The Ultimate Fighting Championship is set to make history at the Allphones Arena in Sydney, Australia with a UFC on FX 2 fight card that features the UFC debut of the flyweight division.
The card is headlined by a welterweight showdown between Thiago "The Pitbull" Alves and Martin "Hitman" Kampmann.
These two 170-pound fighters have the ability to put on a fireworks display that would make a New Year's Day celebration look like sparklers at a Little League Baseball game.
Despite being forgotten by most fans, Alves and Kampmann are still very much in the title picture. A victory could easily put either fighter another win or two away from a shot at UFC gold.
Before the welterweights do battle, the UFC kicks off its inaugural flyweight tournament to crown the first-ever UFC flyweight champion.
Fans get to see a pair of exciting semifinal bouts that feature former UFC title contender Demetrious Johnson against Tachi Palace flyweight champ Ian McCall and former WEC title contender Joseph Benavidez vs. Shooto bantamweight champion Yasuhiro Urushitani.
These predictions include Bleacher Report Featured Columnists John Heinis, Dale De Souza, Dan Hiergesell, Nedu Obi and myself, Jordy McElroy.
The time has come once again for you to feast on some manly induced knowledge in preparation for the upcoming fights. Snatch a cold beverage out the fridge and get comfortable. It's prediction time.
Jordy McElroy: People seem to have forgotten about "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 11 winner Court McGee, who is coming off three consecutive UFC victories over Dongi Yang, Ryan Jensen and Kris McCray.
McGee is quietly on the rise, and he'll get the opportunity to make that fact known to the world in the main-card opener against Constantinos Philippou.
Coming off back-to-back wins over Jorge Rivera and Jared Hamman, Philippou is a powerful middleweight striker with jarring knockout power. McGee will have to be careful early in the standup exchanges to avoid getting clipped by one of Philippou's bombs.
Philippou boasts plenty of power, but his pitfalls lie in poor conditioning and technical efficiency. He lacks precision and leaves himself open to counters.
McGee enters this bout as the much more well-rounded fighter. He should stay away from unnecessary exchanges and work to close the gap on Philippou to setup strikes or takedowns from the clinch. The goal is to push Philippou's cardio and make him work at an undesired pace.
As long as he doesn't get clipped early, this game plan is foolproof for McGee to wear out his opponent and pick up a late submission.
(Court McGee by Round 3 Submission - Rear Naked Choke)
John Heinis: Former "Ultimate Fighter" winner Court "The Crusher" McGee is riding a an impressive eight-fight win streak, including five wins via a stoppage.
While McGee is just a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, his smothering wrestling attack is often useful for setting up basic choke submissions from the top (arm triangle, guillotine, rear naked).
The San Diego, Calif., native also has quite a chin, so he has no problem eating some heavy shots to get inside for the takedown when necessary.
Philippou loves to stand and bang with his opponents but also has adequate takedown and submission defense.
The Matt Serra product's best path to victory involves catching McGee with a big shot on the feet prior to swarming him with some nasty ground and pound.
However, I don't see that happening as Philippou has never encountered a grappler as tough and skilled as McGee, so this one seems clear-cut in my eyes.
Court McGee via unanimous decision (30-27)
Dan Hiergesell: McGee is coming into this fight as the more versatile fighter, offering great striking, solid ground skills and an undefeated UFC record since winning TUF.
Phillippou, on the other hand, is more or less a one-sided striker, rarely showcasing good grappling skills and a willingness to bring the fight to the ground.
McGee should be more relaxed in this fight, waiting for Phillippou to make a quick judgment on his feet and either land a KO blow or finish the bout via ground and pound in the second round.
Court McGee by Round 2 KO
Dale De Souza: Court McGee and Constantinos "Costa" Philippou are both alumni of The Ultimate Fighter 11, although Costa never made it on the show due to tapping out to Joe Henle in the elimination rounds, and of course, everyone knows Court won the season by defeating Kris McCray in the finals of the season.
In reality, there are very few differences between the two in terms of skills, as both have shown good Jiu-Jitsu and strong stand-up skills, though few are going to be calling either man "elite" in either realm at this point of their career—though to be fair, they are both still young in their careers in the UFC.
Truth be told, the only real difference besides where they grew up is their camps—McGee trains out of The Pit while Costa fights out of the Serra-Longo Fight Team—and the level of where their Jiu-Jitsu seems to be right now.
