UFC 189 Co-Main Event & Undercard Preview

20150218122308_BJvcXnCcAAEScM

Given the relentless hype for the main event, it’s been easy to forget that there is actually an undercard to UFC 189 on Saturday but that undercard would probably be amongst the best PPV cards of the year even if both Conor McGregor and Chad Mendes suddenly got injured.

The co-main event itself is a fight worthy of headlining any MMA card as Robbie Lawler (25-10, 1NC) looks to make the first defence of his UFC Welterweight title against Rory MacDonald (18-2).

Robbie Lawler’s career would make an excellent movie trilogy, all the way from the youthful prodigy through his journeyman years in the wilderness to his triumphant UFC return and title victory.

6-1 since returning to the UFC and dropping back down to Welterweight, Lawler seems to have reached a point in his career where natural talents, coaching, experience and a maturity have moulded him into a complete martial artist where his always dangerous striking is fully in accord with his grappling game, cardio and mentality.

By contrast, Rory MacDonald has seemed like the heir apparent to the welterweight throne for years. A protégé of former champion Georges St-Pierre, it seemed that MacDonald was always the new big thing at 170lbs even as losses to elite fighters Carlos Condit (losing to a late KO after dominating the fight for three rounds) and Lawler (via split decision) checked his progress towards the seemingly inevitable title shot.

Nonetheless, MacDonald rebounded from both losses by becoming a more dangerous, more complete martial artists and in the five years since first tasting defeat in that fight against Condit.

Now, one of the sports most beloved and skilled veterans faces off with one of the preeminent examples of a modern, well rounded, cerebral and above all, professional MMA fighter with the belt on the line. What more could you ask for?

Well, a promoter would ask for one of them to be a bit mouthier and turn a credible sporting contest into a bit more of a media sensation, but a certain Irishman seems to have pegged the market in that field. In any case, for true fans of mixed martial arts as a sport, this is as credible a title matchwith as compelling a sporting narrative as any you are likely to find.

The main card is filled out with a few excellent fights, all of which could be expected to headline a Fight Pass card in their own right. Firstly, a featherweight contest between two guys who are no stranger to ‘of the night’ bonuses and had been on the outer edge of title contention before some recent losses in the shape of Dennis Bermudez (14-4) and Jeremy Stephens (23-11). A win for either man really places them back in the mix.

Next we have two rising welterweight prospects who met defeat in their last bout against experienced opposition as the exciting Brandon Thatch (11-2) meets smooth Icelander, Gunnar Nelson (13-1-1) looking to recover from losses to Benson Henderson and Rick Story respectively. Both are highly regarded by UFC brass, the media and the fans so the winner here could find themselves a win or two from a title shot.

Opening the main card, Brad Pickett (24-10) returns to 135lbs following a disappointing 1-3 run at Flyweight and is rewarded with the dubious honour of facing undefeated prospect Thomas Almeida (18-0). Pickett would be the biggest scalp of Almedia’s career to date, while a win over the impressive youngster would immediately rehabilitate Pickett to his former spot in the top ten of the bantamweight rankings.

The preliminary card also has it’s share of great fights as ‘Immortal’ Matt Brown (19-13) faces the surging Tim Means (24-6-1) and with a hefty 28 knockout wins between them I don’t think anyone is expecting a dull fight…

We’ve also got former Cage Warriors champion Cathal Pendred (17-2-1) looking to impress after a lukewarm start to his UFC career when he faces the ever-game veteran John Howard (22-11) and Neil Seery (15-10)continues his UFC fairytale against Louis Smolka (8-1) knowing that a win would likely place him in title contention given the shallow waters in the flyweight division.

For once this is a card which actually seems worth staying up late for so let’s hope it lives up to the hype.

Advertisements

Seven Claimants To The Crown

20130705-210413.jpg

There has been a lot of debate about who’s next to challenge for John Hendricks’ shiny new Welterweight title.  Let’s have a look at the options…

#1 Robbie Lawler

As one half of the most compelling title fight in some time, ‘Ruthless’ is still right in the mix for another title shot.  With a lot of folks (especially those who watched live or didn’t have the commentary turned on) scoring the fight in his favour and everyone agreeing that the it was an epic and close fight

With the lack of a clear cut number one contender and a solid story built in, a rematch would be competitively credible and do good business.

