UFC 155 Post-Fight Analysis

I’m still on vacation, but that’s not going to stop me from sharing my thoughts on the UFC 155 fights. And I have a lot to say…

Cain Velasquez broke Junior dos Santos early with a tremendous amount of pressure, culminating in a big right hand that had dos Santos clearly dazed. Early on, dos Santos looked fairly sharp, landing strikes and defending takedowns, but it took less than one round for Velasquez’s relentless attacks to wear him out. It’s a credit to dos Santos that he somehow made it to decision (and was landing some quality strikes in the later rounds). After this fight, it appears the dos Santos KO in their last fight was more a bump in the road for Velasquez than anything else. I’d like to wish the best of luck to Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, or anybody else who will be challenging Velasquez in the near future, because they’re going to need it.

-Velasquez showed the value of having tremendous conditioning in this fight. According to Fight Metric, Velasquez landed 111 significant strikes and 11 takedowns out of 33 attempts. The fact that Velasquez only landed one out of every three takedown attempts shows that dos Santos has very good takedown defense, especially since many of those defenses came after dos Santos was exhausted. But while most heavyweights would have been sucking wind after ten takedown attempts, Velasquez just kept coming. Don’t get me wrong, Velasquez did fade as the fight went on, but if he’s going to establish that kind of pace, I don’t think there’s a heavyweight alive that can handle it without becoming completely exhausted.

-The fact that Velasquez failed to finish dos Santos should not be held against him. Most of Velasquez’s wins are by TKO, and dos Santos has an iron chin. Similarly, it’s hard to hold this fight against dos Santos too much, since apart from Velasquez’s KO loss to dos Santos, this is what he does to everybody. It just means dos Santos is the #2 fighter at heavyweight, not #1…

Jim Miller vs. Joe Lauzon was tremendous entertainment. Miller unloaded with a ton of strikes to Lauzon’s face early, but Lauzon never gave up. Many of Miller’s strikes landed because Lauzon’s go-to defense was to cover up instead of using strategic movement. Since fighters wear four-ounce gloves, covering up is not an optimal strategy, as this inevitably leaves openings for the opponent to attack with strikes. Miller did exactly that. For Miller’s sake, I would have liked to see him finish the fight, but he was understandably tired after the frenetic first round. Good win for Miller, but not one that leaves me excited to see him take on top 10 opponents at lightweight.

-It’s hard for me to go crazy about Costa Philippou, when Tim Boetsch broke his hand, got cut on the forehead, and got poked in the eye. Boetsch did appear to be gassing out regardless, which is a known flaw of his. I don’t want to take too much away from Philippou, who I do think is a good fighter, and may have gone on to win anyway, but this win comes with an asterisk to me. As for Boetsch… all I can say is that I’m glad for his sake that he didn’t face Chris Weidman.

-This is the third fight in a row that something wasn’t quite right with Yushin Okami. The first time, Okami got knocked out by Boetsch. The second time, Okami had a harder time with Buddy Roberts than expected. This time, Okami was able to out-grapple Alan Belcher… but he was buckled a couple times by strikes, and on more than one occasion, Okami tried to drag the fight to the ground, only to end up in bottom position. It’s good for Okami that his ground game was good enough to win anyway, but this was not an encouraging performance.

-Belcher is a C-plus middleweight (by UFC standards) who had been portrayed as an A-minus for beating Rousimar Palhares (I’ll admit to being one who overrated Palhares) and Jason MacDonald. Belcher has good striking and power, but no answer for Okami’s grappling. A good next opponent for Belcher would be Brian Stann, after Stann knocks out Wanderlei Silva.

-I sold Derek Brunson short a little bit. He has a good takedown game, and that alone should be respected. His striking didn’t look fantastic, but it was effective enough. The big story of this fight was that Chris Leben looked like a shot fighter. Leben has been through a lot in his personal life, has been fighting since 2002, and most of his 31 fights have been in the UFC. A career decline at this point is to be expected. Leben just looked like he had no sense of urgency, or real desire to do whatever he could to win a fight he knew he was losing. His conditioning was also fairly bad – that goes for Brunson too.

-I was just plain wrong on picking Brad Pickett vs. Eddie Wineland. I thought it was a 50-50 fight, but Wineland was the better man, landing crisp strikes, hitting Pickett hard, and stuffing Pickett’s takedown attempts. I would have liked to see Pickett go for takedowns more, but I have to give credit where it’s due – Wineland simply won the fight (although one judge strangely disagreed). As an analyst, I’ve dinged Wineland too much for his low activity against Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez – as it turns out, Faber and Benavidez are just plain good, and those fights shouldn’t be considered the norm for what Wineland can do.

Erik Perez did everything that could have been expected of him, in stopping Byron Bloodworth with strikes in the first round. I’m expecting the Perez hype train to kick into full gear, but I won’t be getting aboard. Perez needs to beat somebody better than a fringe UFC bantamweight first. Just consider that fighters who enter the UFC with a record like 9-4 rarely become real threats to win the title.

-Unfortunately I missed the fight between Jamie Varner and Melvin Guillard. It’s not a fight I wanted to miss, but apparently it didn’t disappoint, although from what I’ve read, the scorecards read 30-27 twice for Varner and 30-27 once for Guillard. The judges…

-The hype train I will be gladly boarding is the Myles Jury hype train. When Jury entered TUF 13, he was my favorite to win the show… sadly, Jury tore his ACL. Upon his return to TUF 15, I picked Jury again, and was very disappointed to see him lose to Al Iaquinta. I’ll write a post on Jury as soon as I get back from vacation, but take my word for it that I’ve been very high on Jury as a prospect, and I wish I’d had the guts to pick him to win against Michael Johnson (trust me, I wanted to). I’ll talk more about Jury’s fight against Johnson soon, but for now, I’ll just say that I’m blown away by how smart Jury is, and how he was able to just completely shut down Johnson’s offense.

Todd Duffee won by first-round KO over Phil De Fries. I’d love to take credit for predicting exactly that… but let’s be honest, it wasn’t hard. More troubling is that Duffee took a couple hard strikes from De Fries, and was briefly taken down. I know everybody who says “TODDDUFFEE” does so tongue-in-cheek, but for all his talent, he has some real flaws that will eventually be exposed in the UFC heavyweight division.