However, Court's chin is something that Costa's hands have never had to test, and it's something that Costa may be hesitant to test, as he may feel that he might fare better on the ground with McGee on his back and his Jiu-Jitsu neutralized by Costa's improving ground work—which is not limited to only his Jiu-Jitsu, as Costa does train with the likes of Matt Serra and also Chris Weidman.
McGee is no slouch regardless of where this fight goes and how long the fight is spent in one area or the other during its duration, and while Costa will always have the shot to finish wherever this one goes, he will be tested on the feet—where he has, to his credit, shown knockout power and much improvement from what he had appeared to be in that area earlier on in his career.
McGee's hands have gotten him far in the UFC so far, but he's now just a win away from really making some noise in the division, and come Saturday night, his own hands will do well enough to dictate the pace of the fight and earn McGee a hard-fought win over a real dark horse of the division in Philippou.
Winner: McGee by Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Nedu Obi: This clash features two combatants on the rise in the UFC ranks. Court McGee is currently riding an eight-fight win streak, and at present is 3-0 in the Zuffa-based company whilst Constantinos Philippou is 2-1.
"The Crusher" has the grappling skills at his disposal which has stood him good stead, he's five submissions to his name (submissions via punches not included).
Meanwhile Philippou is mainly a striker with KO power to boot, as was proven in his first-round stoppage of Jared Hamman in his most recent outing.
Philippou will try for the T/KO, but expect The Crusher to weather whatever storm comes his way and attempt to take the fight to his realm.
Prediction: Court McGee via Third-Round Submission.
Jordy McElroy: Demetrious Johnson and Ian McCall will make history as the first flyweights ever to grace the UFC octagon in this semifinal bout of the UFC flyweight tournament.
Coming off big wins over Dustin Ortiz, Darrell Montague and Jussier da Silva, "Uncle Creepy" hopes to continue his success in the mainstream spotlight.
He faces a tall task in defeating Johnson, a former UFC title contender with some of the most explosive takedowns in MMA. "Mighty Mouse" is coming off a loss to UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, and he could make some serious noise at his natural weight of 125 pounds.
It's interesting that Johnson will likely enter this bout as the overwhelming favorite. While Johnson has undoubtedly fought the more stellar opposition, McCall is currently ranked as the No. 1 flyweight in the world in most publications.
This should be a highly competitive fight. McCall is a well-rounded fighter who demonstrated tremendous takedown defense in his May 2011 routing of an incredibly tough Ortiz.
Johnson has the striking to threaten on the feet and set up better opportunities to take the fight to the ground. Fans can expect three rounds of non-stop action in this sleeper for fight of the night. Look for Johnson to edge out each round and take a close unanimous decision.
Demetrious Johnson by Unanimous Decision
John Heinis: Fans of the lighter weight classes are excited to see "Mighty Mouse" Demetrious Johnson finally be able to fight at his natural weight. The always-tenacious wrestler also boasts some pretty decent striking and submissions.
Johnson's biggest weakness was shown in his recent title bout loss to Dominick Cruz: he is not great off his back when a fellow high-level wrestler is on top of him.
"Uncle Creepy" Ian McCall may not be as good a wrestler as Johnson, but his constant aggression and serious submission skills could still present some problems for him.
McCall, who comes in ranked as the top flyweight fighter in the world, will have another brutal fight on his hands, but he will showcase how good he truly is in his UFC debut.
Ian McCall via Split Decision
Dan Hiergesell: This has Fight of the Night written all over it. This will be the first installment of the UFC's newly implemented flyweight championship tournament.
Both Johnson and McCall are two of the best fighters at 125 pounds and have each showcased elite skills in the past. Ironically, each fighter's last loss came against Dominick Cruz, the current UFC bantamweight champion.
Look for Johnson to use his wrestling skills and quick in-and-out striking to make McCall uncomfortable on his feet. It'll be close, but McCall's UFC debut won't end the way he wants it to. Johnson will move on.
Demetrious Johnson by Decision
Dale De Souza: Ian McCall may be making his UFC debut after some time in Tachi Palace Fights, but with his wins over Darrell Montague and Jussier da Silva in TPF, McCall has earned his hype as the consensus No. 1 Flyweight in MMA right now—a claim he will look to defend against former WEC standout and former UFC Bantamweight title contender Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson.
McCall made the drop to 125 because much like Johnson, he was pretty compact (i.e. undersized) for the Bantamweight division, but some are giving Johnson the speed edge and the edge in striking because of his size and his footwork.
As a matter of fact, the Matt Hume product even predicted at the UFC on FX 2 press conference that he'd end the fight by a knockout if he got the chance, while McCall predicted a "Sudden death round, Mortal Kombat" style.
