Weekend Preview: UFC 130
After one of the slowest periods we’ve seen from the major MMA promotions over the past few years, this weekend is set to kick off one of the busiest stretches. Sometimes this sport is truly feast or famine. With UFC 130 and DREAM: Fight for Japan setting the stage this weekend, we’ll then see the TUF 8,000,000 Finale next weekend, followed by UFC 131, followed by Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum, then Bellator 46 which will start off their next Featherweight tournament, and capping off the run with UFC 132, all the way out on July 2nd. That is quite the stretch of MMA.
Before we look too far ahead, we do have some serious action going on this weekend, with the aforementioned UFC 130 and DREAM cards. Both cards were set to feature top Lightweights in action, however due to injuries on the UFC side and DREAM’s inability to attract top talent to their organization – likely for fear of not getting a paycheque – one card is devoid of their top 155ers, while the other is in an irrelevant fight. However, as with any UFC card these days, there is still plenty of top 10 talent to be found, and DREAM’s card is stacked with talent and excitement at the lighter weights, which should make for some very interesting bouts.
UFC 130 was originally supposed to feature the third installment in the Frankie Edgar/Gray Maynard saga, and people were actually excited for it, which a year ago is something that would’ve been impossible to fathom. With both fighters getting injured almost simultaneously, that fight was scrapped and with no meaningful replacement in site the Quinton Jackson/Matt Hamill bout was promoted to main event status, much to the chagrin of MMA fans everywhere.
While there is no question that “Rampage” is still an elite fighter and worthy of main event status, the inclusion of Hamill in a main event in 2011 is laughable. Hamill is a solid fighter, who deserves a step up in competition from the Tito Ortizes of the world, but his blowout “win” over Jon Jones simply proves that he’s not ready to fight the elite of the division at this point. Ryan Bader, Rogerio Nogueira or someone else in a similar position would have been a more apt test in my eyes, but somehow the UFC backed themselves into a corner with all of the recent injuries, suspensions and card shuffling they’ve had to do, and Hamill gets slotted in with Jackson. This is simply a bad match-up for Hamill, regardless of how many times Joe Rogan spouts the “He’s really improved his striking” bit, Hamill cannot win a striking battle with Jackson. He is too slow and awkward on the feet for a boxer of “Rampage’s” caliber to be outdone.
That leaves Hamill’s only option as the wrestling game, and while Quinton has never shown anything in terms of a guard game, he has shown some stellar takedown defense over the course of his career, and that is going to leave “The Hammer” looking much more like a nail in this one. The finishing prowess we’ve seen from “Rampage” lately isn’t quite what it used to be though, and Hamill has always stood up well to punishment, so I see this one going the distance. My pick is Quinton Jackson via Unanimous Decision.
In the co-main event, Frank Mir has been playing his absurd hype game in preparation for his bout with Roy Nelson, making claims that he hits harder than Junior dos Santos, and matches up better with Cain Velasquez than any HW in the UFC – despite being completely devoid of a wrestling game. Neither of those are comments we really have to be concerned with thinking about at this point, unless of course we require a chuckle at any particular moment in the day. Mir is faced with a fighter he certainly should not be overlooking in Nelson who has both the ability to win this fight on the feet, by either outpointing Frank or just plain knocking him silly, as Mir opponents have been apt to do over his career; or on the ground, where Nelson’s ground game is something that is very solid, although he does nothing spectacular on the mat, aside from perhaps his positional control.
This could very well be another fight where Mir’s lack of wrestling costs him dearly, should Nelson choose to take that route. However, with the recent successes Nelson has found standing, my worry for him is that he’ll discard his other skills in favour of chasing the knockout. If he does that, Mir is certainly the more mobile, and likely more technical striker as well. I have to think that with what is on the line in this fight, Nelson will mix up his game, and for that reason I’m taking Roy Nelson via Unanimous Decision.
Moving on down the card, I’ll look at the rest of the fights in terms of their importance to their divisions. There are three other fights on this card that I feel have title implications in their divisions: Jorge Santiago vs. Brian Stann in the Middleweight division, a showdown between two top-10 Bantamweights in Miguel Torres vs. Demetrious Johnson, and former Welterweight title contender Thiago Alves taking on rising star Rick Story.
The Santiago/Stann fight is interesting, because the UFC probably wants to see Stann win, so they can continue with his war hero angle, as the casual MMA public eats that stuff up, but Santiago is the more well-rounded and highly ranked fighter. The in-ring dynamic is interesting as well, since Santiago has a very complete game, but has always been hindered by his lack of a solid chin. His first UFC run ended with a 1-2 record, both losses coming by KO, and his most recent loss happened when he was essentially knocked out by a strike thrown from his opponent while Santiago had top position. This deficiency in his game is something that Stann can certainly exploit with his power and aggressive style. Stann however is not without his flaws as well. He has been both knocked out and submitted in the past, and hasn’t shown a great deal on the ground, whether from his back or on top. Despite serious worries about Santiago’s chin, I simply see him as better wherever this fight takes place, and that should lead him to a win. Jorge Santiago via 2nd Round (T)KO.