-So much for Max Holloway being a good prospect. I don’t want to react too harshly based on what was technically a win for him, but he should have beaten Leonard Garcia by a very wide margin. And I will say that I felt Holloway was the better fighter. Maybe I need my eyes checked, but what I saw was Holloway landing jabs and body shots, while Garcia’s strikes were consistently being blocked, parried, or coming up just short. When they put up the graphic of “total strikes landed,” I thought somebody made a mistake when it showed Garcia and Holloway having landed almost an equal number of strikes. Garcia tended to land more in the second half of rounds, but overall, I scored the fight for Holloway. If you saw Garcia landing enough that he clearly should have won, let me know about it in the comments – because it’s possible my eyes were just deceiving me.

-Even though he lost, I have more respect for Chris Cariaso now than I did before his fight against John Moraga. What I saw on tape from Moraga was a very aggressive striker who also had great takedowns. In this fight, Moraga looked confused, like he didn’t know quite how to box up Cariaso – and that’s a credit to Cariaso’s defensive kickboxing. Moraga did a good job to come back with a clutch submission, but he did not leave me thinking he’s a threat to beat Demetrious Johnson quite yet.


UFC 155 Preview and Predictions

I’ll be heading out of town for the next week and a half, and won’t have access to this blog, so I decided to just get my preview post and predictions out now. In the likely event that injuries force changes or cancellations to some or all of these fights, I apologize in advance for my inability to break those fights down.

UFC heavyweight championship match: Junior dos Santos (15-1, 9-0 UFC) vs. Cain Velasquez (10-1, 8-1 UFC)

It seems like last month I was writing about how excited I was to watch Junior dos Santos take on Cain Velasquez in the first UFC broadcast on network television. I saw it as an evenly matched battle between two very aggressive heavyweights, who were going to clash until one of them went down.

Clash they did, but it only took 64 seconds for Cain Velasquez to go down, as dos Santos clubbed him with an awkward overhand right to win the UFC heavyweight championship. Now that dos Santos and Velasquez are set to rematch, I feel a little bit differently about how they match up.

Dos Santos is a very good boxer who has mastered the art of landing hard strikes on his opponents without eating strikes in return. He takes the center of the cage, moves forward aggressively, and mixes up powerful punches, landing to both the head and body of his opponent. He succeeds in his aggressive movement by also possessing fantastic takedown defense; dos Santos has very rarely been taken down in his MMA career, and when he does go down, it’s typically only seconds before he gets right back on his feet.

When I sift through the data on dos Santos, I’m left at a loss as to what his weakness as a fighter is, or if he has one at all. If I really wanted to nitpick, perhaps I would say that he can be countered, and is only good at avoiding his opponent’s strikes, as opposed to being amazing at it, like Anderson Silva or Lyoto Machida. Dos Santos does have one loss by submission, but that was very early in his career; many great fighters have been submitted by somebody random in their early career, and this shouldn’t be held against dos Santos. From what I can see, there are no holes in his game.

Facing dos Santos is Cain Velasquez, a wrestler who has transitioned to mixed martial arts about as well as any wrestler ever has. Like dos Santos, Velasquez has a very aggressive and effective boxing game, although his defense standing is closer to average than good. But what defines Velasquez are his takedowns and ground and pound. Velasquez takes his opponents to the ground early and often, and when he does so, he typically wastes no time in establishing top position and tearing his opponents apart. Ask Antonio Silva, a top ten heavyweight who was decimated by the ground and pound of Velasquez back in May.

But while I felt this fight was a toss-up 13 months ago, now I have to favor dos Santos. That’s because dos Santos’s best strength as a fighter – his high rate of power punches – corresponds nicely to Velasquez’s glaring weakness as a fighter: his chin. When Velasquez was staggered multiple times by Cheick Kongo at UFC 99, I didn’t think too much of it. After all, Kongo is a striker, and Velasquez was still early on in his MMA career at that point. But when Velasquez was knocked out by dos Santos, that seemed to confirm that Velasquez does not have the ability to take punches very well. Until that KO loss, Velasquez was able to hide this weakness by using his wrestling to completely stifle the offense of his opponents.

And while dos Santos’s biggest strength corresponds to Velasquez’s biggest weakness, I have no idea if Velasquez will be able to use his best asset – his takedowns and wrestling prowess – to neutralize the game of dos Santos. Again, dos Santos is rarely taken down, and perhaps has never been taken down and held down in an MMA fight.

It’s possible that Velasquez will succeed where others have failed, and find a way to take Junior dos Santos down and control him on the ground. It’s also possible that Velasquez can hit dos Santos in the right spot with a power punch, and win by knockout. But if he is able to accomplish either of those things, he’ll be the first. Until a fighter manages to show that there is a hole in the game of dos Santos, I have to pick him to win. Dos Santos by knockout.

Lightweight match: Joe Lauzon (22-7, 9-4 UFC) vs. Jim Miller (21-4, 10-3 UFC)

For a while, the criticism I and many others had about Joe Lauzon was his lack of wins against UFC-caliber talent. At one point, Lauzon’s list of UFC wins included Curt Warburton, Gabe Ruediger, Jeremy Stephens, Kyle Bradley, and Jason Reinhardt. Of those five, only Stephens has had anything close to a prolonged or successful UFC career. Since then, Lauzon has strengthened his resume with wins over Melvin Guillard and Jamie Varner, although he also lost by KO to Anthony Pettis.

Make no mistake about Lauzon – he’s an average UFC lightweight who is being promoted as a title contender. Lauzon is very aggressive, and his fights rarely go to decision, but sometimes, his aggression works against him. That was the case in his UFC 123 fight against George Sotiropoulos, where Lauzon faded before being submitted in the second round.

