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UFC on FOX 15: Rock, Paper…Dragon?

UFC on FOX 15: Rock, Paper…Dragon?
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UFC on FOX 15: Rock, Paper…Dragon?

The long awaited match-up between two of the premier middleweights the UFC has to offer is finally here! Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida is set to face a resurgent Luke “Legitsu” Rockhold for what is most likely the #1 title contender match with the victor facing the winner between current MW champ Chris Weidman and former TRT user Vitor Belfort. While the loss of Yoel Romero has hampered the star power of the free card (yes, it is free and LIVE on FS1/FOX!), there are still many promising youngsters looking to make a name for themselves, including the smokin’ hottie Paige VanZant (**editors note: do not start Googling for images of Paige, you’ll never return to finish 2ToN’s article**) and one of my FW favorites, Max “Blessed” Holloway. Hopefully the sting of last week’s snoozefest in Poland has worn off by now, and true violence will shine among the millions of viewers that will be watching along with us! Not to mention the good chunk of cash up for grabs on DraftKings and Kountermove for the event. Hell, we’re even gonna get some Brandao action after poor Jimy Hettes fainted right before he was slated to face the Brazilian psycho. GIVE ME ALL THE VIOLENCE!

Eddie Gordon (-450) vs Chris Dempsey (+360)

Gordon is coming off a coma-inducing head kick loss to Josh Samman, a fight that he was dominant in for most of the match. That’s just how it goes in MMA. The TUF 19 middleweight winner will be looking to get back in the limelight with a dominant win, and lucky for him he gets a dented can in Chris Dempsey. Now I shouldn’t say he’s a dented can since he was 10-1 coming into his UFC debut against Ilir Latifi, but oh boy, he did not impress at all in a KO loss. He looked extremely awkward standing, unable to handle the heavy-handed Latifi’s overhands and getting his leg blasted by Latifi’s leg kicks that were never checked. Eventually, a leg kick obliterated Dempsey’s lead leg, which lead to Latifi ending it with punches on the ground. In his other fights, Dempsey’s awkwardness standing was very evident, along with his inability to check kicks at all. In fact, it seems he has been living off his ability to wrestle his opponents down and either submitting them or grinding for a decision win. That’s not gonna get the job done versus the much bigger Eddie “Truck” Gordon and his better wrestling.

Gordon is a behemoth at MW, which helped him win the dismal TUF 19 season as he battered just about everyone he faced to the ground with his above average strength, finishing the season off with a bang as he socked Dhiego Lima left and right, pummeling him into bits and pieces before the ref called it off. While on the season, Gordon seemed passive on the ground, rarely making any passes and content to stay in one place instead of advancing for a better chance at some ground and pound. Nevertheless, he still showed a strong take-down offense to go with his ever improving striking that is mostly 2-punch power combinations designed to let Gordon push forward to get his opponents up the cage. While up the cage, Gordon is an aggressive striker, electing to punish with uppercuts as he swings wildly, not looking for the counter. He doesn’t really use any kicks, so Dempsey’s unwillingness to check kicks won’t be an advantage for Gordon.

Chris Dempsey…well, I dunno. I don’t see anything worth noting about his fight game. He’s just an average wrestler with decent jiu jitsu chops, but not much else. He isn’t very big for his weight class and he just looks so out of place standing, being extremely passive and just keeping his hands up, presumably to get in a counter whenever the time is right. But he never does a counter nor does he seem capable of overwhelming anybody on the feet. I mean, the guy took 5 leg kicks to his lead leg and did nothing about it. That shows a lack of understanding how to compete on the feet. I’m kinda confused on why he’s still in the UFC after his terrible debut, but I guess if they didn’t cut Ruan Potts after his 1st couple awful losses, I shouldn’t be too surprised.

Gordon should have the advantage everywhere in this fight, so the main concern with Gordon is the possibility of just taking a safe win. Getting brutally knocked out in his last fight probably has Gordon uneasy, and even versus an amateur like Dempsey will still require Gordon to test the waters and get into the flow of things. Maybe get in a quick take-down and some lay’n’pray. From there, it’s truckin’ time.

Gordon via 2nd round TKO

Diego Brandao (-170) vs Jimy Hettes (+150)

The two men were supposed to kick off the already stacked UFC 183 card before Hettes unexpectedly fainted as he was getting his hands wrapped up. Even though Hettes was cleared by the doctors backstage, the NSAC decided to call the match off as a health precaution. Anyways, here they are! Some of you guys might remember Brandao after McGregor (seems like he’s everywhere now) flushed him down the toilet during their main event for UFC FN 46. Dustin Poirier also gave Brandao his last rites just right before he clobbered him in the 1st round. So, it’s safe to say this fight is probably a must win for Brandao if he wants to continue fighting in the UFC. Brandao is really a true wild card in the FW division, having all the tools to be a menace to anyone who dare face him. He has very powerful punches, favoring the overhand as his go-to punch along with sloppy but aggressive kicking. Brandao is also very strong for his weight class since he is a fairly big featherweight, which has caused some bad weight cuts for Brandao in the past including his fight vs the aforementioned Poirier in which he came in 8 pounds over. Eight!!!!! Even when he does make the weight, the cuts have caused considerable long term damage to Brandao’s health, as once inside the octagon his cardio dissipates at an alarming rate throughout the match. His wild and aggressive fight style also does him no favors, and while it may result in highlight reel knockouts, it badly cuts down his options if he is not able to finish the opponents within the 1st round. Not to mention Brandao also forgets to put his black belt in BJJ to use, preferring a brawl over being disciplined and smart. Whatever the case may be, no one should be sleeping on Brandao versus anybody, despite all of his past struggles and stupidity.

