In an attempt to help the WEC draw numbers, the UFC will host its first event on Versus. With its first PPV on deck, the WEC could really use the help. A couple of these bouts have major implications. There is a lot of hype surrounding Jon Jones and Junior Dos Santos. With a win over Gonzaga, Dos Santos can solidify himself among Brock Lesnar, Frank Mir, Shane Carwin, and Cain Velasquez as the Heavyweight division’s elite. For Jones, this will be his first test in the octagon. Is he ready to challenge the upper echelon Light Heavyweights? How good is he?
We also get two scrap fests in Paul Buentello Vs. Cheick Kongo and James Irvin vs. Alessio Sakara. Not bad for a free card. I encourage you to read my breakdowns to see why I made the predictions that I made. At the end of the breakdowns, I will have my official picks and fight honors listed. Enjoy the fights and thanks for reading!
Jon "Bones" Jones Vs. Brandon "The Truth" Vera
Jones (Stephan Bonnar, Jake O’Brien )
Vera (Frank Mir, Assuerio Silva, Krzysztof Soszynski )
The UFC highlights its Versus debut with this explosive main event. Rising superstar, Jon Jones, will take on Light Heavyweight contender, Brandon Vera. Fighting out of Jackson’s MMA, Jones sparked immediate interest from MMA fans around the globe. His beautiful blend of Greco Roman Wrestling and Muay Thai has delivered a highlight reel that is the epitome of a modern day Mixed Martial Artist.
Critics will claim that Jones has never truly been tested. "You’re telling me Brandon Vera wouldn’t work Stephan Bonnar or Andre Gusmao?" The praise of Jon Jones stems from a technical sense. He isn’t just beating opponents. He is physically dissecting them in ways that we’ve never witnessed.
How many times have you seen Stephan Bonnar and Matt Hamill (a three-time NCAA Division III National Wrestling Champion) tossed about so effortlessly like rag dolls? How many successful spinning back elbows have you witnessed? How many times have you seen a guy go for a flying knee, realize his opponent is blocking, and switch seamlessly to the other knee to strike his target?
"We’ve never seen him under pressure. Maybe it brings out the best in him. Maybe it brings out the worst. There’s an X factor with Jones that nobody knows about just yet." In this statement from his UFC Countdown interview, Brandon Vera is right on the money. Despite all of the hype, we still have a lot to learn about Jon Jones.
Vera will take the initiative as he provides Jones with his first test in the UFC. Coming off of a controversial loss to Randy Couture, Brandon Vera looks to regain the momentum he had a little over three years ago. Vera was in the same situation that Jones is in now. He was young, undefeated (Jones’s only loss is based on a technicality), and destroying every opponent thrown in his path.
His biggest victory came from his destruction of Frank Mir at UFC 65. After a sour skid at Heavyweight, Vera dropped to Light Heavyweight to begin his quest of holding both the LHW and HW titles. A win over Jones would put him back on track to achieving his ambitious goals.
Keys to Victory:
Vera and Jones have very similar styles of fighting. They are both Greco Roman Wrestling and Muay Thai specialists. Jon Jones needs to get after Brandon Vera in this fight. Despite having great Muay Thai, Vera tends to shy away from aggressive opponents. Keith Jardine’s chin is about as fragile as Nicholas Cage’s acting career. Vera had more than enough power to get in, engage, and put Jardine to sleep.
When Vera tried to close the distance, Jardine stayed in the pocket and fired back aggressively. Vera took the shots, covered wildly, smiled, and backed away…Wash, Rinse, Repeat…All the way to a Keith Jardine decision victory. Jones will have the reach advantage in this fight. He has been blessed with an 84.5 inch reach that would even give a Heavyweight problems.
Jones should use short combinations to get Vera to turtle and back away. As Vera backs away, Jones should follow up with a flurry of combinations. This fight needs to stay simple. Jones is really good at executing unorthodox maneuvers. Since they come really natural to him, he shouldn’t abandon them completely. He should be careful what he throws.
