The MMA premiership finally makes a welcome return to the UK with UFC 138. The main event between Mark Munoz and Chris Leben will be the first non-title five rounder in UFC history. There can’t be too many people banking on it going the full 25 with the sort of punching power these two pack though! The main event is one of only three fights not to feature a British fighter, with the other two being Thiago Alves vs an on fire Papy Abedi and veterans Cyrille Diabate and Anthony Perosh squaring off.
As you would expect from a UK UFC show, this is a card crammed full of some of the UK’s finest MMA athletes. Unfortunately, we will not be seeing the UFC debut of Oli Thompson, or the return of John Hathaway and Mark Scanlon as all are injured. Also this week Paul Taylor had to pull out of his fight with Anthony Njokuani due to a whiplash injury sustained in car accident. We will still be seeing eight British fighters in total though: John Maguire, Vaughan Lee, Phil De Fries and Che Mills all make their promotional debuts. Terry Etim, Jason Young and Rob Broughton all return to the Octagon and of course, the UK favourite Brad Pickett finally takes his UFC bow, after an unfortunate run of injuries. The fans in attendance will no doubt blow the roof off when they hear the familiar strains of Chas n Dave as Pickett begins his walk to the octagon, whilst the American audience watching on tape delay across the Atlantic will no doubt sit bemused!
I am really looking forward to this event, UK UFC’s are always special for long time UKMMA fans as you get to see fighters you have grown up with – even perhaps chatted to and trained with for many people reading – fighting on the biggest stage of them all.
Well with the pre-amble done, I’ll get into my completely non-biased and objective picks: Let’s get it on!
Vaughan Lee 11-6-1 vs. Chris Cariaso 11-3-0 – Bantamweight
Lee comes into the UFC off the back of a failed TUF tryout. He auditioned for the current series and in his tryout impressed Dana White with his grappling, earning $400 for 4 submissions in 2 minutes. The story goes that it was his record that ultimately stopped him progressing to the elimination fights. Cariaso is 1-1 in the UFC with both fights going to decision. He has clearly fought at a much higher level than Lee but he doesn’t often finish fights. By contrast, Lee has had 3 fights so far in 2011 and has finished them all in the first round, going to decision only once in his whole career. Lee does have losses to Brad Pickett and UFC veteran Dave Lee as well as top British prospect Ashleigh Grimshaw, but all these were at 145lbs. On the mat there would appear to be a clear advantage to Lee and his striking has clearly been coming on leaps and bounds. As with 90% of British fighters though, there is likely to be a wrestling deficiency on Lee’s part in comparison to Cariaso. All Cariaso’s losses have been to fighters with high level grappling, but his big show experience and wrestling advantage make him a firm favourite with the bookies here. Lee is no joke, he fought James Doolan to a draw and in his fight with Brad Pickett he showed a lot of heart and determination. Let’s not forget that Lee is fighting in his home town and, even though it is his Octagon debut, him having advantage puts pressure on Cariaso. I think Lee has enough about him to sneak this one and start things off nicely for the British fighters on the card. Lee submission rd 3
John Maguire 16-3-0 vs. Justin Edwards 7-1-0 – Welterweight
Maguire has long been a dominant force in the UK MMA scene. The former middleweight has looked pretty unstoppable since his drop down a division and his lone stoppage loss was a TKO at the hands of the British number one at 185lbs – Tom “Kong” Watson. Justin Edwards is a TUF 13 veteran whose lone loss was against another TUF13 vet, Clay Harvison in a hard fought split decision in which he dominated proceedings on the floor but took a fair amount of punishment on the feet. Maguire is very good in all ranges, with good power in his hands and pretty decent wrestling “for a brit”. It is on the floor where he is especially dangerous though and in his last outing against BJJ Blackbelt Pete Irving, he showed how good his grappling for MMA is. This should be an exciting contest as both men bring it when they fight. I think Maguire has actually fought a higher calibre of opposition despite Edwards already having UFC experience. I think that Maguire does everything Edwards can do, but just that little bit better, and can see him edging the American out in a 3 round war. Maguire decision
Che Mills 13-4-0 vs. Chris Cope 5-1-0 – Welterweight
