MMA Rundown #4: TITLE FIGHTS!!!!!

Greetings, and salutations. Are you guys ready to see some UFC gold being strapped around men of various nationalities and sizes? Like, soon? It’s a good time to be an MMA fan.

Since the UFC is holding approximately 146 title fights over the course of the next five months, I thought I’d literally run them down and offer a quick preview for each one. Also, the comedy will be golden when I publish this piece and Cain Velasquez, Jon Jones, and Anthony Pettis are all simultaneously injured in the same tragic boating accident.

TJ Dillashaw vs. Renan Barao II for the bantamweight title on August 30th, 2014

The announcement of this rematch had me completely miffed. Did TJ Dillashaw not lay enough of an ass kicking on Renan the first time? Did it come out that Renan fought the first fight right after he had a frontal lobotomy? Was this fight a huge blockbuster draw? No. No no no.

So why do it again? Renan Barao had one good round in the first encounter, and it was a round he still lost on my scorecard. This isn’t quite at the level of ”Tito vs. Ken III”, but it’s pretty incomprehensible.

Renan Barao is still a great fighter, and I’m interested to see if he can make any adjustments this time around. But I don’t see why TJ isn’t getting an opportunity to establish his title reign by fighting a fresh contender. I also don’t see how he doesn’t continue to improve his slick striking and excellent wrestling. Dillashaw by decision in a closer, but still not that close, fight.

Demetrious Johnson vs. Chris Cariaso for the flyweight title on September 27th, 2014

It really is a bummer than Jones-Cormier got bumped off of this card. This card was like an elegant 12 course meal, every course with a purpose, every dish a building block for the next one. Dom Cruz’s comeback fight against a streaking Takeya Mizugaki … Conor McGregor fighting for his right to party against perennial top ten guy Dustin Poirier … Amanda Nunes vs. Cat Zingano … fun fluff like Patrick Cote vs. Stephen Thompson … Donald Cerrone fighting for the 43rd time this year (against late addition Eddie Alvarez, no less) … Timmy Kennedy vs. Yoel Romero and Yoel Romero’s unpredictable bowels … I mean, this fucking thing had it all. Jones-Cormier was going to be the $25 bowl of chocolate mousse at the end of the meal. Instead, we’re going to get a so-so plate of tiramisu in DJ-Cariaso.

I love Demetrious Johnson, but this will be little more than your typical Mighty Mouse 50-45 whitewash. I saw this fight announcement and thought, “Wow, who does Chris Cariaso have naked pictures of? He’s getting a title shot after beating a talented-but-still-green Louis Smolka and two wild animals in Danny Martinez and Iliarde Santos?!” Ohhhhhh-kay. He’s a decent southpaw muay thai guy, and he’s got a good defensive guard, but he’s cannon fodder for Johnson. Johnson by decision. In fact, screw that. DJ is enough eons beyond Cariaso as an MMA fighter that I see him doggedly pursuing a finish, and getting it. Johnson by submission.

Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes II for the featherweight title on October 25th, 2014

Now we’re talking! I’m torn on this one. Chad Mendes has looked pretty outstanding in his UFC campaign, improving his boxing leaps and bounds to shore up his already outstanding wrestling. He hasn’t fought this year, though, and he looked a tiny bit subpar in his last fight. Then again, Nik Lentz is really difficult to look awesome against, so maybe we shouldn’t hold that against Chad. He just seems like one of those guys that’s going to come out flat every once in awhile, which is a great problem to have considering he still has the ability to win on takedowns even when he’s having an off night.

Jose Aldo’s UFC tenure has been a bit more checkered. Gone is the high flying dynamo from the WEC days, slaughtering people theatrically in under 5 minutes. He’s been replaced by a guy who has a deep knowledge of how to fight conservatively and win rounds. He fights, he gets hurt, he fights, he gets hurt. To add a wrinkle, it’s unclear how injured he is when he actually steps into the cage. Rumor has it that he’s been fighting hurt for years. Who knows.

