It’s become very hard to build proper anticipation and excitement with a major MMA card essentially being presented every weekend. Just as you are about to come down from an event, you have to get yourself all excited again.
However, watching the UFC 87 countdown show last night put me in the proper frame of mind and it became very clear that Saturday’s fight card will be offering us three big-time fights whose outcomes with have major ramifications.
Surprisingly, the Brock Lesnar vs. Heath Herring fight was crammed into the end of the one-hour special, which understandably focused on the night’s main event of Georges St. Pierre defending his UFC welterweight title against Jon Fitch as well as a lightweight showdown between Kenny Florian and Roger Huerta. Considering the UFC’s Super Bowl weekend ,show was built around Lesnar’s UFC debut, it’s testament to the depth on this card that his second fight has been pushed to the back of the promotional burner.
Thus far, I consider UFC 84 to be the promotion’s best lineup to date. That being said, UFC 87 is pretty close, as the top three fights are all main events in my estimation.
Join us as Five Ounces of Pain breaks down the entire fight card.
Georges St. Pierre vs. Jon Fitch for the UFC welterweight title:
As much credit as Fitch deserves, I still do not agree with those who think he’s going to win this fight. If you look at things from a pure fighting perspective, St. Pierre is clearly the more well-rounded martial artist. His submission game is tight and his striking can be dynamic at times. And he has shown to us on several occasions that despite not having the best wrestling pedigree in the world, he still can out-wrestle world class wrestlers. As good of a wrestler as Fitch is, I don’t believe he’s any better than Josh Koscheck and we saw what GSP did there.
If Fitch wants to pull off this upset, he cannot rely on wrestling alone. He’s going to have to fight inside and put his fist on GSP’s chin and test his mettle. To me, that’s his only shot, as it isn’t like Fitch is going to be able to out-cardio St. Pierre and steal a five-round decision.
Whether or not St. Pierre can be broken if he eats a hard shot remains to be seen. There are those who still question his mental toughness. As one of his biggest past critics in that regard, I feel St. Pierre has answered those questions with dominant victories over Matt Hughes, Josh Koscheck, and Matt Serra after initially being upset by Serra over a year and a half ago. If you want to continue to question St. Pierre’s intangibles, be my guest. But what does this guy have to do to prove that he’s cleared that hurdle?
Fitch is confident and has a gameplan, which is something every fighter should have. But as much respect I have for Fitch, he’s simply not going to pull off the upset.
Prediction: St. Pierre via unanimous decision.
Brock Lesnar vs. Heath Herring:
I really loved the original matchup for this card between Lesnar vs. Mark Coleman. I thought it was a creative way to get Lesnar a high-profile fight that could draw without severely testing him. Coleman is a great wrestler and has heavy hands, but he’s not a dynamic striker and at age 43, I didn’t believe he was going to out-wrestle Lesnar. Unfortunately for Lesnar, Coleman got injured and had to pull out.
Why do I say “unfortunately?” It’s because I love MMA and I want to see it get even bigger. One of the best ways to make this sport grow is through developing new stars. In a lot of respects, Lesnar is already a star. However, because of his unique backstory, he could be a mega-star that brings new fans into the sport. MMA needs Lesnar to be successful in order to grow. But as tremendous of an athlete as he is, he’s still very green when it comes to MMA.
Ideally the UFC would give him easier matchups and develop him over time. That’s a luxury the promotion cannot afford as they are guaranteeing him $250,000 a fight with a $200,000 win bonus. They are not paying him like a prospect and are paying him like an established star, and as such, he needs to be positioned as a money maker as opposed to a loss leader.
Coleman was replaced by Heath Herring, who I believe is a much tougher opponent. In fact, I think he could be too tough of an opponent. Submission defense is not the only question I have when it comes to Lesnar, as we still have not really seen his chin tested. During the countdown show Lesnar was bragging about how hard his head is. And I believe him. I also believe that the fact that he has virtually no neck is beneficial because it could decrease the effects of a whiplash effect if someone tries to turn his head with a shot to the chin. But those are theories that have yet to be tested.
