Following the disappointment of last weeks card in Germany, we are back in the USA for another card which has some really great match-ups for our delight and delectation. There are three standout fights for me: The main event sees the return to the Octagon of two of the light heavyweight divisions standout fighters – Rampage and Machida – both of whom have a big point to prove. BJ Penn following his back to back shutouts at the hands of Frankie Edgar faces his old nemesis Matt Hughts in a rubber-match at welterweight. Finally the other match I’m most looking forward to is between two of my favourite UFC fighters: George Sotirpoulos and Joe Lauzon.
Paul Kelly is the lone Brit on the card and after a pretty dismal year for the Brits in the UFC (compared to 2009) hopefully he will be bringing home the “W”. Failure to do so would mean his 3rd loss in 4 fights and could see him cut. All the lightweight fighters will be looking to put in great performances after the announcement that the UFC and WEC are merging and it is inevitable that Dana and co will be looking to drop some of the lower and mid level fighters they have on their books in the 155lb division.
Another interesting fight is the match between KO artist Gerald Harris and a man from Brazil with the virtually unpronouncable moniker of Maiquel Jose Falcao Goncalves. This fight is noteworthy because the Brazilian comes in with 25 wins 23 of which have come via strikes. Of all those T/KO wins only 2 have happened outside the 1st round. That is a hugely impressive statistic and if he can carry that form through his UFC career he is going to be one to watch for sure in the middleweight division!
So in anticpation of a non-sucky UFC that will wash away the bad taste left by UFC122….let’s get it on!
Paul Kelly 10-3-0 vs. T.J. O’Brien 16-3-0 – Lightweight
First up, the only Brit of the night Paul Kelly squares off against debutant TJ O’Brien. O’Brien has 16 wins, 15 of which are by submission. Of his submission wins 10 of the 15 have been by triangle choke. I haven’t seen anything anything of him, but from what I’ve read he is a Paul Sass-esque fighter: Long limbs making him a nightmare to grapple against and an expert at slapping on the triangle from nowhere. Kelly needs to avoid the ground in this fight and use his striking game. I think that will almost cetainly be the Brits gameplan and he is never afraid to mix it up on the feet. IF he can avoid the ground and not revert to type as a wrestler who likes to GnP, Kelly could take this. If he chooses to follow O’Brien down to the mat then he could be in for a short night. I’m going to do what I pretty much always do here and go with the Brit for the “W”. Kelly decision
Karo Parisyan19-5-0-1 (nc) vs. Dennis Hallman42-13-2-1(nc) – Welterweight
In a grappler vs grappler veterans matchup, the question for me is can Karo overcome his mental demons? Hallman is an undoubted talent and since his return to the UFC he is 1-1. He would be 2-0 but for that last second KO loss at 4:55 of round 3 to John Howard (5 seconds longer and he’d have taken the decision with ease). Hallman is definitely the fighter in form then but when he’s on fire, “the heat” (see what I did there!) is easily the more talented fighter. I quite like Parisyan as a fighter (although as a person he is clearly a dick!) and I’d like to see him win. But without a previous win against a decent level contender to gauge him on, I have to go with Hallman here. Hallman decision
Edson Mendes Barbosa 6-0-0 vs. Mike Lullo 8-1-0 – Lightweight
Barbosa is one of a new influx of Brazilian fighters that could prove to dominant in the big leagues over the next year or two. Clearly a prodigous talent with fierce striking,I know little of his ground game – but one has to assume that he has something in his locker should it hit the mat. Lullo is a very popular fighter and is being highly touted. He has a decent submission pedigree but again I know very little about him to make an informed choice on exactly how he is going to take this fight. Just going by what I have seen and read, and the fact that Lullo is a late replacement, I have to pick Barbosa. Probably via muay thai devastation. Barbosa TKO rd1
Tyson Griffin 14-4-0 vs. Nik Lentz19-3-2 – Lightweight
Let me get this straight right from the off. I hate Nick Lentz. I hate his style, I hate his nickname and I hate his face. I guess you can’t blame the guy for sticking to what he’s good at, but man it’s boring to watch! Therefore if Tyson Griffin doesn’t smash “the Carnie”, I may flip out and break the tv. Good job I’ll likely be watching this event at my brothers house as my TV is quite new and my kids would hate to miss out on Phineas and Ferb on Disney XD. In all likelihood, my brothers TV will be safe from my ferocious anger as Griffin surely has all the tools in his locker to handle his opponents takedown attempts. Griffin isnt a prelim fighter, he is a main card fighter. Exciting to watch and talented it’s a shame he’s had such a tough run of results that have seen him relegated to lower card anonymity. Griffin has the better striking and probably the better submission game but Lentz has serious wrestling chops and won’t mind throwing down to try and get into the clinch. I think this will be close fight but Griffin takes this on the judges cards (just give me the seat furthest from the TV bruv!). Griffin decision
