The fourth UFC show in as many weeks is looming and has two titles up for grabs. In the previous two weeks we have seen Dominick Cruz successfully defend his Bantamweight title and Jon Jones defend his Light Heavyweight title. It was Jones who was the last successful title challenger in the UFC, when he won the belt from Shogun in such spectacular fashion back in March this year. In the five title fights that have taken place across all divisions since Jones’ victory, no title has changed hands. In fact you have to go back to Lesnar vs Velasquez almost a year ago to find the last successful title challenge prior to Jones. It seems then, that title belts changing hands in the UFC is becoming a rarer and rarer event! UFC 136 though, brings us the very real possibility of both the Lightweight and Featherweight titles changing hands on the same night. Edgar and Aldo, the respective champions of their divisions face their toughest opponents in Maynard and Florian. Obviously there is a history between Edgar and Maynard and their last title bout – ironically on the event titled Resolution – actually resolved nothing, ending in a split draw. Aldo became the first ever UFC featherweight champion after defending the WEC belt at WEC 51 and the WEC was absorbed into the UFC. In Kenny Florian he faces an opponent with a tonne of big show experience and he will be at a severe size disadvantage, with Florian having competed at every weight from 185lbs downwards in the UFC.
So with two huge title fights on the card, Zuffa could get away with filler matches for the rest of the card right? Well possibly – but they have gone all out in the matchmaking and there are some really great fights throughout the card: Sonnen vs Stann, the rematch of Garcia vs Phan and Guillard vs Lauzon round out the main card. Main card worthy matches between Demain Maia and Jorge Santiago and Jeremy Stephens vs Anthony Pettis are relegated to the prelims as a result. This is going to be a great night of fights with some really tough matches to call. I’m not sure I’ll get as lucky as I did with my UFC on versus 6 picks (100% on the main card….just sayin’ ), but we’ll see how we go!
Pre-amble done……let’s get it on!
Steve Cantwell 7-4-0 vs. Mike Massenzio 12-5-0 – Middleweight
After taking 3 losses on the bounce at 205lbs, Cantwell follows his old nemesis Brian Stann down to Middleweight to see if he can rescue his UFC career. Cantwell is the last reigning WEC light heavyweight champ and has only ever been stopped once in his 11 fight career. All his losses in the Octagon have been via decision. Massenzio is in his second stint with the UFC and is back at middleweight again after a decision loss to the highest scoring fighter in scrabble: Krzysztof Soszynski. Both men are BJJ Blackbelts, so it is honours even on the ground. The edge in wrestling probably goes to Massenzio and on the feet I think we will see Cantwell being the most effective. A very tough fight to call kicks off the action. If Cantwell can get into his stride early with his kickboxing then he could make it a short night for Massenzio. Massenzio may opt for a grinding strategy and it would be interesting to see how this plays out on the ground, but I think Cantwell could edge it here. I’m playing safe with my pick and going for a Cantwell decision
Aaron Simpson 10-2-0 vs. Eric Schafer 12-5-2 – Middleweight
Simpson hasn’t faced a submission fighter of the calibre of Schafer to date in his career, but schafer has faced off against his fair share of decent wrestlers, and come up short. Bader and Brilz both ground him out to decision losses and way back in his early career he also fought to a draw with a name many in the UK will recognise: none other than London Shootfighters coach Paul Ivens. Schafer is making his middleweight debut in the UFC after racking up a 3-4 record for the promotion at 205lbs. Wrestling is clearly going to be the key here. Simpson will likely want none of the ground game of Schafer and has looked comfortable if not outstanding in the standup phases of his last few fights. I expect Schafer to be able to use his size advantage to stay game in this fight, but ultimately – as long as Simpson respects the groundgame of his opponent and does not leave anything exposed – I see Simpson taking this one. Simpson Decision
Zhang Tiequan 13-1-0 vs. Darren Elkins 12-2-0 – Featherweight
