UFC Mid-Year Review: Championship Edition

UFC Mid-Year Review: Championship Edition

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2013 has been pretty exciting thus far for UFC championship matchups.  First we started the year in January with Johnson v. Dodson.  Very close fight there, and pretty darn exciting too, with Dodson putting up a good start, but Johnson dominating in the later rounds. 

Then we had Aldo v. Edgar, in February, which was another extremely nail-bitingly close fight for Edgar, resulting in his third loss in a row.  I think everyone probably breathed a collective sigh of relief when Edgar finally got back to his winning ways this month at UFC 162 against Charles Oliveira (we’ll get to the headlining fight shortly).

Barao v. McDonald was the next one in February, with Barao subbing McDonald in the 4th via arm triangle.  Next was the first ever female fight in the UFC with Rousey defeating Carmouche via, obviously, arm bar in the 1st (I didn’t have to look that one up) to win the inaugural women’s bantamweight title. 

St. Pierre faced the elder Diaz brother in March, claiming a decisive decision against the clearly outmatched Diaz.
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We saw the UFC debut of El Nino at UFC on Fox 7: Henderson v. Melendez, with the challenger putting up a largely nullifying if not mostly passive performance that was not enough to sway the judges his way.  Also, after defending the belt for the third time, Henderson got engaged in front of a wall of unhappy and booing fight fans (Julie Kedzie tweeted “Very, very sweet. But just a note to future suitors: Never ever propose to me in the Octagon. I will hit you.”).

Jones v. Sonnen and Velasquez v. Bigfoot 2 were the next two championship match-ups, and I don’t think they really need more than an “oh, yeah, right, that happened” mention, as Sonnen and Bigfoot survived exactly as long as everyone thought they would.  And then this month we saw Silva v. Weidman.  I personally believe that Silva lost NOT because his hands were down, but because he was uncharacteristically off balance when retreating from Weidman’s sloppy but aggressive striking onslaught.  Sorry, I had to give my two cents like everyone else.

The most notable of the title fights mentioned above is without a doubt the most recent.  It goes without saying that Silva being dethroned from the world middleweight and pound-for-pound top spot after being undefeated since 2006 is a big deal.  Much has been said about the fight and implications for the division, so I won’t go into more similar speculations here.  I will say, however, that Silva’s loss was the only title belt changing of hands that took place this year so far, with most of the other fights on the whole being dominating shows of skill by the reigning kings and queen.

Now on to the championship fights for the rest of the year.

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We’ve got one coming up very soon on July 27.  That’ll be UFC on Fox 8: Johnson v. Moraga.  Moraga is currently ranked the #4 flyweight on the UFC’s own ranking list, and #8 on Sherdog’s.  Many UFC fans are likely unfamiliar with him, as the flyweights haven’t been around very long in the UFC, and this will be only his third fight in the organization, but he’s been on something of a tear since his professional debut in 2009, having won bantamweight titles in the local-to-Arizona promotions Rage in the Cage, and Trilogy Championship Fighting.  Interestingly, his one loss, back in 2010, was against John Dodson, who fought, as I mentioned previously, for the title back in January.

If Moraga manages to get himself the belt, the next obvious fight to make for the new champ would be against Dodson, who is currently ranked #2 by the UFC and #4 by Sherdog.  If the world were fair, Dodson would have to fight someone else first before getting another title shot, as his last fight was his loss to Johnson, but as we’ve all been shown on multiple occasions, Sean Shelby, Joe Silva, and Dana White don’t often think the world is fair (Edgar got a title shot against Aldo after two consecutive losses, Sonnen got a title shot against Jones after his crushing defeat at the hands of The Spider, Nick Diaz fought GSP post loss to Condit, and the list goes on), so who knows what could happen?  That’s a big IF, though, as Johnson is definitely no slouch, and looked great against Dodson back in January.

When talking about Johnson, the word of the day is always “speed” as he has shown time and time again that you can’t hit what you can’t see.  Even Dodson, who was a shoe-in for the title of the Octagon’s fastest, couldn’t keep the pace pushed by Johnson.  That will be a big hurdle for Moraga, as he’s not particularly quick on his feet.  He is, however, going to be bigger than Johnson by 3 inches, with a 1 inch reach advantage.  That’s not saying a whole lot when you’re talking about Johnson, though, as he’s faced taller fighters when he had his run at the bantamweight division, where he did remarkably well for being a little guy always having to punch above his head.  So basically what I’m saying is, it will be interesting to see what happens!

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The next championship fight on the list is Adlo v. the Korean Zombie in August.  After losing both his WEC bouts to Leonard Garcia and George Roop, Chan Sung Jung has been a surprising prospect in the UFC featherweight division, avenging his loss to Garcia with a twister of all things, knocking out Hominick in 7 seconds, and subbing Poirer in the 4th.  After those wins, Jung earned his way to the #4 spot in the division according to the UFC’s list (he’s at #5 now after Cub Swanson’s impressive win against Siver in June), and #10 according to Sherdog.  It’s not hard to see why the matchmakers thought this was a good idea after Pettis had to pull out of his match against Aldo due to knee injury.  The only problem with this for Jung, however, is that he’s coming off of a very long layoff, having been out of action since May of 2012.