Jimy Hettes is a renowned judoka with several gaudy Judo awards and credentials to his name as well as obtaining a brown belt in BJJ. His main tool is the trip and hip toss out of the clinch to gain control on the ground. From there, Hettes is very deliberate in setting up several submission attempts, taking his time and performing the right transition at the right time. While in past fights Hettes has shown he is a willing ground and pounder, he is still a submission specialist at heart. The problem Hettes has faced in his losses were when he was at a strength disadvantage, being unable to overpower his opponents from the clinch. His striking is not very good, mostly consisting of quick 1-2 jab combinations that couldn’t squish a fly. They are just there for show, although for fantasy purposes sites will still rule such pitiful attempts at throwing punches as significant strikes. Rejoice! Facing Brandao already puts Hettes at a size and strength disadvantage, much like his last loss to Dennis Bermudez in which the young Hettes got completely dominated and blown to bits by Bermudez’s stand up. Not good news for supporters of Hettes, but remember what I said earlier about Brandao’s cardio issues? If Hettes can survive the early onslaught of whatever the heck Brandao decides to throw out, Hettes certainly can take advantage of a gassed Brandao in the clinch since you know…you lose strength when you’re gassed. Even though Brandao is a black belt, that doesn’t matter if you’re on your back gasping for air versus a skilled technician such as Hettes.

For all of the negativity surrounding Brandao and his past actions, including shouting “I’ll stab you with a pen!” to Dustin Poirier backstage during weigh-ins, Brandao is still a Brazilian psycho, capable of destroying anything standing in his way with his fists. Hettes may be an expert judoka in his own right, but his lack of strength and non-threatening striking just spells doom to me versus Brandao’s psychosis. Don’t faint again Jimy, you’ll be sleeping soon enough after the fight starts.

Brandao via 1st round KO

George Sullivan (+130) vs Tim Means (-150)

Tim Means is stepping for the injured Kenny Robertson on almost a month’s notice after he annihilated Dhiego Lima in his last fight. This should be a brawl between two men who don’t mind some dirty boxing. Tim Means will be the taller foe at 6’2 inches with a 75” reach, 2 more inches than the 6 foot Sullivan. While those numbers may seem insignificant, in a possible brawl like this one, those 2 extra inches may be all Means needs to break through Sullivan’s right straight for the KO win. Both men also have solid wrestling bases and take-down defense, which just screams violence to me. Who’s gonna KO the other first?

Tim Means has much more crisp boxing than Sullivan, using plenty of uppercuts to go with his damaging hooks and crosses. The one thing that Means does that I don’t like is he leaves himself open too much on counters, leaving his chin high as he follows through whatever combination he throws out. He’s a tough little bugger though, so taking a glancing blow isn’t going to be enough to put him away. The Dirty Bird is your prototypical brawler that every casual fan loves to watch, as he barrels his way through his opponents without hesitation. He will be the one to push the pace towards Sullivan and get the fight started off with a bang. I just hope he doesn’t overexert himself going for the knockout that he leaves himself open to a take-down, as he isn’t really active off his back, usually just staying in closed guard waiting to get back up.

Sullivan has a powerful right straight that he throws out often after a couple of left jabs with the occasional quick low leg kick. Sullivan likes to sit back and wait for counter opportunities but is a willing puncher if he gets pressured quickly. He doesn’t have great footwork, mainly standing in one place most times with minimal head movement. That’s not good when facing someone with better boxing skills than Sullivan’s, such as Means. Sullivan also isn’t a combination reliant guy, mostly tossing out the right straight in an effort to catch them off guard. He does have some decent countering ability if he’s able to stay back outside of his opponent’s range and pick them apart. Means isn’t gonna sit back against Sullivan, so those opportunities to counter won’t come from staying out of range for Sullivan. I’d imagine Sullivan will probably have to grab Means at some point during a striking exchange and try to push Means down to the ground where he can utilize his very active ground and pound that he will implement from any position on the ground, even off his back. Means has shown in the past that even though he has some decent sprawl defense, he allows his opponents to attempt many take-downs without any repercussions which can lead to several successful take-downs. This is something I can see Sullivan eventually having to do if the stand-up battle doesn’t go his way early.