It's funny that McCall thinks his pace and his Muay Thai will overcome Johnson in the sudden death round and in a Mortal Kombat-esque style of finish, because that's exactly how this one will end.
This bout will be back and forth from both fighters, and this one will result in a split draw, with one judge scoring it even and the other two disagreeing on who won the fight, so expect this one to go to the sudden death round with the winner of the sudden death round taking the fight.
McCall and Johnson will leave it all on the line for the duration of the three-round bout and they will both bring the fire to each other for the duration of the last round, but there must be a winner at the end of the sudden death round, even if the call is the incorrect one.
If there has to be one man who moves on to the title bout, this one is going to "Uncle Creepy", whose Muay Thai and relentlessness outworks Mighty Mouse for four—count 'em, FOUR—grueling rounds, although there will be at least two that could very easily go in favor of Johnson.
Winner: Ian McCall by split decision at the end of the sudden death round (29-28 McCall, 29-28 Johnson, 28-28; McCall wins the sudden death round 10-9 on two scorecards with Johnson winning the sudden death round 10-9 on one scorecard)
Nedu Obi: A former bantamweight contender, Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson moves down to flyweight to take Ian "Uncle Creepy" McCall who is currently riding a four-fight winning streak, in addition to taking the scalp of acclaimed 125-pounderJussier da Silva.
This is tough one for Johnson as McCall is near enough the division's top dog.
Johnson possesses the wrestling ability whilst McCall has some good takedown defense and strikes in his arsenal.
However, if the drop in weight proves an advantage for Johnson speed-wise, this could turn into an interesting matchup.
That said, expect Johnson to move one step closer to UFC gold.
Prediction: Demetrious Johnson via Unanimous Decision
Jordy McElroy: The UFC flyweight tournament continues with a semifinal bout between former bantamweight standout Joseph Benavidez and Shooto bantamweight champion Yasuhiro Urushitani.
Benavidez has come the closest in ousting UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. The two had a pair of memorable battles under the WEC banner, from which Cruz walked away with a split decision and a unanimous decision.
At 125pounds, Benavidez is rightfully the favorite to obtain UFC gold, but the path laid in front of him won't be easy.
Urushitani is a solid boxer with great Judo skills. For new fans unfamiliar with his track record, Urushitani holds a notable victory over John Dodson, who was the bantamweight winner of "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 14.
Shooto gold and an ancient victory over Dodson won't help Urushitani against Benavidez, an unpredictable striker with world-class grappling.
Urushitani has held his own against tough opposition over in Japan, but he hasn't faced anywhere near the same level of competition as Benavidez, whose only losses have come to the UFC bantamweight champ.
There is a great chance this bout goes to the judges' scorecards considering Urushitani's durability, but look for Benavidez to storm into the tournament finals with a second-round submission victory.
(Joseph Benavidez by Round 2 Submission - Guillotine Choke)
John Heinis: The opening bout of the UFC's flyweight tournament, not surprisingly, features two former bantamweight fighters. Benavidez is no joke, with a record of 15-2 and his only losses coming at the hands of Dominick Cruz (with the second bout being an awfully close fight).
As has become standard procedure for Team Alpha Male fighters, the ex-WEC superstar has great takedowns with a superior top submission game to match.
Urushitani is known for slick counter striking, so while he may hold an advantage on the feet, the real question is whether he can keep the fight standing.
The Japanese fighter, a former Shooto bantamweight champion, also boasts a solid Judo game, so don't be surprised if he manages to score on an unorthodox takedown or two.
At the end of the day though, the fighter with more "big game" experience is going to come out on top.
Joseph Benavidez via third round submission (guillotine choke)
Dan Hiergesell: This fight will come after Johnson vs. McCall so consider it the second installment of the flyweight championship tournament.
Benavidez enters this fight as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, having lost only two bouts, once again ironically to Dominick Cruz on both accounts, since 2008. He trains with the best, fights like the best and should be too much for Urushitani in his Octagon debut.
The Japanese fighter is much older, doesn't have the experience that Benavidez sports and should be overwhelmed on his feet. However, Urushitani does have excellent takedown defense, so consider this fight a battle of strikes. Thus turning it into a second-round TKO victory for Benavidez.
Joseph Benavidez by Round 2 TKO
Dale De Souza: Yasuhiro Urushitani is a guy that I personally have been keeping my eye on for quite a while, because Urushitani has consistently been ranked in the Top 3 or the Top 5 of every Top 10 list of Flyweights for a long time now.
