If ten months ago, someone suggested that the UFC will finish the year with two title fights on free television, he would have likely been ridiculed. And yet, the final quarter of 2011 will witness two very contrasting title bouts: One will headline the UFC’s much publicized debut on Fox, while the other marks the promotion’s last venture on Versus. One is arguably the most anticipated fight of the year, while the other has been rendered to a mere afterthought. One will feature two 240 pounds behemoths locking horns, while the other will be contested in the UFC’s least celebrated division. And while tonight’s upcoming bantamweight championship fight between Dominick Cruz and Demetrious Johnson isn’t in the same galaxy as Cain Velasquez‘s mouthwatering clash with Junior Dos Santos, the action could well end up being every bit as good. Leading up to the main event is a decent undercard, featuring the likes of Stefan Struve, Pat Barry, Charlie Brennenman, and Anthony Johnson.
* Walel Watson to defeat Joseph Sandoval by Submission in Round One
* Josh Neer to defeat Keith Wisniewski by decision
* Shane Roller to defeat T.J. Grant by decision
* Mike Easton to defeat Byron Bloodworth by TKO in Round Two
* Michael Johnson to defeat Paul Sass by decision
* Yves Edwards to defeat Rafaello Oliveira by decision
Lightweight Fight: Matt Wiman vs. Mac Danzig
When Wiman and Danzig squared off at UFC 115 over a year ago, a gaffe by referee Yves Lavigne robbed their encounter of a decisive outcome. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Danzig, as the controversial nature of the finish saw the UFC keep him around despite dropping his fourth loss in five fights. To his credit, Danzig was able to right the ship with a highlight reel one-punch knockout of Joe Stevenson at UFC 124. The main problem with Danzig’s skill set is that despite being generally adequate at each aspect of the game, he doesn’t particularly excel at any of them. While his striking looked improved against Stevenson, he has historically been quite hittable on the feet. He tends to make the crucial mistake of dropping his guard when throwing his right cross, and it is that particular punch that makes him especially vulnerable to left hooks and overhand right counters. Furthermore, when his opponent is aggressively pushing forward on the feet and putting it on him with combinations, Danzig doesn’t quite seem to know how to react.
Wiman’s striking isn’t devastating by any means, but he does a better job at controlling the distance. He throws with volume and finishes his combinations with leg kicks, and more importantly, knows how to use his striking to set up takedowns. And therein lies another problem for Danzig in this fight: While he’s got decent takedowns and is a competent grappler, Wiman will be the superior wrestler and possesses the better overall ground game. Moreover, Danzig’s grappling is top game oriented, and he doesn’t offer much off of his back in terms of submission threats or, more crucially, regaining his feet. Wiman doesn’t possess a great double leg from the outside, and isn’t particularly great at finishing takedowns away from the fence, but he does a great job at using the cage to put his opponent on his back. Additionally, Wiman is great in the scrambles and uses them very well to get top position. The Denis Siver fight saw Wiman struggle to get clean takedowns, but was still able to put Siver down with some solid chain wrestling and scrambling ability.
Wiman’s top game and superior wrestling will ultimately prove to be the difference-maker in this one. He should be able to keep Danzig on the bottom, land short elbows, and potentially pass guard and threaten with submission attempts.
Official prediction: Matt Wiman to defeat Mac Danzig by decision.
Welterweight Fight: Anthony Johnson vs. Charlie Brennenman
Injury had forced Johnson to sit on the shelf for the entire duration of 2010, but he came back strong earlier this year with a dominant performance against Dan Hardy. Considered one of the brightest prospects in the division, the question with Johnson is how long he can keep cutting down to welterweight before eventually being forced to move up. As long as Johnson can keep making weight in a healthy manner, his physicality will keep being almost unrivaled in the division. With a rare mixture of size, athleticism and power, Johnson possesses all the tools to continue to work his way up the welterweight ladder. The one knock on Johnson is that despite those attributes and a solid wrestling base, he doesn’t use that wrestling to dominate fights the way you’d expect (when he’s not fighting Dan Hardy that is). Of course, having a good striking game and immense power means Johnson doesn’t exclusively have to rely on his wrestling, but he has yet to find the right balance between the two. In general, Johnson’s gameplan is very easy to spot in the first minute or so of a fight, and it becomes very apparent whether he’s in wrestling mode or striking mode, as he seldom mixes the two up together.