Some wrestlers have trouble when they convert to MMA because they can’t adjust to getting punched in the face. When dealing with punches to the head, there is more than neurological damage to consider, as the psychological effects can be almost as damaging. I know Lesnar took a lot of contact as a pro wrestler, but there is a much different psychological effect when one is hitting you in the face with the intention of knocking you unconscious. It can be a traumatic experience for those who just aren’t used to it. If Lesnar gets rocked, do we know for sure he’s going to be able to remain composed and weather the storm? Or will he panic and make a mistake that leads to a finish?
Herring’s standup is going to be a major factor in this fight. Sure, he got upset by Jake O’Brien, another strong wrestler, but Herring has reminded us in recent fights vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Cheick Kongo why he was such a solid fighter in PRIDE. If Herring is healthy and in shape, he’s a very difficult opponent.
In addition to Herring’s standup, Lesnar also must be concerned about Herring’s ground game. No, he’s far from a jiu-jitsu black belt but he’s been in the game long enough that he has picked up submissions and decent submission defense.
To me, Herring’s well-rounded nature makes him a much more dangerous opponent than Frank Mir, and considering Lesnar lost that fight, I fear we could experience another disappointing outcome.
Prediction: As much as I want Lesnar to win, I believe that Herring is going to win via second round KO.
Kenny Florian vs. Roger Huerta:
Huerta has taken a lot of criticism in recent weeks, and much of it is undeserved. Some say his complaints about his current salary from the UFC is a sign that he has gotten too big for his britches and that he’s not worth the money that he’s asking. I find that sentiment interesting considering we don’t know what he’s asking in relation to what the UFC is offering. If we knew, we could compare it to what other fighters of his ilk are making.
Then there is UFC President Dana White, who reportedly fired back at Huerta while doing a radio interview, claiming that Huerta hasn’t fought big enough opponents to warrant the money he’s asking for. That might be true, but whose fault is that? Huerta isn’t a matchmaker. It was the UFC’s decision to groom him to be a superstar and build a major marketing push around him. Now that they’ve built him into a star, it appears they might not want to pay him like one.
Fighters have earned the right to ask for as much money as they want. They are not just being compensated for a fight — they are being compensated for all the time they put into training and all the sacrifices they make to perform at a high-level. There is also the fact that Huerta has done a ton of traveling in order to promote the UFC in various cities. Giving someone a $50 per diem as their only compensation is insane to me.
But the UFC is the 800 lbs. gorilla in the industry. They rarely, if ever, get caught up in bidding wars with promotions. They decide what a fighter is worth and do not allow the marketplace to dictate financial terms to them. In order for Huerta to garner the kind of offer he wants, he’s going to have to add a big win to his resume against someone like Florian and put himself into a number one contender’s position.
Should Huerta win, it will be interesting to see if he ever gets to collect on a title shot. For one, B.J. Penn has designs on returning to the welterweight division in December. He says he still intends to compete at lightweight, but if he wins the UFC welterweight title, I don’t see that happening. There’s also the fact that after this fight, Huerta will only have one fight left on his current contract. Fighters do not receive title shots in the UFC with one fight left on their contract. Unless he signs an extension, he will not be in the lightweight title mix and could spend a significant period on the sidelines while the term of his contract gets close to expiration.
However, all of that will be moot as I do not see Huerta winning this fight. Florian is simply too technical. Huerta’s standup is impressive and very exciting. He also has a high school and college wrestling background. However, his jiu-jitsu has yet to impress me and I do not consider him to be a high-level wrestler. Despite having a lot of fights under his belt, Huerta is still not an all-around threat. Because of Florian’s unbelievable work ethic, he is a threat to win this fight in multiple areas. That makes him very tough to gameplan against because Florian will have plenty of counters for Huerta.
Prediction: I’m really looking forward to this fight but I don’t expect it to go past the first. Florian via first round submission.
Manny Gamburyan vs. Rob Emerson:
Wow, this fight would probably be better suited as a non-televised preliminary on a UFC Fight Night card as opposed to televised fight on a major pay-per-view. There are atleast two undercard fights — and possibly three — that I would prefer to see over this one.
