I have decided to split these posts up into 2 separate posts for undercard and main card as they are getting a but longwinded. So here is part one of my UFC 120 preview. Read part 2 here
The UFC returns to London this weekend for their 9th UK show in the promotions entire history. Although the card has come in for a bit of criticism from some quarters, it is full of great fights. Sure there may not be any ‘stellar’ names from the UFC A-list but we do get to see the two most famous representatives of UKMMMA currently plying their trade in the UFC – Michael Bisping and Dan Hardy – on the same card. As well as those guys and other main card fighters James Wilks and John Hathaway, there are undercard debuts from Paul Sass, Curt Warburton and Rob Broughton and a third UFC appearance from TUF 10 contestant James McSweeney. With 8 of the 11 fights on the card featuring British fighters, the UK fans will be well taken care of and will no doubt raise the roof of the O2 arena as the local fighters take the stage.
One man we unfortunately won’t be seeing that UK fans were really looking forward to is Tom Blackledge. He had to withdraw from his fight with James McSweeney and will be replaced by Fabio Maldonado.
Here are my thoughts on how the undercard will go play out!
James McSweeney 4-5-0 vs. Fabio Maldonado 17-3-0 – Light Heavyweight
McSweeney makes his third UFC appearance since impressing Dana on TUF10 and despite not winning the show, getting himself a contract. He has gone 1-1 with the promotion so far and in this fight makes his debut at 205lbs. His opponent Maldonado is a brazilian ex-pro boxer with a perfect boxing record of 22-0 (21 ko’s). Given the extensive striking background of McSweeney we could be in for a real barnburner of a standup war to kick things off for this event. McSweeney left school at 15 to move to thailand and train muay thai fulltime. He has a 136-9 record in full contact kickboxing (K1 and thai rules). However in MMA his record is less than stellar and he has had some trouble adopting his style for the cage. He still looks out of his depth on the ground and despite packing some good power his striking style seems ‘clunky’ in the cage for some reason. Perhaps the new weight will give him a new lease of life and make him appear less sluggish. He will have a pretty big size advantage over Maldonado and should look to use his superior range to his advantage. Maldonado is a Nogueira trained fighter and for me, is the far more well-rounded of the two. Although he is more than capable on the feet himself, if it were up to me, I would have him hunt for the takedown early because he is far more likely to be dominant on the ground. If he can get McSweeney on the floor it will a be a really short night for the brit. As much as I hate to bet against the UK fighter in any fight, I really think that, despite the size advantage, McSweeney is onto a loser in this fight. He is another guy who is in danger of losing his spot on the big show and Maldonado may just be the man to snatch McSweeneys UFC dream away here. I can see Maldonado getting it to the ground early and punishing the brit. McSweeney may last out the round, but if he does he certainly won’t get out of the 2nd. I will be more than happy to be proved wrong on this one, but I’m taking Maldonado T/KO rd 2
Spencer Fisher 23-6-0 vs. Curt Warburton 6-1-0 – Lightweight
Wolfslair product Warburton makes his debut here and has a real tough match for his first outing. Maybe he called Joe Silva a bitch or something, because getting 29 fight veteran Fisher for his first UFC fight is a harsh call. That’s not to say it’s not a great opportunity: He’ll go into this fight a heavy underdog widely expected to lose. If he pulls out the win he puts himself straight on the map with a great name on his record. Fisher is on a 2 fight losing streak right now and badly needs a win to continue to ride the UFC train. Warburton is reputed by his teammates to be in fantastic shape going into this fight. Mike Bisping has said that he is freakishly strong for the weight and incredibly hard to takedown and he will need to be right on his A-game against the veteran. Fisher has only been stopped twice in 29 fights and has had 13 fights in the UFC to date. Whilst time is definitely not on Fishers side, experience most certainly is. Warburton will grow into his new role in the UFC and has the training camp, sparring partners and the ability to progress in the sport, but my gut instinct is telling me that Fisher is too tough a fight for him at this point. He is very well rounded, tough to put away and despite his advancing years (in MMA terms) he still has the cardio to go three hard rounds. I think Warburton has what it takes to push this fight all the way to the end, but Fishers experience and cage savvy should be enough to keep him ahead on the scorecards. An unprecedented 2 away picks for me, and once again I am more than happy to be proved wrong here, but I’m taking a Fisher decision
Paul Sass 10-0-0 vs. Mark Holst 8-2-0 – Lightweight
Another Uk debutant, Kaobon trained Paul Sass comes into this fight undefeated and a record holder: He won his first 8 fights all by triangle. Holder of a BJJ purple belt, Sass is a wizard on the ground and has a long frame which always causes his opponents problems when the fight hits the mat. Holst is also a purple belt and has been working on his wrestling at the montreal wrestling club which is where a certain Mr Georges St Pierre can often be found. Despite this, he was taken down almost at will in his last fight against John Gunderson. Although Gunderson couldn’t capitalise and Holst threatened off his back occasionally, using that fight as a barometer for how he will fare against Sass leads me to think that the brit should have enough about him to take this fight. While I’m not sure that Holst will succumb to the infamous ‘Sassangle’, I do think he is outmatched in the grappling department here. Sass should be able to take him down and will rack up enough points to take this one on the judges cards. Sass decision