#2 Tyron Woodley 

Saturday’s co-main event was all but billed as a title eliminator and while ‘The Chosen One’s victory over Carlos Condit is tainted for many due to the nature of Condit’s injury, it’s worth remembering that Woodley was winning the fight and Condit was injured while defending offensive moves (a takedown followed by a low kick) so it’s not like Carlos just crumpled with Tyron unable to take credit for it.

Having Woodley as challenger would be interesting as he is one of the few at 170lbs who can come close to matching Hendrick’s wrestling ability and sheer power, which could promise a surprisingly even and hard hitting contest.

#3 Hector Lombard

While his win over Jake Shields on Saturday might have lacked sparkle and highlights, we have to remember that nobody beats Shields in impressive fashion (his KO to Jake Ellenberger being the exception, and arguably down to extenuating circumstances) and you can’t argue that Lombard has looked to be an utter beast since his drop to welterweight.

A deadly striker with an impressive grappling pedigree, there are far worse choices than Lombard, even if I think he could do with one more (preferably impressive) win to really put him over as a challenger.

#4 Rory MacDonald

For so long the heir apparent to the division, MacDonald’s loss to Robbie Lawler blunted his ambitions just as it seemed the way had cleared with his mentor, Georges St-Pierre going on hiatus.  Rehabilitated with a commanding (if not exactly fun filled) victory over Demian Maia, Rory is a clear and present threat to anyone in the division and a built-in Hendricks vs. Tristar storyline would surely help sell some pay per views.

#5 Nick Diaz

He’s on a 0-2 streak, hasn’t fought in a year and hasn’t beaten a top ten ranked welterweight in forever (no, BJ Penn and Paul Daley do not count) but Nick’s peculiar charisma remains a draw and his persistent snipes at other fighter’s style or lack of professionalism, combined with his ‘champion of the outsiders’ schtick keep him in the frame.

From a purely sports point of view, Diaz shouldn’t be any closer than a brace of wins from a title shot, but he makes tremendous if unconventional copy for the media, has a committed (as in ‘the men from asylum are here to take you home now’) fan base and does his damnedest to fight in an entertaining way (which just so happens to suit his high output, cardio machine boxing and slick jiu-jitsu.)

Nick has tremendous skills both in the cage and in promotional terms so it could happen even if he REALLY should, y’know win a few fights first…

#6 Dong Hyun Kim

Almost totally overlooked in most articles on this subject, ‘Stun Gun’ has rebounded from his losses to Carlos Condit and Demian Maia in 2011-12 with a four fight win streak and his two most recent of those coming by the kind of epic knockout that doesn’t just become a fixture on highlight reels, it makes seasoned fight fans wince and consider watching a less brutal sport like fox hunting.

Of course, Kim lacks the box office appeal and top 5 wins of the other runners here but his high level grappling and newfound knockout power are a threat to anyone and with the UFC looking to expand its Asian operations, he could be pushed forward in the mix.

#7 Georges St-Pierre

The undefeated former champion continues to haunt the division and as long as he’s fresh in the memory, never mind continuing to attend events and give interviews speaking about the UFC he’ll be one decision and a fight camp away from a rematch.  A Hendricks-GSP rematch would do huge business (but in Dallas or Montreal?) and they do say it’s hard to walk away…

If I Had The Book…

…and we were booking an immediate bout for say June or July, I’d give it to Robbie Lawler, who has earned at least one more big payday and I don’t think anyone would grumble overmuch about seeing a rematch of Saturday’s main event.

That would give the rest of the division some time to sort themselves out and one fighter to break ahead of the pack with an impressive victory.

However, Johny Hendricks has intimated he’s prefer an autumn return rather than a summer title match (fair enough giving that Lawler dished out a fair beating and he’s done 2 x 5 round matches in four months) so the rest of the division might be best served trying to find a definite no.1 contender.