I don’t think Lauzon’s aggression will work against Jim Miller. Miller is coming off the worst performance of his career in a loss to Nate Diaz, but his ability to defend submissions should be a great asset here. Usually, when Lauzon wins, it’s when he can take a dominant position on the ground early, use strikes to force the opponent into a mistake, and submit him. That’s not happening against Miller, a very tough fighter who is very hard to submit. Sure, Diaz did it, but he did it with a relentless attack over most of two rounds; Lauzon is usually breathing very heavily by the end of the second round.

Lauzon might put together a series of strikes and submission techniques that finish Miller early. I think it’s a lot more likely that Miller calmly weathers an early storm, and controls most of the fight with superior striking and grappling. I’ll take Miller to win by submission here.

Middleweight match: Tim Boetsch (16-4, 7-3 UFC) vs. Costa Philippou (11-2, 4-1 UFC)

When this fight was originally scheduled as Boetsch vs. Chris Weidman, I immediately chalked it up as a win for Weidman. Boetsch can be dangerous in a number of ways, but he’s also a fighter who’s been winning by the skin of his teeth. In his last fight, Boetsch won a close decision against Hector Lombard, and only seemed to win due to Lombard’s relative lack of activity. In the fight before that, Boetsch clearly lost two rounds to Yushin Okami before delivering a sensational comeback. It’s been a “Cinderella” run for Boetsch… and now, with Costa Philippou as his opponent, the run might last one more fight.

There’s a lot I like about Philippou, and a lot I don’t like as well. I like Philippou’s competent boxing, improved takedown defense, and all-around game. I like that he trains with Matt Serra and Ray Longo, the same men who train Weidman. What I don’t like is that Philippou doesn’t have great power, and doesn’t have great defense, either. Outside of a TKO win over Jared Hamman (which says nothing about Philippou’s power), Philippou’s wins have all been close. He won a split decision against Jorge Rivera, and competitive unanimous decisions against Court McGee and Riki Fukuda.

Boetsch isn’t the most polished striker, but he can be effective, and he hits harder than Philippou does. If the fight goes the distance, I think it will be close, but I favor Boetsch. Since I also think Boetsch is more likely to win by knockout than Philippou is, he has to be my choice to win. Boetsch by decision.

Middleweight match: Alan Belcher (18-6, 9-4 UFC) vs. Yushin Okami (27-7, 11-4 UFC)

Belcher is a fighter who has recently been winning despite glaring holes in his game. Against Wilson Gouveia, Belcher won by TKO, but took a surprising amount of strikes in just three minutes. Against Patrick Cote, Belcher was in a very close fight before he suddenly slammed Cote on his head and subsequently won by rear naked choke. In his most recent fight, Belcher was taken down by Rousimar Palhares, who quickly grabbed Belcher’s leg and tried to bend it in all sorts of unnatural ways. It’s a credit to Belcher that he was able to defend those submission attempts, but the problem is that he allowed Palhares to put him in that situation in the first place.

Namely, Belcher’s problems are his striking defense and takedown defense. He can get away with those flaws against fighters like Gouveia, Cote, Jason MacDonald, and even Palhares, but I doubt he can get away with those flaws against Yushin Okami. Okami is the kind of fighter who will fight at a slow pace, and attack when Belcher makes a mistake. I can easily see Okami catching one of Belcher’s kicks, and using that to land a takedown. I can easily see Okami scoring a bunch of points by landing jabs and straight punches. I think this is where Belcher’s ascent in the middleweight division is stopped. Okami by decision.

Middleweight match: Derek Brunson (9-2, 0-0 UFC) vs. Chris Leben (22-8, 12-7 UFC)

A lot of people like Derek Brunson and think he can be a good middleweight in the UFC. I don’t see it. Brunson’s wins are against fighters like Nate James and Lumumba Sayers – fighters who are decent, but probably not worthy of the UFC. Most damning is that Brunson was knocked out in his last fight by Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, a fighter who previously had no wins by knockout in 18 fights. If Souza can knock out Brunson, so can Chris Leben. Leben by KO.

Bantamweight match: Brad Pickett (22-6, 2-1 UFC) vs. Eddie Wineland (19-8-1, 1-2 UFC)

The most evenly matched fight on the card in my opinion. Pickett’s advantages are that he fights at a higher pace than Wineland, and is more aggressive at landing takedowns. Wineland’s advantages are better defensive striking and takedown defense, and better KO power. I think Pickett’s relative aggression will serve him well, and he’ll land just enough strikes and takedowns to win a close decision. But I can easily be talked into picking Wineland instead.

Bantamweight match: Byron Bloodworth (6-2, 0-1 UFC) vs. Erik Perez (12-4, 2-0 UFC)

Perez is off to a great start in the UFC, with first round finishes of John Albert and Ken Stone. I was looking forward to his third UFC fight being against an established veteran at 135 pounds. Instead, his opponent is Byron Bloodworth, who was knocked out by Mike Easton in his UFC debut last year. Bloodworth might have one of the best last names in the sport, but he’s the perfect example of a fighter I feel should have proved himself more on the regional circuit before getting a shot in the UFC. Until Bloodworth proves he belongs, I have to take Perez to win by submission.

Lightweight match: Melvin Guillard (30-11-2, 11-7 UFC) vs. Jamie Varner (20-7-1, 1-1 UFC)

Let’s try this again…

Varner is a very aggressive fighter who wins by submission more often than not. Guillard is a very aggressive fighter who wins by knockout more often than not. Unfortunately for Guillard, he has a long history of losing by submission, and Varner has never been knocked out. Varner by submission.

Lightweight match: Michael Johnson (12-6, 4-2 UFC) vs. Myles Jury (10-0, 1-0 UFC)

While most people see this as an easy fight for Michael Johnson, I think people are underrating Myles Jury. I agree in that I think Jury should have gotten an opponent who is a little lower on the UFC totem pole. But Jury is a good wrestler whose wins are primarily by submission, and Johnson has had trouble on the ground in the past. In the end, though, Johnson is the better striker with more power, and his takedown defense should be good enough to stifle Jury. I’ll take Johnson by decision, but say that Jury has a lot of upset potential here.