I enjoy watching Means’ dirty boxing and his attitude as he walks through his opponents, and in some of his past fights he wasn’t able to showcase the power he had as he was stuck floundering around on the ground. Sullivan doesn’t go for the take-down much unless pressured up the cage or when defending a take-down and flipping it around into his favor, so this is an ample opportunity for Means to prove his crushing knockout of Lima wasn’t a fluke. Means is the faster, more powerful boxer of the two with far smoother techniques and much more variety in his combinations. Unless Sullivan gets in a successful take-down, this might be a short night for him.

Means via 1st round KO

Aljamain Sterling (-360) vs Takeya Mizugaki (+300)

Poor Mizugaki. Poor, poor Takeya. You didn’t deserve that beat down at the hands of Dominick Cruz. You just had your ear re-attached beforehand! Damn it Takeya! After that brutal loss to Cruz, Mizugaki doesn’t get a break as he faces one of the hottest prospects in the bantamweight division in Aljamain Sterling. The Funk Master is putting his undefeated record on the line versus one of the veterans of the BW division after reeling off two wins under the UFC banner, including a knockout win over Hugo Viana. Will experience pay off versus the young upstart hungry for a statement win?

Mizugaki is at a bit of crossroads, as he probably isn’t going to improve much further as a fighter and has had several unimpressive wins before his loss to Cruz. Mizugaki is a boxer, utilizing his quick feet to circle around his opponents and plastering them with the classic one-two combination all boxers should be able to master. While Mizugaki has a solid wrestling base with surprisingly efficient take-downs, he tends to give up too quickly on defending take-downs and sprawls which results in Mizugaki laying on his back far too often for my liking. He is smart enough to get back up on his feet without putting himself in a bad position most times, but it only takes one mistake for his opponents to capitalize on his lack of effort. Mizugaki is going to have to keep this fight standing to have a chance versus the crafty Funk Master.

Sterling’s undefeated record at 10-0 is mostly filled with dented cans, but the way he has won most of those fights as well as under the spotlight of UFC definitely shows a ton of potential and promise for the young man. Sterling is able to throw leg kicks from orthodox and southpaw stance with little to no effort and the range of his kicks can literally go anywhere he desires, from the quick low leg kick to his punishing roundhouse that shows off his very fast twitch. The front/snap kick is his go-to move standing, and he has several kick combinations that go along with it once he finds his initial range. His boxing isn’t the best but it’s sufficient enough to be able to supplement his arsenal of kicks. Sterling’s proficiency at utilizing the kick isn’t even his biggest strength – his take-down offense is by far some of the best I have seen in his few appearances. For a young guy at 25 years of age, it is impressive to see Sterling being able to get the single and double leg take-down at a high clip to go along with plenty of trips, which he can pull off from behind or as he pushes forward. On the ground is where Aljamain really shines, as his BJJ purple belt has allowed him to really put the pressure on his opponent as he gains dominant positions. Unlike most grapplers, Sterling doesn’t look to stay in one position for too long, rather choosing to continuously make passes in an effort to get side control or full mount. Sterling is capable of either ground and pounding his opponents into submission or actually submitting them into…well, submission. Against someone like Mizugaki whose tendency to allow easy take-downs has been a glaring issue, that will be one of the keys for success in the match-up.

Mizugaki’s ability to get inside using the jab and straight follow-up while keeping firm versus Sterling’s take-down attempts will most likely decide the fight. Sterling may have some awe-inspiring kicks that can clean Mizugaki’s block off, but Takeya isn’t an easy target to hit consistently. Sterling has to be smart about timing and mixing up his kicks, as Mizugaki could decide to duck under one of those kicks for a take-down and maintain top control to grind out a decision. This is far from an easy out for the Funk Master, and Sterling being a fairly big favorite versus an experienced veteran scares me a lot. If Sterling can get this to the ground, he should be able to get in some quality ground and pound to add in whatever sig strikes he accumulates in a decisive win. Submitting Mizugaki isn’t an easy feat, as he’s already faced several BJJ specialists and fared just fine. Mizugaki may be one tough dude, but I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end on one of those Funk Master roundhouses.

Sterling via unanimous decision

Corey Anderson (-400) vs Gian Villante (+325)

The LHW winner of TUF 19, Corey Anderson is an intriguing prospect in a division desperate for talent. During the show, Anderson’s striking was raw, relying on his athletic ability and one punch power to go with excellent wrestling and great single leg take-downs. Anderson is a classic top control wrestler with effective ground and pound with strong postures from half guard. As the show went on and he climbed his way to the finals, his striking improved to where he was then able to throw solid leg kicks and move around a little bit more instead of just being stationary. In the finals versus Matt Van Buren, he was able to punish Van Buren with uppercuts and a straight that buckled Van Buren, and as he stumbled towards the cage, Anderson quickly took one of Van Buren’s leg for a take-down. Big left hands soon followed as Van Buren scrambled to get back up on his feet, only to get pummeled even more, forcing the ref to call it off after Anderson got in a 2nd take-down and finished with strikes on the ground. If Anderson can continue to improve his striking to where he can be more comfortable in throwing out combinations to set up his wrestling, he could quickly jump into the top 10 rankings for the light-heavyweight division.

