UFC on Fox 10: Key to Victory for Every Main Card Fighter

Dan HiergesellFeatured ColumnistJanuary 25, 2014

UFC on Fox 10: Key to Victory for Every Main Card Fighter

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    Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

    This Saturday will mark the 10th installment of the UFC on Fox.

    Headlined by a sizzling lightweight showdown between former champion Benson Henderson and a resurgent Josh Thomson, Saturday's main card should serve as a perfect appetizer leading up to UFC 169 on Feb. 1.

    But what exactly does each prime-time matchup entail? How will the fighters separate themselves from their opponents?

    Here are the keys to victory for every main card participant at UFC on Fox 10.

Jeremy Stephens

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Explode early

    Since making his move down from lightweight, Jeremy "Lil' Heathen" Stephens has been on a hellacious tear.

    He has reigned victorious over Estevan Payan and Rony Jason on the heels of powerful takedowns and explosive stand-up. Now while those aren't the most promising wins in a growing featherweight division, it's a good start for the 27-year-old.

    So when Stephens tries to extend his divisional win streak opposite Darren Elkins at UFC on Fox 10, he should implement much of the same game plan.

    As one of the best power punchers in the division who recently displayed the ability to land big knockout kicks as well, he should look to unload quickly and early.

    His best chance at winning is not grinding out a victory over a guy who has won five of his last seven fights by unanimous decision. Instead, Stephens needs to put the pressure on Elkins from the start.

Darren Elkins

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    Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

    Grind away

    As one of the best ground-and-pound specialists in the featherweight division, Darren Elkins has quickly become a force to be reckoned with.

    However, in a weight class full of explosive strikers and evolving finishers, the 29-year-old still has much to prove as the No. 10-ranked fighter.

    When he finds himself looking across the cage at a heavy-handed Jeremy Stephens on Saturday night, Elkins needs to understand that his best chance to prolong his Octagon success is to grind away.

    That's what he does best. It's no secret. 

    He isn't a prolific knockout artist or dynamic athlete; he's just one of those guys who knows how to beat down an opponent. That's why he needs to avoid an early power surge by Stephens to secure his ground-and-pound capabilities later in the fight.

Adriano Martins

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Stay focused

    Not too many people know who Adriano Martins is, and to be completely honest, it would be shocking if he upset Donald Cerrone at UFC on Fox 10.

    But that doesn't mean he can't win. A lot of guys in his position have flourished in an effort to make a name in a crowed division.

    If Martins can stay true to himself, his game plan and his skill set, he should find immediate success opposite one of the most well-rounded contenders at lightweight.

    It's going to be a huge stage for the Brazilian when he makes his UFC main card debut, so he has to remain focused and in tune with everything going on around him.

    That means he can't get caught up in what Cerrone is trying to do and fall out of his own strategically implemented course of action. If he can do that, he'll have a chance to land his hands or steal a victory on the ground. 

Donald Cerrone

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    Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

    Act first

    Donald Cerrone is a different animal than he was a year ago.

    He knows exactly what he has to do to remain relevant in a growing lightweight division and has finally fixed the minor mental issues that have swayed his performances in the past. By doing so, "The Cowboy" has been able to get back in the saddle and buck his opponents with intense kickboxing, deadly submissions and a knack to brawl with consistency.

    That makes him one of the most dangerous fighters in the weight class—one who can make a run at the title at the drop of a hat.

    When he takes on Adriano Martins on Saturday night, the tenured veteran needs to remain potent. He needs to get off first, push the pace, inflict his own game plan and look for the finish.

    If Cerrone is able to do that and land early, Martins will find it hard to sustain consciousness.

Gabriel Gonzaga

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    Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Spor

    Clinch

    Stipe Miocic is a talented wrestler, so it may be hard for Gabriel Gonzaga to take him down with regularity.

    That means Gonzaga is going to find himself in a stand-up war on Saturday night, which has been a stronghold for the Brazilian in fights past.

    However, this time he's facing an athletic opponentone who is light enough on his feet to land and circle away on cue. With that type of footwork and speed, Gonzaga may be unable to land his power shots in the middle of the cage.

    With that in mind, he'll have a better chance of inflicting serious damage if he can grab a hold of Miocic and clinch with him. As a naturally strong heavyweight with good dexterity, Gonzaga could find success with knees and uppercuts from close range.

    If he's unable to get in close and clinch, Miocic will pick him apart on the feet.

Stipe Miocic

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

    Repeat performance against Roy Nelson

    While Gabriel Gonzaga is more dynamic and versatile on his feet, he is similar to Roy "Big Country" Nelson in that they both throw heavy shots.

    While that's all well and good, it's sometimes a problem against leaner and quicker strikers like Stipe Miocic. Nelson learned that the hard way back in June.

    Miocic was able to pepper Big Country with relentless jabs, floating power shots and exhibiting athleticism that the ponderous heavyweight was unable to contest.

    Now while Gonzaga is more disciplined and strategic on his feet, he may encounter the same problem that Nelson did. That's why Miocic should stay patient, pick his shots, use his length, work in some body shots, circle out and score points.

    If he can do that, the Ohio native will continue on his road to a heavyweight title shot.

Josh Thomson

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Apply pressure

    It's going to be difficult for Josh Thomson to outpoint, outscore and outwork Benson Henderson at UFC on Fox 10.

    Henderson is a crafty striker and very well-rounded in the clinch, sporting some of the best submissions skills in the division. That equates to a dangerous matchup for "The Punk."

    But while Thomson is going to find it frustrating to deal with Henderson's natural athleticism, strong frame and quick movements, he'll have a chance to pressure the former champ whenever he wants.

    As one of the safer fighters in the weight class, Henderson often allows opponents to get inside and get off. He does strike back and possess versatile techniques, but Thomson should find success as long as he's out for the kill and aiming to thrill.

    If he decides to sit back and pick his punches, the former Strikeforce standout will be on the wrong end of the judges' scorecards.

Benson Henderson

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Play the clock

    It sounds boring, I know. But when it comes to defeating a resurgent Josh Thomson after losing the lightweight title to Anthony Pettis, Benson Henderson needs to be Benson Henderson.

    And if anything can be taken from his UFC career thus far, it's that he's at his best when he's in control and playing it safe while the clock is ticking.

    Some fans would scoff at that game plan, but this is the man's job. Any time he can win a fight and absorb the least amount of damage, he's doing it right.

    Now while Henderson should play it cool on Saturday night opposite the dangerous Thomson, will he?

    Nobody really knows. Henderson hasn't fought in a non-title fight since 2011 against Clay Guida, so anything is possible.

    But if he wants to right the ship, remain relevant and avoid his first two-fight losing streak of his career, "Smooth" should grind Thomson down, keep his distance and remember what fueled his recent championship reign.

     

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