The Complete Guide to UFC Fight Night 105: Lewis vs. Browne
The UFC returns to Halifax, Nova Scotia, with a decent offering on Fox Sports 1 this Sunday.
In the main event, rising talent Derrick Lewis draws Travis Browne in a fight with some real implications for the stagnant heavyweight division. If he wins, Lewis will get a matchup with one of the division's elite. Browne is on the tail end of a bad two-fight losing streak and desperately needs a win to stay relevant.
That theme of desperation carries through into the co-main event. Former welterweight champion Johny Hendricks moves up to 185 pounds for the first time and tries to snap a three-fight skid against former Bellator champion Hector Lombard, who has lost two consecutive fights inside the distance. The winner will gain a new lease on life, while the loser could well find himself out of the UFC.
The rest of the card features fun matchups and prospects worth watching. Canada's Elias Theodorou takes on Cezar Ferreira in a meeting of The Ultimate Fighter winners with real implications in the wide-open middleweight division.
On the preliminary card, the welterweight scrap between Santiago Ponzinibbio and Nordine Taleb should be a barn burner, as should the opening matchup featuring Jack Marshman and Thiago Santos. Keep an eye on debuting Canadian fighters Gavin Tucker and Aiemann Zahabi, both of whom are legitimate talents.
Let's take a look at each matchup.
The Fight Pass Prelims
Ryan Janes (9-1; 1-0 UFC) vs. Gerald Meerschaert (25-8; 1-0 UFC)
Middleweight journeyman Meerschaert opens the show on Fight Pass against Canada's Janes. Both have fought once in the UFC, with Meerschaert submitting Joe Gigliotti and Janes winning a decision over Keith Berish, both in December.
Meerschaert is a well-rounded fighter who can do a bit of everything. The southpaw throws smooth combinations on the feet, hits solid takedowns and hunts aggressively for submissions on the mat. Janes is a stiff striker, but he works at a good pace and can defend takedowns with some skill.
Prediction: Meerschaert is better at everything except pure striking. He gets the takedown and finds the submission in the second round.
The Fox Sports 1 Prelims
Jack Marshman (21-5; 1-0 UFC) vs. Thiago Santos (13-5; 5-4 UFC)
Middleweight bangers kick off the televised prelims as Wales' Marshman meets Brazil's Santos. Marshman debuted with a thunderous knockout of Magnus Cedenblad in November, while Santos has lost two in a row to Gegard Mousasi and Eric Spicely since compiling an impressive four-fight winning streak.
Marshman is a puncher, plain and simple. He cuts angles and moves forward behind a punishing jab and then unloads counter-combinations in the pocket that carry thunderous power. He's a decent wrestler and grappler, but that's it. Santos is an exceptionally quick and powerful athlete with a vicious kicking game and heavy punches who can wrestle well enough to stay standing.
Prediction: This is all about range. If Santos can stick and move and keep it outside, he should pick Marshman apart. If Marshman gets inside, he'll blast Santos with head-body combinations. The latter seems more likely, and the pick is Marshman by decision in a mild upset.
Aiemann Zahabi (6-0; 0-0 UFC) vs. Reginaldo Vieira (14-4; 1-1 UFC)
Touted prospect Zahabi, the brother of Tristar Gym impresario and legend Firas, takes on The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 4 winner Vieira. Zahabi hasn't fought cans on the Canadian scene, but he hasn't beaten any names, either, while Vieira defeated Dileno Lopes to win the show but fell short against Marco Beltran.
Zahabi isn't a great athlete, but he's tall for the division at 5'8" and has the crisp technical skills one would expect from the brother of one of MMA's best coaches. He works behind a heavy jab and a sharp, accurate right hand at range, flicking the occasional spinning kick for good measure. He's also an accomplished wrestler and a slick grappler, though he seems to prefer striking.
Vieira is physical and explosive and can do a bit of everything, but he doesn't excel at anything aside from aggressive submission hunting. Big forward-moving combinations are his bread and butter on the feet, and he likes to follow with takedowns against the fence, though he isn't a crisp wrestler and tends to shoot from too far away. He has a nose for the submission finish anywhere on the ground, however.
Prediction: If Zahabi can deal with Vieira's physicality, this is his fight to lose. The Canadian works Vieira over on the feet, gets takedowns and controls long enough to win a decision.