Aaron Simpson 7-1-0 vs. Mark Munoz 8-2-0 – Middleweight
In a great Wrestler vs Wrestler match up, the two long-time friends put their bromance on hold for 15 minutes this saturday. This is a tough fight to call. Simpson has crushing power in his hands and better standup. Munoz possibly edges the wrestling and has serious GnP. I guess the best indicator of how this fight might go is the Okami vs Munoz match. Munoz was edged out by Okami in that match because the Japanese contender was able to stuff him and get some decent punches in. Unless Munoz has had a revelation in his latest fight camp and comes into the Octagon tomorrow night with some new tools then he is most likely in for more of the same from Simpson. The pick for me is Simpson, but it’ll be close and the judges will call it. Simpson decision
Brian Foster 14-5-0 vs. Matt Brown11-9-0 – Welterweight
Two fighters with less than stellar UFC records go at it in the final prelim of the night. Both these men know how to put on an exciting fight and hopefully this one will be a crowd-pleaser to lead into the action on the main card. Foster is probably the tidier and slightly more conservative of the two in terms of his style. Brown has never been knocked out in 20 fights but has often been susceptible to the submission due to overcommiting to finishing his opponents when things hit the mat. I don’t think we will be seeing a takedown master class here and these two are likely to just go at it on the feet. This being the case, I give the slight edge to Foster and I think we will see him finish Brown inside the distance towards the end of the fight. Foster T/KO round 3
George Sotiropoulos 13-2-0 vs. Joe Lauzon19-5-0 – Lightweight
This should be a great start to the evenings action. Lauzon is an all-out entertainer and has won fight bonuses in 6 of his 8 octagon appearances. In his last fight he absolutely decimated a hapless Gabe Ruediger in his best UFC performance to date. Sotiropoulos started his UFC career with 4 straight stoppage wins inside the distance, but his last two appearances have been decision wins (both of which were still excellent fights). He hasn’t lost since 2006 and that was a DQ loss to phenom Shinya Aoki. Sotiropoulos has the more refined ground game and has some of the best guard passing I have seen in the UFC. Lauzon edges the striking game but Sotiropoulos continues to improve in this area and will have a reach and size advantage. Whilst the australian has continued to perform as the quality of his opponents has improved, for Lauzon he is often wanting when the person stood across the Octagon from him bests him in one particular area. Against Stout he was comprehensively out-struck and he had no answer for Ken-Flo when they fought. I think he is up against it here as well: Whilst he is probably the better striker, he will have to work hard to get his striking off and if Sotiropoulos has continued to improve his standup at the rate he has shown to this point, then he may be able to answer back from outside Lauzons range. When this hits the mat, the guard work of Lauzon should be negated by his opponents smooth-as-you-like passing game. Once he finds himself in mount or side mount, I think Sotiropoulos could find a finish. This one will go into the latter stages but I think it will finish inside the distance and Sotiropoulos will have his hand raised at the end with a submission of the night performance. Sotiropoulos sub rd 3
Phil Davis 7-0-0 vs. Tim Boetsch 12-3-0 – Light Heavyweight
I’m not sure too many word are needed on this fight. Whilst Boetsch is a solid fighter, I don’t think he has a prayer here against ‘Mr Wonderful’. His only hope is that Davis makes a mistake and that he can land a solid kick or punch. In all likelihood though, Davis uses his far superior wrestling to latch onto Boetsch and take this to the mat for a very convincing TKO win. Davis TKO rd2
Gerald Harris 17-2-0 vs. Maiquel Jose Falcao Goncalves 25-3-0 – Middleweight
Goncalves is another of the new-breed of Brazilian fighter that are invading the UFC at the moment, and is a protege of the world famous Chute Boxe gym. As you would expect from a Chute Boxe fighter, this guy is all about the muay-thai and his stats are impressive: All but 2 of his 25 wins have been 1st round tko’s. Of his losses, 2 have been to fabio maldonado another recent UFC debutante from Brazil who beat mcsweeney at UFC 120. With statistics like these it is easy to get swept along in the “big rig” hype train. However when you consider the level of opponent he has faced in amassing this record, and the fact that this is his first fight in the big show then the train starts to derail a little. Harris is riding a 10 fight win streak and has two Ko of the night bonuses in his pocket from his 3 UFC appearances. Given the wrestling ability of Harris you’d have to hope that for him to win he will look to score a takedown early and not let his opponent – who likes to come out aggressive – get any momentum going in the opening round. As always UFC jitters for any debutant could be a factor and despite the Brazilians impressive credentials, I’m picking Harris here. If he keeps his hands up and upsets Goncalves’ momentum he should come away with the TKO win here. Harris TKO rd 2
