Rarely are fans privileged enough to see a pair of UFC icons and former promotional champions step into the Octagon and duke it out. June 12th will mark such an occasion, as Chuck Liddell and Rich Franklin are squared away to tap gloves and make history at the GM Place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Also set to face off are affable heavyweight Pat Barry and PRIDE legend Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic in a bout that is certain to leave viewers’ knees and shinbones aching from the multitude of kicks destined to be thrown. Additionally, the card features Paulo Thiago attempting to lockdown a top contendership spot in the welterweight division against Martin Kampmann and a number of other match-ups with a great deal of entertainment potential like Tyson Griffin vs. Evan Dunham, Carlos Condit vs. Rory MacDonald, and Ben Rothwell vs. Gilbert Yvel.
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…
Mike Pyle vs. Jesse Lennox
This fight has a “loser leaves town” feel to it, especially in the case of Pyle, so I expect both men to leave it all in the cage on Saturday night and open up the show properly in the process. Pyle is a better grappler with Lennox being the superior striker so the winner should ultimately come down to which of the two will be able to dictate where the fight takes place. I favor Pyle in that equation based on his experience and training partners at Xtreme Couture. He should be well-prepared for anything Lennox brings and have little problem taking him down, if for no other reason to grind out a decision.
Winner – Mike Pyle via Decision
Claude Patrick vs. Ricardo Funch
Patrick should have a ton of support from his fellow Canadians in his UFC debut and will likely send them home happy when things are said and done against Funch. He’s on a ten-fight winning streak with eight of his dubyas coming in the first frame. Funch has been relatively inactive for the last few years, competing only three times since the start of 2008, and will have to rely on Patrick to keep things standing in order to have a decent shot at emerging victor. While Patrick may be known for his submissions he’s also gone three full rounds with the hard-hitting Drew McFedries and has two first-round TKOs on his record as well. I think he’ll be able to go toe-to-toe with Funch if necessary while having a significant advantage on the ground (not to mention a stout guillotine he can use if Funch attempts to shoot in).
Winner – Claude Patrick via Submission Round 1
James Wilks vs. Peter Sobotta
This match-up clearly caters to the international audience brought on by the show’s location as Wilks is originally from England and Sobotta from Germany. Wilks is obviously the bigger name based on winning his division on the ninth season of the Ultimate Fighter but fans shouldn’t discount Sobotta simply because they’ve never heard of him. The 23-year old has a fairly balanced attack and was able to go a full fifteen minutes against respectable veteran Paul Taylor in his UFC debut last June. I’m a bit wary of his year-long hiatus from competition but then again Wilks hasn’t stepped foot in the Octagon since November 2009 so it’s not as if he’s in a much better position where activity is concerned. All that being said, I think Wilks’ stand-up is good enough to bang with Sobotta and his submissions are somewhat slicker so I expect him to get back on the winning track this Saturday.
Winner – James Wilks via Submission Round 2
David Loiseau vs. Mario Miranda
I doubt I’m alone in my excitement regarding Loiseau’s return to the UFC. Though he may not have panned out to be quite the fighter people felt he was 4-5 years ago, “The Crow” is still entertaining to watch and one of the sport’s classier characters. He’s shown an ability to hang with any opponent regardless of their specialty and should be more motivated than ever to get his first win in the Octagon since the late, great Evan Tanner in October 2005. Miranda has solid striking but I don’t think it’s as powerful or diverse as Loiseau’s and he definitely doesn’t have the jiujitsu to finish things on the ground.
Winner – David Loiseau via TKO Round 2
Mac Danzig vs. Matt Wiman
I have high hopes for this bout in terms of entertainment value. Danzig and Wiman can both bring it in the ring, are experienced competitors, and should be enticed by the proposition of stringing together consecutive wins after each losing a few in a row. I think Danzig’s grappling is better, as is his boxing, but Wiman is more of a threat in terms of kicks and knees. However, I also believe they’re comparable enough that a finishing performance is unlikely. Look for them to constantly engage, even drawing a few “oohs” and “ahhs” from the crowd, but don’t expect a knockout or submission. In the end I believe Danzig’s overall technique is better and as such he’ll be able to defend on his feet, then take Wiman down and control him long enough in each round to earn the decision win.
Winner – Mac Danzig via Decision
Tyson Griffin vs. Evan Dunham
In this week’s Grappling with Issues I listed this bout as having potential for the biggest upset of the evening for a few reasons. My reasoning is as follows:
“Griffin has struggled to finish opponents in the Octagon, so he leaves a lot of time for his foes to slip in and steal bouts (Sean Sherk and Frank Edgar clearly being the best examples based on their actual success against the Xtreme Couture OG). Dunham is a solid grappler with nice hands and reminds me a bit of a 5’10, stronger, paler version of the 5’6 Griffin. It was hard not to be impressed by his submission of Efrain Escudero at Fight Night 20 last January, and he’s undefeated ten fights into his career, so I won’t be surprised if he walks away with a decision win against Griffin. However, I think a lot of fans will be and I don’t just mean the Zuffa Zombies out there.”
