When I look at what the UFC presented for its last 5 editions of UFC on FOX, I'm a little let down by what is being presented. I'm not upset with the main event of Benson Henderson and Josh Thomson. It should be a fun and engaging affair between two well-rounded savvy veterans. But I look at what is happening a week later and see that two title fights are happening at UFC 169... and wonder why the Jose Aldo-Ricardo Lamas bout couldn't have headlined this card. But to be totally honest, that isn't what is irking me. I'd have to say the letdown of the co-main event as well as the rest of the main card. We go from match-ups in this spot like Frank Mir-Daniel Cormier, Rory MacDonald-Jake Ellenberger, and Urijah Faber-Michael McDonald to Gabriel Gonzaga-Stipe Miocic? And Adriano Martins did have an impressive debut... but to jump from Facebook prelims against Daron Cruickshank to a FOX main card against Donald Cerrone?
I'll digress. Though the importance of the matches isn't up to the usual FOX standards, explosive violence is to be expected from these fights. The only main card fight with serious potential to be a dud is if Darren Elkins implements his lay and prey style in the opener against Jeremy Stephens. Not to be rooting against Elkins, but I don't think its necessary for me to say no one outside of his fight team is hoping for that. Sergio Pettis (yes, lightweight champ Anthony's little bro) follows up his debut and bantamweight headhunter Eddie Wineland make appearances on the undercard as well and its quite common for their opponents to be taking naps shortly after meeting up with them. There is no reason that I shouldn't be happy after this card. I really should stop bitching about such things.
Here's the important stuff people:
#1 Benson Henderson (19-3) vs. #4 Josh Thomson (20-5, 1 NC), Lightweight
Some feel like there is little at stake (for a main event anyway) in this fight and I beg to differ. True, it isn't a title fight, but with Pettis on the shelf and Dana White's refusal to create an interim title (not disagreeing, just stating facts), this is as close to a title match at lightweight we're gonna get for a while. Henderson is the former champ and tied BJ Penn's record for title defense victories at lightweight with 3. If he wants to have a chance to get another title shot anytime soon he is going to have to win and win impressively from here on out. If Thomson wins, it is likely that he will get a title shot. Its true that TJ Grant has been dubbed to receive the next shot, but due to concussion symptoms, its unfortunate to say that his inactivity will likely cost him that opportunity. For Thomson's part, he was set to take on Anthony Pettis in place of Grant at UFC on FOX 9 in December before Pettis' history of injuries flared up again. Some have said he didn't deserve that title shot, but if he beats Henderson here no one will be able to object to his worthiness if it comes around again.
Few fighters are as well-rounded as Henderson. He really doesn't have a true weakness. Perhaps what is even harder to prepare for is the fact that he is great at in-fight adjustments. Take his fight with Gilbert Melendez for example. He opened the first round with a high volume of kicks. Melendez caught those kicks and was able to take him down as a result. The next few rounds he switches up his strategy including utilizing knees and sparingly throwing kicks as Melendez would have expected those kicks. The fourth round Melendez isn't quite so fresh and hasn't seen many kicks over the last little bit... so Henderson throws them again with great success. He isn't afraid to utilize unorthodox techniques either like the leg punch to Melendez or front kicks to the calf in the clinch against Pettis in their second bout. He is a strong wrestler and more than capable striker with his kicks being his most effective weapon. He has great flexibility as well (remember the splits against Nate Diaz?). You really can't attack Henderson at his weakness since it really isn't there. Thomson is going to have to attack utilizing his own strengths... just like Pettis did. As a result I would expect Thomson to try and keep the fight standing and try to stay out of Henderson's range. He is an excellent kickboxer and I'm sure few people are having a hard time remembering the head kick to Nate Diaz that set up his GNP stoppage. He can throw those kicks and punches very quick too. He takes a somewhat reserved approach though as he doesn't throw punches in bunches. He picks his shots and rarely throws a wasted strike, preferring not to waste the energy. Typically he'll make his opponent chase him and throw counter strikes or land just as they come into range. He can brawl, but where Henderson has the size advantage (and a true and tested chin), I doubt he'll want it to go that direction. He can wrestle if needs be and has the ability to score a submission, though Henderson is tough to submit (I know, I know... he lost his last fight by submission). Also worth noting is both fighters are fully capable of going 25 minutes having both done so multiple times.