Heavyweight match: Phil De Fries (9-1, 2-1 UFC) vs. Todd Duffee (7-2, 1-1 UFC)

Phil De Fries might have the most unimpressive 2-1 record in the UFC. His wins were over Rob Broughton and Oli Thompson, and his loss was a first-minute knockout against Stipe Miocic. Todd Duffee is a flawed fighter, but he really should be able to win by first-round KO in this one. Duffee by KO.

Flyweight match: Chris Cariaso (14-3, 4-1 UFC) vs. John Moraga (12-1, 1-0 UFC)

This is a very good fight that’s likely to be overlooked. I’m very impressed with what I saw of Moraga on tape – he’s a good, aggressive striker with a strong wrestling background. He also has a good ground game, and his only loss was by decision to John Dodson – no shame there. Cariaso can win this fight if he keeps it at distance and picks Moraga apart with kicks, but I think it’s more likely that Moraga lands more strikes and takedowns. Moraga by decision.

Featherweight match: Leonard Garcia (15-9-1, 1-3 UFC) vs. Max Holloway (6-1, 2-1 UFC)

When Garcia was supposed to face Cody McKenzie, I had a real dilemma on my hands. Am I actually going to pick Leonard Garcia to win a UFC fight in 2012? Then McKenzie got injured and was replaced by Max Holloway. Crisis averted. Holloway is far and away the better boxer than Garcia is. Holloway by decision.

TUF 16 Finale and UFC on FX 6 Post-Fight Analysis

It’s been a while since my picks were a train wreck. That’s changed, thanks to the TUF 16 Finale!

With the two cards, I’m not going to give my thoughts on every fight. Instead, I’m going to touch on things I’m most interested in.

-Apparently Roy Nelson’s overhand right transcends the sport of mixed martial arts. This punch officially joins Dan Henderson’s right hand on the list of “punches everybody knows to look out for, but everybody gets hit with anyway.” You’d think fighters would learn to circle to their right, so they could take that punch out of the equation. Nelson’s pattern of either winning by first-round KO or getting pummeled continues.

-I had high hopes that Matt Mitrione’s 5-0 UFC and MMA career start was a sign of potential future greatness. With this loss, those hopes are mostly dashed. The conclusion to make here is that fighters really shouldn’t be competing in the UFC unless they have at least eight or nine professional fights on their record – preferably more like 12. There haven’t been many fighters to make their professional debut in the UFC recently, but those that have – Mitrione, Matt Riddle, Amir Sadollah – largely haven’t developed very well. I would encourage anybody training a fighter with potential to let that fighter get seasoning on the regional circuit before pushing him to the UFC.

-I knew that Mike Ricci had sub-par takedown defense from watching his fight against Dom Waters, but I still felt he would be able to out-strike and out-grapple Colton Smith. Instead, it was Smith who proved to be the better grappler, and Ricci had no answer for it. Congratulations go to Smith for performing very well despite his relative inexperience.

I have no idea if Smith will end up becoming an above-average UFC fighter. His wrestling base is a great starting point, and his Ultimate Fighter run was as good as any in recent seasons, but it remains to be seen whether or not he’ll develop a more rounded skill set. Here’s hoping the UFC gives Smith appropriate opponents instead of rushing him.

Pat Barry must have seen my declaration that his fight against Shane del Rosario would be his swan song in the UFC. With that said, Barry did get his back taken in the first round, and had to defend rear naked choke attempts. Perhaps Barry’s KO power will be enough to prolong his UFC career for a while, but his ground game is still a serious liability. He’ll never be a title contender, but he should be good for some fun fights regardless.

-This is a bad loss for del Rosario, who was 11-0 before entering the UFC. Now, del Rosario’s been stopped by strikes twice, and his cardio has been exposed (by Stipe Miocic in his last fight). Del Rosario joins Christian Morecraft, Joey Beltran, Antoni Hardonk, and Dan Evensen on the list of fighters Pat Barry has defeated in the UFC. Not a good list…

-Sure enough, after I praised Jonathan Brookins for his intelligence and persistence in trying to get fights to the ground, he throws all that out the window against Dustin Poirier. Brookins had some good flurries early in the first round, which apparently were enough to convince him to keep trading strikes. Brookins still makes the amateur mistakes of leaving his hands low and his chin high. Memo to Joe Rogan: if a fighter is still leaving his chin high after 19 professional fights and six years of experience… he’s not going to break that habit.

-Poirier is a good fighter, and his Brabo choke of Brookins was sweet. I see him being a UFC mainstay for years to come. But the hyperbole offered by Mike Goldberg was a little much. Poirier is no future champion until he tightens up his striking defense; being flurried on by Jonathan Brookins is not something that reflects well on Poirier.

-The writing is on the wall for Mike Pyle. James Head was taking the fight to him before Pyle landed a hard knee to score a TKO victory. This is the fourth time in five fights Pyle has been out-struck by his opponent, with the one exception being Ricardo Funch. Pyle is on the decline, and this trend will catch up to him eventually. It’s a credit to Pyle’s intelligence as a fighter that he’s been able to keep winning despite this.

Rustam Khabilov is a potential title contender in the lightweight division. He entered with a record of 14-1, but unlike other recent Russian imports like Khabib Nurmagomedov and Azamat Gashimov, Khabilov’s record includes a number of quality victories. Throwing Vinc Pichel around like a ragdoll was a good start. Look for Khabilov to follow that up with impressive victories against established UFC lightweights in the future.

UFC on FX 6

George Sotiropoulos needs to get fights to the ground if he wants to win in the UFC. The problem is – he has a glass chin (I hate to say it, but he just does) and lacks a strong takedown. Fighters like Ross Pearson – a quality striker with strong takedown defense – are a near lock to knock Sotiropoulos out. It’s a shame, because I love watching Sotiropoulos work on the ground, but he doesn’t have what it takes to win fights at a high level in the UFC lightweight division.

-I like all of The Smashes finalists, but I don’t love any of them. Robert Whittaker and Brad Scott put on a very entertaining fight. Norman Parke did a great job of using his wrestling prowess to neutralize Colin Fletcher’s striking and submission game. But all four fighters have holes that UFC veterans will be able to exploit. I think they’ll all stick around a while, and be entertaining additions to the UFC, but I don’t see any future contenders here.