With that in mind, I’d book Robbie Lawler against Nick Diaz, as there is an in built storyline (Nick handed Robbie the loss that saw him released from the UFC back in 2004), the fight would be an almost guaranteed classic and the winner would be well placed for another crack at the belt.

As for the other contenders, I’d book Woodley vs. Kim in a battle of the grapplers with knockout power, with Hector Lombard facing Rory MacDonald in the spare match.

Surely one of those bouts would produce either an epic fight or truly memorable finish and we’d have our unquestionable no.1 contender.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: UFC 171 – Hendricks vs. Lawler Edition

77535_740857195936264_1734617880_o

Full results at the bottom of the article, but let’s break it down..

The Good:

I might be a tiny bit biased but seeing Robert Whiteford become the first Scot to earn a UFC win was a very special moment.

Mixing some excellent striking with effective judo takedowns and a measured ground game (understandable against a noted submission artist like Pineda, and coming off a submission loss) Rab showed flair and composure in equal measure to earn his (and our) first UFC victory.

The rest of the prelims totally outshone most of the featured bouts with standout performances from Sean Strickland, Justin Scoggins, Frank Trevino and Dennis Bermudez alongside fun brawls from Alex Garcia & Sean Spencer, Jessica Andrade & Racquel Pennington and Kelvin Gastelum & Rick Story.

Ovince St-Preux becoming the first fighter I’ve ever seen secure a Von Flue choke (basically countering a guillotine by linking hands behind your opponents back, stepping over their opposite arm and choking them with your shoulder) was just awesome to see. Also worth noting good reffing from Dan Miragliotta to call Kyrlov being out with a lag of only a second or so.

Lastly, the main event was a fine back and forth brawl, rightly won by Johny Hendricks (taking the first, second and fifth rounds on my card) but with Robbie Lawler taking his share of the credit.

The Bad:

The clutch of matches which seemingly held the key to who gets to challenge the new champion for the 170lb title fell a bit flat, as neither Hector Lombard or Tyron Woodley won their fights in the most entertaining or convincing fashion with Lombard being more conservative than we’re used to and almost getting choked by Jake Shields at the end, while Woodley’s win came via a freak ACL tear to Carlos Condit*.

At this point, I’d actually say Dong Hyun Kim would be the best choice for no.1 contender…

*Also, as big fans of the Natural Born Killer, it’s pretty bad to see him injured, especially with something as nasty as an ACL tear.  Here’s hoping Carlos’ recovery goes well and he’s back soon.

The Ugly:

This might come across as a little bit biased, but Joe Rogan‘s commentary was awful last night – especially when he criticised Robert Whiteford for a conservative ground game (coming off a sub loss and fighting a guy known for his submissions) and saying he was running away (when he was winning the striking battle at distance and his corner were telling him to avoid getting drawn into a brawl.)

Also laughable was Rogan’s decision to praise Daniel Pineda’s butterfly guard as Whiteford took him down (six times).

There were a fair few other incidents

This wouldn’t bother me if it was consistent, but some fighters are lauded for exactly the same tactics and it seems a clear case of Rogan picking favourites or simply not doing his research on the relative newcomer and choosing to build up the guy he was more familiar with despite the fact he was clearly losing the fight.

This leads to commentary that is a detriment rather than asset to a broadcast and it is harmful to both fighters involved (as the commentator’s praise becomes meaningless) and ultimately the promotion as a whole.

Usually, I quite like Rogan and his enthusiasm and usual insightful calling of the ground game are fantastic, but this growing tendency to pick favourites and ignore the objective truth of a match is a serious issue. Joe could take lessons from Julie Kedzie, Frank Trigg and Josh Palmer on how to do excellent colour commentary without bias.

BONUSES

The UFC gave bonuses to Hendricks & Lawler, Ovince St-Preux and Dennis Bermudez but we’d give the cash to…

FIGHT OF THE NIGHT – Alex Garcia vs. Sean Spencer – if you want to reward fighters (especially undercard fighters) who come to throw down, this was the one to back. The main eventers don’t need another $50k and this was the fight that had easily the most edge of seat action all night.

