UFC 129 Fight Card: Will Canadian Fighters Get Exposed on Home Turf?
Let me start off by saying just how much I hate "country vs. country" based promoting in MMA events...or anything else, for that matter.
Watching the NHL playoffs north of the border, one can't escape the constant appeals to national pride. "Will a Canadian team make it to the playoffs?" is a question raised so often by our sports media that it's become a mantra.
Hell, the two remaining Canadian teams in the playoffs are called the Canadiens and the Canucks (now just the Canucks, unfortunately), which should really tell you all you need to know about the game's national implications up here.
In fact, unless it's the Olympics or the World Cup were talking about, nationalism should play no part in the promotion of a major sporting event.
It just shows a lack of imagination, an appeal to the lowest common denominator of fan rooting interest: boo the foreigner, cheer the countryman.
So of course, there's GSP and Jake Shields on the official UFC 129 poster, both draped prominently in their respective national flags.
And by "draped," I mean the Star Spangled Banner and the Maple Leaf are morphing onto their bodies like they were being consumed by some overly-patriotic version of the Carnage symbiote.
Still, it is what it is, and nationalism will always play a part in sports so long as paying customers need a reason to care beyond such silliness as "athletic excellence" or "meaningful world championships."
UFC 129 in particular is loaded top to bottom with Canadian talent in a clear appeal to the 55,000 Canucks who will be jammed into the Rogers Centre that night. Not only is that smart marketing, it's also a great way to see how the best of Canadian MMA (from rank amateurs to seasoned vets) fares against some stiff international competition.
This is a big opportunity to see if the talent in Canada matches up to the insane appeal and popularity of MMA in the Great White North.
Read on as I break down every "Canada vs." fight on the 129 card, to see just how well Canada's homegrown MMA talent stacks up against their UFC 129 opposition.
Yves Jabouin vs. Pablo Garza
The first of six (yes, six) fighters that Firas Zahabi will be coaching at UFC 129, Haitian Canadian Yves Jabouin has seen mixed success in the sports "big leagues," going 1-2 as a featherweight in the WEC.
On the plus side, his two losses were both barnburners that earned him "Fight of the Night" honours, which probably eased the sting of those losses somewhat.
The fact remains, however, that in today’s ultra-competitive UFC, a loss on the curtain jerker fight when you have a losing Zuffa-record almost guarantees you a one way trip to the unemployment line.
Quite simple, Yves Jabouin must win. He's been given something of a gift in Pablo Garza, an "Ultimate Fighter" washout who is 1-1 in the "Zuffa" leagues. He also happens to hold the distinction of having fought in the first-ever UFC Featherweight contest.
On the downside for Jabouin, Garza is a submission expert, perfectly poised to exploit Jabouin's weaknesses. He also knocked out his last opponent with a flying knee so vicious his opponent needed to receive oxygen in the ring, and had to be carried out on a stretcher.
So yeah, this guy's probably dangerous.
We know Jabouin hits hard, however (just ask featherweight title challenger Mark Hominick), and so long as this fight stays in his wheelhouse (that is, standing up) he should be able to take it.
The key question will be whether his Zahabi-trained ground game is up to the test should Garza decide to take this fight to the floor.
John Makdessi vs. Kyle Watson
Continuing the trend of Firas Zahabi-trained kickboxers with an unorthodox style, we have Jon Makdessi, who threw so many crescent kicks, axe kicks, roundhouse kicks, and kicks of all kinds in his last fight that Goldie and Joe eventually ran out of names for them.
And that's what you get, folks, when a world kickboxing champion with a wealth of experience makes the jump into MMA.
So of you never get a second chance to make a first impression, then Makdessi's first impression this past December in his UFC debut was a strong one.
He showed the kind of offensive flair that could soon make him a star in the UFC. Unfortunately, what he didn't show was finishing power, or a particularly strong gas tank.
I chalk that up to "first time" Octagon jitters rather then an inherent weakness in his game. For this fight, I expect a more polished, poised Makdessi to show is what he is capable of as a fighter.