Hector Lombard’s fight against Rousimar Palhares confirmed that Lombard is indeed a top-notch middleweight fighter. Lombard has all the tools anybody could ask for – a strong judo base, a very good ground game, and devastating knockout power. Where Lombard gets in trouble is with relative inactivity and less than stellar cardio. I might take Lombard to win against any middleweight in the UFC not named Anderson Silva or Chris Weidman.

-While I didn’t pick Joey Beltran to beat Igor Pokrajac, I did place a bet on him as a +275 underdog. Pokrajac’s best asset as a fighter is his knockout power, but Pokrajac is not a technically sound striker, and his defense is just bad. And for all of Beltran’s faults, he does have a blend of toughness and aggression that make him a tough opponent for sluggers like Pokrajac.

-Like Colin Fletcher, I had my eye on Mike Wilkinson as a possible contender for the future. Wilkinson won by decision, but I didn’t see anything consistent with a top prospect like what I hoped to see. The single best attribute a fighter can have is striking defense, but Wilkinson got tagged by a lot of strikes from Brendan Loughnane, particularly leg kicks. Wilkinson looks like another fighter who is likely to settle in as a decent UFC fighter, but not a future title contender.

As always, thanks for reading, and here’s hoping I can give you some better picks next time.

TUF 16 Finale Preview and Predictions

Since this is the second of two UFC events this week, I’ll only be giving in depth picks for the main card fights. Predictions for the preliminary fights are included at the end of the post.

Heavyweight match: Matt Mitrione (5-1, 5-1 UFC) vs. Roy Nelson (17-7, 4-3 UFC)

A reader of this blog could be forgiven for thinking I have something against Roy Nelson. It seems like I pick against Nelson every time he fights. I remember when Nelson was on The Ultimate Fighter, and I had to tell everybody I knew that Nelson really was a good fighter (despite being fat). Once upon a time, I was the one who liked Nelson, while it seemed like everybody else was counting him out.

Well, I’m picking against him once again. That’s right, I’m taking Matt Mitrione in an upset. But it’s not just because of Nelson, it’s because of Mitrione. As I’ve pointed out many times before, Mitrione has had a remarkable early career. Sure, none of Mitrione’s five wins were against anybody amazing, unless you’re a huge fan of Tim Hague or Christian Morecraft. But I challenge you to think of your favorite fighter, and look at his first five wins. Chances are that they’re not as good as Mitrione’s.

Nelson’s fights go one of two ways. Either Nelson gets pummeled by his opponent, or he wins by knockout. What’s problematic about Nelson’s UFC fight history is that all of his knockout wins are against opponents known to have questionable chins. He knocked out Dave Herman, but Herman was also knocked out by Stefan Struve. Nelson knocked out Struve as well, but four of Struve’s losses are by knockout. Nelson knocked out Brendan Schaub, but Schaub has subsequently been knocked out by Ben Rothwell and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. And Nelson’s other knockout win in the UFC was against Mirko Cro Cop, in the third fight in a row Cro Cop got knocked out. By contrast, Matt Mitrione has yet to be knocked out in a fight.

On the flip side, Nelson’s losses are all to very good heavyweights – Junior dos Santos, Fabricio Werdum, and Frank Mir. As much as I like Mitrione’s potential, he’s nowhere near as good as those fighters yet.

But ultimately, based on the fight histories of Nelson and Mitrione, this fight is likely to end in one of two ways: a KO win by Nelson, or a decision win by Mitrione. Since Mitrione has never been knocked out, I like him to keep this fight standing, out-strike Nelson over five rounds, and end up winning on the judges’ scorecards.

Welterweight match: Mike Ricci (7-2, 0-0 UFC) vs. Colton Smith (3-1, 0-0 UFC)

I’m very familiar with the history of Ultimate Fighter competitors with fewer than five professional fights, and it’s not a good one. Colton Smith has shown that he’s a good wrestler with a decent chin. I just think Mike Ricci is the better overall fighter and will have a good plan to deal with Smith’s wrestling. Ricci isn’t a superstar in waiting in the UFC, but I think he has what it takes to win this one.

Heavyweight match: Pat Barry (7-5, 4-5 UFC) vs. Shane del Rosario (11-1, 0-1 UFC)

Prepare for Pat Barry’s swan song in the UFC. He seems like a great guy, but for somebody who’s known as a striker, he sure isn’t very good at it. Barry has actually taken more strikes than he’s landed over his UFC career. But I don’t think del Rosario will have much patience for the striking game here. When del Rosario fought Lavar Johnson, he took Johnson to the ground and submitted him. Barry isn’t quite as hopeless on the ground as Johnson, but he’s pretty bad. Shane del Rosario has to be my pick to win this fight.

Lightweight match: Melvin Guillard (30-11-2, 11-7 UFC) vs. Jamie Varner (20-7-1, 2-2 UFC)

We know the drill with Melvin Guillard by now. He has very fast hands and tremendous knockout power. He can be very difficult to take down. And he can fall apart in a fight very quickly. Meanwhile, Jamie Varner has never been knocked out, and has quite a few wins by submission. Anything can happen in a short period of time, but I’ll take Varner to weather an early storm and submit Guillard.

Featherweight match: Jonathan Brookins (13-5, 2-2 UFC) vs. Dustin Poirier (12-2, 4-1 UFC)

Brookins is a fighter who knows what he’s good at. He engages his opponents in the clinch, and tries to get them to the ground. Poirier does have a history of being taken down by fighters who are decent wrestlers, including Chan Sung Jung in his last fight. Of course, if Brookins fails to land the takedown, he doesn’t stand much of a chance to win a striking battle. I side with Poirier overall based on that striking advantage, but I think Brookins has a good chance of winning in an upset here.


Mike Pyle over James Head
Johnny Bedford over Marcos Vinicius
Rustam Khabilov over Vinc Pichel
Nick Catone over T.J. Waldburger
Reuben Duran over Hugo Viana
John Cofer over Mike Rio
Jared Papazian over Tim Elliott

UFC on FX 6 Preview and Predictions

Know that because this fight card features a lot of fighters making their UFC debut, I’ll be relying on statistics and brief scouting sessions for a few of my picks. Some of them are probably best taken with a grain of salt.

