After an epic UFC on Fox card a week ago, it’s back to pay per view and one of the more intriguing rematches of the year for the lightweight title.
UFC Lightweight Championship:
Benson Henderson (c) vs. Frankie Edgar
Fight Breakdown – Frankie Edgar seemingly had to defend his title against opponents twice for the span he held the title. Wresting it from BJ Penn in Abu Dhabi in controversial fashion, Edgar would dominate Penn in a rematch. Drawing with Gray Maynard, he would knock out the challenger in their rematch. Benson Henderson was the first new fighter he’d faced in two years when they met in Japan earlier this year and Henderson did what only Gray Maynard had been able to do and notch a victory over the champion. He also took his belt, which the UFC has opted to place up for grabs in a rematch between the two.
Both fighters use slightly differing methods to accomplish the same goal: get top control and keep it.
Edgar uses a deft boxing game to set up takedowns whereas Henderson has more of a Tae Kwon Do based striking game to set up his takedowns. Both men have no problem getting down into a violent scrap, either, which leaves us with what should be an epic rematch to what is one of the best fights of 2012 so far.
The key to the fight will be the adjustments they make against one another. Edgar fought valiantly in a losing effort but it’s not like he was blown out of the water in the first fight despite losing it 49-46 on my scorecard. It was a really close fight he just lost four rounds by small margins; I can see why he felt he won and why he wanted the instant rematch like he’d been forced to give Maynard and Penn. It was close enough to warrant a second bite at the apple.
The interesting thing about the fight will be how much both fighters have improved between fights. The one thing that is most noteworthy about both fighters is how they completely step their game up between fights, most especially Edgar. Frankie went from using his mediocre boxing to set up a smothering top game to having one of the best boxing games in the division based on his movement, etc, that complimented a sick wrestling game. Edgar out-boxing Penn the second time after he barely hung with him in Abu Dhabi was something to behold. Between their fight in Japan and now the thing to look at in Edgar is how much he learned in that fight and how he’s applied it to this one.
Henderson also improves between fights; he choked out Donald Cerrone after a close decision win over him. With Edgar it’s more noticeable but Henderson gets better at what he does best between as well.
Last time out Benson Henderson was just slightly better at everything than Frankie Edgar. The key will be if Edgar can push that gap back in his direction. If he can the belt will be his again.
Why It Matters – It’s for the UFC lightweight championship; title belts in the UFC are always a good motivation to watch a fight. We could be seeing Edgar’s last fight at lightweight if he loses; he walks around at about the same size as three top guys below him in weight class: Ian McCall, Dominick Cruz and Jose Aldo. One imagines he could make featherweight easily, bantamweight with a little difficulty and could potentially Dolce himself down to flyweight.
Prediction – Henderson by UD
Donald Cerrone vs. Melvin Guillard
Fight Breakdown – When it comes to guys who’ve never really pulled the trigger and become elite fighters, Donald Cerrone and Melvin Guillard are near the top of that list. Guillard looked to be on the verge of a title shot when Joe Lauzon finished him violently and Jim Miller took advantage of his submission defense. Cerrone chose to stand and trade with Nate Diaz when takedowns were there for the asking, wanting to entertain and lose instead of grinding out the win. Formerly training partners as well, Cerrone and Guillard have a familiarity to their fight that few have. They trained together at Jackson’s MMA for years, with Guillard departing for the Blackzillians in Florida a while ago, and now a fight a lot of people never thought they’d see.
Both fighters have similar approaches but different skill sets.
Cerrone is a first rate kickboxer who uses it set up his submission game. Cerrone is at his best when he can get a guy rocked and then grab an arm or a neck and finish. It’s what Cerrone might be the best at in the lightweight division; he’s an absolute killer when he has that advantage. His submission game is no joke, either. Cerrone is really well rounded and rarely goes to decision. He doesn’t have that one shot fight ending power but he specializes in swarming style attacks; he may not put a guy out with the first shot but once a guy starts wobbling the second through eight shots come right after.
He just never has taken that final stop from borderline elite to definitely elite fighter. 2011 was an amazing year for him, culminating in a tough loss to Nate Diaz, but beforehand he looked like he was going to challenge for the title this spring. He beat everyone he should and did so like a world class fighter. It’s just when it comes to that final step, that final win he needs and he’s a top five fighter, he hasn’t pulled the trigger yet. And it’s not like he’s getting out-classed to the point where he looks like he doesn’t belong; you don’t destroy someone like Denis Siver or dominate Jeremy Stephens without looking like you have that next step in you. He has that gear he just hasn’t popped the clutch to get there yet.
Guillard is a bit of a brawler who mixes it up with solid wrestling. Guillard’s main attribute is that he has the most power of anyone in the division. The one thing that defines Guillard is just how much better of an athlete he is than anyone in the division; from the way he moves and the way he does everything you can see world-class athletic ability. And he has been a bit of a destroyer in the division as of late until he got into a cage with Joe Lauzon. Dominating Jim Miller until the fight went to the ground, Guillard has righted the ship but he has many of the same flaws that Cerrone does in that he should be fighting for a title but just hasn’t quite pulled the trigger to get there yet.