When I heard that the Torres/Johnson bout was on the preliminary card rather than the main card, my first reaction was that Zuffa must be out of their minds. However it does make some sense, as putting a fight between these two – which is highly likely to be entertaining – on the free portion of the card could actually boost buys for a card that otherwise isn’t getting much fanfare. The simple truth is that when two top-10 fighters square off in any division, they deserve to be on the main card, and situations like this were one of my biggest worries with the WEC merger. Luckily when it comes to UFC events these days every fight is accessible, so it’s not a huge issue in terms of being able to watch, but in my eyes it’s the principal of putting a fight like Stefan Struve/Travis Browne ahead of this that pisses me off.
In regards to the actual fight, Johnson’s sole advantage is in his wrestling, which normally is sufficient to win fights these days, but when faced with such a dangerous fighter as Torres, I really don’t see it being enough. There are very few fighters who can take Miguel to the ground and not be concerned for the long term health of one of their limbs. The man is devastating on the mat. His striking, while not quite on the same level is also very dangerous, and with his recent tutelage by Firas Zihabi, he seems to be becoming more patient and effective on the feet. When coupled with his freakish reach for a 135er, and the fact that he’s facing one of the shorter fighters in his division, the jab could make this a long night for “Mighty Mouse”. Although Johnson possesses what will be a significant speed advantage in this fight, I don’t see it being enough to overcome the length and all-around ability of Torres, my pick is Miguel Torres via Unanimous Decision. With this win, Torres may be in line to face the Faber/Cruz winner in a title fight, as he will now have three consecutive wins over solid competition in the division.
Rounding out the most relevant fights on the card, the Alves/Story bout is very intriguing. It shows two fighters who could very well be at a crossroads. If Thiago wins decisively, it shows that he is still one of the elite competitors at 170, and Story isn’t quite ready to join that group. However, if Story wins, he instantly jumps into the top 10 at Welterweight and into the title conversation, especially considering that he will be a fresh face in the division. It may also spell the end of Alves’ run as a top fighter at 170, since wrestlers would have bested him in 3 of his past 4 fights. Personally, I think Story – while not as refined – presents many of the same issues that Jon Fitch brought to the table against Thiago in that he’s a strong wrestler, he may actually have better striking, and he’s willing to make a fight ugly in order to win it. Story is also riding high after a win over Johny Hendricks, which really lined him up along with Jake Ellenberger as guys who are the next wave at 170. I’m going to go with the upset and say Alves continues his struggles with wrestlers as this result will be Rick Story via Unanimous Decision.
Some other quick notes on this card:
- I expect Michael McDonald to dispatch of Chris Cariaso in short order, and I truly believe that of all of the fighters on the Zuffa roster, McDonald has the best chance of breaking Jon Jones’ record as the youngest UFC titleholder. Michael McDonald via 1st Round (T)KO.
- Renan Barao is on an absurd 25-fight winning streak (if you discount his No Contest against Claudemar Souza), and looks to continue it against Cole Escovedo, who has one of the best stories in MMA, triumphing over possibly the most serious staph infection the sport has seen to end up fighting in the UFC. Sadly for Escovedo, he’s matched up with a monster in Barao, and I don’t particularly like his chances. I’ll take Renan Barao via 2nd Round Submission.
- Stefan Struve will try to continue his gangly, Dutch impersonation of Rodrigo Nogueira against Travis Browne. If that doesn’t make sense to you, watch the parallels in the two fighters getting the pulp beaten out of them prior to coming back and snatching victory after victory. I’m not sure that Struve will even have to go that route in this fight, as Browne is really nothing special, and kind of looks lost on the main card here. Although Struve let Dennis Stojnic and Christian Morecraft beat him up for a while, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see it happen. Stefan Struve via 2nd Round Submission.
- Tim Boetsch makes his debut at 185lbs, taking on former TUF winner Kendall Grove. I have a policy to very seldom back fighters debuting at a lower weight class, and Tim Boetsch is not the type of fighter who warrants an exception to that rule. While anyone up to and including a stiff breeze is capable of ending Grove’s night, Boetsch is technically inferior in all other categories, unless this fight devolves into a bitch tossing contest. Kendall Grove via 3rd Round Submission.
- And the award for the most meaningless fight on the card (to me at least) goes to Gleison Tibau vs. Rafaello Oliveira. As far as worst fights on a card go, this is actually a very good one. It should be rather one-sided, as Oliveira has nowhere near the wrestling necessary to combat Tibau. This fight will serve to get Gleison back to where he can fight another solid Lightweight like Jim Miller or Melvin Guillard, then he will lose that fight, rinse and repeat. Gleison Tibau via Unanimous Decision.