Since I do previews for most every UFC pay-per-view event, I figure it's only fair I cover their basic cable offerings as well. As has become a common tactic for Zuffa, a free Fight Night event is offered to entice fans for the new season of The Ultimate Fighter Reality show, airing immediately after. The downside: They tend to lack title fights, big name star power, can vary in length and quality, and spend more time on ads than on actual fighting. The upside: it's free. Stop your bitching and enjoy the free fights. Seems simple enough to me.
That being said, aside from featuring some puzzling matchmaking in basically every fight, there are no compelling names, story lines, or grudge matches to grab the attention of the TUF crowd, but in this case there really doesn't have to be. This season of TUF is already hyped to be the biggest one ever, and most people watching the Fight Night are probably waiting for it to be over so they can see what crazy shenanigans Kimbo Slice is going to get up to this season (word on the street: none whatsoever). I'm personally in it for the Rampage/Rashad drama, which according to all sources is legit and should provide good reality tv fireworks. But before that, eight fighters will take to the Octagon to ply their trade on basic cable, starting with:
Nate Quarry vs. Tim Credeur
People think that the UFC is no longer a tournament, as it was in the days of old. I disagree. Instead of nightly tournaments to crown a one time champion, the modern UFC is a never ending tournament, a round robin where fighters try to add to their resume and “build their case” for getting a shot at the world title. Thus the mantra of Joe Silva and the UFC brass is simple: you are in the UFC to compete for a world title. If you're not, make room for someone who is. This fight seems like a “make room” sort of contest.
On one side of the octagon is Nate Quarry, an exciting, if inconsistent fighter, who is probably best known for his highlight reel, “Timberrrrr!” KO at the hands (hand?) of Rich Franklin some years ago (I personally prefer his Kalib Starnes directed “running man” taunt, but I digress). With his recent vanquishing of Jason Mcdonald, “Rock” seems poised to take his place, Highlander style, as the gatekeeper of the middleweight division. This fight may be his last chance to dispel that perception. His opponent is Tim Credeur, an experienced fighter from the “Mir vs. Nog” season of TUF. Despite losing the show, he has won three straight in the UFC since and this fight represents a big step up in competition for him. Credeur brings a solid grappling game into the Octagon (the first BJJ black belt in Louisiana, he often boasts proudly), and we have seen Quarry struggle in the past with Jiu-Jitsu guys who draw him out of his comfort zone and into a grappling match. However, Tim Credeur usually relies on his questionable standup skills rather then his bread and butter Jiu-Jitsu. It didn't work for Jorge Gurgel, and it won't work for Credeur here. I see Quarry using his Team Quest grounding to shrug off any takedown attempts and turn it into a standup war, where his more technical and powerful boxing will eventually catch the “Cajun Royce Gracie” (damn I should be in the nickname buisness – so what if Credeur isn't actually Cajun) for the crushing KO.
Carlos Condit vs. Jake Ellenberger
Ok...what? This fight just doesn't make sense to me. In the one corner is Carlos Condit, the WEC welterweight champion of the world right up until the organization folded it's 170 and 185 lb divisions into the UFC. His first fight in the UFC was a close split-decision loss to Martin Kampmann in an great, exciting fight. He is arguably still in the top 10 rankings at welterweight. In giving him a main card match on a nationally televised card, one would expect him to be given an opponent at least approaching his stature and standing. A fighter with name recognition who could offer a compelling matchup with Condit for the fans. A man like...Jake Ellenberger?
If your asking yourself “who?”, you are not alone. Far from a world class opponent, Ellenberger will be making his UFC debut with this fight, on only one month's notice. He has a solid record of 21-4, however all of those wins have come against somewhat less then world class foes. Any time he has stepped up against relatively top level competition (Jay Heiron, Delson Heleno, Derrick Noble) he has come up short. I think it's safe to say the UFC brass is hoping Condit destroys Ellenberger with all of cable-dom watching, and establishes himself as another potential contender in the 170 lb division, which has been nearly cleaned out of possible contenders by Georges St. Pierre. Barring some sort of Matt Serra style surprise (and you really never should) expect “The Natural Born Killer” to take an easy stoppage win sometime in the later rounds and have his victory speech cut off by yet another advertisement for Bud Light Lime.