Carla Esparza (12-3; 2-1 UFC) vs. Randa Markos (6-5; 2-3 UFC)
Former strawweight champion Esparza takes on Canada's Markos in a good matchup. Esparza has fought just once since losing her title to Joanna Jedrzejczyk, winning a slow decision over Juliana Lima last April. Markos fell short against Cortney Casey last August following a win against Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger. With a win, Esparza would be right back in the mix at the top of the division, while Markos will likely be cut with a loss.
When she's on, Esparza fights a lot like Frankie Edgar, darting in and out of range with quick punch-kick combinations and flowing beautifully into surprisingly powerful takedowns. When she's not, she tends to circle cautiously at range and shoots from way too far out to have any hope of success. Pace and workrate are her allies. When she's not working fast, she doesn't look great.
Markos is a great athlete with excellent speed and power. Her skills, however, have never really come along. She throws a sharp right hand on the feet and has slick takedowns in the clinch, but she doesn't throw enough volume and has bad takedown defense. She's an aggressive grappler on top but leaves openings for her opponent's submissions.
Prediction: Esparza works takedown after takedown and controls Markos on the mat for a clean 30-27 decision.
Santiago Ponzinibbio (23-3; 5-2 UFC) vs. Nordine Taleb (11-3; 4-1 UFC)
Argentina's Ponzinibbio, a finalist on The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 2, draws France's Taleb in a crackling welterweight fight. Ponzinibbio has won three in a row, two of them by devastating first-round knockout, while Taleb flatlined Erick Silva in his last outing after a loss to Warlley Alves. The winner will be in shape for a matchup with a top-15 opponent in his next fight.
Ponzinibbio is an excellent athlete with quick hands, serious power and a game that marries aggression to skill. While he can stick and move in space, Ponzinibbio generally chooses to pressure, sliding into range with crisp footwork and cutting off his opponent's escape angles with heavy round kicks.
When he's close enough, Ponzinibbio picks his spots to sit down on potent punching combinations. He excels at working in the pocket, moving his head or feet to avoid the return shot and then countering from a new angle. Ponzinibbio has shown much-improved takedown defense in his recent outings. He's a skilled grappler when he goes that direction but rarely shoots for takedowns of his own.
Taleb is well-rounded and disciplined. He began his career as a kickboxer and still showcases a crisp, technical approach, measuring distance with his jab and flicking hard kicks at range while using his tight footwork to either move in space or pressure. He's a sharp counterpuncher and packs some power in his hands when he sits down on his shots.
Despite his striking background, Taleb spends a lot of time wrestling. He excels at catching kicks and turning them into trips or double legs, and he's a strong defensive wrestler in his own right. Submissions aren't his strength, but he's a technical grappler who can maintain control on top for extended periods.
Prediction: This is Ponzinibbio's fight to lose and a bad stylistic matchup for Taleb despite his well-rounded skills. Ponzinibbio's pressure, power and pace will overwhelm Taleb on the way to a clean decision victory.
Paul Felder vs. Alessandro Ricci
Paul Felder (12-3; 4-3 UFC) vs. Alessandro Ricci (10-4; 0-1 UFC)
The American Felder draws Canada's Ricci in a fun matchup of strikers. A stoppage loss to Francisco Trinaldo snapped Felder's two-fight winning streak last September, while Ricci will try to get his first win after losing to Jeremy Kennedy in his Octagon debut last August.
Felder is a skilled striker. He likes to work his way forward behind a probing jab and a steady diet of low kicks, patiently moving into the pocket to draw out a reaction from his opponent. When that shot comes, Felder is in range to counter with a sharp punching combination or a stepping knee. His timing is outstanding, and he does a great job of picking the right shot.
This is the best part of Felder's striking game, and he would be well served to focus more on it instead of the spinning backfists and kicks he uses too much. While he's accurate when he lets his shots go, he could stand to throw a bit more volume and turn up the raw aggression a bit.
That's the extent of Felder's game. He's a strong defensive wrestler and punishes opponents when they try to shoot, but he doesn't have much of a takedown game himself. Grappling isn't his strong suit, though he's defensively competent.
Ricci is a crisp, technical striker with a deep background in muay thai. He sets a long distance with jabs and front kicks and tries to beat his opponent up with a stream of round kicks at all three levels. When his opponent comes forward, Ricci has a knack for timing stepping knees to the body and head. He's a somewhat static fighter who doesn't have great footwork, though, and it's not hard to back him up to the fence.
The clinch is a strong suit for Ricci. He showcases strong control and a nasty double-collar tie with sharp knees and the occasional elbow, though he's vulnerable to getting shoved against the fence. His takedown defense is competent if not outstanding, as is his grappling game, which he rarely utilizes offensively.
