It’s Super Bowl weekend. But before the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks collide at MetLife Stadium, the UFC is taking over New Jersey on Saturday night, with one of the biggest fight cards of the year.
Since taking the throne from an injured Dominick Cruz, bantamweight champion Renan Barao has ruled over the 135-pound division with a level of intensity unparalleled in the rest of his competition.
Unbeaten in his last 31 bouts, this Brazilian berserker has mercilessly destroyed a majority of his victims, poising a deadly combination of destructive muay thai striking mixed with bone snapping Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
The Nova Uniao black belt was originally slated to face a returning Cruz in a title unification bout but, once again, injuries have changed the landscape.
Now the official kingpin of the bantamweight division, Barao will meet former foe Urijah Faber in the UFC 169 main event. Barao defeated Faber nearly two years ago at UFC 149 for the interim strap, but “The California Kid” is determined to rewrite history.
Also in the main event, longtime featherweight champion Jose Aldo will take on hungry contender Ricardo Lamas. Plus, heavyweight stars Frank Mir and Alistair Overeem will lock horns in a fight that could potentially see the loser lose his job.
To help me break down this card, I’ve brought back the lovely Roni Taylor. She called the UFC on FOX 10 fights so well that it only made sense to do it again for “Super Saturday!”
Ciccarelli: First off, let me congratulate you on your flawless predictions from UFC on FOX 10. I'm convinced that you have psychic powers and can see into the future. Maybe you are secretly working for the X-Men? Either way, I'm impressed.
We've got another huge card this weekend and two titles will be on the line! Let's first talk about the bantamweight championship bout between Renan Barao and Urijah Faber. Originally, this was supposed to be Dominick Cruz's return against Barao, but injuries have forced Cruz to officially vacate the belt.
Do you think we'll ever see Cruz return at the top of the division?
Yes, absolutely. While it has been tedious and frustrating for all of us waiting on Cruz to heal from his multiple knee surgeries and now a torn groin, let’s not forget that he is 19-1 with his only loss coming from Urijah Faber way back in 2007.
Dominick’s last eight wins are over a who’s who of bantamweight and flyweight top contenders. While it is disappointing that we haven’t been able to see him in action for quite a long time, I, for one haven’t forgotten how dominant he has been, and I full well expect him to return to the top of the UFC’s bantamweight heap once he is all healed up.
Barao has taken over the bantamweight division while Cruz has been out. He defeated Faber once before at UFC 149 to earn the interim title, and it wasn't exactly a close fight. What does Faber have to do to ensure that history doesn't repeat itself a second time?
I think Urijah is already doing the things that he needs to do in order to beat the champ. Ever since Duane “Bang” Ludwig joined forces with Team Alpha Male, there has been a marked improvement in the entire team’s stand-up skills. Faber’s last four fights in 2013 prove as much.
Urijah has always been incredibly athletic and able to use his wrestling and submission game to his advantage, but the missing piece of the puzzle in his last bout with Barao was the ability to connect with his striking. Urijah’s boxing was on point in his dismantling of Michael McDonald last month, and if he brings this same laser focused stand-up into the octagon this weekend, we will finally see the UFC gold hanging around the former WEC champion’s waist.
Let's put those MMA psychic powers to the test again. Barao or Faber? What's your official pick?
Urijah is going to stifle Renan’s game by putting his fists in the current champ’s face enough times to force Barao to shoot for a sloppy takedown. What happens next? One of those famous Faber guillotines, that’s what! "The California Kid" takes the rematch late in the third round with a submission victory.
As dominant of a champion as Barao has been, he has a ways to go before he catches up with featherweight kingpin and fellow Brazilian, Jose Aldo. If we're counting his reign from the WEC, Aldo has been champion since 2009. He's defended the belt seven times under the Zuffa banner.
However, I think he's running into a roadblock here against Ricardo Lamas. Call me crazy, but I think Lamas is actually going to beat him. Do you agree? What's your take on this fight?
I agree with you on this one. Jose has some of the nastiest leg kicks since Pedro Rizzo (just ask Uriah Faber, he is still limping from their fight back in 2010), but I don’t think they will be as much of a consideration with Ricardo as they have been with many others in the past.
Lamas has a great muay thai coach and incredibly fast feet, so if he can’t avoid the kicks altogether, he most certainly will check them just like Chris Weidman did with Anderson Silva. So, if you remove the leg kicks from the equation, I see this fight as a much closer affair than one might think at first.
