The UFC makes its first appearance on mainstream network television in the USA this saturday. This event will air free in the UK on premier sports and Setanta Ireland. Virgin and Freeview customers will have to find the event online which I believe they can do on UFC.TV and the fox website. Prelims will air on facebook. As I have been off-line a lot recently due to being a bit ill, I am not going to have time to so the whole card justice, so I am just going to cherry pick a couple of matches to talk about here.
Obviously the big one is the Heavyweight title clash between the champion, Cain Velasquez and the challenger, Junior Dos Santos. This has all the makings of an epic Heavyweight collision. Both men have all the qualities needed in a UFC champion and this should be a spectacular introduction to our sport for mainstream viewers, who may be seeing the UFC for the first time when watching this event. Truthfully, the rest of the card isn’t exactly full of marquee-name fighters, but this event is aimed at pulling in people who are green to the sport, and only the main fight is actually going out live on FOX, so star names mean little anyway. In spite of the UFC putting all their eggs in one basket and choosing to rely on the title match to win over a new audience, there are still some great fights for the hardcore fans to enjoy. Not least the Guida vs Henderson fight, which will give us the next contender for Frankie Edgars title in the lightweight division. I’m sticking with these two fights for this brief dip into UFC on Fox, but have given my winner predictions on all the fights below.
Let’s get it on!
Cain Velasquez 9-0-0 vs. Junior dos Santos 13-1-0 – UFC Heavyweight Championship
The headline fight is – in the words of Joe Rogan – an outstanding matchup. The undefeated champion has torn through every opponent he has faced in the past. A decorated amateur wrestler with great cardio and a standup game that has developed with every fight, he represents a tough challenge for anyone in the division. His toughest fight to date has been against Cheick Kongo where he managed to take a decision despite being dominated in the standup phases of the fight and being visibly rocked by Kongo on several occasions. As I said after the event, I think Kongo could have actually won that match had he not inexplicably opted to try and take Velasquez down and engage him on the floor when he could have just stood back up and continued to punish him. All a moot point now though, as in more recent fights Velasquez looks to have plugged the sort of holes in his game that Kongo exploited. His striking power has been criticised before as well, but the critics were silenced when he crushed Big Nog, a fighter known to have a granite chin, in their heavyweight title eliminator fight. Dos Santos might be the best boxer in the whole division though and if anyone is going to test Velasquez’ chin and standup credentials it is going to be him. He has devastating power with an especially killer uppercut. In his most recent fights he has shown a little more variety in his game though and hit takedowns on a tiring Carwin and Roy Nelson. Taking down Velasquez is a completely different proposition though and not a game I think we’ll see “Cigano” try to play. He needs to use his footwork and angles to great effect to continuously land on Velasquez whilst avoiding the takedowns of the champ if he is going to win this fight. As a student of the Noguiera brothers we know that the jiujitsu of Dos Santos will be top draw and if he is put on his back by Velasquez he will need an A game on the ground to get through it and the ability to get back to his feet where he is strongest.
To say this is simply a striker vs grappler match doesn’t do the fighters justice, as both men are more well-rounded than that. But this is a match where one man will want strike and one will want to grapple. Dos Santos was able to stuff Nelsons takedown attempts and keep Carwin off him using striking, but neither men are as well conditioned as Velasquez who will not be dissuaded from his mission to get this to the mat. This is not an easy fight to call at all but I have a hunch that this is Dos Santos’ night. I think he can do enough to keep this standing and as long as it is on the feet, he has more than the champ can handle. If this goes to the championship rounds, then the waters get a little muddy as it will become much more of a battle of conditioning as tiredness will start to blunt the tools of both men. I’m going to go out on a limb and call this for Dos Santos. I think he stops the Champ by the end of the third, but I won’t be putting money on it as I am still not sure even as I type this out. Dos Santos TKO rd 3
Ben Henderson 14-2-0 vs. Clay Guida 29-11-0 – Lightweight #1 contender match
Expect to see hair flying everywhere in this match as the two throw the kitchen sink at each other. This is another great match and were it not for the headline match, it would be a sure bet for fight of the night. Both men have great endurance but the edge in overall athleticism and skill goes to Henderson. Guida is the better out and out wrestler, but I think he might struggle to impose his will on Henderson and tire him like he has done so many other opponents. Both men have the majority of their wins by submission, with Guida winning submission of the night honours twice. Henderson recently got bronze at the World JiuJitsu championships at brownbelt and is far and away the better submissions guy, but MMA can be a great leveller for elite jiujitsu fighters and Guida is capable of stifling top grapplers and either pounding them out or submitting them. I can’t see either man finishing the other and this one should go the full 15. Guida always keeps a high tempo and will bring it to Henderson, but I think Hendersons overall skill advantage will carry him through this one in the judges eyes. Henderson decision