I'm not going to make this card out to be of incredibly high importance because it isn't. There are no title fights, no #1 contender match, no highly visible fighters to the casual fan. It seems clear to me that there isn't going to be a great amount of appeal to many fans for this card.
One thing that many fans don't realize is that importance doesn't guarantee excitement. Georges St. Pierre is the perfect example of that. He continually defended the title and did so definitively, but also received a lot of criticism for the lack of excitement that came out of his fights.
Its too bad most fans go off of name recognition as there is a very good reason that Matt Brown and Erick Silva were picked by the company to headline the card. Its hard to believe that the fans that tune in to watch them will leave disappointed. The rest of the fights on the main card all have a very good chance of being exciting too. I know that I try and sell the good things about the card every time, but this really is the type of card I'd show someone who knows nothing about MMA and would hope to lure in hook, line, and sinker. There is a little bit of everything from the big guys to the little guys and it is unlikely that any will end up being in the lay-and-prey style.
This is a card that can easily be enjoyed without knowing much if anything about it. But in case you do give a rats ass, here is the lowdown.
#7 Matt Brown (18-11) vs. #14 Erick Silva (16-4, 1 NC), Welterweight
Story Thus Far: Brown concluded 2010 on a three fight losing streak and was thought to be the outs with the UFC. The company gave him another chance and he has responded by winning 7 of 8 since, including 6 in a row with his last fight lasting a whole 29 seconds as he disposed of Mike Pyle with ease. Many refuse to state that Brown is a contender as Pyle is the biggest name that he has bested, but a win here will almost certainly guarantee a fight with an established title contender.
Silva has been maddening for his fans as all of his victories in the Octagon have taken place within the first round in devastating style. His problems have come when he has attempted to step up in competition as he has fallen short against Jon Fitch and Dong-Hyun Kim. Silva has been considered to be an up-and-coming prospect, but being almost 30 it is hard to label him a prospect anymore. Some view this fight as his last chance to break into the upper echelon of the division.
Fighting Style: Brown is considered by many to be brawler and though there is some truth to that, it would be doing him a great disservice to only label him that way as he has evolved into a much smarter fighter. That isn't to say he has lost aggressiveness, but has done a much better job of utilizing his wrestling rather than than just slugging it out. The fact that he has never been KO'd proves that he has a solid chin as he has been in there with some hard hitters (Jordan Mein, John Howard, Chris Lytle) which allows him to survive those brawls.
Silva is aggressive... you don't get 3 official finishes in 71 seconds or under being passive. Often he has proven that he can be too aggressive as he leaves himself wide open for counters as his KO loss to Kim showed. Still, his swarming style is often too much for his opponents to handle which is how his UFC victories have come by him simply overwhelming them. His jumping heel kicks to the face of Sato showed his creativity as well.
What to Expect: Many people have been saying that this fight has potential to be a fight of the year candidate for a reason. Both like to be in the face of their opponent and I think I would be more shocked to see this go all five rounds than I was to see Bigfoot Silva and Mark Hunt go the distance. Sure, Brown has never be KO'd, but he has been submitted 9 times... and Silva is a very skilled BJJ practitioner as he owns 9 submission wins. Trust me, you're not the only one that is surprised that the majority of his victories haven't come from KO/TKO.
It is very possible for Brown to use his wrestling to keep him less predictable, but he is going to have to be wary of Silva's subs. While his wrestling has been effective during his winning streak, but the only submission threat he faced in that time was Pyle and never gave him an opportunity to go to the ground. His durable chin and desire to make a statement (he feels disrespected for not being talked amongst the title contenders) means Brown will be looking to stay on the feet in addition to Silva's submission prowess.
Silva knows that his aggression cost him against Kim and is aware that Brown's hard punches can put him out. So I don't think that he'll shy (he'll go for takedowns when they present themselves, but won't shoot hopelessly for them) from the standup, but he will be more cautious in his approach.
Brown has been very comfortable in fighting in the clinch with dirty boxing and underrated Muay Thai, but may try to avoid that as Silva is a judo black belt with some solid trips. The last thing Brown (or most fighters for that matter) want is Silva on top of him.
X-Factors: If this fight goes the distance (or even past the first round), Silva is going to have to answer a lot of questions about his cardio as he gassed very badly against Fitch in his lone fight to go to decision in the UFC. Brown has always gone all out without any worries of tiring, but has never had a five round fight himself. Silva fights out of Brazil too with only one fight in the US thus far. The flight could end up affecting him.