PERFORMANCE OF THE NIGHT #1 – Justin Scoggins

Scoggins was on fire last night, outclassing the veteran Will Campuzano in every area, constantly going for a finish and displaying ultimate confidence and charisma. While he didn’t get the finish that was exactly the kind of all-action performance the UFC should be rewarding.

PERFORMANCE OF THE NIGHT #2 – Dennis Bermudez

While I feel a bit bad about denying OSP an official bonus for his stunning submission, nowadays it’s about performances and Bermudez completely swarmed the very good Jimy Hettes en route to a TKO earned via sheer dominance rather than one Hail Mary punch.

HONOURABLE MENTION (locker room bonuses) – Ovince St-Preux, Kelvin Gastelum, Rick Story, Jessica Andrade, Racquel Pennington, Frank Trevino & Sean Strickland.

MAIN CARD
Johny Hendricks def. Robbie Lawler to win vacant welterweight title unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 48-47) – Round 5, 25:00
Tyron Woodley def. Carlos Condit via TKO (injury) – Round 2, 2:00
Myles Jury def. Diego Sanchez via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) – Round 3
Hector Lombard def. Jake Shields via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) – Round 3
Ovince St. Preux def. Nikita Krylov via submission (Von Flue choke) – Round 1, 1:29
PRELIMINARY CARD
FOX Sports 2, 8 p.m. ET
Kelvin Gastelum def. Rick Story via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 30-27) – Round 3
Jessica Andrade def. Raquel Pennington via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28) – Round 3
Dennis Bermudez def. Jimy Hettes via TKO (knee) – Round 3, 2:57
Alex Garcia def. Sean Spencer via split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29) – Round 3

PRELIMINARY CARD
Frank Trevino def. Renee Forte via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) – Round 3
Justin Scoggins def. Will Campuzano via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) – Round 3
Sean Strickland def. Robert McDaniel via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 1, 4:33
Robert Whiteford def. Daniel Pineda via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28) – Round 3

UFC 171 – The Welterweight Renaissance Preview

Image

This Saturday in Dallas is the first day of the rest of Welterweight history, zero day in the post-GSP era. The four months since the Canadian’s controversial have been like a wake for the division, even if standout performances by the likes of Dong Hyun Kim and Tarec Saffiedine has reminded us that there is still life in 170lbs.

As of right now, the division explodes back into full life with a title match, no.1 contender’s bout and two more bouts between four accomplished fighters with their eye on the fluid peak of the division.

Topping the bill, Johny Hendricks (15-2) faces off with Robbie Lawler (22-9) in a match between reliably entertaining and heavy handed fighters for the biggest prize in the game.

Hendricks has only ever been defeated by grinding, tactical displays and Lawler’s losses have tended to come at higher weight classes and his lone KO loss is almost 10 years old…

Both men prefer to swing for the fences and even when they win by decision, it tends to be because they were the more aggressive fighter, rather than a canny game plan.

If the fighter’s records and pre-fight talk are any indication this should be a balls-out war that either ends in a highlight reel knockout or an epic, close fought five round decision.

I’d give Hendricks the edge on account of his chin, apparently heavier hands and his wrestling ability but Lawler is no slouch on any of those counts…

In the co-main event Carlos Condit (29-7) and Tyron Woodley (12-2) are set to duke it out for the dubious honour of being Hendricks or Lawler’s first defence of the title.

Condit has become a star in the UFC despite ‘only’ a 6-3 record in the Octagon thanks to his explosive performances and tendency to only lose to the very elite in highly competitive matches.

A striker by preference but with a capable ground game, Condit’s weakness has come against high level grapplers who can steal rounds against him with takedowns – although Condit’s ability for a flash KO has rendered the grinding of Rory MacDonald and Dong Hyun Kim obsolete in the past.

Grinding may be Woodley’s best tactic here as Condit is by far the more cultured striker and Woodley’s most consistent run of victories came via his wrestling. His recent form has been spotty, going 2-2 in his last four (which is also true of Condit, but against better opposition) with big KOs of the fading Josh Koscheck and Jay Hieron and losses to the canny Jake Shields and Nate Marquardt.

