Many fans were pleasantly surprised by last week’s card for UFC on Fuel 2 where, despite the lack of stellar names, the fight action was outstanding. That being said, THIS is the one everyone’s really been waiting for: The grudge match that has been so long in the making is finally here. Former champ “Sugar” Rashad Evans fights his former-friend and former-teammate and current champion Jon “Bones” Jones. This match is intriguing for so many reasons: The longstanding grudge and perceived disrespect between the two; The Greg Jackson/ former team-mate connection; and of course the fact it is ex-champ against current-champ. Throw in the fact that both men have tasted defeat only once in their careers and are devastating finishers on their night and you have all the elements of a classic UFC main event. Jones is the hot favourite, but I get the feeling that Rashad thinks he has the champs number. I think this fight is going to be talked about for a long time after the event and I can’t wait!
The co-main event will hold huge interest for UK fans as Che Mills steps up a level to face Rory MacDonald. MacDonald trains with GSP and is tipped by many as a future champ. Mills debuted in the UFC with a KO of the night performance against Chris Cope. The fact that after just 40seconds of Octagon action, Mills is facing off against a fighter like MacDonald is a little surprising to some, but Mills has vast international experience and has put away former Dream Champion Zaromskis twice. A big win on Saturday and Mills is set to explode into the top 20 in the world and will be plunged straight into the 170lbs shark tank from there on in.
Outside of the top two fights, my unmissables for this event are Miguel Torres vs. Michael McDonald and Matt Brown vs. Stephen Thompson. Matches like Schaub vs. Rothwell and Hominick vs. Yagin also promise to be extremely fan-friendly affairs.
Finally all the talk comes to an end and we get to find out whether Rashad Evans, as he believes, really is the man to beat the phenom that is Jon Jones. The intrigue that surrounds this match is all the more deep for the fact that the two men – once friends and teammates – now appear to really dislike each other. Most of you reading this will know the back story to all this and there is no point rehashing it all again. Suffice to say that this is one of the most anticipated matches of the year. Even without the rivalry, just the fact that these are two of the best mixed martial artists on the planet right now, makes this an unmissable contest.
In one corner Rashad, a great takedown artist with KO power who works well on the inside and mixes up his strikes and takedowns with speed and fluidity. In the other Jones whose genetic gifts, together with his power, variety of technique and speed on the feet make him one of the most feared standup fighters in the game. He also has great wrestling and the scariest fact about the man is that he is still improving with every fight. Each faced with one of their toughest opponents yet, both men feel that they know the other well enough to be able to deal with anything their foe has to offer.
The key to the fight for Jones is to stay on the outside and use his length to his advantage, punishing Rashad every time he closes the distance. There will be a “don’t care how you win, just don’t lose” strategy in place as per the Greg Jackson way, but it seems a no-brainier that Jones will want to finish Evans and make an emphatic statement. If anything is to be his downfall it’s this. If he fights with his emotions at the forefront rather than the mission to defend his belt being priority, he could play right into Rashads game and leave an opening for a takedown. Evans needs to get after the champion from the opening bell and not be dazzled by Jones’ array of strikes from the outside. If he stands off Jones and is a spectator he is going to get hurt. He needs Jones on his back or he needs to find the money punch that will test Jones chin.
The smart money however, goes on Jones. He has finished his last 8 fights (if you count Hammill as finished and not a dq). Evans has only been finished once, a vicious KO courtesy of Machida, but if anyone can inflict another stoppage on him, it’s Jones. A little niggle in me thinks Rashad could pull a huge upset here, but not enough to completely destroy my conviction that Jon Jones is the best bar none at 205lbs right now. I think there may be some hairy moments for the champion in this fight, but his own wrestling credentials, his size advantage and the frightening skill set he possesses in all ranges will see him through. Certainly on the feet Jones is way out in front, but I actually think he will find an opening for those long arms to snake onto a trademark choke and submit Rashad. Jones submission rd 3
A huge step up for Mills in this one, and a massive task ahead as he faces one of the brightest young prospects in the division. Mills has great striking but it is the age old story with a lot of UK fighters in this one: Is his wrestling up to the task? All of the Brits losses have been by sub bar one, a decision loss to Jimmy Wallhead. The Canadians only loss to date is a late, late KO loss to Condit. Macdonald won the first two rounds with effective striking and grappling and faded late in the third in that fight, but followed up by dominating Nick Diaz and then an utter destruction of Mike Pyle.