Brandon Vera is a serious opponent. One mistake could quickly send the Jones hype train to a screeching halt. It’s very hard to gauge who has the better wrestling in this fight. A betting man would probably put his money on Jones. In all fairness, It should be noted that Randy Couture had tremendous trouble putting Vera on the ground.
Brandon Vera will have experience on his side in this bout. Vera has fought tough opponents in big events before. This is a very big fight for Jones. Training with champions and former champions alike, I expect "Bones" to be ready. Head movement will be an important factor for Brandon Vera in this fight. Turtling up and moving backwards will not save Vera from Jones’s Reed Richard-like reach in this fight. Jones tends to throw wide open punches.
When the gap closes, Jones may prove susceptible to a well-timed hook or an elbow. On the outside, Vera should constantly pepper Jones with strong kicks to the legs and body. I don’t see BJJ playing much of a factor in this fight. Out of 25 combined fights, these two have a combined 3 submissions. Even so, Vera has the superior belt (brown opposed to Jones’s blue).
If Vera wants this fight, he will have to take it. We haven’t seen a fiery Brandon Vera in a long time. What happened to the Vera who took the center of the octagon and went after opponents? For Vera’s sake, he better show up Sunday night.
It’s interesting that these two should implement similar strategies in this fight. It only complements their similar styles. One more tip for Brandon Vera. When Jones feints for a takedown or level change, he should pay attention to Jones’s power hand. That spinning back elbow can be very deceptive.
I will admit that I bought in to the Vera hype a little over three years ago. He was smashing through opponent after opponent. It wasn’t just his destruction inside the cage. It was also his demeanor outside. Vera had the kind of passion and confidence that immediately had fans ordaining him as the "next big thing." I still believe that guy is buried within Vera somewhere. "The Truth" is a fitting nickname for Brandon Vera because "The Truth" can hurt sometimes.
After beating Frank Mir on Nov. 18, 2006, Brandon Vera would go missing and end up on a milk carton. An impostor returned nearly a year later to lose a unanimous decision to Tim Sylvia. Vera can argue about the Randy Couture decision at UFC 105 all he wants. The fact remains that he refused to show any urgency in the fight. Couture was able to hold him against the cage for 2 rounds.
It was one of the most uneventful UFC main events that I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. The blame cannot solely rest on Couture. Instead of working for space and getting free, Vera was content to work from the position bestowed upon him. I don’t know what’s wrong with Brandon Vera. It could be his training partners (maybe he needs to mix it up), his training, or his attitude towards fighting.
I’m a big Brandon Vera believer. When at 100 percent physically and mentally, I still believe he can accomplish great things in the HW and LHW divisions. It’s just hard to pick against a guy as talented, humble, and intelligent as Jon Jones. At 22 years of age, he is a trainer’s dream fighter. He is the model athlete both inside and outside the cage.
The scariest statement came from Jones’s UFC Countdown Interview. "In the Hamill fight, I was way more composed and relaxed. I was actually having fun for the first time." As he gains more and more experience, Jon Jones's confidence will continue to increase. Which Anderson Silva would you prefer to fight?…Pre-Leben or Post-Griffin? We will chalk up another lackluster performance by Brandon Vera in this one. While a very good fighter, Vera doesn't show that raw quality of urgency in a fight. Jones will put his heart to the test again.
Vera will come out more aggressively than he has recently. An unwavering Jones will give him fits in all areas of the game. As Vera's confidence drains, so will his will to fight. Jones will pass his first test with flying colors as he takes a convincing unanimous decision. In light of all the hype, Vera called Jones the "second coming of Jesus Christ." There are very few fighters who come along and exemplify true greatness. If the early flashes shown by Jon Jones is any indication, then perhaps Vera is right.
Gabriel "Napao" Gonzaga Vs. Junior "Cigano" Dos Santos
Key Victories :
Gonzaga (Mirko "Cro Cop", Carmelo Marrero, Justin McCully )
Dos Santos (Mirko "Cro Cop", Fabricio Werdum, Gilbert Yvel )
You know that face a baby makes when its being fed its greens? That is the face many of us are left with every time the UFC tries to stuff Gabriel Gonzaga down our throats. The movie 2012 and Gonzaga have one thing in common. They were both victims of their own hype. Even though it had a catchy theme and mesmerizing special effects, 2012 fell flat on its face when theatres opened.