I still like Aldo here. I don’t see a scenario where Mendes takes him out with punches, unless it’s some sort of crazy ground and pound onslaught. That’s not outside the realm of possibility, as Aldo is notorious for fading late. Still, the odds tell me that Aldo will walk away with another win, this time by decision in a bit more of a competitive fight. Wonder which guy is on steroids?

Cain Velasquez vs. Fabricio Werdum for the heavyweight title on November 15th, 2014

“Cain Velasquez. He has some technical difficulties, but he has ambition and he’s fearless. He wants to win so badly and he’s in great condition. He’s a thinking fighter.” – Fedor Emelianenko

Sometimes, people just say things more effectively than you ever could. That Fedor quote summed up Cain to a tee. I don’t see Fabricio Werdum having much for him, unless he’s somehow able to employ is wildly improved striking game. On the floor, Cain is 2 steps ahead and 5 times as relentless as anyone who dares fight him there. And I’m saying that knowing full well that Cain is facing one of the greatest grapplers in MMA history. Werdum is a pretty heavy striker, and he’s advanced light years in that department, but is he going to stop Cain from taking him down? Maybe at first, but there’s no way he can keep that up AND significantly damage Cain enough. Every Cain Velasquez fight is a 25 minute contest that must feel like 6 hours for his opponents.

I see this as a pretty standard Cain type of win, where his opponent might find a few droplets of success here and there before wilting under the “Jesus, does this guy ever stop?” vibes that Velasquez always gives off. Fabricio will try everything he can to catch Cain with a knee in the clinch or a sub off his back, but he’ll ultimately fall short. Cain by TKO, round 3.

Chris Weidman vs. Vitor Belfort  for the middleweight title on December 6th, 2014

My thoughts on this one are well documented. Belfort is too flaky to beat a pro like Weidman. However, kudos to him for somehow making it far enough to have this fight even announced. Thanks to Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva’s nuclear shitstorm of epic fail, Vitor’s shenanigans with TRT are almost an afterthought. Almost.

I use the word “almost” because it will be a small miracle if Belfort is licensed in the state of Nevada. He’s got a checkered history with the NSAC. Maybe he’s on the straight and narrow, but I tend to doubt it. No matter. Juice or no juice, Weidman gets Belfort out of there with a tapout later in the fight.

Also, I’ve heard rumors that Anthony Pettis could fight Gilbert Melendez on this card, so that might be the UFC’s contingency plan in case Belfort pulls a Dr. Hector Oscar Molina at his licensing hearing.

Anyway …

Anthony Pettis vs. Gilbert Melendez for the lightweight title sometime in December of 2014

Gilbert Melendez is a wonderful fighter. He’s great, but not the best. Anthony Pettis is the best on the planet. My only issue with Pettis is that he fell into that “win the belt and then immediately disappear for a year or more” booby trap that seems to plague new title victors. Whatever. I just want to see this. Pettis is too much on the feet. His footwork, striking variety, and unpredictability should give the traditional boxing game of Melendez fits. If Gil pursues takedowns, Pettis should have more than enough offense off his back to thwart Gil’s top pressure. Pettis by decision.

Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier for the light heavyweight title on January 3rd, 2015

Normally I ignore pre-fight trash talk, but this has been pretty solid. Jon Jones really does come off horribly, while Cormier is the perfect “Can you believe this guy?!” foil. Seriously though, what kind of man would hang out with Jon Jones? I’m trying to construct this imaginary dude’s personality in my head, and even in my brain, this imaginary dude throws his hands up while he’s hanging with Bones and says “Dude, stop talking in that tone. Everyone thinks you’re lying. Everyone thinks you sound like an affected douche. Just stop. Talk to me like a man.” Then, Jones smiles thinly and continues talking in exactly the same manner. Even when I’m allowed to use my imagination, Jon Jones is a douche.

For this fight to be competitive, Cormier has to figure out a way to get into the clinch. Otherwise, Jones is going to kick his oblique muscles and jump in with slicing elbows all day. Both men are great in the clinch, and if I had to pick one light heavyweight to technically defeat Jones for spurts from there, it would be Cormier.