Guillard and Cerrone have trained together long enough to know one another well enough that this fight immediately becomes interesting. When you have training partners square off you have to throw out a lot of the usual analysis out. Cerrone has felt Guillard’s power and Guillard has been on the other end of that swarming style; there’s enough familiarity between the two that it’ll make for an interesting fight. When you know someone in that context it changes the way people fight; Guillard and Cerrone have probably pushed each other in training to difficult places and during the fight those muscle memories are going to come back
They know each other well but the key will be who can finally step up to that next level. Cerrone has to avoid the big power shots and go for submissions if they present themselves. Guillard has that “one hitter-quitter” in him and has to find a way to fire that off.
Why It Matters – The winner of this gets back into the title picture, probably one to two fights away from the winner of Edgar/Henderson vs. Nate Diaz.
Prediction – Cerrone by submission
Jake Shields vs. Ed Herman
Fight Breakdown – In a sleeper candidate for fight of the night, Jake Shields returns to middleweight and gets a tough first draw in TUF Season 3 finalist Ed “Short Fuse” Herman.
Shields came into the UFC at welterweight as one of the most talented fighters not in the UFC but haven’t had quite the run many thought he would. A close decision win over Martin Kampmann followed by a lackluster loss to GSP and a stunning KO loss to Jake Ellenberger has left Shields at the back of the line in the organization. A win over Yoshihiro Akiyama righted the ship but Shields looked out of place in the division. A step back to middleweight, where he held the Strikeforce title with wins over Jason “Mayhem” Miller and Dan Henderson marked the end of his run there,
Shields has a simple game that he executes nearly every fight: use just enough boxing to keep it honest, get the takedown and try to finish it with a first rate ground game. Shields is one of the best once the fight gets to the ground and almost all of his stoppage wins are by submission. Training at Cesar Gracie’s with the Diaz boys does that to you, one imagines, and moving back to middleweight will be an interesting one. He never was a large middleweight and has added some size as he moves back up in weight class. The problem is that adding muscle can change the way you move and fight; how his game changes with the added size is going to be crucial.
That’ll be the key to the fight because Ed Herman is a big middleweight.
Herman doesn’t do much particularly at an elite level but he has a first rate game in every facet of MMA. He has great power in his hands, good wrestling, is strong with submissions and adept in every part of the game. He’s a lot like Rich Franklin in that regard but with a more boxing oriented approach; Herman is really good everywhere without any real glaring deficiency. Formerly out of Team Quest, he has power in his hands and underrated wrestling. He’s also on a mission: missing a good chunk of his career with knee injuries, he wants to make up that time and has been on a tear as of late. With three stoppage wins in the past year, Herman wants to get into the top 10 and he needs to get through Shields to do so.
And on his feet is where he has to do it. Herman has to keep the fight standing to have the best shot at winning because Shields is elite on the ground. Herman has been submitted by elite ground fighters before and Shields can do the same. Shields and his boxing aren’t nearly as good as Herman’s, though, and if Herman can keep it standing he can win.
It’ll be shocking if he stops him, though, as Shields has a really tough chin (he took Dan Henderson’s best shot flush and survived), but Shields is the kind of guy that you can rock though. The fight that Herman needs to emulate against Shields is the fight with Jason “Mayhem” Miller. Miller some people won that fight and it was close. If you want a successful blue-print to beat Miller knowing the fight is going to the ground then Herman has to emulate Miller (which he has the skill set to do).
Why It Matters – A win here and it’s to the Top 10 and the requisite matchup with a fighter near a title shot.
Prediction – Shields by UD
Yushin Okami vs. Buddy Roberts
Fight Breakdown – Buddy Roberts has had a unique introduction into the UFC so far. Scheduled to take on Sean Loeffler, and having Loeffler pull out minutes before the fight after blowing out his ankle warming up, Roberts was originally scheduled to take on Rousimar Palhares on this card before he too pulled out with an injury. And now he keeps getting tougher opponents with his sole Octagon appearance a win over Caio Magelhaes so far.
Roberts is a well rounded product of Jackson’s MMA who hasn’t looked remarkable so far but this is a HUGE step up in competition against a top five opponent from Magelhaes. It almost feels like Okami’s getting a “gimme” fight in that Roberts isn’t quite ready for this sort in terms of pedigree.
Can Roberts step his game up? Maybe. Okami is an elite fighter and Roberts hasn’t fought anyone anywhere near that degree yet and this is a fight that’s accelerated in his development. In 2-3 years with proper wins and development he’d be ready for this level; right now it feels like he’s being fed to the wolves.
Why It Matters – Okami needs a win to keep his status as an elite fighter. He was en route to a dominant win over Tim Boetsch before Boetsch’s comeback for the ages after a loss to Anderson Silva for the middleweight title. Okami is right at the precipice of falling out of the Top 10 without a win and he needs a win here. A win for Roberts and he moves up to a bigger fight immediately, of course, and someone even tougher. You don’t beat Yushin Okami and then get someone like Loeffler again, unfortunately.
Prediction – Okami by TKO
Justin Lawrence vs. Max Holloway
Fight Breakdown – Two of the two youngest fighters in the UFC meet in the featherweight division. Holloway is coming off a big win, Lawrence over one of his own on the TUF Finale card. Both are exciting but are still years away from being contenders; it’s a nice burgeoning prospect fight.
Why It Matters – A win here and it’s up the ladder.
Prediction – Holloway by UD
Tags: Mixed Martial Arts, UFC 150