Actually, there’s another problem: Aldo is a bit of a monster, and is often thought to be in the top 4 of the p4p best in the world.  That’s no joke, and Aldo definitely deserves the praise.  If Jung can somehow pull out a victory, probably by submission, that’ll for sure be the second biggest upset of the year.  Realistically, the good money is on Aldo for this one, as ring rust is sure to strike and leave Jung’s lead leg open for some debilitating monster leg kicks.  Because, I don’t know if I made this clear, Aldo is a monster.  If Jung does pull out a victory, I could see potential in a rematch with Roop to avenge his last loss.  Of course, Roop might not want to take the chance now that he’s moved down in weight to bantam and is doing fairly well for himself with victories over Reuben Duran and Brian Bowles.  A fight that makes a bit more sense would of course be Cub Swanson, who is on a 5 fight winning streak, has looked better than he ever has, and is the #4 featherweight according to both the UFC and Sherdog.

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Next on the list is Pettis v. Henderson 2.  Showtime Kick.  Need I say more?  If you for some reason missed one of the best fights of 2010, and the WEC’s final show, here’s a quick recap: Anthony Pettis (Sherdog’s #3 and UFC’s #2 lightweight) fought for the WEC lightweight title against Benson Henderson, who had defended the strap once against Donald Cerrone, in the WEC’s final show before being consumed entirely by the UFC.  Pettis appeared to edge out Henderson in the first 4 rounds, but sealed the deal with an off-the-cage jumping roundhouse kick to Henderson’s face, dubbed afterward the Showtime Kick (recent inductee to the UFC hall of fame Stephen Bonnar, who was providing color commentary that night, famously exclaimed, “It’s just like the Matrix!”).

After the UFC took on the WEC roster, Pettis entered the fray with promises of a title fight if he could secure a victory first against Clay Guida.  Guidawelcomed Pettis to the big show by executing a wrestling clinic at the expense of the talented striker, securing himself a victory, and forcing Pettis to re-earn his way back to title contention.  And re-earn his way back up he has, with very impressive 1st round wins against Joe Lauzon and Donald Cerrone.  The chances for a title fight seemed far off to Pettis, however, as he felt the organization was overlooking him with fighters he, wrongly or rightly, felt didn’t deserve shots, so he decided to step down to featherweight to face Jose Aldo (not that he deserved that shot himself).

Then the injury fairy decided to pay Pettis a visit, forcing him to pull out of the Aldo fight, giving the Korean Zombie a turn instead.  Poor Pettis was stuck in limbo yet again, with all but a promise to face the winner of TJ Grant v. Bendo.  Then the injury fairy struck again, but this time in Showtime’s favor, knocking out Grant, and allowing Pettis to step in.  Henderson v. Pettis 2 is the most anticipated rematch in UFC history since Silva v. Sonnen 2.  Very few fight fans were excited about Aldo v. Pettis, and even fewer were excited about Henderson v. Grant, but Henderson v. Pettis 2 is what dreams are made of.  Hyperbole aside, Pettis has a very strong chance to come away with a victory this time again, as Henderson hasn’t looked particularly impressive in his tenure as top dog, winning nail-biting split decisions against top tier talent like Gilbert Melendez and Frankie Edgar.

If Pettis can manage to keep the fight standing and be a more dynamic striker than the champ, then it’s a safe bet that Pettis will pull away with a late-round stoppage.  Or they could both neutralize each other completely with their similar skill sets and stylistic backgrounds resulting in another close decision for Bendo.

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September presents us with Jones v. Gustafsson, an intriguing matchup if not merely for the fact that Jones won’t have any height advantage this time around, as The Mauler is a whopping 1 inch taller.  Jones of course still has the freakishly long reach of 84.5 inches as compared to Gustafsson’s 76.5.  Gustafsson is currently ranked #6 by Sherdog and #2 by the UFC, and has looked reasonably good in his octagon performances, with wins over fighters that used to be rather good at one point or another in their respective careers.  His one loss comes at the hands of Phil Davis by way of anaconda choke back in 2010.  It should be noted that Phil Davis is a very good wrestler, but probably not on par with Jones, so if Davis could outwrestle Gustafsson, it stands to reason that Jones will have little difficulty in doing the same.  It is likely to end with Bones as the victor via submission in the 2nd round.  Earlier in the month we’ll be seeing Glover Teixeria take on Ryan Bader on Fox Sports 1 3, or whatever we’re supposed to be calling it.  It would not be entirely far-fetched to think that the winner of that fight will get the next shot at the belt.

