Even though I'm very butt-hurt at the fact that the Khabib Nurmagomedov-Rafael dos Anjos fight was unjustifiably left off of the main card, I don't think that this is a bad card. The main event has a lot of intrigue involved and should attract some of the very casual viewers based on the fact it is a couple of heavyweight behemoths in Fabricio Werdum and Travis Browne going at it. If viewers are wanted, it would probably be wise to leave out the fact that Werdum is a grappling expert though. People want to see KO's, not submissions (sorry Fabricio).
The co-main event is underwhelming in my view as neither Liz Carmouche or Miesha Tate are anywhere near title contention and are coming off of loses (two in a row for Tate), but I understand where the UFC is going with this. Both have challenged the highly visible women's champ and have gathered their own followings as a result, particularly Tate. In order to gather viewers it is wise to lure them in with familiar and likeable (or attractive) faces and these two qualify for that.
Donald Cerrone and Edson Barboza will promise violence and high level kicks and Brad Tavares and Yoel Romero is a very close bout involving two dark horses in the middleweight division. Both are good matches... but they still aren't Khabib-dos Anjos! No matter at this point. I'll still enjoy them. As should you!
#2 Fabricio Werdum (17-5-1) vs. #3 Travis Browne (16-1-1), Heavyweight
With Cain Velazquez recovering from shoulder surgery, this is the closest we are going to get to a heavyweight title fight until the end of the year and it should be a good one. Scratch that. It should be awesome!
Werdum has been considered the consensus #1 contender in waiting ever since he defeated Big Nog last summer while we all waited for Velazquez to complete his trilogy with Junior Dos Santos. The problem is that Velazquez seems to need his shoulder operated on every few years and Dana White wasn't going to let Werdum wait that long to get a title shot. No disagreeing here. Its not like Werdum beat a true title contender recently to get to this point anyway (Roy Nelson or Big Nog? No).
Browne has been on a tear ever since recovering from his torn hamstring suffered in October of 2012, reeling off three straight first round KO's over the likes of Gabriel Gonzaga, Alistair Overeem, and Josh Barnett. It isn't like he looked bad before the injury, but he has truly been in beast mode since coming back. I would attribute it to the beard (most badass beard in MMA right now), but he didn't have it against Gonzaga. Whatever it is, its working wonders.
Everyone who knows anything about MMA knows what will be happening here: Werdum will want the fight on the ground and Browne will want to keep things standing. So how will that work?
Werdum has gotten a bad reputation for his striking largely based on his pathetic effort against Overeem in their second fight when he refused to stand and trade with the K-1 champion, instead choosing to continually invite him into his guard. The funny thing is that Werdum is actually a very respectable striker. He gave Roy Nelson his worst beating this side of Junior Dos Santos with a very impressive Muay Thai arsenal that could be the best in the division. (Remember I said Muay Thai, not overall striking) I can't recall exactly how many brutal knees Nelson ate, but it was more than anyone else I recall. His leg kicks don't have a whole lot behind them, but he does throw them from a distance to score points and chip away at his opponents base. His boxing still isn't very sharp at this point, but it is acceptable and capable of complimenting his Muay Thai as needed. His biggest weakness with his punches is he will over commit to a punch or combo and get himself in a bad position... which is dangerous with someone like Browne.
With regards to Browne, I feel it appropriate to throw this warning out to any future opponent of his: Under no circumstance should you ever, ever, EVER push Browne against the fence with your head to his side. Browne has decimated both Gonzaga and Barnett with thunderous elbows to the side of the head in that position and will likely make opponents think twice about attempting to work against the cage with Browne. But to be a little more to the point, Browne is incredibly well-rounded in his striking arsenal. He has a deep bag of kicks (front, head, leg, body and I'm sure he can do a wheel kick) and I promise you that Werdum is very well aware of every one of those. His boxing is quite dynamic too. Remember his superman punch KO of Stefan Struve a few years ago? But his boxing is also fundamentally sound and is comfortable in the Muay Thai clinch with his 6'7 frame easily able to lift knees to his opponents face. In fact, his Muay Thai could be better than Werdum's. What makes this all tie together so well is the athleticism he exhibits from his basketball background. He moves around almost like he is 50 pounds lighter. Why didn't we see his rise to the top coming again?
