Munoz has won three of his last four with his defeat coming to new Middleweight Champion, Chris Weidman. The winner of this fight will make a strong case for a title shot in the division’s short but growing list of contenders.

Machida Wins: if he stops Munoz’s takedowns and keeps the fight standing; Machida has fought and defeated a lot of wrestlers so Munoz’s skillset isn’t anything new. His biggest challenge may be to finish the fight as his fighting style tends to be iffy with judges as his last two decisions have revealed.

Munoz Wins: if he is able to take Machida down and neutralize him long enough to prevent him from scoring points on strikes; Phil Davis won a disputed split decision against him by simply taking him down enough times to win the judges and Munoz could benefit from the same tactic. It’s a tall task to say the least but the only other option is to Stand and Wang.

My Pick: I liked Munoz’s chances of dragging Bisping to a decision victory but The Dragon presents a steeper challenge. Munoz has never fought a striker of Machida’s caliber while wrestlers are a dime-a-dozen to Machida. I give Munoz plenty of credit in making this a dangerous fight for Machida but it’ll be The Dragon who comes out arms raised: Machida by unanimous decision.

Ross Pearson (+120) vs Melvin Guillard (-140)

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The co-main event pits explosive strikers, Ross “The Real Deal” Pearson against Melvin “The Young Assassin” Guillard. Pearson is on a roll with two TKO wins and Guillard off of a big KO of his own. Both fighters have striking backgrounds:  Pearson in Taekwondo and Guillard in boxing. Whatever happens, this fight will have some fireworks.

Pearson Wins: if he uses his Judo/BJJ background to tap out Guillard or keep the fight on the ground, away from his greatest strength: his punching power. He can also catch Guillard in the right spot and knock him out. Pearson has KO power (5 KO wins) but standing and banging with one of the division’s most lethal strikers doesn’t favour the Brit.

Guillard Wins: if he engages Pearson in an all-out brawl and avoids his submission attempts; Pearson has big knockout power but Guillard may be the strongest puncher in the lightweight division (20 KO wins). A toe-to-toe showdown with the brawling Brit favours the more heavy-handed American.

My Pick: This is a bad stylistic matchup for Pearson who I feel will want to put on a show for his people. He’s tough as nails having only been knocked out twice in 21 fights but Guillard’s power is on another level. Pearson could submit Guillard alternatively but not before Guillard can put his hands on him: Guillard by round 1 TKO.

 

Jimi Manuwa (-170) vs Ryan Jimmo (+150)

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A battle of hard-hitting heavyweights pits the undefeated Jimi “Posterboy” Manuwa against Ryan “Big Deal” Jimmo; Manuwa has won both his UFC fights by way of knockout and may be the next big prospect in a division desperately looking for contenders. Jimmo on the other hand is 2-1 with the UFC with a spectacular seven-second knockout of Anthony Perosh. There’s good chances someone gets flattened and whoever does it could be joining the division’s top ten sooner than later.

Manuwa wins: if he keeps the fight standing and bangs with Jimmo; he runs the risk of getting knocked out by a heavy-handed Jimmo but he’s easily the more explosive of the two. None of his opponents have made it to a decision and 12 of his 13 wins have come via KO. He has a BJJ background but he’d be hard-pressed to use it against the bigger wrestler.

Jimmo wins: if he is able to control Manuwa on the ground or up against the cage like he did in his last fight against Igor Pokrajac. Jimmo is a dangerous striker but if he’s outgunned, he’ll utilize his wrestling and hope to grind his opponent out to a decision win; boring, but effective.

My Pick: I’d like to believe Manuwa keeps his undefeated and stoppage streak going but Jimmo is a hulking wrestler who’ll keep Manuwa down and keep him there lest he tags him with a few good hits for a surprise TKO win: Jimmo by unanimous decision.

BEST OF THE REST

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Norman Parke (-155) vs Jon Tuck (+135)

Stormin’ Norman Parke going up against Jon “Super Saiyan” Tuck; two tough submissionists who are relatively new to the company. Tuck has some power in his fists but Parke looks like a kid raised from stone. This could be a sleeper Fight of the Night contender. Norman Parke via split decision.

