We are starting the pre-event hype train with a preview of the undercard for UFC 89. UFC 89 is the best overall card the UFC has put on in England so far, with many compelling matchups. Unfortunately a few of them are on the untelevised portion of the card. Many of you may not be familiar with some of the names on the undercard, but there is some serious talent there and although they lack the big names this card may surprise you.
Per Eklund (13-3-1 MMA 0-1 UFC) vs. Sammy Schiavo (10-5-0 MMA 0-1 UFC)
In this battle of international lightweights, I believe this is a loser go home situation for these two. Both are coming off losses and subpar performances. This is a traditional striker versus grappler matchup that could prove to surprise some people
Schiavo, coming off a first round TKO loss to Clay Guida in his UFC debut, is more of a striker. He is a well rounded kick boxer with excellent leg kicks and above average hands. Schiavo’s ground game is subpar and was taken down at will by Guida in their fight. Schiavo’s guard defense is mediocre at best and his submission acumen is questionable as four of his five losses are by submission.
Eklund, coming off a unanimous decision loss to Sam Stout, excels in grappling. Eklund picked up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu only a few years ago but has spent long time periods in brazil training and competing in grappling tournaments. Eklund is a purple belt but rolls at a high level and has submitted black belts in the past.
These are two fighters who not only need a win but need to make an impression with the fanbase if they are to have a future in the UFC. Eklund is just a bit more well-rounded in his MMA game, and in his decision loss to Stout showed his striking is enough to hang with most lightweights. I think he competes with Schiavo long enough to get the fight to the floor and submit him. Not the best fight on the card, but is definitely a candidate to surprise us with fight of the night. Never underestimate the lightweights.
David Baron (16-2 MMA 0-0 UFC) vs. Jim Miller (11-1 MMA 0-0 UFC)
This is one of the more exciting fights on the undercard as these two UFC rookies face off with high expectations. This has the makings of fireworks and I wouldn’t be surprised if it made the televised card. Both of these fighters are push-the-pace guys with well rounded skills.
Jim Miller is the brother of fellow UFC newcomer Dan Miller, as both migrated over following the termination of the IFL. Jim is riding a six fight win streak with his only loss coming at the hands of Frankie Edgar almost two years ago. Miller is beyond slick on the ground, as his grappling is top notch with 8 of his 11 wins by way of submission. His stand up is a constant work in progress, but should be more than enough to give Baron all he can handle on the feet.
Baron is primarily a grappler with average striking skills, as ten of his sixteen wins are via submission. Baron has been called the best MMA fighter to come out of France and has the gaudy record to back it up. Baron boasts MMA wins over the likes of Hayato Sakurai, Abdul Mohamed, and two wins over Dan Hardy. His only professional losses are to Takanori Gomi and UFC fighter Per Eklund.
Both fighters have very good motors and are excellent offensive grapplers. Neither fighter will be mistaken for Jerome LeBanner in the cage, so this fight should go to the ground quickly. As good as Baron looked in his win over Mach Sakurai recently, he is susceptible to fighters who are good aggressive wrestlers. I think Miller has the advantage in the wrestling and the transition game. Look for Jim Miller to post his first of many wins in the UFC.
Terry Etim (10-2 MMA 1-2 UFC) vs. Sam Stout (13-4-1 MMA 2-3 UFC)
Etim and Stout both have incredible talent but have been the definition of inconsistent. This is another matchup of two fighters coming off of losses in the octagon. Two losses in a row in the UFC is never a good thing and could be a ticket to tune up fights outside the organization.
Etim is extremely talented fighter from England with excellent Muay Thai. His long frame for the weight class makes him hard to deal with on the ground. His submission game consistently shows improvement as he is currently a blue belt under Pride veteran Chris Brennan. He has an excellent Guillotine choke and an active guard, but his bread and butter is his striking.
