A couple of weeks after UFC 148 and its epic card comes UFC 149, featuring some of the fights that were remnants from that one. With a handful of big fights, including a main event that has all the potential for fight of the year, UFC 149 may not get the buyrate of 148 but it appears to be one of the more entertainent cards of the year.
Urijah Faber vs Renan Barao
Fight Breakdown: UFC 149 may be a bit of a cursed card but in the end it’s still a fairly stacked card in terms of overall fight quality. We don’t have Shogun Rua, Thiago Alves, Dominick Cruz and a handful of other promised fights but the final card is actually pretty solid all things considered. And it starts with the main event, which is a fight that could’ve happened in the near future but is now accelerated because of Cruz’s ACL tear.
Renan Barao vs. Urijah Faber is a fight that would’ve occurred organically without the champion getting hurt for one major reason: Faber is an elite contender and Barao is nearing that territory. He’s the type of fighter that Barao would’ve had to beat to get his crack at Cruz if Cruz/Faber 3 had gone the way of Cruz/Faber 2. Urijah is the clear #2 fighter in the division and Barao’s eventual title shot would have to go through him, most likely. Title shots are earned at the expense of former challengers, many of them elite fighters still. One could’ve pegged it for a big fall show in Brazil, perhaps as a co-main event to Junior Dos Santos or Jose Aldo defending their respective titles, but the fact that we get it now is even better. Why?
We get to see Barao’s best, toughest fight in his MMA career in a fight with title implications … and we get to see it sooner than later.
Barao/Faber is an intriguing matchup because you’re pitting a guy who could arguably be considered the #3 fighter in the division against the man at #2. Outside of Brian Bowles or Michael MacDonald there isn’t as high profile a matchup for Barao in terms of fighter quality, outside of Cruz, than Urijah Faber. It’s a true test of how good he is and how good he could be; we’ll be able to accurately gauge how high of a ceiling he has with a fight like this. A big win over Faber and Cruz’s reign could be in trouble; Faber’s the best test of any prospect because of how much he brings to the table.
A first rate college wrestler, the one thing that defines Faber’s game is that he’s really good at everything. His BJJ game is first rate on top and bottom, first rate takedowns & takedown defense, KO power in both hands and a powerful wrestling game. Combine it with top notch athleticism and ridiculous cardio and you have the recipe for a fighter that has a lot of wins over name fighters under 155 lbs on his resume. With two losses to Mike Brown, one to Cruz and one to current featherweight champion Jose Aldo since his last loss in 2005, Faber usually defeats guys he should and has only lost to elite competition.
He’s a unique challenge in that you have to be elite at more than one thing to beat him; you aren’t going to outwork him in any one area. Faber also has a terrific corner that helps him make adjustments through the fight. We don’t normally view corners as an advantage but the one thing Faber has done well is have coaches at cage side that give him sight adjustments, etc, which many corners don’t provide. It makes him such a tough challenge in that Faber has a game plan he adjusts on the fly; he gets better because he has coaching that helps him improve as the fight wears on. Faber also doesn’t go for decisions, either, as fight finishes are something he goes for regularly.
Faber is a tough, tough test for anyone but Renan Barao may be up to the task.
Barao is reminiscent in many ways of Jose Aldo, his stablemate at Nova Uniao, in that he does a lot of things and fights in near the same manner as the featherweight king. He has remarkable striking skills focused on a Muay Thai base, great takedown defense and a slick BJJ game to match. In many ways he’s a slightly smaller version of Aldo, albeit without the sort of world class athletic ability that Aldo possesses. He’s merely a very good athlete as opposed to an elite one, which is a bit of a difference, but Barao makes up for it with ferocity. Everything he does is to finish fights; Barao is like a shark in that when he smells blood he goes after it. It’ll be the thing that makes Faber a bit weary of when it comes to exchanges. Faber getting rocked or stunned by one thing is going to lead him to get swarmed with strikes and finished. Faber has a tough chin but is hittable and Brown stopped him, making him only of one two guys to do so. Curiously Tyson Griffin is the other and that was in 2005, Faber’s only loss outside the UFC & WEC.
Faber’s wrestling is good enough to get Barao to the ground; Barao’s bottom BJJ game is going to be tested here. Setting up scrambles and sweeps if he gets taken down, he has elite enough striking to win a kick boxing brawl with the “California Kid.” The key is to keep it standing as long as possible. He has the advantage on his feet and Faber in top position is a bad spot for him to be in.
This is going to be a fairly close fight, much closer than many people think, and has a chance at being one of the best fights of the year when all is said and done.
Why It Matters: It’s for the UFC Interim Bantamweight title, which means something. And it comes with the biggest of implications for Faber; win and he has a UFC belt. Lose and this could be his last chance to fight for a title for a long time.