Felder -400 (bet $400 to win $100), Ricci +325 (bet $100 to win $325).
If Felder presses Ricci and gets in his face, this is his fight to lose; Ricci doesn't like pressure and needs the initiative to let his strikes go. If Felder takes a more patient, stalking approach, this could turn into a surprisingly competitive fight in which Ricci has a good chance of using his length and kicks to stifle Felder. We'll probably see a bit of both in a closer-than-expected decision win for Felder.
Sara McMann vs. Gina Mazany
Sara McMann (10-3; 4-3 UFC) vs. Gina Mazany (4-0; 0-0 UFC)
Mazany steps up on short notice to replace Liz Carmouche against former title challenger and Olympic silver medalist McMann, who has won two in a row over Jessica Eye and Alexis Davis since a pair of losses to eventual champions Miesha Tate and Amanda Nunes. None of Mazany's competition has been noteworthy aside from losing a preliminary fight on The Ultimate Fighter 18 against eventual winner Julianna Pena.
Mazany is an aggressive, forward-moving southpaw with some skills in every department. She's willing to throw hands and works in combination, but there isn't a ton of craft or diversity to her striking repertoire. For the most part, she looks to bull her way into the clinch, where she can drop levels for a takedown. On top, she passes quickly and shows good posture with her ground strikes.
McMann is one of the best athletes in the division and boasts exceptional speed and strength. She's slowly turning into a dangerous striker, putting her raw power and speed to good use with increasingly crisp punching combinations that work the head and body.
Wrestling remains the core of McMann's game, though. She does a good job of using punches to cover her level changes and can hit any of a variety of takedowns, from doubles to trips, all executed with consummate skill. Her takedown defense is impeccable. Control is her top priority on the ground, but she's slowly turning into a more dangerous submission artist as well.
McMann -600, Mazany +450
McMann is the better athlete and should have a massive skill advantage in the wrestling phase. She works takedown after takedown and pummels Mazany from the top for a stoppage in the second round.
Elias Theodorou vs. Cezar Ferreira
Elias Theodorou (12-1; 4-1 UFC) vs. Cezar Ferreira (12-5; 7-3 UFC)
The Ultimate Fighter winners collide as Canadian Nations winner Theodorou takes on Brazil 1 winner Ferreira in a fine middleweight scrap. Theodorou rebounded from the first loss of his career by winning a decision over Sam Alvey, while Ferreira has won three in a row, culminating in a submission over Jack Hermansson.
Theodorou is a smart and diverse fighter. He likes to push the pace, moving forward as he chops away with kicks to the legs and body and the occasional punching combination. Power isn't his strong suit, but he throws a great deal of volume, and he isn't afraid to stay outside and make his opponent figure out how to cover the distance.
The clinch is Theodorou's wheelhouse. When he can press his opponent into the fence, Theodorou does a great job of controlling with head pressure and underhooks while he works the legs and body with knees. The occasional trip or takedown adds some variety, and when he gets on top, he unloads heavy punches at a rapid pace.
Ferreira is an excellent athlete, but he's something of a glass cannon, meaning he's offensively dangerous but fragile. The southpaw is quick and explosive, firing off potent kicks and a sharp straight left that carry serious power. He maintains a slow, methodical pace and likes to stick his opponent at long range. This makes sense, because Ferreira's inability to take a punch is a real problem.
Strong defensive wrestling keeps Ferreira standing when he wants to, but these days he's happy to shoot quick takedowns and work from the top. He maintains strong control, passes nicely and has a slick submission game, including arm triangles and guillotines.
Ferreira -125, Theodorou +105
Ferreira is more dangerous, especially on the feet, but this is Theodorou's fight to lose if he's willing to keep a quick pace and stay in Ferreira's face with pressure. Theodorou wins a decision with clinch work and volume on the feet.
Sam Sicilia vs. Gavin Tucker
Sam Sicilia (15-7; 5-6 UFC) vs. Gavin Tucker (9-0; 0-0 UFC)
Veteran lightweight Sicilia draws Canadian debutant Tucker in a fun featherweight matchup. Sicilia is on his last legs in the promotion after two consecutive losses, a submission to Gabriel Benitez and a knockout to Doo Ho Choi. Tucker has beaten decent competition on the regional scene, but nobody who stands out.
The Canadian is a spark plug of a fighter with real talent and athleticism. He's not tall for the division at just 5'6" or 5'7" (depending on the source), but the southpaw is quick, explosive and powerful. He's a sharp and technical striker who can blitz forward with head-body combinations or, better, sit back and counter as his opponent comes in. All of his shots are fast and potent.