Henderson's last two losses were both to Anthony Pettis and the turning points were moments of genius creativity by Pettis. I think Thomson is going to have to get creative to beat Bendo here... and I just don't see it. I think Thomson will pick his spots with Henderson pushing the action for the most part. Thomson will land the bigger shots (an impressive head kick or two and some nice punching blitzes), but Henderson will land a lot more with a mix of everything including some takedowns. It will be a very entertaining bout and could be comparable to any Melendez-Thomson bout. If that is the case, fans go home happy. Henderson by Decision
#8 Stipe Miocic (10-1) vs. #12 Gabriel Gonzaga (16-7), Heavyweight
The main thing that is boosting this match to the main event is that these gentlemen are heavyweights and the USA (the whole world actually, but particularly the USA) have an obsession with the biggest and baddest. Throw in the fact that the big guys have a greater KO frequency and the casual fans will go home happy. Can't blame the UFC as a result... they already have the hardcore fans.
Miocic burst onto the radar of many when he faced Roy Nelson in June and pulled off an upset that few if any saw coming. In retrospect, it should have been obvious that Miocic not only could win, but should have won. Miocic has a very impressive reach of 80 inches and used that to keep Nelson just in his own range as he landed many a jabs and far enough outside that Nelson couldn't land his big right hand. Plain and simple: he outboxed Nelson and likely would do so to any heavyweight not named Dos Santos or Velazquez. That is why Gonzaga is going to have to get the fight to the ground or turn it into a brawl. Its likely Miocic is smart enough to avoid a brawl and he does have a solid wrestling background, so Gonzaga is gonna have to get clever. Gonzaga does have one punch power (or if you remember his match with Cro Cop, one head kick power) and his last two victories came by way of a quick KO, but he fell in love with looking for the KO at one point and that eventually led to his release from the UFC in his first stint. He has world class jiu-jitsu few heavyweights can match and utilizing that upon his return to the UFC led to his first two victories. His ability to get the fight to the floor will be key and he has done so in the past. Whether he can with Miocic is the question as Miocic's opponents have only attempted to do so 3 times. Miocic hasn't shown much of his jiu-jitsu so its largely unknown and he has yet to wrestle with someone of Gonzaga's size or grappling ability. If it turns into a brawl Gonzaga has more power than Miocic which would be his best chance to score a KO.
This will be a harder match-up for Miocic than Nelson was. Gonzaga has more reach than Nelson, is less reliant on scoring the highlight reel KO (as mentioned earlier, is capable though), and has a much greater ability to get the fight to the ground. Will it be enough? I think not. Gonzaga isn't a slouch standing up, but he cannot match the technical striking ability of Miocic. Miocic will wear him down by pattering him with a variety of strikes and move in for the kill once Gonzaga shows he's hurt. Sure, Miocic didn't put Nelson away, but Nelson has a notoriously granite chin. Gonzaga's has broke before and will break again. Miocic by TKO 2nd Round
#8 Donald Cerrone (21-6, 1 NC) vs. Adriano Martins (25-6), Lightweight
It has come out recently that Cerrone admitted he lost his fire and claims to have recently regained it. Funny what being broke will do to ya. But I guess motivation is motivation. If his fire really is reignited, Martins could be in for a long night (or short night, depending on your perspective). To Cerrone's credit, he did look fantastic in his last bout against Evan Dunham. The best way to sum up Cerrone's standup game is to watch his short fight with Melvin Guillard. He has a rock solid chin (Guillard couldn't break it) and devastating kicks (which broke Guillard's chin), particularly to the head. But also illustrated in that fight is his tendency to get hit as he leaves himself very wide open to strikes. Remember that this is the guy who absorbed 238 significant strikes from Nate Diaz. He has tightened up a bit since that time and realized that he fights stupid when he fights angry, but it is still a concern. His boxing solid too, but he prefers to use his vaunted Muay Thai with knees and elbows. As vaunted as his striking has been, he only has 2 KO/TKO victories. This is due to the fact he uses his striking to set up the submission. Once he gets his opponent down, he doesn't go hog wild with strikes looking for the finish. Instead he'll look to sink in a choke, as his 14 wins by submission illustrate. He is good off of his back too and is particularly effective at sinking in the triangle choke. As for Martins, his game plan is quite simplistic. He is a big lightweight and a southpaw who loves to pressure his opponent looking to land his powerful left hand in a head hunting style. He'll mix in the occasional kick as well and will swarm when he hurts his opponent, but he is fairly patient. As basic as it is, he has had great success with this style as opponents do not want to go to the ground with him as he is a high level black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He only has 3 submission victories in his career, but he exhibited it in his last match as he scored a straight armbar against Daron Cruickshank with relative ease, again showing his patience as he waited for the proper opening to score the sub. This will be a big step up in competition for him. I admit he has had great success in his career, but most of it has come in the smaller Brazilian circuit.