Woodley COULD knock Condit out but. I think Carlos stands the better chance of winning a gunfight.

Next up we have almost a classic grappler vs. striker match as Jake Shields (29-6-1) takes on Hector Lombard (33-4-1).

Both these fighters came into the UFC on epic winning streaks and as the highly regarded Middleweight champions of their former organisations but have found success harder to come by in the UFC.

Shields dropped his second and third outings but has gone undefeated in four fights since even if he’s not found a finish. Lombard sits on a 2-2 run in the UFC but looks a killer since his recent drop to 170lbs.

While Shields tendency for decision and submission wins shows his ‘American juijitsu’ style and Lombard’s 19 KO victories pay testament to his reputation as a striker, it’s worth remembering that Shields trains with the Diaz brothers and uses solid striking to set up his takedowns and trips, while Lombard is a Olympic level judoka who also has considerable submission and grappling skills.

This is a very significant fight, with the winner joining Dong Hyun Kim and Rory McDonald in the pool of fighters just outside immediate title contention, and as much as I want to see a Lombard KO win, I’ve learned not to bet against Jake Shields. Close one.

Once upon a time, Rick Story (16-7) was on a six fight winning streak and probably one win away from a title shot. Back to back losses followed by a period of win one, lose one has seen Story mired in the midcard and in order to put together his first back to back wins in three and a half years he has to stop the rise of TUF winner Kelvin Gastelum (7-0.)

Gastelum was the quiet man in his season of TUF, coming in from the dark to confidently dispose of more vocal and celebrated fighters like Bubba McDaniel, Josh Samman and Uriah Hall. He looked an absolute beast in his second UFC bout against Brian Melancon and then actively asked for a fight against the notoriously difficult story.

So, does the comeback continue for the veteran or does the new star continue to rise? I guess we’ll find out on Saturday.

Full Card

MAIN CARD
Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler for vacant welterweight title
Carlos Condit vs. Tyron Woodley
Myles Jury vs. Diego Sanchez
Hector Lombard vs. Jake Shields
Nikita Krylov vs. Ovince St. Preux

PRELIMINARY CARD
Kelvin Gastelum vs. Rick Story
Jessica Andrade vs. Raquel Pennington
Dennis Bermudez vs. Jimy Hettes
Alex Garcia vs. Sean Spencer

FIGHT PASS CARD
Renee Forte vs. Frank Trevino
Will Campuzano vs. Justin Scoggins
Robert McDaniel vs. Sean Strickland
Daniel Pineda vs. Robert Whiteford

UFC on FOX – Johnson vs. Moraga Preview

20130722-195245.jpg
Sat, 27 Jul 2013
Seattle, Washington
KeyArena

Somewhat overlooked between Anderson Silva getting beaten, the impending debut of UFC on FOX Sports 1 (thankfully to be regarded as a continuation of the old Fight Might series) with its ridiculously stacked card and the insane run of more established title matches coming up, this weekend’s UFC on FOX card has sneaked under the radar a little bit but it is a damn fine MMA card, despite all the other cool fights that aren’t on it.

Lets start at the top…

Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson (17-2-1) makes his second defence of his UFC Flyweight championship against John Moraga (13-1) in a bout that probably leaves casual fans asking ‘John who?’

Unfortunately, the low market value of Flyweights, even if they are insanely talented and putting on great fights means that Moraga, who rode a 5-0 streak into the UFC has both if his UFC wins on preliminary cards, likely watched by a tiny proportion of the probable audience for this network TV broadcast.

That’s unfair, but it is what it is.

Johnson of course is the fast paced wrestler/boxer who has only ever been defeated via close decision to Domincik Cruz and Brad Pickett (if you’re gonna lose to two guys at 135lbs those two would be my top choices…) who dropped to 125lbs once the division was added to the UFC and defeated Ian McCall and Joseph Benavidez to take the title, then defended against John Dodson – all these wins coming by decision.

This is where Moraga really becomes an interesting challenger as after winning back to back decisions en route to the UFC, he proceeded to finish Ulysses Gomez and Chris Cariaso via TKO and sub respectively in his first two UFC bouts.

