UFC Live: Marquardt versus Story will be held on Sunday, June 26th from the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Main event action includes a welterweight matchup between the previous King of Pancrase and former middleweight title contender, Nate Marquardt, and the hard-hitting grappler from Washington, Rick Story.
A co-main event bout between two kick-boxing specialists pins the veteran Cheick Kongo against the up-and-coming Duke Roufus protege, Pat Barry.
Additional action includes a welterweight slug-fest between the relentless Matt Brown and the fearless John Howard.
Overall, 12 fights will be provided.
Please follow along as I dissect, analyze, and predict the winners for all the fights on the night's card.
This will be an exciting evening of competition in Pittsburgh and I am fortunate to note that I will be sitting cage-side, along with fellow Bleacher Report columnist Sean Smith, providing up-to-the minute analysis of the action inside the Octagon on June 26th.
I welcome your comments.
Thank you to fellow Bleacher Report writer Nick Caron for the tremendous graphics.
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The evening's first fight in Pittsburgh will host a lightweight bout between Michael "The Menace" Johnson and Edward "Falo" Faaloloto.
Johnson, the season 12 finale loser of The Ultimate Fighter, possesses an 8-5 overall MMA record.
Relocating to Jackson's Submission Fighting in Albuquerque, New Mexico after his finale loss, Johnson will be making his second appearance under the UFC banner.
Opposing Johnson will be the 2-1 Edward Faaloloto.
A native Hawaiian, "Falo" trains under the tutelage of veteran UFC competitor Chris Leben.
Relatively unknown and making his UFC debut, Faaloloto will need to overcome the athleticism and experience advantage that Johnson possesses.
In the end, "The Menace" will secure a victory and capture his first win within the UFC.
Winner: Michael Johnson via second-round TKO
Ricardo "The Bully" Lamas holds a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. With an overall MMA record of 9-2, Lamas possesses excellent grappling and ground control skills.
A former WEC challenger, "The Bully" has secured shocking victories, as well as stunning defeats during his young career.
Opposing Lamas in this featherweight duel is Matt "The Real One" Grice.
A four-time Oklahoma State wrestling champion during high school, like Lamas, Grice is extremely proficient in the grappling department.
With four knockout victories, five submissions, and four decision wins to only three defeats, Grice is a well-rounded mixed martial artist.
Because both fighters possess excellent grappling skills, common logic would claim that the winner of this fight will hold the advantage in the stand-up department.
However, I am going to defy logic and state that because both fighters are so grounded in their grappling pedigrees, the instinctual desire to take this fight to the mat will win out over logic.
Therefore, in the end, I believe that Lamas's jiu-jitsu talent will be too much for Grice to overcome.
Winner: Ricardo Lamas via third-round rear-naked choke
The second lightweight matchup will feature Nik "The Carny" Lentz and Charles "do Bronx" Oliveira.
An intriguing bout on paper between the wrestler in Lentz and the jiu-jitsu brilliance of Oliveira.
With an overall MMA record of 21-3 with a balanced array of victories, "The Carny" is very experienced and has trained with seasoned veterans including former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar and former UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk.
Carrying momentum into this battle with Oliveira, Lentz's last fight exhibited his toughness and mental drive as he came back to secure a submission victory over Waylon Lowe after losing the first two rounds.
That duel between Lentz and Lowe caught the attention of UFC President Dana White as he sang both competitors praises on his Twitter account.
Referencing the matchup, White commented, "Lentz vs. Lowe was a SICK fight!!! Seattle is going crazy" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nik_Lentz).
Not to be outdone, Oliveira has also been riding a tremendous wave of momentum while competing in the UFC.
At 14-1, "do Bronx" suffered his first defeat due to a knee bar submission exacted by Jim Miller at UFC 124 in December of 2010.
Even with the most recent loss, Oliveira should be extremely confident in his ability to stand and bang as well as earn a victory by submission by utilizing his wizardry in the jiu-jitsu game.
This fight is very difficult to determine a victor.
Both lightweights are extremely talented and can finish fights at any point during the contest.
In the end, that fact that Lentz has only lost once by submission in 24 professional fights will be the difference.
With the stand-up advantage and a solid ground game, I believe that "The Carny" will secure his 22nd professional MMA victory.
Winner: Nick Lentz via split-decision
A welterweight clash between Charlie "The Spaniard" Brenneman and TJ Grant will be the night's fourth preliminary fight on the card.
Brenneman, 2-1 in the UFC and 13-2 overall, will be looking to utilize his speed and boxing abilities in conjunction with his wrestling background to overwhelm Grant and earn a victory.
Challenging "The Spaniard" is the extremely talented jiu-jitsu brown belt in TJ Grant.