Prediction: Faber by UD
Hector Lombard vs Tim Boetsch
Fight Breakdown: Tim Boetsch was five minutes away from being another middleweight fighter who dropped down from light heavyweight looking for success only to be denied it. Yushin Okami had picked him apart for 10 minutes in Japan and looked to be cruising his way to victory when Boetsch dug deep inside for something. Knowing he had five minutes to finish Okami or else he was going home without a victory, he needed less than minute to knock out the former contender emphatically and establish himself as a top 10 contender in the division. It was ugly and brutal to boot; Boetsch wrecked Okami in a way no one else had done besides Anderson Silva during the Japanese star’s run in the UFC. And now who does he get in exchange for this win?
Hector Lombard, the man with the big win streak and record filled with violence to lesser men inside a cage.
Lombard, who walked away from Bellator and their middleweight championship for a run in the UFC, is a bad man who likes to do bad things. Having competed at a high level in Judo for years, including stints in the Olympics, Lombard combines ferocious knockout power in his hands with a first rate takedown game. If you wanted to build a fighter with Vitor Belfort like power but with a power wrestling game ala Chael Sonnen, Lombard is kind of that hybrid athlete you’d be looking for. With a body that looks almost cartoon like in nature for a middleweight, Lombard is a wrecking machine inside the cage. But one thing persists, one that fellow middleweights are more than glad to point out.
Hector Lombard’s strength of schedule isn’t exactly a legion of killers.
At this point Lombard is in the same spot as a Division 1 football program is after feasting on a couple of gimme wins but looking insanely promising; we don’t know his ceiling, or if he’s for real, but gosh darn he looks like a top fighter. There’s no way to know how good he is without throwing him in with a top fighter right away. For Lombard he’s the title contending NCAA football team going into week five; he’s strung together some crushing wins over questionable competition at times but you really don’t want to be the first tough team to face him, either. History has a precedent in this occasion, as well, as Jorge Santiago looked like a world beater outside the UFC and Brian Stann made him look like just another guy. It’s why the initial Lombard/Stann fight was interesting on its face. Stann’s a good stiff first test but with his shoulder injury taking him out Lombard gets someone as equally scary in Boetsch.
Boetsch has solid athletic credentials; he wrestled at Lock Haven and was a four time state wrestling champion in Maine. He was also a pedestrian light heavyweight who has turned into a killer at middleweight because his physical abilities aren’t average in the division; his punching power and strength goes from being middle of the division to near the upper tier with those extra 20 lbs gone. Boetsch is a big strong guy and his sheer physical power is something; he introduced himself to UFC fans by casually throwing David Heath across the cage en route to a stoppage victory.
This fight kind of reminds of me of a goofy setup from the syndicated show Blind Date back in the day. One imagines Roger Lodge introducing the fight as “He’s a Cuban Judoka who likes dropping people on their heads or punching them in the face really hard. He’s an American wrestler who also likes dropping people on their heads or punching them in the face really hard. What kind of chemistry will they have inside the cage? Find out at UFC 149!”
This has all the potential of being a fun slugfest; a key will be whoever has the better chin. Boetsch hits really hard … but so does Lombard. Lombard’s a massively muscled guy who looks like he came from a comic book next to Boetsch’s more doughy physique but both guys are immensely powerful. Both have first rate athletic credentials and similar styles. It might not last more than a minute but it’ll be a fun minute, at least.
Why It Matters: For Lombard, a destructive and emphatic victory over Boetsch probably vaults him into title contention. For Boetsch, it gets him into “one fight away” status against some like Vitor Belfort, Chris Weidman, et al. For both fighters a shot at Anderson Silva is within reach; a dominant win here gets one of these men closer.
Prediction: Lombard by KO, rd 2
Cheick Kongo vs Shawn Jordan
Fight Breakdown: You know what’s kind of crazy? When Shawn Jordan made his professional MMA debut in May of 2009 on a Bellator card Cheick Kongo was nearing 10 fights in the UFC alone. Jordan had a fairly stellar athletic career at Louisiana State, playing fullback on two national title winning teams, which obscures a substantial amateur wrestling career in high school. Originally intended to be Kongo/Big Nog, the fact that Shawn Jordan has been put in its place has transformed this into an oddly compelling matchup for both fighters.
Jordan at this point in his career is just scratching the surface of how good he can be. Remarkably athletic, Jordan moved camps to Jackson’s in New Mexico and has rapidly progressed since under his tutelage. The question right now is how high his ceiling is; he has everything going so far in that he’s athletic, powerful and has serious power in his hands. In a sparsely populated division that’s good enough to get you places. This fight will be a good indication of Jordan’s potential level in MMA; Kongo is a tough fighter but he’s also at this point nearing high level gatekeeper status.
