Bold MMA Predictions for the Month of February
With UFC on Fuel TV 7 just days away, we look forward to an action-packed month of fights, including three Bellator MMA cards, two UFC cards, a tremendous outing from the Canada-based Maximum Fighting Championship and the Japanese MMA returns with another outing from the Deep promotion, as well as shows from the Shooto promotion.
For North American MMA fans, the month caps off with UFC 157 in Anaheim, featuring the long-awaited debut of Ronda Rousey as well as the dream fight between Dan Henderson and Lyoto Machida, and also a Bellator 91 collision between Bellator light-heavyweight champion Christian M'Pumbu and Attila Vegh.
However, for fans looking to get their fix of MMA outside of Bellator and the UFC, they may find interest in a card or two outside of this continent. So, what can we expect for the rest of the month?
Bellator 89 (Feb. 14): MW Semifinals Feature Rogers-Cooper, Parlo vs. Marshall
First of all, Brian Rogers should come in as the tournament favorite despite an obviously difficult task ahead of him in Dan Cramer. Mikkel Parlo and Sultan Aliev, both undefeated, could play the wild card in this tournament, as could Brett Cooper if he can find the win against Norman Paraisy.
However, WEC vet Doug Marshall deserves a bit of mention as he prepares for Andreas Spang, who actually beat Rogers in the most recent middleweight tournament against Maiquel Falcao.
Whether or not any of these men actually stand a chance against new Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko remains debatable, but anticipate Rogers, Cooper, Marshall and Parlo emerging with victories, and pay attention to how they get the win if any of the four do get it.
The true favorite in this tournament may differ from the person perceived as "the man to beat".
Bellator 89 (Feb. 14): Eduardo Dantas Technically Outsrikes Marcos Galvao
We know Bellator bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas well enough to know how he goes in for the kill. However, in the heat of the moment, he can overdo it on his aggressiveness and leave his chin out as an open target.
After a flying knee to Tyson Nam, his Shooto 33 opponent, Dantas looked to stick a big right hand while clinching with Nam, but Dantas' desire to finish Nam caused him to leave his chin exposed, which led to the left hook that won Nam the fight.
If one person knows how to capitalize on that over-aggressiveness better than Nam, Dantas' mentor and Bellator season-six bantamweight tournament winner Marcos Galvao more than qualifies as that person. Hence, we should not find much shock at the Dantas that will arrive in Charlotte, NC for Bellator 89.
One mistake will cost Dantas his title and will write him off for good. Galvao needs one good shot to finish his pupil, so expect Dantas to focus just a slight bit more on execution in the standup and breaking Galvao down everywhere else.
If a finish comes, it comes, but the smart money says that Dantas will retain the title on a close but justifiable unanimous decision thanks to his ability to dictate the action with his striking.
MFC 36 (Feb. 15): Elvis Mutapcic TKOs Sam Alvey in the Second Round
The last time Elvis Mutapcic fought a veteran of The Ultimate Fighter, he broke him down with leg kicks before finishing him. Then again, Joseph Henle came into the fight undefeated and left the arena with a loss on his record.
"Smilin' Sam" Alvey only risks the loss of a two-fight win streak when he challenges Mutapcic for the MFC middleweight belt. While the former Bellator fighter stands out as a tough fighter who gets his nickname by doing everything with a smile, he can't keep his distinction of having never lost by TKO or knockout for long.
After Alvey struggles in the first round, he will leave an opening for Mutapcic to attack the body. Mutapcic will take advantage, and after a hard left hand connects to the body, Alvey will not recover before Mutapcic finishes raining down blow after blow on him.
MFC 36 (Feb. 15): : Mukai Maromo's Muay Thai Melts Graham Spencer
When a commentator works names like Saenchai and Yodsanklai Fairtex into their on-air conveyance of a man's Muay Thai prowess, it often means said fighter knows how to effectively use "The Art/Science of Eight Limbs" for mixed martial arts.
By this logic, MFC lightweight Mukai Maromo stands as arguably one of the baddest dudes to ever damage a man with all eight of his limbs (elbows and knees considered). Naturally, the bread and butter for Maromo comes in the form of his elbows, which he will unquestionably want to use against Graham Spencer, against whom he squares off with the MFC lightweight gold on the line.
Spencer handed Maromo his most recent defeat, but with lightweight gold on the line and Maromo bringing a much different fight than he did in his first bout with Spencer, Maromo's bread and butter, his Muay Thai, will overwhelm Spencer en route to another TKO stoppage in no less than three rounds.
