UFC 187 DFS Picks: Rumble Young Man, Rumble
One of the biggest PPV cards of the year has finally graced upon us. Even though Jon Jones tried his very best to sniff out the glorious PPV and what could be the best card of the year sans the McGregor/Aldo card, Daniel Cormier essentially “saved” the card somewhat, accepting the title shot and replacing Jon Jones versus the man who very well may become the biggest underdog/comeback story of the year, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. There will be more details involving Johnson’s struggles and perseverance during his road into becoming a feared striker on top of the LHW division later in the breakdown. The DC/Rumble match-up isn’t the only intriguing fight on the card, as the co-main is also another title fight between defending champion Chris Weidman and perennial contender/known TRT user Vitor Belfort. What makes the fight so intriguing is Belfort hasn’t fought in over a year and he actually withdrew from his original title fight versus Weidman for UFC 173, as TRT had just been banned and Belfort needed more time to “cycle” off the TRT and get used to fighting without the aid of TRT. For those of you who don’t know what TRT means or what it basically does for a fighter’s body, TRT is Testosterone Replacement Therapy and it helps fighters train harder and recover faster while on TRT. Some fighters actually need it due to their body’s lack of testosterone, and there were some TRT exceptions allowed for some guys (some may have allegedly used steroids but that’s a whole nother story), and the NSAC decided to ban TRT and all exceptions altogether so there wasn’t a murky grey area. So, Belfort turned down a title fight (although he’s said the UFC “forced” him to pull out of the fight, but I digress) and had to change his whole training regimen in order to return back to his former glory when he was consistently knocking out top contenders such as Luke Rockhold. This is the 3rd try for both men facing each other, as TRT/injuries forced several delays and prevented the fight from happening. Like I said, intriguing! Those two fights along with many, many others make up the crux of the entertainment value that the card will surely bring to all fans of violence. I can’t wait!
Justin Scoggins (-370) vs Josh Sampo (+310)
Scoggins is an extremely talented flyweight who is going through some growing pains, as he continues to learn how to put together his overall game on a consistent basis that can only be learned through experience. Scoggins is only 23 years old (!) and already possesses the potential to be a top wrestler/striker in a division desperate for young talent. Along with Ray Borg, Justin Scoggins could be what the division needs dearly, an injection of fast paced, entertaining fighters with youth on their side. Having a personality certainly helps, as the current champion has the personality of a rock. Shame. Both men are on a 2 fight losing skid, with Scoggins having had closer fights than Sampo, narrowly losing a split decision to Dustin Ortiz and getting submitted by John Moraga after dominating the 1st round of the fight. Sampo hasn’t had that kind of close success in his last two fights, getting subbed in the 1st round by Patrick Holohan and dominated by Zach Makovsky before that. This fight is equally important for both concerning their future with the UFC. Scoggins needs to quickly dispatch Sampo as to prove his hype and skill-set wasn’t a fairy tale, and for Sampo to continue to be employed by the UFC. The latter may end up being the fairy tale after all, as Scoggins might still be too much for Sampo, even with his inexperience.
Justin Scoggins is a black belt in Kempo Karate, and his style closely resembles that of Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, with their wide stances, eccentric movement, and propensity in using side kicks. In fact, Scoggins has said he modeled his style after Thompson, and it absolutely shows up on film. He doesn’t switch stances often like Thompson does, but the basics are all there: countering ability, speed, unpredictable movement and moveset. Scoggins is also very young for a guy who has already shown signs of being a great striker in a division that is thin at pure strikers. At 23 years old, Scoggins’ inexperience has shown in some of his fights versus more experienced veterans such as John Moraga, who caught Scoggins in a guillotine choke after Scoggins successfully got a take-down. Dustin Ortiz also took advantage of Scoggins’ aggressiveness with round-sealing take-downs that won Ortiz a very close split decision over Scoggins. Tough lessons to learn, but they can only help and improve a youngster like Scoggins. With such an unpredictable fighting style, one thing is consistent with Scoggins: he loves side kicks. He’s pretty good at utilizing them to go with his quick counter-boxing. He doesn’t have Thompson’s elusiveness, as he is a bit more aggressive standing than Thompson who is primarily a counter-striker. Even then, Scoggins’ countering ability is still a big part of his strategy, and unlike Thompson, Scoggins can actually wrestle. Scoggins can get quick single leg take-downs and overpower his opponents up the cage for easy take-downs as well. His take-down offense is nothing fancy, just leverage and momentum aided by his aggressiveness standing. Scoggins also is fairly average in his ground and pound on the ground, mostly relying on strong top control. One thing I did notice about Scoggins is his guard is active, almost getting an armbar on Dustin Ortiz in the 1st round. His bread and butter is his striking though, both in its unpredictable nature and ability to string together combinations in a hurry during counter windows. A fighter with a good balance between aggressiveness, movement, wrestling base, and a mixture of strikes to keep his opponents on his toes, Scoggins has all the signs of being a future contender.
Josh Sampo is just an average fighter to me. His speed doesn’t match well versus other flyweights, and that’s a huge issue considering these men are 125 pounds and some of the very best are lightning quick. Leaning mainly on power and countering, Sampo often got beat to the punch and even struggled when he was consistently getting countered. Not to mention his severe lack of take-down defense, giving up too many easy take-downs. One thing I will commend Sampo for is his extremely active guard, going for triangles, armbars, knee locks, what have you, making Sampo a little bit of a dangerous fighter to keep top control on. Other than that? Not much for me to like. He faced a similar unpredictable striker with good wrestling and submission skills in Paddy Holohan, which went pretty badly for Sampo. He got rocked by an uppercut by Holohan after getting countered and beat up standing for a few minutes, then controlled on the ground, tried to get an armbar on Holohan only to have it negated, gave up his back to Holohan and choked out thusly. Makovsky also dominated Sampo with quicker strikes, constant take-down attempts and easy top control despite Sampo’s efforts to get in an upset sub. Ryan Benoit got rocked by Sampo early in the 1st, only to bounce back and dominate Sampo standing with quick boxing combinations and beating Sampo’s attempts at counters with ease. Unfortunately, Benoit’s take-down defense and ground defense is even worse than Sampo, so Benoit got submitted in the 2nd round after a meager take-down attempt. What do all of these fights have in common? Sampo was badly beat by the other fighters’ speed and take-downs, and even though Sampo does have a dangerous guard, he isn’t very technical and gets sloppy far too often. Sound familiar? Yeah, Justin Scoggins fills all the checks on that list.
I may be a little biased when it comes to certain fighters whose prospects and potential I absolutely love, but Scoggins has all the advantages versus Sampo. Quicker, stronger, better wrestling, has enough power to knock out anybody, and the aggressiveness to really hurt Sampo during striking exchanges. The only thing that could lead to an upset here is if Scoggins’ inexperience strikes again and Sampo gets in a submission during a take-down or while in guard. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen. While I wouldn’t be surprised if Scoggins just took Sampo down over and over en route to a 3 round dominant decision win, seeing how Sampo did get rocked badly by Holohan’s uppercut and Benoit being able to counter Sampo over and over, I gotta think Scoggins can get the better of Sampo standing and get his first knockout win in the UFC.
Scoggins via 2nd round KO
Islam Makhachev (-335) vs Leo Kuntz (+275)
Islam Makhachev is a training partner of famed Combat Sambo expert, Khabib Nurmagomedov, and is currently riding a 11 win undefeated streak with 7 finishes. A highly touted prospect for the LW division and Nurmagomedov giving him very high praises, Makhachev will be looking to quickly make a name for himself versus the 17-1 Leo Kuntz. With 12 finishes on record, Kuntz also has finished the majority of his opponents, mostly by strikes. Both men are heavy-handed strikers, throwing out wild hooks and overhands as their weapon of choice. Makhachev has the infinitely better wrestling and grappling though, much like his mentor Nurmagomedov, and that likely will be how Makhachev dominates Kuntz in the match-up between two men making their UFC debut.
