After a mediocre and uninspiring Fight Night Card this past saturday, we head straight into UFC 135 and a card that should provide a few fireworks inside the Octagon. In the headline match, the champion Jon Jones defends his UFC gold against former champ Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. The run up to this fight has seen Jones remaining reasonably respectful of his opponent and the always vocal Rampage firing off accusations of spies in his fight camp. As is always the case, “the bullshit stops when the cage door locks” and once the two men are looking across the Octagon at one another, none of the prefight hype matters. Can Jackson land the fight ending punch? Will Jones mow through Rampage like he has all his other opponents? How many close ups will there be of Rashad Evans at ringside? We’ll find out, come Saturday night!
The co-headline match sees Matt Hughes facing off against late-replacement Koscheck. Kos has wanted this fight for a long time and he will finally get to see how it is to go up against the legendary former champion. This is a big fight for Koscheck after a long injury lay-off and a big test for Hughes in comparison to his last run of opponents. Hughes has lined up mostly against fighters he has been expected to beat since losing the belt to GSP and but for the KO losses to Alves and Penn he has duly done so. The two fighters are similar in a lot of ways and this is a very interesting match up of old school vs new school.
Elsewhere on the main card; British Heavyweight standout makes his second Octagon appearance against the undefeated Travis Browne and Nate Diaz faces off against a former opponent of his brothers when he throws down with Takanori Gomi.
But before we get into that, let’s have a look at the rest of the card. Let’s get it on!
Ricardo Romero 11-2-0 vs. James Te Huna 12-5-0 – Light Heavyweight
Ricardo Romero was widely touted as a big light-heavyweight prospect prior to his entry into the UFC. His time spent in the promotion though has been thoroughly unpleasant. Despite boasting a similar 1-1 promotional record to his opponent, Romero’s win was a “pull it out the bag” victory after getting smashed by Seth Petruzelli for a round and a half. His second UFC fight was over inside the first minute. He clearly needs to work on not getting hit by Te Huna if he is going to win this match as the kiwi fighter throws leather with mean intentions. With improving wrestling Te Huna is a dangerous opponent for Romero who needs this fight on the ground at all costs. Other than a DQ, all Te Huna’s losses have come via submission and this is clearly his achilles heel. Whether Romero gets a chance to expose this hole in his game, is down to Romeros ability to avoid taking damage on the feet. I think Te Huna is going to be the favourite coming into this fight and I am going to go with the betting lines on this and pick Te Huna’s striking and wrestling to keep him away from the ground game of Romero and get the stoppage. Te Huna TKO rd 2
Cole Escovedo 17-7-0 vs. Takeya Mizugaki 14-6-2 – Bantamweight
Long-time Japanese stand-out Mizugaki came to prominence for many western MMA fans when he made his WEC debut against Miguel Torres for the WEC Bantamweight title. The two men went at it for five rounds and won fight of the night honours for their war of attrition. Since then Mizugaki has been on a loss-win-loss-win cycle, defeating Jeff Curran, RaniYaha and Reuben Duran, but falling short against the divisions elite like Jorgensen, Faber and Bowles. This fight against Escovedo is significant for both men as both face the prospect of the dreaded back to back octagon losses which have seen many others get their marching orders. Whilst he has fallen short against the top stars in the division, Mizugaki still has a very strong skill set and is likely to have the upper hand here against Escovedo. He has never demonstrated impressive KO power against the American fighters, but he is quick and effective with his striking and uses it to set up takedowns well. Aside from the submission loss to Faber, all his fights in the WEC/UFC have gone the distance and he is super-tough to put away. Escovedo has been around a lot longer than his opponent and one wonders whether three losses in his last four signifies that his time has passed. I fully expect Escovedo to make this a contest, but it should be one that Mizugaki emerges from with the win. Mizugaki decision
Junior Assuncao 12-4-0 vs. Eddie Yagin 15-4-1 – Featherweight
Assuncao is a master of his homelands fighting arts with black belts in BJJ and Capoeira and is riding a 6 fight win streak coming into this fight where he makes his UFC return after first debuting with the promotion back in 2006. Yagin makes his UFC debut and has been pretty busy the last few months, with this fight being his third in a little over 3 months. His last two fights this year have been impressive first round wins over Joe Soto and Joe Neri. I must admit to not knowing too much else about either of these guys, but despite the miles on the clock, Yagin looks like the smart bet here. Yagin decision
Tim Boetsch 13-4-0 vs. Nick Ring 12-0-0 – Middleweight
The undefeated Nick Ring faces his first big test at Middleweight as he squares off against the Barbarian. Boetsch gained a lot of fans in his very first UFC match when he tossed David Heath around like a ragdoll en-route to a first round TKO win. This will be his second match at middleweight and he put in an impressive shift last time out dominating the always tricky Kendall Grove.