Should the bout see the championship rounds, Maromo's cardio will make the difference in the final verdict, though his output may determine whether he comes out with the win and the belt if he cannot finish the fight in the first three frames.
UFC on Fuel TV 7 (Feb. 16): Swanson Draws "Korean Zombie" with Win over Poirier
Let's just say it right now: few fighters, if any, can hold a candle to Cub Swanson right now.
He only rides a three-fight win streak, while his UFC on Fuel TV 7 opponent Dustin Poirier only recently scored a win over one Jonathan Brookins. And yet, both men can at least expect a top contender with a win over the other inside Wembley Arena.
Arguable title contender "The Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung already declared his intentions to fight Swanson if Swanson beats Poirier. Depending on how impressively Swanson beats Poirier, that fight can become a reality before the year ends.
UFC on Fuel TV 7 (Feb. 16): Renan Barao Stops Michael McDonald
If UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz loses his belt, two men stand the best respective chances to dethrone him. Ironically, those same two men compete for the interim bantamweight title at UFC on Fuel TV 7.
Renan Barao defends the interim title against Michael "Mayday" McDonald in a bout that will determine the next challenger to Cruz's title. Stylistically, this possesses all the makings of a dramatic collision. McDonald owns some power in his hands while Barao delivers a high volume of strikes and works one of the nastier jiu-jitsu games in the division, and historically, both can go the distance if need be.
Expect a close one here. Both will take two rounds away from the other, but despite a close four rounds and a possibly closer fifth round, Barao will have just enough energy to overwhelm McDonald with a wave of strikes that puts him down and gives Cruz something to process in his mind as Barao leaves the UK with the interim belt in tow.
Deep 61 (Feb. 16): Masakazu Imanari Submits Kenichi Ito Early in Round 1
Masakazu Imanari knows leg locks. 11 of Imanari's submission wins all came by way of a leg submission, while five of his submission wins came by an armbar. Ironically, Imanari's DEEP 61 opponent Kenichi Ito owns two pro losses by armbar.
Of the two submission losses, the first one came in just a minute and 17 seconds. The other came in round three. As for the third, it'll come in the first minute of the first round when Imanari gets Ito down and finds his neck, though Imanari will unquestionably hunt for a limb before he goes elsewhere.
With Ito's submission defense, that task may prove difficult, but it remains a possibility, even if a long shot thereof.
Deep 61 (Feb. 16): Doo Ho Choi Knocks out Tatsunao Nagakura
With the right level of aggression and pressure, a number of fighters can put down Tatsunao Nagakura. Unfortunately for him, his DEEP 61 opponent, the highly-touted Doo Ho Choi, fits that bill all too well...
Choi made an intelligent decision to stay in promotions like DEEP, which spawned the likes of Riki Fukuda and played a role in the development of Kazuo Misaki. By staying in DEEP, Choi can develop his skill set before setting his sights towards the stateside circuit.
A win over Nagakura, who owns two TKO losses, will help him improve further. Choi will establish his aggression early and once he hurts Nagakura standing up, Choi will fire off a furious flurry of punches before landing one big shot that knocks the veteran out.
Shooto Gig Tokyo 13 (Feb. 16): Kiyotaka Shimizu KOs Fumihiro Kitahara in Round 2
In 2009, Kiyotaka Shimizu sported a 1-4-1 record, including a TKO loss to Yasuhiro Urushitani and a decision loss to Mitsuhisa Sunabe. After the loss to Urushitani, Shimizu won four of his next five outings, losing only to Mamoru Yamaguchi. After the Yamaguchi loss, Shimizu went almost two years without losing a fight in a streak that included a win in a rematch with Sunabe.
Fast forward to 2013 and the 28-year-old Tribe Tokyo MMA product rides a two-fight win streak into his upcoming bout at Shooto Gig Tokyo 13 opposite Fumihiro Kitahara. Kitahara's first knockout loss came against Yamaguchi, while the second came to Ryuichi Miki (who scored a nice TKO win in January of this year).
Against Kitahara, Shimizu can expect a multitude of things, as can Kitahara from Shimizu. The majority of Shimizu's wins come by submission, but with Kitahara's submission defense, a submission will only come if Shimizu closes his eyes and concentrates enough.
Therefore, Shimizu will outwork Kitahara in the first round, and knock him out in the second on a counter-shot. It won't look as devastating as Yamaguchi's KO win, but it will look about as brutal as Shimizu's last outing.