Also on the September card, as the co-main event, is Barao v. Wineland for the interim bantamweight belt.  Barao has looked exceptionally well throughout his 7-year career, with only one loss to speak of, and has been very convincing as the interim champ while Dominick Cruz is out of commission.  This match-up was supposed to happen earlier in June at UFC 161, but Barao had to pull out due to a foot injury.  Wineland, who is a former WEC champion, was victorious in his last two outings against Scott Jorgenson and Brad Picket, but is still only 2-2 in his last 4 fights.  Wineland, even with a lingering Barao foot injury, will have a very difficult time coming away with a win.  It deserves a mention that the non-interim bantamweight champion, Dominick Cruz, is supposed to be done with rehab 9 months after his second surgery back in December.  That puts him around August for his return to full-time training.  Perhaps we might be able to see the return of the Dominator 6 months after the Barao v. Wineland fight in a title unification match.  This is all just speculation of course…

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And then we have the rubber match for the heavyweight crown with Velasquez v. dos Santos 3 in October.  It will be interesting to see if The Gypsy can upset the champ again, but if the Junior of JDS v. Velasquez 2 shows up, it’ll be a long and difficult night for him.  Likewise, though, if the Cain of Velasquez v. JDS 1 shows up, then it’ll probably be a short night for him!  This is a very tough one to predict, but the odds makers are giving the champ the slight edge, but that is likely to change as the fight approaches.   Whoever ends up losing the match will likely want to consider stepping down to light heavyweight, as a 3rd rematch (I call that a plastic match.  Like a rubber match.  Get it?  Funny, right?  Hello?) is not realistically in the cards, as not many people are even that exited for this one.

The most logical candidate for next heavyweight contender is FabricioWerdum (#3 for the UFC and Sherdog), who has looked very convincing in the 3 fights he’s had since his return to the octagon, but apparently Werdum wants to face Daniel Cormier to stay active and avoid a long layoff like the one he had due to his stint as coach on The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 2.  If that fight ends up happening this year, you can be sure that the winner will fight for the heavyweight title near the middle of next year.

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In November, we’ll be seeing GSP v. Hendricks.  Hendricks (#1 for the UFC and #2 for Sherdog, which means the same thing) was slated to face GSP after annihilating Martin Kampmann via a 46 second KO, but Rush wanted to fight Nick Diaz instead, so Hendricks had to earn title contention once more, but against Carlos Condit, which he did in a very closely contested battle.  This, on paper, looks to be a tough match-up for the reigning welterweight king and #2 p4p fighter in the world.  Hendricks is a decorated wrestler with a very solid straight left that he uses to great effect (like in the 46 second KO I mentioned a bit ago), and he manages to close long distances almost instantaneously.  By golly, he sounds like GSP, who is widely considered one of the best wrestlers in the sport and has a debilitating lunging jab.  Hendricks isn’t likely to try and take GSP down, instead favoring a stand-up approach, but it has yet to be seen if he has the skill necessary to put the champ in real danger.

Obviously the power and accuracy are there, but he wasn’t able to pull out a flashy KO of Condit, so maybe the story will be the same this time around with a decision win for St-Pierre.  Speaking of Condit, he’s facing off against Kampmann at Fox Sports 1 2 in August, so perhaps we might see the winner of that fight take on the winner of Rory McDonald v. Jake Ellenberger happening later this month to determine the next contender.

And then finally we have UFC 168 which will have two title fights as co-mains: Weidman v. Silva 2 and Rousey v. Tate 2.  Can Weidman pull off another upset and put a stamp on his middleweight title?  Sure, anything’s possible, but no one is really predicting that to happen.  Like, at all.  The consensus seems to be that Silva will go out there and put Weidman to sleep, probably in round 2 because in round 1 Weidman will take Silva down and mount him for 3 minutes.  Wait, I feel like I’ve seen this somewhere before…  I don’t expect Weidman to throw a silly spinning back fist at the once and likely future king, and fall to the matt in order to be manhandled like a child, but I do expect vintage Anderson Silva to step into the octagon to avenge his embarrassing loss.  If Silva somehow manages to lose this one, the middle weight division will be a very interesting place indeed.

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As for Rousey v. Tate, Rousey will win by armbar in the 1st, but not before being put in an awkward position on the verge of being finished herself.  Such is the nature of things.  The obvious choice for the next title fight for Rousey would be Cat Zingano, who had to pull out of the fight that Tate will be enjoying due to injury to her ACL.  But who knows when Zingano will be back in fighting shape again.  What also makes sense but provides for a less interesting fight would be the winner of Kaufman v. McMann set for UFC on Fox Sports 1 2.  I say this is less interesting because McMann didn’t look particularly impressive in her UFC debut against Sheila Gaff, especially considering she’s possibly the most decorated wrestler in the UFC today, and Kaufman lost to Rousey in Strikeforce not that long ago.

Whew!  So we’ve got a great list of fights for the coming months from the UFC.  This year hasn’t been too bad in terms of injuries so far, so let’s all hope that it continues that way.

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