Kongo has two skills he does that most fighters can’t account for: striking power and ground & pound power. Kongo hits like a freight train in the standup department, developed after years of being a professional kickboxer, and have one method of working the ground game: keep hitting you until you quit or the round ends. Kongo has one ability to does really well in that he has massive amounts of power in his hands; stopping him with strikes is something only Mark Hunt has done in the UFC. Frank Mir set up a guillotine victory with a big overhand right, as well, but Kongo has a remarkably tough chin and an ability to stay composed when he gets rocked. It’s how he survived three rounds with Cain Velasquez and came back to knock out Pat Barry despite being nearly out on his feet. Kongo is dangerous on his feet and has brutal power in his hands even when he has no idea where he is.
That’ll be the key to the fight. Jordan has remarkable amounts of power in his hands but does he have enough to put down Kongo? He has the beginnings of a well rounded game, and plenty of athleticism, but the key to this fight is his progression since his last fight in Australia. Jordan has consistently improved from fight to fight, and has grown as a fighter since moving to New Mexico, but now is his first big step up in competition. A win over Kongo has been something many elite fighters have before the big time. If Jordan is going to move on up in the rankings, this is the first step.
Why It Matters: Big heavy handed heavyweights rarely go to the judges’ scorecards. And they make for fun little scraps and this one will give us a good gauge at just how far Jordan has come.
Prediction: Kongo by KO, 3rd
Brian Ebersole vs James Head
Fight Breakdown: Brian Ebersole really likes to fight. He debuted in the UFC over 18 months ago as a short replacement against Chris Lytle and is now nearing his fifth fight in the company. Part of that is due to good luck, as he hasn’t been injured severely, but the other is that he’s been on a four fight win streak too. Ebersole spent a lifetime outside of Zuffa and is now capitalizing on his chance within the organization. Now he gets a short notice replacement fight after a grueling fight a month ago against another vaunted submission artist.
James Head has first rate submission grappling skills and is deadly on the ground. Ebersole is a skilled striker with a wrestling pedigree. The key for Ebersole is to exploit Head on his feet and keep this standing; on the ground Head is skilled enough to catch Ebersole.
Why It Matters: If Ebersole wins that’d make it five in a row in a tough division. He’ll get someone in the top 10 next, probably the winner of Penn/MacDonald or Jon Fitch. A win over Ebersole for James Head will line him up for someone tougher, too, but not near that category. Either way a win for both men gets them higher up the food chain.
Prediction: Ebersole by UD
Chris Clements vs Matt Riddle
Fight Breakdown: Amir Sadollah may be the cause célèbre when people point to fighters who have fought exclusively in the UFC but Matt Riddle might be nearly as good of a case. Riddle has first rate wrestling credentials and yet is more content to engage in sloppy, crowd-pleasing brawls for “Fight of the Night” bonuses than anything resembling a well rounded fighting style. Without a chance to come up through the ranks of the indie scene, going straight from a season of “The Ultimate Fighter” to the UFC with no fights outside the organization as professional, Riddle is a case where a fighter’s growth has been stunted because he prefers to bonus hunt. He has a good ground game and is a well rounded fighter in theory; in practice he likes sloppy brawls and slugfests that mouth breathers enjoy and cheer wildly for.
Riddle isn’t nearly in the same position as Chris Lytle was when he began to do the same thing but it’s an acceptance from Riddle that he’ll never be a championship caliber fights; appease the crowd and win bonuses, though, and Riddle may be a staple of UFC main cards for quite some time. It’s a shame because Riddle has the kind of talent that could get him in the Top 10 of the division; he just refuses to use his wrestling and is content winning bonuses on the undercard. He doesn’t have the international presence of Dan Hardy but Zuffa generally keeps guys around who at a minimum have good fights, aren’t cost prohibitive and can be thrown in against nearly anyone of a certain caliber for the “Just Bleed” type of fan. That’s Riddle in a nutshell and now he gets Chris Clements on short notice.
Clements, who came on to MMA 24.7 a while back with Shawn M Smith and myself, is a similar type of fighter to Riddle but with years of experience outside the company. A high level Tae Kwon Do black belt, Clements is a brawling type who has no problem with a kickboxing affair. His UFC debut against Keith Wisniewski was a striker/grappler matchup that was mainly Wisniewski trying to go for the takedown and Clements punishing him for it. He’s a striking whiz, owning the MMA record for fastest knockout ever, and is skilled enough on the ground to get back up when taken down.
The fight has all the potential to turn into either a Leonard Garcia/Korean Zombie barnburner or a Chris Weidman/Demian Maia sloppy kickboxing affair. Riddle can be drawn into brawls and Clements is probably going to oblige him in that department. The only x-factor in this will be if Riddle can get him to the ground; if he’s losing the round in a striking affair he might try and get a takedown, especially at the round end, and try and pull out a win in the same manner Josh Koscheck has done on multiple occasions.
Why It Matters: For Clements it’s now or never; he’s been in the fight game for a long time and is on the wrong side of 30. He has to keep winning to get even a sniff of anything resembling a top line fight. For Riddle it’s a chance at getting another “Fight of the Night” bonus and a two fight win streak.
Prediction: Clements by TKO rd 2
Tags: Mixed Martial Arts, UFC 149