UFC 178 Preview: Notorious Ones And Big Questions

UFC 178 is particularly strong (with the usual disclaimer: “On paper!”), so why not bang out a preview? These fights matter. I’ll skip the Fight Pass portion, which will be won by Jon Tuck and Cody Gibson, maybe.

Brian Ebersole vs. John Howard

To give you an idea of how stacked this card is, this fight could have co-headlined that Bader-St. Preux card a few weeks ago. It’s your standard ho-hum undercard fodder here. Brian Ebersole and his manscaping have a bad habit of blowing winnable fights, so look for Howard to continue his improbable second stint in the UFC with a blah decision victory.

Patrick Cote vs. Stephen Thompson

It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a Cote fanboy. This has been true ever since he walked straight through Drew McFedries (one of the hardest hitting human beings who ever lived) hardest shots, knocked him out, and said in his postfight interview, shaking his head “He thought I didn’t hit hard enough.” Tough dude, tough chin, big hitter, big heart. I was in.

The problem is that he’s getting a bit long in the tooth, so to beat Thompson he might want to mix things up by sprinkling in some takedown attempts. Remember, he’d have a TKO loss on his record to the immortal Alessio Sakara if silly old Alessio hadn’t decided to hit him on the back of the head.

I always root for Cote, but Thompson is the better, more versatile striker here. Thompson knocks Cote out in the first round.

James Krause vs. Jorge Masvidal

Whoever wins this fight will catapult himself into a bigger fight, the coveted “Yeah, he’s a top 15-20 lightweight” tier. Fun fact about James Krause: He just beat a man who fought for three minutes on one leg. Fun fact about Jorge Masvidal: He was once floating inverted triangle choked by a man named Toby Imada.

Both guys are well rounded on the feet, and this will most likely be contested there. Masvidal can get a little lax, and Krause’s length and volume kicking game should push him to either wilt or succeed with counter attacks. Give me James Krause in a 29-28 squeaker.

Dominick Cruz vs. Takeya Mizugaki

Well, holy freaking smokes. Look who decided to make it all the way to fight week without tearing his groin or blowing an Achilles tendon mowing the lawn. Dom’s going to make it to fight night, right? I sincerely hope he doesn’t get knocked out by some errant baggage that falls from the overhead bin. The last time Dominick Cruz fought, people were still hyping up Mitt Romney as the Next Big Thing.

Jokes aside, all the questions that have been asked a million times apply here in spades. Will a long layoff, coupled with several devastating lower body injuries impede Cruz’s ability to, well, fight like himself? Will he be able to plant his feet comfortably and move laterally? These are huge questions.

Before Dom makes his triumphant UFC return, lets all tip our caps to the always serviceable Takeya Mizugaki for his impressive streak. Even when he loses, he always puts on an entertaining fight. His aggression in recent fights suggests that it’s definitely possible that he could land a big straight right and knock Cruz senseless.

Cruz will probably take a decision here, and then he’ll go on to fight TJ Dillashaw in a fight that might set the record for total steps taken inside the octagon. But realistically, who the hell knows? Who really knows? I’m pumped to find out.

Amanda Nunes vs. Cat Zingano

I enjoy Cat Zingano. Her stoppage of the always underwhelming Meisha Tate was particularly cold and brutal. However, that was eons ago. Since then, Cat has lost her husband to suicide, and had to deal with multiple injuries as well.

She takes on Amanda Nunes, who never met a gas pedal she couldn’t throw a brick on top of. I see this as a struggle between two strong women, real cloud-of-dust, holy-shit-this-is-a lot-of-action-to-call type stuff. I select Zingano to come out on top by TKO.

Tim Kennedy vs. Yoel Romero

God, this card is awesome. The hits just keep on coming. Anyway, Timmy Kennedy takes on chronic pants-shitter Yoel Romero, in a fight that is truly a clash of styles.

Kennedy will look to put Romero on his back, and I see him being able to do that, at least some of the time. The problem will come when he tries to hold the springy, athletic Romero down. Romero could always have a brainfart and get tapped, but I see him being able to keep it on the feet often.

