What a stacked card for the UFC to debut on Fox Sports 1 with. Throw in the fact that the undercard is on FS1 as well and we’re looking at a ridiculously awesome card from top to bottom. I’d pay for this card, as would the Inside Fights staff, but we’re lucky to see this as a relatively free card on cable.
Now, as always, we break down the main card and guess who’ll win (and who won’t). Today’s panel:
Scott Sawitz, Managing Editor & Featured Columnist
Adam Keyes , Staff Writer
Ryan Frederick, Staff Writer
Luke Cho Yee, Staff Writer
Daniel Sohn, Staff Writer
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Chael Sonnen
CY: A battle to remain relevant in their respective divisions. Sonnen has the wrestling pedigree to frustrate the Brazilian who hasn’t really evolved that part of his game, but while ‘The American Gangster’ is far superior in that department, he lacks the striking arsenal and submission acumen of the former Pride Grand Prix Champion. I believe Shogun will outclass Sonnen in the striking exchanges and finish the fight emphatically. Shogun
Sohn: Sonnen has good enough wrestling and smarts to avoid Shogun’s barrages and get him to the ground. I’m a fan of Shogun, but I think Sonnen takes this one. Sonnen
Sawitz: Chael Sonnen isn’t taking any easy fights, is he? Anderson Silva then Jon Jones and now Shogun Rua; when you look at his fights since Dan Miller it’s a murderer’s row of talent that he’s faced (and beaten) ever since he made his first path to a shot at the middleweight title. His only losses are to Silva and Jones, two of the Top four fighters in the world. That’s pretty spectacular in a lot of ways and Rua isn’t a step down for him in any way. Rua’s takedown defense is awful and Sonnen gets nearly everyone on their back. Let’s also just acknowledge that Rua isn’t all that deadly off his back anymore; he isn’t going to roll for a kneebar anytime soon. Rua’s a bit shopworn and Sonnen has the right type of game to exploit it. I could see Rua taking the first two rounds, maybe, but Sonnen rallying back and grinding out a 48-47 decision. Sonnen.
Frederick: I love this matchup and it is a real test for both men to see and show what they have left when it comes to being able to compete for championships at this stage of their careers. The longer the fight goes, the more it starts to favor Sonnen. Rua has to finish him quick. I think Sonnen’s takedowns will make all the difference though. Sonnen
Keyes: While I’d love to chalk one up for nostalgia and plump for Shogun on this one, I just can’t see it. Shogun has shown in recent fights that he can be taken down without too much trouble and that he has a propensity to gas late in fights, this is tailor-made for Sonnen’s top-heavy, non-stop, pressurised wrestling attack. Shogun could quite conceivably pull out a submission off of his back, as he is fond of a kneebar and Sonnen is not unaccustomed to tapping out, but I don’t see him having too much success with that on this one. Sonnen.
Alistair Overeem vs. Travis Browne
CY: Tough one to call. Overeem seems like a fighter who relies almost entirely on confidence and momentum and I wonder if the psychological affect of his last shocking knockout loss will render him over cautious and tentative. ‘Hapa’ is an extremely dynamic heavyweight who will not be intimidated and could spring a surprise with his speed and dexterity, especially if ‘The Reem’ is unable to finish the fight quickly. Browne
Sohn: It’s going to be real interesting to see which Overeem shows up. If we get the Overeem that was beating Bigfoot Silva for the first two rounds and the same guy that mauled Lesnar, this one is going to end quick. But if we get the 3rd round against Silva version, give it to Jordan. I think Overeem fights smart this time and comes out with the W. Overeem
Sawitz: If the Overeem that showed up against Lesnar is in the building it’s going to be an easy night. If it’s the one that showed up against Silva it’ll be a rough one. A key thing will be to watch the weigh-ins; how jacked Overeem’s physique is will tell you just how sharp he’ll be on fight night. Overeem.
