Four important words will finally ring true for fans, friends, and families of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Rashad Evans this Saturday night; more importantly they will ring true for the fighters themselves.
The wait is over.
A rivalry introduced to fans more than a year ago during an in-ring confrontation, then nurtured with gigs as opposing coaches on the tenth season of the Ultimate Fighter, as well as a brilliantly produced “Primetime” special over the past few weeks, will come to a head May 29th at UFC 114 in Las Vegas. And, were their personal dislike of one another or shared standing as two of MMA’s top 205-pounders not enough to sell the bout, UFC President Dana White has also gone on record as saying the winner would receive a crack at UFC Light Heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua‘s belt. The involved ingredients make for one of the most-anticipated match-ups in promotional history and a fight that is sure to deliver on all levels.
Also on tap for the event are four former TUF seasonal champs other than Evans looking to climb a few rungs closer to a title shot. Michael Bisping looks to get back on the winning track against the always-tough Dan Miller, Diego Sanchez makes his return to welterweight against undefeated Brit John Hathaway, affable Amir Sadollah faces his toughest opponent to date in the form of Dong Hyun Kim, and Efrain Escudero returns against Dan Lauzon after a gutsy performance in his first career loss this past January. Additionally, Luis Cane, Todd Duffee, and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, plus others, will also be in action.
Before I get into the actual “pick em” part of this article let me preclude the breakdown of bouts by saying one of the things about Mixed Martial Arts I’ve always loved is its unpredictable nature. I’ll do my best to steer you in the right direction with a little insight/opinion included in the deal, but readers would be wise to avoid laying down money on my attempts to glimpse into the future. Beyond that, please don’t hesitate to share your own thoughts on any or all of the scheduled fights in the “Comments” section below, and let’s get this show on the road…
Jesse Forbes vs. Ryan Jensen
Jensen and Forbes are, for the most part, evenly matched in terms of stand-up, wrestling, and submissions. Forbes had won four straight before falling to a split decision in his last fight, and though Jensen’s record over the past few years isn’t spectacular it’s important to note the level of competition he fought (Thales Leites, Demian Maia, and Joey Villasenor for example). I like Jensen’s experience and maturity to carry him to victory, as he’s held his own against tougher opponents than “Kid Hercules” and has the skills to dish and defend more successfully than his opponent.
Winner – Ryan Jensen via Decision
Aaron Riley vs. Joe Brammer
Riley shouldn’t have too hard a time earning a win on Saturday based on how his abilities match up against Brammer’s. Both men are grapplers with comparable jiujitsu, though I think Riley has an edge where wrestling is concerned. The thirteen-year veteran has only been tapped twice in more than forty professional bouts with half of his losses coming by way of TKO. I don’t feel Brammer possesses the striking to damage Riley severely enough to merit a stoppage or the submissions to finish him on the ground. As such, I expect Riley to take Brammer down a number of times and control action from the top en route to a clear cut decision win.
Winner – Aaron Riley via Decision
Melvin Guillard vs. Waylon Lowe
Fans in Vegas who are thinking about strolling into the event just before the Spike cameras fire up would be wise to get there a little early and catch this bout, as I have a feeling these two are going to square off in the center of the Octagon and let leather fly. Guillard’s reputation precedes him and I suspect most people reading these lines know a good deal about what he brings to the cage already. He’s powerful, quick, and generally reckless. Lowe is making his UFC debut and coming off back-to-back knockout wins in the first round. I think he’ll be eager to impress his new bosses with a highlight-worthy finish and riding the confidence of his recent performances. “The Young Assassin” has never been afraid to exchange, hence my prediction of this bout’s rock-em-sock-em potential. With Guillard’s hands and athleticism I think he’ll be the first to land a significant blow and said strike will serve as the first toppled domino in a series resulting in Lowe’s unconsciousness.
Winner – Melvin Guillard via TKO Round 1
Luis Cane vs. Cyrille Diabate
Cane is a good example of how fickle MMA fans and media can be. Last year at this time “Banha” was viewed as a potential title contender with a single DQ defeat and 80% of his wins by TKO. Fast-forward to UFC 114 where his bout against Diabate may never seen the light of television due to a loss against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira last November at UFC 106. In reality, this match-up has the makings of a very entertaining affair. Both men are solid strikers with Diabate being a more accomplished athlete where submission wins are concerned. A big part of me wants to pick Cane to win, but I feel he may struggle with the 6’6 Frenchman’s length and be a little hesitant to engage after “Little Nog” turned his lights out six months ago. I think it will be a close fight that goes the distance but don’t discount Cane’s ability to put the “Snake” to sleep with one or two well-timed strikes.
