Saturday night marks the first of what Zuffa expects to be multiple PPV events from World Extreme Cagefighting and they couldn’t have picked a better place than Sacramento, California to start the process out! ARCO Arena will undoubtedly be full of energy for the event and the crowd should be especially pumped based on seeing their favorite local son, Urijah Faber, do his best to reclaim the WEC Featherweight Championship by beating Brazilian phenom Jose Aldo. Additionally, WEC Lightweight Champion Ben Henderson and Donald Cerrone will again face off and possibly create another classic as was the case when the two first faced off last October. Beyond that, the card also features former 145-pound title holder Mike Brown working towards his own title rematch with Manny Gamburyan standing in the way, and an undercard peppered with clashes for top contendership and a number of talented, notable young fighters.
Before I get into the “pick em” part of this article let me preclude the breakdown of bouts by saying one of the things about Mixed Martial Arts I’ve always loved is its unpredictable nature. I’ll do my best to steer you in the right direction with a little insight/opinion included in the deal, but readers would be wise to avoid laying down money on my attempts to glimpse into the future. In fact, you’re much safer spending $44.95 for the WEC PPV because it’s nearly a sure bet in terms of entertainment value. Beyond that, please don’t hesitate to share your own thoughts on any or all of the scheduled fights in the “Comments” section below, and let’s get this show on the road…
Brandon Visher vs. Tyler Toner
This bout is a nice way to start out the night in that it features one of MMA’s rising featherweight stars – Brandon Visher. The young Hawaiian is 13-0 and, as indicated by his win/loss record, possesses the somewhat rare ability to finish opponents with both striking and jiujitsu. However, Toner is talented as well and shouldn’t experience any butterflies during his WEC debut based on a successful 2008 outing in Strikeforce. This match-up should be full of action and relatively even throughout, though in the end I think Visher will emerge victorious based on his well-rounded attack and mental toughness. He’s overcome a number of obstacles in his life, so I don’t believe anything that occurs in a cage will cause him to lose focus or give up unless absolutely forced to.
Winner – Brandon Visher via Submission Round 3
Takeya Mizugaki vs. Rani Yahya
Both bantamweights are looking to bounce back from losses in their previous fights and shouldn’t be afraid to engage in what will likely turn out to be a high-paced ground war. Ten of Mizugaki’s eighteen professional bouts have gone to decision, while Yahya has avoided the judges’ scorecards in his career for the most part but has 14 of 15 wins by submission. Stand-up is clearly neither man’s strong point while both are obviously comfortable on the canvas. When the dust settles I think Mizugaki will walk away victor because he’s yet to be submitted in his career, has shown knockout power, and should be able to control things from top based on Yaha’s past difficulties with solid grapplers.
Winner – Takeya Mizugaki via Decision
Chad Mendes vs. Anthony Morrison
Morrison will be looking to produce the first loss of his opponent’s career on Saturday night and was submitted in under two minutes the last time he stepped foot in a WEC cage. Granted, the loss came to former champ Mike Brown, but it certainly couldn’t have helped his confidence. However, as challenging as the task may sound, I suspect “Cheesesteak” isn’t phased by the mountain he has to climb in Mendes’ home-base of Sacramento. I think Mendes will be able to use his wrestling to take Morrison down and limit his chances of inducing a TKO. It may not be pretty, but as long as he works from the top and makes sure to avoid any rookie mistakes when it comes to avoiding an armbar or triangle-choke I think Urijah Faber’s Team Alpha Male will pick up their first – maybe only – win of the evening.
Winner – Chad Mendes via Decision
Brad Pickett vs. Demetrious Johnson
I am a “One Punch” Pickett fan and feel he’s in line for a shot at title contendership if his hand is raised on Saturday night. The American Top Teamer has walked away with a “W” the last eight times he’s fought and is a well-rounded competitor with fifteen finishes in eighteen professional wins. However, as little as I know about Johnson, he’s apparently wiped the mat with all five opponents he’s faced in his career and can’t be dismissed based on his collection of first-round victories as well as the mixture of submissions/knockouts involved. I’m expecting Pickett to move around a lot in the striking department while mixing in jabs in hopes of avoiding Johnson’s power, while also eventually setting up a takedown to work his noteworthy jiujitsu or possibly even catching Johnson in a Guillotine Choke if he himself takes a stab at bringing the action down onto the mat.
Winner – Brad Pickett via Submission Round 2
Anthony Pettis vs. Alex Karalexis
It seems that Karalexis has become a promotional staple as the event will mark his seventh consecutive bout in the company. He always comes to fight and isn’t afraid to slug it out so as far as I’m concerned I hope there’s an eighth appearance regardless of how he fares against Pettis. Speaking of which, “Showtime” is a little more slippery than the Ultimate Fighter alumnus and a greater submission threat as well, but Karalexis is a scrapper who isn’t afraid of taking a little damage to dish out a lot of it. Pettis will have to take the same approach if he hopes to win. His kicks are known to be game-changers, but they also risk exposure to being taken down, so it will be interesting to see if he’s willing to throw a few and feel out Karalexis’ defense. If he fights on his heels or gets sucked into a takedown I think his veteran opponent will be able to use his strength and wrestling to find an advantageous position on the ground, then rain down a few bombs until Pettis covers up and the referee stops things.