Steve Cantwell 7-3-0 vs. Stanislav Nedkov 11-0-0 – Light Heavyweight
Cantwell is the ex- WEC Lightheavyweight champion but since coming to the UFC hasn’t fared so well. Nedkov has wins over veterans Kevin Randleman and Travis Wiuff in Sengoku. To be honest this is a total non-event for me personally. It bears no real relevance on the Light Heavyweight title picture and should just serve as gauge for how good the new boy (Nedkov) is, when placed against a low-mid level American who’s been around a while (yes I know he did that in Sengoku, but this is the big show this time!). Nedkov has solid wresltling and is strong as an ox, Cantwell has ability but has been having a lot of injury issues that have blighted the last year or so for him. This fight is hard to call and a lot will ride on the gas tank of both men with Cantwell having a long layoff and Nedkov looking in less than peak condition against Randleman. I’ll go with a finger in the air pick here and take Nedkov, but that is a total hunch to be fair, based on nothing more than the ill health and prolonged absence of Cantwell recently. Nedkov decision
Rob Broughton 14-5-1 vs. Vinicius Kappke de Quieroz 5-1-0 – Heavyweight
Interesting fight here, Broughton is the heavier end of the weight while Queiroz is at the lighter end but has a lot of height on Broughton. It has been a great 18 or so months for the Brit who was very successful in M1 and also won the 8 man heavyweight tournament: ZT fightnight – Heavyweights Collide, back in January of this year, with 3 fights in one night. He now trains out of Wolfslair and has been training for his UFC debut since he was signed back in April. I literally know nothing about Broughtons opponent, other than that he trains out of the world-reknowned Chute Boxe gym in Brazil and all his wins have come by T/KO. As you’d expect from someone fighting out of that camp, his Muay Thai for MMA looks crisp (found a vid on youtube). Big Rob will need to try and check the kicks of the Brazilian and set his hands up well rather than bullrush in as he has tended to do in the past. If he chooses this tactic this time out, he could get clipped coming in and that would be an unfortunate beginning to his UFC career. If Rob can get to the clinch without getting caught and can avoid getting pulled into some huge knees, then he has a decent chance of getting this to the mat. From top position you have to fancy ‘The Bear’ to be able to end the fight but the longer this stays on the feet the more it plays to the reach and kicking ability of the Brazilian. Broughton has a great chin and I don’t think he will get stopped if it does stay at striking range, but I think he will lose a standup war. Broughton has decent wrestling though and I’m sure he is savvy enough to know to use it here. This being the case, I think he will have what it takes to make Quieroz’ debut a pretty difficult evening. Broughton T/KO round 3
Cyrille Diabate 16-6-1 vs. Alexander Gustafsson 9-1-0 – Light Heavyweight
Diabate has been around since the very early days of MMA and after snapping a 4 fight losing streak in late 200 with a KO win over Mu Jin Na he has won 10 of 11 fights and the lone loss in that period was to none other than Mauricio Shogun Rua. Known for his excellent Muay Thai, Diabate may be a familiar face to fans of the ultimate fighter were he was a striking coach for team USA in series 9. Gustafsson is coming in off a loss to Phil “mr wonderful” Davis at UFC 112. The swede is also a great striker in his own right with solid boxing skills. Of his 9 wins, 7 are by KO or TKO and despite his loss to Davis, he put in a decent shift showing good takedown defence against a man who is a freak of nature and is widely tipped for the top in the future. Gustafsson is 14 years Diabate’s junior and that also has to go in his favour. Although Diabate has not exactly looked like he is slowing down, he was nearly stopped in his last fight against Luis Cane and did well to recover and finish the fight. Another tough fight to call and another potential stand-up war of attrition. Diabates skill and experience against Gustafsson’s power and speed. I think Gustafsson may be able to nick this one. He has been training with team Alliance – the home of Phil Davis – since his loss and clearly intends to learn from it. Diabate has been around too long to be adding new things to his game in my opinion. Fighters like Randy Couture are few and far between and Diabate isnt one of those guys. He will stick to what he does best and won’t be bringing anything Gustafsson doesn’t already know about. I’m going out on a limb and taking Gustafsson by T/KO
*********** Updated with results ***************
James McSweeney vs. Fabio Maldonado – My Pick:Maldonado TKO rd2 Actual:Maldonado TKO rd 3.
Spencer Fisher vs. Curt Warburton – My Pick: Fisher decision Actual:Fisher decision
Paul Sass vs. Mark Holst – My Pick: Sass decision Actual:Sass submission (triangle choke) rd 1.
Nedkov vs Cantwell cancelled 48hours prior to event
Rob Broughton vs. Vinicius Kappke de Queiroz – My Pick: Broughton T/KO round 3 Actual:Broughton submission (rear-naked choke) rd 3
Cyrille Diabaté vs. Alexander Gustafsson – My Pick: Gustafsson TKO Actual:Gustafsson submission (rear naked choke) rd 2