In 2012 some of the UFC’s FOX cards were criticised for being underpowered, lacking in significant or fun fights. However, that criticism has clearly been taken seriously by the UFC brass who have followed up the very successful UFC on FOX 5, headlined by Benson Henderson defending the Lightweight belt against the always exciting Nate Diaz with a card topped by another title match and backed up by a potentially explosive undercard.
This time, it’s the still embryonic Flyweight division getting the chance to shine on the network TV stage as Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson (16-2-1) makes the first defence of his newly minted title against John “the Magician” Dodson (14-5).
Johnson made a habit of beating larger men in the WEC and UFC before the advent of the 125lb division and his wins over legends like Norifumi Yamamoto and Miguel Torres stand alongside his title winning effort against Joseph Benavidez as a testament to his skills and athleticism. Indeed, he’s only lost to Brad Pickett and Dominick Cruz, which isn’t bad going for someone who spent years of his career significantly outsized.
Dodson had been a name in the independent flyweight circuit for years before winning the Ultimate Fighter and has gone 3-0 in the UFC, with two KO finishes making him easily the most attractive #1 contender at this point.
Both of these fighters are known for their athleticism and sheer speed, with Johnson being perhaps the more grappling orientated fighter and Dodson more of a dynamic striker. If I had to bet on this, I’d say that Johnson has the superior record and also the experience of going into the championship rounds which could prove the difference.
As is always the case with the lighter weight classes, don’t be surprised if this match goes the distance but remains far from dull but on the other hand, don’t be surprised if it ends very quickly indeed.
The co-main event features one of the UFC’s most popular fighters Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (32-10) making his last appearance for the promotion following a protracted deterioration of his relationship with management.
Once among the most exciting fighters in the sports most dynamic divisions, Rampage has slipped to a 0-2 streak and hasn’t had a truly impressive win since 2008.
Escorting him to the end of his UFC tenure is one of the most exciting prospects (if you can call a 33 year old a prospect) in the division, as Glover Teixeira (19-2) looks to stake a claim as a legitimate contender by making sure Rampage leaves the UFC on a loss.
Once upon a time, Jackson was an exciting striker with a strong wrestling base but in recent years he’s seemed one dimensional and flat footed, with his wins coming more from his opponents showing his striking too much respect and losses coming whenever an opponent came prepared for his preferred weapon.
Sadly for Quinton, Glover is unlikely to be afraid having taken Fabio Maldonado’s best shots en route to his second successive stoppage win in the UFC. Teixeira is riding a seventeen fight winning streak dating back to 2005 with all but one of those wins coming by stoppage. He would have been in the UFC a long time ago if it wasn’t for visa issues and I can’t see him letting his big chance to claim a truly memorable scalp slip by him this time.
For Jackson, this fight is about proving his detractors wrong and in reading his market value for prospective employers outside the UFC while for Teixeira this is about seizing his chance now that he has it and inserting himself into the conversation regarding who gets the next 205lb title shot after Chael Sonnen in April.
For me, ambition and momentum wins out over saving face and making money every time.
Next up is a bout that could main event a lesser card, a possible eliminator for a Lightweight title shot between Anthony “Showtime” Pettis (15-2) and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (19-4) who are both riding 2-0 streaks following losses in 2011.
Pettis is the last man to defeat the current Lightweight champion, Ben Henderson having ripped the WEC 155lb belt from him at the last WEC card in December 2010. A ground out loss to the most boring version of Clay Guida we’ve ever seen followed but Pettis has reasserted his star with compelling wins over Jeremy Stephens and Joe Lauzon before being out of action for most of 2012 through injury.
Cerrone is a fellow WEC alumnus who rode a 6-0 streak into his December 2011 loss with Nate Diaz, where he never got out of second gear.
Rehabilitating himself with wins over Jeremy Stephens (him again) and Melvin Guillard, Cerrone is a less appealing contender for the belt due to his two WEC losses to Henderson but has managed to insert himself into the conversation despite his tepid display against Diaz.
Of course, the next title shot has already been awarded to Strikeforce champion, Gilbert Melendez and this bout between two exciting, popular fighters could easily make the challenger to whenever emerges from UFC on FOX 7 with the belt all the easier to decide.
Both Pettis and Cerrone are finishers, with accomplished striking and submission games. Classically, Pettis is as likely to finish via KO or tapout while Cerrone tends to batter his opponents into the foetal position with his crisp kickboxing and then sink in a choke.
Just don’t expect a cautious, wrestling based matchup…
The main card is rounded out with a contest between someone who was actually booked into a title match last autumn but missed out due to injury and a fighter who is looking to finally earn a shot after next but one twice before.
Erik Koch (13-1) had been slated to fight Jose Aldo for the Featherweight title at UFC 153 before the injury bug had its way with that card. With Frankie Edgar stepping in to the #1 contender spot, Koch had to earn his shot all over again.
Ricardo Lamas (12-2) made a statement when he defeated Hatsu Hioki back in July and having been on the cusp of title shots twice in the WEC before falling at the last to Danny Castillo and Yuri Alcantara, he’ll be keen to seal the deal this time.
Both of these fighters are well rounded and hungry, but I can’t help feeling that as Koch is the younger fighter and tends to finish more often, he’s better placed to take advantage of Lamas’ tendency to get knocked out than Lamas is to try and outlast the “New Breed.”
The prelims provide the usual strange mix of name fighters trying to get back into a winning way and lesser known fighters trying to earn their way onto the main card with the standout matches featuring Clay Guida (29-13) making his Featherweight debut against Hatsu Hioki (26-5-2) and Ryan Bader (14-3) looking to climb the Light Heavyweight ranks against veteran gatekeeper Vladimir Matyushenko (26-6).
The UFC have stacked this card as they look to really exploit the FOX deal in light of the renewed competition from Bellator, and it looks like being a great night of fights.
Viewing in the UK will as usual be provided by Facebook and http://www.ufc.tv for the prelims and on ESPN from 1am for the main card.
Our live tweeting will be provided by @RossStevenson at @TeamKumite and please feel free to spark up a conversation.
MAIN (FOX, 8 p.m. ET)
• Demetrious Johnson vs. John Dodson – for flyweight title
• Quinton Jackson vs. Glover Teixeira
• Donald Cerrone vs. Anthony Pettis
• Erik Koch vs. Ricardo Lamas
PRELIMINARY (FX, 5 p.m. ET)
• T.J. Grant vs. Matt Wiman
• Clay Guida vs. Hatsu Hioki
• Ryan Bader vs. Vladimir Matyushenko
• David Mitchell vs. Simeon Thoresen
• Shawn Jordan vs. Mike Russow
• Pascal Krauss vs. Mike Stumpf
PRELIMINARY (Facebook, 4 p.m. ET)
• Rafael Natal vs. Sean Spencer
P.S. For those who notice such things, you’ll have seen that the usual UFC ring girls, Brittney and Arianny weren’t at the last broadcast in Brasil. We have it on good authority they’ll be front and centre for this FOX show but if you just can’t wait, here’s a little Brittney to tide you over.