It's hard to say much about Tucker's wrestling game as footage is lacking, but his takedowns appear to be authoritative and diverse, mixing shots for double legs and trips in the clinch. He's nasty in the tie-ups, mixing his takedowns with sharp knees and elbows. On the mat, he controls well from the top and showcases dangerous ground strikes and a nose for a variety of submissions.
Sicilia is an experienced journeyman fighter with well-defined strengths and weaknesses. He's quick and carries serious power in his right hand, which forms the basis of his game. Aside from the occasional front or round kick, he relies on explosive forward movement that carries him into heavy right-left-right combinations or doubled right hands. He gets hit way too much, though, and is especially vulnerable to kicks.
Strong takedown defense generally keeps Sicilia standing. He's a competent wrestler when he puts his mind to it as well and puts his explosiveness to good use with a quick double. On top, he mostly controls, but he can drop some powerful ground strikes when he sets his mind to it. His submission defense is lacking, though, and he tends to give up positions in scrambles.
Tucker -160, Sicilia +140
Sicilia is an experienced veteran who can end the fight at any time, but Tucker looks like the real deal. He gets it done with combination strikes on the feet and smooth grappling on the mat to take a decision.
Hector Lombard vs. Johny Hendricks
Co-Main Event: Middleweights
Hector Lombard (34-6-1, 2 NC; 3-4, 1 NC UFC) vs. Johny Hendricks (17-6; 12-6 UFC)
Two former top fighters in desperate need of a statement win meet in the co-main event as former welterweight champion Hendricks moves up to 185 pounds to take on former Bellator kingpin and Cuban Olympian Lombard. The loser could well be cut from the promotion, while the winner will get a brief new lease on life.
Lombard was a huge free-agent signing for the UFC back in 2012, but he has seen only mixed results in campaigns at both welterweight and middleweight and is currently riding a two-fight losing streak to Dan Henderson and Neil Magny. Hendricks has lost three in a row, looking progressively worse in each fight and missing weight in his last two, decision defeats to Magny and Kelvin Gastelum.
Speed and power are Lombard's best attributes, even at a shopworn 39 years of age. The southpaw likes to patiently stalk his opponent, slowly gauging the timing and distance before leaping into a lightning-quick combination of right and left hooks. He's not a bad counterpuncher and has occasionally shown flashes of brilliance with his timing, particularly on the right hand. Every one of his punches is a potential fight-ender.
An Olympian in Judo, Lombard is a nasty clinch fighter when he sets his mind to it. He can hit an array of acrobatic throws and trips, all executed with exceptional technique and fluidity. His takedown defense is outstanding, among the best in the sport, and he punishes opponents as they enter and exit.
From top position, Lombard is mostly content to control. He passes smoothly when the mood strikes and can do serious damage with ground strikes if he postures up. Submissions haven't been a consistent part of his game in recent years, but he has the skills, particularly with leg locks.
There are some real weaknesses to Lombard's game, though. He's not quite as fast as he was in his younger years, and his reflexes are noticeably slower. Ending fights is his specialty, and simply scoring enough to win rounds isn't his strong suit. His defense has never been great, which is a problem now that his chin is deteriorating. Cardio is a real problem, particularly if he smells blood and pours it on but can't finish.
What happened to Hendricks? How did a former champion, the man who once seemed like the destined successor to Georges St-Pierre, become an afterthought, an exile from the welterweight division?
A few things have simultaneously gone wrong.
First, years of brutal weight cuts have taken their toll, sapping a gas tank that was never outstanding to begin with. Second, Hendricks has never been a defensive mastermind; he has always gotten hit at a high rate, and that too is catching up with him. Third, Hendricks' style was built on either grinding out close fights or flattening his opponent with a single shot. The knockouts have disappeared, so every fight is now razor-thin.
It's a shame, because when Hendricks is on, he's a well-rounded and skilled fighter. As a striker, the southpaw puts together crisp punch-kick combinations and still has some pop in his left hand. His footwork is crisp and tight, and he can both stick and move and pressure as the need arises.
A national champion wrestler at Oklahoma State, Hendricks is still an accomplished takedown artist. His double leg is technical and authoritative, and he puts together strong chains against the fence. In the clinch, he's a punishing, dangerous dirty boxer who works strong control as he delivers knees and uppercuts. Takedown defense, strangely enough, has never been Hendricks' strong suit.
On top, Hendricks is mostly content to control and work the occasional pass. He isn't a submission artist and rarely tries to posture up enough to get real power into his ground strikes.