Winner – Cyrille Diabate via Decision
Efrain Escudero vs. Dan Lauzon
I summed up my thoughts on this particular bout in this week’s “Grappling with Issues” so I’ll pull from that in case you haven’t already read it:
“Escudero has shown flashes of possessing exceptional talent in a string of solid performances. Though he suffered damaged tendons in his arm after refusing to tap against Evan Dunham at Fight Night 20 last January, I don’t suspect he’ll show any ill effects come showtime on Saturday night as the injuries weren’t particularly severe and the limb in question carries different weight both literally and figuratively than would be the case had he shredded his knee/ankle.
He has the grappling ability to win most of the takedown and positioning battles plus the kind of heart willing to take a fight into deeper waters than most. It’s one thing to go out on your shield when it comes to being choked but to accept the possibility of a broken bone or snapped ligament, as he did against Dunham, is an entirely different level of ballsy foolishness. Lauzon appears to have the better striking based on the number of TKOs he’s earned over a career comparable to the Ultimate Fighter Season 8 champion, but I get the sense he’s more of a brawler than technically proficient on his feet, and I can see Efrain committing to movement/jabs to set up his ground game rather than engaging in a slugfest that could favor “The Upgrade”.
Also, though I have no insight into the matter, based on statements from all involved it has to be noted that the Massachusetts native is dealing with some personal issues involving his camp and brother/fellow UFC fighter Joe Lauzon. Regardless of which side is telling the truth there remains a definite divide between the two, and I would be shocked if it didn’t wear on Dan to some degree given the importance of one’s mental state in the cage.”
In case it wasn’t clear already I think Escudero should win this fight without finding himself in too many adverse situations along the way. Lauzon is a tough cat, which is why I can see the end of their bout taking some time to develop, but I think the odds are definitely stacked against him in this one.
Winner – Efrain Escudero via Submission Round 3
Amir Sadollah vs. Dong Hyun Kim
As mentioned in the lead-in, Kim will be the mulleted Mixed Martial Artist’s toughest test to date. He’s undefeated with the only blemish on his record being a draw (unless you count a “No Contest” against Karo Parisyan. The Korean star is a solid grappler who, as you might gather from his nickname of “Stun Gun”, has knockout power. He’s also a few inches taller than Sadollah so he has a minor size advantage as well. However, Amir has improved with every performance and isn’t likely to be pushed around regardless of Kim having 3X his in-ring experience. The Ultimate Fighter Season 7 champ does a nice job of mixing his strikes up and has shown himself to be opportunistic on the ground when limbs present themselves for submission attempts. As I think they’re both fairly balanced in terms of skill and heart, I think Sadollah and Kim will go back and forth for three rounds and possibly even turn in a “Fight of the Night” along the way. I’m picking the Ultimate Fighter alumnus to win simply because the fight is in Vegas and I don’t see all three judges picking against him unless the decision is completely obvious.
Winner – Amir Sadollah via Decision
Diego Sanchez vs. John Hathaway
Ashamedly, I must admit I was fairly clueless about Hathaway until he was announced as Sanchez’s opponent for the event. Turns out the Brit is 12-0 with two wins in the Octagon over game adversaries (Rick Story and Paul Taylor). In some ways he reminds me Sanchez just prior to fighting Parisyan in the sense he’s undefeated, has a mixture of submissions and TKOs on his record, and has shown he’s ready for a step up in competition by beating a few tough draws. However, I don’t see Hathaway dislodging any of Diego’s teeth from his jaw or fairing as well in final result as “Nightmare” did against Karo. Sanchez’s loss to BJ Penn was the most decisive defeat of hii career, and I would be shocked if he isn’t even MORE motivated than usual in the gym as a result of it. Returning to 170-pounds gives him the chance to bulk up a bit and focus more on training as opposed to maintaining his ability to cut down to 155. I expect him to come out extremely aggressive and do his best to maul the Englishman, not only unleashing his frustration from the Penn loss but also as a means of taking advantage of the notion Hathaway might be a little distracted by the bout being his biggest to date. Hathaway has shown he can grapple and strike so I don’t know that Sanchez will be able to finish him, but I do think the “YES” enthusiast will be able to control most of the action no matter where it takes place.
Winner – Diego Sanchez via Decision
Todd Duffee vs. Mike Russow
I think Duffee has the potential to go a long way in MMA given his style, physique, and outspoken honesty. The fact he’s willing to acknowledge he’s only 6-0 and has been overhyped thus far says a lot about his focus in terms of improvement and not overlooking opponents. Russow is a better wrestler than “Duff Man” and there’s no doubt in my mind he’ll do his best to negate Duffee’s power by trying to take him down and work from the top. However, I think he’ll have a hard time handling the 24-year old’s strength and absorb a fair share of damage as a result of shooting in. Duffee has dealt with respectable grapplers before and should be able to do so again at UFC 114.