Gian Villante has been a tough fighter to figure out, as his game plan seems to change for every fight. Some fights he will use his wrestling and top control to grind out a decision win, other times he will decide to keep it standing when he clearly has the wrestling advantage. Villante has improved his striking somewhat since his early StrikeForce days, going from awkward and wild hooks, to more compact straights and the lead leg kick that he uses often to soften up his opponents. His wrestling is more brute force than technique, relying on his size and strength to overpower his opponents from the side. He will often tie up his opponent up the cage and drain their stamina, which can be a boring sight to behold. He isn’t any better on the ground, preferring the old trusty lay’n’pray strategy, often getting stood up by the ref for lack of activity. Villante can make fights very boring if he chooses to, but lately that hasn’t been the story line. He has been a willing combatant on the feet, often getting involved in a wild swinging battle with his opponent as seen in his fight vs O’Connell. His striking defense leaves much to be desired as he has little head movement, but he really does have a crazy strong chin. Dude can take a blow like a champ even when gassed, which happens too often.

I have no idea which version of Villante we will see on Saturday, but whatever one that decides to show up will have a tough time facing Anderson. Villante hasn’t faced anyone with Anderson’s wrestling skill-set, with the closest being Ovince St. Preux in a shortened majority decision loss. Anderson should be able to get inside Villante quickly and often as Villante isn’t very reactive to pressure, mostly standing at bay and swinging for the fences. This may turn out to be a cage-hugging match, but I’m gonna hope Anderson can tire out Villante with his take-downs in the 1st round and finish him off in the later rounds with some decisive ground and pound.

Anderson via 3rd round TKO

Ovince St. Preux (+105) vs Patrick Cummins (-125)

St. Preux is one of the LHW division’s lankiest fighters, as he stands 6’3 inches tall with an impressive 80 inch reach. Fighting out of the southpaw, St. Preux primarily fights from long range with the occasional take-down that is mostly based on his athleticism rather than technique – something that was exploited in the match-up versus Bader that saw St. Preux get taken down 9 times in a 5 round fight. Not good considering he is facing an elite wrestler who has proven to have a very, very strong ground and pound attack. Cummins was an All American at Penn State, and along with his physical stature and cardio, Cummins has proven to be one of the premier wrestlers in the division in his short time. Yet another classic striker vs wrestler match-up!

St. Preux is an athletic freak which isn’t too surprising as he has a football background, having played for the university of Tennessee as a defensive end. As said before, St. Preux generally uses his long reach to keep himself out of range and still be able to counter any whiffs with his patented left body kick/roundhouse. There are times where St. Preux breaks down and loses sight of his range as he lunges forward with a left straight followed by a wild right hook. He opens himself to take-downs with such obvious punch attempts as seen in his fight versus Bader. When St. Preux isn’t being sloppy standing, he can be damn hard to get within striking range, much less getting in take-down range. St. Preux tends to leave his hands down while waiting to strike, but that shouldn’t be a major issue since Cummins isn’t very good standing technique-wise. St. Preux also often overextends himself on whiffed roundhouses, leaving himself wide open to a take-down attempt as he recoils back the kick. Overall, St. Preux has power in his hands and feet to go with a solid long range striking game, but inconsistency has been his biggest problem and downfall in his losses.

Cummins on the ground has some of the best ground and pound control I have seen in the UFC. I know that “ground and pound control” sounds weird, but he just has excellent postures and the ability to keep the pressure on while whaling punches regardless of whatever position he may be in. He doesn’t even have to make many transitions to get in a better position as his strength and posturing up generates enough power to make his opponents think twice about being active in their guard. Cummins is a very insistent wrestler, looking to get his hands on his opponents as soon as possible, generally started with a shoot to push them from the middle of the octagon to up the cage. From there, he has a variety of ways to get the fight to the ground, but his most effective to date has been the double leg take-down. He also has several trips in his repertoire if necessary, but brute strength has usually been enough for Cummins. When I mentioned St. Preux’s possible lack of striking defense due to leaving his hands low not being a concern, it’s because Cummins just hasn’t shown he can consistently string together actual combinations standing to be a threat. While he has power (who doesn’t at LHW? Phil Davis. UPDATE- I wrote that beautiful joke before he signed with Bellator, but my point still stands.), he is a very slow puncher, really only sticking with a quick jab and the occasional overhand to “scare” his opponents. Cummins’ game plan is simple: GET HIM TO THE GROUND AND BEAT HIM UP TO A BLOODY PULP! As Bader did to St. Preux with his constant pressure via take-down attempts and holding up the cage, Cummins will try to implement that very same game plan, but with possibly better results, since Bader wasn’t really looking to establish the ground and pound.

St. Preux is in a precarious situation, having already been tested on his grappling prowess by one of the top wrestlers in Bader. That fight really did shine a light on St. Preux’s biggest weakness, the inability to control the fight if he can’t stay away from his opponent. Cummins being cut from the same cloth as Bader just reinforces that point even more. If St. Preux wants to win this fight, he HAS to stay far, far away from Cummins and pummel him with the right jab and gleaming body kicks. Cummins’ lack of hand speed and ability to string together combinations will then be his downfall, possibly getting knocked out in the process. Unfortunately for St. Preux, Cummins isn’t gonna stand there for more than 5 seconds before lunging for a take-down. Only takes one successful attempt, and Cummins can run all day with his high cardio stemmed from his long time training in wrestling.

