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UFC 136 Breakdown: The Undercard

If there were ever any lingering doubts as to the importance of marquee superstars in the sport of MMA, this Saturday’s UFC 136 will serve as a useful — but perhaps unfortunate — reminder. On the whole, this card is light-years superior to its PPV predecessor, UFC 135. And yet, despite two championship bouts complimented by a stellar undercard, this weekend’s event isn’t generating the kind of hype worthy of a show of this magnitude. Nevertheless, from top to bottom, UFC 136 offers arguably the most robust lineup of mouth-watering fights we’ve seen this year.

Before Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard settle the score once and for all, and before Kenny Florian tries to capitalize on what could be his last opportunity to taste that ever-elusive UFC gold, Chael Sonnen returns to the cage for the first time since his heartbreaking loss to Anderson Silva at UFC 117, Melvin Guillard bids to take another step towards title contention, and Nam Phan will hope to gain a measure of revenge in a rematch of 2010’s worst piece of injustice.

Preliminary Predictions

* Mike Massenzio to defeat Steve Cantwell by Decision
* Aaron Simpson to defeat Eric Schafer by Decision
* Zhang Tie Quan t0 defeat Darren Elkins by Submission in Round 2
* Joey Beltran to defeat Stipe Miocic by TKO in Round 3
* Anthony Pettis to defeat Jeremy Stephens by Decision
* Demian Maia to defeat Jorge Santiago by Decision

Featherweight Fight: Leonard Garcia vs. Nam Phan

Following a criminal split decision win for Garcia at last year’s TUF 12 Finale, it was only right for both fighters’ paths to cross once again. What Garcia will bring to the table is hardly a secret: he will move forward aggressively, throw plenty of wild haymakers, load up on every hook, and sneak in the occasional uppercut. When he’s not doing that, Garcia likes to throw plenty of head kicks, and sometimes mixes things up by punching the body. A stout chin means Garcia can afford to employ such a reckless approach, and for one reason or another, judges seem to be appreciative.

Phan will be the more technical fighter, and the first fight saw him blend some sharp combinations with accurate counter-punching and especially, the body shots that have become a staple throughout his career. While his body kick is effective, it is the left hook to the liver that is Phan’s most lethal weapon, and Garcia needs to be wary of that fact. Phan’s main weaknesses are his takedown defense and his inability to fight off his back. Recently however, Phan has improved his ability to regain his feet after being taken down, and this will be essential for him moving forward, as he doesn’t offer up much from the bottom and is prone to being positionally dominated. Phan will not have to worry about any of that for this bout, as despite some sparse takedown attempts aimed to “gain points”, Garcia doesn’t shoot with any conviction, and will generally not be interested to take this one to the ground.

Expect the fight to pan out very similarly their first encounter, where each fighter has his moments, but it is ultimately Phan who will be the more effective striker. Garcia will throw plenty of haymakers that are likely to hit air or land on Phan’s arms, while the latter will pick his spots, counter, and finish many of his combinations with trademark body blows. Hopefully, the judges get it right this time around.

Official Prediction: Nam Phan to defeat Leonard Garcia by Decision

Lightweight Fight: Melvin Guillard vs. Joe Lauzon

In an odd piece of match-making, Melvin Guillard, riding a huge wave of momentum, takes on Joe Lauzon, fresh off his win over Curt Warburton. Why Guillard wasn’t paired up with another title contender remains a mystery, but he will need to perform to the best of his abilities regardless.

Lauzon is one of the most dangerous fighters in the division for the first five minutes, but he’s as pedestrian as they come from the second round onwards. His cardio problems have been especially glaring in his losses to Sam Stout and George Sotiropoulos, as in both instances, Lauzon won the opening frame before fading away. Undoubtedly, Lauzon will need to put Guillard on his back and utilize his excellent top game. Moreover, he needs to polish him off with a submission early, before the usual conditioning issues start kicking in. Lauzon’s wrestling isn’t particularly great, but he possesses some good throws and takedowns from the clinch. Attempting them however, means having to get past Guillard’s reach and within his firing range; a perilous proposition for any fighter in the division. Furthermore, Guillard’s athleticism and ever-improving takedown defense will make life very difficult for his opponent. Lauzon’s best bet will be to try to initiate a scramble and secure a dominant position from there — something that he excels at — as conventional takedowns will be difficult to secure. Holding Guillard down will be an even more arduous task as “The Young Assassin” does a terrific job at regaining his vertical base.