There are going to be a lot of questions with regards to Browne's ability to survive on the ground with Werdum and rightfully so. The only fighter that has even been able to really mount any type of submission offense on Browne was Struve, and while Browne was able to escape, he remains very untested. Don't anyone tell me that he owns a submission victory in the Octagon; it was over Chad Griggs and Cyrille Diabate was able to submit Griggs too. It doesn't prove anything. And how many of you expect Browne to submit Werdum anyway? What is good is that Browne's takedown defense has been impenetrable. According to Fight Metric, he has stuffed every single one of his opponents takedown attempts. Its safe to say his elbows are going to provide quite the deterrent as well at this point. If he wants to take the fight to the ground, he has had good success doing that with the like of single-legs and trips. But don't expect it here.
Lets remember something about Werdum: not only did he submit Fedor Emelianenko, but he outgrappled Nogueira in his last fight. While I agree that Nogueira isn't the same fighter he once was, his grappling is still among the best and only Frank Mir would rival Nogueira as the top submission artist in the history of the heavyweight division. He has also been an Abu Dahbi champion. What more do I need to say? He is very sneaky with his submissions. His armbar of Nogueira came as he was attempting to get hooks into Big Nog and when that didn't happen he quickly transitioned into the armbar. His guard? Triangle choke of Fedor. What else do I need to say? His black belt in BJJ is complimented by a brown belt in judo and as you would expect, utilizes a lot of trips and throws with the double underhooks. He'll probably be relentless of his pursuit to get it to the ground and be active in his submissions as his wrestling isn't bad, but I doubt it will be able to hold down Browne. But his active BJJ? Browne would have a hard time escaping that with all limbs attached.
There is a big X-factor that a lot of people aren't looking into. Most of Browne's fights end in the first round. The only two fights that went the distance in the Octagon were ugly affairs in his win over Rob Broughton and his draw with Chieck Kongo. Browne's gas tank is very questionable as those were his worst performances thus far. The longer the fight goes the more it will end up favoring Werdum.
This is going to be tough. I know that a lot of people are already picking Browne to decimate Werdum and it is easy to see why. But Werdum is a very smart fighter. I'm sure he has some sort of game plan for the big man. But I'm going to side with the majority on this one. Werdum hasn't faced an animal like Browne since JDS (the second Overeem fight doesn't count) and we all know how that ended. I know Werdum has improved since... but not enough. Browne by KO 2nd Round
#3 Miesha Tate (13-5) vs. #7 Liz Carmouche (9-4), Women's Bantamweight
Two of Ronda Rousey's victims face off in an attempt to again scale back to the top. The loser is virtually guaranteed to never get another shot at the title again.
Tate may be the most popular female MMA fighter at this juncture thanks to her coaching stint opposite Rousey and the public's turn against the Rowdy One. Oh, and her good looks certainly help her out in the popularity as well. She would be on the chopping block without her marketability as she has lost two in a row and 3 of her last 4. Granted, she has lost to top flight competition (Rousey twice and Cat Zingano), so she isn't as bad as her recent record.
Carmouche has had a similarly unsuccessful run as of late, but at least she does have a UFC victory, something Tate has yet to pick up. She did give Rousey a hard fight and came closer to finishing Rousey than anyone else has with her tight neck crank, even if Tate lasted longer in there with her. But she allowed Alexis Davis to dictate the pace in her last match and considering Carmouche is a powerhouse, that should never happen.
It seems like most recent (i.e. new) fans paint Tate as a striker due to her supposed advantage in that department that she had over Rousey (I say supposed since it never materialized). She is actually a very good wrestler and 6 of her wins have come by submission, more than any other method. Rousey is just that good in her dominance on takedowns and submission grappling that she completely overshadowed much of Tate's talents. Tate established that she has some very fine submission defense in her last fight with Rousey, but I don't see that playing a major factor in this fight. Tate will be aggressor on the ground here looking for takedowns and submissions here. She is good at passing guard and quick in scrambles and she'll be looking for opportunities to latch on to an exposed limb of Carmouche's during those times. Oh yeah, she has some very nasty elbows from top position too.
I'm not going to rip on Carmouche's grapping abilities because they are very good. Remember that she obtained back control on Rousey, which shows she might be capable of beating Tate in a scramble or two. She is very powerful and will look to muscle Tate down as opposed to using finesse. When Tate moves forward looking to clinch, look for Carmouche to just pick her up and slam her down as she did to Jessica Andrade. Once there she prefers to use her GNP as opposed to looking for a submission. Her GNP is heavy and relentless and she uses both fists and elbows. If the GNP isn't there she will look for a submission, such as a RNC if her opponent turtles up, but is back to using her fists as fast as she can.
Despite her strength's on the ground, my expectation is that Carmouche will prefer to stay on her feet... but she will need to press the action if she wants a victory. She came out aggressive against both Rousey and Andrade and as a result looked very good against Rousey while earning a W over Andrade. Against Davis, she sat back and let Davis decide where the fight was going to go and how fast the pace went. She doesn't get enough credit for having good technique with her boxing and her right hand is capable of laying Tate out for nap time. She could stand to be more diverse against someone like Tate, but I expect her to try and bully Tate against the cage and utilizing dirty boxing.