Cummins via 3rd round GnP

Beneil Dariush (-185) vs Jim Miller (+160)

Dariush is making a quick turnaround after shellacking Daron Cruickshank, out-striking the dangerous kickboxer consistently and eventually throwing Cruickshank to the ground for a submission win. Since the impressive victory over one of the division’s meanest strikers, Dariush’s climb to the top of the ladder in LW gets another boost as he faces one of the gatekeepers of the division in Jim Miller. Coming off a disappointing loss to Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, Miller is looking to get back into the conversation as a top 10 lightweight that he once held some years ago. Both men have one thing in common: they have some of the deadliest submission skills on the ground, with both owning a black belt in BJJ. Miller is the more experienced of the two, owning 13 submission wins on record, but Dariush has the better grappling skills and has faced higher level BJJ competition. Coupled with his tenacious wrestling and persistent ground passes, Miller has been a high caliber fighter in the UFC for years. A win for Dariush over Jim Miller would really vault Dariush into the top 10 conversation, making for some really intriguing match-ups among the top ranked lightweights in the division. Going from one of the premier strikers to one of the best BJJ guys will drastically change Dariush’s game plan if he wants to avoid getting choked out, regardless of his own stout jiu-jitsu.

As I mentioned before in my write-up of the Cruickshank/Dariush match-up, Beneil Dariush really is a complete fighter, able to out-point his opponents on the feet and still have the threat of a take-down to keep opponents honest during striking exchanges. His only real weakness so far has been his chin which was tested somewhat by Cruickshank, and shouldn’t be too much of an issue versus the high volume, quick succession oriented striking of Jim Miller. Dariush proved versus Cruickshank he isn’t afraid to push forward to ignite the striking exchanges despite questions of his ability to withstand blows to his chin throughout a match. Dariush’s go-to setup is the left jab/right straight combination that he usually finishes with a low leg kick/body kick variation and a nasty liver punch. It seems he is more of a boxer, electing to use high arcing kicks as his main weapon for the big decisive blow as opposed to the wild overhand that many fighters abuse. Dariush also looks for the take-down more often than not, setting them up with perfect execution using well-timed duck and shoots, usually followed up by a single leg take-down, although he is capable of getting in a trip from clinch. Dariush is more decisive on the ground than Jim Miller, opting to use more ground and pound to set up his transitions to dominant positions, especially to side control. Even though I had originally thought Dariush would look to get the fight versus Cruickshank to the ground as soon as possible, he more than held his own standing despite what appeared to be a slight disadvantage for him. While he did eventually end the fight on the ground, it was a good reminder of just how good Dariush really could be, but it would be remiss of Dariush not to overlook Miller’s capabilities on the ground should he decide to take the fight to the mat.

Jim Miller is just a ball of energy with never-ending cardio as he constantly moves left and right, throwing a plethora of jab-straight combinations that don’t have a ton of sizzle behind them. His high volume striking style has been a fantasy gold mine in his wins, stockpiling significant strikes with relative ease should the fight not end up on the ground. Miller is a relentless wrestler to a fault, sometimes losing grappling exchanges to stronger wrestlers such as the always infuriating Benson Henderson and Pat “Smokin’” Healy. I’m not sure if Dariush belongs in that category nor should he be the better overall wrestler, but he very well could be the stronger of the two. That could end up being Dariush’s biggest advantage over Miller, able to push away Miller’s attempts at take-downs and not get dragged down to the ground. The unknown here that Miller will be looking to exploit is how Dariush handles himself from bottom, as only Tony Martin was really able to get Dariush in that precarious position. While Martin wasn’t able to take full advantage, I’d imagine Jim Miller would relish the opportunity to test Dariush with his more experienced BJJ and aggressive transitions. The problem is he most likely won’t win the grappling match between the two, and if he even is able to get Dariush to the ground, Miller will probably end up having to use more top control ground and pound as going for the submission on Dariush could prove to be a difficult task. Miller also may need to control him to steal the rounds and secure the win.

I hope this fight doesn’t turn out to be a hugging match, with both men tying each other up on the cage and refusing to give away a favorable position. With that aside, this really is a tough match-up stylistically for Jim Miller, as he doesn’t really possess the punching power needed to test Dariush’s chin, nor does he have the better grappling skills. However, his persistence might be his best weapon versus Dariush as he’s definitely capable of wearing Dariush down, eventually hitting home on one of his many take-down attempts. If that scenario doesn’t happen, I think Dariush just blasts Miller with constant flurries of combinations and uppercuts, maybe hitting several body kicks to see if Cerrone was onto something when he staggered Miller with a well-timed body kick. Dariush has such a high ceiling and is a star in the making provided his questions about his chin don’t become a major issue down the road. I hate picking against Jim Miller and his enthusiasm, but Dariush is just better everywhere.