Despite having one of the greatest high-kick finishes in UFC history, Gabriel Gonzaga hopped immediately to a title shot. After massive hype and promise that Randy Couture would be leaving the arena on a gurney, Gonzaga was completely tooled from the opening bell onward by the then 44-year-old champion.
Where am I going with this? Despite being warranted as one of the elite Heavyweights, Gabriel Gonzaga has yet to prove that he can hang at that level. Currently 3-3 in his last six fights, Gonzaga has garnered all of his praise from his highlight reel knockout of Mirko "Cro Cop" at UFC 70.
If you don’t believe me, watch all of the previews surrounding this fight. That knockout will be shown over and over again. Gonzaga is a black belt in BJJ who has competed in ADCC Submission Wrestling Championships. His striking style is Muay Thai based. Gonzaga will be given another test in the UFC. Can he pass it and prove his rank among the elite? We will find out when he takes on Junior Dos Santos.
Dos Santos is the opposite of everything I’ve said about Gonzaga. At age 25, he has amassed dominant victories over Fabricio Werdum, Gilbert Yvel, and Mirko "Cro Cop." There is a lot of hype surrounding Dos Santos coming into this fight. Every bit of it is deserving.
Dos Santos is a tank built for separating people from consciousness. The Brazilian native trains at Black House with Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida, and the Noguiera brothers. He has a brown belt in BJJ. I also believe he is the best boxer in the entire UFC HW division.
Keys to Victory :
Gonzaga needs to get back to his grappling roots. It seems he became lost in his own hype. Yes, Gabriel Gonzaga has a lot of power. If he catches you clean, you will most likely be taking a dirt nap. There is one problem with this assessment. How many Heavyweights can we say this about? As big as these guys are, any punch landed successfully can end a fight.
I liked the way Gonzaga came out in the Carwin fight. After hurting Carwin on the feet, Gonzaga went for the takedown. I would like to see more takedown attempts from Gonzaga in this fight. If there is one question mark surrounding Dos Santos, It is his ground game. We have yet to see it. It doesn’t say anything about his skill in that area. For all we know, Dos Santos could be an excellent ground fighter. Regardless, Gonzaga needs to test him in that area.
In the Carwin fight, Gonzaga was caught with his hands down by a cross. Dos Santos is a far more vicious boxer than Carwin. It is essential that Gonzaga stays covered up in this fight. A mistake could quickly lead to déjà vu of the Carwin fight. Dos Santos has a very good chin. Anything can happen in a fight, but that MMA cliché isn’t enough for Gonzaga to depend 100 percent on.
He needs to fight a smart fight. When Dos Santos rushes, Gonzaga should circle away and reposition himself. It would be nice to see a technical Gonzaga working takedowns and demonstrating great BJJ. Leg kicks could also prove effective. If Gonzaga can slow down Dos Santos’s movement, it could prolong his survival on the feet….and maybe even open up offensive opportunities.
Dos Santos needs to get in Gonzaga's face and stay there. Couture, Werdum, and Carwin have all found success implementing similar strategies. When pushed upon, Gonzaga has shown a tendency to wilt under the pressure. Dos Santos has a nasty body shot/hook combination. If he closes the gap, I expect him to try to work it.
He needs to stay weary of the takedown. The ground is Gonzaga’s best chance for victory. I expect him to try to exploit it every chance he gets. Dos Santos shouldn’t give Gonzaga’s takedowns too much respect. He should push forward and remain confident in his ability to defend.
I know Dos Santos has a really good chin. He needs to watch keeping his hands too low in this fight. I noticed him doing it in the Yvel fight at times. Lightning can strike twice. Another Gonzaga high-kick could light up MMA forums across the net.
Gonzaga’s nickname, "Napao," means "big nose." It describes a person with a sixth sense. You can smell what’s about to happen. You are always a step ahead of your opponent. The only thing "Napao" is going to be smelling in this fight is Dos Santos’s right hand. Gonzaga will fold under the pressure once again.