Jones has more tools, though Cormier does lay claim to the best, most polished tool of the two. The problem is that this isn’t a straight wrestling match. Jones has had tons of cage time to iron out wrinkles in his game and figure out, round by round, minute by minute, how to approach his opponents. He’ll get that done here with a nice mix of outside striking and enough clinch work to wear Cormier out. Jones by decision in a competitive one where he might get hit a bit.

I just realized that I picked all 7 champions to win the fights I wrote about. There’s no way all 7 are winning. The odds are too ludicrous. If I had to pick one challenger to walk out of the octagon with the strap, it’d have to be Melendez, just because of his wrestling game and the fact that Clay Guida did enough bullshit that didn’t matter to convince two judges that he beat Pettis. Which he didn’t. Pettis isn’t the worst matchup in the world for Gil, though. Gun to my head, I’m still picking Pettis. The real winner over the next few months, though, is us. Go MMA.


MMA Rundown #3: Independence Day Weekend Recap, Hasta La Vista 176

There were so many Independence Day weekend fights that I’m combining all of them together in my mind. Going from memory, a congenital amputee lost the UFC women’s bantamweight title in 16 seconds after being ragdolled by Dana White’s voice. Or something.

Let’s get to it.

OK, so … who at 185 is messing with Chris Weidman?

I have no idea, but I do know that I ain’t buying Vitor Belfort as that guy. There are way too many potential pratfalls there. Historically, he gets tired and stops throwing offense, and he gets discouraged and sad when you’re getting the better of him. This is a guy that was pulling guard at the start of the 2nd round of his 2006 PRIDE bout with Dan Henderson. They should have just stopped the fight right there and awarded it to Henderson. This is also the dude who laid on his back and allowed Kazushi Sakuraba to kick his legs 352 times. Once Weidman figures out how to stay composed and savvy enough to avoid Vitor’s trademark blitzes (an inevitability since Weidman is far more than “I’ll just run at this guy swinging, and my pure athleticism will make him crumble”), it’s done. You heard it here first.

Chris Weidman has all the tools to become an all time great, but he’s also a really smart fighter. The fashion in which he approached the Machida fight showcased composure that would suggest he’s had far more than 12 pro MMA bouts. You don’t dismantle Lyoto Machida for the better part of 25 minutes without a smart gameplan.

Jacare, Rockhold, Vitor … good night, and good luck.

BJ Penn and Frank Edgar cobbled together one of the most depressing fights I can remember in recent memory. I asked the same thing when the fight was announced, but I’ll ask it again: Why? Seriously … WHY?!

This was a baffling waste of time on both sides. After losing three straight title fights (even though most people agree he should have won two of them), Frank Edgar got back in the win column in July of last year with a unanimous decision win over Charles Oliveira. It was the kind of fight that left you wanting to see Edgar fight frequently, and actually see him fight a variety of good fighters. As opposed to, you know, fighting the same 3 guys his entire career. Instead, he took a coaching gig on the Ultimate Fighter, which is where relevant fighters go when they want to needlessly stall their careers filming something barely anyone watches. And you can see why this is so alluring. Who doesn’t want to waste months and months of their prime trying to teach Matt Van Buren not to suck?

Edgar’s reward was fighting a guy he had already beaten soundly 4 years ago. The second Edgar-Penn matchup was totally justified, as Edgar benefited from more than one questionable scorecard in their first encounter. The UFC set up the rematch quickly, and a wrong was righted. Justice was served. Edgar got his chance to shine again, and shine he did. So why run it back 4 years later after Edgar has done nothing but improve and Penn has done nothing but sit on the couch in between demoralizing, emasculating beatings? I get that BJ Penn has always been a sneaky good draw for the UFC, and I also get that they need good draws now more than ever. But still. This felt like a stretch.

That brings me to Baby Jay Penn. For the life of me, I can’t figure out what his mindset was in last Sunday’s fight. He offered no significant responses to Edgar’s attacks, seemed totally at ease with the idea of being on his back and playing a guard that was seemingly supposed to be offensive (but never was), never made a concerted effort to get his boxing game out of first gear … it was just odd. If he knew that this was going to be his “retirement fight” beforehand, you would think he’d have gone in there with a little bit more fire up his ass. You would think.