Alessio Sakara (-220) vs Nicholas Musoke (+180)

It’s about time “Legionarius” Alessio Sakara got back on the win column. His explosive striking ability will be a rough welcome for UFC newcomer, Nicholas Musoke. The Swede has the looks of a legit fighter but Sakara will come in like a rabid dog fighting for what could be its last meal. Alessio Sakara via round 2 TKO.

Phil Harris (+315) vs John Lineker (-380)

John Lineker wants a title shot should he get by hometown boy, Phil Harris. The Englishman is a crafty BJJ expert but Lineker is one of the bigger flyweights having fought to as heavy as lightweight. His explosive power has yielded him 3 straight wins and he’ll keep rolling this Saturday. John Lineker via round 1 TKO.

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UFC 166 MAIN CARD PREDICTIONS (AND MORE)

*Betting Odds courtesy of MMA Mania

Heavyweight Championship: Cain Velasquez (-200) vs Junior Dos Santos (+170)

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The greatest heavyweight trilogy of this generation; Cain Velasquez and Junior “Cigano” Dos Santos are the two most prominent heavyweight fighters today and both appear destined for Hall of Fame careers. JDS knocked Cain out the first time and Cain answered back with a five-round ass-whooping. Both fighters have immense knockout power (over 80% of their wins by KO) and their only losses in the octagon have come against each other. Who wins the rubber match?

Cain Wins: since he is cerebral. His striking is precise and on point and he’ll control the action with relentless takedowns and constant pressure. Overshadowed by his 10 KO wins is his NCAA Division I wrestling pedigree. This man outwrestled  a much bigger Brock Lesnar. His cardio is the best in the division and if the fight goes the distance, odds are in his favour.

JDS Wins: if does not over train and if he can hit Cain in the right spot within the first few rounds. He’s done it before and he can do it again. JDS may be the heavyweight division’s best striker in terms of his power and versatility. If anyone can pull a knockout out of their ass it’s him. If he improves his cardio he’ll hang with Cain though he shouldn’t risk leaving it to the judges as Cain is the more efficient fighter.

My Pick: Cain’s calm calculating demeanour reminds me of the great Fedor Emelianenko; fighters like him dissect their opponents and JDS would know his best chance to win is by knocking Cain out quickly and not trying to “out technique” him. If it goes the distance I see Cain winning but I’ll go with the spectacular and pick a Junior Dos Santos Round 3 TKO to cap off one of the greatest heavyweight fights.

Daniel Cormier (-600) vs Roy Nelson (+450)

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A battle of the heavyweight division’s premiere fat guys! Daniel Cormier is undefeated (12-0) in his short MMA career. He’s a decorated NCAA Division I and Olympic wrestler and a close training partner to Cain Velasquez. Roy “Big Country” Nelson is a Shaolin Kung Fu fighter with a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. All of his UFC wins have come by knockout and he has never been finished. Ever. DC is expected to move to light heavyweight regardless of the outcome and Nelson is coming off a loss to Stipe Miocic. A big win here would still boost either fighter’s stock immensely.

Cormier Wins: if he keeps his distance and neutralizes Roy Nelson’s greatest advantage: his punching power. Cormier is a small heavyweight and is lighter on his feet. He has knockout power but prefers to wear his opponents out. Nelson showed in the Miocic fight, he can gas quickly. Cormier can either outwrestle Nelson or force him to overexert himself en route to a decision.

Roy Wins: if he catches Cormier with one of his punches. That’s right, just ONE PUNCH. His last 3 wins were all round 1 knockouts. He is no slouch in the ground either and other than having a BJJ background, he is over 25 lbs heavier than Cormier. Despite being a huge underdog, I like Roy’s chances of pulling off the upset.

My Pick: this fight is closer than people may expect. Cormier is the big favourite to win but Roy may be the strongest and toughest fighter he’s faced and has a BJJ background. I’ll fall in line and take the safe pick: Cormier will out-point Roy Nelson, keep away from him and take him to a snoozer unanimous decision win. Nah. Sign me up for a Roy Nelson surprise knockout in round 2.

