Frankie Edgar defends his lightweight title at UFC 136, facing Gray Maynard for a third time.
This weekend, the UFC will give fans one of its strongest outings of the year on paper when it puts off UFC 136: Edgar vs. Maynard III. Two title fights, a middleweight title eliminator, and a pile of other explosive fights that could make for a light night of work for judges has to have any MMA fan hyped up.
Let’s take a look at the card and see how things might play out.
Former WEC light heavyweight champion Steve Cantwell returns to the octagon riding a three-fight losing skid, and one has to think a loss here will send him packing. He puts on entertaining fights, and has been slowed by injuries over the past couple of years, but you only get so many chances.
He’ll face Massenzio, a similarly shaky veteran who could be on his way out of the company with a loss. His last performance was a loss to Krzysztof Soszynski, and left him at 1-3 in the UFC.
There’s not much to say here, two tough guys who aren’t afraid to throw leather and have a lot to fight for. You could do worse on a Facebook prelim, and I’ll take Cantwell by TKO.
Another good matchup between two veterans, Schafer-Simpson has the potential to end quickly with a big punch or the end up plodding along to a decision.
Both men are durable with passable standup, yet they sit at opposite ends of the spectrum in the grappling game. Where Schafer will look to submit, Simpson is more apt to hold position and look to beat his man up on the ground.
As a rule, a good wrestler can nullify a good grappler with the rules structured as they currently are, so look for Simpson to take a decision here.
Another quality offering on the prelims, Elkins-Zhang promises to be a well-paced featherweight affair. Elkins is underappreciated at the class despite holding a 2-1 record since joining the UFC and holding a solid with over Michihiro Omigawa in his debut at 145. Zhang is a submission specialist that the UFC is hoping will become a star, as he is the lone Chinese fighter on the roster and the promotion has an eye on that market in 2012.
It should be interesting to see how Elkins approaches the fight, as he’s probably a little more well-rounded than Zhang, who many have questioned based on competing in a shallow talent pool for a long time. If he can stay clear of Zhang’s submission attempts, or better yet, avoid the ground entirely, he has a good chance here.
I’ll take Elkins by decision in what some would view as an upset.
The only heavyweight fight of the night will pit two heavy-handed, hard-chinned sluggers against one another. Joey Beltran has proven a stout test for anyone, and Stipe Miocic is a guy that many feel could be a contender amongst the big men given some time.
If the past is any indication, look for Beltran to wade forward and engage in frenzied exchanges with an eye on scoring the knockout. It’s been his style for his entire career, and it lends itself to fan-friendly affairs nearly every time out. It’s also a style that serves him as the perfect gatekeeper, as any young gun who can take his shots, or at least not wilt under the threat he offers is often considered ready for a step up in competition.
People are high on Miocic, undefeated and never out of the second round, and you can expect to see why here. He’ll take Beltran’s best and come back with his own on the way to a decision victory.
A lightweight tilt that has great potential to be fight of the night, Pettis-Stephens should showcase two of the division’s more entertaining combatants. Anthony Pettis was a Gray Maynard draw away from a title shot, while Jeremy Stephens has long been lauded for his aggressiveness and willingness to engage.
Pettis became an overnight sensation after winning the last fight in WEC history, cementing the win with an otherwordly springboard kick off the cage. The Roufusport prodigy is more than a striker though, as he has a great ground game and incredible scrambling ability.
Stephens is fairly one-dimensional, but it’s an impressive dimension. He defines sprawl-and-brawl, simply interested in trying to keep things standing long enough to knock his opponent’s head into the third row. It works for him far more often than not, but he’s likely to have trouble with the diversity of Pettis.
Look for Pettis to be technical on his feet and outfox Stephens early on, wearing him down in hopes of taking the fight to the ground for a finish. It’s his fight to lose one way or another, and I’ll say he takes it via third round submission.
Middleweight headline the Spike TV portion of the night, with jiu-jitsu ace Demian Maia battling Jorge Santiago. It’s an interesting fight to clarify the pecking order in the middle of the division, and also serves as a shot at redemption for Santiago after his disastrous outing against Brian Stann in July.
Maia is in purgatory at 185, better than most guys but still wearing the scars of a failed attempt to wrest the title from Anderson Silva last year. His striking has come a long way, and his jiu-jitsu is the best in the division, so he’s a tough out for anyone.
Santiago returned to the UFC to a terrible matchup, as Stann had takedown defense that was beyond him and standup he couldn’t compete with. This fight is much more friendly to the tools he has at his disposal, though it’s still one he’ll have to work to win.
The issue here is that Maia is comparable standing, perhaps slightly behind Santiago, and so far ahead on the ground it’s unreasonable. Santiago has said he’ll tap Maia if he wants to, but that’s equal parts delusion and selling the fight. Look for Maia to get him down, soften him up, and grab a limb or the neck on his way to a submission win.
One of the biggest robberies in recent history will be rematched to open the pay-per-view segment of the night, as Garcia-Phan II takes center stage. Garcia’s swing-from-the-heels style won him the first fight in bewildering fashion, and ever since it’s looked like these two would meet again.
Garcia is an entertaining maniac of a fighter, always looking to exchange massive shots and usually laughing the entire time. He’s got unmatched heart, but to say he lacks technique doesn’t even come close to describing him. He’s a brawler, plain and simple, and people love him for it.
Phan was a bit of an irritant to many during his run on The Ultimate Fighter, but made fans almost out of pity over how badly he was screwed in the first meeting between he and Garcia—his UFC debut. He’s got solid jiu-jitsu and underrated standup, and will look to pick and paw from the outside while avoiding haymakers and occasionally scoring with takedowns and positional control.
