18 March 2011

UFC 128

UFC 128 is a card filled with replacement fighters, but those replacements have made for way more interesting contests than the original card presented. Plus, with the Spike special an hour prior to the pay per view and the Facebook specific fights taking place before that, one has the opportunity to watch five hours of UFC on Saturday. Crazy.

The one notable undercard preliminary fight that isn't on the Spike card or airing on Facebook but should probably be on the main card is Joseph Benavides fighting Ian Loveland. Benavides is awesome and will win by guillotine, probably in the first round, so it might make its way onto the main card anyway, but UFC should be striving to get over the newer smaller weightclasses as much as possible and putting this on the pay per view would really help.

Mirko Cro Cop vs. Brendan Schaub - Cro Cop is done. He occasionally shows flashes of the Pride dude that could boast of a left leg that sends guys to the hospital and right that goes to the cemetery, but that's no longer the case. Based on his interviews, Cro Cop isn't taking Schaub seriously either, which is a huge mistake. Schaub should take the win with a first round TKO.

Nate Marquardt vs. Dan Miller - Miller is filling in for Yoshihiro Akiyama, who won't be able to make the show due to the recent earthquake in Japan. Both guys are grinders who have recently lost to Chael Sonnen with Marquardt possessing the edge in the stand-up. Marquardt also joins Kenny Florian by earning the "choker" label. When it comes to important, career-defining or title shot-earning opportunities, Marquardt has a tendency to fail. He did so against the aforementioned Sonnen and more recently against Yushin Okami. Miller is similar to Jon Fitch without the win streak and slightly less boring in that he's talented but not great and known mostly for his tenacity and refusal to ever turn down a fight. Most are picking Marquardt here, but I'm going against the grain when I pick Miller by decision. Nate Marquardt would have probably won against Akiyama because the latter is undersized for the weight division and always gets sucked into having an exciting fight even if it's one that results in a loss. The entire game plan has to change for Marquardt when faced with someone who's entire strategy is the complete opposite of someone like Akiyama. Marquardt is his own worst enemy, and, really, I just like Dan Miller more.

Kamal Shalorus vs. Jim Miller - This is a fight that can have some huge title implications once Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard determine the champion at the end of May and after Anthony Pettis and Clay Guida settle things in June. Since Sotiroupolus lost, Miller has the most convincing record to challenge for the title. He's only lost twice in his 21 fight career, both times by decision, to Edgar and Maynard. While he's facing an undefeated opponent in Shalorus who is a tremendously powerful wrestler, Miller has much more refined punching and great jiu-jitsu. Shalorus swings wildly and could probably knock out a horse if his punches ever connected, but most guys are smart enough to know how to avoid them. Miller will get the win with a submission, probably a choke or a leglock, and hopefully move into title contention in the eyes of both the UFC brass and the fans.

Eddie Wineland vs. Urijah Faber - Before I start, let's make sure everyone agrees that Eddie Wineland is no joke. He's a former bantamweight champion on a four fight win streak who's quick and able to knock people out with one punch. Most guys should not mess with Eddie Wineland.

Urijah Faber is not most guys. Urijah is a ball of energy that has a gas tank that lasts for days. He's well-rounded and his butt-chin isn't just for show: taking a punch is no problem for him. Urijah is mentally tough and has a ground game that takes out most guys who are renowned for their submissions. Urijah was the biggest fish of the small pond that was WEC, and all signs point to him shining brighter in the UFC...provided he wins here. Make no mistake, the pressure is on Faber to win and win impressively. Considering that the next season of The Ultimate Fighter features featherweights and bantamweights and that the only person Faber has ever admitted to disliking is current UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz, it only makes sense for UFC to name those two the coaches. But the only way that can happen is if Faber wins here, which isn't guaranteed. 

However, Faber can and, I think, will win this fight. Wineland is a good enough wrestler to be an MMA fighter but it's not a part of his game that stands out. Wineland relies on speed and power, something at the lighter weight class that Faber has in spades. I suspect that Urijah will manage a takedown, definitely by the second but probably in the first, and secure a guillotine or a rear-naked choke. Then expect Urijah Faber to attain the level of fame of a GSP or a Rampage because the guy has charisma enough to be tied for my wife's favorite fighter.

Jon Jones vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (c) for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship - There is so much to say about this fight that it's hard to figure out where to start.

Shogun has long been considered the best light heavyweight in the world and yet he gets the least amount of respect. The blame can partially rest on his long track record of injuries. He lost to Forrest Griffin in his UFC debut and was out for a year and half with a blown out knee. He looked terrible in beating Mark Coleman, defeated a declining Chuck Liddell and then found himself in a controversial loss to Lyoto Machida. When he avenged that loss to capture the Light Heavyweight Championship, Rua did so on a second busted knee; he wasn't expected back until the middle of the summer. Yet, here he is again, supposedly healed and ready to fight sooner than expected after a ten month layoff. 

The champ has a vast arsenal with a brutal submission game and even more impressive muay Thai skills.  With his opponent's long, skinny legs, it's natural to assume, and Rua stated as much on the Countdown show, that the leg kicks will be part of his game plan. Rua is also not afraid to bum rush his opponent to get inside and utilize his powerful striking like he did against a much more versatile and refined striker in Lyoto Machida. One need only look at his fight against Kevin Randleman to see the kind of damage Rua's leg locks can do. This is a guy that has a long and storied list of fighters that he's defeated, many in the first round, yet he's the underdog in the fight. This is madness. How can a guy that has the pedigree and skill at the level of Mauricio Rua be so under recognized in his first title defense?

Because he's facing Jon Jones.

Picture the most perfect example of an MMA fighter: a long reach, unheard of strength, elite wrestling skills, unorthodox striking and flexible, versatile limbs to apply a variety of submissions. This is Jon Jones, and he's only been fighting for just under three years. He's only 23. In fact, there are a lot of parallels between Jones and Rua. Rua was the same age as Jones when he started to set the MMA world on fire, earning the best light heavyweight in the world moniker. And like Rua at the time, Jones is only getting better every time he fights. 

Is this the fight that shows that Jones can hang at the elite level? That he can handle the pressure of the spotlight and deliver a championship to his mantle at home? Should Jones be able to utilize his immense 84.5 inch reach, an 8.5 inch advantage, with an effective jab, that should counteract Shogun's leg kicks. He won't want to get into a clinch with Shogun, despite that working wonders against the other fighters he's faced in the past because Shogun has effective striking in that position. And if he bum rushes Jones, Shogun is only asking for a takedown. 

The takedown in this fight is key; the last Machida fight showed that Shogun is not someone who prides himself on takedown defense as much as he relies on his grappling ability to allow him to stand when he is taken down. Machida has terrible wrestling for an MMA fighter whereas Jones is one of the top three, and an argument can be made for him being the top, wrestlers in the entire sport. His reach allows him to be an effective, brutal striker in his opponent's guard and his ground grappling is at a level that allows him to take on side control and mount with ease. 

Ultimately, that's where I see this fight going. Shogun can win should he keep it standing because, while Jones has unorthodox strikes with his spinning back elbows and kicks that come out of nowhere, he still looks like he's trying to incorporate things that he saw in a video game into a real fight, and that can be dangerous. However, Jones appears to be as smart as he is talented, so I expect Jon "Bones" Jones to win by TKO in the second round due to a barrage of powerful elbows that overwhelm Rua in his guard. 

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