From there, I like Romero. Kennedy is a solid, if uninspiring, striker. He can absolutely put your lights out if you fight stupid and circle into his power hand, but he’s pretty nuts and bolts on the feet. Romero, on the other hand, is a wild, jumpy dynamo. He’s good at leaping in and out with big punches, and is always a threat to uncork a picturesque flying knee. More than that, he always seems so relaxed on the feet, like there’s no place on the planet he’d rather be.

This is a tough one to call, and it has “29-28 split decision that pisses a lot of people off” written all over it. My gut says Kennedy ends up on top enough to convince two judges that he’s the victor. Kennedy by decision.

Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier

You know, even though Conor was trying to be edgy and snarky by saying that Poirier “isn’t a step up in competition” for him, he was sort of accidentally right. Poirier is a perennial top ten featherweight, a guy always eager to put on a barnburner.

The thing is, Conor McGregor is a terrible matchup for him. Awful. Nightmarish. If you said “We have this guy we want to promote until giving him a title shot is justified, and we want to find a good fighter to essentially put him over by going down in flames while fighting his ass off the entire time” … I mean, Dustin Poirier is that guy, right?

Poirier just gets hit too much. He lives by the sword, and he dies by the sword. McGregor should really be able to open up on the feet with his acrobatic karate techniques and above average boxing combos, and if the fight hits the floor (where McGregor is no slouch, by the way. McGregor detractors like to scream “Just put him on his back, where he hasn’t been tested!” like he’s Lavar Johnson on the ground or something. He’s solid on the floor.), I see Conor being able to handle himself. He’s got to watch out for Poirier’s A+ brabo choke, and if Poirier finds some momentum, he could really get rolling. It seems far more likely that McGregor hands Poirier his first TKO loss, though. McGregor by TKO, followed by a title shot sometime next spring. If you don’t think he’s fighting for the title if he wins this, you are insane, and a danger to yourself and others. Get lucid.

Eddie Alvarez vs. Donald Cerrone

Jesus! This card. I’m about to pass out. I know that praising a card for being stacked on paper can be dangerous, but look at these matchups. Is there any way Alvarez and Cerrone put on a snoozer? Seriously, is there any way? I’d love to hear theories.

At long last, Edward Alvarez makes his UFC debut, against the “I really need money, can I just fight every week?” vibes of one Donald Cerrone. Both guys get dropped a lot, both guys are aggressive, dynamic strikers, and I could see either guy getting TKO’d by the other.

Alvarez is a tougher wrestler, though Cerrone has improved tons in that department. I know I’m predicting grandiose things for what seems like every fight on this card, but I see a tit-for-tat striking war here, where both guys might have to “dig deep” and “show tremendous heart”. Dudes are gonna get connected on here. The kicks and punches will be flying, Eddie and Donald will make some faces, someone will get hit with a big killshot, and someone will follow up with punches on the floor and get a TKO stoppage. That someone will be Donald Cerrone. By TKO, round three.

Demetrious Johnson vs. Chris Cariaso

Wait, is that a misprint? Huh? Why are all of these reputable MMA media sites reporting that Chris Cariaso is fighting for the flyweight title? There must be some mistake. That simply can’t be true.

It’s true? This thing is gonna happen? Huh. Strange world. Um, instead of complaining about this being one of the lamest title shots in MMA history, I’m just going to hype this as an opportunity to watch Mighty Mouse do his thing. People feel cheated when a movie is great but the ending sucks, and that’s not entirely fair.

Mighty Mouse does whatever he wants to Cariaso. I just hope he comes out aggressive and finishes him, because to see him give Cariaso the “Sakuraba doesn’t know how to beat Gilles Arsene while still seeming like a nice guy” treatment would be disappointing. In a way, there’s a lot of pressure on DJ here, at least in my eyes. He needs to finish Cariaso, or he’ll be perceived as a boring champion. Cariaso isn’t a terrible fighter or anything, and he won’t be a pushover. But DJ’s waaaaaay too much for him. DJ by submission, round four.

Enjoy the fights. It’d be hard not to.

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.