Islam Makhachev is pretty much the left handed version of Khabib Nurmagomedov. With heavy hands and a brawler’s mentality, it is clear when watching him fight that Islam is looking to finish with every punch thrown on the feet. He won’t string together quick combinations or show great technique in his punching, but what he lacks in technical striking he makes up in brute force behind his punches. Much like Nurmagomedov, Makhachev also has several kicks under his belt that can surprise an opponent when they least expect it. Makhachev’s real strength is in his Sambo though, with quick and strong single leg take-downs, plenty of leverage throws from his hip, and the plethora of trip take-downs that both he and Nurmagomdev excel at. What Makhachev differs from Nurmagomedov is how he handles himself on the ground. While he can show his age and inexperience at times going for risky transitions and not keeping his opponents from reversing him, Makhachev primarily hunts for dominant positions as he weaves through traffic to get into side/full mount and either finish it off with GnP or a submission as he is very aggressive in that aspect. Makhachev doesn’t usually implement ground and pound from top control, rather trying to pass through his opponent’s guard with leg weaves and waiting for a mistake to capitalize on, such as giving up their back trying to escape from Makhachev’s clutches. Kuntz has a very bad tendency to do this method of escaping, something Makhachev and his coaching staff probably has noticed already. Makhachev seems significantly quicker than Nurmagomedov standing, but doesn’t quite have his superb strength to be able to manhandle anyone at anytime with anything. Makhachev’s great Sambo wrestling is based on his technique and ability to drag his opponents’ legs from underneath them, leading to easy take-downs which equals fantasy points.
Leo Kuntz, for all intents and purposes, has a very deceiving record, as he fought the same guy THREE TIMES, fought someone with the same first and last name in Kuchlong Kuchlong, and his last fight was versus someone with 34 wins and 50 losses! Suffice to say, I’m not impressed in the caliber of opponents Kuntz has fought, and the ones with a decent record/fighting ability Kuntz generally struggled with, either winning by split or in a close 5 round unanimous decision. Much like Makhachev, Kuntz doesn’t have many combos, instead relying on his counter right hand and hard low kicks to open up striking exchanges. Not usually one to be pulled into a brawl, Kuntz will often stay back and toss out one punch shots and go from there. Not exactly inspiring, but it has worked for him nonetheless. So while being an effective counter-striker is his main strength along with good, solid hard low kicks, he tends to struggle versus forward moving pressure that cause Kuntz to backpedal, opening himself to take-down attempts. Kuntz has generally struggled versus wrestlers, often getting overpowered and taken down, then giving up his back as he tries to get back up on his feet. While most of his opponents that took him down weren’t able to take advantage of Kuntz’s bad tendencies, I can’t imagine Makhachev allowing such an opportunity go to waste. Kuntz will be the bigger man of the two as he had normally fought at welterweight in the past, but considering he still got overpowered by average wrestlers at WW, I’m not too worried about the size difference especially since Makhachev is the same height as Kuntz anyways.
This might turn into a Sambo clinic by Makhachev if Kuntz is unable to keep away the take-down attempts. Considering Makhachev has a great camp and sparring partner in Nurmagomedov, and Kuntz’s inability to defend take-downs intelligently, this has all the signs of a 30-27 dominance for Makhachev, with potential for a submission win if Islam is able to take advantage of Kuntz’s bad habit of getting up too quickly. This is for Mother Russia!
Makhachev via 3rd round RNC
Colby Covington (-275) vs Mike Pyle (+235)
Colby Covington is a promising welterweight prospect that has thus far shown legitimate potential after his first two fights in the UFC. Battering Anying Wang into oblivion in his UFC debut and stifling Wagner Silva on the ground with five take-downs and the eventual 3rd round submission win, Covington may have utterly dominated both opponents with ease, but neither fighters were UFC caliber and both were far too green to really give Covington a test. Originally slated to fight Sean Spencer, Covington is stepping in on close to a month’s notice to fight savvy veteran Mike Pyle. At the ripe age of 39, Pyle has been in the UFC longer than half of the current champions combined. That kind of experience is something Covington needs to truly test himself and jump into the ranks of being considered top 15 in the division. What Pyle brings with him along with a wealth of experience, is his quick striking and strong wrestling base to go with strangling BJJ skills, giving him the nickname of “Quicksand”. The one thing he doesn’t bring at all and what may end up being the deciding factor, is his severe lack of a chin. Of his five losses in the UFC, 4 of those came by getting outright knocked out or rocked badly and finished on the ground. Not good. In his wins, he won most fights by getting the fight to the ground and avoiding any death blows standing with his speed and accuracy, but those who could hit with power were huge mismatches for Pyle and his tendency to get hit far too often. Can Pyle avoid the death blows and show his inner old man strength versus the younger (by a lot) Covington?
Colby Covington was an accomplished NCAA wrestler, garnering All American honors and winning his division several times. To add on his fantastic wrestling base, Covington has improved his striking tremendously over his short MMA career. From what I could see in his limited exposure to striking exchanges, he is quick and crisp, with a powerful left body kick that he throws with impressive speed out of his southpaw stance. He keeps his punches compact, very rarely throwing out wild hooks or overextending himself into a bad position on the feet. What he normally does is throw either a quick 1-2 combination then duck under for a double leg take-down. Or he will throw the left body kick that will probably be a staple of his and change levels to grab his opponents up the cage and slam them down. So even though he has the potential to be a smart and effective striker, he relies heavily on his wrestling to get the job done in most of his fights. Unlike most wrestlers turned fighters, Covington complement his wrestling well with timely ground and pound to go with persistent attempts at transitions. While he isn’t quite adept at grappling on the ground as some others had hoped he would be at his young age, he has the potential to be a very difficult fighter to get out of his top control. While there is no doubt Covington is a better pure wrestler than Pyle and should be able to overpower the veteran, I think he would be better served to keep the fighting standing and take advantage of Pyle’s nonexistent chin. Considering Covington’s striking seems compact and doesn’t put himself in a position to be countered, I definitely think he can get the best of Pyle during any striking exchange despite what would appear to be an advantage for Pyle standing. Unfortunately, I don’t think Covington will realize that.
Mike Pyle just does a little bit of everything just enough to be a threat everywhere. A solid left jab, good speedy left hook, a diverse array of strikes and decent hand/foot speed even at his accelerated age. Pyle also has a very underrated submission game along with an active guard. In his early days he was able to string together consistent combinations, able to mix up the jab and uppercut effectively without getting suckered into a KO. Pyle’s take-down offense consists of barreling into his opponent for a double leg take-down or just basically using his momentum to force them to fall down. He also has some sneaky trips he will pull out of nowhere from the clinch or if you get too close to him. Where he excels and gets his nickname “Quicksand” from is his ground work. With his experience and superior grappling skills, Pyle could get the upset if this fight hits the ground by way of a take-down by either guy and not due to Pyle getting rocked and halfway to being unconscious. On the ground he is relentless in looking for a submission or keeping his opponent stuck on the mat. Even in his guard off his back, he is still a dangerous fighter, capable of twisting himself into a submission as his victims shout out in pain. This is why even with Pyle’s brittle chin and affinity for delicious right hands, I still can’t quite pull the trigger on a Covington 1st round smash.
Covington is clearly the better fighter, younger/quicker/stronger with a better pure wrestling base and a damn good GnP game. Being relatively untested thus far in his MMA career and showing a willingness to take some risks on the ground, this has all the signs of a big upset. Covington has to stay smart and either keep the fighting standing and pierce through Pyle’s porous defense to hit home for the flash KO or elude Pyle’s dangerous guard for a GnP win as he did versus Anying Wang. I would think Pyle wants to get the fight to the ground as soon as possible and test Covington’s grappling skills and how he handles himself off his back. But man, what an awful chin. It’s up there with the worst in the UFC, and honestly Pyle should have retired years ago. Maybe this can be his farewell win?