Who Will Win: Silva is the favorite and has more ways to win the match due to his creativity. But this seems like the type of fight Brown wins. While I've noted that he hasn't faced a true submission threat, he has done an excellent job of avoiding potentially dangerous situations for himself and I think he'll be able to do that here. Caution often only lasts so long before the adrenaline hits and expect Silva to leave himself open before too long. Brown by KO 2nd Round
Story Thus Far: Larkin fell out of the rankings with his loss to Brad Tavares in a match that he was favored to win back in January. Prior to that he was generating some hype as a potential dark horse as his only official loss prior was a controversial decision to Francis Carmont. There should still be hype behind Larkin as Tavares is a damn good fighter himself and Larkin has been fighting professionally for less than 5 years. He still has plenty of room to grow.
Philippou once had a good amount of hype behind him once upon a time as well, but it has dried up after back-to-back lopsided losses to the aforementioned Carmont and Luke Rockhold. His largest victory to date over Tim Boetsch has been looking less impressive as well considering Boetsch's recent struggles. Philippou won't be considered a dark horse contender even with a victory here, but he should be a solid gatekeeper.
Fighting Style: Larkin has a diverse fighting background to say the least, but the style that seems to be the most prevalent when he fights is his kickboxing as he throws a massive variety of kicks. His lesser background in boxing, Kung Fu, and BJJ have helped to round him out. But looking at that background its obvious that his game is largely standup based.
Philippou started his athletic career as a Golden Gloves boxer and is likely the best overall boxer in the middleweight division. But its called mixed martial arts for a reason. That isn't to say that Philippou is completely one dimensional as he is a purple belt in BJJ and has good submission defense. But he has shown little offensive grappling and while he has shown good submission defense, he was completely controlled by Carmont on the ground.
What to Expect: This is a no-brainer. Philippou and Larkin are going to stand up and trade with one another... but that doesn't mean that it is going to be a brawl. Both are very strategic strikers, which actually cost them in their last matches as Philippou and Larkin allowed Rockhold and Tavares to get off first respectively (Larkin did pick up the pace the final round, but it was too late to win by points at that point).
Larkin will have the advantage in dictating distance as he will be comfortable from a distance with his kicks or in the clinch with his Muay Thai knees and elbows, which he uses to great efficiency. Philippou will need to be careful not to get too close or too far. If he can keep the fight just in boxing range he will be at an advantage.
Considering neither of them are considered to be very slick on the ground, expect both to think that they would have an advantage on the ground over the other. Who definitively has the better ground game is truly up for debate, but Larkin has shown a better ability to prevent takedowns (his balance is amazing) as well as being quicker to get back to his feet.
X-Factors: There likely won't be a lot of time spent on the ground, but that factor could be what makes or breaks the fight for these two. Remember how key takedowns were for Phil Davis in his victory over Lyoto Machida? That fight was largely spent on the feet and yet those brief moments on the ground made all the difference. Same here?
Who Will Win: I got nothing against Philippou, but it seems he has been regressing since he left Team Serra-Longo last summer. Larkin has more weapons in which to attack from and isn't a small middleweight. Seeing as how Philippou has struggled to enforce his will on the larger athletes of the division (Carmont, Rockhold, Boetsch before the eye poke), it seems academic. Larkin by Decision
Story Thus Far: Someone please tell me why Koch is still ranked at featherweight. Its not like his move to lightweight was a one time occurrence. Some of you media voters are lazy asses!
Koch was once upon a time set to fight Jose Aldo for the featherweight belt. Then injuries and a drop in weight by Frankie Edgar knocked him out of the picture and two losses followed eliminating his chance for another shot anytime soon. So with the weight cut to featherweight getting more difficult Koch decided to move up to lightweight and made short work of Rafaello Oliveira in his promotional debut at his new weight. This will represent his sophmore effort.
Cruickshank came out of the lone live season of TUF where he was eliminated in the opening round after qualifying for the house. He has had much better success since then with a 4-2 record in the UFC including highlight reel KO's over Henry Martinez and Mike Rio. Every time he has stepped up the competition level though he has fallen short.
Fighting Style: Everyone loves to think of Koch as strictly a striker for a few reasons. He comes from the camp of acclaimed striking instructor Duke Roufus and his highlight reel KO's of Francisco Rivera and Rafael Assuncao. But he owns 7 submission victories... though the last one came 4 years ago. Roufus has taught him well and he does hit hard, but it would be a mistake to think of him as a one-trick pony. He started with Tae Kwon Do as a youth and his kicks are his best weapon, but his boxing has evolved greatly too.
Cruickshank is even more renowned in his Tae Kwon Do owning a black belt in the art and (like Koch) has some devastating kicks with a lot of variety in them (spinning, wheel, side... you name it he throws it). He has some OK wrestling, but isn't a great grappler by any means. He wants the fight to be standing at all times and is versatile with his stance.
What to Expect: A big reason the reputation of the Roufusport camp continues to grow is their smart game plans. Koch will be willing to throw as he trusts his stand up abilities over Cruickshank's as Cruickshank often leaves himself open to being countered and Koch is very skilled in that department. But he'll be smart enough to mix in takedowns and go for submissions as well. This is easier said than done though as Cruickshank has very good takedown defense.