Frederick: I don’t think we will see the same Overeem that we saw in February. He didn’t respect Bigfoot Silva and it cost him. Overeem needs to fire quickly and not drop his hands. He has to respect Browne or Browne will make him pay. Browne is very dangerous and very tall, but if the Overeem of old shows up, this is his fight. Overeem
Keyes: For me, Overeem is a fraud with a reputation built on the back of PED use and a padded record. Last time out Overeem fought clean (testing incredibly low for testosterone) and looked just horrible up against Bigfoot. This is a big fight for relevancy for The Reem but I don’t think he can get it done. It will not be a huge surprise to me if Overeem can control the distance when striking with Browne and catch the big Hawaiian with a shot coming in but I think Browne will prove to smart for that and eventually wear Overeem down for a late finish. Browne.
Urijah Faber vs. Yuri Alcantara
CY: Interesting match-up. Faber is such a well rounded fighter but has had trouble in the past with accurate, high volume strikers who can control the distance. Alcantara has those qualities in spades, and will look to implement that formula for success, though Faber has shown improvements in this area, since the addition of striking coach Duane ‘Bang’ Ludwig. Ultimately I believe Faber’s experience at the very top level will help edge this closely contested battle. Faber
Sohn: Alcantara is no pushover, but Faber is going to beat anyone not named Dominick Cruz or Renan Barao. Faber
Sawitz: I have been a fan of Faber since the WEC days and he’s in such a crazy spot right now. He’s an elite fighter, no way around it, but he was a smidge worse than Dominick Cruz a couple years ago and lost a competitive fight to Renan Barao. He’s arguably the third best bantamweight in the world, and I’d venture probably in a similar spot at featherweight if he went back there, but he’s just not quite good enough to beat the very best. But all he does is keep winning, and finishing guys, and I don’t expect that to change here. He’ll be in danger at some point but look for something like a late second round/early third finish from Faber. Faber.
Frederick: Another fight I’m really looking forward to. Faber has been dominant in non-title fights, and the fact that he’s never lost one speaks for itself. Alcantara is dangerous and he will give Faber a tough fight. Faber performs well in these types of situations and he will get the job done on Saturday night. Faber
Keyes: Urijah Faber is in the awkward position of not quite being able to defeat the elite of the division but can easily dispose of those just outside of that golden circle. Lucky for Faber, while Alcantara is a formidable adversary, he is note elite. Put me down for a comfortable unanimous decision victory for Faber. Faber.
Matt Brown vs. Mike Pyle
Sohn: Two guys on multi-fight win streaks. Brown is living up to his nickname recently. He’s too tough and very dangerous with his clinch work and ground and pound. He’s going to put a halt to Pyle’s impressive streak and add another victory to his own. Brown
CY: What a war this could turn out to be. Brown has been on fire, finishing his last three fights by KO/TKO and Pyle continues to defeat whoever the UFC pair him with, yet doubts remain about whether either man can take that next step towards the apex of the division. It’s a difficult test for both men but i believe Brown will do enough to sway the judges by controlling the rhythm of the fight with his aggressive, forward pressure style. Brown
Sawitz: You know how you can tell this is an awesome card? When this fight is almost under the radar … despite it being on the main card and featuring two awesome guys who are never dull, that’s the sign of a great fight card. A win for either guy gets them one win away from a title shot, potentially, and I like Brown. Pyle’s a tough out but Brown kind of specializes in stopping guys who are tough outs. This is my pick for fight of the night and I see Brown finishing Pyle in awesome fashion. Brown.
Frederick: Both men want to jump into the top ten of the UFC rankings and a big win will do that for the winner, and it will move them one step closer to a title shot. Both have been impressive and Brown has bounced back from being close to being cut. Pyle is taking this fight on short notice, but I like his chances in this one and I’m going with him in a toss-up. Pyle
Keyes: This is probably the closest matchup on the card for me and I’ve had a tough time making a pick. Pyle will likely be able to handle Brown if it goes to the mat and Brown will favoured to get the best of Pyle on the feet. I’ve gone against Brown in his last few victories and it has cost me. I will not be making that mistake again. I’m going to go for Brown here to take full advantage of his superior striking and secure a KO/TKO finish. Brown.