Dos Santos will close the distance and send him backpedaling. Pressed against the cage, Gonzaga will wilt to a barrage of Dos Santos punches in round 1.
Cheick Kongo Vs. Paul "The Headhunter" Buentello
Key Victories :
Kongo (Assuerio Silva, Mirko "Cro Cop", Antoni Hardonk )
Buentello (Justin Eilers, Gary Goodridge, Tank Abbott )
For over 12 years, the big game has eluded "The Headhunter". Paul Buentello has bounced in and out of relevance in the sport. He gets a good streak going, moves up in competition, and gets knocked back down. It’s really sad when I have to resort to putting Tank Abbott as one of the "key victories" of your MMA career. With Cheick Kongo, it’s the same song but different beat.
Normally, a win over Mirko "Cro Cop" would be good on any résumé. Unfortunately for Kongo, we all witnessed him beat a watered down version of the fearless kick boxer we once knew. Even in that fight, Kongo was far from impressive. The battle for relevance will be on as Cheick Kongo meets Paul Buentello.
Buentello is coming off of a loss to Stefan Struve at UFC 107. Born in Amarillo, Texas, Buentello earned "The Headhunter" nickname due to his tendency to go for head kicks in his early years of training.
His fighting style is kickboxing. Cheick Kongo is also a kick boxer sporting a professional record of 19-5. He trains at Wolfslair MMA Academy with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Michael "The Count" Bisping. In his last fight, he was guillotined into unconsciousness by Frank Mir.
Keys to Victory:
Before I address individual keys, both of these fighters have the same glaring weakness. Despite a combined 22 years of experience (Kongo 9 years, Buentello 13 years), they are still one-dimensional. When I watch NBA players like Ben Wallace airball free throws, it gets me angry every time. You are a professional at your craft…and there are kindergartners with a better shooting motion than you?
There are elementary wrestlers out there right now with more grappling competence than Cheick Kongo. It’s not just Kongo. Buentello has apparently settled for mediocrity. In all of his 13 years of fighting, his style has remained the same. This is Mixed Martial Arts. There are various aspects to the sport. As a fighter, you have to keep evolving…or the sport will pass you by. I may have went a little crazy in my assessment, but I hope you get my point.
There is a reason why these two are in the position they are in right now. To Cheick Kongo’s credit, he’s added some nasty ground-and-pound to his arsenal. Brandishing an elbow shaped like a sword, he is more than capable of plastering the canvas with the blood of his opponent. Buentello is very bad at checking leg kicks. Kongo needs to work those legs with strong kicks throughout the fight. Stefan Struve stole the third round from Buentello due to unchecked leg kicks.
Kongo will be the more explosive fighter in this bout. He should actually use his jab (not the paddy cake tap) to disguise his massive cross. When the gap closes, Kongo should initiate the clinch and press Buentello against the fence. From there, he can either work for a takedown or tire Buentello out by leaning on him and landing short punches. Buentello needs to take advantage of Kongo’s robotic movements.
At times, Kongo tends to wing punches, not use head movement, and leave his hands down. The latter got him dropped by Frank Mir. Buentello will have openings and chances to land on Cheick Kongo. It’s just a matter of execution. I really hope Buentello has been working on checking leg kicks. Kongo loves to throw them. These aren’t going to be Stefan Struve point scorers, either. Kongo’s leg kicks can echo throughout an entire arena.
Buentello will need his legs if he wishes to survive this fight. Along with his legs, "The Headhunter" will need space between him and his opponent. Kongo loves to close the distance and press opponents against the cage. The fans usually get a stalemate for 2½ minutes before the referee resets the position. Buentello should circle away from the cage and remain the aggressor. Don’t get into any unneeded clinch battles.
This is probably a do or die fight for Cheick Kongo. Currently on a two-fight losing streak, Kongo will reverse his misfortunes in this bout. Look for him to come out aggressive and press Buentello against the cage. Kongo will then land a nasty elbow that opens his opponent up. A tired and bloody Buentello will be saved by the referee in the second round due to TKO stoppage.