Gilbert Melendez (-800) vs Diego Sanchez (+550)

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A battle of Mexican stars pits former Strikeforce Lightweight Champion, Gilbert Melendez against The Ultimate Fighter original series winner, Diego “The Dream” Sanchez. On paper, this fight is a huge mismatch. Melendez is a top 5 lightweight in the world while Sanchez is barely scratching the top 20. His last fight, a controversial decision win over Takanori Gomi doesn’t help his case. Melendez is coming off a razor-thin split decision loss to former champ, Benson Henderson. As an additional storyline: both fighters were once sparring partners and have a storied history together. This match is ten years in the making.

Melendez wins: if he takes Diego to the ground and neutralizes him. Standing and counter-striking Diego seems like a good choice as he is more technical but Sanchez will just eat your punches to give his own and this is the danger Melendez faces. He doesn’t want to be on the wrong end of a decision. He can prevent Sanchez from scoring points by grinding him out and holding him down.

Diego wins: if he can prevent Melendez from controlling him on the ground or if he can avoid trying to “out-point” Melendez. Gil is a crafty fighter and manages to capitalize on any kind of opening. Sanchez needs to find the controlled aggression that has led to his previous wins. Melendez will get his shots but so long as Sanchez dictates the pace of the fight he should have a good chance at scoring an upset.

My Pick: Despite the difference in rank, this fight may be the most even in the main card. Not only does Diego have warrior spirit, a granite chin and a strong BJJ game, he has familiarity with Melendez. On top of that, he is a vet of close decision wins and seems to get the benefit of the doubt. Melendez is the better fighter but don’t underestimate the Dream in pulling off a colossal upset: Diego Sanchez via (controversial) split decision win.

Gabriel Gonzaga (+175) vs Shawn Jordan (-210)

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A clash of two heavyweights looking to get in the top 10 of the division; Gabriel Gonzaga, long-time UFC vet has won 3 of his last 4 fights by stoppage since he returned from hiatus in 2011. Shawn “The Savage” Jordan has also won 3 of his last 4 fights by stoppage. A big win from either fighter would have them just outside the top 10.

Gonzaga wins: if he doesn’t stand and bang with Jordan and wears him out with constant pressure from his grappling. Gonzaga is the superior grappler. He has 11 wins by submission (2nd all-time next to Frank Mir) and has a 4th degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Jordan wins: if he can outlast Gonzaga’s grappling and avoid his submission attempts. If he keeps the fight standing, he’s likely to knock him out. Jordan is the superior athlete and tough as nails. He took everything Mike Russow emptied on him and finished him in the second round.

My Pick: Safe choice is to give it to the more experienced Gonzaga to grind Jordan out en route to a (boo-fest) decision win. If his cardio holds up, the chances are even better. But Jordan’s a favourite for a reason. It’s hard to avoid a savage’s hands for all 15 minutes. A Jordan punch can floor Gonzaga at any time: Shawn Jordan by Round 1 KO.

John Dodson (-340) vs Darrell Montague (+280)

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Flyweight contender John “The Magician” Dodson welcomes Darrell “The Mongoose” Montague to the UFC. Dodson’s only loss in the octagon came against champ, Demetrious Johnson in a fight that saw him floor the champion repeatedly. Montague on the other hand is an enigma and hasn’t fought any high-profile fighters outside Ian McCall. Dodson either gets himself back in title contention or Montague makes a titanic statement.

Dodson wins: if he keeps the fight standing and whips Montague with his arsenal of missiles. Dodson is looking like another Greg Jackson success story and there’s no real indication of him slowing down. His superior athleticism also makes you wonder just what else this kid can do.

Montague wins:  if he grounds Dodson and keeps him from utilizing his greatest strength: his striking. Montague would have to live in a dark cellar in Laos not to be aware of Dodson’s power. He is also a relative unknown and hasn’t been in the spotlight long so he can use that to his advantage..

My Pick: It all depends if the striker can keep the fight standing or the wrestler can push the fight to the ground. Whoever does which will more likely win. I don’t know much about Montague but he could be the next big thing in the flyweight division. I’ll give him a lot of credit but for now, it feels like a John Dodson round 2 TKO.