What I have yet to mention though is how poor Koch's striking defense has been. Or perhaps I should say how poor he is at keeping opponents out of his grill. Cruickshank traditionally does most of his damage from a distance, but he had a good amount of success against Rio from close range where Koch struggles to defend. It isn't in Cruickshank's usual game plan, but it would seem he has the capability to do so. Keep an eye on that.
Overall look for it to be a high-octane fight with all sorts of kicks and punches with ill intentions being thrown. Very good candidate for FOTN.
X-Factors: Koch has had issues with gassing in the past, but that was also with him making a difficult weight cut down to 145 lbs. Considering he no longer has to worry about dehydrating himself to that extent that shouldn't be a problem for him any longer. This is also his second fight at 155 so if anything the cut should go smoother than last time.
Who Will Win: I have to give the advantage to Koch here simply because of the fact that he is more well-rounded. The fact that he has faced a higher level of opponent with greater success doesn't hurt my opinion either. Koch by TKO 2nd Round
Story Thus Far: Magny is from the infamous TUF 16 class (season winner Colton Smith is still without a win outside of the final) coached by Shane Carwin and seems to have the most long-term potential from the class... which isn't saying much. Still, Magny looked very impressive over his last 4 rounds against Seth Baczynski (a loss) and Gasan Umalatov (a win) and is still improving.
Means is returning to the UFC after lossing two fights to tough lightweights Danny Castillo and Jorge Masvidal. After picking up two wins on the regional circuit at welterweight, Means returns at that weight class. Even more impressive is that most of Means career success has come after he spent time in prison and has since turned his life around. Unfortunately, he is also infamous for slipping in the sauna and knocking himself out before his fight with Abel Trujillo was supposed to take place.
Fighting Style: Magny continues to learn how to use his 81' reach more effectively and is mixing in more kicks with his jabs than he has in the past along with more aggression. One problem he has had is he often allows his opponent to dictate where the fight takes place, but has learned to better adapt better to these situations. For example, he has been utilizing knees in the clinch to great efficiency. It all comes back to the fact that Magny continues to show improvement in all phases.
Means is constantly coming forward simply looking to inflict as much damage as possible onto his opponent. I know that sounds incredibly basic but that really is the best way to describe his style and his 15 KO/TKO's back that up. He never looks for takedowns and rarely lets fights go the distance.
What to Expect: Means isn't going to stop coming forward. He is going to do everything in his power to stop Magny early. This is going to be a challenge for him though as he has been used to having the size and reach advantage over his opponents and Magny will have a definitive advantage over Means here. Expect him to have some trouble getting inside Magny's range.
Magny has largely utilized his wrestling background to stop takedowns (with mixed results), but is going to reverse that here. He'll land some shots from a distance, but Means will get inside and that is when Magny will look to take him down. It will either force Means to stop the offensive to stop the takedown or Means is on the ground. Simple as that. Getting into a slugfest with Means is not advisable as the sauna has been the only one to put him out besides an injury 10 years ago. Throw in the fact that Means was taken down 6 times in each of his UFC losses and it makes for a no-brainer.
X-Factors: Means is what he is at this point, especially given his reluctance to diversify his attack. But Magny is still learning and growing (as I have obviously stated and I'm sure you are sick of hearing). How much he has improved is unknown.
Who Will Win: I was shocked to see Means come out a 3-1 favorite on some lines. Magny has the same UFC record as Means (2-2) and none of the opponents they have beat would be considered to be top of the line. I'm going with Magny here. It should be a hell of a fun fight and Means is more likely to get the finish, but Magny is more willing to mix up what he does and I see that being the difference. Magny by Decision
Story Thus Far: Palelei is in his second stint in the UFC after he lost to Eddie Sanchez in his first and only bout from his original stint. Even though he won his return bout over Nikita Krylov, it was one of the sloppiest and ugliest bouts in memory and he was on thin ice (to his credit, he had a broken rib). Redemption arrived when he dominated Pat Barry in Australia and sent the kickboxer into retirement. It is worth noting that Palelei has won 12 of his last 13 with his only blemish in that run coming to Daniel Cormier.
Ever heard of Extreme Fighting Championship Africa? No, it isn't a large promotion by any means, but that is the promotion that Potts has spent the entirety of his career. He is a two-time champion there and has been apart of the promotions version of Velazquez-dos Santos (including one fight under a minute and another going the full 25) as he and Andrew van Zyl have handed each other their only losses in trading the title back and forth. Also worth noting is that he has been training with the Blackzilians in preparation for this fight.
Fighting Style: I can't help but find it funny when people talk about Palelei being a BJJ black belt. I'm not doubting it, but I can't recall seeing Palelei use it in an offensive manner. His wrestling I can say that I've seen. His last 10 wins have all come from punches, often from the mount. Considering he has to cut to get under the 265 lb. weight limit it is easy to see why takes the approach to bulldoze his opponents into the ground with his GNP.