Who the hell does that? Gets MORE dangerous when the pressure goes up?

Suddenly, the prospect if leaping from prelims to network televised main event isn’t so daunting and it’s Mighty Mouse who need be concerned.

These are 125lbers at the elite level, so it should go without saying that they are both exceptionally well rounded, incredibly fast and capable of winning via strikes or submission at any time or equally by keeping a high pace for 25 minutes and having the winner decided by the tiniest of margins via the judges.

This will be a feast for the MMA purist, and I’m putting money on @ChicanoJohn.

Our co-main event sees Welterweight contenders Rory MacDonald (14-1) and Jake Ellenberger (29-6) facing off with the potential prize of who is next to challenge for the 170lb belt on the line.

MacDonald has developed into a complete mixed martial artist with a… compelling sideline in an ice cold heel persona and a near flawless record (desperation KO at the hands of Carlos Condit being nothing to be ashamed of) combined with the ability and composure to toy with BJ Penn rather than finish him when he had the chance.

However, MacDonald has not yet faced someone who combines gritty wrestling with serious KO power (which will be crucial experience if he plans on challenging the likes of Johny Hendricks or Chris Weidman for gold in the future) in the way that Ellenberger does.

It’s a really tight matchup, with MacDonald’s only weakness revealed thus far being that he CAN be knocked out measured by Ellenberger’s tried and true history of doing just that (its not as if Nate Marquardt or Jake Shields are all that easy to KTFO).

I really doubt this could be a domination either way, likely going to the judges or being decided by one lucky/awesome strike or unfortunate mistake.

Following on from his upset KO of Josh Koscheck, Robbie Lawler (20-9-1) was set to face Siyar Bahadurzada in what promised to be a fun match, but instead faces game Strikeforce alum Bobby Voelker (24-9) in a contest that looks to be even better.

Both of these guys come to scrap and tend to walk away with a knockout victory about half the time so a tentative tactical encounter doesn’t seem to be on the cards.

Rounding off the main card, former title challenger Liz Carmouche (8-3) makes her sophomore UFC appearance against debutant Jessica Andrade (9-2) who despite being a wholly new name to most UFC fans is a real prospect, with eleven pro fights at the age of 21, including nine stoppage victories.

Carmouche is tough as nails and well rounded but has shown a susceptibility to submissions (admittedly at the hands of Ronda Rousey and Marloes Coenen so it’s not exactly an objective sample) which just so happens to be Andrade’s speciality.

The undercard is full of fun fights, but I’ll just cherry pick a few that catch my eye.

First of all, Jorge Masvidal (24-7) looks to continue his winning ways against TUF winner Michael Chiesa (9-0) in a clash of wildly differing styles and levels of experience.

Masvidal is a well travelled veteran who’s 4-2 record over the last three years is only marred by losses to Paul Daley and Gilbert Melendez. Across the cage, Chiesa is still relatively inexperienced but has been completely unfazed by the move to the big show and has continued his habit of submitting opponents who have been expected to beat him.

Masvidal SHOULD win, but I’ve got a feeling that a Chiesa sub is very possible.

The encounter between ‘Thugjitsu Master’ Yves Edwards (42-19-1, yeah that’s 62 pro fights…) and knockout hunter Daron Cruickshank (12-3) promises some fun as both guys are guaranteed excitement and always go for the finish.

Last but by no means least, WMMA pioneer and Invicta announcer Julie Kedzie (16-11) makes her Octagon debut looking to rebound from back to back losses to Miesha Tate and Alexis Davis (nothing to be ashamed of) against Germaine de Randamie (3-2) who has taken a mighty five years to amass her five pro MMA fights.

Slight difference in experience there, until you remember that De Randamie has a 37-0 kickboxing record.

This is gonna be FUN.

So, check it out. Our live tweeting may be delayed on account of Ross Kumite’s birthday celebrations but we’ll do our best to make the @TeamKumite feed as up to date and informative as possible.

Or we’ll post photos of drunken carnage. That could happen.