Che Mills is another UK fighter making his UFC bow. He has been around the domestic circuit for a while and has fought internationally as well. Famously, he boasts of pair of KO wins over Dream Welterweight GP champion Marius Zaromskis. He made the elimination fights for TUF 9 but was beaten by ground skills of the eventual winner James Wilks. Mills’ strongest range is definitely on the feet and he makes no secret of the fact he will always to keep a bout standing. He fought highly touted American Jake Hect on Cage Warriors 38 and won a decision against a fighter with much better wrestling credentials than himself, but I have my doubts about his ability to use wrestling to keep the fight standing against the lower to middle tier of UFC welterweights. Fortunately his opponent on Saturday looks to be more of a striker himself, and this may well play right into the hands of Mills. Mills’ standup is much more Muay-Thai oriented than Copes, and I would expect him to use leg kicks well here. Cope has a bit more height and reach on Mills, so this would seem to be a decent approach. Mills will have the crowd on his side, more experience and brings a proven history of finishing fights, so I am picking him for the win here. Mills T/KO rd 2
Rob Broughton 15-6-1 vs. Philip De Fries 7-0-0 – Heavyweight
In the only Brit vs Brit match of card. Undefeated De Fries meets The Bear in his UFC debut. Broughton stepped up as a replacement for Oli Thompson and comes in off the back of a decision loss to Travis Browne, a fight which snapped a 5 fight win streak for Big Rob. Broughton has powerful hands and a deceptively good ground game for a fighter with a frame like his. He also has great endurance and whilst he’s not a cardio machine, he has a great chin and will hang in there for the full 15 if required. I haven’t seen much of De Fries, but he has been making waves on the domestic circuit in and around his hometown of Sunderland with his superb submission game. He most recently posted a win over veteran UKMMA heavyweight Stav Economu, a fighter who has squared off with UFC veterans Karlos Vemola, Neil Grove and pride legend Bob Sapp. It will be interesting to see if the much more experienced Broughton is happy to go to ground with the newcomer, or if he will look to keep this one standing. De Fries standup is very much an unknown quantity for me, and given his experience and durability I will take Broughton all day long if this one stays on the feet. It seems that De Fries is an absolute monster in the submission game if you go on records alone, but this could be symptomatic of him being a big fish in a small pond, as all but one of his fights has taken place in and around his hometown. Having not seen DeFries fight, it’s difficult for me to call, but there is no question that Broughton has been in with a higher calibre of opponent. Broughton needs to post a good win here after his lacklustre performance last time out. De Fries will of course be looking to impress, but unless he can latch onto a submission, I don’t see how he will win. Broughton has been submitted only once since his very first MMA fight in 2004, and that was by 2nd degree blackbelt and former UFC champion Ricco Rodriguez. I’m picking Broughton to give the debutant a difficult welcome to the UFC where he will neutralise the ground skill of De Fries and use his own grappling acumen to dominate position en-route to a decision win. Broughton decision
Michihiro Omigawa 12-10-1 vs. Jason Young 8-4-0 – Featherweight
Both these fighters will be looking to chalk up their first win in the UFC come saturday night. While there can be no disputing his first UFC loss to Chad Mendes, Omigawas most recent loss (to Darren Elkins) was controversial and he was actually still paid a win bonus by Dana White. An elite Judoka, Omigawa came into the promotion as a highly touted prospect but went the way of so many other Japanese fighters when exposed to the A-game wrestling of his American counterparts. Against Young he won’t have to worry so much about being out-wrestled, but he will have to deal with a high level striking game from the Brit. In his debut against Dustin Poirier – despite being on the wrong end of the decision – Young had some decent moments that showed why he was signed in the first place. If he is to get past the grappling skill of Omigawa, Young is going to have to be light on his feet and get in and out quickly to rack up the points without getting tied up and tossed to the mat. As much as I hate to say it, Young could be the first Brit casualty of the night as I think Omigawas all round game eclipses the striking precision of “Shotgun”. Omigawa decision
Cyrille Diabate 17-7-1 vs. Anthony Perosh 11-6-0 – Light Heavyweight
This one gets promoted to the main card following the removal of Taylor vs Njokuani. Not exactly a great swap for the fight fans watching at home, as the original bout was a potential fight of the night. Nevertheless this one should showcase some good skills from two veterans. Both men posted wins in their last Octagon appearances. This looks like a striker vs grappler affair, with Diabate being a reknowned striker and Perosh a grappling standout. This fight is going to be decided on who can dictate where the fight goes. Perosh definitely possesses the skill to finish the job when it hits the mat, but it his ability to get past the long limbs of Diabate to get him there that I am concerned about. Diabate is 6’6″ and has a much greater reach than his opponent. He should be able to pepper the Australian with kicks and punches almost at will and wear him down. As long as he is careful with his kicks and doesnt leave himself open to being taken down, I think Diabate can finish the job inside the distance in this one, but a play it safe decision also looks highly likely. Diabate TKO rd 3