By the third round, he was little more than a punching bag with lungs. Edgar obviously looked great. Then again, so would you if you were fighting a guy that didn’t seem interested in fighting back. If Penn had gone out there and gotten destroyed, but went down swinging, it would be a little bit different. The takeaway would be more “Wow, this guy doesn’t have it anymore. Great career.” Instead, he calmly allowed himself to get beaten up. The whole scene was weird and off putting. You know you’re behaving erratically in a fight when Kenny Florian is openly questioning just what the hell your objectives are.

I’ll let Jens Pulver take us home …

“What got to me watching that was, I understood. It’s the hardest thing to realize when you’re in there, because in your mind you’re like, ‘I can do this.’ But once you’re in the fight, it’s like you’re not doing anything. That was the hardest part for me to watch. I was looking at him in that fight and going, ‘I get this. I know that feeling.’ Nobody told us how to get old. Nobody told us what getting old was supposed to feel like. There’s no magic switch where it all shuts off.”

That may be a great quote, but more than anything else, it affirms my position that this fight shouldn’t have been made. I want to see Frank Edgar fight the cream of the crop, not guys who peaked 6 years ago.

UFC 176 has gone the way of the dodo (and of UFC 151). Chad Mendes said stuff. Jose Aldo said stuff. What does it mean that these two individuals said stuff? And how inevitable is it that the cancellation of pay-per-views is going to become more common?

Chad Mendes talking trash about Jose Aldo might be posturing, or self-encouragement, or a little of both. But the fact is that it must be weird to hear someone you savagely knocked out say that you’re afraid to fight them. Chael Sonnen’s “Anderson Silva didn’t beat me, I beat his ass for 23 minutes! Then he wrapped his legs around me for 8 seconds, and they call HIM the champion?!” routine played great, because it was completely tongue-in-cheek, and because, in a sense, he was right (I mean, not really. He lost. But when you describe the fight in those terms, you could talk a casual fan into thinking “That IS kind of bullshit!”). But Chad Mendes was the victim of one of the most iconic and precision knockouts of the past several years. If that were me, I’d be eating giant slices of humble pie every day leading up to the fight.

As far as the pay-per-view being cancelled, I’m torn. On the one hand, it seems crazy that the UFC couldn’t find SOMEONE to step in and fight for an interim belt against Chad Mendes. If you’re Cub Swanson, you scramble to be ready in a month. You never know what could happen to your promised title shot.

On the other hand, the UFC was already going to take a bath on this card, and without Aldo, it only would have gotten worse. At a certain point, you have to pay respects to the people who buy your product. You can’t just arrogantly and flippantly throw something together and expect people to buy it anymore. They can just watch the next free card on FOX.

Cancelling was the right move. Happy trails, UFC 176. Say what’s up to UFC 151 for me.


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UFC 175 Preview: I’m Not Dead Yet! (& Why I Like Machida)

The UFC’s pay-per-view model is dying a slow and painful death, as evidenced by the reportedly ghastly numbers that last months UFC 174 did. Since the UFC partnered up with FOX, two things have been proven. One is that, because of the ubiquitous number of cards, coupled with the idea that the UFC is the only legitimate game in town, people really will tune into just about anything with the letters “UFC” on it. The other, though, is that this is true as long as it isn’t a pay per view. Shelling out 55 bucks and planning a night around Demetrious Johnson and Ali Bagautinov is a little bit different than catching them while you’re dully surfing through channels.

The UFC is going to put forth their best effort to alleviate that PPV stink with their annual 4th of July weekend show. The 2014 edition features two title fights … and not a whole lot else (Sure, this is due to the fact that this lineup featured approximately 246 failed drug tests over the past few months … but still). At least, not on the main card. You could make an argument that the prelims are actually more compelling than the main card as a whole. And since I’m the snob making that argument, I’m going to mow through the prelims as well. You only live once.