UFC Fight Night 29 Main Card Picks!!

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DEMIAN MAIA (#4) VS JAKE SHIELDS

I see this fight going in two directions: the first (and one I’m praying for) is going to be a major treat for jiu-jitsu fans as Shields and Maia, two BJJ black belts and premiere grapplers go into a grappling war of the ages.

In 48 combined fights neither fighter has been submitted. They’re both aggressive and wear out their opponents to a scorecard win or a submission (19 combined submission victories). Height, reach and age are all pretty identical.

Of course the second (worst-case) scenario is both – well aware of each other’s expertise – decide to rely on their… not-so-exciting stand-up games. Shields despite having a kickboxing background leaves much to be desired in his striking and Maia (though improved) has rarely shown a penchant for standing and banging.

Maia is undefeated as a welterweight having dominant victories including one over Jon Fitch. Shields on the other hand looks to be a bad loss away from the firing squad. If Shields doesn’t enter this fight with the same ruthless aggression Maia will, it might be a really short – or really long night for him.

Result: Maia via unanimous decision

ERICK SILVA VS DONG HYUN KIM

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A fight between two welterweight prospects who people have forgotten. They’re outside the top 10 but a huge win here could push them in. Dong Hyun Kim has won his last two and his only losses have come against former Interim champ Carlos Condit and Demian Maia. Erick Silva is coming off a tough loss to the gritty Jon Fitch but has three 1st round submission wins. He’s a BJJ Muay thai expert in the mold of Anderson Silva – his mentor and training partner.

“Stun Gun” is a big dominating wrestler and the only fighter who’s outgrappled him was Maia, who was a former middleweight title contender. Depending how well Silva’s improved his grappling and takedown defense, I see Kim Jon Fitch-ing Silva all over again. But Silva is a creative striker and submissionist and has more than likely learned from his run-in with Fitch.

This fight has an eerie resonance with the Jacare and Okami fight: the Brazilian BJJ Muay Thai expert going up against the big strong Asian wrestler. I love Silva’s promise – call me a fanboy but I’m all on board his bandwagon like everyone’s on Jacare’s. Fitch was also a better wrestler than Kim. Silva wasn’t dominated by Fitch in fact coming close to submitting him – twice. He may just pull that off against Kim – if he doesn’t knock him out first. Either scenario is likely to happen, so my gut says.

Result: Erick Silva via round 1 TKO

THIAGO SILVA VS HATT HAMILL

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A clash between two light heavyweight gatekeepers. Matt Hamill and Thiago Silva weren’t doing so hot until their recent victories over Roger Hollett and Rafael Cavalcante, respectively. Silva was and still is one of the premiere light heavyweights in the UFC. Only has 3 losses and 2 came to former champions (Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans) with Alex Gustafsson – who most recently gave #1 P4P king Jon “Bones” Jones a run for his money – is the third. Of his 15 wins, 14 have ended in stoppage with 12 coming via knockout.

Matt Hamill pretty much grew up in the octagon; all but one of his fights have occurred within the UFC. He’s a decorated wrestler being a former NCAA Division III champion and Deaflympics silver medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling. He also has heavy hands (6 wins via KO).

Tough fight. Silva is younger and has twice the fighting experience and has more to prove after having two recent wins forfeited due to failing the post-drug tests. Can’t count out Hamill either. Regardless who wins, this fight may not make it out of round 1.

Result: Thiago Silva via round 1 KO

FABIO MALDONALDO VS JOEY BELTRAN

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What do you get when you pit two granite-chinned strikers fighting for their jobs as part of the main card? The “Just bleed” Fight of the Year contender over here. Fabio Maldonaldo and Joey Beltran are relative unknowns in the casual MMA world but after this fight they may just be legendary.

Fabio Maldonaldo was already legendary in his own right. He was an unbeaten boxer posting 22 wins, 21 coming by KO. 12 of his 19 MMA wins have come via the knockout. But most impressive of all was how he took over a dozen of Glover Teixeira’s biggest bombs and continued to fight back, even clipping Glover a few times.