Dariush via 3rd round TKO

Felice Herrig (+120) vs Paige VanZant (-140)

Settle your boners, gentlemen. The always brash Felice Herrig gets paired up with an equally controversial Paige VanZant, with the latter having just signed a Reebok deal, joining Ronda Rousey as the only girls to get such sponsor deals. It’s safe to say the UFC brass is expecting big things from VanZant in the strawweight division, and while she is very young in both fight experience and age (just recently turned 21…Hey, shut up! I know what you’re thinking you pervs!), VanZant has some potential to be a top 5 fighter in the loaded division that has yet to separate the upper echelon from the rest of the crowd. I am personally of the opinion that VanZant could be a contender in 2-3 years down the road, but right now she just lacks the techniques needed to really establish herself against the top level fighters she will eventually face. Some people seem to like Herrig’s skill-set and think that she, along with VanZant, can also do big things in the division. However, I am not so sure about Herrig. While her credentials include several Muay Thai championship wins and a 23-5 record in kickboxing, I just don’t see anything on film that leads me to think she can be more than a middling striker in the division.

Herrig is a pretty passive striker, using the lead leg front kick as a jab of sorts, finding her range and waiting for counter opportunities. She will occasionally string together some punch combinations, and while she does have some power, her hand and foot speed just seems a bit off for a Muay Thai practitioner. She also isn’t overly aggressive standing, looking to shoot in more often than setting up any kind of consistent combinations. Once she shoots in, she stifles her opponent up the cage and will continuously try to drag them down to the ground. Her methods in doing so aren’t exactly fundamental, relying on her own strength to toss her opponents to the ground. From there, she is surprisingly active in finding submission attempts and will sacrifice position in doing so. She doesn’t seem to have great mat control, often making mistakes during passes that get her reversed versus competent grapplers. Herrig isn’t much of a threat from bottom, often staying in one spot or keeping a closed guard instead of scrambling back up or defending transitions. Overall, I find myself disappointed in Herrig as I hadn’t seen much of her other than some episodes of TUF 20 and her fight vs Lisa Ellis, which didn’t really show me anything other than she is an adept submission artist. Well, at least I get to watch VanZant.

I had a dream about VanZant the other day. Sure, it wasn’t MMA related but I don’t really care. Anyways, VanZant has a very awkward looking striking stance, reminiscent of someone constantly stepping on rocks. Her striking consists of mostly random leg kick strikes, more often than not a roundhouse, and wild punches that open her up for damaging counters. Her striking defense is nonexistent at this point, and while that should be a major issue later down the road versus better strikers, I don’t anticipate VanZant having to keep this fight standing for long. While her striking is pretty rudimentary, she does push the pace and is consistently able to get her hands on her opponents to push them up the cage in order to get into the clinch, where she does most of her damage. She is usually looking for the hip toss while grinding her opponents with toe stomps and knees to the body. While she can be successful in achieving the hip throw, she has a tendency to over-commit to it and on unsuccessful attempts she ends up on the ground with her opponent able to take her back. VanZant has an active guard, looking for armbars and triangles often, so being in bad positions on the ground after failed clinch throw attempts aren’t that much of a concern. Once on top, VanZant has a relentless ground and pound, posturing up early and often. The hard part about predicting VanZant nowadays is she’s still a project, and with her new Reebok deal and new-found fame, she has been training all over the place. With her age and potential, she may come into the fight against Herrig a new and improved fighter. I’m excited to see where she is at this point in her career.

While Herrig will have a big advantage on the feet, she hasn’t demonstrated enough striking ability to really make me re-think picking VanZant. Herrig also tries to get her hands on her opponents and get up the cage much like VanZant, which is a bad match-up as she has been prone to clinch throws/trips in the past. If Herrig keeps this standing and isn’t overly passive, she could rack up a ton of significant strikes taking advantage of VanZant’s porous striking defense. VanZant is just a better grappler overall with the better clinch offense and can actually do something off her back unlike Herrig who is very stationary from bottom. Herrig may be the stronger woman of the two, but stylistically this is a bad match-up for her if she can’t be a reliable striker. Especially with that huge chin of hers. Not to mention I did have a dream about VanZant, and my dreams usually come true.

VanZant via 3rd round triangle

Cub Swanson (-150) vs Max Holloway (+130)

This has the making of a high volume striking affair between two men who both move around quickly and throw a lot of jab/straights in succession, with Swanson being the wild card as he can literally throw out anything at anytime. I am going to have both guys in most of my lineups just off the possibility of sheer amounts of significant strikes that will be thrown by either men.

Holloway is the more technical of the two, utilizing the left jab very effectively while mixing in quick low leg kicks well. His footwork is also tops in the division, able to use his long range jabs to set up his very fast right straight hand. As I mentioned before when Holloway was facing Cole Miller, Holloway has tremendous hand speed but not with enough power behind them. He is capable of stringing together numerous flurries of combinations that has helped him attain high sig strike numbers throughout his young UFC career.  He has two fights where he notched 120+ significant strikes! Holloway is always busy on the feet with his crisp boxing, occasionally throwing in a surprise spinning kick. Holloway isn’t going to go for take-downs at all in this fight, and hopefully Swanson won’t either so we can rejoice at all the violence these men serve up on a platter for us to ravenously slurp up.