With 12 submission victories, Grant's fight strategy will include securing a take-down and working for a submission.
Opposing this plan, Brenneman will need to stay on his feet and pick apart the young Canadian.
A clash of styles, in the end, Brenneman's athleticism and boxing prowess will secure a victory over Grant.
Winner: Charlie Brenneman via unanimous decision
The fifth preliminary fight consists of Daniel "Ninja" Roberts taking on Rich "The Raging Bull" Attonito.
After securing two straight submission victories including a Submission of the Night honor against Mike Guymon at UFC 121, Roberts suffered a disappointing defeat to Claude Patrick in his last matchup.
Looking to get back on a winning streak, "Ninja" will need to utilize his submission prowess and overall athleticism to defeat a very durable mixed martial artist in Attonito.
Training with American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida, "The Raging Bull" is 2-1 within the UFC.
A solid wrestler with excellent strength and power, a continued development in Attonito's stand-up skills are imperative to his success fighting against the best in the world.
Providing the experience edge and skill-set to Roberts, I feel that the Cesar Gracie pupil will be too much for Attonito's limited overall fight game.
In the end, Daniel "Ninja" Roberts will secure a victory over Rich "The Raging Bull" Attonito.
Winner: Daniel Roberts via unanimous decision
Joe "J-Lau" Lauzon has earned three Fight of the Night as well as three Submission of the Night honors.
A favorite of Joe Rogan's, Lauzon has earned his stripes within the UFC lightweight division.
Recently defeated via kimura by George Sotiropolous as a result of poor conditioning, Lauzon's adjustment in his strength and conditioning program will be crucial in his success against the hard-hitting Brit, Curt Warburton.
A tremendously talented mixed martial artist, it is time for "J-Lau" to step up in competition and defeat the premiere fighters within the division or remain in the pool of ambiguity that resides in the extremely deep UFC lightweight division.
Hoping to derail Lauzon's vision for the future, Warburton will bring his 7-2 MMA record with four knockout victories into the Octagon on June 26th.
Making his United States debut, Warburton's introduction to the American fans will be a challenging endeavor and an uphill struggle as he looks to defeat Lauzon and make a name for himself.
In the end, I believe that Joe Lauzon is just too talented, too experienced, and too driven to lose in this pivotal matchup for his career.
Winner: Joe Lauzon via second-round arm bar
Joe "Daddy" Stevenson will be entering into his 45th professional mixed martial arts fight when he faces Javier "Showtime" Vasquez on June 26th in Pittsburgh.
Stevenson has been on a roller coaster ride of wins and losses since debuting in the UFC back in November of 2005.
The season two winner of The Ultimate Fighter, expectations and high hopes for "Daddy" were not met as he has recently endured a three fight losing streak.
In dire need of a victory, Stevenson should throw caution to the wind and unleash the full arsenal of offense he has built since beginning to fight back in 1999.
Vasquez, on the other hand, is a relative rookie as compared to Stevenson and will be making his UFC debut at UFC: Live.
A second degree black belt under the legendary Carlson Gracie, Vasquez's ground game is second to none and he possesses the jiu-jitsu brilliance to lock up a tapout victory from any position.
Heavily trained in submissions, "Showtime" is more than capable and minimizing fight ending damage on his feet. With four losses, all by decision, Vasquez stays out of trouble and constantly works for a submission.
Even though Stevenson has been a proud staple in the UFC since 2005, I feel that his days representing the greatest promotion in the world will end in Pittsburgh.
Vasquez will out-work, out-perform, and eventually defeat Stevenson in this matchup.
Winner: Javier Vasquez via unanimous decision
The final preliminary fight of the night features a featherweight bout between Tyson Griffin and Manvel Gamburyan.
At the young age of 27, Griffin is a seasoned veteran inside the famed Octagon. With 19 professional fights to his credit and 14 wins, this Xtreme Couture disciple will utilize all his talents as he faces the tough and rugged Gamburyan.
A five-time Fight of the Night awards winner, Griffin's philosophy inside the Octagon is full throttle and leave nothing to chance.
Looking to upset Griffin in his featherweight debut, Manvel "The Anvil" Gamburyan will bring his judo background and 11-5 record to the cage in Pittsburgh.
A durable fighter possessing knockout power and excellent stamina, Gamburyan will be a challenge for Griffin to defeat.
In the end, I believe that Griffin's overall skill-set and experience will overcome Gamburyan's unrelenting drive inside the Octagon.
Winner: Tyson Griffin via split decision
Main card action begins with a heavyweight competition between Matt "Meathead" Mitrione and Christian Morecraft.
Most recently known for his Twitter battle with UFC veteran and "Huntington Beach Bad Boy" Tito Ortiz, "Meathead" is growing in popularity amongst MMA fans.