Uriah Hall vs. John Howard
CY: The hype surrounding Hall has fallen toward more realistic levels and I believe this will favor the TUF runner up as he looks to earn his first UFC win. Howard poses a significant threat with his powerful engaging style but I expect a refocused Hall to rebound strongly and outmaneuver ‘Doomsday’. Hall
Sohn: Hall had tons of hype after TUF, but lost the final fight. He’s going to right the ship here and pull out a big win. Hall
Sawitz: Losing to Kevin Gastellum might’ve been the best thing to ever happen to Uriah Hall; he switched camps and apparently is starting to really come into his own. I thought he won against Gastellum but could see the opposite result as well; it was a tough, close fight. Howard is a similar fighter to Gastellum in how he uses his wrestling and now that Hall is in a great place at Reign (with Mark Munoz, et al) I’m curious to see how his TDD changes. The kid is going to be a world champion, or at least fight for the belt, sooner than later. You can see the potential. It’s just he needs to show it …and I think he does so Saturday. Hall.
Frederick: Hall has all the tools to be a title contender and he just needs to put it together in this fight. Howard is getting a second chance in the UFC and he wants to make the most of it and he will come in dangerous with nothing to lose. It will come down to whether Hall’s changes in his training camp have got them fully prepared for this fight. He’s dangerous but Howard is tough, yet Hall will take the win. Hall
Keyes: In his UFC debut, Hall looked nothing like the fighter we had come to expect from his time on The Ultimate Fighter in a most peculiar performance where he was defeated by Kevin Gastelum back in April. Up against Howard, Hall would be wise to not sleep on the kind of power ‘Doomsday’ can bring to proceedings but if the Hall we knew from TUF shows up, he should have more than enough to handle the short-notice Howard. Hall.
Joe Lauzon vs. Michael Johnson
CY: Hometown boy Lauzon has got to be the heavy favorite, having faced the tougher opposition and always competing admirably no matter the result but i would not discount the powerful Johnson who will be desperate to notch a victory and halt a two fight skid. ‘The Menace’ will come out swinging and ‘J-Lau’ will ned to be cautious but I foresee the Boston native finding his feet before successfully imposing his excellent BJJ. Lauzon
Sohn: Johnson struggles against guys with good ground games and he’s had plenty of time to shore up that weakness. Lauzon is going to take him down and keep him there. Lauzon
Sawitz: Johnson reminds me a lot of Melvin Guillard, maybe a poorer man’s version of him. Really athletic, great power and a slick boxing game (coupled with a great wrestling pedigree) but hasn’t fulfilled the sort of lofty expectations a lot have for him. It’s kind of odd, especially considering both guys are susceptible to submissions, but both guys still have time to correct flaws in their game. On the other hand Joe Lauzon needs to change his nickname from “J-Lau” to “JOLO” … way more appropriate to his style. “Joe Only Lives Once” is the perfect description of his in-cage tactics. “J-Lau” sounds like something a 13 year old girl christens herself to become part of a Mean Girls clique. I like Johnson in this fight, to right the ship. Johnson.
Frederick: Lauzon has been out of action since December and he has been looking forward to returning to fighting in Boston. Johnson needs a win to keep a spot on the UFC roster. Unfortunately for him, Lauzon will come out like a ball of fire and will be looking to win quickly impressively. I see Lauzon winning with a submission somewhere in the first two rounds. Lauzon
Keyes: While Johnson has displayed a marked improvement in his skill set and performances in the cage since his days in the TUF house, he just is not on Lauzon’s level. This should be a fun fight but it only goes one way. Lauzon.
Tags: Mixed Martial Arts, UFC, Ultimate Fight Night 26