Zhang has been one of the standout fighters in Chinese MMA for a while now and boasts a near perfect record. He is China’s first ever BJJ brownbelt and also a National champion in wrestling and expert in San Shou. Elkins has 2 wins in the UFC, but both have been borne out of unusual circumstances rather than his own outright skills. His debut win against Bang Ludwig was due to a freak injury to his opponent and his recent decision victory against Omigawa was a result of horrendous judging in my humble opinion. This should be a lively fight and an entertaining bout for the facebook audience. Elkins has great wrestling and in all his UFC fights has shown his ability to hit takedown after takedown. His striking is solid but not elite level, much like Zhangs I guess! I give the edge in submissions to Zhang, but Elkins probably wins the wrestling and striking exchanges. I would expect to be able to put Zhang on his back and the result of the fight will come down to Zhangs ability to create space to setup submissions against Elkins top control. The betting lines, surprisingly, give a slight edge to Zhang and I am going to go with them on this one. I think Zhang gets the submission sometime in the middle of the fight. Zhang submission rd 2
Stipe Miocic 6-0-0 vs. Joey Beltran 13-5-0 – Heavyweight
The heavy-hitting “Mexecutioner” has been chosen as the man to welcome the undefeated Miocic to the big leagues. This fight could be a straight slug-fest and that will suit Beltran down to the ground as he is always more than happy to stay in the pocket and throw punches. From the very little I know of Miocic I would say he is perhaps a cleaner striker than Beltran, but perhaps not as powerful. He is a decent wrestler and that should serve him well if he is rocked by the power of Beltran. I think Miocic has more ways to win than Beltran and if he can stay away from the big bombs, he should be able to take this fight. Beltran is one tough dude, with a head like granite so it is unlikely he will be stopped, but I think the judges will give this one to Miocic. Miocic decision
Jeremy Stephens 20-6-0 vs. Anthony Pettis 13-2-0 – Lightweight
On any other card this one would be a banker for fight of the night. Stephens has a patchy 7-5 record with the UFC, but is a 3 time KO of the night winner and 1 time fight of the night reciepient. Pettis is reknowned for “that kick” in the WEC and is an exciting and dynamic fighter who has never been stopped in 15 fights. While Stephens packs more power in his fists, Pettis is undoubtedly the better of the two at stringing combinations together. Couple that with his submission game and wrestling and its not hard to see that Pettis is the more rounded of the two men, despite his lack of experience in comparison to his opponent. Stephens has been in with a much higher calibre of opponent, but has dropped losses to most of the elite he has faced. He has never been KO’d and this is something that Pettis should take note of, while he is likely to score on the feet, it is far more likely that the fight ending punch would come from Stephens rather than Showtime. Pettis has more ways to win this, and his smartest plan would be to look for the submission after using his speed and array of strikes to soften Stephens up. I see Pettis taking this, but Stephens will definitely be looking to add to his KO of the night bonus collection! Pettis decision
Demian Maia 14-3-0 vs. Jorge Santiago 23-9-0 – Middleweight
Widley regarded as having the best jiujitsu in MMA, Demain Maia’s dazzling start to his UFC career has spluttered and stalled since his devastating 20second KO loss to Nate Marquardt. Where he once was a finishing machine, putting together 11 wins, all but one of which didnt get of the second round, he now seems to only have fights that go the distance. He was mocked and played with in his fight against Anderson Silva, who could and should have put him away far earlier and then rallied with 2 wins before dropping a decision most recently to Mark Munoz. The Munoz fight, despite being a loss, was encouraging in some ways as we saw a marked improvement in his striking and he was more than happy to stand in front of his notoriously heavy handed opponent. Santiago most recently fought, and lost to, Brian Stann where he was KO’d in the last 30 seconds of the second round. Much is made of Santiago getting KO’d in 6 out of 9 of his career defeats. However with Maia – despite the improvements in his striking game I mentioned earlier – we are unlikely to see another KO added. Santiago is a BJJ blackbelt and has submitted MMA legend Jeremy Horn so he is no slouch on the ground himself, but his ground game is likely to be eclipsed by that of Maia. Maia also has a nifty array of trips and footsweeps that make his clinch game effective, and ensure he gets top position when the action hits the mat. If Maia can survive 3 rounds against Munoz, there is no reason to suspect he cannot do the same against Santiago and I quite like him to finally get back to winning inside the distance in this fight. Despite the fact Santiago has never been submitted in his MMA career, there is a first time for everything and I’ll take a submission late on. Maia sub rd 3