Pyle via 2nd round triangle
Nina Ansaroff (+250) vs Rose Namajunas (-300)
Rose Namajunas was one win away from becoming the 1st inaugural women’s strawweight champion, only to be defeated (taken down) by Carla Esparza. That won’t stop Namajunas’ star from shining bright though, as she has some of the best tools to be a force in the 115 lb division. A black belt in Taekwondo and Karate with an aggressive pressure-based striking and a penchant for pulling off flying armbars, Namajunas bulldozed her way through the competition on TUF 20 all the way to the finals. Now coming off a bitter loss, Namajunas will be looking for a big bounce back win over another skilled striker in Nina Ansaroff, also coming off a bad loss. Ansaroff is also a black belt in Taekwondo, though she is more composed of a striker than Namajunas and is primarily a kicker with good BJJ skills. This fight could end up being one of the most entertaining battles of the night just off both women being capable strikers and Namajunas likely to push the pace constantly.
Nina Ansaroff has some of the best body kicks I have seen for a strawweight. Capable of spinning body kicks, lightning quick left body kick, and even landing some standing knees, Ansaroff is a dangerous striker in her own right, even if she is more tentative than Namajunas. Not that she can’t punch or anything, it’s just her kick-centric offensive striking is good enough on its own that she only really needs her punch combos as her main weapon for counters. Ansaroff doesn’t get rattled by pressure, merely circling out or landing several body kicks as they come forward. What she does lack is consistent take-down defense, as Julianna Lima was able to get her hands on her and notch easy take-downs despite getting beat quite handily standing. While Namajunas isn’t the best of grapplers as far as getting take-downs, she is aggressive enough to utilize her own momentum and crash into her opponents for a quick take-down, something Lima actually did a few times on Ansaroff. So while Ansaroff could potentially match blow for blow with Namajunas standing, perhaps Namajunas’ aggressive nature might be too much for Ansaroff to handle on top of having to watch out for the flying armbar or getting taken down. Time will tell though.
Rose Namajunas…..boy. She could be something. After getting coached up by one of the best lightweights in the UFC during her time at TUF 20, Namajunas improved every aspect of her game, including getting even more aggressive in her stand up. With such a wide and diverse array of strikes, including what can seem impossibly long front and side kicks and a lethal left hook, Namajunas has the ability to pick apart her opponents in any way she desires. What she usually ends up doing is rushing in with a flurry of punches and headkicks/front kicks then either getting right up in their face and attempt a flying armbar –
– or change levels quickly for a take-down/trip. From there, boy is she darn aggressive as she hunts for the submission, literally any submissions. At only 22 years of age and having improved rapidly in such a short time, Namajunas really has all the tools to be a long time champion of the division, so long that she can keep it together and be a consistent fighter. Even with her aggressive style and pacing, she is still very skillful in getting within range and mixing up her attacks, defending herself with timely counters and unpredictable movement from going for flying armbars to switching stances in the middle of a combo. She may only be 2-2 and having lost to a much better technician and equally skilled fighter in Tecia Torres almost 2 years ago, but her star will continue to shine for a long, long time.
Have you figured out my prediction yet? No? Okay, here’s a primer. Ansaroff is really good at kicking, especially to the body. She has the speed and countering ability to be a top echelon striker in the division, but her inconsistent take-down defense and tendency to be put out of position on certain kicks are glaring weaknesses. Namajunas can be the Anthony Pettis of the division, with the unrivaled aggressiveness of a Mike Tyson in his prime and loving to take massive risks with her submission attempts. I don’t think Ansaroff can handle that kind of pressure or have the innate ability to take advantage of such risks, so…..yeah. FLYING ARMBAR!!!!
Namajunas via 1st round flying armbar
Rafael Natal (+305) vs Uriah Hall (-365)
The immensely talented but inconsistent Uriah Hall faces a guy who is looking to make a name for himself after a series of disappointing losses to Tim Kennedy and Ed Herman, bouncing back with a two fight winning streak including a surprising dismantling of tough striker Tom Watson. Uriah Hall is the epitome of how talent and skill on paper can sometimes not translate to success in the octagon. He is a premier striker, not a top striker or some of the best but PREMIER. He is on the level of Anderson Silva when it comes to reaction time, landing incredible punches and kicks, and getting that KO out of nowhere much like the infamous Silva snapkick KO of Vitor Belfort. I mean look at this incredible KO:
Lately, it seems Hall is finally getting it, stringing together consistent performances with excellent long range striking and countering power, garnering two TKO wins in his last 3 fights. Armed with a dearth of strikes that would make a karate master jealous and a 79” reach, one of the longest reaches in the MW division, Uriah Hall is a deadly, deadly striker who is just getting hot at the right time. Rafael Natal is a BJJ black belt with a decent wrestling/grappling base that hasn’t translated to the UFC yet, as he has only submitted one opponent in 12 fights thus far. Natal is primarily a long range striker who will wait for the opportunity to get a quick take-down and utilize top control to the best of his ability. Despite being a black belt in BJJ and clearly having the tools to be a dangerous submission artist, Natal hasn’t been a real threat in the majority of his fights, even when he gets 5+ take-downs. Here we have the classic dilemma that both angers and worries me, a striker vs a wrestler.
Rafael Natal has transformed himself from a middling striker with good wrestling and submission skills early in his career, to improving his long range striking with a stiff left jab and much better footwork/movement in circling out and timing his take-downs more effectively rather than being hasty at times. His fight versus Tom Watson, a tough English striker who both got outstruck and beat to the punch consistently while getting repeatedly taken down. It was a clinic by Natal, something no one had anticipated from the Brazilian. With an effective jab and better understanding of how to be an effective long range striker to pair with his quick and sudden take-down offense, Natal may finally be turning the corner on his career. The one thing I still can’t stand with Natal is he continues to be passive on the ground, choosing to stay in the same position and getting in some weak GnP rather than advancing into a better position to put his black belt to use. Often in past fights, he would be relegated to just holding his opponents up the cage and let the clock tick away, leaving the audience angrily muttering about how they won’t ever get that time back. Natal also appeared to be significantly quicker and fresher in his fight vs Watson, whereas in past fights he was just….there. A good right hand and decent kicks with an annoying wrestling game was really all Natal had been in the UFC before the Watson fight. Maybe he’ll revert back to that old boring version of Natal that was a decision machine and an utterly boring sight to behold. Whatever the case, one thing may stay the same regardless: his chin. He got KO’d by Andrew Craig and Tim Kennedy due to his questionable chin, and well um…Hall is kinda good at hitting people in the face. Like, really good. For Natal to find success versus the explosive Hall, he will probably have to get Hall to the ground at all costs. If he chooses to stand, god bless him. That just helps my fantasy lineups. Even after his promising performance vs Watson, he still showed some poor striking defense at times, and while Watson isn’t anything to sneeze at striking wise, he’s also 32 years old and on the downwind of his career with 25 fights under his belt. Uriah Hall is a young 30 year old starting to get into the prime of his career and is easily one of the fastest, if not the fastest striker in the middleweight division. Quite a stark difference when you consider their styles as well. Point blank, Natal HAS to take Hall down or forever be a distant memory, only to be remembered again when someone searches “Uriah Hall KO gif”.
As I alluded to it earlier, Uriah Hall may just be the fastest striker in the division. Now, I know some of you may say Anderson Silva is still technically employed by the UFC, but honestly, we all know he’s probably done. So, in with the new out with the old! Uriah Hall probably won’t ever string together 2-3 punch/kick combos, not that he needs those kind of wimpy attacks. The dude can just kick your face off one kick at a time. Hall has such an extensive arsenal of kicks at his disposal that no one ever really knows what he decides to toss out on the feet. Well, besides his feet of course. Early in his career (let’s just say when he 1st got on TUF), Hall has an awful tendency to just leave his hands down while backing up, trying too hard to be like Anderson Silva and getting in a sick counter. Hall would get tagged in the process, which usually didn’t hurt him anyways but certainly led to some frustration by his coaches. Hall doesn’t do that as much as he used to, but that annoying habit is still there. Besides that, Hall is an excellent and intuitive counter-striker, having great reaction time and speed to go along with his repertoire of kicks at his disposal to scatter the remains of his opponents across the octagon. I would say perhaps Hall would have benefited more learning to be an aggressor early in his career rather than being passive at times and randomly throwing out kicks. When Hall is consistently engaging his opponents, he has such a sheer distinct advantage on the feet that it is very noticeable even to the most casual of fans whenever they watch his old fights or his current ones on TV. His skill-set is so tremendous, it would be a true tragedy if Hall couldn’t put it all together and become the most devastating striker the MW division has ever seen since….well Anderson Silva. Now, on to the most important part in the match-up that will ultimately decide whether or not Hall can finish this fight quickly or get stuck in the Brazilian mud. His take-down defense. Already an experienced long range striker with great athleticism, Hall has usually been able to shove away most take-down attempts just by reaction alone, but when he faces someone who is more persistent in their take-down attempts or actually has some strength, Hall tends to back up and get held up the cage. Not necessarily taken down, but just held up the cage. He generally has underhooks ready to defend most take-downs, so again, as long as he can just slip away from the cage and ascertain his range, I’m not too worried about Natal’s take-downs. Even though he lost to Kelvin Gastelum on TUF 17 due to take-downs, Gastelum is a pretty strong wrestler in his own right, and is a much better overall wrestler than Natal anyways. Not really comparable.