Martins wasn't fazed by the bright lights in his UFC debut and I don't think he will be fazed by the jump to the main card either. But Cerrone is the best striker and most diverse opponent he has ever faced. If Martins pressures him, Cerrone will utilize his Muay Thai in close quarters. If he keeps his distance (not likely), Cerrone will throw leg and head kicks at him. I just don't see Martins competing with Cerrone standing and Cerrone has solid takedown defense. Martins is a tough bastard, but I do believe that Cerrone has a new fire. He'll find a way to finish this. Cerrone by TKO 3rd Round
Jeremy Stephens (22-9) vs. #10 Darren Elkins (17-3), Featherweight
The book on Stephens has been written for a while: Powerful boxer who loves a good brawl, unbreakable chin, and looking to take your head off. A few wrinkles have been added recently. He sent Rony Jason's head into the nosebleeds in his last fight. He faces a new set of competition after dropping down to the welterweight division. And his jaw did prove breakable by Yves Edwards last year, but it is still tough to crack. The rest of the book is largely the same, but he is more well-rounded than he is given credit for. His wrestling still isn't great, but it has improved since he entered the UFC and isn't often at a size disadvantage now. Like his wrestling, his submission defense has improved as well. The question will be at what level both his wrestling and submission defense have improved. Elkins is about as good of wrestler as there is in the division. Is he a great submission artist? No, but he will certainly attempt to submit his opponent if the opportunity opens up as Steven Siler gave him multiple opportunities. Elkins specialty is lay-and-prey though. As a result, he is far from a fan favorite. He isn't the most efficient at finishing off his opponents either. While he is good at maintaining position, his GNP is far from devastating. He has shown improvement in his standup, but still won't want to have anything to do with Stephens in the standup. All fights start standing though so look for him to go for the takedown at the first opening he gets. His standup is merely passable, capable of hurting his opponent, but will rarely put them away. He tends to lunge too much with his punches which could be bad with a skilled boxer like Stephens who is a solid counter puncher. Dirty boxing against the cage would be Elkins best option standing, but even then he would likely be at a disadvantage.
