For all that a heavyweight title fight, especially one actually contested by the consensus #1 and #2 guys in that division (think back, it’s not as common as you’d think…) tends to over shadow the rest of a card, the UFC have done their usual job of stacking their year end card with championship relevant and/or fight of the night contenders for UFC 155 – no mean feat for a card which lost Chael Sonnen, Forrest Griffin, Phil Davis and Chris Wiedman to injury and rebooking!
This is exemplified by the co-main event, which pits two perpetual contenders in the ever competitive Lightweight division against each other.
Joe Lauzon (22-7) holds the second most ‘of the night’ honours in UFC history (behind Nate Diaz) and has the highest proportion of bonuses to fights (that’s eleven bonuses in thirteen career UFC fights) so some form of excitement is all but guaranteed.
A submission specialist who’s no slouch on his feet, Lauzon is not the kind of fighter to play it cautious in the opening frame, always preferring to start strong and look for the finish from the second the match starts. This has cost him a few times in his career, most recently in his KO loss inside the first 90 seconds against Anthony Pettis but on the whole he has twice as many wins in the first round as he has losses of any kind, at any time.
Across the cage will be one of the few fighters who will not be afraid of going to the ground with Lauzon, because Jim Miller (21-4) has long been one of the most solid grapplers in the 155lb division. In fact, he’s only been submitted ONCE, in his last fight against Nate Diaz, balanced against twelve submission wins.
It’s worth noting that to date, Miller’s losses have all come against guys who’ve gone on to challenge for the title, with him falling short against champions Frankie Edgar and Benson Henderson and challengers Gray Maynard and Nate Diaz so he is in a way the ultimate gatekeeper at 155lbs.
We have here two submissions specialists, with Lauzon having a small advantage striking and Miller being the better wrestler – I said exactly the same thing about Ben Henderson vs. Nate Diaz and the advantage in wrestling proved the difference there.
That doesn’t mean I’m predicting a decision win for Miller, as such a prediction against Joe Lauzon is madness. If anyone is capable of scoring a wholly unexpected KO or scoring an epic flying submission move worthy of Shinya Aoki, then it’s Lauzon.
This match is a coin toss for me, but I can’t wait to see how it pans out.
Next down the bill, we have a somewhat shock title contender at Middleweight, Tim Boetsch (16-4) riding a 4-0 streak since dropping from 205lbs, having scored two underdog victories in a row against Yushin Okami and Hector Lombard.
For all that those wins came in less than dominant fashion, Boetsch having lost the first two rounds against Okami before scoring a late TKO and Lombard not putting in his usual aggressive performance, it’s evident that Boetsch wrestling base, judo throws and heavy hands make him a credible threat at 185lbs.
A win at UFC 155 puts Boetsch on a 5-0 run and very much in the mix for a title shot in 2013.
For the first time in a while, Boetsch comes into the fight as favourite, as his original opponent (and consensus #1 contender at Middleweight) Chris Weidman pulled out due to injury and has been replaced by teammate Costa Phillipou (11-2).
Phillipou has quietly impressed in his UFC career since failing to make the house on TUF 11 and has assembled a 4-0 win streak, tasting victory over TUF11 winner Court McGee and a trio of experienced fighters. While he hasn’t made a habit of scoring memorable finishes or winning Fight of the Night awards in his UFC run so far, Phillipou’s well rounded moveset and competitive spirit have garnered him a great deal of respect. With his first truly high profile opponent and an opportunity to insert himself into the outer reaches of title consideration, I have a sneaking suspicion that Costa will not disappoint here.
Another bout which has ramifications for the Middleweight title picture sees one time challenger Yushin Okami (27-7) facing slow burn contender Alan Belcher (18-6) in a rematch from both men’s Octagon debut back in 2006 – a fight Okami won by unanimous decision.
Back to back knockout losses hurt Okami’s standing in the division but a dominant win over Buddy Roberts has him back on track to some degree. Nearly being shot by Chael Sonnen’s mother has apparently not affected his training camp for this fight and the Japanese judoka will be looking to get himself back to the top of the division.
Across the cage, Belcher has quietly amassed a 4-0 win streak over an injury interrupted three years – a streak that many feel should be 7-0 over four and a bit years thanks to his debatable split decision loss to Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 100. Belcher is supremely well rounded, being capable of submission victories or taking the win with his fists. He also has some insane submission defence, as showcased in his last fight against leg lock specialist Rousimar Palhares. That said, a third of his losses to date have come to judo throwing Japanese fighters. Can he buck that trend?
The main card is rounded out by Chris Leben (22-8) making his return to the UFC following a years suspicion for failing a drugs test (for painkillers) and looking to get back in the win column following his crushing main event loss to Mark Munoz at UFC 138.
His opponent was meant to be Karlos Vermola but injury has meant that Strikeforce alumnus Derek Brunson (9-2) will be in the opposing corner.
I have to say that if Chris Leben turns up in shape and with his head screwed on, he should walk through Brunson as despite a 9-0 run at the start of his career, Derek has been thoroughly outclassed in his last two fights, losing to Kendall Grove and getting knocked out in less than a minute by Jacare Souza – giving the Brazilian submission specialist his first KO victory in 20 pro MMA fights.
Given that Leben has only been clean knocked out by Brian Stann and Anderson Silva and tends to start every fight looking to take his opponents head as a trophy… I hope Brunson’s corner are standing by with a pillow.
As usual, the preliminary card offers some tantalising, if less celebrated bouts.
The undoubted pick of the bunch, probably only on the undercard because Fuel TV didn’t want to give up their main event is the Bantamweight matchup between Brad Pickett (22-6) and Eddie Wineland (19-8-1) who are both coming off highlight reel knockout victories and could be right in line for an interim title shot with a victory in this fight.
Brad Pickett is never in a bad fight, Bantamweights rarely disappoint and if it wasn’t for Miller-Lauzon this would easily be my pick for Fight of the Night.
That said, it could easily be pushed close by the Flyweight clash between Chris Cariaso (14-3) and John Moraga (11-1) which sees a three fight win streak pitted against a five fight win streak and could easily decide the next challenger (after John Dodson) for the youthful 125lb belt.
Throw in a tasty Bantamweight belt between Erik Perez (12-4) and Byron Bloodworth (6-2) with Perez riding a seven fight win streak including pre-UFC wins over top European fighters Paul McVeigh and James Brum.
Liberally season with the rescheduled bout between lightweight strikers Melvin Guillard (30-11) and Jamie Varner (20-7) and Todd Duffee‘s (7-2) unexpected UFC return against Phil deFries (9-1) and you have a compelling entree to an already stacked festive card.
Please check http://www.ufc.com for listings wherever you may be (the show will be spread between Facebook and ESPN for UK viewers) and give @TeamKumite a follow on Twitter for live coverage from our own Ross Stevenson.
Season’s Beatings to you all!
UFC 155: Dos Santos vs. Velasquez 2
Sat, 29 Dec 2012
Las Vegas, Nevada
MAIN (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
• Junior dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez – for heavyweight title
• Joe Lauzon vs. Jim Miller
• Tim Boetsch vs. Constantinos Philippou
• Alan Belcher vs. Yushin Okami
• Chris Leben vs. Derek Brunson
PRELIMINARY (FX, Facebook)
• Brad Pickett vs. Eddie Wineland
Erik Perez vs. Byron Bloodworth
Melvin Guillard vs. Jamie Varner
• Michael Johnson vs. Myles Jury
• Leonard Garcia vs. Mc Holloway
• Philip De Fries vs. Todd Duffee
• Chris Cariaso vs. John Moraga