San Diego is known for a number of attractions – its zoo, its beaches, and the NFL’s Chargers being a few of them. However, folks in the area can witness caged predators, ripped physiques, and countless hard hits in a central location when ”UFC on Versus 2” unfolds at the San Diego Sports Arena tomorrow night. Fans in attendance, as well as tuning in on Versus, should be in for a treat as, among other entertaining offerings, top lightweights Tyson Griffin and Takanori Gomi face off, Yushin Okami attempts to solidify his place as a contender by beating Mark Munoz, and the next chapter in the exciting story of Jon Jones unfolds with veteran Vladimir Matyushenko playing the other central role.
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…
Darren Elkins vs. Charles Oliveira
Perhaps it’s a “Versus” thing, but I have a lot of high expectations for the entertainment-value of this card and Elkins vs. Oliveira is a good example of why. Elkins may be best known as the guy standing opposite of Duane Ludwig when “Bang” sustained a gruesome ankle injury last March, but he’s also 10-1 outside of the injury-based TKO with wins over respectable opposition like Gideon Ray and Pat Curran. Oliveira is 12-0 with eleven finishing performances and a near-even split between knockouts/submissions. The 11-1 Elkins is similar in his well-roundedness and ability to win standing or through jiujitsu. Putting the two together should definitely open up the evening on a positive note. I expect it to be a very close fight, and to be quite honest I’m torn on who to pick. I like Elkins’ experience against superior competition, but Oliveira has impressive stats as well including his slew of single-night tournament wins, including a pair of double-victories and three at his professional debut. In the end I think technique will win out, and with an apparently slick ground-game, knockout power, and even a KO-slam to his credit, that means…
Winner – Charles Oliveira via TKO Round 2
Rob Kimmons vs. Steve Steinbass
Steinbass will be fighting for his UFC career, as a loss would drop him to 4-4 as a professional and be his third consecutive defeat in a Zuffa-based promotion. Unfortunately for him, Kimmons is an extremely experienced opponent who is relatively strong in every facet of the game. He has solid stand-up and is a versed grappler as well. Other than a well-timed strike on Kimmons’ jaw I can’t see Steinbass winning this particular match-up, while I see “The Rosedale Reaper” having more options in terms of ways to come away with a victory.
Winner – Rob Kimmons via Submission Round 1
Brian Stann vs. Mike Massenzio
I think Stann’s middleweight debut should be a successful one given the general skill-set of his opponent. Massenzio has talent to be sure, but he’s a grinder with the bulk of his wins by way of submission. His attack will almost certainly focus on taking Stann down and working his way towards a tap-out. However, I believe Stann’s takedown defense is strong enough to keep Massenzio at bay and his tenure at Greg Jackson’s gym in New Mexico has be confident he’ll be ready on the ground as well. Where I see the difference being made is stand-up. Massenzio has been knocked out a few times in his career by less-than notable strikers and hasn’t fought since December 2008. I think Stann’s power and, what I assume will be, improved speed with the cut to 185 pounds are going to lead to “shock and awe”. Sorry, had to work in SOME military reference with Stann being involved…
Winner – Brian Stann via TKO Round 1
James Irvin vs. Igor Pokrajac
For professional wrestling fans out there, what we’ve got here is a “loser leaves town” match. Both men are coming off a pair of consecutive losses, and though Irvin has a better chance of retaining his employment if he falls based on his history in the organization, “The Sandman” isn’t too far removed from a couple of knee injuries or his suspension after testing positive for illegal painkiller use. There’s a lot on the line for both veterans, so fans should expect them to let it all hang out in the ring when the cage door closes. I think Irvin’s power will ultimately prove to be too much for Pokrajac, especially when considering the Croatian has been dropped multiple times by fighters most fans have never heard of. Look for Pokrajac to catch a taste of Irvin’s fists early, resort to a grappling-based assault, and ultimately go to sleep from a takedown-countering knee or combination of strikes.
Winner – James Irvin via TKO Round 2
Paul Kelly vs. Jacob Volkmann
This is an intriguing match-up in that Kelly and Volkmann have both found a good deal of success in their careers and are coming off winning performances, yet still have struggled to find a way to consistently beat a certain quality of opponent. A victory for either could be a significant step in the right direction as far as building up enough momentum and confidence to make a real run at cracking the upper-echelons of the lightweight division. The battle should be a close one with exchanges on both their feet and on the mat. I’m positive Kelly will win if things remain standing, but in the end I think Volkmann’s wrestling will make the difference and allow him to control the majority of the fight’s positioning. Kelly could land a knockout shot, or Volkmann could latch on a choke, but I think it’s more likely we’ll see this one go a full fifteen due to the parity involved.
Winner – Jacob Volkmann via Decision
DaMarques Johnson vs. Matt Riddle
It’s too bad this bout is positioned where it is on the card because I’m sure the trash-talk between Riddle/Johnson would have been epic had their fight been given a bigger push. Both have entertaining personalities, a sense of fearlessness in the ring, and some respectable skills to offer as well. Riddle started out fairly strong in the UFC but is coming off a loss and DQ win (by illegal upkick) so he definitely has something to prove against Johnson. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he got a pink-slip with his paycheck if he doesn’t turn in a helluva performance, let alone a winning one, against his Ultimate Fighter peer on Sunday. However, Johnson has looked very sharp since losing the TUF 9 season-title to James Wilks a year ago and strung together two finishing performances in the process. I don’t see a lot of ways for Riddle to solve..well..the riddle of Johnson’s diversity in the Octagon. “Darkness” is, in my opinion, the better striker and jiujitsu artist, and I’m pretty sure it will show when the two lock horns in the ring.