This is the tightest match of the main card. The question will be who can implement their strategy. The styles kind of remind me of the match Elkins had with Diego Brandao. Difference is that Stephens won't gas like Brandao did. I think that Stephens will be able to keep the fight standing long enough that he will be able to catch Elkins and put him out. Stephens by KO 2nd Round
Sergio Pettis (10-0) vs. Alex Caceres (9-5, 1 NC), Bantamweight
Finally! It feels like the UFC is giving Caceres with someone who isn't hanging around the bottom of the division. I don't necessarily believe Caceres is going to be a champion someday, but they've been grooming him for over 3 years now and its about time we find out if he sinks or swims. Just because I don't think he'll be a champion doesn't mean I don't think he can't be a mainstay or potentially even a contender. He still has room to grow though. Caceres throws a lot of punches And is fairly accurate though, but he has little power. He is very quick though meaning he can often strike without taking one in return... so long as he sticks to the fundamentals and avoids the flashy maneuvers. He has also throws jumping knees a fair amount. He is a submission grappler and can surprise his opponent with a tricky hold if they get lazy whether he is in guard or on top. He has tightened up his defensive grappling too as he showed a better ability to get out of bad situations in his last fight with Roland Delorme. Pettis is a very technically sound fighter, especially when you realize that he is only 20 years old. He needs to be technically sound though as he has little power and is very small for a bantamweight. Like his brother, he has a very creative arsenal that can wow any and everyone (and it isn't just limited to his strikes). He punches are nice, but his kicks are where the highlight reel is going to come from. Whether its the legs, body, or head he is throwing them at there is a thud to them that makes observers feel the pain as well. He is prone to being taken down, but usually is able to quickly get back to his feet. He is a capable grappler, but a powerful wrestler who understands leverage would likely have their way with him. He is still young though and will likely grow some more into his frame. If he doesn't his real future will be at flyweight.
Caceres was extremely raw when he first entered the UFC and has since grown into a respectable veteran. But he is facing whom the UFC could very well be grooming to be their next big thing. And I don't think the UFC is crazy for believing Pettis could be. We know its in his blood already. He looked a little tentative in his debut, but performed very well for his debut. I think that he'll land a highlight reel kick at some point, probably fairly early. Pettis by KO 2nd Round
#4 Eddie Wineland (20-9-1) vs. Yves Jabouin (19-8), Bantamweight
As talented as Pettis is, I still don't think its right that he is getting a higher card spot than Wineland. What can you do? Wineland is coming off of a loss in his title fight with Renan Barao in which he ducked into a spinning back kick and took the shot to the face. The fact he wasn't out cold from the shot is a testament to his durability. Throw in the fact the only other time he lost by KO/TKO was due to injury and you can see why he is respected for his toughness. He's gotten a reputation as a scrapper, but to simply call him that doesn't do him justice. Yes, he loves to stand and throw, but he is very technically sound in his boxing and he has a lot of power in those fists. Problem is he is very predictable with the combinations that he throws as outside of the occasional leg kick, he does nothing but box. He is good at keeping the fight standing as he has a wrestling background and uses it in reverse to stay up as only Urijah Faber has been able to score a takedown on him since 2010. Though it rarely goes there he is hardly lost. I wouldn't expect the fight to go there though as Jabouin would be more than happy to oblige Wineland in a standup battle. Jabouin will mix things up a lot more than Wineland; expect to see some spinning kicks and other flashy strikes from Jabouin. They hurt, but he hasn't scored a KO/TKO in over 5 years, indicating little finishing power. Not good for someone whose calling card is striking. That isn't to say he hasn't found any success as he has 4 wins in 5 attempts at bantamweight which is a great record.Though he hasn't put his opponents away, he has been able to wear them down utilizing GNP. He has a tendency to ignore submission defense until his opponent has him caught in an attempt. Though he has only been submitted once in the last 6 years he is very fortunate the number isn't higher. As for his grappling it is difficult to remember the last time he went for a submission.