PXC 35 (Feb. 16): Harris Sarmiento Chokes out Isiah Ordiz
Don't expect something out of an Eddie Bravo textbook when 50-fight veteran Harris Sarmiento fights Isiah Ordiz. Just expect a finish, because after a rough featherweight debut, Sarmiento will look to leave no doubt about his status as one of the PXC's most dangerous competitors.
Not only does Sarmiento seem motivated, but Ordiz holds some inexperience against the champion, despite having gone the distance twice in his short career. Barring an off-night for the champion or an awesome night for the challenger, Sarmiento should find the neck and force the tap via whichever way he chooses to crank on the neck.
AFO New Dawn (Feb. 16): Kody Nordby Barely Outpoints Andy Aiello
If you do not know Kody "The Rookie" Nordby or Andy Aiello, don't worry. Most do not know either name, though it may intrigue one to learn that Aiello calls Lauzon MMA his home base. Both flyweights sport 2-0 records, but one of them must lose that record in the headliner of AFO: New Dawn in Boxborough, MA.
This one will fly under the radar, but both men will leave it all in the cage from bell to bell. Nordby should take the advantage on the ground, but as a Lauzon MMA product, Aiello might oblige his opponent with tricks up his own sleeve. Either way, this one will end with a bit of controversy.
If it ends in a split-decision, and I believe it will, Nordby's aggression and tempo will overwhelm Aiello enough to earn "The Rookie" the win in this closely contested bout.
Bellator 90 (Feb. 21): Rad Martinez vs. Shahbulat Shamalhaev Will End in a KO
I'll admit it here: I cannot and will not pick a winner in Rad Martinez vs. Shahbulat Shamalhaev. Why, you ask? Honestly, it relates to the unpredictability of both men. At times, it proves difficult to gauge when Martinez wants to go for a takedown or strike, as he does a good job of making his opponent guess his next move.
Equally, Shamalhaev makes it difficult to do much in the standup, where the Russian's power can frustrate as well as overwhelm. Whether or not it does depends on the defense planned by Martinez.
We can't say for sure who will earn the knockout, but we can say that it will come, and that it will likely earn a nod for Bellator's Best KO of The Year. As for the winner of this one, let's wait until the fight goes down before we drag Pat Curran or Daniel Straus into it.
Bellator 90 (Feb. 21): Saunders/Lima 2 Closes out Welterweight Tourney
Allow me to delve into specifics as far as how we got here. Ben Saunders outpointed Koffie Adzitso, Douglas Lima leg-kicked the daylights out of Michail Tsarev, Raul Amaya TKOed Jose Gomes and Bryan Baker stepped in after Brent Weedman got injured in preparation for Lima.
Weedman earned a unanimous decision over Marius Zaromskis, but with Baker in, the welterweight tournament gets a bit more interesting. Will Lima respond well to the change in opponents, or will Baker expose some of the same deficiencies Ben Askren revealed in Lima?
The answer: Lima responds well enough to TKO Baker, while Saunders uses his reach advantage and keeps composed throughout the bout as he wins another unanimous decision, thus setting up a rematch of the season-five welterweight tournament final bout that Lima won in order to fight Askren.
Bellato 90 (Feb. 21): Emanuel Newton Shocks King Mo by First Round KO
"King Mo" Muhammed Lawal certainly takes a lot of the hype coming into his semifinal bout with Emanuel Newton, but Newton's drive to avenge his loss to Attila Vegh may motivate him more in this fight than in his win over Atanas Djambazov.
As a matter of fact, the hype surrounding Lawal may motivate Newton even more than the possibility of avenging the loss to Vegh, who challenges for the Bellator light-heavyweight title at the end of the month. That said, how will that motivation pan out? Will Newton come out making a mistake, or will he take advantage of an opening Lawal leaves for Newton despite looking in control of the bout.
I will say the latter occurs. Lawal rarely leaves a hole exposed, but when he does, it brings forth disastrous results for the former light-heavyweight champion. If Newton doesn't expose that opening himself, Lawal will do so in the heat of the moment and get finished quick.
UFC 157 (Feb. 23): Lavar Johnson's Right Hook Knocks Out Brendan Schaub Late
When I say, "Johnson's right hook knocks Schaub out late," I don't mean to imply that this one goes all three rounds. Nothing against Schaub, but every time someone thinks the man will finally find his stride, he gets knocked out cold.
Against anyone else, by which I mean "someone with a grappling game," Johnson loses this one easily. However, he keeps a strong enough pace to where if he fights fire with fire against Schaub, he can easily get the better end of the exchange.
Normally, calling the shot that wins the fight proves a wild card, but this time, it feels righteous to call the shot that warms up the "Knockout of The Night" bonus for the Dan Henderson-Lyoto Machida winner.
