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WEC 52: Faber vs. Mizugaki Preview and Predictions

WEC is back on Versus this Thursday night for the second to last time. So fear not MMA fans, you no longer have to be reminded that a mystery WEC show is taking place and then ridiculed when you end up missing the best show of the year. WEC events never generate a ton of interest but this one especially feels like a lameduck show, which is surprising given that the biggest draw in company history is headlining. Luckily this is still WEC. That means that even if 100 people attend and 500 people watch on television, we’re almost guaranteed to get a night for of great fights with great finishes. So even though they’re only around for another two months, learn the names of soon to be UFC fighters and support the company that has delivered the best in cage action for years now.

Bantamweight Fight: Takeya Mizugaki vs. Urijah Faber

After ruling the featherweight division for so long, Urijah Faber tries his hand at the bantamweight division upon failing to re-capture the featherweight title in two separate tries. He’s welcomed to the division by former title contender, Takeya Mizugaki, who is coming off a victory over Rani Yahya.

Mizugaki has been hot and cold since entering the WEC. He’s traded wins and losses in his four WEC fights and he’s coming off a victory. He’s a well-rounded fighter with very good boxing, a solid ground game, and a tremendous amount of heart. The knock on him is that he’s not really a finisher. It’s certainly not for the lack of trying though. Mizugaki’s best chance to beat Faber is to keep things on the feet. He’s a better technical boxer than Faber. Also look for him to test the legs of Faber. We all saw what Jose Aldo did to the legs of Faber and while Mizugaki isn’t known for his kicking and doesn’t have the speed of Aldo, that doesn’t mean that he can’t try his luck with leg kicks. He might not be able to finish Faber but he might be able to neutralize him for 15 minutes en route to a decision victory.

Faber may not be having the success as of late that he’s used to having but he’s still a top-notch fighter. He’s relatively well-rounded with a very good wrestling pedigree and what he lacks in technical ability, he makes up for with speed and creativeness. He’s not a great striker but he’s so quick on his feet that he gets away with things that most people wouldn’t try. One thing he does is he’ll extend his right hand past his left hand and run forward with a straight right. It’s not pretty but it’s been effective for him. While he is a good wrestler, his main strength is his ability to scramble. Rarely will you see Faber come out on the bottom of a scramble and if he does, he’s always right back up. The “X factor” in this fight is Faber cutting to 135. He hasn’t been at 135 since his collegiate wrestling days. I don’t think it will be a problem because he’s always been small at 145 and he’s a wrestler so he knows how to properly cut weight. Faber just needs to fight his fight. Use his speed and wrestling, put Mizugaki on his back, and keep up a relentless pace.

This is really Faber’s fight to lose. Mizugaki is a great style fight for him and unless the weight cut drains him to where he can’t keep up his usual pace or his cardio isn’t up to snuff, he should win this fight. Faber’s wrestling and scramble ability is what will win him this fight. He’ll takedown Mizugaki, work some ground and pound, tire him out, and then catch him in a scramble with a choke.

Prediction: Urijah Faber to defeat Takeya Mizugaki by Submission in Round Two

Featherweight Fight: Javier Vazquez vs. Chad Mendes

To say these two don’t like each other would be an understatement. As with all great war of words, twitter is the primary weapon for both fighters. Javier Vazquez got off to a slow start in the WEC until he retired Jens Pulver from the promotion and followed that up with a victory over Mackens Semerzier. Chad Mendes has taken a different route. He’s been groomed by the promotion to take protégé Urijah Faber’s spot atop the featherweight division and thus far he’s delivered with three straight victories.

It’s no secret what Vazquez wants to do in this fight. He wants to get the fight to the ground and put his 2nd degree Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt to good use. He uses his striking well to set up his takedowns but he’s going to have a tough time getting Mendes to the ground. If he has trouble putting Mendes on his back, look for Vazquez to pull guard. He may not have to worry about that though given Mendes’ wrestling background. Vazquez will have to stay very active off his back to win this fight. Mendes, while very controlling on top, isn’t known for his ground and pound so if Vazquez can show that judges that he’s more active with submission attempts, he could win a decision. If he’s content with Mendes laying on him for 15 minutes then he’ll be in big trouble. Look for Vazquez to roll for a lot of leg locks and if he doesn’t succeed, hopefully he doesn’t complain that Mendes is greased up.