This time you can look for the judges to get it right, as any decision that isn’t vehemently in favour of Garcia is likely to go for Phan just on principle. He takes it 30-27 across the board.
Melvin Guillard is a fight away from a title shot, according to UFC boss Dana White.
After years of having the tools to compete, Melvin Guillard is a win away from getting a title shot. He needs a win over Joe Lauzon to do it according to UFC president Dana White, so you can look for him to come prepared on Saturday.
Guillard is one of the most dynamic men in the division, with wrestling chops and explosive striking, plus a resume of experience that reads like someone ten years his senior. Since hooking up with Greg Jackson he’s become more focused and measured, and by extension, exponentially more dangerous, consistent and successful.
Lauzon is a fast starter, a scrappy kid from Boston with great jiu-jitsu and an evolving game on his feet. He’s tough and aggressive, and often throws caution to the wind early in an effort to finish or at least get out in front. He’ll have to be careful against Guillard though, who possesses incredible power the likes of which Lauzon likely hasn’t seen before.
At the end of the day, this is a stylistic nightmare for Lauzon. A guy who won’t wilt under early pressure, has better stand-up, and the ability to keep the fight off the mat if he wants to. Look for Guillard to win this by TKO no later than the second round.
The biggest mouth in MMA returns after a lengthy entanglement of suspensions and legal problems, as Chael Sonnen will meet Brian Stann for another chance at Anderson Silva. Should Stann win, he’s likely next in line for The Spider as well. The stakes are high.
Sonnen made a name for himself by talking a remarkable amount of trash before narrowly missing out on snatching Silva’s title last summer. From there he was mired in a steroid controversy, may or may not have lied to an athletic commission and also got busted for money laundering.
While lots of guys talk about being gangsters and bad boys, Sonnen may well be the only one with a legitimate claim to the throne. And he backs up his talk with the best wrestling in the division, great conditioning and boxing that is usually overlooked because of his other tools (and probably sometimes because of his big talk).
Stann is a war hero who is enjoying a meteoric rise since dropping to 185. He has heavy hands and a championship pedigree from his WEC days, and claims to be falling in love with the ground game the longer he trains it. It’s a good thing, because he’s going to need those skills against Sonnen.
Chael is known for pushing a remarkable pace, often scoring takedowns and just beating guys up. In a world where good wrestling often leads to lay-and-pray boredom, Sonnen is relentless in his attacks from the top. He will punch and elbow his opponent from start to finish, never tiring and never easing up. You might be able to tag him with some shots, which will be Stann’s main hope, but he’s got a solid chin and an iron will, and he’s not going to go away easily.
The UFC wins either way here, as the biggest money fight they have at middleweight is a Sonnen rematch with Silva, and they also think Stann could be their next big star on account of his pleasant demeanour and accomplishments on the battlefield. After Sonnen decisions Stann though, it’ll be about cashing in instead of promoting a new star, and I’m sure Dana White and company will be okay with that.
Kenny Florian will hope the third time is a charm in his UFC career, as for the third time he’ll try for a title when he battles featherweight champion Jose Aldo.
Florian grew into a fan favourite after his time in the original TUF house, competing across four weight classes. His combination of muay Thai and jiu-jitsu has proven formidable over the years, as he holds a 12-3 record in the UFC and has only lost to champions or guys in the hunt.
In Aldo, he’ll see arguably the most dynamic striker in MMA though, a guy who matches his style almost perfectly. He has the same tools as Florian, but they’re all sharper and more dangerous.
It’s hard to say where this fight will be contested, as there’s no clear place that the challenger could take it to have a better chance of winning. However, realistically, it will be Aldo’s decision where the fight goes on account of his quickness, which should keep him away from whatever his opponent has planned.
Kenny Florian has only been TKO’d at middleweight, in his only fight there in the UFC. Saturday night is likely to see it happen again at the hands of Jose Aldo, somewhere around the fourth round.
Frankie Edgar will defend his lightweight title for the second straight time against boorish challenger Gray Maynard, one of the strongest men in the division and the man who accounts for both blemishes on Edgar’s otherwise perfect ledger.
Their second encounter happened on the first day of 2011, and still stands as the fight of the year. Edgar came roaring back after being pasted for one of the most brutal rounds in MMA history, earning a split draw and keeping his belt. Dana White immediately decided the two would meet again, and the fight has been 10 months in the making due to various injuries and hurdles.
Maynard will look to do what he did to Edgar the first time around—batter and bully him. Only he’ll look for more controlled aggression this time, perhaps attacking in a more measured fashion and looking for the kill, should it present itself instead of trying to force it. This was the criticism made by many after the last meeting, as he clearly tired when he couldn’t finish Edgar during that insane first round (not my criticism personally, as I would argue that 99% of fights where an opponent looks as Edgar did in that round end up finished, and Maynard wasn’t wrong in going for it. It’s more a testament to Edgar’s heart than it is to Maynard’s error).
It’s as close a fight as there is in the UFC, as both are great wrestlers with excellent—albeit very different—boxing, and then they clash on peripherals. Where Maynard is big and strong, Edgar is small and fast. Gray’s ground-and-pound and positional control on the ground is better, while Frankie has a better submission game. Looking at it on paper, it’s as perfect a matchup as you can get.
It’s funny, because no one was excited at the prospect of Edgar-Maynard II on New Year’s Day. Now, it’s as anticipated as any fight on the calendar. What a difference a year can make.
For what it’s worth, I’ll take Frankie Edgar in a surprisingly one-sided affair. If you take away that first round in the last meeting, he won three or four out of five rounds depending on the scorecard you’re looking at.
I’m looking for him to do the same here, winning a decision with his speed and takedown defense, accented with the occasional takedown of his own to score points.