The UFC returns to the Garden State this Saturday, as the world’s leading MMA organization head over to the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey for UFC 169. This is the card that really kicks off the UFC’s 2014, as we are treated to a bumper event featuring two UFC title fights. Headlining the event is the newly minted UFC Bantamweight champion, Renan Barao, who has recently been upgraded from interim to fully fledged champ after Dominick Cruz’s continued battle with injuries. Barao will be making the first defence of his belt against former WEC 135lbs kingpin Urijah Faber, who experienced a monster 2013, going 4-0 and forcing himself back in to title contention. Serving as the co-main event of the evening is a featherweight bout of championship proportions as reigning 145lbs king, José Aldo will look to make his sixth straight title defence against No.1 contender, Ricardo Lamas. Also on the card is a heavyweight clash between Frank Mir and Alistair Overeem, with both men in desperate need of a victory to retain employment after a series of lacklustre performances. The main card is completed with an additional two fights as John Lineker looks to make weight for a change and compete as a flyweight against Ali Bagautinov, and Jamie Varner locks horns with fellow lightweight, Abel Trujillo.
This is an event I have been looking forward to for quite some time, and it really does have the potential to be a classic night of fights. The feel good factor certainly spills over on to the undercard, with several of the prelim fights carrying the required excitement to have us all tuning in that little bit earlier. Here’s my pick of the bunch.
John Makdessi vs. Alan Patrick – 155lbs.
John Makdessi seems to have rediscovered his stride in the UFC’s lightweight division. After debuting on the 155lbs scene back in 2010 with consecutive victories, including a highlight reel spinning back fist KO of Kyle Watson, Makdessi hit a bump in the road when the competition was ratcheted up a bit, losing out to Dennis Hallman and Anthony Njokuani. Since the Njokuani fight in early 2012, Makdessi has fought three times and won three times, with his most recent victory coming at UFC 165 back in September against Renee Forte.
Alan Patrick was able to transition from the Brazilian regional circuit to the UFC without a hitch in his debut performance for the promotion back in October against Garett Whiteley, who he defeated via TKO in the first round. The undefeated Patrick, who trains alongside UFC stars Jacare Souza, Rafael Cavalcante and Erick Silva, will be looking to maintain the perfect start to his MMA career with victory over Makdessi.
It seems odd for the UFC to pair Makdessi off with Patrick at this point in their respective careers, as I’d have thought Makdessi would have been due an opponent with a little more juice than Patrick having reeled off three straight victories. Anyway, Makdessi should have enough about him to stop Patrick in this one, as Patrick is pretty wild on the fight and should leave himself wide open for Makdessi to punish.
Prediction – Makdessi via KO/TKO in the 1st round.
Chris Cariaso vs. Danny Martinez – 125lbs.
After a bumpy start to his career as a UFC flyweight, Chris Cariaso was able to bounce back from consecutive defeats to John Moraga and Jussier Formiga with a TKO victory over Iliarde Santos late last year at UFC Fight Night 29. Cariaso has seen successes in Strikeforce, the WEC and the UFC, and will be hoping that with his first win as a 125lb’er under his belt, he will be able to kick on further with his first pair of successive victories since 2012.
A WEC veteran, Danny Martinez will be making his UFC debut when he takes on Cariaso, having filled in at short notice for the injured Kyoji Horiguchi. Despite never really finding a home on the big stage, Martinez has fought some of the bigger names in the lighter weight classes, such as Mark Hominick, Joseph Benavidez and Jussier Formiga. Unfortunately for Martinez he would go on to lose these bouts. Martinez will, however, be riding a four-fight win streak when he enters the Octagon for the first time.
While only three fights in to his tenure as a UFC flyweight, Chris Cariaso appears to have already assumed the role of divisional gatekeeper. Cariaso has solid striking but really lacks the pop to put bodies to sleep, if he is able to avoid the takedown assaults of Martinez, then he should find some success. I’m going to favour Cariaso ever so slightly in this one, but would not be surprised if Martinez pulls the upset.
Prediction – Cariaso via unanimous decision.
Nick Catone vs. Tom Watson – 185lbs.
Nick Catone could probably do win a win right about now, having been on the losing side in his last two outings. Since signing on with the UFC in 2009, Catone has competed seven times inside the Octagon with a 3-4 record over that period of activity. Injuries have robbed Catone of any chance of building any sort of momentum and this fight with Watson will be his first fight since December 2012.
Watson is pretty much in the same boat as Catone, as the Brit has had his share of ups and downs during his short time with the UFC. Watson only debuted in September of 2012, but has alternated losses and wins in his three appearances thus far, compiling a 1-2 record, collecting a Fight of the Night and KO of the Night bonus when defeating Stanislav Nedkov in his only win in the UFC.
Watson is an exciting fighter when his opponent allows him to simply strike but can suffer when his grappling is put to the test. Catone has the ability to cause problems on the ground for Watson, or at very least drag him there, but I think the long layoff will play a significant factor in proceedings.
Prediction – Watson via KO/TKO in the 2nd round.
Al Iaquinta vs. Kevin Lee – 155lbs.
Al Iaquinta, a product of the Serra-Longo Fight Team, was most recently in action back in October at UFC Fight Night 30 where he was able to record a unanimous decision victory over Piotr Hallmann. With that win, Iaquinta secured back-to-back UFC victories for the first time, extending his current promotional record to 2-1, with the lone loss coming at the hands of Michael Chiesa in the final of their season 15 instalment of The Ultimate Fighter.
Kevin Lee will be making his UFC debut at the event, with the Detroit native having made a blistering start to his MMA career. The 21 year old Lee made his professional MMA debut back in March 2012, but has managed to compile a 7-0 record in that short time and has impressed with his varied skillset.
Lee looks like he could be a handful in the future, as the kid has got some serious promise if he continues to improve at his current rate, but I’ve got to go with experience on this one.
Prediction – Iaquinta via unanimous decision.
Tags: Al Iaquinta, chris cariaso, John Makdessi, Jose Aldo, Mixed Martial Arts, renan barao, Ricardo Lamas, Tom Watson, UFC, ufc 169, Urijah Faber