Nam Phan 16-9-0 vs. Leonard Garcia 15-7-1 – Featherweight
In this rematch of their controversial first fight, Phan will be seeking retribution for what many felt was an awful judges decision. The two men indulged in a crowd-pleasing slug-fest first time out and there is no reason to suspect this one will be any different. Garcia – despite having a decent ground game is more than happy to stand and bang, as evidenced by the ever-growing scar-tissue around his eyes. Phan has the tidier standup game and will likely be quicker to score points and if he can avoid getting dragged into a brawl should stack the points up. Fighting out of Jacksons MMA should mean Garcia comes in with a solid gameplan but you can’t help thinking a couple of punches in, even the smartest plan will be abandoned and Garcia will revert to type. In that event this will play out much like the first, with Phan being given the nod this time. We may see a curve ball from Garcia, but I think Phan should have his number. Phan decision
Melvin Guillard 29-8-2 (1 NC) vs. Joe Lauzon 20-6-0 – Lightweight
These are two of my favourite fighters in the lightweight division. Lauzon has been a massive fight bonus magnet in his recent fights. Taking home a bonus in 6 of his last 7 UFC fights. Since getting some real focus in his training and joining Jacksons MMA after the Diaz loss, Guillard has put together a 5 fight streak and stopped Roller and Dunham in the first round in his last 2 fights. Both men are vastly experienced and have been sniffing around the upper-echelons of the 155lb division for a while. Given his current win streak, victory on Saturday night could put Guillard in the mix for a title shot. Lauzon hasn’t really been able to put a run together in the UFC, but everyone took notice when he made his debut and KO’d hot favourite Jens Pulver in the first round of their fight at UFC 63. Both men are well rounded, Guillard is probably the better striker and more explosive wrestler, with Lauzon taking an edge in submissions. I think given the run he is on and Greg Jacksons innate ability to bring out the full talents of the fighters in his charge, you have to fancy Guillard here. He will know that Lauzons best chance is on the mat and will be doing everything he can to keep things standing. With the bombs Guillard throws and the likelihood that Lauzon is getting hit at some point, I cannot see this going the distance. I can see Guillard picking Lauzon off and finishing the job early in the 2nd. Guillard TKO rd 2
Chael Sonnen 25-11-1 vs. Brian Stann 11-3-0 – Middleweight
A different tactic from Sonnen in the lead-up to this fight from what we normally expect. He has been hugely respectful of his opponent and refused to engage in his signature trash-talking. Stann is “the new captain America”. Decorated war veteran and stand-up All-American guy, he is becoming somewhat of a poster boy for the UFC in middle-America. Sonnen is a big favourite to win this fight, even if he isn’t the guy that many people want to see win. His weakness has long been his sub defence, being especially prone to the triangle choke because of his style that sees him use his wrestling to get the action to the mat and his willingness to throw down from within peoples guard. Stann doesn’t really have the sort of submission game that is likely to exploit this area and his best chance is landing bombs on the feet. I was all set to pick Sonnen to cake-walk this fight, but then I read this article on the Telegraphs Sports Blog site from Gareth Davies. In it Sonnen says that Stanns wrestling trainer is Sonnens own wrestling mentor, a man who knows his wrestling game inside out. Whether this is simple mind games or not remains to be seen, but if it is true will it affect Sonnens own confidence? Will it give Stann the competitive edge he needs to win this fight and push himself further up the queue for a title shot? Even taking Sonnens absence from the Octagon into account and the possibility of him suffering a bit of ring rust, I really think Sonnen is going to have too much for Stann: Stann cannot outwrestle Sonnen, he is extremely unlikely to submit him and if he is to KO him, he has to stay on his feet: Easier said than done against one of the best wrestlers in the game. I will be rooting for Stann to pull off the upset win as I’m no Sonnen fan, but I’m picking Sonnen to give Stann his first loss at 185lbs. Sonnen decision
Jose Aldo 19-1-0 vs. Kenny Florian 15-5-0 – Featherweight