Johnson’s striking is heavily reliant on his power, and his right hand is one of the biggest weapons in the division. He does a good job at setting it up, and to his credit, rarely gets too trigger happy with it. In fact, Johnson uses his kicks very well, and alternates between going to the legs, body and head. While he doesn’t exactly effortlessly use his striking to set up the takedowns, Johnson possesses a great first step when closing the distance and going for a takedown. His single leg is arguably his best takedown, and with his imposing clinch game, he has no trouble putting opponents down from there either. His top game on the other hand, is not very dynamic as he offers little in terms of guard passing or significant ground and pound.
Whether Johnson can consistently take Brennenman down remains to be seen, as the latter is very good at hip escaping, scrambling, and getting back to his feet. In addition, Brennenman could very well take Johnson down himself. In the Josh Koscheck fight, Johnson was taken down routinely after he started tiring in the second round, and Brennenman’s relentless pursuit of a takedown could prove fruitful. Brennenman’s top game is quite underrated, as he is great at capitalizing on any mistake or sloppy submission attempt and immediately pass guard. Additionally, Brennenman makes his opponents pay for getting too desperate when attempting to regain their feet by using that opportunity to get back-mount.
It’s a tough fight to pick, as Brennenman could very well wear Johnson out and start getting takedowns late in the fight, but I do think Johnson’s striking and power will make the difference before that can happen.
Official prediction: Anthony Johnson to defeat Charlie Brennenman by TKO in Round One.
Heavyweight Fight: Pat Barry vs. Stefan Struve
It says a lot about how flaky both fighters can be when this bout’s outcome could well be decided by who fights less to his detriment. Pat Barry’s killer instinct — or lack thereof — has been a huge hindrance to his career. Whether he’s hurting his opponent and bizarrely opting not to pounce, or following up but having no clue how to put him away, Barry has himself to blame for some of the defeats he’s suffered inside the Octagon. For his part, Struve continuously chooses to disregard his freakish reach by engaging in ill-advised close-quarters slug-fests, as well as throwing techniques that a fighter his height and reach should never have to use, such as the flying knee. It cost him dearly against Travis Browne, and it almost got him knocked out against Paul Buentello.
Barry will be the better technical striker, and Struve’s long frame should provide him with an obvious target for his dreaded leg kicks. However, those leg kicks could leave him vulnerable to right cross counters, especially given his opponent’s humongous reach. That said, Struve is always prone to allowing his opponents to get on the inside and land some shots, and Barry’s right hand could certainly do some serious damage if he can sneak past Struve’s reach.
One underrated aspect in Struve’s arsenal is his clinch game, and once Barry inevitably starts to tire late in the fight, Struve can do some damage in the muay Thai clinch, particularly with knees to the body. The bigger worry for Barry if he tires will be his inability to defend the takedown. If Struve puts him on his back at any portion of the fight — let alone late when Barry is gassed — “HD” will be in serious trouble. Struve has an usually fluid ground game for someone of his size, and possesses a wide array of submissions, both from the top and bottom. In fact, it wouldn’t even be a bad idea for Struve to pull guard, as his sweeps are extremely dangerous and Barry’s overall grappling game is severely deficient.
While I was originally leaning towards Barry, Struve has more obvious ways to victory, especially in the ground game. If he takes Barry’s back for instance, the fight is all but over. And I expect just that.
Official prediction: Stefan Struve to defeat Pat Barry by submission in Round Three.