Stout is a frustrating fighter as he tends to show flashes of sheer brilliance followed by flashes of disinterest. Under the tutelage of brother-in-law and striking coach-extraordinaire Shawn Tomkins, Stout has improved by leaps and bounds since his first UFC appearance. His technical striking is some of the best in the division. Stout has also improved his wrestling at an incredible rate while training at the wrestler-heavy Xtreme Couture gym. Stout still has a tendancy to lose interest in fights and will flake out for long stretches.
This will be a dynamic striking match between two supremely talented youngsters. I don’t think either of these fighters has the power to stop each other via TKO or knockout, but Etim has a little more submission acumen than Stout and could catch him in a submission. Stout has improved his takedowns immensely but likes to shoot in with his head to the outside and could get himself caught by Etim’s wicked guillotine. I think this goes to Etim via guillotine choke late in the fight. It should be a doozy.
David Bielkheden (12-6 MMA 0-1 UFC) vs. Jess Liaudin (12-10 MMA 2-2 UFC)
Keeping with the apparent undercard theme for UFC 89, both European fighters are coming off of a loss in the UFC. As a result, both have decided to drop from welterweight to lightweight for this bout.
Bielkheden is the second Swedish fighter on this fight card (never thought I would type that sentence!) with a serious ground game. Not many people know David Bielkheden is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from Brazilian Top Team. Bielkheden is also an excellent kickboxer who started training at the age of 13. He is a truly well-rounded fighter as well as extremely experienced. He has fought all over the world including Pride and Shooto.
Liaudin is a French import to Britain, who has recently been training in the United States with Cobra Kai gym. He is a very well-rounded fighter and is dangerous all over, but his striking is where he excels. He has knockout power in his hands and has a very good defensive ground game. Most of his submissions are set up from his striking game, and he has been overpowered by better grapplers in the past. Liadin’s wrestling is the weakest part of his MMA game, and it shows in the transitions and scrambles during the fight.
Bielkheden has cut to this weight before but this is the first time at lightweight for Liaudin. The first time weight cut combined with Bielkheden’s superior ground game leads me to pick Bielkheden to win via ground and pound stoppage in round two. I think Bielkheden was overwhelmed in his first bout with Diego Sanchez and has a lot more MMA to show the American audience.
Akihiro Gono (28-12-7 MMA 1-0 UFC) vs. Dan Hardy (19-6 MMA 0-0 UFC)
Hardy is getting a rather rude welcome to the UFC by being paired up with one of the most experienced and respected fighters in the world at 170lbs in Akihiro Gono. This is not a good style matchup for Hardy.
Hardy is a above average striker with a Taekwondo background. He has knockout power in both his hands and feet, but his best attribute is his will to win. He is hard to finish and never quits. His ground game is a work in progress but has improved dramatically over the last year or so under Eddie Bravo’s tutelage. Hardy’s defensive guard and submission defense are excellent, and combined with his standup makes him a handful for anyone at welterweight. Hardy’s conditioning has been in question before and has gased in previous defeats.
Akihiro Gono is a legend in the Japanese MMA community. At 34 years of age he is possibly the most experienced fighter still active in the sport, having his first professional fight in 1994 at the age of 20. Coming off a submission victory over Tamden McCrory at UFC 78, Gono is best known for his fan-friendly attitude and flashy and entertaining ring entrances. Gono is mainly a submission fighter who can surprise opponents with a submission from virtually any position. Gono is an adequate striker but more often uses his strikes to set up submissions. He is extremely elusive on the feet and can frustrate opponents into making mistakes. Gono’s best attribute is his ability to dictate where the fight takes place.
As much as I respect Hardy as a fighter, if Gono comes in shape this should be his fight to lose. I don’t think he will catch Hardy in a submission as Bravo will have him well prepared for most of Gono’s tricks on the floor. I see Gono keeping this fight on the ground and outworking Hardy for a unanimous decision victory. Should be the best fight on the undercard.