Aldo looks like he might be another UFC uber-champ, in the same mould as Anderson Silva, GSP and potentially Jon Jones. He has looked a pretty unstoppable force since exploding onto the American MMA scene in the WEC and now he has a chance to really make a name for himself amongst the more casual UFC fan. Kenny Florian though is his toughest opponent yet. Florian has a really well rounded game, he has tidy precise striking, dangerous elbows and clinch work, an elite jiu-jitsu game and also a decent size advantage. Florian contested the lightweight title twice and also fought a number one contender match against Maynard. He lost all these key fights and Dana White has famously said that he thinks Florian chokes in big fights. The pressure is really on Florian in this one to find a way to win, as you wonder how long he can go on being the “nearly man”. Aldo has lost one fight in his 20 fight career. It is hard to find a hole in his game and if you were going to be picky you would probably say that his wrestling isn’t on a par with some of the mega-wrestlers inhabiting the lower divisions. This never seems to be a factor though. Against Faber – an excellent wrestler – he used a lightning quick leg kick to turn the Americans lead leg into chopped liver and take away his ability to take penetration steps and shoot. Against Florian I expect to see him employ a similar sort of kicking game. His leg kicks are never telegraphed and come so quickly that even an advanced Nak Muay like Florian would have trouble checking them. Florian may have some success on the feet scoring points, but I expect it to be Aldo that inflicts more damage. At some point Florian will need to look to get this to the mat but even there, despite his own BJJ blackbelt, he is in dangerous territory. I like Florian a lot, and with any other top 145er holding the belt, I think Florian could do a number on them. The problem is it isn’t just any other fighter with the belt. Aldo is widely regarded as one of the p4p best in the world for good reason: he just really is that good. I think he will come through his toughest test yet with a whole bunch of new fans. Aldo TKO rd 3
Gray Maynard 10-0-1 (1 NC) vs. Frankie Edgar 13-1-1 – Lightweight
This is far and away the toughest fight on the card to call. The rubber match between these two fighters will be another intriguing contest and undoubtedly a very close fight. On one side you have Edgar: If MMA talent was judged purely on gas-tanks then Edgar would be the greatest of all time. The duracell bunny has nothing on Frankie, he does not let up and moves constantly for 25 minutes. In the last fight he took an absolute kicking in the first round, shook it off and came right back into the fight, even scoring with takedowns of his own. To say Maynard is not the most exciting fighter in the UFC is a huge understatement. Often referred to as “lay praynard”, he is the archetypal MMA grinder. He constantly hunts the takedown and when he hits it he will stifle his opponent for the rest of the round. One of the keys to Edgar surviving the last fight was his takedown defence, and that will need to be picture perfect once more on Saturday night. The other key is his sheer toughness. Maynard has solid punches and a stifling top game, but Edgar just seems to be able to ride out storms in his fights. I think he will be encouraged by his success with takedowns in their last match and may look to surprise Maynard by shooting the double early and inflict the kind of first round punishment he himself took last time out. I think this one is going to the judges and this time Edgar walks away with a clear edge and keeps his belt. Edgar decision
******************UPDATED WITH ACTUAL RESULTS ********************
Steve Cantwell vs. Mike Massenzio – My Pick:Cantwell decision Actual: Massenzio decision
Aaron Simpson vs. Eric Schafer – My Pick:Simpson decision Actual: Simpson decision
Zhang Tie Quan vs. Darren Elkins – My Pick:Zhang submission rd 2 Actual: Elkins decision
Joey Beltran vs. Stipe Miocic – My Pick:Miocic decision Actual: Miocic decision
Anthony Pettis vs. Jeremy Stephens – My Pick:Pettis decision Actual: Pettis decision
Demian Maia vs. Jorge Santiago – My Pick:Maia submission rd 3 Actual: Maia decision
Melvin Guillard vs. Joe Lauzon – My Pick:Guillard TKO rd 2 Actual: Lauzon submission (rear naked choke) rd 1.
Leonard Garcia vs. Nam Phan – My Pick:Phan decision Actual: Phan decision
Chael Sonnen vs. Brian Stann – My Pick:Sonnen decision Actual: Sonnen submission (arm triangle choke) rd 2.
José Aldo vs. Kenny Florian – My Pick:Aldo TKO rd3 Actual: Aldo decision
Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard – My Pick:Edgar decision Actual Edgar TKO rd 4