Kyle Watson is a BJJ instructor at Matt Hughes's HIT Squad MMA gym, and brings a fair bit of grappling and MMA experience with him into the cage.
He was also a participant in the Kos vs. GSP season of "The Ultimate Fighter" as a member of (Zahabi-led) Team GSP, though what insight this affords Firas and team is debatable.
If Makdessi wants to win this fight, he needs to take this fight away from Watson right out of the gate. He showed he was a master of controlling distance against Pat Audinwood, and he needs to use that same kickboxer's speed and sense of timing to keep Watson guessing.
He also needs to show either solid takedown defense or a good defensive guard, as I suspect the Hughes-trained, grappling-inclined Watson will look to take this fight down should he get shellacked on the feet.
His previous fights have proven Makdessi is a good kickboxer. This fight will (hopefully) prove he's a good MMA fighter.
Jason McDonald vs. Ryan Jensen
Jason McDonald's last fight was the definition of "heartbreaker". Returning to the UFC for the umpteenth time, he faced John Salter at UFC 113 in Montreal with an enthusiastic Canadian crowd behind him.
Two minutes later the fight was over, and quite possibly Jason's career. "The Athlete" stuffed a Salter takedown, fell awkwardly, and didn't get back up.
Replays showed the harrowing break as McDonald's leg went to post, took the full weight of the takedown attempt, and gave way. One of Canada's most beloved veterans was helped out of the
cage in frustration and dismay.
Bummer. Fortunately, McDonald recovered, and he is once again set to "return" to the UFC.
Always one of the most exciting of the UFC's "go to guys" (remember when he gave Demian Maia all he could handle on the mat?) the UFC has rewarded Jason's years of toil and sacrifice with an absolute gift fight.
Okay, that's unfair to Ryan Jensen. But still, its hard to ignore Jensen's less then sterling 2-5 record in the UFC.
Men with far less unbalanced records then Jensen's have been shown the door, and it's tough not to think he wasn't kept around to give McDonald someone to beat up on.
If McDonald wants to win this, he has to do his thing, and no, I'm not taking a page out of the "Rampage" Jackson school of fight mentoring. McDonald is capable of giving anyone in his weight class problems on the ground.
He needs to drag Jensen down and make life miserable for him. Jensen has submission losses to Court McGee and Jesse Forbes. McDonald is going to grab an arm or leg and take it home with him.
Call it karma coming home to roost.
Ivan Menjivar vs. Charlie Valencia
If Ivan Menjivar has flown under the radar the last couple of years, it's no surprise; he retired from MMA in 2006, only returning in 2010 to fight for W-1, the WEC, and now the UFC.
Before his retirement, Menjivar was a proven vet with a wealth of experience. Having fought in the UFC, the IFL, K-1 and Pancrase in Japan, he has faced everyone from Matt Serra to Urijah Faber to Caol Uno to Joe Lauzon and oh yeah,...some dude named Georges St. Pierre.
Now he trains alongside GSP at Tristar Gym in Montreal, and he's hoping to rebuild his career after his sustained layoff. And what better way then opening a can of whoop*ss on the biggest UFC card ever?
His opponent at UFC 129 is Charlie Valencia, who was something of the bridesmaid in the old WEC's Bantamweight division.
He has faced a who's who of WEC stars including Urijah Faber, Miguel Torres, Brian Bowles, and Dominick Cruz. Suffice to say he has a resume and experience advantage to match (or even surpass) Menjivar's.
He also fights out of Ontario, California, which should prove momentarily confusing to fans in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
This is a tough fight for Menjivar, a "let's see where you stack up" kind of contest. Menjivar is only 28 years old, but he's already a seasoned pro with one, Randy Couture-inspired "faux retirement" already under his belt.
For him, the moment is now or never to make his mark in this sport that has largely overlooked him.
While evenly balanced between TKO and Submission victories, Menjivar has favoured submissions in his most recent fights.