Joey Beltran burst into the scene by knocking out Rolles Gracie Jr. He also holds a knockout win over former UFC-er Houston Alexander. Though his record (3-5) with the company doesn’t show it, he’s been an underrated undercard talent having two Fight of the Nights to his name.

Honestly, in a slug fest like this it’s a toss up. It’s not really the result we’re after, it’s the showdown. But I’ll say the only fighter tougher than Fabio Maldonaldo is Fabio Maldonaldo after eating Chuck Norris.He should outlast Beltran in what should be one of the most brutal bangers of the year.

Result: Maldonaldo via TKO round 2

ROUSIMAR PALHARES VS MIKE PIERCE

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Another great grappling contest between two hulks in their own right. Rousimar “Toquinho” Palhares got his nickname meaning “Tree Stump” for his little muscular build. He’s 5’8″ and fought to as high as light heavyweight.  Mike Pierce is built similarly. And they both like to get down and dirty.

Palhares paved a steady 7-4 record as a middleweight, many of those wins coming by some of the craziest submissions (two submission of the nights). But back-to-back losses by stoppage has him moving down to welterweight, his first foray into the division.

Mike Pierce on the other hand has been an elite gatekeeper (if there ever was one) in the welterweight division posting a 9-3 record with those losses all coming to former title contenders and elite wrestlers. Since then, he’s won his last 4 fights, finishing half of them by knockout. In his 22 career fights, he has never been finished.

Palhares and Pierce would be interesting to say the least but unless Palhares catches one of Pierce’s limbs for him to eat break, Pierce would grind him into a tree stump. He has heavy hands and has better stand-up and has wrestled much better grapplers.

Result: Mike Pierce via round 2 TKO

RAPHAEL ASSUNҪÃO (#5) VS T.J. DILLASHAW (#9)

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A battle of rising bantamweights. The 5th ranked Assunção is undefeated (4-0) since cutting down from featherweight and after his loss in the The Ultimate Fighter finale to (now flyweight contender) John Dodson, Dillashaw has rattled off 4 straight wins of his own. Whoever wins this fight could be one fight away from a title shot.

I’m biased towards Team Alpha Male fighters especially now that Duane Ludwig has taken them to a new level with greatly improved striking. Dillashaw could be the next coming of Urijah Faber and seems to be on a path to greatness but Assunção’s experience and size would pose considerable problems for Dillashaw. In a grappling match, I generally favour the more experienced larger fighter but you can’t discount talent, something I feel Dillashaw has more of.

Dillashaw will be in for the biggest fight of his career and while my head keeps telling me to pick the bigger, stronger, grittier Assunção, I’ll go with the gut and pick the fighter with the more upside. Chalk it up to Team Alpha Male and Duane Ludwig for another big W.  Keep the streak going.

Result: Dillashaw via unanimous decision

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Light Heavyweight Championship: Jon Jones (C) vs Alexander Gustafsson (#1)

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I’m wholly aware the UFC likes to angle on The Mauler’s size “advantage” over Jon Jones yet doesn’t mention how his 76 inch reach is still dwarfed by Bones supernatural 84 inch reach advantage. Only 7 footer Stefan Struve from the Heavyweight division ties Jon Jones’s reach. Everyone else has shorter reach. But this won’t even be a focal point in the fight between both these two goliaths.

Gustafsson, while being a worthy contender, has bullied his way into a title shot by using his size over his smaller opponents. His last fight against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua saw him practically manhandle the former Light Heavyweight Champion. He’s done the same to Thiago Silva and has either knocked out or submitted all the rest with one glaring exception: Phil Davis, who used his superior grappling and wrestling to give the big Swede his only career loss. But it’s a loss that is a foreshadowing to his fight with Bones.

Gustafsson has improved his overall game but Jon Jones is the faster, longer, bigger and superior version of Phil Davis. Jones is a fighter on his own level – he is virtually undefeated (only loss came via DQ) and has never looked close to being in danger of losing. Seemingly, the only new “weapon” Gustafsson brings that Jones hasn’t met yet is his size and the fact he wasn’t a former light heavyweight champion or title contender but a hot young prospect just as hungry if not hungrier than the champ.