Featherweight match: Ross Pearson (13-6, 5-3 UFC) vs. George Sotiropoulos (14-4, 7-2 UFC)

The main event of UFC on FX 6 features the two coaches of The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes, as UK coach Ross Pearson will be taking on Australian coach George Sotiropoulos.

I feel Pearson has key advantages that will make it difficult for Sotiropoulos to win this fight. One is that, if this fight is standing, I think it clearly favors Pearson. Sotiropoulos has had some success with his boxing, but generally against opponents who are poor strikers. Pearson may have been knocked out in his last fight, but he’s a better striker than most of the fighters Sotiropoulos has faced in the UFC, and has a much better chance of finishing with strikes. The other advantage is that Sotiropoulos is likely to have difficulty getting Pearson to the ground.

Pearson has very solid takedown defense. He was taken down a few times by Junior Assuncao, but it seems all Assuncao did in that fight was try to take Pearson to the ground. Sotiropoulos might bring that kind of determination to this fight, but if most of this fight is defined by Sotiropoulos trying and failing to land a takedown, that’s not something that bodes well for him. Now, if Sotiropoulos does succeed in getting the fight to the ground, he will probably be in control. Pearson doesn’t have a long history of being out-grappled, but he hasn’t really fought any grapplers either.

I like Pearson to win as a very slight underdog (might be the favorite by the time of the fight). When Sotiropoulos put together seven consecutive wins in the UFC, his wins were defined by his ability to get the fights to the ground and impose his terrific submission game on his opponents. Pearson profiles as a fighter Sotiropoulos will have a difficult time doing that to, so I’ll take Pearson to win by decision.

Middleweight match: Hector Lombard (31-3-1, 0-1 UFC) vs. Rousimar Palhares (14-4, 7-3 UFC)

Palhares is a very talented fighter, but bizarre things happen in his fights sometimes. Against Alan Belcher, Palhares did everything but finish his trademark heel hook, but the moment he lost it, it almost seemed as if he said “OK. My heel hook didn’t work. You can finish me off now.” The same thing happened against Nate Marquardt; the moment Palhares lost the heel hook, he looked to referee Herb Dean in disbelief and promptly got knocked out.

The point is that I really doubt Hector Lombard is going to lose this fight by heel hook. Lombard has excellent judo, and has never been stopped in a 35 fight MMA career. He’s probably going to force Palhares into a striking match, and while Palhares has heavy hands, I don’t like him to out-point Lombard over a three-round fight. Perhaps Palhares could win a decision based on Lombard just being relatively inactive, as happened at UFC 149 (although I disagreed with the decision that gave Boetsch the win in that fight). On the flip side, Lombard could just win by knockout. That’s my pick – Lombard by KO.

Welterweight match: Brad Scott (8-1, 0-0 UFC) vs. Robert Whittaker (9-2, 0-0 UFC)

This fight is the finals of the welterweight tournament of The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes. As far as statistical prospects go, Scott and Whittaker grade out very similar. Scott has slightly more upside, but Whittaker grades out slightly better as of right now. Both fighters profile as guys who could have a fairly successful UFC career, but will probably fall short of title contention. Both fighters are aggressive, usually either finishing or being finished. In the end, I like Whittaker to win what could turn out to be a back-and-forth fight.

Lightweight match: Colin Fletcher (8-1, 0-0 UFC) vs. Norman Parke (16-2, 0-0 UFC)

This is the lightweight finals of The Smashes, but unlike the welterweight final, my numbers do significantly favor one guy. That guy is Colin Fletcher, otherwise known as “The Freak Show.” Fletcher is a submission specialist, but has shown flashes of competent striking and a well-rounded game. Most importantly as far as this fight is concerned, both fighters usually win by submission, but Norman Parke has two losses by submission as well, while Fletcher has none. I don’t think Fletcher will develop into a UFC title contender, but I do think he’s the most likely fighter to achieve a high ranking out of those competing on The Smashes. Fletcher by submission.

Featherweight match: Chad Mendes (12-1, 3-1 UFC) vs. Yaotzin Meza (19-7, 0-0 UFC)

I could have easily written “squash match” instead of “featherweight match.” Sadly, Hacran Dias was supposed to fight Mendes at this event, but was forced to withdraw. Fighting on short notice is Yaotzin Meza, a teammate of Benson Henderson fighting out of Arizona. From what I’ve seen of Meza on tape, he has decent takedowns and a good guillotine choke, but sloppy striking and middling takedown defense. That’s a decent skill set for a fighter to have as the opponent of a prospect fighting on the prelims of a UFC show, but this is Chad Mendes we’re talking about. Meza isn’t going to take him down, and the guillotine choke isn’t going to work. Mendes by whatever he wants.

Light-heavyweight match: Joey Beltran (14-8, 3-5 UFC) vs. Igor Pokrajac (25-9, 4-4 UFC)

If you’re wondering how Joey Beltran is still in the UFC, you’re not alone. I think he has a decent chance here though. Igor Pokrajac is less polished striker and more brawler, and tends to take more strikes than he dishes out. Pokrajac’s biggest threat is his power, but Beltran has a reputation of being able to take punishment and just keep coming. Sure, Lavar Johnson stopped him, but that’s a fighter with some of the heaviest hands in the sport, and Johnson still needed to hit Beltran a ton to stop him.

Don’t worry, I’m picking Pokrajac to win this fight, since I feel he’s just the better fighter. But I think Beltran has more upset potential than he’s being given credit for.

Welterweight match: Seth Baczynski (18-8, 4-1 UFC) vs. Mike Pierce (15-5, 7-4 UFC)

Mike Pierce is the kind of fighter who doesn’t quite have the talent to compete with the best at 170 pounds, but is very difficult to beat for anybody else. He has a solid wrestling base, with good striking and submissions. He also likes to clinch a lot, and his fights can be pretty ugly to watch as a result. Seth Baczynski has some upset potential here, since he’s an aggressive striker who I could see winning on points. But Pierce is a big step up in competition for him, and will likely prove to be too much for Baczynski in this one.