Should Lauzon manage to stay on top for any significant period of time, expect a frantic pace highlighted by some sharp elbows, effortless guard passing, and constant submission attempts. He likes to go for kimuras from side control and armbars from full mount, and Guillard needs to be prepared to defend. More importantly, Guillard needs to avoid leaving his neck exposed during scrambles, as it has cost him in the past.

On the other hand, if — as expected — Guillard manages to stay off his back, the fight is his for the taking. He is the much superior striker in terms of power, speed, and technical ability. His last two bouts saw him show some tremendous counter-punching ability, which serves as a great addition to his repertoire. In addition, Guillard possesses one of the most diverse striking arsenals in the division.Whether it is his favorite left hook/right uppercut combo, brutal body shots, or devastating knees, Guillard is a joy to watch when he puts it all together. He is especially good at taking opponents by surprise in close-quarters by going to the body, and the effects are usually felt immediately. Improving further are Guillard’s footwork and head movement, which will serve him well to counter Lauzon’s aggressive approach on the feet, as Guillard’s light-footed stance as well as his ability to slip punches will allow him to frustrate his opponent, control the distance, and thus render takedowns even more difficult.

It is hard to pick against Melvin Guillard at the moment, especially when he stylistically matches up so well with his opponent. Lauzon, though the vastly superior grappler, will find it hard to put Guillard down, and the Greg Jackson pupil will add yet another impressive finish to his highlight reel.

Official Prediction: Melvin Guillard to defeat Joe Lauzon by TKO in Round 1

Middleweight Fight: Chael Sonnen vs. Brian Stann

After enduring one of the most surprising rises up the middleweight ranks, and one of the quickest and most eventful falls in recent memory, Chael Sonnen finally returns to the Octagon in a bid to earn a second shot at the man he almost dethroned over a year ago, Anderson Silva. But before the Oregon loudmouth is able to get his hands on “The Spider” once more, he needs to deal with one of the most improving fighters in the division in Brian Stann.

Ever since dropping down in weight following his loss to Phil Davis, Stann has been on an absolute tear. Almost every aspect of his game is noticeably improved, and the results have come accordingly. Stann’s striking has quickly become one of the most dangerous in the division. On the outside, Stann will look to chomp down on his opponent with repeated leg kicks, and will occasionally switch it up by throwing one to the body. That is going to be tricky strategy against Sonnen, as the Team Quest veteran has exquisite timing on his takedowns. How Stann fights on the outside could be the difference maker in this one, as he needs to keep his distance to avoid being planted on his back. Therein lies the problem for the former Marine, as Stann’s best offense comes from the inside, and trying to get into close-quarters exchanges without being taken down will be difficult.

Stann’s best punch is his right cross, and it will be his best bet against Sonnen. He possesses a very good left hook as well, but he needs to find range on both punches without having to get on the inside. To Stann’s credit, he does a good job at countering with those particular strikes, and he will need to make Sonnen pay for every rust-induced mistake. Stann’s clinch work has also improved tremendously, and should he have Sonnen hurt, we could see some brutal knees to both the head and body.

Of course, the most pivotal issue will be Stann’s takedown defense, as while improved, it is still very suspect, especially against a wrestler of Sonnen’s caliber. Mike Massenzio was able to take Stann down quite liberally in their encounter a year ago, but it was the Team Jackson product’s improving bottom game that saved the day, as he landed a late triangle to snatch the come-from-behind victory. Of course, Sonnen is suspect to getting caught by submissions from the bottom, but as off late, he only seems to get submitted by very good grapplers. One fatal flaw in Sonnen’s takedowns is that he almost always leaves his neck exposed, and he frequently finds himself locked in a guillotine as a result. That is an element that Stann and his team have no doubt been working on, but in Sonnen’s defense, he rarely gets outright finished by the choke, and usually finds a way to escape.

Despite his rightful reliance on his wrestling, Sonnen is much improved as an overall MMA fighter. His striking has become quite solid, highlighted by a surprisingly quick left cross. Additionally, Sonnen has always possessed a very good chin and has never been stopped with strikes. This has historically allowed him to aggressively move forward, eat some shots, but get the takedown anyway. And that will be the difference-maker in this fight, as unless Stann absolutely pulverizes Sonnen with a fight-ending shot, he will find himself on his back repeatedly, as Sonnen’s takedowns and diverse wrestling will prove too much. Whether he’s getting underhooks in the clinch and slamming his opponent down or driving double legs right through him, Sonnen’s wrestling will ultimately be the decisive factor.

Stann will have his moments, and he would be smart to throw plenty of elbows from the bottom in an attempt to cut Sonnen up, but the man who pushed Anderson Silva to the very limit will get the competitive — but decisive — win.

Official Prediction: Chael Sonnen to defeat Brain Stann by Decision



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