Gamburyan is tough and has a fighting style that is difficult to contend with. But he’s not the most exciting fighter in the world. Yet you know the UFC likes him because they gave him Jeff Cox at UFC Fight Night 13 this past April and are now giving him Emerson in a televised bout.
I have yet to see what the UFC sees in Emerson. He supposedly has great Muay Thai, and while what I have seen from him in that regard hasn’t been bad, I haven’t exactly been impressed with it. Emerson needs this win bad or else he could find himself with an accelerated contract. To me, that’s the only angle in this fight worth talking about.
Prediction: Gamburyan via second round TKO.
Demian Maia vs. Jason MacDonald:
MacDonald wanted a better opponent than Joe Doerksen in his last fight, and he’s getting that this time in Demian Maia. But MacDonald shouldn’t be too excited, because at this point he is being positioned as a middleweight gate-keeper.
MacDonald is a strong athlete and has very good MMA submissions. If you make a mistake, he will make you pay. But his ground game is nowhere near as slick as Maia’s, who I believe will one day contend for the UFC middleweight title.
Maia’s standup is still a question mark but I do not consider MacDonald to be good enough on his feet to exploit the weakness.
Prediction: Maia via third round submission.
Tamdan McCory vs. Luke Cummo
This will be McCrory’s first fight since suffering the first defeat of his career and then going on hiatus. Cummo has been much more active as of late and is the more experienced of the two. However, McCrory is stronger athletically and his freakish height for welterweight will likely cause Cummo some matchup issues.
Prediction: I am picking McCrory via unanimous decision in a three round war. If there’s time, I’ve got a feeling this could make the telecast.
Cheick Kongo vs. Dan Evensen:
Count this as one of the two fights on the undercard I’d rather see as opposed to Gamburyan vs. Emerson. On paper, Kongo is the heavy favorite but I’ve been told by those familiar with Evensen not to count him out and to expect an upset.
Evensen likes to brawl and went 3-0 while competing for BodogFIGHT. However, his biggest fights to date are against Dan Bobish and Christian Wellisch and he lost to both. He’s a striker who I don’t see getting the better of Kongo in the standup.
Prediction: I think Kongo’s athleticism and striking will prove too much and that he’ll win via second round KO.
Andre Gusmao vs. Jon Jones:
Count this as the other fight I’d rather see televised than Gamburyan vs. Emerson.
I think Gusmao is one of the top prospects at light heavyweight in the world right now. He’s got tremendous BJJ credentials and showed during his undefeated stint in the IFL that he can end fights with strikes. At 5-0, the sky is the limit for him.
Jones is no push over though, as he recently won a light heavyweight title while competing for the BattleCage Xtreme promotion in July after he TKO’d former EliteXC fighter Moyses Gabin. Like Gusmao, he is also 5-0 and comes from a strong East Coast camp.
In the end though, I think Gusmao will be too fast and too strong for Jones.
Prediction: Gusmao to via third round TKO.
Chris Wilson vs. Steve Bruno:
Wilson is one of the best strikers in the world at 170 pounds and despite losing his UFC debut to Jon Fitch at UFC 82, he will be a major factor in regard to the future of the UFC’s welterweight division.
Bruno, who will be making his UFC debut, is a game opponent who has competed for the IFL, MFC, and Spirit MC. He has notable losses against Bart Palaszewski and Heath Sims. However, his most notable win to date is his most recent one, against Korean kickboxer Jae Suk Lim. I just think Wilson will prove to be too much of a step up in competition.
Prediction: Wilson via first round TKO.
Ben Saunders vs. Ryan Thomas
Thomas is a late replacement making his UFC debut after Jared Rollins was removed from the bout for unspecified reasons. Aside from his 9-1 record, little is known about Thomas. The fact that he might not be able to formulate much of a gameplan could hurt Saunders, but I still think he uses his range and solid kickboxing skills to walk away victorious.
Prediction: Saunders via unanimous decision.
Editor’s Note: Sam Caplan’s documented prediction record is 72-37 (66%) on CBSSports.com. Click here and scroll towards the bottom to see the record as listed by CBS Sports.