21 September 2011
I'm really excited for this card (to the point I started writing this preview the Tuesday before UFC Rio). Of course, that jinxed the card as Diego Sanchez broke his hand a week or so later, forcing Josh Koscheck to replace him in the fight against Matt Hughes. And upon further review, it's a two match show, but they're a really cool two matches.
Mark Hunt vs. Ben Rothwell - This is a battle of the lurps. From what I understand, Mark Hunt had an iron-clad contract with Pride that UFC absorbed when they purchased the company, preventing him from getting cut if he loses. How else can they explain that he debuted with UFC coming off a five fight losing streak, lost his first match in just over a minute, and still has a job? Meanwhile, Ben Rothwell is a terrible fighter that looks, acts and fights like the beta version of Tim Sylvia. He employs a Homer Simpson strategy of letting someone hit him enough times until his opponent tires out, except that it often backfires and Rothwell is the one that gasses. Also, he's dumb and stupid and a lunkhead with a much higher opinion of his fighting prowess than is deserved. Let's also not forget that both he and Mark Hunt could literally eat me for lunch if either wanted, but I have the armor of the Internet to protect me. Since both guys are equally terrible, I'm hoping for a mutually assured destruction type of finish where both guys spontaneously combust due to how much pure, unmitigated human bile will be in the octagon, and the only thing that would make it better is if Steve Mazzagatti is also the ref and he, too, explodes. Barring that, Rothwell will probably finish Hunt by TKO in the first, or he'll get a boring decision.
Nate Diaz vs. Takanori Gomi - Gomi has looked pretty awful in making the transition from Japan to the UFC, with a sole knockout win of Tyson Griffin sandwiched between losses to Kenny Florian and Clay Guida. Meanwhile, Diaz is coming off two losses in a row at welterweight, one an even grappling match to Dong Hyun-Kim and the other a fight where Diaz was completely dismantled and destroyed by Rory "Bacne" MacDonald. Diaz has the much better ground game while Gomi's wrestling skills give him the advantage. Both have good stand-up with the power edge going Gomi's way. However, Diaz, much like his nutbar of a brother Nick, has much quicker hands and can pepper a guy with three shots for each one thrown by his opponent. He's making his return to 155 lbs., which may not work in his favor, but will definitely give him the size advantage over a guy that should be fighting at featherweight or even bantamweight. Plus, Gomi doesn't have the speed he used to have and really seems to be coasting on past glory. I suspect that Diaz will submit Gomi in the third round.
Travis Browne vs. Rob Broughton - It's another battle of lurps! Except this time, they're both slightly younger and possibly more talented. Honestly, I haven't seen enough of Broughton to give a solid opinion on him, but Browne is coming of a great KO of Stefan Struve (1) and is technically undefeated. I'll give Browne the nod and when I don't know either fighter well enough, it's always by way of decision.
(1) Stefan Struve stands 6'11'' and towers over everyone else in the heavyweight division as its tallest member. He's fighting Pat Barry on October 1. Barry is the shortest guy in the heavyweight division at 5'9'' AND I CAN'T WAIT FOR THAT FIGHT! UFC generally doesn't do freak show fights, and this technically isn't that, but it's still going to be quite the spectacle considering that Struve can literally stick his arm out on Barry's head and laugh while the latter swings wildly at air.
Matt Hughes vs. Josh Koscheck - As a lifelong pro wrestling fan, it's really easy to see the dynamics inherent to MMA that used to be the exclusive domain of sports entertainment. While Diego Sanchez taking on the former Welterweight Champion was an intriguing fight, his broken hand prevents the fight from taking place right now. However, Josh Koscheck presents just as interesting a fight and adds an extra dynamic of him being a humongous jerk. Koscheck knows how fans feel about him and he plays his role to perfection. In fact, in a lot of ways, Josh Koscheck is the greatest natural pro wrestling heel in all of MMA.
And he's facing a guy that recently experienced a bit of a face turn in my eyes. Granted, the change has come more in my perception of him than in anything Hughes himself has done. Matt Hughes has a tendency to come across as arrogant when facing humble opponents, but he's never deviated from being the same guy over the years despite that rubbing people the wrong way. After attending a Matt Hughes Q&A over the summer, I really started to appreciate what my buddy Scott had believed about Hughes all along: he just tells it like it is. If what Hughes says happens to be something that's true about him, that doesn't necessarily make it bragging or arrogance.
This is the last fight on Hughes' contract, and reports are that his wife wants him to call it quits after this one. Koscheck is coming off a ten month layoff due to GSP cracking his orbital bone. Really, it's a fight that should have happened a long time ago. I don't think that Hughes ducked a fight with Koscheck, but he didn't exactly seek it out either. This is the kind of battle that would have cemented Hughes' supremacy at the time or made Koscheck a star. Unfortunately, Hughes' legacy is pretty well-established at this point and Koscheck is already a star, so a win isn't going to further either guy up the ladder nor will a loss really hurt either of them. When Sanchez got axed, my first thought was that Rory MacDonald made the most sense for Hughes because he's an up-and-comer in the way Koscheck was many years ago. But you play the hand you're dealt.
The two are pretty close to even in their wrestling, and Koscheck has the advantage standing while Hughes has the advantage when implementing submissions. Fights between wrestlers of this caliber usually end up being stand-up affairs, and Koscheck's speed and knockout power will conceivably give Hughes a lot of problems, especially coming off his 20 second knockout loss to BJ Penn. This is a fight where my heart desperately wants Hughes to win while my brain screams that Koscheck will come out victorious. If it's stopped, Koscheck will be the one to end it, probably by TKO. BUT! My official pick is that Matt Hughes will win by split decision because he has a tendency to sway the judges with his grappling even when he's losing on his feet.
Quinton "Rampage" Jackson vs. Jon "Bones" Jones (c) for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship - Let's ignore all of the silliness of accusations that Jones has a spy in Rampage's camp because Jones said it best during the Countdown special: Rampage never has a complex game plan. He rarely uses his wrestling anymore except for takedown defense, only attempts to throw hands while focusing on counterpunching, and utilizes knees to the legs and midsection while caught in the clinch.
Meanwhile, Jones, the youngest Light Heavyweight Champion in UFC history, utilizes an array of strikes, has had no trouble taking anyone down and has demonstrated a varied and unique submission game. He has the height and reach advantage over Rampage and showed in winning the belt that he can implement the jab and all sorts of kicks to keep the distance if he chooses. Rampage says that Jones doesn't have the power to take him out, but Shogun Rua's face tells a different story.
Honestly, Rampage is so one-dimensional and Jones is so multi-dimensional that I can't see any way Rampage comes out of this the winner. The real test for Jones is how he responds to being threatened in a fight, and the problem in trying to figure that out is that Jones so far has not been threatened in the least. He's taken out a string of middle-of-the-pack fighters and destroyed two top ten guys in Bader and Shogun. Is Bader as good as he appeared? A loss to Tito Ortiz suggests he may not have been. Did Jones face Shogun at the top of his game? All signs point to no, thanks to his destruction of Forrest Griffin. Should that take away from Jones and his accomplishments? At the end of the day, it shouldn't. If you're healthy enough to take a fight then you're healthy enough to lose a fight.
All of this is to just find some justifiable way to consider a Rampage win, and nothing convinces me that will happen. I suspect that Jones will wear Rampage down with leg kicks and strikes to the body, following up on that with some ground and pound on a prone Jackson in the later rounds. Jon Jones will TKO Rampage Jackson in the fourth round. Then things get interesting as I suspect that we'll get the much-anticipated Jon Jones/Rashad Evans fight come Superbowl weekend.