Gray Maynard vs. Roger Huerta
There was a time when Roger “El Matador” Huerta was considered the future of the 155 lb division, and the face of the UFC's push into latino markets. He was the first (and only) fighter to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and had run off six straight victories in a little over a year, an impressive feat for a fighter in any weight class. Then Kenny Florian outclassed Huerta over three rounds at UFC 87 in Roger's hometown to end his streak and hand him his first Octagon loss. After that, he began to reconsider this whole fighting thing. He soured his relationship with UFC brass by publicly speaking out on his salary (not big enough), the media/training workload (too much), and the amount management actually took care of him (not at all). Then came a gig in the soon to be released, video game to film adaptation of 'Tekken”, and Huerta realized that acting may be a whole lot easier (and more lucrative) then cage fighting. The problem was he still had one fight left on his UFC contract, and Dana White isn't the kind of person to just let matters of contractual obligation slip (ask Randy Couture). Which brings us to this fight.
Huerta has entered this fight with next to zero media attention and promotional power behind him. The UFC knows they are about to lose him and have no interest in increasing his brand power or name recognition. His opponent is Gray Maynard, a Randy Couture trained wrestler who brings the same game plan into every fight – use strength and wrestling to control an opponent, shut him down, and win a decision. And in his last 5 fights, this strategy has netted him victories against tough competition (it would be his last six, but in his UFC debut he slammed his opponent so hard he knocked HIMSELF unconscious, and the bout was ruled a No Contest). So again, the matchmaking here is transparent – the UFC is hoping Maynard will shut down the exciting Huerta with grinding, unrelenting wrestling to send him off with a loss and kill whatever fan buzz he still has. And I think that is exactly what is going to happen. Huerta's go for broke style has left him vulnerable to good wrestlers in the past, and I just don't think he has the tools to shut down Maynard's grinding, will breaking style. If the fight stays on the feet he has a chance – but it won't, and Huerta will lose a boring, lopsided decision to Maynard to end his MMA career before going off to star in the Mexican remake of Braveheart or more likely, B-level porno. Still easier then fighting I suppose.
Nate Diaz vs. Melvin Guillard
Perplexing matchmaking rears its head again in this one, as the main event of the night features a fighter coming off back-to-back losses against a former mid-level fighter trying to restablish himself. Sounds like an undercard fight, not the main event, but I suppose in this case it all comes down to the styles and personalities of the fighters. In Diaz and Guillard, you have two guys with big attitudes who have no problem talking reams of trash, so I guess the UFC is hoping just the combination of these two will generate its own hype and excitement, both before and during the fight. In Guillard, you have an exciting fighter with a big ego looking to rebuild his career after a six month stint in rehab, and in Diaz you have an exciting fighter with a big ego who, with his main training partner being his brother Nick, probably should go to rehab.
The outcome of this fight will depend in large part on how the fight unfolds. Guillard has serviceable wrestling and submission defense, however on the ground he is outclassed by Diaz, a Cesear Gracie brown belt with slick submissions from the top or bottom. What saved Guillard against other tough grapplers like Gleison Tibeau was his takedown defense, but that won't be nearly as useful here, as Diaz rarely if ever shoots for singles and doubles, preferring to tangle his opponent and force him down during scrambles. If Diaz gets ahold of something, in any position, there's a more than good chance the fight will be over a few seconds later. With Diaz, though, the natural tenancy is not to bring the fight to the ground but to bang it out on the feet. Like his brother Nick, he has solid, effective boxing, however he lacks truly crisp striking and knockout power. The brash Diaz will probably look to bang away with Guillard, and he may even enjoy success, however it is a dangerous move for him. Guillard's power means he has a much better chance of landing a fight ending blow, even if he is losing the exchanges. For Guillard, the plan should be to focus on the defensive wrestling and the counter boxing, and avoid shooting for ridiculous takedown attempts of his own as he did against Tibeau. Diaz should look to force Guillard against the cage and work him in the clinch. His extreme height gives him a natural advantage in the clinch, negates some of Melvin's power, and set him up for a submission attempt or a chance to get the fight to the ground. Once it does, I see Diaz winning by submission – which also happens to be my pick for this fight overall.