Check http://www.ufc.com for listings in your area.

MAIN
• Demetrious Johnson vs. John Moraga – for UFC flyweight title
• Jake Ellenberger vs. Rory MacDonald
• Robbie Lawler vs. Bobby Voelker
• Jessica Andrade vs. Liz Carmouche

PRELIMINARY
• Michael Chiesa vs. Jorge Masvidal
• Danny Castillo vs. Tim Means
• Mac Danzig vs. Melvin Guillard
• Daron Cruickshank vs. Yves Edwards
• Ed Herman vs. Trevor Smith
• Germaine de Randamie vs. Julie Kedzie

PRELIMINARY
• Aaron Riley vs. Justin Salas
John Albert vs. Yaotzin Meza

UFC 157: Rousey vs. Carmouche Undercard Preview

20130220-113355.jpg
February 23, 2013 7:00 PM EST
Anaheim, California

We’ve dealt with the record setting headline title match elsewhere, but as is usual with UFC super-cards, the supporting cast is worth a mention in it’s own right.

Leading the charge is the co-main event, which could well be a Light Heavyweight #1 contenders eliminator between former PRIDE and Strikeforce champion Dan Henderson (29-8) and former UFC champion Lyoto Machida (18-3).

Henderson was scheduled to face Jon Jones for the title back in September but injured his knee, leading to the cancellation of UFC 151. Henderson seems to have escaped most of Dana White’s ire for this which fell instead on champ Jones and his trainer Greg Jacksom for refusing to fight Chael Sonnen on short notice.

That worked out pretty well for Sonnen who leveraged his gameness at being willing to step up, (despite coming off a loss in a lower weight class) into a coaching gig on the Ultimate Fighter and a properly scheduled title shot in April.

That relegated the fit-again Henderson down the queue and having to earn his title shot again with a win over a tough contender, but Hendo has faced adversity before.

I could spend a few thousand words describing Hendo’s achievements to date, but suffice to say he’s experienced arguably the most prolonged run at the top level of any mixed martial artist to date.

Indeed, Hendo is arguably more dangerous now than he was on his debut in 1997 as he’s added experience to his incontestable wrestling and striking skills. It’s also worth considering that Hendo knocked out a lot of guys who were smaller than him at the start of his career, but in recent times has been knocking larger, or equally large guys out more often than not – just ask Fedor, Feijao or Michael Bisping. Actually don’t, they probably don’t remember.

Hendo’s game isn’t the most complex, built around his Greco roman background and the natural gifts of his Hand of Doom. Basically, Hendo’s scrambles are a thing of legend, he loves a dirty brawl against the cage and if you stand in front of him, he will put you to sleep.

That’s not to say he’s unbeatable as he’s fallen before, but whether by submission or judges decision (he’s never been knocked out) all of his losses have come against top notch opposition, usually during the time they were at the peak of their powers.

One stat I’d like to throw out is that, across his career, Henderson has defeated no fewer than EIGHT individuals who have held gold in either the UFC or Pride in weight divisions ranging from Middleweight to Heavyweight. He’s also on the second best run of his career, his current 4-0 streak only bettered by his 9-0 run at the start of his career.

By contrast, Lyoto Machida has seen his attempt at legendary status falter as he’s fallen to 2-3 in his last five fights after opening his career with a 16-0 run that made it hard to believe he’d ever be hurt, let alone beaten.

Of course, only one of Machida’s losses has been truly damaging – the devastating first round knockout at the hands of Shogun. His split decision loss to Quinton Jackson can be put down to an over cautious style which was not rewarded by the judges and he remain the only man I’ve seen win a round against Jon Jones, before succumbing to the champion’s elbows and sheer length.

The thing is, Machida’s game is based around movement and count striking. He knocks guys out as they attack him and wear them down with points boxing waiting for that opening. He has a potent submission game, but it’s very much a plan B.

Now, as a former karateka I have nothing but love for Machida’s standup skills, but I can’t see him knocking Hendo out – much larger men have tried and failed, and Hendo isn’t the most expansive striker, opening himself for count shots. He will stalk and wait for a chance to unleash the Hand of Doom. Indeed, the big question in this fight is more if Machida lets Hendo hit him than the other way around.