In the Octagon, Mitrione utilized his athletic background in his first ever professional fight to defeat fellow Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights cast member Marcus Jones in 2009.
Following the defeat of Jones, the over-hyped Kimbo Slice was next on Mitrione's list of casualties as Slice was defeated by TKO in the second round in 2010.
Stepping up in competition, at 6'6" 260 pounds, Christian Morecraft will be Mitrione's toughest challenger to date.
The less recognized Morecraft has quietly established a 7-1 overall MMA record suffering his only defeat to fellow UFC heavyweight, Stefan Struve.
A Muay-thai and BJJ practitioner, Morecraft is well-balanced in his skill-set and will be looking for easily his biggest victory of his young career.
Even though Mitrione's ability to talk trash has evolved more than his talents inside the Octagon, he is still an extremely talented and dangerous fighter.
His level of athleticism and ability to utilize both kicks and punches effectively provide Mitrione the advantage over Morecraft.
In the end, "Meathead" will secure a victory and provide Morecraft with his second defeat.
Winner: Matt Mitrione via third-round TKO
This contest between "The Immortal" Matt Brown and John "Doomsday" Howard will be a classic slug-fest.
Brown has established a reputation as a gamer leaving everything inside the Octagon and willing to take chances to secure a knockout victory and leave the fans on the edge of their seats.
This "throw caution to the wind" mentality has secured Brown current employment within the UFC, even after a three fight losing streak. However, Dana White enjoys Brown's aggressiveness and willingness to fight to win at all costs.
Opposing "The Immortal" will be John Howard.
"Doomsday" is also heavy-handed and prefers standing and trading on his feet with the competition.
Two consecutive losses to Jake Ellenberger and Thiago Alves have provided Howard with extra motivation to defeat Brown.
Both fighters are seemingly mirror images of one another. Brown and Howard will stand and bang. Neither fighter is especially gifted on the ground. And both competitors are relentless inside the Octagon.
The winner of this fight will be the one who is capable of keeping the other off-balance with varied levels of attacks, incorporating in a variety of leg kicks, and capable of landing his punches first.
Because of the importance of this fight to Matt Brown's career, I am going to provide "The Immortal" a slight edge over "Doomsday."
Winner: Matt Brown via third-round TKO
Two prolific stand-up strikers will be matched up against one another in the night's co-main event.
With nine knockout victories in 15 overall wins, Cheick Kongo has a very simple game-plan inside the Octagon; stand and trade in the center of the cage and the best striker wins.
With a very limited ground game and an even more suspect take-down defense, Kongo is a liability on the mat. However, his opponent, Pat Barry, will not be looking to take this fight to the floor.
A Duke Roufus protege, Barry will match Kongo in his ability to deliver strikes from all angles and levels.
Barry is extremely explosive and will execute a dynamic mix of leg kicks, high kicks, and jaw-rattling punches.
I believe that Pat Barry will out-strike Cheick Kongo. Barry is much more versatile and athletic. Additionally, Kongo is seemingly going through the motions at this point in his career. That mentality will not secure a victory inside the UFC.
Winner: Pat Barry second-round KO
UFC Live in Pittsburgh will come to a close with a welterweight show-down between Nate "The Great" Marquardt versus Rick "The Horror" Story.
Formerly competing in the UFC middleweight division, Marquardt will be making his debut at 170 pounds at the Consol Center.
Holding the experience edge, and with a more well-rounded skill-set, Marquardt's game-plan should include lots of movement, striking from a distance, and if necessary, immediately standing back up after a take-down.
On the other hand, Rick Story's game-plan will be equal to his success against Thiago Alves; push Marquardt up against the Octagon fence, wear "The Great" down with dirty boxing, and grind out a victory in the wrestling department.
Riding a significant wave of momentum, Story has shown the ability to take a solid punch, remain driven in his ability to take his opponent to the mat, and brutalize his competition with powerful ground-and-pound.
On the contrary, Story has also shown gaping holes in his fight game including suspect stand-up defense, a limited ability to work striking angles, and the necessary push to finish a fight by submission on the ground.
Nate Marquardt has been competing at an extremely high level as a mixed martial artist since 1999.
He has faced the likes of Anderson Silva, Jeremy Horn, Martin Kampmann, Chael Sonnen, Jim Miller and equally talented top-tier fighters.
Even though I believe that one day Rick Story will make a serious run within the welterweight division, that day will not come on June 26th against Nate Marquardt.
Marquardt is too experienced, too well-rounded, and too knowledgeable of a fighter to lose to a one-dimensional challenger in Story.
Winner: Nate Marquardt split-decision victory