I’m not 100% positive Dunham will win, but there is one thing I am certain of – if either man finishes the other I will be utterly shocked. They’re fairly familiar with each other based on their shared choice of training center and even if they weren’t flying Xtreme Couture’s flag both are relatively skilled in every facet of the game.
Winner – Evan Dunham via Decision
Carlos Condit vs. Rory MacDonald
This is by far the most important fight of Condit’s career and that includes his title run in World Extreme Cagefighting. He entered the UFC 14-months ago with a ton of hype behind him, much of it deserved in my opinion, but has been disappointing for the most part since. He’s 1-1 with two split decisions against respectable fighters but hasn’t been close to the same dominating force he was in WEC. A second loss in the Octagon won’t destroy his reputation, especially to an undefeated opponent like the 20-year old MacDonald, but it will definitely bump him a number of spots down the world’s collective rankings and have people questioning whether or not Condit will ever live up to the potential most saw in him. MacDonald, a Canadian, will want to please the crowd in Vancouver, and is facing the biggest “name” in his career, so I suspect he’ll have trained his ass off and won’t be afraid to let it all hang out in the cage. Condit is also fearless in his approach to Mixed Martial Arts, so don’t be surprised if this ends up being a “Fight of the Night” contender. MacDonald can strike and grapple, as can Condit (with an edge in both categories), so I expect there to be a number of evenly matched flurries on their feet and on the mat with the former WEC Welterweight Champion getting the best of his less-experienced adversary enough times to win the judges’ favor.
Winner – Carlos Condit via Decision
Ben Rothwell vs. Gilbert Yvel
Without a doubt Rothwell will attempt to take Yvel down from the opening bell and work his mat-based attacks in hopes of either ground-and-pounding him or procuring a choke hold. “The Hurricane” has 31 TKOs in 36 career wins, and Rothwell has been rocked a few times over the years, so obviously Yvel’s best bet is to throw strikes while fending off takedown attempts. However, Rothwell is a solid wrestler who can also strike in addition to having above-average submissions for a heavyweight. He should be able to control most of the match’s positions, so unless the Dutchman lands a big shot early in the fight I don’t think “Big Ben” will have a hard time coming away victorious and possibly even end Yvel’s recent run in the UFC as a result.
Winner – Ben Rothwell via TKO Round 3
Paulo Thiago vs. Martin Kampmann
I don’t think people are giving Kampmann enough credit in this bout where he chances of success are concerned. Keep in mind his only losses have been by way of knockout while the only strike-based TKO of Thiago’s career came in his shocking upset of Josh Koscheck. Additionally, the Brazilian special forces operative owes eight of his thirteen wins to submissions while the “Hitman” has yet to tap out in nineteen professional fights. Kampmann is well-versed on the ground and is a legitimate striker as well. Both men faced Jacob Volkmann in the last year and where Thiago won a decision the Dane submitted Volkmann in the first round. I’m not a fan of “MMAth” but there’s definitely something to be said when the bouts being compared came in such close proximity to each other (less than 2 months apart). Thiago vs. Kampmann should be a hotly contested fight and is one of the many match-ups on the card worthy of a proverbial coin-flip when it comes to picking a winner. However, the more I think about it the more I feel Kampmann will open some eyes on Saturday night so I’m going to simply put my money where my keyboard-stroking fingers are and say…
Winner – Martin Kampmann via Decision
Pat Barry vs. Mirko Filipovic
I know I’m supposed to be unbiased as a journalist but in full disclosure I have to say Barry is one of my favorite fighters based on both in-ring style and overall character. Fortunately, objectivity won’t need to be shelved in this instance, as I think “Cro Cop” is also an outstanding individual with a list of accomplishments worth respecting and a terrific personality rarely associated with him based on the seriousness with which he approaches fighting. It’s a tough match-up to pick based on their in-ring similarities and knockout power each produces. One kick to the head or a series of shots to the thigh/midsection could end the night for either man, while jiujitsu and wrestling are almost certainly going to be thrown out of the cage-door before it closes and the action begins. I believe Barry will win based on age/athleticism as long as he doesn’t become too emotionally involved in the fight, and thereby distracted, based on his admiration of Filipovic. He’s faster and fresher than “Cro Cop”, and in that regard I think he’ll be first to the punch and ultimately shed a few tears in front of the camera before heading home to his momma.
Winner – Pat Barry via TKO Round 1
Chuck Liddell vs. Rich Franklin
I can see this fight going a number of ways though of course none of them involve submissions. Neither fighter will have to worry about clinching or getting taken down and worked on unless deciding to sneak in a shot or two with hopes of winning a particular round in the mind of a ringside judge. Both men appear to have questionable chins and have made their living with strikes so expect that to be the target of choice for each. However, Franklin mixes in kicks with a great deal of success and would be wise to do so against the “Iceman”. If he stays active, opting for more lateral than forward movement, he has a good chance of taking home a decision or eventually catching Chuck on the button. However, if he spends more than a few seconds exchanging blows at any point or makes the mistake of rushing in there’s a good chance he’ll be put to sleep.
Winner – Chuck Liddell via TKO Round 2