Natal failed take-down attempt. Hall kick. Natal jabs, gets countered by a right. Natal failed take-down attempt. Hall kick. Wobbled Natal! Hall rushes inside and kicks again. IT’S ALL OVER LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!!!! WHAT A KNOCKOUT BY THE ENTHRALLING URIAH HALL!!!!
Hall via 1st round KO
Dong Hyun Kim (-280) vs Josh Burkamn (+240)
The Donger makes his return to the octagon versus perennial punching bag Josh Burkman (at least he’s gotten better lately…..kinda). Dong Hyun Kim is a black belt in BJJ and Judo, though he’s only submitted one opponent in 24 pro fights. Strange. The Donger has long been a veteran of the UFC, winning the majority of his fights by decision as his technical grappling and long wrestling length has stymied opponents in most fights. Some names you may know that the Dongzilla has decision’d: Matt Brown, TJ Grant, Nate Diaz, and Erick Silva (although that was a vicious knockout, but again, I digress). He’s also faced several big time talents at WW such as Tyron Woodley, Carlos Condit, and Demain Maia. So, Josh Burkman kinda pales in comparison to the talent level of Kim’s past opponents. But alas, I must break down the fight anyways. Oh yeah, about that Burkman character. His last fight, a decision loss to Hector Lombard (snoozer) that eventually got overturned cuz Lombard’s a cheater, was his 1st fight in the UFC in six years after being cut by them in ’08. So, not only has he been cut already, he didn’t even impress in his return (unless you think getting beat up by the cage and showing some grit/toughness is an admirable trait). Let’s just say Burkman probably won’t stick around for too long if he gets another loss.
The Donger is an aggressive grappler with a scrappy mindset, willing to push forward and absorb punches as long as he can push the pace and get his hands on his opponents. He will also have a 4 inch height advantage at 6’1 of height. Early in his career, he was more laid back, using jabs and low kicks to set up his ducking take-down attempts or judo trips. As he has gotten older and wiser, he has now taken on the alter ego of Dongzilla, a guy who just doesn’t care who you are, he’s coming after you and you better watch out! His Judo can be seem in his take-down attempts as he loves the back trip from anywhere as well as the hip toss that’s rarely used. He will often find himself holding his opponents up the cage and trying to get in a single leg take-down, multiple times even. Oh yeah, he’s got his own Dong Punch too! His power left hand has knocked out a few men in his time, including poor Erick Silva, who tangled with the wild Donger and failed to tame him, sleeping the night away in the mid 2nd after a gassed Kim just kept coming at him. He came all night long, bro. HE BANGED ALL NIGHT LONG! The Donger also opens himself to punishment when he goes dong-wild during striking exchanges, as Tyron Woodley and Carlos Condit knocked him out all the way to Korea. Dongzilla is one dangerous grappler, armed with the Dong Punch and a dong-wild mentality that really suits his overall fight game. Oh, he also loves to do the spinning elbow/back fist. See here:
Another example of the Dong Punch:
I’ll admit one thing about Burkman. He can be a creative striker. I mean the guy invented his own fighting style called American Whu-Hitu. He switches stances often, and does what Tyron Woodley likes to do too much, walk back up near the cage and invite his opponents to get up close to him. The difference between Burkman and Woodley’s styles is Woodley is more counter-based striking with his wrestling mixed in, while Burkman just throws out random strikes and mainly uses the cage as a means of take-down defense as opponents can’t rush him and take him down with momentum or they run out of room to operate. What ends up happening versus most wrestlers is he gets tied up and held up the cage, where Burkman is effective in keeping himself standing and not stuck on the ground. So, good strategy there. His striking consist of inconsistent combos, power overhands/straights, some random wild kicks from either stance, and a bad tendency to leave his chin high while backing up. His countering is average at best, mostly considering of wild hooks and uppercuts. Considering the Donger lately seems to favor brawls and pushes the pace, I imagine this fight will take place up the cage quite often.
Burkman is a decent dog here just off his opponent’s aggressive nature and having already been knocked out before for throwing out unnecessary strikes. Other than that? This should be the Donger’s fight to lose, as Burkman may have decent take-down defense but if you get him away from the cage he struggles mightily with defending attempts. You add in the fact that Burkman is pretty bad off his back and the Donger’s size advantage, you have the ingredients of a Dong decision. Viva la Dongzilla!
Kim via unanimous decision
John Dodson (-500) vs Zach Makovsky (+400)
John “The Magician” Dodson is coming off an ACL injury suffered almost a year ago, something that prevented the young but elite flyweight from getting his well earned rematch versus the buzzsaw of the division, FFW champion Demetrious Johnson. Dodson is arguably the hardest hitting flyweight in the division, as four out of his five wins were KO/TKO wins during his time in the UFC. Dodson also rocked Demetrious Johnson on several occasions, the closest Mighty Mouse has ever came to being knocked out in his career. Zach Makovsky also has never been knocked out in his career across 24 professional fights, so that’s a streak Dodson should look forward to breaking. John Moraga also had never been knocked out before his 2nd meeting vs the Magician, ultimately getting knocked out by a vicious kick where Dodson’s knee hit Moraga’s head on a take-down attempt, badly rocking Moraga and almost getting finished within the time limit. The doctor eventually had to stop the fight after the 2nd round had ended, giving Moraga his 1st TKO loss of his career. Will Makovsky suffer the same fate that Mighty Mouse barely escaped but Moraga couldn’t? Oh yeah, TJ Dillashaw, the current bantamweight champion, has only been knocked out once in his career. To who? POOF! THE MAGICIAN STRIKES AGAIN!
Ahem. John Dodson is one of the fastest strikers in the division, with only really Demetrious Johnson being able to match his speed blow by blow. You add in Dodson’s power and aggressiveness, and you have the perfect recipe for a 5 foot 3 wrecking ball. What does Dodson do that has made him into the most powerful striker in the FFW division? A devastating and blistering fast left hand that he loves to open up with his right jab as he protrudes into his opponent’s range.
His kicks, especially the hard right kick, are equally mind numbing fast, with a great ability to land 2-3 punch/kick combos every few seconds. Dodson excels at countering, but will be the aggressor if he feels it is in his advantage to do so. While he can tend to stay in one spot at times, his unbelievable hand/foot speed makes it okay to be stationary at times, and considering only the current champion can even match his speed, I don’t think Dodson or his coaches are complaining too much about it. While his wrestling gets overshadowed by Dodson’s impeccable striking, it is a handy tool for Dodson for whenever he gets close to the side of the cage. It also helps with defending take-down attempts and due to his great wrestling background and athleticism, Dodson is a difficult fighter to get down to the ground, with only Demetrious Johnson being able to get to the slippery fighter. That’s a big advantage for Dodson as he faces a top shelf wrestler in Makovsky. Shedding the take-down attempts and keeping the fight standing will be Dodson’s game plan, testing Makovsky’s striking defense and speed. Thus far, only Mighty Mouse was even able to win striking exchanges versus Dodson, and even he got dropped twice in the five round championship fight. So what am I saying here? Dodson’s good, like REALLY good. Speed, speed, and more speed is his game with sneaky power behind his assault to go with being damn exhausting to get hands on for any kind of take-down.