B.J. Penn 15-7-1 vs. Matt Hughes 45-7-0 – Welterweight
In the third and final part of the Penn – Hughes trilogy we see BJ stepping into the Octagon with a lot to prove. Back to back losse to Frankie Edgar saw him lose his 155lbs throne and are the first losses at that weight for him since his loss to Jens Pulver in 2002. Penn has been open in saying that he is coming into this fight light and that may be a statement of his intention to use speed and movement to pick Hughes off. Some skeptics have said that it is just BJ laying the foundation for an excuse-fest should he lose. I’m not buying it. I think Penn was clearly in trouble in the second fight that he lost to Hughes with the rib-injury and I don’t think it was an excuse at all. Obviously everyone knows what happened in the first fight when Penn snapped a 13 fight win streak of the most dominant champion in UFC history at the time. Whilst Hughes has won his last 3 fights, I don’t think he has been particularly impressive in any of them. If BJ can find the fighter he was against Diego Sanchez and forget the uninterested and somewhat confused performances he put in against Edgar, I think he can win. This may be a heart over head pick given that Penn is my favourite all-time fighter but hey, that’s my perogative right! Sure Hughes could win this is he gets Penn on his back and gets top position, but I’m banking on BJ using his superb boxing for MMA and taking it to Hughes. I want to see BJ win this, and I believe he can. Whilst I’d love to see him stop Hughes, I’ll happily take a decision win. Penn decision
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson 30-8-0 vs. Lyoto Machida16-1-0 – Light Heavyweight
This should be a really great fight. Just putting Rampages name on a card guarantees PPV buys, you just don’t know which Rampage is going to show up! I’m still confused to this day why he didn’t go after Rashad when he had him hurt in their fight and after a long absence from the Octagon, I’m not sure his heart is even still in the game. Since coming to the UFC, Jackson has turned from a great wrestler with freakish strength into a headhunting banger, the type of fighter that is tailor-made for someone with a style like Machida’s. Whilst it is clear that Shogun wrote the template on how to beat the elusive Dragon, it is not one that Rampage is built to follow. Also if Machida has half the fight intelligence that I credit him with, he will know that now the book has been written on how to beat him, he needs to change things up a little. The most interesting about this fight is going to be seeing how both fighters set their stall out in the first round. If Rampage comes out tentative, expect Machida to use his footwork and movement to flit in and out and try to goad his opponent into opening up, which he surely will. Jackson has a decent chin and has only been KO’d 3 times in 38 fights. Once by shoguns soccer kicks and twice by the knees of Wanderlei. Machida does have great punches, but I’m not sure he can do to Jackson what he did to Rashad and Alves, unless he can land a real flurry. If Jackson comes out looking to wrestle, then things get really interesting and I really hope this is the way he chooses to fight. Machida has a great ground game, but his footwork and movement is so good he has rarely had to use it. I hope Rampage tries to put him on his back, but I suspect he will revert to type and go chasing the head and the big right hand. As a result he will get picked off at will and Machida will score a decision win! Machida decision
********** Updated with results ******************
Tyson Griffin vs. Nik Lentz – My Pick:Griffin decision Actual: Lentz decision
Paul Kelly vs. TJ O’Brien – My Pick: Kelly decision Actual: Kelly TKO rd 2
Mike Lullo vs. Edson Barboza – My Pick:Barboza TKO rd1 Actual: Barboza TKO (leg kicks) rd 3
Karo Parisyan vs. Dennis Hallman – My Pick: Hallman decision Actual: Hallman TKO rd 1
Aaron Simpson vs. Mark Muñoz – My Pick:Simpson decision Actual: Muñoz decision
Matt Brown vs. Brian Foster – My Pick:Foster TKO rd 3 Actual: Foster submission (guillotine choke) rd 2
George Sotiropoulos vs. Joe Lauzon – My Pick:Sotiropoulos sub rd 3 Actual: Sotiropoulos submission (kimura) rd 2
Phil Davis vs. Tim Boetsch – My Pick: Davis TKO rd2 Actual: Davis submission (modified kimura) rd 2.
Gerald Harris vs. Maiquel Falcão – My Pick: Harris TKO rd2 Actual: Falcão decision
Matt Hughes vs. B.J. Penn – My Pick: Penn decision Actual: Penn TKO rd 1
Quinton Jackson vs. Lyoto Machida – My Pick: Machida decision Actual: Jackson decision