I see him going that route in this fight to, as Miguel Torres (another Tristar alum) proved Valencia is susceptible to the tap if set up properly, and if the proper, measured pressure is put on him.
Hopefully, Menjivar can repeat the feat and send a message to fans and fighters alike that his best days are still in front of him.
Claude Patrick vs. Daniel Roberts
Claude "The Prince" Patrick could be primed for a big year, a breakout year, a "Jon Jones/Phil Davis/Cain Velasquez/Houston Alexander" kind of year (okay, I'm joking about that last one).
That's assuming he continues to live up to his exceptional potential promise as he did in 2010. It's become cliché to say that a fighter has "all the tools" but in Patrick's case it's mostly true.
He brings a dangerous submission game, solid striking, cardio that can go the distance, and the sort of confidence that can only come from riding a winning streak into a bout.
He also once survived getting tasered and being in a coma for three days, so...I guess that equates to a strong chin. What the hell?
Patrick faces a stern test in Daniel Roberts, an accomplished collegiate wrestler and member of the acclaimed (some might say infamous) Cesar Gracie fight team, training alongside such luminaries as Gilbert Melendez and Nick Diaz.
Roberts has proven to be a real killer with his wrestling/BJJ combo, and his sole loss was a toe-curling KO at the hand(s) of John Howard.
Patrick is certainly capable of recreating that stunning KO, but that's not his usual style. More likely, this fight is going to turn into an absolute scrap of a ground battle.
If Patrick really is "the next big thing", at least north of the border, he's going to have to prove it in this fight.
There's no easy road to victory for Roberts here, no clear cut game plan or plan of attack. If he wants to win, he's going to have to work harder than Roberts from bell to bell, and prove himself superior when this fight hits the floor.
It's gut check time for "The Prince." If he can handle a dude like Roberts on the mat, he will have proven he's ready to start chasing fights with the top-10 of the welterweight division.
Rory MacDonald vs. Nate Diaz
Speaking of hyped, up and coming Canadian prospects, there is none hotter (or rather, there was none hotter) than British Columbia's Rory "Waterboy" MacDonald.
MacDonald is one of the much discussed "new generation" of Mixed Martial Artists, one who started out training specifically for MMA rather then gravitating toward the sport from a “traditional” martial arts background.
His rise through the regional ranks at such a young age (dude’s just 21 years old today) made him a legend of sorts. Unfortunately, when he made it to the big leagues, the fairytale ended.
The UFC has a really stellar track record of building up prospects, guiding their careers and building them up slowly and deliberately. Just look at the recent explosion of Jon Jones...a prospect three years in the making.
Unfortunately for Rory, when it comes to nurturing him as a prospect, Joe Silva and Co. have decided to forgo the slow, graded career curve and just bury the poor kid before he can even grow a proper beard.
Instead of a slow build-up, MacDonald has been thrown to the wolves since he made his UFC debut last year. If he’s truly the greatest thing since sliced bread, he’s apparently going to have to prove it.
In his debut fight, Rory was pitted against tough but unspectacular vet Mike Guymon, who very nearly shut his lights off before MacDonald was able to come back for the submission victory.
Rory passed the gut check test in that fight, but he looked shaky against a guy making his UFC debut.
So of course, he’s ready for Carlos Condit. To his credit, Rory gave Condit all he could handle for two rounds, before Carlos showed the heart that made him a champion in the WEC and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the third.
Now 1-1, Rory was given the safe, build up fight of…Nate Diaz, a perennial top-10 contender at Lightweight and Welterweight.
Talk about some tough hurdles. Nate Diaz is a handful for anyone, let alone a 21 year old kid in his third UFC fight. If MacDonald wants to win this, he needs to show the consistency and staying power that was lacking against Carlos Condit.
He had everything going his way in that fight, and was showing off all the skills that seemed to vindicate his extreme hype.
Then he let it all slip away in the third. Against Diaz, who brings the fight bell to bell, he can’t let off the gas pedal for one second.