He's gone to the judges 14times in victory, he's only been finished once—by Yuki Shoujou—and he has been seen as a slow starter by some—he is, after all, a counter-striker—but as a Flyweight, he's one of the many at 125 that never seems to stop or get tired in fights, even when the fight hits the later rounds, and even though he does come straight-forward with very little footwork.
If Urushitani has one thing on Joseph Benavidez, apart from having not lost to Dominick Cruz, it's that he's seen the judges' scorecards a total of 23 times with six draws, so Urushitani knows about fights going the distance only to end in stalemates, but even a disciplined Benavidez at 125 is as much trouble as a disciplined Benavidez at 135.
The speed and pace of the "red-belt in Benavidez Joe-Jitsu" is always a handful for any opponent, and as if that weren't enough, Benavidez has predicted a "Joe-goplata" for a finish, while Urushitani is looking for a knockout—both of them predicted these finished at the UFC on FX 2 press conference as well.
What is a "Joe-goplata", anyway—is it a flying gogoplata, or a Koji Clutch for MMA, or even Benavidez's version of a Death Star Choke?
I was just thinking "guillotine choke" or "Triangle Choke," but if Benavidez is looking for a Joe-goplata, then Urushitani might be in for quite the shocker—but of course, it won't come early.
Winner: Joseph Benavidez by Joe-goplata in the sudden death round (Judges will score the bout unanimously as a draw before the sudden death round)
Nedu Obi: Joseph Benavidez will be making his debut at flyweight whilst this will be Yasuhiro Urushitani's first foray in the Octagon.
Benavidez has campaigned at bantamweight, with both of his losses (decisions) coming against said division's kingpin Dominick Cruz.
At 125-lb he should be faster and more agile, and if he's taken his power down to flyweight, he will be more than a handful for Urushitani.
With his submission skills and wrestling pedigree, Benavidez can take matters to the ground, thus nullifying Urushitani's striking, not that it will make much difference—it won't be a successful debut for Urushitani.
Prediction: Joseph Benavidez via Second-Round Submission
Jordy McElroy: After enjoying hors d'oeuvres, the meat and potatoes of the main card offers up a surefire slugfest between welterweight heavy hitters Thiago Alves and Martin Kampmann.
The decline Alves has endured in a little over three years time is astonishing. Before facing Georges St-Pierre for the UFC title in July 2009, Alves was on a path of destruction in the welterweight division.
He was on a seven-fight win streak, which included dominant wins over Josh Koscheck, Matt Hughes, Karo Parisyan and Chris Lytle.
Now, Alves is 2-3 in his last five bouts, and he hopes to renew his relevance in the title picture at 170 pounds. Along with Nick Diaz and Carlos Condit, Alves is one of the premier strikers in the welterweight division, but when it comes to pure knockout power, "The Pitbull" is unrivaled.
Against Kampmann, he meets another world-class striker with knockout power and a high technical IQ. After losing controversial decisions to Jake Shields and Diego Sanchez, Kampmann rebounded at UFC 139 with a win over Rick Story.
While Alves boasts an advantage in power, Kampmann is lighter and quicker on his feet. He should be able to find success in the standup exchanges if he can dance in and out of the pocket with short combinations. His strategy should revolve around patience and avoiding wild exchanges.
Alves' leg kicks are among the most lethal in the sport. Kampmann is an underrated grappler, but the likelihood of him catching a kick and securing a takedown is rather slim. Alves should utilize his leg kicks to minimize Kampmann's movement.
What Thiago Alves are we going to see?
If the 2007-2008 Alves shows up, he should win this fight, and the welterweight division will welcome him back as a serious title contender. It's going to take more than wins over John Howard and Papy Abedi to convince fans that Alves has truly returned to form.
Alves will start out strong, but the fight will start to lean in Kampmann's favor midway into the second round. The MMA world will have another controversial decision to debate when Kampmann walks away with the split decision.
(Martin Kampmann By Split Decision)
John Heinis: After losing two close decisions that could've easily went in his favor, Martin "The Hitman" Kampmann had to be sweating bullets when he knew his UFC 139 fight with RIck Story was going to end in a split decision.
However, Kampmann would not be shafted a third time in a row, finally winning over the judges after a couple tough breaks against Jake Shields and Diego Sanchez.
Kampmann's biggest claim to fame is clearly defeating now UFC Interim Welterweight Champion Carlos Condit in his promotional debut back on April Fool's Day in 2009.