Not to be outdone by Dodson’s gaudy accomplishments in being the most powerful striker and one of the fastest in the division, Makovsky has some of his own “best of”’s. Zach Makovsky is one of the premier wrestlers in the FFW division, bringing his own fast paced movement with his strength and great technical prowess to frustrate his opponents and get easy take-downs. Quick movements, excellent footwork, fast successive jabs and straights with low kicks, ability to change levels at the drop of a dime, and superb striking defense has made Makovsky a perennial contender for whatever promotion he fights for. “Fun Size” can do it all, and while he lacks a killer instinct, having only finished 7 opponents in 24 tries, he isn’t what you would normally brand a “boring” fighter. He can have entertaining exchanges on the feet, land some brutal ground and pound, and make some great passes as he goes for submission attempts. What Makovsky really excels is getting the fight to the ground, whether by force or by technique as he ducks under punches for a double leg take-down, or get into the clinch for a trip take-down. Due to his strength and strong positioning, Makovsky is a horse on top, being extremely difficult to get off as Makovsky makes his way into side control. Makovsky will likely have to avoid almost all striking exchanges versus the quicker, more powerful Dodson, following Demetrious Johnson’s game plan that won him the fight at the waning moments of the 4th/5th rounds. That plan includes constant barrages of take-downs, pushing Dodson up the cage and stifling his attempts to strike back, and being persistent in reaching for a single/double leg take-down. If he is unable to overpower Dodson with those kind of attempts, he might become another guy whose first KO/TKO loss came at the hands of the Magician.
Speed versus technique is what this fight comes down to, along with Dodson’s defensive wrestling and scrambling versus Makovsky persistence and strength. While Makovsky truly is a great all around overall flyweight, he just doesn’t have the speed or power to catch Dodson, and Dodson’s defense has been pretty damn good thus far. Of course, Makovsky could turn into Mighty Mouse and get 5 take-downs out of nowhere and get the shocking upset. Probably not. Only Tim Elliot escaped his fight versus Dodson conscious during Dodson’s wins, so picking a knockout for Dodson seems like the easy pick. Yeah, no. Zach Makovsky is one tough bugger who will not back down from the moment and will absolutely test Dodson’s wrestling skills as much as possible, and his striking defense is already pretty good on its own to be able to withstand Dodson’s barrage. In that Elliot fight, which isn’t comparable with Makovsky since Elliot has a frenetic pace himself and loves to get into brawls, Dodson landed 80 sig strikes with 2 take-downs in a decision win. Maybe he can do the same thing versus Makovsky, maybe not.
Dodson via unanimous decision
John Moraga (+476) vs Joseph Benavidez (-650)
The 3rd and final flyweight fight on the loaded card, John Moraga vs Joey Benavidez is an interesting one. Moraga has long been a dark house of the division, largely forgotten and neglected while he keeps on winning, having only lost to John Dodson and Demetrious Johnson, arguably the consensus best and second best fighters in the division. Moraga is an all around fighter with a knack at finishing fights, with 4 finishes of his 5 wins. He’s been waiting for a big time opponent, and he gets possibly the gatekeeper of the division in Joseph Benavidez. Joe B-Wan Kenobi had long been the consensus 2nd best flyweight before Dodson arrived to the UFC. Also known as Joe Jitsu, which is Benavidez’s own name for his tremendous ability to destroy black belts at their own game. He has choked out several black belts on record, prompting Benavidez to call himself a Tie Dye belt in Joejitsu. Lovely. A battle between two of the lesser appreciated fighters in the flyweight division that’s largely been overshadowed by Demetrious Johnson’s complete dominance over the years, this fight along with the other two may jumpstart the fan base in appreciating the 125’ers so the UFC can actually promote the flyweights for once. Appreciate them damn it!
John Moraga really epitomizes what a balanced fighter looks like. An accomplished NCAA wrestler for ASU, Moraga complements his wrestling base with crisp boxing that may not pop off the screen with KO power or speed, but not every fighter needs to have knockout power to be an effective fighter. Moraga has a good jab and right straight follow-up, can finish combos with hard low kicks, and consistently mixes up his take-down attacks as not to be telegraphed. He’s also one tough guy, overcoming a bad start in his last fight to Willie Gates, where he got kicked in the lower region but the ref did not see it to stop the fight momentarily. Grimacing in pain and getting blasted by a right hand by Gates that caused Moraga to fall down and give up his back, Moraga was in dire straits and about to become one of MMA’s biggest upsets. Thankfully, he survived the early onslaught and didn’t succumb to the RNC attempts by Gates, roaring back in the 2nd and 3rd round with accurate striking and aggressive wrestling that led to a submission win for Moraga. Job well done! Moraga has only been hurt once in his 19 pro fights, a doctor’s stoppage caused by a well timed kick by Dodson on a take-down attempt that was basically a knee to the head. Ouch. Still, that’s pretty impressive considering the caliber of fighters he’s faced. Sure, he got submitted by Demetrious Johnson in the 5th round, but that was more of a wrestling clinic by the champion rather than getting beat up standing badly. Moraga will have to be able to withstand Joey B’s wide array of strikes with timely counters and good footwork to be able to circle out of any follow-up kick by Benavidez. Timing a take-down during those said kicks will also be crucial for Moraga’s success in the match-up, considering Benavidez is very tough to get a bead on, always jumping in and out of range. Moraga might even have to go the boring way, holding Benavidez up the cage and doing some dirty boxing/dragging his feet from under Benavidez and punching him on his way up. Rinse and repeat. Not an easy thing to do when Benavidez barely gets taken down and is always engaging his opponents. It’s his best realistic chance to defeat the #2 ranked flyweight.
Joseph Benavidez is just damn good. Primarily a southpaw that can be comfortable in switching stances, Benavidez has a powerful overhand that he mixes in quite a bit during exchanges. He will finish most combos with a leg kick, whether it be a body/headkick or a low kick, keeping his opponents honest and thinking twice before countering him too quickly. Benavidez can have some moments where he goes wild, swinging for the fences with hooks and overhands as he looks for the finish. It hasn’t backfired on him so far, so I suspect he will keep doing it until proven otherwise. As I alluded to before, he’s also one hell of a grappler, a force to be reckoned with on the ground. Tim Elliot took Benavidez down several times, only to get caught in a guillotine choke that was so well done that Elliot had to tap out using his feet instead of his hands. Vicious! Add that fantastic ability to dissuade grappling with him on the ground with his slippery tactics standing in his jumping in and out of range, and you have one of the toughest flyweights to get your hands on. Benavidez has good countering ability, but he is really at his best when he is continuous engaging his opponents with flurries of combos and bouncing back to counter any of the blowback. Deadly!
This could be a back and forth battle on the feet since Moraga has very good boxing and underrated wrestling that could end up annoying Benavidez. What it really comes down to is if Moraga can hit Benavidez consistently so he doesn’t get overwhelmed by Benavidez’s flurries. Elliot proved that you could pressure Benavidez and crack his defense for some quick take-downs, but Benavidez’s ingenuity and experience makes him a far more dangerous foe to deal with on the ground than standing. Moraga is not as sloppy as Elliot is on the ground though, and has a much better top control. I think this may be a surprise FOTN candidate, despite the great odds. Joe B-Wan Kenobi pulls out the win narrowly with a strong 3rd round.