Welterweight match: Ben Alloway (12-3, 0-0 UFC) vs. Manuel Rodriguez (9-3, 0-0 UFC)

This is another fight featuring a submission specialist against an opponent whose losses are all by submission. Manuel Rodriguez debuts in the UFC with six submission wins, while his opponent, Ben Alloway, has lost by submission three times. I wasn’t enamored with what I saw of Alloway on tape, and he was even threatened in his Smashes fight against Valentino Petrescu. Alloway is listed as the favorite to win this one, but unless Rodriguez is just an awful striker, I like his chances here. Rodriguez by submission.

Lightweight match: Brendan Loughnane (5-0, 0-0 UFC) vs. Mike Wilkinson (7-0, 0-0 UFC)

I know very little about either man here, but Wilkinson has had some success against tougher competition, while Loughnane has never fought a quality fighter outside of The Smashes. I’ll take Wilkinson to win by submission, and perhaps be a fighter to keep an eye on for the future.

Light-heavyweight match: Cody Donovan (7-2, 0-0 UFC) vs. Nick Penner (11-2, 0-1 UFC)

I know the UFC runs a lot of shows, and needs a lot of fighters to compete on these shows… but come on. I don’t want to be too negative about Cody Donovan or Nick Penner, but neither fighter has really proven he belongs yet. Can we get fighters who have at least won a few fights against decent competition first, before the UFC signs them to a contract? Penner by decision, I guess.

Why I’ve Been Underrating Rory MacDonald

My analysis of Rory MacDonald is one of the more controversial things about my blogging since I got started, so I feel an obligation to explain myself a little further, hopefully in a clear manner. Keep in mind that so far, MacDonald has well exceeded my expectations and proven me wrong, so if you want to disregard what I say about him, that’s your prerogative.

My approach to evaluating fighters and fights is primarily data-driven. I feel that, little by little, I’m getting better at this on a month to month basis. It’s been a somewhat lengthy process, but with pretty solid recent results, I’m gaining more confidence. But since the vast majority of analysis in MMA is scouting-based, there are bound to be times that my breakdown of a fighter or fight is different from the mainstream. Sometimes, I’ll end up seeing things other people don’t, and other times, I’ll end up wiping egg off my face. This is all still a learning process for me, and still experimental, but I’m getting better at it.

So when I look at Rory MacDonald, my approach is to look at data. The first thing I look at is his record. Before fighting Penn, MacDonald had a very strong record at 13-1. His only loss was to Carlos Condit – nothing to be ashamed of, particularly since that fight was only MacDonald’s 11th in professional MMA. But MacDonald didn’t have a lot of marquee wins – his first nine fights, before entering the UFC, were mostly against fighters with poor or non-existent records. He did have wins over 13-4 Nick Hinchliffe and 15-4 Clay French, but that was about it. His UFC wins were against Che Mills, Mike Pyle, Nate Diaz, and Michael Guymon. It’s not that MacDonald had a bad resume – it really was pretty solid, given MacDonald’s status as an up and coming fighter. But it wasn’t quite consistent with what I like to see from a future champion or title contender – certainly not on par with the rising talent I usually promote, Daniel Cormier, Chris Weidman, and Johny Hendricks. Overall, MacDonald’s record was indicative of a very good welterweight, but not quite an elite one.

After I look at a fighter’s record, I break the fighter down a little more, and look at his striking, wrestling, and ground game. MacDonald’s tendencies as a fighter are typically to go for takedowns, and he has been most successful with ground and pound in the UFC. I looked at MacDonald’s history of takedowns and found that he was very good at landing them against fighters with weak takedown defense. This includes Condit and Diaz, who are both known to be very good apart from their takedown defense. MacDonald didn’t have much of a history against opponents with tougher takedown defense – he was unproven one way or the other. Since B.J. Penn has tougher takedown defense than anybody MacDonald has ever faced, I decided that MacDonald would struggle to land takedowns against him (MacDonald ended up landing one out of three).

Then there’s MacDonald’s striking. Like his takedowns, his striking has been mostly good, but when MacDonald faced a tougher striker in Carlos Condit, the data was not kind to him. It’s a perfect example of a fight where MacDonald looked better on tape than the numbers would indicate. Again, no shame in losing to Condit, but that fight seemed to show that MacDonald was a good, but not great, striker. My critical mistake where B.J. Penn was concerned was willfully ignoring the data on Penn. In particular, from Fight Metric


  • UFC 118: Frankie Edgar 94, B.J. Penn 36
  • UFC 123: B.J. Penn 7, Matt Hughes 3
  • UFC 127: Jon Fitch 47, B.J. Penn 12
  • UFC 137: Nick Diaz 178, B.J. Penn 88

Obviously this shows a trend of Penn being out-struck badly by his opponents. But even if I had accounted for that, I would likely have underestimated MacDonald here. I certainly didn’t anticipate that MacDonald would out-strike Penn 116-24 overall. Instead of taking a sober look at the numbers, I let the B.J. Penn hype get to me (even as I was diligently refusing to get caught up in the Rory MacDonald hype).

The overall picture I had of Rory MacDonald was of a good, well-rounded fighter who was being overrated because he had fought a series of UFC opponents who were either below-average for the UFC (Guymon, Mills) or who MacDonald matched up well with (Diaz, Pyle, Condit). I felt Penn would be able to match MacDonald strike for strike and thwart his takedowns. Penn was largely successful with his takedown defense, but MacDonald didn’t really need to land takedowns since he battered Penn standing.

Even now, I’m hesitant to label MacDonald as a future champion, or as an elite welterweight fighter. That’s because, as impressive as MacDonald’s win was (and he did everything that could have been asked of him outside of finishing the fight), I now see B.J. Penn as a badly faded and declined opponent, as I should have before the fight (hindsight is 20-20).