Lombard -140, Hendricks +120
It's hard to say what to make of this given Lombard's advancing age and Hendricks' general decline, along with his move up in weight. Lombard has the advantage in raw power and speed, while Hendricks is the sharper technician and works at a better pace. As long as his cardio holds up, Lombard's takedown defense should be good enough to keep this standing, and he could probably work takedowns of his own.
In the end, that last piece should be the difference. If Lombard can mix a few takedowns in with his bursts of offense, the fight is his to lose. Lombard wins a decision.
Derrick Lewis vs. Travis Browne
Main Event: Heavyweights
Derrick Lewis (17-4, 1 NC; 8-2 UFC) vs. Travis Browne (18-5-1; 9-5-1 UFC)
Heavyweight bangers Lewis and Browne meet in a heavy-handed main event. The careers of the two men are trending in opposite directions: Lewis has won five in a row, all but one by crushing knockout, while Browne's September loss to Fabricio Werdum was his second consecutive defeat and his fourth in his last six outings.
The heavyweight division is desperately in need of new blood, and Lewis represents that. If he can knock Browne off here, a matchup with one of the elite will surely be waiting. If Browne can recapture some of the magic of his early UFC run, he'll be right back at the top.
Lewis is enormous, routinely cutting down to make the 265-pound heavyweight limit, but he's also surprisingly fast and athletic for a man of his size. His approach isn't especially complicated or diverse, but it builds on the twin foundations of his physicality and patience.
At range, Lewis calmly stalks his opponent, flicking the occasional kick as he tries to force his opponent toward the fence. When he's close enough, Lewis explodes forward into one or two punches, each of which carries crushing power.
While Lewis can end the fight with a single punch, he's more interested in diving forward into the clinch, where he can control his opponent against the fence and work takedowns. Technique isn't Lewis' strongest suit in the tie-ups, but his strength is otherworldly.
When he gets to top position, Lewis is a monster. His control is excellent, and the fight is as good as over when he postures up. Two or three punches are all Lewis needs to end proceedings quickly.
Those are the good parts of Lewis' game. On the other hand, he doesn't throw much at range and doesn't have the footwork to consistently force his opponent backwards. His patience conserves energy for his offensive explosions, but he can also give away entire rounds without doing much of anything, content to stand around, hang out with his back to the fence or stay on the bottom after conceding takedowns.
Lewis is exceptionally dangerous, and he'll create an opportunity or two to end his opponent's night in a heartbeat with enough time. What happens in between those opportunities is the issue.
Browne is huge for the division at 6'7" and is shockingly quick and light on his feet. He has excellent footwork and glides through the cage, popping a quick, potent jab to measure and set his preferred long range. The straight right hand that follows the jab is fast, accurate and lethal. Counters are a strong suit when he can draw his opponent forward.
If you look at any individual thing Browne does as a striker, it looks better than it used to. His fundamentals are cleaner, and his footwork is tighter. The problem is the lack of an overarching plan or a real sense of why he's doing any given thing. Why throw a jab here or a right hand there? Why pressure? Why stick and move? Those are the issues that have plagued Browne during his last six fights.
Takedown defense has been a strength of Browne's game, but that comes with some caveats. When he can get his back to the fence and use his height for leverage, he's nearly impossible to get to the mat, and he has a knack for delivering nasty elbows on careless opponents. In open space, though, Browne is not hard to get down when the opponent sets up his level change and drives through.
The occasional takedown, usually trips in the clinch, adds some variety to Browne's game. He's nasty from top position, with strong control and heavy ground strikes, and could stand to use that part of his game a bit more. He doesn't do much from his back, though, and isn't great at getting back to his feet.
Lewis -110, Browne -110
On skills and style, this is Browne's fight to lose; he should be able to stick Lewis on the end of his jab and right hand, cut angles and move through the cage at will and pile up volume on his plodding, slow-paced opponent.
Fights aren't just about style and technique, though. Browne has looked lost in his last two outings and doesn't seem to fight with much of a plan these days. If Lewis can get him to the mat even once, it's an open question as to whether Browne will survive.
With that in mind, the pick is Lewis by knockout in the third round.
Odds courtesy of OddsShark and current on Wednesday, February 15.
Patrick Wyman is the Senior MMA Analyst for Bleacher Report and the co-host of the Heavy Hands Podcast, your source for the finer points of face-punching. For the history enthusiasts out there, he also hosts The Fall of Rome Podcast on the end of the Roman Empire. He can be found on Twitter and on Facebook.