Boetsch is a strong wrestler and looked very comfortable with his new weight and this looks to be a tough fight for Ring. Ring is a TUF11 veteran who plied his trade in the MMA minor leagues prior to the show. In TUF he actually beat the eventual winner Court McGee, but McGee was re-instated later on and Ring withdrew due to injury. He was handed a very controversial win in his UFC debut but there was no doubting the result in his second fight where he dismantled James Head. A BJJ Brownbelt and expert kickboxer he is no walk-over but up against the brute strength, high level wrestling and size advantage of his opponent, I see him struggling to employ the takedown and GnP gameplan that worked for him so well against Head. Off his back, I think he will struggle to be effective in his jiujitsu against the kind of top control Boetsch has, so this leaves the stand-up game: He will no doubt be quicker to the punch than Boetsch and this maybe represents his best chance of nicking a win. Something tells me though, that Boetsch will find a way to get this where he wants it and make this the first mark in the loss column for Ring. Boetsch TKO rd 2
Tony Ferguson 12-3-0 vs. Aaron Riley 30-12-1 – Lightweight
TUF 13 Winner Ferguson makes his “official” debut as a fully fledged paid up fighter for the UFC against Aaron Riley. Despite winning the show at welterweight, Ferguson this match will be at 155lbs, a weight Ferguson has competed at in the past. Ferguson is riding a 4 fight win streak, all of which have been TKO victories. Riley has been around a long time, making his professional debut in 1997 at Hook n Shoot. He hasn’t fought in over a year due to injury and the long layoff could be a factor in this fight. Riley has never been a KO artist, relying more heavily on his submissions and general MMA savvy to get him through his fights. Four in his last five losses have been TKO stoppages and against a puncher like Ferguson this is going to be a problem. Riley is definitely a decent gauge for any lightweight fighter looking to find their level in the UFC and this fight should see Ferguson prove his worth. There is no doubt that Ferguson will be built up gently before being handed to the wolves that lie in wait in the 155lb division. The jury is definitely out on how far up the lightweight ladder he can go, but I expect to see him take his first step up in this fight. He should find a home for his fists on Rileys jaw and get the stoppage before the end of the second round. Ferguson TKO rd 2
Ben Rothwell 31-7-0 vs. Mark Hunt 6-7-0
On paper this looks like a horrible mismatch, with a clear experience advantage going to Rothwell. But you cannot discount the high-level K1 experience of Hunt, who proved against Chris Tuchscherer that he still has dynamite in his fists despite his advancing years. The strategy for dealing with that though is a simple one, put him on his back. Hunt is like a fish out of water when things hit the ground and Rothwell is far better equipped than Hunts previous opponent to put him there. Rothwell has the tools, but a long injury layoff could be a factor here. Rothwell will be making a mistake if he chooses to stand with Hunt. He may fancy testing his own skills against such an iconic kickboxer, especially with his significant reach advantage, but it would be a horrible gameplan. He needs Hunt on his back, simple as that. Whether Hunt has done enough work in the gym with ATT to try and stop this happening remains to be seen. I’m thinking not however. Rothwell Sub rd 1
Nate Diaz 13-7-0 vs. Takanori Gomi 32-7-0 (1 NC) – Lightweight
Once touted as the best lightweight in the world, Gomi has had a torrid time since he came to the UFC. Two submission losses to Florian and Guida sandwich a KO of the night win over Tyson Griffin and he has to know that leaving the arena on Saturday night with another loss may consign him to the minor leagues of MMA and formally signal the end of a decade as a major force in the MMA worlds lighter divisions. Gomi was famously submitted by the “other Diaz” in Pride with a gogoplata, but this fight was ruled a no-contest after Diaz tested positive for marijuana after the fight. Not really sure how that is a substance which could be deemed to enhance his fighting abilities or give him unfair advantage…but I digress! Nate needs to look to use his own excellent jiujitsu to get the win here, as I am not sure his striking is quite up to par against a fighter like Gomi. Diaz is incredibly resilient, has never been KO’d in 20 fights and has only lost by submission once. All his other losses are by decision and if Gomi is going to win this fight, he needs to pour it on Diaz early and never ease up on the pressure. I do not think he has the cardio to do that and I see this fight ending up with a submission win for Diaz. Not sure it will be as spectacular as the no-handed-bird-flip triangle, or his brothers super slick gogoplata. But he will get the job done, after surviving an early blitz. Diaz submission round 3
Travis Browne 11-0-1 vs. Rob Broughton 15-5-1 – Heavyweight
Uk heavyweight standout Broughton faces his toughest test to date, when he fights the unbeaten Travis Browne. Broughton is being written off by many pundits who I think are sleeping on his extremely underrated grappling skills. That being said, the size and reach advantage of Browne, coupled with his big punching power are going to make it a very tough night for Rob to get the match where he wants it. As much as I will be rooting for the Brit on saturday night, I think the smart pick is Browne by TKO. Browne TKO rd2