Based on what I feel is “true talent level” or ability to win fights, here are who I feel are the best ten welterweights in the UFC right now (and this was after some careful thought):

  1. Georges St-Pierre (who is slipping)
  2. Johny Hendricks
  3. Carlos Condit
  4. Jon Fitch
  5. Rory MacDonald
  6. Martin Kampmann
  7. Jake Ellenberger
  8. Josh Koscheck
  9. Nick Diaz
  10. Demian Maia

As you can see, I’ve gained a ton of respect for MacDonald already. I’ll tell you what… if MacDonald beats one of the toughest wrestlers at welterweight – Hendricks, Fitch, Ellenberger, or Koscheck – I’ll throw in the towel, admit I screwed up, and get behind a Rory MacDonald title shot. Until then, he still has something to prove, at least to me.

UFC on Fox 5 Post-Fight Analysis

Before I go into the fights, I want to say this was probably the most entertaining fight card I’ve watched this year, the most entertaining since UFC 139. Almost every fight was action-packed. Kudos to these fighters and the UFC for a great night of fights.

Benson Henderson fought very smart against Nate Diaz. He basically made the fight anything but a boxing match, which is what Diaz would have wanted. Henderson had very hard kicks, a bunch of takedowns, strong ground and pound, and even some power punches that dropped Diaz multiple times. I’ll never cease to be amazed at the Diaz brothers and their ability to take so much punishment, but never come close to being stopped. Diaz’s identity in the lightweight division hasn’t changed – he’s a good fighter, above-average in the talent-rich lightweight division, but not a championship level fighter.

Mauricio Rua’s days of being an elite light-heavyweight have sadly come to an end. It’s sad for me, because I’m such a fan of his, but “Shogun” was out-struck, out-wrestled, and just plain out-fought by Alexander Gustafsson. Rua was competitive, and landed a number of hard strikes, particularly in the second round, but the flaws that have shown up in his recent fights were on full display in this one. Rua can get away with those flaws against opponents like Brandon Vera, but Gustafsson was too skilled for him.

-And don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled for Gustafsson, as he’s a fighter I’ve touted as a potential title contender for a while. But Gustafsson himself showed flaws that fighters like Jon Jones or Rashad Evans would be able to exploit better. Gustafsson ate a number of overhand rights and left hooks, and had a lot of difficulty controlling Rua on the ground. His performance was still very good overall, but he still has some improving to do if he wants to be competitive against Jones.

-The nine-year rule is alive and well, as was shown by both Rua and B.J. Penn. And I’ll admit right now to being horribly wrong about Penn against Rory MacDonald. While I felt MacDonald was overrated and overhyped, I conveniently forgot that the same is true of Penn, and that Penn hasn’t really been good since he fought Diego Sanchez. MacDonald showed the best striking of his career, particularly with body shots, and really controlled the entire fight. MacDonald is legitimately a very good UFC welterweight, one who at least deserves to be regarded alongside names like Josh Koscheck and Martin Kampmann. As for Penn… if he doesn’t retire again, which is what I would recommend, he really needs to fight at 155 pounds. But Penn will never be a contender again. I accept the virtual tomatoes you surely want to throw at me for my prediction…

Mike Swick looked rough against DaMarques Johnson, and even rougher against Matt Brown. The Swick of a few years ago would likely have kept up with Brown standing before either submitting him, or wearing him out to take a decision. The Swick we saw tonight was a fighter who really needs to take a hard look at how much longer he should keep fighting. I hate to say that, because Swick is talented, but it’s clear his long layoff and health issues have negatively affected him, and I fear what will happen if he keeps taking beatings like the one Brown dished out.

-Fans of old-school fighters did have one great moment, when Yves Edwards knocked out Jeremy Stephens. It was a great moment for Edwards, who seems like a genuinely nice guy and a skilled fighter. But even in this short fight, Edwards took a number of big strikes. His long-term outlook is unchanged… he has virtually no upside in the UFC lightweight division. If Edwards keeps being matched up against strikers, he’s bound to get knocked out again.

-Once again, Mike Easton opted to stand and strike with an opponent, instead of using the strength of his game (grappling). But this time, Easton didn’t get away with it, as he was methodically out-struck by Raphael Assuncao. Easton can be forgiven for not wanting to grapple with the jiu-jitsu expert in Assuncao, but at the same time he was exposed by Assuncao’s boxing. Easton is an average UFC bantamweight, one who will beat fringe competition like Byron Bloodworth, but one who will struggle against quality UFC fighters.

Ramsey Nijem was good enough to beat Joe Proctor, but took a lot of punishment and was put in some bad situations at times. Proctor was a good choice of opponent for Nijem, as Proctor is a skilled opponent. I would have liked to see Nijem win more decisively for him to step up to a tougher level of competition at lightweight, but I think he would be better served by getting a little more experience against lower-level UFC lightweights for the time being.

-I still don’t understand what people see in Henry Martinez. He showed a lot of toughness, and did damage to Daron Cruickshank in flurries, but his striking was unpolished, and he took a ton of punishment in under two rounds. Cruickshank looked good, particularly with his kicks, but he also took punishment, and has been knocked out before. Cruickshank looks like he’ll be an exciting fighter for the future, as his offense is a lot better than his defense.

Abel Trujillo made the most of his UFC debut, stopping Marcus LeVesseur by strikes. I hate to be too negative, and I feel like this post is trending that way too much, but LeVesseur really isn’t a UFC-level fighter. Trujillo did a good job of pouring it on when he had LeVesseur hurt, and certainly showed more talent than I saw from him on tape. But he still has a lot to prove.

Dennis Siver looked fantastic at 145 pounds. It still seems ridiculous that he’s fighting at featherweight, given how big he is, but he established a frenetic pace and kept it up for three hard rounds. Nam Phan didn’t stand a chance. Why Sean Shelby (I always forget Shelby is the matchmaker at weight classes below lightweight) thought Phan would be a good match for Siver is beyond me – Siver basically treated Phan like a grappling dummy…

John Albert is a fun fighter to watch because of his aggression, but in the UFC, his aggression has translated more to being finished than anything else. On one hand, I don’t want to see Albert get cut, but on the other, he almost has to be at this point. Scott Jorgensen may not be a great bantamweight, but he’s a well-established gatekeeper at the very least, and he really belongs somewhere other than the Facebook prelims.