UFC 157 (Feb. 23): Robbie Lawler Successfully Returns Against Josh Koscheck
When Robbie Lawler switches on, he stays on. You wouldn't know this from his losses to the likes of Lorenz Larkin and Tim Kennedy (solid names in themselves), but Lawler remains every bit a threat as the man who many thought could knock out Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza.
Josh Koscheck still threatens the welterweight division in his own right. People write him off, but he stands at 3-2 in his last five, though some argue a clear win over Johny Hendricks in the same breath as his split-decision win over Mike Pierce.
Lawler, like Koscheck, packs power into his strikes and can almost always deliver on a promise of a knockout, but he will make the drop to 170 pounds in his UFC return. Whether he looks good or not at 170 will show once he actually steps in the cage, but let's look at the glass half-full for Lawler.
I won't bank on another Lawler KO just yet, but he will win the fight. What's more, he will win all three rounds. Finally, fans will prefer to say, "Koscheck lost," until they see more of Lawler at "a buck-70," as Jon Anik would say.
UFC 157 (Feb. 23): Urijah Faber (Technically) Submits Ivan Menjivar
Thinking about Urijah Faber submitting Ivan Menjivar just 410 miles south of Sacramento? Think again.
We know that to beat Menjivar, one must outwork him. In January 2002, he lost to reigning UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre by TKO and he tapped out to Jason Black a little over two months later. Before making it to the UFC, Menjivar also suffered a DQ loss to Faber, though Faber's recount of the DQ recalls Menjivar grazing Faber.
This time out, Menjivar will not gas out, but Faber will get his back once he throws Menjivar off balance. From there, it becomes academic, as Faber sinks in a rear-naked choke, but Menjivar will pass out before he gets a chance to tap. Controversy will initially strike as people wonder if Menjivar really tapped, but a replay will reveal a lack of response to the choke, which will force the referee's intervention.
UFC 157 (Feb. 23): KO of the Night and KO of the Year Go to Hendo-Machida Winner
Lyoto Machida actually can withstand an H-Bomb against Dan Henderson at UFC 157. How does it happen? Without ease, but remember that Machida's lone KO loss to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua started with the shot behind the left ear of Machida before Rua followed up with the shots that put Machida out.
Also remember: Machida ate some punishment from Jon Jones (who hasn't?), but not even the current champ came close to knocking Machida out. Henderson stands the best chance of doing the job, but he faces an unorthodox karateka and a brutal counter-striker who stands an equal chance of a finish.
If either man survives something heavy from the other, this one easily delivers the most razor-thin decision in UFC light-heavyweight history and a consensus front-runner for the Fight of The Year. However, this bout will stay out of the judges' hands, and packed firmly inside either Henderson's right hand or Machida's left hand.
As for who wins it...pick a winner for me; I'll hop on the fence until fight week.
UFC 157 (Feb. 23): Ronda Rousey Armbars Liz Carmouche in Four Rounds.
See Ronda Rousey's smile here? That smile already has the media's attention, and it is a beautiful smile. However, it also represents the laughable assumption that Liz Carmouche stands no chance of competing with Rousey.
Remember the two things Rousey keeps saying as we draw closer to the UFC 157. Rousey declares that she will not call herself the UFC champion until she makes a successful defense against Carmouche, and she also reminds us that Carmouche asked for this fight.
Also, remember what Carmouche did the last time she challenged for a women's bantamweight title. She almost defeated Marloes Coenen, nearly neutralizing the then-champion's submission skills before Coenen found the tap and retained her title.
Regardless of whether she wins the fight before the armbar (or a variant thereof), she will give Rousey the type of fight that proves why people can't always judge fights before they happen.
Predictions, on the other hand, remain acceptable always.
Bellator 91 (Feb. 23): Attila Vegh Finishes Christian M'Pumbu, Becomes LHW Champ
Cage rust proves tricky in MMA. Sometimes it exists, and sometimes it proves nothing but mythical. For Bellator light-heavyweight champion Christian M'Pumbu, a year and four months can spell trouble.
He had a Bellator 84 affair with Attila Vegh set, but an injury hit Vegh with a little more than a week to go before the event. Questions will linger about whether Vegh's injury will cause him any problems, but such is always the case when a fighter returns from one injury or another.
The injury will not affect Vegh, nor will the time away from action affect M'Pumbu. However, The ground and pound of Vegh, as well as the tireless efforts of a well-conditioned version of the challenger will prove too much for the champ to overcome as Vegh hands "Tonton" his first TKO loss and walks away with the light-heavyweight belt.