Similar to how I expect Carmouche to hold her own against Tate on the ground, I expect Tate to hold her own against Carmouche in the striking affair. Tate is comfortable against the cage herself and fine with fighting against the cage. She'll probably prefer the fight to be in close quarters where she can more easily execute her takedowns. Don't mistake her wild punches as actual attempts to land as she uses those to close distance for the clince. She can be technical when she wants to be. If the standup battle does take place from a distance, she utilizes leg kicks more often and effectively than Carmouche and thus will give her a slight advantage there despite Carmouche having an edge in power. That isn't to say Carmouche's strikes are more technically sound than Tate's... she just has greater amounts of dynamite in her fists.
This is the second time the UFC has tried to make this fight and it is easy to see why. Both women are quite evenly matched. It makes it difficult to say who has a definitive advantage... though I do believe I know who wants the fight to take place where (we'll see of course). Tate is the more diverse though and I think that gives her the edge. Tate by Decision
#8 Donald Cerrone (22-6, 1 NC) vs. #11 Edson Barboza (13-1), Lightweight
I know on an earlier preview I said that Khabib-dos Anjos was my pick for FOTN (and it still is), but this is right up there as far as probabilities of taking that. These two are explosive.
When Cerrone's head is on straight, I firmly believe that he has it in him to beat anyone. Yes, that includes Anthony Pettis. Problem for Cerrone is that the higher the stakes of a match get the more screwed up his head gets. This match? Cerrone should be fine. There hasn't been any sort of trash talk about this fight coming from Cerrone... which is a good sign for him.
Barboza has been in the UFC since 2010 and they've been grooming him for bigger things since his entry by being careful with who they put in front of him. Now at 28, the UFC can't wait any longer and Barboza is getting his chance to earn a signature win. Cerrone represents a big jump from anyone else Barboza has faced, but he should be ready for it.
Too often people look at the 3 KO/TKO's on Cerrone's ledger and assume that he can't be as good of a striking threat as he is often advertised to be. Think again. He more than often sets up his numerous submissions (14 to date) with a devastating shot or set of blows to send them to the ground and then he capitalizes. His head kick (or more specifically, neck kick) to Adriano Martins was beautiful and Cerrone set it up perfectly by only throwing leg kicks up to that point. His overall set of kicks is about as complete as you will find and he is devastating in the clinch with knees. Maybe it would be easier to sum up if I just said he possesses some of the best Muay Thai in the business. Cerrone can box, but it isn't his strong suit, especially as of late. He didn't throw many punches a Martins. Also worth noting is his chin, which he needs due to his propensity to get hit.
Some will contend that Barboza has the best leg kicks in the business (I say Jose Aldo, but Barboza isn't far off). There is evidence to back up that claim too as he has stopped two of his UFC fights via leg strikes. His spinning wheel kick on Terry Etim a few years ago shows that he has a dynamic kick game with both substance and style. As his reputation as a devastating kicker has grown, his ability as a boxer has grown as well. Opponents become so concerned about the kicks that he often can score with either hand and both have power in them. That isn't to say his technique hasn't gotten better, but don't tell me the concern doesn't throw his opponents off. He has learned to set up both with either way, using the kicks to set up power shots and his jab to set up the leg kicks. Like Cerrone, he has excellent Muay Thai and a good chin. There are lots of similarities in their standup.
What concerns me about Barboza in this fight is going to be his grappling. It isn't that I think he is a poor grappler. In fact, he has great (not good) takedown defense and has never been submitted, proving that he is quite good. But has he been on the ground with someone of Cerrone's level in a fight? No, he has not. To his credit, he has looked fluid on the ground and he will have to be. Barboza has shown he has some submission savvy himself, attempting a nice anaconda choke on Danny Castillo rather than potentially tire himself out with GNP (as Castillo did earlier). But for me to take a definitive stand on his abilities would be me lying out my ass.
Cerrone isn't a great wrestler, but he is very savvy. He doesn't go for takedowns a lot, but he uses techniques like sweeps or knee taps and has great success with them. His submission skills should not be overlooked as he is very offensive off of his back and great at transitions. How he went from a triangle attempt to an omoplata against Evan Dunham was textbook and illustrates both points, even if it didn't end up getting the sub. Cerrone has some of the best hips in the business when it comes to slapping on submissions, even though the majority of his submissions have come by way of RNC (most set up his striking). The think that many do overlook with Cerrone is his underrated GNP. He doesn't use it much to finish fights, but he will use it to soften up an opponent and fish for a sub. I keep saying sub or submissions a lot with regards to Cerrone. Coincidence? I think not.