While he is primarily touted as a kickboxer, the Xtreme Couture fighter has a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, boasting a solid top game and great takedown defense.
Kampmann will have his hands full with "The Pitbull" Thiago Alves if this fight stays standing, though.
Alves won seven in a row before UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre put on a takedown/ground and pound clinic in their UFC 100 title bout.
Since then, the Muay Thai specialist has gone just 2-3, though he is coming off of his first stoppage in two-and-a-half years when he rear-naked-choked Papy Abedi at UFC 138.
If the fight stays standing, Kampmann is much more of a live dog than people are giving him credit for. However, his path to victory involves working his submission game, which is not going to be very plausible given his lack of wrestling pedigree.
Alves' best days very well could be behind him, but I am going to bet they are not in this one.
Thiago Alves via unanimous decision (30-27)
Dan Hiergesell: I've lost sleep thinking about who will win this fight. I absolutely love Kampmann's kickboxing and the fact that he's virtually underrated in everything else, despite his solid submission game and good grappling skills.
But he is facing Alves after all. The guy who many have considered one of the most talented fighters in the world. And even though his cardio is worse at 170 pounds than Roy Nelson's at 260 pounds, Alves' well-rounded skills make him a good pick on any given night.
With that said, Kampmann is coming into this fight with too much momentum. He arguably beat Jake Shields and Diego Sanchez, having lost strictly on bad judging. He recently knocked off Rick Story and seems on top of his game.
Both fighters are well versed, but it seems that Kampmann's reach and overall unique striking skills will be too much for Alves' raw power. It's simply Kampmann's time to make a run for the belt.
Martin Kampmann by Decision
Dale De Souza: The hardest part about predicting this one was not deciding who was going to win, but rather, deciding how it's going to end, but after some time to think it over, it seems pretty clear how this one ends.
Both are strikers, with Thiago Alves only giving up a couple of inches of reach to Martin Kampmann in terms of reach, but Kampmann is the more likely to get the fight to the ground and grapple with Alves, whose takedowns and overall wrestling game have been budding, yet have not yet evolved to "elite" status.
It gets interesting if the fight stays on the feet, though, because while Kampmann's knocked a fighter or two out, the Danish striker hits them with the left, then hits them with the right, then hits them with the uppercut, but doesn't always turn out the lights.
It's a fight every time with Kampmann, though, and it will be a fight with Alves facing Kampmann, and as long as I'm recalling things that came from the presser for this card, I might as well rattle off Alves' prediction of a flying triangle and Kampmann's prediction of a gogoplata.
Much as I'd like to see a gogoplata in the UFC—and I still do, damnit!—Alves won't play that game; instead, he'll opt to use his rather cringe-worthy leg kicks to hurt Kampmann and break the Dane until he crumples, at which point Alves will pour the punishment on en route to one of the more excruciating finishes of the evening.
Winner: Thiago Alves by TKO (Leg Kicks and Punches) in Round 2.
Nedu Obi: Following a 1-3 record, Thiago Alves was finally able to register a victory against UFC newcomer Papy Abedi, and in doing so showed an improvement in his all-around game.
In Martin Kampmann, the "Pitbull" will be up against someone in the same boat as him with regards to winning his most recent outing against Rick story, that and fact he's more adept in certain aspects of their mutual disciplines (Muay Thai, jiu-jitsu and wrestling).
However, where brute power is concerned, Alves has the edge and can use that to his advantage either on the ground or striking.
Though the "Hitman" is officially a top 10 ranked welterweight and pushing for a second win in his column, expect Alves to use his new found confidence to knock Kampmann off the rankings.
Prediction: Thiago Alves via Second-Round TKO
Jordy McElroy: Fight of the Night - Thiago Alves vs. Martin Kampmann
Knockout of the Night - James Te-Huna
Submission of the Night - Joseph Benavidez
John Heinis: Fight of the Night - Alves vs. Kampmann
Submission of the Night - Joseph Benavidez
KO of the Night - Oli Thompson
Dan Hiergesell: Fight of the Night - Johnson vs. McCall
Submission of the Night - Miller over Siler
KO of the Night - Benavidez over Urushitani
Dale De Souza: Knockout of the Night: Nick Penner
Submission of the Night: Joseph Benavidez
Fights of the Night: Ian McCall vs. Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez vs. Yasuhiro Urushitani
Nedu Obi: Fight of the Night: Demetrious Johnson vs. Ian McCall
Knockout of the Night: Thiago Alves
Submission of the Night: Court McGee