Matt Hughes 45-8-0 vs. Josh Koscheck 15-5-0 – Welterweight
As I said before, this is a battle of old vs new, Josh Koscheck finally gets the chance to throw down with Matt Hughes, a fight he says he has wanted for a long time. Whilst Hughes has put together some wins since losing his title to GSP, the quality of opposition (with the exception of BJ Penn) has not been championship contender level. Koscheck is a contender, and despite the fact that GSP rearranged his eyeballs when they fought, he is still a top contender at 170lbs and a hard fight for anyone. In many ways he is Hughes 2.0, strong wrestling and takedowns coupled with stifling top control is his bread and butter. He also loves to throw right hands from row z and this can work some of the time, but against uber-strikers like BJ, GSP, Condit and Ellenberger he will struggle to get that game-plan to come off. Against Hughes however, he probably has a striking advantage. He is also undoubtedly the more athletic of the two. Hughes has an underrated submission game which is secondary to the wrestling and GnP style of his heyday, and there is always a sniff of a chance he could catch an arm or a choke off a scramble. But it is more likely that Koscheck will snuff out the wrestling and ground-game of the former-champ and dictate the pace of the fight. A stoppage is a big possibility, and maybe I am giving Hughes a little more credit than recent performances deserve, but I’m picking him to survive to the end…just, ultimately losing a one-sided decision beatdown. Koscheck decision
Jon Jones 13-1-0 vs. Quinton Jackson 32-8-0 – Light Heavyweight Championship
This fight comes down to one thing and one thing only, can Rampage land the KO shot on the champ. The longer he can’t and the longer Jones has to get into his groove the higher the chance of this ending badly for Rampage. Let’s be clear, Rampage is still a legend and has a huge fanbase, but he is no longer the monster he was in pride. He has eeked out decisions in all but three of his nine UFC fights, and 2 of those KO wins were against Eastman and Wandy: shadows of their former-selves when Rampage fought them. The win against Lidell that won him his first UFC title was a huge KO, but it was against a go for broke Chuck who will look to throwdown with anyone. Jones won’t fight like that. Jones has a ridiculous “wingspan” and his reach advantage over Rampage is 11inches. Just digest that for a moment, he has almost a whole foot reach advantage! Jones is super-strong, athletic and has a dazzling array of unorthodox striking that he actually makes effective rather than simply flashy. Rampage pretty much just headhunts, relying on his striking prowess and ultra-tough chin to see him through any offence from his opponents. Jones is one of those fighters though, like Anderson Silva, that just seem to be a notch above everyone else in all aspects of their game. I can see Jones staying at range peppering the challenger with jabs and smashing him with leg-kicks to soften him up and kill his footwork. In the clinch, this is all Jones who can use his greco-roman skills to great effect and always seems to find a way to hit the takedown. For me Rampage is pretty much a sitting duck with one bullet in his gun, his punches. When he realises they aren’t going to work this fight is over. On the ground again, all Jones and I think Rampage will find himself on his back a lot in this match. He does have decent wrestling and will likely be able to get up a couple of times, but he will continuously find himself back down on the mat, sapping his energy and completely demoralising him. I think it is obvious where my pick is going, but I will just throw in a comment from Rashad Evans, who trained with Jones for a long time and fought and beat Rampage:
One thing I experienced with Rampage, (he has) a very strong core. Jon may take him down if he uses his leverage and a lot of his judo, I think that’s probably how he’s going to get him down. But if he just tries to shoot in on him, Rampage may be pretty tough to take down off just a shot. … I think that Jon Jones uses his range and his speed to keep Rampage off balance and at the same time using his ability to take Rampage down to try to impose some of his will
(whole interview here. My prediction: Jones by smash rd 3
****************** UPDATED WITH RESULTS **************************
James Te Huna vs. Ricardo Romero – My Pick:Te Huna TKo rd2 Actual:Te Huna KO rd1
Takeya Mizugaki vs. Cole Escovedo – My Pick:Mizugaki Decision Actual:Mizugaki KO rd2
Junior Assunção vs. Eddie Yagin – My Pick:Yagin Actual:Assuncao Decision
Nick Ring vs. Tim Boetsch – My Pick:Boetsch TKO rd2 Actual:Boetsch Decision
Tony Ferguson vs. Aaron Riley – My Pick:Ferguson TKO rd2 Actual:Ferguson TKO rd1 (corner threw in towel)
Nate Diaz vs. Takanori Gomi – My Pick:Diaz Submission rd3 Actual:Nate Diaz Submission (armbar) Rd1
Travis Browne vs. Rob Broughton – My Pick:Browne TKo rd2 Actual:Browne Decision
Ben Rothwell vs. Mark Hunt – My Pick:Rothwell Sub rd1 Actual:Hunt Decision
Matt Hughes vs. Josh Koscheck – My Pick:Koscheck Decision Actual:Koscheck KO rd1
Jon Jones vs. Quinton Jackson – My Pick:Jones TKO rd3 Actual:Jones Submission rd4