This could very well be Jabouin's last opportunity to make a run to the top of the division. At 34 in the bantamweight division, the clock is ticking and Wineland is the highest profile opponent he has faced. He'll likely show some urgency and probably take some interesting risks. But Wineland is too tough and stubborn to fall to Jabouin. This looks to have a lot of similarities to Jabouin's match with Brad Pickett. Wineland by TKO 1st Round
Chico Camus (13-4) vs. Yaotzin Meza (20-8), Bantamweight
Camus is a somewhat frustrating fighter to evaluate. He is very scrappy and tough and is a very good test to see where young fighters are at in their progression. But he has been prone to mental blunders (why did he continually take Dustin Kimura to the ground despite having the advantage standing?) that not even most youngsters would make. At least his bouts are entertaining. His standup is nothing special, but he is technically sound (like most under Duke Roufus) and knows how to get inside his opponents reach (as he usually has a reach disadvantage), often timing his shots very well. He is very active on the ground whether he is in top position laying on the GNP or on the bottom in guard. From the guard he is always moving trying to get out from underneath, avoiding the shots raining down, or throwing shots back in return. It likely scored him the victory in his bout with Kyung Ho Kang as Kang had top control for much of the fight. Meza is somewhat scrappy himself. He has shown little in the standup department, largely using it to set up his takedowns. Because he isn't the strongest guy (though he did help himself by dropping to bantamweight in this department), he needs to utilize solid technique in his shots, often going for a double leg. If that isn't working for him he has pulled guard utilizing the guillotine, his favorite submission. If the guillotine doesn't work he is effective in sweeping his opponent to gain top control. As for submission defense, he was in a bunch of bad situations with John Albert, but showed patience and savvy working his way out of them. His GNP isn't much to sing about though.
I expect this to be a ground war. Camus would be better served to keep it standing, but most of his matches have gone to the ground and he seems to like it there. Meza almost certainly will try to get it there and I gotta believe that as active as he is looking for subs, he'll eventually catch Camus in one.
Meza by Submission 3rd Round
Hugo Viana (7-1) vs. Ramiro Hernandez (13-5), Bantamweight
Viana doesn't have a lot of experience and many still view him as a prospect as a result. Its easy to forget he is 31. Don't think I'm ripping on him... I just think his ceiling is limited as a result. Especially with the lack of technique that he has shown. There is certainly a lot of power in his fists, but he wings his punches without technique and often leaps into his punches. If facing an opponent with patience and technique it won't take much to land a counter punch that could floor him. Don't expect him to take it to the ground either as he has yet to even attempt one in the Octagon. He does have some training in jiu-jitsu, but its doubtful he's going to outgrapple many at this point in his career. He possess good takedown defense and explosive power to help him off the ground if he gets there. One other thing that might be worth noting is that he is heavily favored in this bout which is a discredit to Hernandez. Hernandez is far from a stiff. But when your first UFC bout barely lasts a minute and you end up going to sleep, most of the MMA community will write you off after that. Hernandez isn't a feeder though. He is a very technically proficient striker and has a lot more grappling ability than Viana does too. Is his wrestling or jiu-jitsu world class? No, far from it. But it is solid enough that he won't embarrass himself. He doesn't have the explosive power or quickness that Viana possesses and that is what will really end up separating these fighters. Viana likely will only have to catch Hernandez once and be able to finish the fight whereas Hernandez will have to work harder for it.
I want to pick Hernandez here as he likely going to be the better prepared fighter coming into this one and is going to want to redeem himself from his debut. But Viana has a much greater advantage in natural talent and I believe he'll be improved from his last showing. Hernandez has shown a good chin in his career and it will hold... but this should be close. Viana by Decision
Daron Cruickshank (13-4) vs. Mike Rio (9-3), Lightweight
This is a very simple fight to figure out. Cruickshank will want to keep the fight on the feet whereas Rio will want to utilize his wrestling to take it to the ground. So of course it comes down to who can implement their game plan most efficiently. Cruickshank is a taekwondo black belt and has a wide variety of kicks at his disposal. And they land with a lot of impact to say the very least. Whether they aim for the head or the legs it is best to avoid them. As already said, he has a lot of them, so expect to see him pull out some spinning stuff too. He's willing to do that with his fists as well. He isn't completely lost on the ground and has some (not a hell of a lot) wrestling ability. He largely uses it to stay on his feet which he is pretty good at. He'll be expecting to stuff takedowns from Rio, who was a collegiate wrestler with some impressive accolades. Problem is he hasn't rounded off his striking well enough yet. As a result his opponents know exactly what is coming and far too often make it easy to stuff the takedowns that they know are coming. To give Rio credit he is usually determined enough that he will eventually get his opponent down. But it did lead to his down fall last fight: He got clipped pretty good while standing and went for a desperation takedown leading to a d'arce choke by Tony Ferguson. It doubtful you'll see Cruickshank try to submit him (he owns one submission victory), but its easy to see him finishing the match with a knee on a takedown. Rio will be able to control the match on the ground if he can get it there, but he's going to have to show a better ability to mix things up.