Swanson uses a lot of foot/head movement with some feints thrown in, and will throw a lot of looping hooks as he runs forward, sometimes adding in a random ducking roundhouse as a combo finisher. Swanson also is at times flashy with his striking, going for the highlight reel knockout with an ill-advised spinning kick or a flying knee that ends up with Swanson’s butt hitting the ground and giving his opponent a free take-down. While Swanson does have a black belt in BJJ, he is primarily a flashy striker that doesn’t usually go for the take-down unless the other guy is clearly at a disadvantage on the ground. Swanson can be a patient striker when he wants to, shifting left and right with feints to instigate an attack from his opponents so Swanson can quickly swoop in with whatever the hell he decides to throw out. Yes, while Swanson does mixes up his strikes very well, going from his patented looping hooks/right straights to an jab/uppercut combo finished off by a roundhouse, he just does some really bone-headed moves that he has no business throwing out. He also can get hit by the jab quite often as he moves in and out of range, trying to find the best time to barrel forward, something Holloway will definitely pick apart.

I am very excited for this fight as both men are willing to trade blow for blow on the feet, and both guys have voiced their desire to keep this fight standing. Holloway is the more composed, technical fighter but lacks the fight-ending power Swanson has. Swanson’s impressive slew of striking options has me wary of picking against him, even versus a skilled boxer like Holloway who can make Swanson pay for his mistakes with 4 punches to the face in a second.  I don’t think you can go wrong with picking either guy, as this will probably be a 3 round striking exhibition match, favoring Swanson more for the finish as he can catch Holloway and get a sub on a staggered Holloway. Man, violence!

Swanson via split decision

Jacare Souza (-1500) vs Chris Camozzi (+1000)

Oh, Yoel. You bum. Yoel Romero, a rising star in the middleweight division, pulled out of the fight on a week’s notice with a meniscus tear in his knee. Hey, Jimi Manuwa just fought with a torn ACL and WON. Now, that’s a warrior. Anyways, Chris Camozzi decided to take up the offer to fight Jacare on a week’s notice, something he already did beforehand 2 years ago, taking the fight on 10 days notice. Camozzi had already been cut by the UFC after 3 disappointing losses, not including the quick submission loss to Jacare, before Dana White resigned him for the fight. Yes, this is a rematch. Yes, it is an awful rematch, but it is what it is. Camozzi is a long range striker that doesn’t know how to use his reach and gets taken down a ton. In his last fight versus Jacare, he got taken down and submitted within a minute. He never had a chance. So, before I make the obvious prediction, let’s talk about Jacare.

Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza is considered one of the best BJJ specialists of his generation in the MMA universe, holding many, many wins across all grappling/BJJ related events, including 5 World Jiu-Jitsu championships. Safe to say, he owns a black belt in BJJ, but some people forget he also has a black belt in judo which only strengthens his capabilities to get the fight to the ground. Once on the ground, whew – you’ve gotta watch some of his past fights to really understand how savvy this guy really is. Unrelenting top control to go with an amazing fight IQ in positioning himself properly to quickly flip the switch and transition into a submission flawlessly, sometimes to the surprise of his opponents. One of Jacare’s main weaknesses that others have questioned has been his ability to strike effectively. It has improved somewhat since his StrikeForce days, but he never really had to rely on it versus most opponents even though he has a couple KO wins in his past few fights. Yoel Romero was an Olympian gold medal wrestler with one of the best wrestling pedigrees to grace the UFC. Romero may have elected to slug it out in most of his fights rather than use his clearly elite wrestling, but in his bout versus Brad Tavares, that renowned wrestling pedigree was put on display as he shook off the always solid Tavares’ take-down attempts and got in 7 of his own. The thought process here between Yoel Romero and Jacare Souza was would Yoel’s wrestling cancel out Jacare’s BJJ and force the fight to be a standing affair? Well, we’ll never know.

Jacare should be able to dominate Camozzi from start to finish, that’s not the issue at hand. The question is can he finish in the 1st round to pay off his price? YES.

Souza via 1st round RNC/arm triangle/armbar/kimura/D’arce/toe hold/inverted triangle/heel hook/omoplata/gogoplata/neck crank…well you get the point.

