This card has had more ins and outs than a Jenna Jameson movie and is now a scraped together shell of its former-self. The matches we would have had without the injury curse that plagued it include: Bisping vs Boetsch, Alves vs Bahadurzda, Rua vs Thiago Silva, Bibiano Fernandes vs Rolando Delorme, Big Nog vs Kongo and of course Jose Aldo vs Erik Koch. UFC cards almost always deliver, even when on paper there are a few “meh” fights, but it is easy to understand fans who bought tickets for the event feeling more than a little put-out by these changes.
The outcome of the main event will decide whether Faber gets his rubber match with the injured champ or whether uber-prospect Barao will carry on ripping through the bantamweights all the way to the interim gold and a shot at Cruz. In the co-main event, another prospect who has been a huge tear makes his long awaited UFC debut. The CFC, Bellator and AFC Middleweight champion Lombard is touted by some as a legitimate challenger to Anderson Silva, but will face a stern test in the shape of Tim Boetsch. Lombard is undoubtedly a great addition to the roster: An impressive outing against the barbarian and it is hard to look past him getting a #1 contender matchup with Weidman or the winner of Bisping / Stann.
Kongo takes up his role as Heavyweight gatekeeper once again after his match against Big Nog fell through. He will see just how good Shawn Jordan is, after the former football players impressive debut against the UK’s own Oli Thompson. Further down the card, Brian Ebersole looks to continue his long win streak against James Head. Rounding out the PPV proceedings is Chris Clements vs Matt Riddle. Riddle rarely sets the octagon alight with his performances and you know if he’s called up to a main card then somethings gone pretty badly wrong, but he is tough to put away and Clements won’t have an easy ride despite the late notice for his opponent.
Urijah Faber 26 – 5 – 0 vs. Renan Pegado 28 – 1 – 0 – Interim BantamWeight Championship
Barao is on one of the best streaks in MMA right now. 28 fights unbeaten stretching back to 2005 is ridiculously impressive. Sure, the standard of opponent hasn’t always been the best, but no-one can argue that he isn’t now fighting the best in his division. A stablemate of Featherweight champ Jose Aldo, Barao has torn through all that have stood before him since his debut fight. He has shown that he is a true mixed martial artist with an excellent all round game.
His opponent, ex-featherweight standout Faber has been plying his trade at the highest level for a lot longer than the Brazilian. Save for his TKO loss to Tyson Griffin in 2008, he has only ever lost in championship matches and has never been submitted. He sets a relentless pace and throws heat everytime he lets a punch go.
Reed Kuhn of Fightnometrics wrote an excellent article breaking down the stats for this match up and it uncovers some fascinating facts. Whilst many would think that Faber with his NCAA wrestling pedigree would have the takedown edge, he has only actually been successful in 22% of his takedown attempts since joining the 135lbs division. Barao has hit 78%. I treat this with a little pinch of salt, since Barao has fought a much lower level of opponent and has had more fights at the weight. According to the stats Faber should have the striking edge and certainly has a power advantage over his foe. Unsurprisingly, the submissions advantage goes to Barao.
Of course the stats can only tell a part of the story and the actual strategies of each man, and their ability to apply that strategy will decide the winner. Barao is capable of fighting on the outside effectively, as he did against Jorgensen, and he may well look at his teammate Aldo’s victory over Faber as a blueprint. Faber likes to get inside and get a hold of his opponent, forcing them to the mat and pounding them out or finding the opening for the submission. He showed against Cruz that despite being frustrated he can still land big though, and this will be a concern for Barao. Faber is an excellent scrambler and Barao will need to be sharp on the mat if Faber is able to force the fight there.
In the ‘California Kids’ favour is the fact that he has been in the championships rounds many times. Barao has never fought a five round fight and this is unchartered territory for him. Faber may choose to use this to his advantage and look to tire Barao in the first three and try to catch him out in the latter part of the fight. If this were a three rounder, I’d probably be picking Barao. But it’s not and Fabers championship pedigree should see him through. He does need to get rounds in the bank though as it is pretty rare to get a finish in the championship rounds. I don’t see Barao finishing Faber and I think we will be seeing Faber vs Cruz 3. Barao’s time will come, but there is unfinished business between the #1 and #2 UFC guys. Faber decision
Hector Lombard 31 – 2 – 1 vs. Tim Boetsch 15 – 4 – 0 – Middleweight
The UFC welcomes another fighter on a phenomenal win streak in Lombard. 25 fights unbeaten and one of the top ranked 185lb prospects, Lombard is a beast and a great addition to the UFC. If you haven’t checked out his youtube highlight reel then give it watch and familiarise yourself with the crazy cuban. He is a Judo Olympian and all round badass. His top control and ground and pound is insane and he could well be a strong candidate to knock Anderson Silva from his lofty perch. The acid test of his ability will be right here in the UFC. For each person that says Lombard is the man to beat ‘The Spider’, there is another that questions the strength of opposition Lombard has faced in earning his fierce reputation. All these questions will be answered with the type of 185ers he will face in the UFC.