Benavidez via unanimous decision
Andrei Arlovski (+360) vs Travis Browne (-450)
Man, who doesn’t love a heavyweight fight? Especially one that could finish in the 1st round between two accomplished strikers! Andrei Arlovski is making his 2nd stint with the UFC after he finished his original UFC contract way back in ’08, and had since then bounced around across several promotions including WSOF and StrikeForce. Even when he wasn’t in the UFC, he was consistently fighting good/elite heavyweights during his career. He also bears a striking resemblance to the main character of the movie “300”, King Leonidas. Travis Browne suffered only his second defeat at the hands of now #1 contender Fabricio Werdum, where Browne’s usual top notch take-down defense was exposed and Browne badly gassed after the 2nd round. Nonetheless, Browne is still one of the most dangerous and powerful strikers in the HW division to go with an iron chin. Arlovski also has similar distinctions as Browne, but the one thing he dearly lacks is a chin. Having been knocked out seven times during his career and getting rocked even in his wins, Arlovski faces a daunting task as he defends himself versus Browne’s extensive toolbox of strikes that has amassed six knockouts out of his 8 wins during Browne’s tenure in the UFC. Recipe for disaster?
Arlovski’s fight versus Brendan Schuab was a wash, as that was a horrible fight to watch since both men simply stared at each other for 3 rounds. Not worth explaining. Arlovski’s fight versus “Bigfoot” Silva was a better indication of Arlovski’s skill-set that has thus far shown no signs of slowing down during his long and storied MMA career, as his speed and quick countering ability along with a thunderous right hand that led to Bigfoot’s demise, which came to a shock for many people as Arlovski was a huge underdog at the time. The Pitbull has always been a ferocious warrior in the cage, a willing brawler with many tools at his disposal, including the famed headkicks that has long been a staple of his along with his punishing right hand.
Arlovski will sometimes turn to his Sambo background and get some hard earned take-downs, finishing off his opponents on the ground with punches as he peppers his opponent’s face with impunity. His combinations are not lengthy nor are they crisp and technical, but his power and speed more than makes up for any errors in transcription. Featuring a dominant right straight/overhand and a speedy headkick, Arlovski is more of a counter-striker than an aggressor, but don’t let that fool you. Arlovski can bring the heat whenever he feels the urge to, as he has battered overly aggressive opponents in a timely fashion. Even as his striking defense has eroded over the years along with his chin, his one punch power is still alive and kicking. His take-down defense is very good, as he has good scrambling ability and an excellent guard if he does end up on the mat. Arlovski will have to use his quickness and countering effectiveness along with impeccable footwork to circle away from Browne’s tricky striking.
Travis Browne is a big man, towering at 6’7” of height along with an equally impressive 80” reach. He will have a 3 inch reach advantage as well as being 4 inches taller than Arlovski, but the length of Browne’s kicks can’t be measured (since UFC doesn’t, you know, measure leg reach) and will likely be a big factor in the fight as Browne avoids the counters of Arlovski while feeling out his range. Early in Browne’s career and in the UFC, he trained with Alliance MMA, which Dominick Cruz was a part of. Though he wasn’t a coach, Cruz’s fighting style and crazy footwork in shifting around while switching stances really rubbed off on Browne, as Browne started to implement Cruz’s shifty pacing into his own style. That kind of experience training with such a premier fighter has helped Browne’s footwork and ability to find angles immensely. Later on, as Browne switched to Jackson-Winklejohn for his training, his movement slowed down and Browne was more focused on making better technical strikes, and while Browne will still occasionally switch stances and try newfangled strikes at unorthodox angles, including a flying knee while backing up versus pressure or a superman punch version of a left hook, he takes less risks now than he had done in the past. Browne’s main repertoire of strikes include but not limited to: Front kicks to gauge his distance, stretch out his long wingspan and get in some quick jabs again to find his range, mix it up with one punch straights and hooks, more front kicks, the occasional uppercut that ended Brendan Schuab in his last fight, and finally, once he starts feeling comfortable and ready to throw down, Browne will string together more consistent combinations and get a little risky here and there. Usually the aggressor, Browne has surprising accuracy and speed for such a lanky fighter, and with his size and length, Browne is capable of landing an improbable punch from nowhere to get the KO. His length is really something his opponents can’t really prepare against, and the way Browne moves around to get an angle for whatever he decides to throw out is what has kept Browne on top of the division as a dangerous striker. Browne also can get into the Muay Thai clinch and slam vicious knees into his opponents’ body/head, and often times will use that same grappling position to push away the opponent to continue standing.
Browne’s length will be the deciding factor in this fight, along with Arlovski’s chin. Arlovski’s tendency to stay back and be a counter-striker might be the worst thing he can be versus Browne, as even at long range Browne can still hit home with relative ease, especially once he starts tossing up the front kicks. Only way I can see Arlovski surviving Browne for 3 rounds is to take Browne down and repeat Werdum’s game plan. Browne usually doesn’t leave the 1st round, so his cardio has been an issue as he has gassed in some fights near the end of the 1st right before he gets the finish. Browne is just simply too long, too diverse standing, and already possesses great take-down defense that is aided by Browne’s length as he can gain leverage by putting his monkey arms on his opponents and pushing them away. Dude is a beast. Sorry King Leonidas, but 1 > 300.
Browne via 1st round KO
Donald Cerrone (-550) vs John Makdessi (+425)
OH KHABIB NURMAGOMEDOV WHYYYYYYYY????? Donald Cerrone was slated to fight the great one, Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov, for what would have most likely been a #1 contender match with the winner facing the new LW champion, Rafael Dos Anjos. Alas, we can’t get what we all want. Nurmagomedov suffered a setback after rehabbing his torn meniscus from a few months prior and had to withdraw from the fight. Scrambling, the UFC asked several lightweights if they would take a short notice fight versus “Cowboy” Cerrone, one of the toughest outs in the division and a lethal Muay Thai striker with one hell of a personality. A few people accepted, and the UFC went with John Makdessi, coming off a stunning knockout win over Shane Campbell just a week earlier. Even though Makdessi probably isn’t a household name and wasn’t necessarily worthy of fighting Cerrone considering the circumstances and Cerrone’s hunt for a title shot, Cerrone doesn’t care at all. He wants to fight everyone at any given time, as long as he has a cold beer and can drive his RV to the event. What a charming fella. Considering Makdessi just recently fought, you can go to his strengths/weaknesses here at https://dailyroto.com/ufc-186-david-vs-goliath/ (yes, a shameless self-promotion within my own article), and I will add in what may change for Makdessi as far as game planning goes in the final notes.
Donald Cerrone is a Muay Thai striker with some of the best knockout power in the division, with 19 of his 26 wins coming way of KO/submission. Having a brown belt in BJJ certainly helps with that high percentage of finishing success, not to mention his great skills on the ground off his back. What makes Cerrone so dangerous on the feet? His ability to pick apart his opponents from range and continuously mixing up his combinations to go along with his push kick that he uses quite a bit to get a feel for his range. Cerrone strings together some flawless combinations at times, landing a smooth counter straight right at the moment of impact when his opponent least expects it. That was how he rocked Barboza en route to his submission win while Barboza was fazed on the ground. Cerrone will open up with a few jabs here and there and the push kick, then speed it up once his opponents start opening it up with more frequent striking exchanges. That is when Cerrone excels at his very best, countering quickly and effectively with gorgeous headkicks and underrated body shots that add up over the length of the fight. Just ask Jim Miller how hard those body kicks are. The one thing that still plagues Cerrone is he continues to leave his chin high during striking exchanges, and even though he’s never really had any striking defense, he relies on his speed and ability to hit home from long range to counter his hittability. He also has some of the highest strikes thrown/landed in the division, with a large majority coming from his leg kicks, whether they be low kicks, body kicks, or the devastating headkick that has garnered 2 knockouts recently.
Filthy. Point blank, the guy knows how to strike effectively and will toss out copious amount of strikes, whether they land or not is inconsequential to Cerrone. As long as he knocks them out, he is good with it. His take-down defense is some of the best in the division, and even if he does end up on his back, his guard is top notch as he can triangle his opponents at any moment, and as seen versus Jury, he can reverse his position immediately with submission attempts. He is just all around a great fighter, currently riding a 7 win streak with notable wins over Benson Henderson, Jim Miller, Edson Barboza, Myles Jury, and Eddie Alvarez. Whew. What a resume. Will he add John Makdessi to that list? Probably.