Potts is a well-rounded fighter whose judo makes him a bit tricky. He has a black belt in judo, was the Muay Thai South African champion in 2011, and a brown belt in BJJ. Even more encouraging is seeing him add new aspects to his game as he progresses as kicks have become a big part of his arsenal (not just to the legs either) and has pulled out 4 wins by KO/TKO and submission each, including an impressive judo armbar in his last outing.
What to Expect: Does anyone expect Palelei to really do anything different than what he always does? Potts should represent a different challenge than either Barry or Krylov represented and should be tougher to take down, but Palelei is a physically strong beast that is difficult to elude if he gets his grips on you. If Potts gets the right angle he'll try to flip him over on his ass via judo flip, but that is much easier said than done as Palelei usually comes in low for the takedown.
Potts will look to be aggressive with his kicks whether it be to the legs, head, or the body. Trading fists would be a bad idea as Palelei owns an 81' reach and though he doesn't throw a jab much, his hooks have a lot of power and he can land that with more room than the average fighter. Thus the kicks which will likely keep him off balance and allow Potts to rush in for a quick judo throw.
If Potts wins it will likely be by submission as I expect he'll have a difficult time securing a mount to rain down punches on the massive Aussie. Palelei really is that strong. Palelei BJJ black belt seems to come into play more with his submission defense so it won't be an easy task for Potts. The longer the fight goes though, the more it will favor Potts.
X-Factors: Palelei has a strong history of gassing quickly, often times even before the first round is over. All but 5 of his victories have come in the first round. Potts on the other hand (as mentioned earlier) has gone 25 minutes.
Who Will Win: Potts has a better chance to win this than many people are giving him credit for and I strongly considered going with him to pull off the upset. But Palelei represents not just a step up in competition, but a different style than what he has faced before. Palelei by TKO 1st Round
Story Thus Far: Few if any believe that Cariaso could make a run at the flyweight title at this point as he has fallen to the top contenders he has faced at bantamweight and flyweight (excluding a controversial victory over Takeya Mizugaki), but he still makes for an excellent gatekeeper for young fighters like Smolka. He is riding a two fight win streak, but neither fighter he beat has a single UFC victory.
Smolka on the other hand does in his only appearance so far over Alp Ozkilic. Smolka was a 2-to-1 underdog going in and utilized a smart game plan to beat his wrestling based opponent. At 5'9 and only 22 years old, Smolka will likely end up in the bantamweight division as his career progresses. But for now he is a breath of fresh air in a shallow and still growing division.
Fighting Style: Cariaso is short even for a flyweight at 5'3 and as one can imagine he doesn't have big reach. So it should come as no surprise that he does his best work in close quarters where he can effectively utilize his Muay Thai. His boxing is solid too and knows how to survive if not thrive on the ground. He doesn't have a lot of power either as 6 of his 7 victories under the Zuffa banner have been by decision.
Smolka has a hell of a Muay Thai game himself as he devastated Ozkilic with knees from the clinch which sapped Ozkilic of his stamina. But many think of his as a submission specialist as 4 of his victories have come that way. But I see him largely preying on poor competition to get those subs. Smolka is capable on the ground, but is more striker than he is grappler.
What to Expect: Cariaso doesn't often pull out his wrestling, but I would look for him to do so here. Smolka just poses to many problems on the feet. Smolka devastated Ozkilic from the clinch and has demonstrated good use of kicks from a distance. Not to mention some power in his fists too. Its been a while since Cariaso has dealt with anyone with a reach similar to Smolka and has traditionally struggled with that.
With that said I still expect Cariaso to know how to deal with Smolka's reach better than most considering he is always at a reach disadvantage and does his best work from closed distance. Smolka will only dominate the standup if he can keep Cariaso at a distance.
The biggest reason I would expect Cariaso to look to take it to the ground is Ozkilic was able to take Smolka down 9 times in their fight. Ozkilic is a much better wrestler than Cariaso, but Smolka's takedown defense is poor enough that Cariaso should be able to get him on the ground. Smolka is active in looking for submissions off of his back which contributes to his lack of urgency to prevent the takedown.
X-Factors: Smolka is improving, but is no longer a mystery as to what to expect from him on the big show and Cariaso will have a better idea of what to expect than Ozkilic had. Cariaso isn't a stupid fighter either. Also, don't expect Cariaso to have gas tank issues as Ozkilic did.
Who Will Win: This is some fantastic match making. This match will up the profile of whoever wins and if the fight is a barnburner will do so for both. I've been proven wrong too many times by the young lion moving on up so I'm not making that mistake this time. Smolka by Decision
Record for last Card: 6-4 Record for Year: 96-55-1