Boetsch certainly isn’t riding any hype trains like his opponent right now, but he has put in some solid outings in the division – none more so than his most recent upset win over Yushin Okami. He staged an amazing turnaround to KO the top contender at UFC144 and now finds himself in the improbable position of sitting right in amongst a group of candidates for a shot at the belt.
Both men can bang and this one is a KO of the night contender. Neither will shy away from throwing down, but I think Lombard does everything just that little bit better than Boetsch. “The Barbarian” won’t be a walkover, and if he lands big Lombard will know he’s been in a scrap. But I have a feeling that Lombard will win out here, exploding out of the gates early and taking the fight right to Boetsch with a statement win. I’d love to see him fight Vitor Belfort next if he does win! Lombard TKO rd 1
Cheick Kongo 17 – 7 – 2 vs. Shawn Jordan 13 – 3 – 0 – Heavyweight
Kongo is a unit and Jordan quite literally has a huge task in front of him here. The Frenchman is an excellent kickboxer and will enjoy an 8 inch reach advantage in this match. His best bet is to stick to his bread and butter strking game and if he does so this should be a comfortable win for him.
Jordan is extremely athletic for a heavyweight, any 260 pounder who can bust out a back flip can put in the uber-athlete column. Kongo is a gatekeeper to the upper echelons of the UFC big guns, but I’m not sure he has what it takes to beat Kongo in a standup fight. Should Kongo choose to abandon his best weapons and inexplicably go after the takedown, as he has been prone to do in the past, then all bets are off.
Nevertheless, I will put my faith in Kongo to do the business and I think he gets a stoppage midway through this fight, as his reach advantage begins to tell on his opponent. Kongo TKO rd 2
Brian Ebersole 50 – 14 – 1 vs. James Head 8 – 2 – 0 – Welterweight
Carrying on the win-streak theme that dominates the majority of this card, 65 fight veteran Ebersoles 11 fight tear will be tested once more against James Head. Heads recent win over Papy Abedi for me was an upset and a great turnaround. But in this fight I see him struggling in much the same way he did against Nick Ring. Ebersole is a great wrestler and has excellent top-control and GnP. There is pretty much nothing Head can throw his way that he hasn’t already been up against before. Head can bang though, and the longer this stays on the feet at distance it could swing in Heads favour. Ebersole prides himself on his granite chin though and his magnificent manscaping he wears into the Octagon is designed to point his opponents to their target, inviting them to test it.
This one looks to be a cut and dried win for the veteran, who will use his experience to put Head on his back and pound Head out inside 10 minutes. No disrespect to Head, but Ebersole has fought much better opponents and dispatched them. This will be Ebersoles second fight in a month, and so I would expect him to have a little breather, but should he win as expected, I would love to see Joe Silva match him up a top 10/15 guy next – maybe Fitch, Bahadurzada or even Ellenberger. Ebersole TKO rd 2
Chris Clements 11 – 4 – 0 vs. Matt Riddle 6 – 3 – 0 – Welterweight
To be honest I am struggling to write more than a couple of sentences on this one. Without wanting to be a hater, I don’t see how this is a main card fight. This started as Alves vs Akiyama and somehow became what it is now. I respect Riddle as a fighter, but I don’t love watching him fight. His showings vary between desperately trying to be a striker (failing badly) and doing a great job as a grinding wrestler and winning ugly. If he chooses the former strategy he is going to get lit up: Choosing to stand with Clements with is asking for trouble. Clements has the record for the fastest KO in MMA at 3 seconds and 10 of his 11 wins have come inside the distance.
Since Riddle will have a huge advantage in the wrestling department, he would do best to stick to what he knows and grind this one out. It won’t be pretty and wont win any awards, but at least the main card can only get better after this one. Riddle Decision