Makdessi is going to have to stay away from any potential brawls with Cerrone, as he will probably lose the majority of those exchanges. Considering Cerrone eliminated Alvarez’s superior boxing by thudding his lead leg with many low kicks, rendering Alvarez useless in picking apart Cerrone as he couldn’t generate power or push off his leg for his boxing to work effectively. Cerrone can do the exact same thing to Makdessi and render his jab/side kick useless, and since Makdessi already has shown to ignore checking kicks as a whole, he may be in a world of trouble. On a month’s notice and having clear weaknesses versus certain Muay Thai techniques that Cerrone excels in (push kick/low kick), Makdessi has a tough task at hand. He will most likely have to find his range and keep the fight at long distance, countering Cerrone’s leg kicks with effective right straights and take advantage of Cerrone leaving his chin high. Unfortunately for him, I don’t think he can handle Cerrone’s vast array of strikes long enough to see the judges.
Cerrone via 2nd round KO
Chris Weidman (-525) vs Vitor Belfort (+415)
The fight that got delayed twice due to TRT being banned/Weidman injuries is now finally here! Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort looks to continue his hot streak that saw Belfort KO Luke Rockhold, Michael Bisping, and Dan Henderson on his way to nabbing a title shot vs Weidman. Then along came the NSAC, banning TRT use/exemptions across all of UFC and cramping Belfort’s style. The Lion will be looking to show all of his adoring fans that the relentless and dangerous striking version of Belfort from a year ago never left. Weidman will be looking to get the fight to the ground as much as possible, even if his striking has vastly improved during his time as champion. Weidman has shown time and time again that his wrestling prowess is by far the best in the division, armed with a rock of a head and a balanced all around game that lets Weidman dictate the match anyway he wants it to go. Will Weidman have to find Jesus after Belfort sends him to the gateways of Hell?
Chris Weidman is a fairly big middleweight, who took UFC by storm when he shocked the entire world after his TKO of famed MW champion and beloved fan favorite, Anderson Silva. Ever since then, Weidman has improved twicefold from a stifling wrestler (great NCAA wrestling credentials) with very good BJJ skills (underrated BJJ black belt) to a respectable boxer and excellent defense on the feet. The one thing that has still plagued Weidman even in fights he wins in dominant fashion is he has a tendency to flame out in the later rounds as his gas tank gets depleted with every waning moment. In his last fight vs Lyoto Machida, this was very apparent in the 4th/5th round as Machida almost made a rousing comeback with flurries of punches and well timed kicks. But like I said, Weidman’s head is made out of bricks, so for all of Machida’s efforts, he ultimately lost in a close decision and Weidman continued his run as the MW champion. What makes Weidman so good that he still hasn’t been figured out? I think it has a ton to do with his gameplanning and fight IQ, as he always comes into the fight picking apart his opponent’s weaknesses, whether it be backing up versus pressure, take-down defense, ground defense, or whatever he and his coaches can find on film. He preys on his opponent’s tendencies and ticks that he can take full advantage of if he is able to see it ahead of time during a match. Even with all of that, he will still go back to his trusty wrestling, as his take-down offense is tops in the division, with a suffocating top control that has a great balance of persistent ground and pound with sufficient threats of submissions and good timing on weaving for passes. His striking isn’t going to wow anyone, but they have sneaky power behind them and Weidman can throw crisp boxing combinations as he closes the distance. The key here versus Belfort is how often Weidman can get within range of Belfort to take him down and stay away from Belfort’s damaging strikes. Even with a blockhead like his, he’s gotta be aware of Belfort’s strikes, especially the surprise headkick, no matter what.
The curious case of Vitor Belfort is a extremely intriguing one. Belfort has fought in the UFC for so long he has undergone massive changes at various points of his MMA career. A young Belfort was fast and strong but inexperienced, losing to some of the very best early on such as Chuck Liddell, Alistar Overeem twice, Randy Couture, and Dan Henderson. Then he started getting it together and became a lethal striker, getting a title shot with the great Anderson Silva, only to be defeated by the infamous snap kick. Still, Belfort continued his pillage of those who dared to face him, including a submission win over Rumble Johnson. Then came Belfort’s almost win over Jon Jones with an armbar attempt in the 1st round. Jones survived and then got his own revenge with a keylock sub over Belfort to retain his title. Once again, he wasn’t finished just yet with his career, with 3 KO/TKO wins in a row over Dan Henderson, Luke Rockhold, and Michael Bisping. Impressive! Unfortunately, no one really knows whether Belfort was truly a phenom, or the aid of TRT had dramatically changed Belfort’s fighting complexion and ability during those fights. In fact, ever since TRT was banned altogether, there have been rumors surfacing that Belfort looks significantly smaller than usual, looking more like a welterweight than a big middleweight. Time will only tell (and the weigh ins) whether or not TRT was a big part of Belfort’s recent success. Due to that nagging question of what TRT-less Vitor looks and fights like and the unknowns of how his training has differed from the past, it is quite difficult to do a reasonable breakdown on what version of Belfort to expect versus Weidman. I will do my very best though, and write down what I saw in most of his recent fights, starting with a few fights before the Anderson Silva title fight. So with that in mind, this is what I have determined on which version of Belfort we will see.
A dangerous blend of speed and power, Belfort is one of the better counter-strikers in the division fighting out of the southpaw stance. He combines a powerful counter-left with lightning quick left body kicks that Belfort loves to mix in with the headkick and his famous spinning roundhouse that knocked out Luke Rockhold for his 1st career loss:
Belfort thrives on beating his opponents to the punch, or kick, and making it a dangerous plan to try and pick him apart standing. Bisping couldn’t use his crisp and technical boxing to win the exchanges, getting blasted by the left repeatedly every time he tried to jab Belfort. Bisping got beat to the punch so much that he got badly hurt at the end of the 1st by a left hand and vicious knees. Eventually, Belfort finished Bisping with a thunderous headkick at the start of the 2nd round:
My goodness. One thing I did like about Belfort was even if there’s a stalemate standing and neither fighter is willing to engage one another, Belfort doesn’t sit back for too long and will toss out some body kicks or a headkick to keep them on their toes. It’s very important for counter-strikers to not become victims to their fighting style, being overly passive and needing that one punch knockout to win fights. Versus Jon Jones, Belfort wasn’t able to beat Jones to the punch much at all, unable to handle Jones’s massive 84” reach and get within striking range. Getting taken down numerous times also didn’t help, but that’s for later on. Point blank, Belfort relishes the opportunity to showcase his power and speed countering style and isn’t afraid to swing for the fences with his legs. Now, on to the most important aspect of Belfort’s game as pertains to the match-up versus Weidman, his take-down defense and scrambling ability in general. Considering Belfort stays within his own range that he is most comfortable at and doesn’t rush ahead often, he can telegraph take-down attempts and stop them right away. However, versus Jon Jones, Belfort couldn’t stop Jones from getting too close to him and getting in easy trips or pushing him down when Belfort couldn’t telegraph the attempt. Weidman is one of the best in the division in getting take-downs and mixing it up so it is difficult to expect an attempt. Just ask Lyoto Machida, who had one of the best take-down defense in both the LHW and MW division and was always considered a “wrestler killer” due to his ability to shut down wrestlers left and right. Weidman would not be denied of his take-downs versus Machida, which eventually helped Weidman win the close decision. Now, that’s when Vitor was on TRT and presumably was “bigger” and “stronger” back then. Maybe this new version of Belfort will be worse in handling power take-down attempts? I don’t know.
I still think Belfort has that same combo of speed and power that has long made Belfort a renowned knockout artist even at 38 years of age, TRT or not. Weidman would be a fool to test Belfort’s striking ability, instead of testing his take-down defense. There is also a good chance Belfort may end up being gassed past the 2nd/3rd round, giving Weidman an even better chance to take him down and finish the fight with a submission. I am admittedly a big fan of Belfort, even wearing a Vitor THE PHENOM Belfort shirt in my profile picture, so it’s hard for me to pick against the guy. While Belfort does have a black belt in BJJ and the ability to get an armbar or triangle from bottom, he’s generally passive and stays in one spot while waiting to get back up. Just more chances for Weidman to put a stranglehold on Belfort with his top control and hunt for the fight sealing submission. No TRT, a year and change long ring rust, and Weidman having improved in every single fight ever since being champion all point to a Weidman dominance. There’s always hope for a Belfort KO considering his skill-set, but Weidman is just simply too accomplished of a wrestler to give Belfort a chance to knock him out. Sorry, but I think Weidman will find Jesus after all.