Both men are jiu jitsu black belts, so I see their grappling cancelling each other out. I think Ricardo is going to put a lot of pressure on Jose from the starting bell, and after four tough rounds of back and forth, Lamas will get his chance to secure a rare takedown on Jose and ground n’ pound a TKO victory for some UFC gold.
|Urijah Faber||WEC 48||(W) Unanimous Decision||2010|
|Manvel Gamburyan||WEC 51||(W) 2nd RD KO||2010|
|Mark Hominick||UFC 129||(W) Unanimous Decision||2011|
|Kenny Florian||UFC 136||(W) Unanimous Decision||2011|
|Chad Mendes||UFC 142||(W) 1st RD KO||2012|
|Frankie Edgar||UFC 156||(W) Unanimous Decision||2013|
|Chan Sung Jung||UFC 163||(W) 4th RD TKO||2013|
Do you think Aldo will move up to lightweight after this fight, regardless of the outcome, to challenge Anthony Pettis, or do you see him sticking around at 145 pounds for, at least, a little while longer?
Well, if he loses like I predict, I think he would want another run at the featherweight belt again before jumping weight classes. Jose has been very dominant in his UFC career, and I think he has a lot of pride in the belt he currently holds. So, I truly see him wanting to come after Lamas to try and get the belt back…albeit an unsuccessful attempt because Lamas has his number and will win the rematch too!
So, we're both picking Lamas here but if we're wrong, is there anyone else in the featherweight division who can step up to Aldo right now?
Two people come to mind: Jeremy Stephens and Chad Mendes. Both men have really impressed me recently with their improved games, and I think they each possess the skills needed to take out Jose.
Jeremy is super aggressive and I truly think that his “in your face” MO is just what is needed to push Aldo off balance, long enough to succumb to a quick takedown and some nasty ground and pound.
Mendes has won four out of his last five fights by TKO/KO and, just like Faber, he has obviously been drinking from the "Bang" Ludwig Kool-Aid. This marked improvement in his striking just could be the needed push to get him the W in a rematch with Aldo.
What's your take on the heavyweight bout between former UFC champ Frank Mir and former Strikeforce/K-1 champ Alistair Overeem? Who do you see coming out on top of that one?
Those are some big ‘ol boys about to clash this weekend. I really hope it doesn’t make it out of the first round or this could be a pretty boring fight. Neither of these guys are known for their endurance, but that first round should be a barn burner!
I think Mir and Overeem both have a point to prove after coming off of back-to-back losses. As big of a Frank Mir fan as I am, I am going to have to go with Overeem on this one.
I think Alistair finally figured out that he needs to keep his hands up and defend himself here in the UFC, and I predict a first round TKO due to "A-Bomb" knees to the body.
Alistair will stalk Mir around the octagon for the first minute, and after he pushes Frank back against the cage with a few stiff jabs, "Ubereem" will pull the Thai clinch long enough to smash in poor Frank’s ribcage and secure a much needed win.
There's been a lot of talk about the Mir/Overeem fight being a "loser leaves town" matchup. Considering the heavyweight division isn't nearly as stacked as the other weight classes, can you actually see the UFC cutting a marquee star like Mir or Overeem?
Not hardly. Both men are too big of a draw and the heavyweight division is too shallow to give them the boot. While it won’t do either man much good to lose another fight, until there are another five to six high quality heavyweights bouncing around in the UFC, Dana White won’t be giving either one of them their pink slip any time soon.
Do you see the winner of the Ali Bagautinov vs. John Lineker fight posing a serious threat to flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson at all?
First of all, here is a fun fact for everyone: eight out of Bagautinov’s 14 fights have been against an opponent whose last name ends in the letter “V.” Okay, now about this fight: Bagautinov will hammer out another unanimous decision win to add to his 10-fight win streak on Saturday.
Lineker is very scrappy and will make it interesting, but I just think Ali’s incredible Sambo pedigree is going to help him control the clinch and ground fighting well enough to get him the victory. With that being said, I don’t know if he will have the same success against Mighty Mouse.
I honestly think Demetrious has some of the most technically sound skills from all angles, and I don’t know if anyone will pose much of a challenge to him for a while.
Lightweights Jamie Varner and Abel Trujillo will open the PPV portion of this card. Is this a sleeper for fight of the night?
Well, yes I do think it is a sleeper, just not in the way you suggested. I think we are going to see Varner take a boring decision win by taking Trujillo down and smothering him for three rounds.
I like to call Varner “Snuggie” due to his tendency to do just that as his go-to game plan. I hope I am wrong, because nothing makes me want to take a nap more than watching 15 minutes of boring top control with minimal attempts to advance position.
For more of Roni Taylor's MMA insight, follow her on Twitter @RoniTaylor