In this battle of former TUF contestants from season 15, its very possible that the loser gets let go. It would be Cruickshanks 3rd loss in 4 tries if he falls short and Rio's 3rd loss in a row if he does. I feel there will be some desperation from both sides. I feel that Cruickshank's striking will be enough to get him the win though. Anyone else remember what he did to Henry Martinez? I see something similar this time around. Cruickshank by KO 3rd Round
Mike Rhodes (6-1) vs. George Sullivan (14-3, 1 NC), Welterweight
This is a difficult fight to preview. Neither fighter has a lot of footage out there to scout. What I have been able to pick up: Rhodes is considered to be a talented prospect, but he is largely inexperienced after having turned pro only about a year and a half ago. Half of his fights have been stopped in the first round, mostly due to strikes. That shouldn't be a surprise as he trains with striking guru Duke Roufus. He also showed that he has a fairly solid gas tank going 25 minutes in his last bout. His nickname is "Biggie" and rightfully so as he is a big welterweight. Not Anthony Johnson big mind you, but I think you get the point. What little footage I have found indicates he does have solid technique in his striking and as inexperienced as he is he should only improve. His most notable opponent has been Brandon Thatch who dispatched of Rhodes quickly, but he's done that with everyone. Sullivan has been around a little while longer. Training with Kurt Pelligrino, you would expect him to be solid at jiu-jisu, but he has zero wins by submission. Not saying he has no experience in it, but it is surprising. 10 of his victories have come by KO/TKO, so he likely is a striker by trade. He has also gone 25 minutes in victory and his highest profile opponent to date would either be Greg Soto or Julian Lane of "let me bang bro!" fame. Neither are overly impressive, but he did what he needed to do in coming out on top.
I don't want to be stealing opinions from others which is why there is so little on these two. To weigh an opinion though, I kinda have to go off of what others have said. Every indication is that Rhodes is by far the more naturally talented fighter (and I agree based on footage I have seen) and based simply off of that it should be enough. I'll factor in that Roufusport is a larger camp with more established competitors (not to rip on Pelligrino by any means), I think Rhodes progression should be at a point that he is ready for someone like Sullivan who should be close to if not at his ceiling at this point in his career. Rhodes by Decision
Walt Harris (5-2) vs. Nikita Krylov (15-3), Heavyweight
These are two fighters that should have learned a very valuable lesson about conditioning in their last fight as there were moments in which they could have taken the W... but ultimately were done in due to a shallow gas tank. Neither one owns a victory in a fight that has gone past the first round and that isn't going to fly playing with the big boys. Still... I wouldn't expect this fight to go past the first round. Harris is an incredible athlete which is largely explained by his college basketball background. In his UFC debut he dropped Jared Rosholt twice in the first round and demonstrated that with better conditioning and a little more polish he could easily be a major player in the division. Krylov's game is submissions as 10 of his victories have come that way. When you look at some of the methods in which he has achieved victory (kimura, keylock, arm-triangle choke, achilles lock) it really shows his craftiness. He has an active guard looking for subs. He shows very little technique in his striking though, largely just winging punches without really caring where they land (just hoping they land). He is prone to mental lapses which allow his opponent to sweep or reverse too. BUT, he is just 21. Get him a good striking coach and someone to tighten up his discipline (including his cardio) and the UFC could have a real prospect on their hands.
I hate this match based on the fact that one of these guys is gonna have two victories in a row and I want to see both of them succeed in the UFC (largely because the UFC needs young talent to boost the division). I'm hoping they both put on a good show and believe that is more than just a pipe dream. Harris is either going to put Krylov to sleep or Krylov will catch Harris in a sub and either way it will happen early. Its a fairly even fight... but I'll go with Harris by KO 1st Round
Comments smart or dumb (even of the ass variety) are always welcome.