Weidman via 3rd round arm triangle
Anthony Johnson (+115) vs Daniel Cormier (-135)
As I said in the intro, Daniel Cormier is replacing Jon Jones, who got stripped of his LHW title amid his crash and run/drug issues, versus Anthony “Rumble” Johnson to be crowned the new LHW champion of the UFC. Now, in Cormier’s case, he isn’t actually fighting on short notice as is typical for fighters who sub in due to injuries/whatever reasons, as he was slated to fight Ryan Bader in the main event of UFC’s New Orleans card a few weeks after UFC 187. So Cormier had already been training beforehand and getting ready to fight before the call up by the UFC, which essentially means Cormier still had a full camp and training to get ready for UFC 187. Obviously, his strategy and gameplanning changed when he got a new opponent, but everything else is still relatively the same. Is that bad news for Johnson? Probably not, as Rumble would still employ the same game plan he had for Jones, only for a much shorter opponent. That game plan is to knock the snot out of his opponents. Nothing more, nothing less. The match-up will be a very good case of a dominant wrestler vs a powerful and diverse striker, with both men being worthy for the chance to be the new champion.
Anthony “Rumble” Johnson….you know what? I’m calling him Rumble. That’s how vicious this man can be on the feet during his fights, as he will literally rumble through his opponents with rumbling knockouts that make his opponents’ heads cause the canvas to rumble upon impact. RUMBLE! Ok, that’s enough. Rumble has had an interesting start to his career in the UFC, as he actually fought at welterweight (170 pounds) for some time, missing weight several times even when he moved to middleweight. He missed weight FOUR times during his 1st stint in the UFC over a span of 11 fights under the UFC banner. As a result, he was cut from the UFC and fought at LHW across several MMA promotions, going 6-0 in the process, including a win over Andre Arlovski at heavyweight. Now, you might be thinking,”Wait a durn minute, youse tellin’ me that Rumble fought at heavyweight but started in the UFC as a welterweight? That just don’t make none of sense to me!” Yes, he did. As you can probably guess, the harsh weight cut made Rumble a shell of himself in several fights, often gassing out within the 1st few minutes of the fight due to exhaustion and having absolutely no stamina whatsoever to defend anything. Rumble would often get taken down easily and submitted, or just completely gas out and let his opponents crush him into submission. So, while there were clear flashes of his striking brilliance and immense KO power even after the terrible weight cut, ultimately it just ended up being too taxing on his body. The switch to LHW was clearly the right move, as he even looks much bigger than he did when he was cutting down to WW/MW, and Rumble looks infinitely more comfortable and able to defend take-downs as seen in his shellacking of Phil Davis that surprised many people (NOT ME!!!). What exactly does Rumble do that has made him a feared striker in the division, including knocking out esteemed top LHW contender Alexander Gustafsson, widely known as the only man in the division to get the closest in defeating Jon Jones during Jones’ incredible run as champion, and making Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (Little Nog) look ancient? Quite simply put, it is his unfathomable power and extremely quick combinations that the division had never seen before, stringing together clean and precise strikes at the best opportune times. Gustaffson even said himself that Rumble was by far and away the strongest, most powerful opponent he had the pleasure of getting knocked out by. Wanna see for yourself? Alright:
Yeah, dirty. Rumble has classic kickboxing techniques, as he can elevate his headkicks with some serious snap behind them along with his brute boxing that is surprisingly accurate considering the force he puts behind them. Rumble may not throw a ton of combinations every second of the fight or have gaudy striking offensive stats, but his timing and uncanny ability to penetrate his opponent’s defense is by far some of the best in the division. He can find the right button on his opponent’s chin and plaster it with dubious straights and a devastating right overhand as seen versus ol’ Gus. If that doesn’t work, he’ll just kick your head off. His main weakness is more or less based on his past struggles versus take-downs and his ground defense. In his 2nd stint with the UFC, his ground defense has yet to be tested, and outside of the Phil Davis fight where he simply shrugged off the seemingly tiny Davis’s puny take-down attempts, no one has dared to try and take Rumble down, lest they be eternally damned to never wake again. His cardio is also another question mark that has yet to be tested by anyone during his second run, something I seriously think may become an issue versus Cormier in what possibly could become a long and arduous five round fight. It’s interesting that stating Rumble’s weaknesses are based on predictions from his past, where he wasn’t even in the right weight class to begin with. Whatever the case, it certainly adds to the intrigue of the fight.
Daniel Cormier has a much more storied wrestling history than Chris Weidman, as he was a NCAA All American wrestler as well as actually wrestling for Team USA in the ’04 Olympics. Just look at his Wiki page! Cormier is a bit of a late bloomer, as he joined the MMA scene around 2008, joining up with his partners, Luke Rockhold and Cain Velasquez, at American Kickboxing Academy. Cormier was a quick learner, achieving a brown belt in BJJ while grooming his striking offense and tailoring his immense wrestling ability to better augment his fighting style. Cormier made his name under the StrikeForce banner, when he went through their popular heavyweight tournament and defeated everyone en route to winning the tournament, including a KO over veterans Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Josh Barnett. His stint at HW was short-lived though, as he decided to move down to LHW as his pal and current HW champ Cain Velasquez was already dominating the UFC before Cormier’s arrival. Cormier quickly proved that he belonged among the elite in the division as he dispatched every opponent with relative ease, including his absolute dismantling of Dan Henderson, in which Cormier threw Henderson into a perpetual GIF:
Poor Henderson. As you can see, Cormier is a beast of a man at LHW with his premier wrestling and take-down offensive ability to go with great power in his hands. Even at a height/reach disadvantage in most fights, Cormier just makes it work. How does he make it work, you say? Easy! He is a surprisingly patient striker, using several quick jabs as he walks forward to set up his powerful right overhand. Even if he doesn’t land the overhand, it is usually enough to allow Cormier to push forward and get his grubby hands on his opponent, which either results in Cormier bear-hugging his opponents up the cage for some dirty boxing and never letting go, or he slams them to the ground with such disdain you’d think he had an awful childhood or something. As is typical for most wrestlers, Cormier tends to stay heavy on top (yes, another fat joke) and squish his opponents with his thunderous belly that serves as a third hand in his ground and pound game. What a cheater. There is nothing special or funny about Cormier’s game plan in every fight, as he will either clobber his opponents with overhands and hooks, or squish them either up the cage or on the ground. Having some of the very best/strongest take-downs in the division, Cormier is actually a pretty entertaining wrestler even while in top control as he bludgeons his poor victims into a bloody paste as they struggle to handle his obesity.
This really all comes down to Cormier, both his chin and his game plan on handling young Rumble. Will he look to get close inside Rumble’s range despite all the perils and dangerous obstacles Rumble offers? Can he consistently threaten Rumble with take-downs and achieve said take-downs successfully? Can he take a punch (has had minimal damage through his MMA career, even versus Jones) and weather potential storms? Will his reach and height disadvantage (6” reach and 3” height disadvantage) be a major concern? Will he just simply gas out Rumble and get in a submission win that has been the bane of Rumble’s MMA career? To be continued…..
Well, actually. I pick Rumble to win due to his immense power and proficiency in getting through any kind of defense, however impregnable it may seem. Only worry I have is handling Cormier’s superior wrestling and the take-downs that are sure to come in bunches. I just think Rumble’s too damn good of a striker, and while Jones basically out-Cormier’d Cormier, what Jones lacks in power Rumble has in spades. RUMBLE YOUNG MAN, RUMBLE!!!!!
Rumble Johnson via death rattle KO sometime in the 2nd
Good golly, I think I’ll lose my mind on Twitter this week, so be sure to follow my mental breakdowns at @4000Pounds and laugh at my misery. C’mon Rumble baby!
Which fighters do you have this week?