Rob Font vs. George Roop

Rob “Times New Roman” Font has to close the distance and throw overhand bombs. If he does this, he has a 84% chance of knocking the scarecrow-esque Roop senseless. This is going to happen, most likely, because George Roop has proven that he’s awesome at consistently doing the one thing a guy with his frame should never do, which is throw strikes and find himself in the pocket with his chin straight up in the air. Roop can wrestle a bit and land decent offense from distance, but the knockout always looms, and he isn’t getting any younger. Font by first round knockout.

Chris Camozzi vs. Bruno Santos

If the name Bruno Santos sounds familiar, it shouldn’t. He is not a compelling or gripping fighter in any way. Chris Camozzi is the workmanlike everyman who is decent at most aspects of MMA, stellar at none, and sometimes yells in hilarious fashion when he gets hit. Santos is a grinder, but Camozzi should have enough juice and experience from the southpaw stance to tag Santos on the feet with punches and kicks. Camozzi by decision.

Ildemar Alcantara vs. Kenny Robertson

Ildemar Alcantara is a decent fighter, but Kenny Robertson has really been coming on strong as of late. He laid a succinct, sobering beating on Thiago Perpetuo in his last outing, the kind that had the Brazilian crowd even more silent than usual. Robertson is a tenacious wrestler, good scrambler, and solid submission finisher, with power in his hands to boot. He can get a little bit wild and leave himself open, but Alcantara isn’t the kind of fighter to come in and flatten a guy with strikes. Robertson takes a decision in this one.

Urijah Faber vs. Alex Caceres

I understand that Bruce Leeroy looked great against Sergio Pettis, and has made widespread improvements in his MMA game … but come on. This is a ridiculously mismatched fight. It’d be like the UFC saying “Phil Davis looked great against another ridiculously green prospect in Alexander Gustafsson … I think he’s ready to fight for a title!”. Not that Caceres is a hot prospect or anything, but he’s a sacrificial lamb here. He’s going to get pressured, taken down, and choked. Possibly even unconscious, courtesy of that nasty Faber squeeze. Faber by submission in the second round.

Marcus Brimage vs. Russell Doane

Here’s the “Wait … this is on the MAIN card?” head scratcher, which is becoming more and more of a UFC pay-per-view staple. I understand that Faber is supposed to bring people in on free TV and convince them via his sheer awesomeness to buy the pay-per-view, but almost everyone who is going to buy this card is going to be sitting there, beer in hand, ready to watch some fights featuring guys they’ve heard of … and then Russell Doane is going to grace their television screens. I’m sorry, but profanity is going to follow that moment.

That being said, Russell Doane is a pretty good fighter, somebody to keep an eye on at 135 pounds. His athleticism, relaxed disposition, and knack for finishing fights should propel him to victory against Brimage, who is best known for being the first UFC punching bag for featherweight standout and all around unfortunate human being, Conor McGregor.

Doane by early knockout. I’m even giving you the technique: Overhand right.

Uriah Hall vs. Thiago “Marreta” Santos

“Marreta” has truly been trick or treat since he’s been a UFC employee, losing his first bout in 47 seconds and winning his next in 53. It was quite an impressive 53 seconds, though, as he destroyed a normally sturdy fighter in Ronny Markes with a lethal kick to the body and follow up punches on the ground.

Uriah Hall has been a disappointment so far in his UFC career, as he seems to want to smile and engage in bro time high fives more than he wants to hurt his opponents. He made a washed up Chris Leben quit on his stool between rounds in his last fight, but he has a long way to go to live up to the silly “Everyone in the Ultimate Fighter house is scared of this guy! He’s booking guys trips to the hospital left and right!” rhetoric that sloppily flew out of Dana White’s mouth when Hall was taping the Ultimate Fighter.

Thiago will likely force Hall’s hand by coming out aggressively, and it’s going to come down to Hall’s reaction to that aggression. So far, complacency has been Hall’s undoing, and I predict Thiago will push the envelope and walk away with a decision win after simply seeming like he wants his win bonus more.

Matt Mitrione vs. Stefan Struve

It’ll be nice to see Struve back in action, because that means he has a clean bill of health. Good stuff. If he looks even 75% as competent as he was before being sidelined, he has a great shot to beat Mitrione.