Luke Rockhold (-160) vs Lyoto Machida (+140)

WOO! The Dragon returns after his rib-shattering body kick KO win over C.B. Dollaway and a thrilling 5 round back and forth match versus the champ Chris Weidman. He gets the tough task of fending off the fast rising star Luke Rockhold, formerly the StrikeForce MW champ. Rockhold is a stud in every aspect of MMA, with excellent striking, top notch cardio, and world class BJJ being a world champion in almost every belt category. He really is an exceptional fighter, with only one blemish on his record off a crazy spinning kick KO at the hands (feet) of the greatest of all time, the god-like Vitor THE PHENOM Belfort (when he was on TRT). That’s not to say Machida isn’t equally stud-like in his own way, but he has his own saying that has been used around MMA fans and media alike. The term is called “Machida’ing”, and it refers to a guy either running away and not willing to throw any kind of strike or literally standing there waiting to counter, ensuring a boring match for all to watch. It can be applied to a fighter that decides to coast throughout the fight after winning a round, such as Jorge Masvidal has done in past fights. Of course, even the Masvidals of the MMA world still threw out more strikes than Machida ever did during his “Machida’ing” fights. I’ll give you an example. In his fight vs Gegard Mousasi, a very technical and smooth striker, Machida and Gegard traded blows in the 1st round, with Machida showing off his patented karate kicks and landed several blistering spinning kicks throughout the mostly monotonous 5 round bland main event. After that 1st round, Machida decided to continuously circle around Mousasi, avoiding every punch and kick attempts Gegard tried to do, but never following up with many counters of his own asides from a few kicks that did land. Overall, Machida landed 28 total significant strikes in a FIVE ROUND MATCH! 28!!!!! Only 1 take-down as well so it wasn’t like they both held each other for 5 rounds. What a Machida’ing! Anyways, enough of complaining about Machida. Time for the breakdowns…

Machida has a karate background, with a little bit of sumo (yes Sumo), to go along with a very unique wide stance that he usually sits in southpaw stance, but will switch to orthodox if it suits him well in the match-up. He is a 3rd dan black belt in Shotokan karate under the guidance of his own father, Yoshizo Machida, who was a highly ranked Shotokan karate master. With that Wikipedia piece out of the way, Machida is a filthy striker. He widely popularized the crane kick of “Karate Kid” fandom, and has been known for his stellar ability to mix up all kinds of acrobatic kicks with speed and precision that had never been seen before. He also has great hand speed, but he isn’t going to string together any combinations as he is primarily a counter-puncher, relying on his powerful left straight. His wide stance allowed Machida to be able to circle around his opponents and let them await their demise as they pounced towards Machida, only to be greeted by his counter left hand on their way to the canvas. Machida was very Anderson Silva-like, depending on his quick reactions to counter anything that came his way, even to a fault. Machida had depended on his counter-striking style for too long, often winning several close but boring decisions as fans vilified him for Machida’ing a fight. Lately, Machida has made it known his striking for points style wouldn’t cut it in the UFC, and moved down to middleweight to better suit his Shotokan karate he was famous for. Oh yeah, he’s got a black belt in BJJ but he will never go for the take-down so don’t even think about that.

Luke Rockhold trains at American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) which is renowned for their incredible cardio-training, as heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier, and future lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov are Rockhold’s fellow sparring partners. Facing a death row of intense wrestlers can undoubtedly improve anyone’s cardio if they had to face those guys on a daily basis. Along with his never-ending gas tank, Rockhold is also a champion BJJ practitioner to go with a diverse striking arsenal. Like Machida, Rockhold also fights out of the southpaw stance but won’t switch stances like Machida does. Rockhold is equally impressive in his kicking ability, using the left roundhouse early and often, being able to keep it indistinguishable from either a head or body kick. That allows Rockhold to keep his opponents on their toes and be able to churn out a variety of kicks, including some switch roundhouses and finish off punch combinations with a low leg kick. Rockhold’s punches aren’t as crisp as his kicks, but they are still dangerous in their own right. He doesn’t use the jab much, opting to use the right hook/left cross combination with the occasional left overhand. Rockhold’s game is to soften his opponents up with plenty of leg kicks and force them to check or duck under them, in which he then uses his uppercuts and straights as a punish. While you would think Rockhold has superb wrestling from the talent of his camp, he is purely a striker with great defensive wrestling and scrambling ability. You should not expect either man to try and take each other down or hold them up the cage. This is what a main event should be, a battle of wits on the feet, with both men capable of ending the fight at any moment’s notice.

Sit back and enjoy the mastery of both men’s striking game, and be jealous of how effortless they throw kicks of all angles. Huh? You want me to make a prediction? Ugh. On paper Rockhold holds all the advantages as he is going to be the guy to push the pace and can match Machida’s kick speed while keeping Machida busy defending Rockhold’s low leg kicks and left straights. It’s gonna come down to how Machida counters anything Rockhold decides to throw at him and if he can avoid being telegraphed into a knockout blow. Of course, Machida could inevitably end up Machida’ing Rockhold to a 5 round decision win amid the boos of the fans who paid good money to see a great main event. I don’t know. Whatever happens, I think this will be similar to the Swanson/Holloway fight, with both men landing large amounts of sig strikes provided Machida doesn’t…you know. I have a feeling Luke is gonna run into a Machida counter left though, much like what happened to Ryan Bader. Return of The Dragon? NO! I believe in #TeamAKA!  GO KHABIB cough I mean Rockhold!

Rockhold via unanimous decision

Follow along @4000Pounds during the event! Good luck to you degenerates!