Solid wrestling and ground and pound is the way to beat a Diaz bro (in theory). Rory will need to bring both for 15 straight minutes to beat Diaz.
Sean Pierson vs. Jake Ellenberger
When I heard Sean Pierson had been offered a fight on the 129 card against Brian Foster, I was thrilled.
Pierson is a true “homegrown” Toronto MMA fighter, a police officer and a family man and as good a representative for the sport in Canada as anybody.
I was glad the UFC was giving him his due place on this card, even if Foster presented a steep hill to climb.
It was only when Brian Foster fell out with brain hemorrhage, and was replaced by Jake Ellenberger, that a lump started to form in my throat.
Man, this is a tough fight for Pierson. Really tough. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not discounting Pierson’s skills in any way.
We already know the guy has no shortage of fight in him, and those many months training with GSP and Firas Zahabi up at Tristar have no doubt paid dividends in his training.
But Jake Ellenberger is a monster. His only loss in the UFC is to Carlos Condit, in a close decision many felt should have gone his way. He certainly gave “The Natural Born Killer” all he could handle in that fight.
He’s currently riding a three-fight winning streak, with two wins coming by (T)KO. He’s a powerhouse wrestler who hits like a Mac truck on speed. He was slotted to face No. 2-ranked Jon Fitch only a couple months ago before that fight got shelved for Fitch/Penn.
So yeah, this guy’s dangerous. As in the MacDonald/Diaz fight, I think this is a case of too much, too soon. Pierson is a fantastic talent, and a fun fighter to boot. But defeating Matt Riddle’s Tae Bo meets Rock Em‘ Sock Em Robots-style standup (via decision, no less) does not mean you’re ready for a freight train like Jake Ellenberger.
On the other hand, I understand why the UFC is rushing Sean into the tough fights somewhat. After all, at 35, he isn’t getting any younger. If he’s going to make something of himself, he needs to do it now (which makes the earlier case of MacDonald/Diaz so confusing, but I digress).
I sincerely hope Pierson has been getting in good training up there in Montreal, or that Ellenberger’s hands haven’t fully healed up from breaking them on Carlos Eduardo Rocha’s noggin.
'Cause frankly, I don’t see any other way for Pierson to take this. For what it’s worth, I hope he proves me wrong and creams Ellenberger come fight night.
If he does, I’ll eat every one of these words with a sh*t eating grin on my face. But I don’t see it.
Mark Bocek vs. Ben Henderson
Ladies and gentlemen, I present the livest underdog on the entire UFC 129 card.
Mark Bocek. Mark freakin’ Bocek. For too long, “The Ginger Assassin” (ok that’s not his real nickname, but man, it ought to be) has flown under the radar at 155 pounds. But no more.
In his last fight, he took noted BJJ black belt Dustin Hazelett and had him turning purple in two and a half minutes. He has four submission victories in the UFC, two of the earning “Submission of the Night” honors.
In short, he’s as elite a BJJ player as you’ll find at lightweight. And on the televised card of the biggest UFC event ever, he’s going to earn the victory that launches him into lightweight title contention.
Ben “Smooth” Henderson is as game a fighter as they come. He’s been in some all out wars during his stint in the WEC (much of it as the organization’s 155-pound champion) and win or lose, he’s never been broken mentally in a fight. He’s also earned a reputation as unsubmittable.
But let’s be real here for a second. Barely hanging on against a grappler the calibre of Donald Cerrone, who’s a fine MMA grappler but far from a world-class BJJ player, shouldn’t earn him as much credence as it seemingly does.
Truth is, “Bendo” tends to find himself in submission danger in a lot of his fights, and these weren’t against a murderer’s row of BJJ artists, either.
Playing it fast and loose works against the Cerrones and Jamie Varners of the lightweight division. But if Henderson makes even the smallest mistake against an operator like Bocek, he’s tapping out or passing out. It’s that simple.