Henderson’s cardio is suspect (he’s 42 and was never sprightly)but over three rounds I doubt that will come into play too much. I think this goes one of two ways, either Machida points boxes his way to a decision or Hendo catches him and sends him to sleep.

Next up we have everyone’s favourite bum chinned bantamweight, the California Kid Urijah Faber (26-6) taking time out from being a life model decoy of headliner Liz Carmouche…
20130220-113401.jpg
… to face old foe, Ivan Menjivar (25-9) who lost their prior meeting in 2006 via DQ after kicking Faber when he was grounded. Of course, you can make a narrative out of that, either Faber wanting revenge for getting kicked or Menjivar wanting revenge for having a loss stolen. Whatever works for you.

What we can guarantee is pace, technique and a blink and you’ll miss it bout between two very well matched competitors. Both are finishers by preference with a stack of submission and knockout wins apiece. For all that there may be a few decisions on each mans record, that’s more indicative of the evenly matched nature of the lower weight divisions than any kind of dull stalling.

For all that Faber is the draw and the favourite, I’m going to go with Menjivar here because he’s been in terrific form in the UFC, scoring three first round stoppages in a 4-1 run over the last few years. I also tend to back guys from Tristar gym because well, they’re awesome…

In my eyes, this next fight has no business being on the main card as both Court McGee (14-3) and Josh Neer (33-12-1) are sitting on two losses apiece and perhaps fighting for their jobs. Of course, McGee is an Ultimate Fighter champion and gets a degree of favourable treatment, but with solid losses to Costa Phillipou and Nick Ring sending him down to Welterweight against a sometime Lightweight journeyman who has a UFC record of 6-7 over three stints, I can’t help but suspect the Zuffa booking team are trying to feed ‘the Crusher’ a win…

Rounding out the main card is an interesting bout between perennial heel Josh Koscheck (17-6) and Robbie Lawler (19-9, 1NC) who is dropping down to Welterweight following a 3-5 run at 185lbs under the Strikeforce banner.

Lawler is a knockout artist with 16 KOs and only five of his 29 bouts going to decision, and I reckon that college wrestler Koscheck will look to grind thus one out as he did against Paul Daley. Now, I’m not saying for a second that Kos doesn’t have some heavy hands but betting on the percentages, his best strategy is going to be to take Lawler down and either get the win with ground and pound or sheer grappling dominance.

I think I speak for a great many MMA fans across the world when I say I really hope Lawler knocks him out…

The pick of the undercard fights see heavy hitters Brendan Schaub (8-3) and Lavar Johnson (17-6) looking to recover from first round stoppage losses the last time out. For all that Schaub is a much celebrated Golden Gloves boxer, all three of his losses have come by knockout while all of Johnson’s wins have come that way. Johnson’s kryptonite is the submission game and Schaub has shown precious little of that. Do the math.

With only one decision over either man’s career, this one is going to end… probably violently and with Johnson standing tall.

The rest of the undercard is peppered with TUF alumni and Strikeforce transfers looking to make climb their way up the ladder but Im not going to go into detail, because this piece is long enough already.

As usual, please check http://www.ufc.com for viewing details wherever you are, but this promises to be a compelling and hopefully stoppage filled, as well as landmark night of MMA.

MAIN (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
Ronda Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche – for women’s bantamweight title
Dan Henderson vs. Lyoto Machida
Urijah Faber vs. Ivan Menjivar
Court McGee vs. Josh Neer
Josh Koscheck vs. Robbie Lawler

PRELIMINARY (FX, 8 p.m. ET)
Lavar Johnson vs. Brendan Schaub
Mike Chiesa vs. Anton Kuivanen
Dennis Bermudez vs. Matt Grice
Caros Fodor vs. Sam Stout

PRELIMINARY (Facebook, 6:30 p.m. ET)
Brock Jardine vs. Kenny Robertson
Neil Magny vs. Jon Manley
Nah-Shon Burrell vs. Yuri Villefort