Winner – DaMarques Johnson via TKO Round 2
Takanori Gomi vs. Tyson Griffin
Clearly the UFC hasn’t done former PRIDE/Shooto champion Gomi any favors in the match-making department as he’s slated to face his second “Top 10” lightweight is as many Octagon appearances. He hasn’t been anywhere near as dominating as he once was in either Japanese organization, nor has he faced the level of competition he did which makes his decline all the more interesting. My thought is that perhaps he rode on his reputation for too long, believing his own hype in the process, while the world of MMA gradually passed him by. Griffin is part of that evolution and, as such, I think he’ll have Gomi’s number when they face off in San Diego. The XTreme Couture OG is sharp on his feet and should be able to match anything Gomi offers up in that department. He’s a much better wrestler, and though his submissions are probably comparable at best to Gomi’s, he shouldn’t have a problem working top position and raining down punches. It’s possible Griffin could get caught, but, being that he’s never been finished in his 17-fight career while having faced some of the best 155-pounders on the planet for the last three years, I don’t think it’s likely, and I definitely can’t see “The Fireball Kid” doing enough to win the judges’ favor.
Winner – Tyson Griffin via Decision
Jake Ellenberger vs. John Howard
“Ellenberger and Howard are both well-rounded fighters under the age of 30 who are entering the event with a lot of buzz based on their past success and overall performances in the ring. Ellenberger is 5-1 in his last six scraps with the single defeat being a razor-thin split decision to Carlos Condit in his UFC debut last September. He’s only been finished once in 27 professional appearances while having either submitted/TKO’d nineteen of the twenty-two opponents he’s beaten. On the flipside, “Doomsday” Howard is riding a seven-fight win streak including four in the Octagon. He’s coming off a first-round knockout, yet also has the wrestling and submission arsenal to act as a threat on the ground. I expect both men to push the pace, recognizing what’s at stake and either deliver a fifteen-minute war or violent finale in the process. I don’t know how it will end. I just know it’s going to be exciting!”
Winner – Jake Ellenberger via Decision
Yushin Okami vs. Mark Munoz
Okami and Munoz are both underrated middleweights who should open some eyes if they both fight to their abilities at the show. Okami is a huge 185-pounder with nice stand-up, although I’ve always found it to be a little bland. Not quite “vanilla” perhaps, but “French Vanilla” at best. Munoz is also relatively big for the division and has fought at light heavyweight before. He’s a two-time All-American wrestler who packs a lot of power behind his punches and has seemingly progressed as a fighter each time he steps in a ring. I don’t think he can necessarily knock Okami out on his feet, but then again I don’t think he’ll have to. Chael Sonnen took “Thunder” down with ease when the two fought at UFC 104 and the same can be said in Okami’s decision-loss to Jake Shields a number of years ago as well. I expect Munoz’s wrestling prowess to produce the same results and finally eliminate the debate on Okami’s status as a championship contender.
Winner – Mark Munoz via Decision
Jon Jones vs. Vladimir Matyushenko
This is Jones’ toughest fight to date for a few reasons. As I pointed out in GWI, “Matyushenko is a solid grappler with knockout power who isn’t afraid to grind out a victory, as indicated by the near-even split between submissions/TKOs/decisions in his win column, meaning he doesn’t necessarily have any glaring weaknesses while also being a threat from most positions. The lone person to have beaten him in the last five years is “Top 10” light heavyweight Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, while former UFC champs Andrei Arlovski and Tito Ortiz are the only other losses on Matyushenko’s record if going back a full decade rather than half of one. Meanwhile, during that same span, the soft-spoken MMA veteran has knocked off a number of respectable foes with stints in the Octagon including Pedro Rizzo, Jason Lambert, Tim Boetsch, and the afore-mentioned Nogueira. While Jones has definitely fought a handful of tough guys, none have been as fully-rounded as Matyushenko or nearly as experienced.”
However, as tough as “The Janitor” may be, I don’t think Jones will struggle to finish him. Jones’ wrestling and athleticism should allow him to stuff the bulk of Matyushenko’s takedown attempts and likely dish out damage in the process. His striking is vastly superior to Matyushenko’s, as are his speed and power. I think he’ll catch Vlad on his chin a few times after a feeling-out process, then pounce on top and unleash a barrage of strikes. As long as 1-2 of them isn’t a downward, vertical elbow then the finish should finally merit Jones’ ascension into the UFC’s group of apex light heavyweights. Starting Monday, expect “Bones” to only be facing names like Lyoto Machida, ”Rampage” Jackson, Rashad Evans, Forrest Griffin, and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua from here on out. I’d personally love to see him fight Anderson Silva but that’s a story for a different column.
Winner – Jon Jones via TKO Round 2