Struve could always get hit in the face and fold up like an unsuccessful business, and Mitrione’s last KO showed that he can effectively throw killshots when his opponent is hurt, instead of needlessly getting too excited and flailing. I just don’t like this matchup for Mitrione. He could get tapped in a myriad of ways, he could get outstruck with leg kicks and punches from the rangier Struve, he could lose a decision after getting outgrappled … I just think he’s in over his head here. Still, this is a solid heavyweight fight, and one that I’m actually looking forward to seeing. Mitrione will give Struve a couple of scares with punches, but ’ol skyscraper will earn a tapout sometime in the latter part of the fight.

Ronda Rousey vs. Alexis Davis

83.4 percent of me sees this as another juicy arm for Honda to take home with her, but then I start thinking a little more deeply. When I do that, I realize that Alexis Davis is the best grappler Honda has ever fought, and that she’s a cool enough customer to at least not go into a defensive shell as soon as Rousey gets ahold of her.

Since I’m an idiot when it comes to women’s MMA, I’ll just get up on my soapbox and scream this to the masses: War Alexis Davis!!!

“Ronda Rousey: Women’s Icon” … “Is Rousey The Biggest Star In The UFC?” … “Ronda Rousey Is An Empowering Role Model For Young Women Everywhere”. Any time this kind of rhetoric starts flying around, I have to morally root against you. It’s just the way my fudge is packed. Davis can kick Rousey’s legs, initiate scrambles, and find success on top if she can make it there. She’s a stern test for Rousey in every sense of the word.

Rousey by armbar, round four.

Chris Weidman vs. Lyoto Machida

Weidman is an absolute monster. He’s hitting his prime, and his only known weakness is the best possible one to have, which is this: We don’t know. The word “weakness” hasn’t come up when describing Chris Weidman. He looked noticeably subpar in his fight with Demian Maia, but he took that fight on 8 days notice, cut a comical amount of weight, and still easily outpointed a very good fighter. Alessio Sakara gave him a surprisingly tough test in the first round of his UFC debut, but Weidman regrouped and bludgeoned Sakara on the ground.

Other than that? Not much to work with in the weakness department.

Enter Lyoto Machida, everyone’s favorite urine drinking uni-browed middleweight. Other than Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and the Jon Jones second round naptime choke (in a fight he performed well in), nobody has really taken it to Machida. He’s the great equalizer. You say you’re a great fighter? I want to see how you perform against Lyoto Machida. He’ll lull you to sleep with perceived inactivity, then take a round off you with one well-timed flurry. Guys will try to put pressure on him, and he’ll sidestep them and run them right into one of his fists. He’s perfected the step in knee to the body (not an easy technique to land), and his kicking style helps him stay away from guys power shots. Goldberg always talks about Machida being elusive, but that’s not really true; he really just takes what you give him. He doesn’t make stupid mistakes. If you beat him, you either have to flatten him, or make sure Sal D’Amato is judging.

(Quick side note: When I wrote that last sentence, I swung over to mmadecisions.com to see who had judged the Rampage and Phil Davis heists. I instinctively knew D’Amato had to be involved in those sad transgressions. And guess what? He was!  How unbelievable is Sal D’Amato?)

I like this to go five rounds, and I foresee a lot of back and forth action, stretches where Weidman is clearly getting the better of Machida, and vice versa. Weidman’s wrestling is too good to not get on top at some point, and Machida is potentially in trouble from there. Weidman has good standup, and is more of a physical presence than anyone else at middleweight other than maybe Jacare. But Lyoto Machida is Lyoto Machida, and nobody else gives you that look. And I just think it’s a great look to fight Chris Weidman with. Call it a weird hunch. Hey, he’s gotta be vulnerable sometime, right?

Against most logic, I like Lyoto Machida to pull off the upset. He can keep Weidman at bay with his movement and quick-twitch kicks, and throw him off balance with his flurries. I just like the way his rhythm matches up with Weidman’s boxing skills. He’s got to be careful not to get counterpunched (but when has that been a problem for Lyoto?), and he can’t get stuck on bottom too much. Give me Machida by a razor close split decision that will cause the internet to spontaneously combust.