Mills doesn’t lack experience but he does lack time in the octagon and he certainly lacks it against quality opposition. Whilst his striking is powerful, tidy and precise, Macdonald will not be threatened by it, having gone 3 rounds with Diaz and Condit. Unfortunately for Mills, this looks like a horrible style matchup for him and I can’t see how he wins. It is credit to him that the Zuffa matchmakers thought he’d be competitive in this match, and I haven’t doubt he will, but he doesn’t have a skill set that can best Macdonald. The slim hope of a fight ending punch finding its spot is there, but I can’t see any other way of winning. There are plenty of winnable matches in the UFC for Che, unfortunately I don’t see this being one of them. Mills has never been stopped by strikes, but there’s a first time for everything and I see Macdonald putting him in a bad spot and punching him out. Macdonald TKO rd 2
Both men are coming off losses but the losses couldn’t be more different. Schaub was brutalised by Big Nog at UFC Brazil inside a round, and Rothwell went the full 15 in an ugly fight with Mark Hunt, with both men gassed pretty bad. The altitude has been cited many times as a contributing factor, but regardless, it was still horrible to watch. A win is needed by both fighters and I’m leaning towards Schaub in this one.
Schaub has been by far the busier fighter of the two over the past couple of years. He is amazingly athletic for a Heavyweight and powerful too. If Rothwell is going to win this fight he needs to win ugly, but I don’t think Schaub will give him the chance to do that. I see Schaub staying on the outside and patiently working his combinations and looking for the opening to land the fight-ending punch. There are question marks over his chin following the Nog loss, which was reminiscent of his KO loss to Roy Nelson on TUF, but not too many people that stand in front of Schaub get too long to test him. Rothwell will be no different Schaub TKO rd 1
Torres is the former 135lbs king but his reign went severely off the rails when he was knocked out by Brian Bowles. After a 37-1 run in his career to that point with an astonishing 36 of those wins coming by stoppage, Torres now finds himself 3-3 in his last 6. Where once he looked down on his peers from his perch as number 1, he now finds himself battling for relevancy in the division.
Despite the fact he won his last fight, it wasn’t as easy as it should have been on paper and the once formidable finisher is now without a stoppage win in well over a year. He will enjoy a huge reach advantage over Macdonald and probably has a slim advantage on the mat. That said, MacDonald is a young up-and-comer and will be hungry to make a huge statement in this fight. Torres will always be a threat and will punish MacDonald for any mistakes he makes, but I like “Mayday” for the upset here. His fast pace and powerful right hand will be the ex-champions downfall in this one. Some pundits believe it is too soon for MacDonald and this may be so. But I always like to make one underdog pick and this is mine.
MacDonald KO rd 2
Mark Hominick is in need of a statement win and this fight is it. He put in a great shift against Aldo but suffered a beating in the process and his last fight against the Korean Zombie was over before it started. He is the heaviest favourite of the whole event for this fight and with good reason. Whilst Yagin is no mug, he will struggle on the feet against ‘The Machine’. His best chance at a win lies on the mat, but he needs to get past a devastating standup offence to get it there.
Hominick will not be as careless here as he was against Jung and he knows what is at stake. Whether this will translate into any hesitancy on his part is anyones guess, but I expect him to find his groove midway through the first and tee off almost at will on Yagin. The ‘Filipino Phenom’ is tough and he might be able to gut this one out, but I see Hominick inflicting increasing damage as the fight wears on and getting the stoppage. Hominick TKO rd 3
John Alessio first fought in the UFC 12 years ago against Pat Miletich. He subsequently fought a couple more times in the UFC, but is yet to record his first win under the Zuffa banner. He was called on to replace Matt Wiman in this match and had no hesitation in stepping up for his fourth match in the Octagon. With only one loss in his last eleven fights, Alessio will feel its now or never for his moment of glory in the UFC. In his way is jiujitsu standout Bocek.
The Canadian Bocek is 6-4 with the UFC with two submission of the night awards to his credit. Whilst he has struggled with the top-tier fighters of the division, his brand of submission wrestling has seen him chalk submission wins in 4 of his 6 and most recently get a decision over human blanket Nik Lentz. Alessio will have a clear edge in the standup in this one, but Bocek has faced better strikers than the veteran. I like Bocek for the win here: Half of Alessio’s losses have been via submission and I think he is overmatched in the grappling battle for this one. Bocek submission rd 2
Prelims on FX
Travis Browne 12 – 0 – 1 vs. Chad Griggs 11 – 1 – 0 – Heavyweight
My Prediction Browne
Matt Brown 13 – 11 – 0 vs. Stephen Thompson 6 – 0 – 0 – Welterweight
My Prediction: Thompson
John Makdessi 9 – 1 – 0 vs. Anthony Njokuani 14 – 6 – 0 – Lightweight
Mac Danzig 20 – 9 – 1 vs. Efrain Escudero 18 – 4 – 0 – Lightweight
My Predcition: Danzig
Chris Clements 10 – 4 – 0 vs. Keith Wisniewski 28 – 13 – 1 – Welterweight
My Prediction: Clements
Maximo Blanco 8 – 3 – 1 vs. Marcus Brimage 4 – 1 – 0 – Featherweight
My Prediction: Brimage