I think I've tipped my thoughts on what is going to happen quite a bit. Cerrone is going to find some way to get the fight on the ground and get Barboza to tap out. But I would fully expect a number of fun striking exchanges before it gets there. Cerrone kept the pressure on Dunham their entire fight and I expect him to do the same to Barboza to get the W. Cerrone by Submission 2nd Round
While no one is touting either one of these two as title contenders, the winner of this fight could very well enter into title talk by the end of the year if they continue to do what they have done in the UFC... win.
Tavares has been in the UFC universe for 4 years at this point as the UFC has taken their time in grooming the former TUF contestant. His 7-1 record is impressive regardless of whether the victims on his list include the likes of Phil Baroni and Bubba McDaniel as you would have expected someone as young as Tavares (26) to have slipped to a more savvy veteran other than just Aaron Simpson. But Tavares stands before us with only that lone loss and a growing hype train.
Regardless of whether Romero pooped himself (he didn't... if you believe him) against Derek Brunson, he has looked very good in the process of racking up 3 TKO/KO victories in his 3 Octagon appearances. The fact he broke Brunson's jaw makes his feat even more impressive (though I do feel bad for Brunson) and his success has come with minimal use of his Olympic level wrestling. At 36 though, Romero is an old prospect and needs to make his run in a hurry.
I know that I rarely start out the dissection by saying something like this, but Tavares is a seriously smart fighter. There are few strikers who cater their attack to their opponents weaknesses better than Tavares does. He can be a high volume striker (see his fight with Riki Fukuda) or patient and methodical (Lorenz Larkin), though he does tend to be more methodical. His boxing is tight and he does a good job of mixing combinations to the body and head to compliment a nice jab. His leg kicks have a lot of smack to them too. Early in his career he proved to be very hittable and I'm surprised he was never knocked unconscious, which is a testament to his chin. But his movement has improved much since then and he hasn't taken nearly the same amount of unnecessary damage.
Tavares' biggest weakness at this point may be Romero's greatest strength: finishing fights. Every single one of his fights has ended in a KO/TKO (even his loss, but lets not go there). Romero is patient in waiting for an opening, but when he sees one he explodes with whatever it is he is going to throw. Yes, he does largely box, but does anyone else remember his flying knee upon his UFC debut? He actually throws those with great regularity. Well, for flying knees anyway. As for his punches, he'll flurry upon the explosion, but will reign his energy back if he senses the finish isn't coming. He is a southpaw and shown more power in his left hand (as well as favoring it), but that doesn't mean his right is lacking. Look for lots of hooks and uppercuts. He demonstrated a good chin against Brunson eating a hard kick to the head, but Tavares isn't likely to test that.
When I said that Romero has Olympic level wrestling, I literally meant it as he won the silver medal in freestyle wrestling in 2000. He has been very judicious in his use of it in the UFC and doesn't even own a takedown thus far. But his last two opponents (Brunson and Ronny Markes) both have very good wrestling credentials and only adequate striking and I gotta believe Romero wanted to keep them out of their comfort zone (plus Romero loves to punch). But while Tavares has some decent wrestling, it isn't on par with Romero or even his previous opponents. Look for Romero to use his wrestling much more this time around. He may even try to use it to score points and take a round simply based on control. I would if I had his abilities.
To give Tavares credit, his wrestling has come a long way since he first came into the UFC. He has shown a very good sprawl and great takedown defense in general by stopping 81% of his opponents attempts according to Fight Metric. But I don't see anyone like Romero in his past opponents. I really expect his abilities to be put to the test here and though I think he can stop some of them, he won't be able to stop them all and Romero is a beast. Tavares has shown little submission ability thus far, but as well-rounded as his striking and wrestling has been (he hasn't been overly offensive in his wrestling, but can land a well-timed takedown), I get the feeling he has some know how.
The X-factor here could be conditioning. Romero was able to wear out his previous opponents after being behind on the score cards only to finish them in the third round. Tavares has yet to look tired, but has lost his only grinding affair thus far. Hmm... what could this mean?
Tavares lack of stopping ability here is going to be his undoing. Romero is so powerful and overwhelming that I don't think Tavares can last a full three rounds with him before being put out. He'll probably jump ahead in the score cards, but Romero won't let it get there. That sounds like a familiar tune... Romero by KO 3rd Round
Record for last Card: 9-4
Record for Year: 79-49-1, 1 NC