Winner – Alex Karalexis via TKO Round 1
Leonard Garcia vs. Chan Sung Jung
I’ve felt lately as though Garcia is at a very interesting point in his career. He hasn’t been quite the force at featherweight many hoped he would be when dipping down to the division from 155-pounds, and part of me thinks it may be due to the amount of damage he’s absorbed in his 10+ years of combat sports. He’s had some wars in the ring, and, at least if the WEC 48 Countdown special was any indication, some battles in the gym as well. Fortunately for “Bad Boy”, Jung is primarily a grappler and shouldn’t be able to hang with the one-time boxer as long as Garcia can keep things standing. It’s a victory the Texan absolutely has to have after losing/drawing in his last two fights. As such, I think Jung will have to literally rip off Garcia’s arms if he hopes to win, let alone survive, because he won’t find the words “quit” or “tired” in the Jackson Submission trained competitor’s vocabulary once the cage door closes. However, as chance would have it, Jung’s nickname is “The Korean Zombie” so it sounds like dismemberment may actually be a possibility.
Winner – Leonard Garcia via TKO Round 2
Scott Jorgensen vs. Antonio Banuelos
I think it’s safe to say Jorgenson and Banuelos are fighting for a crack at Dominick Cruz’s championship so there’s an added layer of drama involved in this pairing as opposed to most of the others on the card. Banuelos beat Jorgensen a little more than a year ago at WEC 41 but has only fought once since then while his opponent on Saturday night has racked up a trio of wins (including two first-round finishes). Their previous contest resulted in a split decision, and I think Jorgensen has improved enough since their original clash to reverse his fortunes this time around. Banuelos is definitely a tough draw, and I don’t see either man being knocked out or submitted at any point, but I believe Jorgensen’s wrestling, top control, and non-stop motor are enough to make the difference.
Winner – Scott Jorgensen via Decision
Anthony Njokuani vs. Shane Roller
Njokuani has easily been one of WEC’s most impressive 155-pounders over the past year due to his trio of TKOs over Bart Palaszewski, Chris Horodecki, and Muhsin Corbbrey. The only two losses of his career are to the co-headlining duo of Ben Henderson and Donald Cerrone. As long as he stuffs Roller’s takedowns and avoids the occasional submission attempt he should have no problem rolling on to a shot at either Jamie Varner or the WEC Lightweight Championship.
Winner – Anthony Njokuani via TKO Round 2
Mike Brown vs. Manny Gamburyan
Gamburyan has been impressive since dropping to 145-pounds and dominated a game opponent in Leonard Garcia the last time he set foot in a ring. However, as strong as he may be, I don’t think his power or grappling skills will translate well when he locks up with the former WEC Featherweight Champion. Brown’s wrestling is on par or surpasses any of his peers’ in the division, and he trains with a number of top jiujitsu practitioners in Florida at American Top Team so he’s well-versed on the mat. Beyond that the MMA memorabilia collector also packs dynamite in his gloves and can flatten a foe with one punch if necessary. I think Gamburyan’s takedowns are going to be ineffective for the most part and he’ll eventually eat a shot that leads to either a TKO stoppage or ground-based transition into a rear-naked choke.
Winner – Mike Brown via Submission Round 3
Ben Henderson vs. Donald Cerrone
Watching the WEC 48 Countdown special I couldn’t help but find myself a little more excited for this rematch than I initially was when the bout was first announced. No, it wasn’t because of their differing personalities or because Henderson’s favorite Charlton Heston work is probably “The Ten Commandments” while Cerrone’s is Heston’s affiliation with the National Rife Association. Rather, I found myself remembering how incredibly entertaining their original scrap was and how much potential is seemingly involved for them to repeat or surpass the feat this weekend. Cerrone has more ways to finish things in his bag of tricks, but Henderson is fast, athletic, and seems to be improving on a per-fight basis while Cerrone has leveled off to an extent. Ben’s strikes are crisp and precise, while his wrestling is solid and his conditioning seems to be top notch. Simply because I think “Cowboy” will rope “Smooth” into some rough patches I’m going to pick him by decision but I will not be surprised, nor disappointed, if Henderson retains his title and flashes perhaps the most infectious smile in MMA shortly thereafter.
Winner – Donald Cerrone via Decision
Jose Aldo vs. Urijah Faber
Urijah Faber lives a charmed life, does he not? “The California Kid” is a local hero, an exceptional athlete, a successful businessman, and the face of a popular Mixed Martial Arts promotion. He’s also receiving a second title shot a single win removed from a loss as well as a consecutive crack at the belt in his hometown of Sacramento. However, as easy as it might appear to be to dislike Faber, the reality is he’s worked extremely hard for everything he has and is considered to be one of the most genuine individuals in the sport. Of course, none of those things matter to Jose Aldo, and hopefully the same can be said about Urijah as well due to the inherent danger involved in facing someone with Aldo’s abilities. The WEC Featherweight Champion has looked other-worldly in all six of his fights for the promotion with the only loss of his career coming shortly after his 19th birthday against submission specialist Luciano Azevedo. I like Faber’s speed in terms of helping to avoid some of the devastating strikes the young Brazilian is known for, but outside of taking him down at will and holding him down I don’t see many ways Faber can dethrone Aldo. On the other hand, the former champ’s chin has been successfully tested by Tyson Griffin and Mike Brown, and if Aldo’s jiujitsu is as good as rumored he could be a major threat on the ground as well. Even a striker of Jens’ Pulver’s caliber circa 2008 was able to go five rounds with Faber. My apologies to those of you reading this on the West Coast, but I think fans in Sac-Town will be going home disappointed on Saturday night.
Winner – Jose Aldo via Submission Round 2