Terry Etim 14-3-0 vs. Eddie Faaloloto 2-2-0 – Lightweight
On paper a horrible mismatch, you can never look past the man in front of you in MMA and Etim will certainly not take this fight lightly. If he performs to his maximum potential though, the Kaobon fighter should take this fight comfortably and if you are looking for a banker to put your money on in this event, bet on Etim. Faaloloto is probably going to get his marching orders if he loses this fight, so you can expect him to throw everything at Etim, the Brits decent chin, smooth striking and superb Luta Livre based submission game should see him take the win inside the 15. Look for Etim to latch onto a choke as soon as the two fighters clinch and potentially hit another submission of the night winning finsh. Etim Submission rd 2
Thiago Alves 18-8-0 vs. Papy Abedi 8-0-0 – Welterweight
Alves remains on of the best in the UFC at 170lbs, but he struggles against the uber-wrestlers of the division. Against Papy Abedi he has the chance to get back to winning in devastating fashion like in his pre GSP days. With his past issues with weight apparently sorted, he will come into this match fired up to make another title charge. I know very little about Abedi but he has never been defeated and likes to strike. This is the sort of fight Alves (and the fans) will welcome and should be a proper tear-up. Alves has nasty Muay Thai and big power and when is on, he can blow through pretty much any Welterweight who is willing to stand in front of him. This is a tough first fight for Abedi and a massive leap up in competition. I’m not sure he is going to be handle the challenge. Alves TKO rd 2
Brad Pickett 21-4-0 vs. Renan Barao 26-1-0 – Bantamweight
This one is going to blow the roof off the LG Arena. Pickett makes his long awaited UFC debut and in front of a home crowd. He has a stern test in Nova Uniao phenom Barao, but has the skill in all ranges to make life tough for the Brazilian. Barao will no doubt be quicker, but Pickett is probably the stronger of the two and the better athlete (in fact he said so himself in an interview with MMAMania ). Hard to disagree based on past performances. He has been out a long time though and it has been almost a year since we last saw him compete. He has slick submissions, powerful strikes and is an excellent wrestler thanks to all the time he has spent at ATT training with Mike Brown et al. Barao’s record is phenomenal, but under close scrutiny there isnt a lot of depth to it in terms of quality opposition. He will no doubt feel he has the edge in submissions, but Pickett’s own ground game is not to be overlooked. Where Barao might struggle, is stood in front of Pickett. The Brit has a great chin and wont be afraid to stand and trade. He has a quick sprawl and will definitely edge the wrestling game and so he should be able to dictate where the fight goes. I’d like to see the finish (as I’m sure Brad would!) but I think this one goes the distance, with Pickett dominating through his excellent wrestling and control and shaking off any submission attempts from the Brazilian. Pickett decision
Chris Leben 22-7-0 vs. Mark Munoz 11-2-0 – Middleweight
This will be the first five round non-title fight in the UFC, but I’m pretty sure no-one expects this to go the distance. Both men can bang and Leben especially thrives on a good brawl. Munoz has made massive leaps in his all around game, but it is his core skill of Wrestling that will be his best weapon on the night. Leben will look for the big shot and is as tough as they come, He has a great chin and was one of the standout UFC fighters of last year with some epic performances. His heart, granite chin and heavy left hand simply won’t be enough to deal with Munoz though. Munoz is an elite wrestler with excellent takedowns and serious GnP. He is probably the better conditioned of the two men and has all the tools to give Leben a torrid time. Leben will want to do away with any early feeling out process and will march forward and look to get in Munoz’ face early on. Munoz needs to be careful when he shoots that doesn’t leave himself open for heavy shots whilst trying to secure the takedown. Obviously he needs to keep his guard high while they are at striking range as well. If he is disciplined in his approach to this fight, as much as I like Leben and enjoy watching him fight, I can’t see how Munoz can lose. Munoz TKO rd 3
******************** UPDATED WITH EVENT RESULTS ***************************
Cariaso vs. Lee – My Pick: Lee Sub rd 3 Actual: Cariaso decision
Cope vs. Mills – My Pick: Mills T/KO rd 2 Actual: Mills KO rd 1
Omigawa vs. Young – My Pick:Omigawa decision Actual: Omigawa decision
Broughton vs. De Fries – My Pick: Broughton decision Actual: De Fries decision
Maguire vs. Edwards – My Pick:Maguire decision Actual: Maguire decision
Etim vs. Faaloloto – My Pick: Etim sub rd 2 Actual: Etim submission (guillotine) round 1.
Diabate vs. Perosh – My Pick: Diabate TKO rd 3 Actual:Perosh submission (RNC) round 2
Alves vs. Abedi – My Pick:Alves TKO rd 2Actual: Alves submisson (RNC) round 1
Pickett vs. Barao – My Pick: Pickett decision Actual: Barao submission (RNC) round 1
Munoz vs. Leben – My Pick: Munoz TKO rd 3 Actual: Munoz TKO (corner stoppage) rd 2