Winner – Todd Duffee via TKO Round 1
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. Jason Brilz
Though it goes without saying this would have been a far more interesting bout had Nogueira’s original opponent, Forrest Griffin, not injured his shoulder during training, I think the UFC brass deserves credit for coming up with Brilz as a replacement. “The Hitman” is 18-2-1 and seems to be relatively well-rounded based on how each “W” was achieved. “Little Nog” may be his highest profile fight, but Brilz is no stranger to notable competition and has beaten the likes of Tim Boetsch, Jason MacDonland, and Eric Schafer. His split decision loss to Eliot Marshall at UFC 103 was his first defeat in thirteen straight fights dating back to September 2001! Name value aside, Brilz clearly has some skill to back up the opportunity he was given, and though I don’t think he’ll necessarily beat Nogueira I’m glad he’s been given the chance to do so and earn a little mainstream respect along the way.
Nogueira has looked excellent since falling to Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou in less than thirty seconds three years ago. He’s won six straight with five finishing performances, and, outside of Brilz’s inner-circle, I think most people would agree the Brazilian is superior to his opponent on Saturday night in every facet of the game. I expect him to work his jab and frustrate Brilz with boxing, maybe stuff a few takedowns, and eventually land a combo that puts Brilz on his back for the eventual TKO finish.
Winner – Antonio Nogueira via TKO Round 2
Michael Bisping vs. Dan Miller
I’ll again defer to a breakdown I offered in this week’s GWI:
“Miller’s boxing should allow him to safely exchange with the Brit even though he doesn’t possess Bisping’s power or diversity of strikes. However, his grappling is of enough quality to control “The Count” in most positions, and if you look at Bisping’s record he’s traditionally struggled against opponents who excel on the mat.
I also feel there’s an intangible quality involved on Saturday that favors Miller because New Jersey’s proud son is fighting with a special sense of motivation. ESPN journalist Franklin McNeil did a far better job documenting the particulars than I will in this paragraph, but essentially Miller’s young son has dealt with health problems since conception that have recently, fortunately, taken a turn for the better as of late. He competed against Sonnen shortly after losing a daughter during birth and against Maia weeks after his boy’s (not to mention he fought with a dislocated thumb). I will never underestimate the power of the human will or mankind’s ability to achieve the incredible when such personal stakes are involved.
In my mind, the sum of the circumstances, as well as how the two match-up, favors Miller to pull of the upset in comparison to the other respective bouts on the card. I don’t know that he’ll submit Bisping but I can definitely see a decision win going his way.”
If Miller can successfully defend while mixing in a few punches while standing and drag Bisping to the canvas for a good portion of each round I think he’s got a decent chance of pulling off an upset.
Winner – Dan Miller via Decision
Quinton Jackson vs. Rashad Evans
I think the strategy both men will employ is fairly obvious. You can throw submissions out the window in this one because the odds of either man tapping the other out is highly unlikely. Jackson has been choked out once in his career (which happened nine years ago) and Evans’ only loss as a professional came via TKO to Lyoto Machida. Rather, the result of this match-up will be determined by wrestling, striking technique, and power.
“Rampage” has a far better chance of rendering Evans into a puddle of goo with a single punch than instead finding himself staring up at the rafters in a role reversal. As I said in GWI, “He has the power to flatten any opponent when standing or ground-and-pounding, as well as the ability to absorb a good amount of damage, and I honestly don’t think the same can be said about Evans. Jackson’s jaw appears to be made out of the same material as the chain he wears en route to the ring and has only been unlocked three out of thirty-seven times. Those knockouts were each the result of a series of vicious knees/stomps and came 5-7 years ago.” Rashad is not Wanderlei Silva nor Mauricio Rua by any stretch of the imagination and to pull off a feat similar to theirs would be beyond impressive.
Evans, on the other hand, is faster and more elusive than Jackson due to his relatively small size for a LHW and Golden Gloves-level footwork. Whereas “Rampage” has more potential to win with a knockout, “Sugar” ‘Shad is a greater threat to stick and move while working in leg-kicks and takedown attempts. Jackson can’t flatten Evans without first connecting on a punch and I suspect the former Michigan State Spartan’s jaw is going to be a difficult target to score a bulls-eye on. Evans didn’t respect Machida’s power and paid the price for it. He isn’t likely to make the same mistake with the Memphis brawler.
As far as the actual fight unfolding, I can see Evans out-pointing his rival by focusing on technique and refusing to give into the emotional part of him that no doubt wants to stand with “Rampage”. His corner needs to constantly remind him that winning, even by decision, will feel almost as good as a knockout would and FAR superior to a loss. I can also see Jackson landing a combo that puts Rashad on his back, then pounding the Ultimate Fighter Season 2 champion out. I’m currently about 57/43 in favor of the second scenario occurring because Evans is an extremely confident competitor who could throw out strategy and just fight, but honestly feel the main event’s outcome is a relative coin-flip.
Winner – Quinton Jackson via TKO Round 2