While I dream of an upset of colossal proportions, I can’t picture a scenario outside of Gustafsson catching Jones with a punch to put him out that would favour him. Bones just has him beat on every level – striking, grappling, wrestling and athleticism. This fight will go as far as Jones wants it to and it won’t reach the championship rounds.

Conclusion: Jones via round 2 submission

Interim Bantamweight Championship: Renan Barao (IC) vs Eddie Wineland (#4)

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I feel the need to promote Eddie Wineland. He is truly the “workman’s fighter” as he suggested paving a humble but solid MMA career that has seen him beat the likes of Brad Pickett, George Roop and Scott Jorgensen. Wineland’s a tough nut and hasn’t been knocked out in 29 fights (his single TKO loss was due to injury). He’ll bring the fight to Barao and go for the knockout.

Barao on the other hand is just on another level and I feel he’s on a class of his own  similar to Jones in the light heavyweight division. Barao has also never lost since dropping his first professional MMA fight way back in 2005. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert (who also trains with Featherweight Champ, Jose Aldo) has won almost half his fights via submission (14) and the decisions he won were barely close. His speed, technique and poise are just phenomenal.

Wineland is going to give Barao a big fight similar to fellow brawlers Pickett and Michael McDonald but he’s just not on his level. He will ultimately succumb to Barao’s advanced grappling within the first three rounds.

Conclusion: Barao via round 2 submission

Heavyweight Bout: Brendan Schaub vs Matt Mitrione

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Let’s call this right away: Mitrione by first round knockout. I like Schaub a lot better and he’s on a good winning streak but his three most recent losses (all by KO) suggests he can’t take hits as well as he can dish them. Add the fact Meathead is a one of those prototypical top-heavy fighters with heavy fists and this fight is big trouble for Schaub.

Schaub can win if he fights smart and keeps his distance from Mitrione, “out-pointing” him because he is the faster of the two but Mitrione is tougher. This fight may end up mimicking the Vera-Rothwell fight one PPV ago where Vera outstruck Rothwell for the majority of the fight but eventually let Rothwell get too close and score the big knockout. I don’t see this fight lasting all three rounds and I see Schaub hitting the mat in a heap within round 1 or 2.

Conclusion: Mitrione via round 1 KO

Middleweight Bout: Costa Philippou (#7) vs Francis Carmont

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I don’t know too much about fighters and it’s because neither one has really had a fight that’s been memorable. Costa’s biggest win came against Tim Boetsch a few months ago, utterly dominating him and finishing him in round 3. Carmont on the other hand has been on the better end of controversial decisions most recently against Lorenz Larkin, a fight that saw him fail at multiple takedown attempts and get kicked around.

My heart suggests Philippou, who appears to have more knockout power of the two, will finish off Carmont once he finds his striking range but the rangier Carmont  has the better grappling game and is tenacious with his takedown attempts. Having GSP at his side is also an “intangible” that’s clearly worked in his past fights.

Conclusion: Carmont via split decision

Lightweight Bout: Pat Healy (#10) vs Khabib Nurmagomedov

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I’m tempted to buy into Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov’s hype. He’s undefeated and has absolutely manhandled the four fighters he’s faced in the UFC. He’s the type of fighter as Dana loves to say, “wrestle f*cks” you to oblivion with his triple threat background of sambo, judo and wrestling. Scoring a big win over Healy would vault him up the lightweight rankings and a title shot would be within striking distance.

Healy on the other hand is one of MMA’s more underrated fighters. His “grind you to death” style of wrestling/fighting is not too unlike Nurmagomedov and while he doesn’t have the Eagle’s pedigree he has twice the experience (46 fights versus 20) and has even fought at welterweight beating the likes of Paul Daley and Dan Hardy. Since moving to lightweight, Healy has gone 8-1-1 with his NC decision being an original Submission of the Night win over the gritty Jim Miller. Healy’s only loss came to Josh “The Punk” Thomson, who is now fighting Anthony Pettis for the lightweight title.

The Eagle has a bright future in the UFC and is one of the better prospects but he hasn’t fought an opponent of Healy’s caliber and experience and “Bam Bam” rises up to usually overcome his underdog status. Chalk another big win for Healy.

Conclusion: Healy via unanimous decision