"The Sandman" James Irvin Vs. Alessio "Legionarius" Sakara
Key Victories :
Irvin (Houston Alexander, Terry Martin, Hector Ramirez, Scott Smith )
Sakara (Thales Leites, Elvis Sinosic )
In the battle of heavy hands and fragile chins, Spiderman meets Gladiator as "The Sandman" James Irvin takes on Alessio "Legionarius" Sakara. It’s been well over a year since we saw James Irvin compete. In that fight, we were greeted with a comic adaptation so close that it made every nerd soil his undies.
"The Sandman" welcomed Anderson "The Spider" Silva to the LHW division. Would the bigger and stronger Irvin be able to topple the proposed best pound-for-pound fighter in the world? From the entrances to the moment Mario Yamasaki said "Let’s Go", the entire MMA world reeked of anticipation…1 minute later…Mike Goldberg: "And it’s all over!"…Catching a kick, Anderson landed a nuclear bomb to Irvin’s chin.
Within one minute, Irvin went from a strapping young lad to the late cousin of a character from The Hills Have Eyes. There’s no shame in getting smashed by a guy like Anderson Silva. Irvin looks to erase that loss as he finally returns to the octagon after a serious knee injury. "The Sandman" brings a Muay Thai style with impeccable power.
In 14 wins, 10 have come by knockout. In his defeat of former #1 MW contender, Thales Leites, Alessio Sakara showed improvement in his game. He was able to move effectively in and out of range, stuff takedowns, and put together well-placed combinations.
Since joining American Top Team, Sakara looks reborn. He is fighting with a new confidence. Kicks and knees have been added to his striking arsenal. He has also grown a massive beard…Perhaps to hide his delicate chin?
Keys to Victory:
Sporting a professional boxing record, Sakara has the more seasoned hands in this fight. He should use a similar strategy here as used in the Leites fight. Use short combinations and get out of range.
With his boxing prowess, Sakara could do serious damage to Irvin in the pocket. The problem lies in his less than stellar chin. Irvin has explosive knockout power. The punch he landed on Hector Ramirez to end that fight came out of no where. Sakara needs to avoid all unnecessary exchanges. Irvin loves to throw kicks with his hands down. Sakara should make him pay for this with well-timed cross counters.
I believe Irvin has the better chin in this fight. He should try to bait Sakara into a pocket throwdown. If this fight turns into a technical boxing match, Irvin will find himself in a lot of trouble. All 3 of Sakara’s KO losses have come in the first round. He seems to really struggle against aggressive strikers going for broke.
When the scrap is brought to him, Sakara tends to abandon his game plan completely by joining in. It would be nice to propose a sound strategy for James Irvin, but we all know he isn’t going to follow one. Even if he did, I’m not sure that he has the technical competence to outpoint Sakara for three rounds.
This fight is very hard to predict. It’s 50/50 at best. When you look at the intangibles, things get even cloudier. Irvin hasn’t fought in over a year. How will his cardio hold up? He is coming off back to back knee injuries. Sakara is always a question mark. He beats guys he shouldn’t beat (Thales Leites), and he loses to guys he shouldn’t lose to (Houston Alexander). Irvin has that in your face style that seems to give Sakara a lot of trouble.
If Sakara asked Santa for a chin last Christmas, he will prove me wrong in this fight. Irvine will help bad habits resurface. As the exchanges heat up, Sakara will stay in the pocket and get dropped in the first round.
Official Picks Jon Jones Wins By Unanimous Decision Junior Dos Santos Wins By Round 1 TKO Stoppage Cheick Kongo Wins By Round 2 TKO Stoppage James Irvin Wins By Round 1 KO Fight of the Night: Jon Jones Vs. Brandon Vera Knockout of the Night: Junior Dos Santos Over Gabriel Gonzaga Submission of the Night: Clay Guida Over Shannon Gugerty
Jon Jones Wins By Unanimous Decision
Junior Dos Santos Wins By Round 1 TKO Stoppage
Cheick Kongo Wins By Round 2 TKO Stoppage
James Irvin Wins By Round 1 KO
Fight of the Night: Jon Jones Vs. Brandon Vera
Knockout of the Night: Junior Dos Santos Over Gabriel Gonzaga
Submission of the Night: Clay Guida Over Shannon Gugerty