The only danger to Bocek in this fight is Henderson’s wrestling. A wrestling disadvantage cost him a decision against Jim Miller, and Henderson could employ a similar game plan and attempt to grind out a victory.
If Bocek wants to enter the elite ranks of the stacked 155-pound division, he’ll have to prove he’s closed this weakness in his game.
It’s easy to look like a stud grappler when your toughest submission threat is Shane Roller. Mark Bocek is going to welcome him to the big leagues of the UFC by showing him what top level grappling really looks (and feels) like.
Jose Aldo vs. Mark Hominick
I live in London, Ontario, Canada, the “hometown” of Mark Hominick and just a few minutes from his actual place of birth/residence in Thamesford, Ontario. I mention this because in and around London, Mark Hominick is the freakin’ man right now.
He’s on every radio station, and TV channel. He’s on the cover of every newspaper and magazine you come across. Shop owners are writing “Go Hominick Go!” on their billboards and storefront windows.
His pictures adorns the side of city buses. For this past week (and, if he wins, likely forevermore) Mark Hominick is the king of London, Canada.
And that’s all well and good, but on April 30, none of that fanatical support or rabid enthusiasm is going to matter. The deafening cheers of 55,000 drunken Canadian fans chanting his name is not going to matter.
The hopes and prayers of a fight-hungry nation won’t matter. Because when they lock the cage door that night, he’ll be standing across from Jose Aldo.
And that’s just a bad place to be for any man that enjoys functioning legs, intact eye sockets, and unconcussed brain cells.
Still, I maintain Hominick is a far greater threat to the featherweight champ than most are giving him credit for. First of all, Aldo is coming off a long layoff due to injury. His last fight was over seven months ago, so ring rust has to be at least a bit of a factor.
Hominick also represents, in my opinion, the sternest test Aldo has ever faced on the feet. I know, Jose Aldo is God’s gift to Muay Thai. I have no doubt he can win this fight standing up.
But to deny that Hominick, a technically crisp, world-class striker with proven KO power in both hands isn’t a threat is delusion bordering on lunacy.
Not to mention the whole “fighting in your hometown” thing Hominick has going for him. You add that all up, and you have the recipe for an upset.
If Hominick is to win this fight, I think he’ll have to weather the storm. Aldo is too precise, to perfect to leave an opening early in the contest. Hominick is going to have to ride out the early assault, prove he can stay in the pocket with Aldo, and bide his time.
Once he’s instilled a little doubt in Aldo’s mind and dragged him to deep waters, he needs to start landing shots and making them count.
Hominick can shut off the lights with just one punch, which is good, cause he’ll likely only get one opening against a stud like Aldo.
If Hominick wants to live his dreams in Toronto that night, he needs to fight his fight, trust his power, and like Luke Skywalker at the end of “Star Wars,” make every shot count.
Georges St. Pierre vs. Jake Shields
What more can I say about this fight that hasn’t already been said? Haven’t you been watching the “Primetime” series? Or the “Countdown” special? Haven’t you seen all the ads and promotion and hype behind the biggest main event in (Canadian) MMA history?
In Canada, GSP is a national icon just behind Sidney Crosby and Tim Horton’s on the “Universally Loved” scale. Even if you don’t watch MMA, or even if you’ve never heard of it before - if you’re a Canadian, chances are you know who GSP is.
And there’s Jake, world-class BJJ competitor and elite-level MMA fighter who’s inarguably top-10 in all of MMA, across all weight classes.
He’s about as worthy and legitimate a challenger as you could find for GSP at welterweight without setting up another rematch.
So basically, he either gets crushed like he’s supposed to be or pulls off another “Matt Serra” moment and shocks the world. Those are the only two ways this fight goes, barring a fluke injury or DQ or something.
And let’s be honest here. Serra at least had KO power to go along with his BJJ black belt. Jake Shields does not. His only chance is to outwrestle and submit a man who hasn’t lost a round to anyone in over four years.
Good luck with that one - you’re going to need it.