Being the superior wrestler, Mendes will control where this fight ends up. He’s a developing striker with power and if he feels comfortable on his feet, he’ll keep it there. If he’s losing the stand up battle, he’ll revert back to is wrestling and put Vazquez on his back. Now while Vazquez is a highly ranked in jiu-jitsu, I’m sure Mendes trusts his submission defense. He trains at Team Alpha Male and while they’re known for many things, one of those things is their submission defense. Mendes didn’t have the most active top game in his last fight against Cub Swanson and win the ground game of Vazquez he may not be willing to take many risks but at the very least, if Vazquez is active enough with his ground game, Mendes might be able to pass to better positions.

Mendes has made his name in the WEC by beating submission grapplers. So while he’s used to fighting guys who are active off their back, he’s never fought someone as active as Vazquez will likely be. While Mendes has been labeled as “boring” in his recent fights, it’s been an effective style for him. He has good submission defense and while I believe bottom activity should be rewarded over top stalling, most judges don’t see it that way. Basically what I’m saying is that this could be a close fight and the ever so lovable judges might screw things up.

Prediction: Chad Mendes to defeat Javier Vazquez by Decision

Featherweight Fight: Erik Koch vs. Francisco Rivera

Originally scheduled to fight Josh Grispi, Erik Koch remains on the card and takes on WEC newcomer, the undefeated, Franciso Rivera.

There isn’t much tape on Rivera but from what I’ve seen, it’s very clear that he has explosive power in his hands. In the three fights he’s finished, none of them have made it past the one-minute mark. He swings fast and he swings hard. After that he begins to fade though. His cardio is already suspect and he took this fight on about a months notice. So I highly doubt we see the best Rivera in this fight. He’ll look to come out quick, swing for the fences, hope to connect, and if he doesn’t then he’ll have trouble as the fight wears on.

While Koch isn’t getting the big fight he thought he was, he still needs to take care of business. He’s tall for the weight class and uses his reach well with jabs and leg kicks. His main strength though is on the ground. In this fight he’ll need to survive an early storm, get things to the ground, and work his grappling game. Once the fight hits the ground, it should be relatively smooth sailing for him. Koch just needs to be mentally sharp in this fight. He can’t sulk because Grispi, his original opponent, is getting a title shot and he’s stuck fighting an unknown fighter.

Unless Rivera catches Koch when he comes out swinging, Koch should take this fight. He’s the better all around fighter and he should be in much better condition. After surviving the early flurry, Koch will likely get things to the ground and work his superior grappling.

Prediction: Erik Kock to defeat Francisco Rivera by Submission in Round One

Bantamweight Fight: Wagnney Fabiano vs. Joseph Benavidez

After struggling in the WEC featherweight division, Wagnney Fabiano dropped down to bantamweight and rattled off two wins. Originally scheduled to fight former champion Brian Bowles, Fabiano finally takes a step up in bantamweight competition against former contender Joseph Benavidez, who is looking to get back on track by taking a fight on short notice after failing to capture the bantamweight title in his last fight.

Fabiano is an excellent grappler. He has, as Joe Rogan likes to say, “top of the food chain jiu-jitsu.” Unfortunately it’s failed him a bit in the WEC. He only has one submission victory and that was in the final moments of a lackluster fight. A brown belt also submitted him in his final fight at featherweight. For a guy that finished all of his opponents in the IFL, he’s been a bit disappointing in the WEC. His striking is very basic but he’s shown power in both his hands and feet. He’s a decent wrestler but he’s going to have a tough time getting Benavidez on his back. Look for Fabiano to fight a lot of this contest in the clinch. He can’t match the speed of Benavidez so he’ll need to slow him down. In the clinch he can work knees, possibly get a trip takedown, and even pull guard. This is a make or break fight for Fabiano. If he wants to regain the steam he had in the IFL, he needs an impressive victory over a tough Benavidez. With his back against the wall like I believe it is, expect to see the best Fabiano we’ve ever seen in this fight.

If you look up the word “scrapper” in the dictionary, you’ll probably see a picture of Benavidez. The kid just scraps. He’s always moving forward and he never throws one strike at a time. He’s a very good wrestler and he uses his wrestling smartly. He goes for takedowns to give opponents something else to think about on the feet and to score points if rounds are closer. Against Fabiano he’ll likely keep things standing the entire fight. He’s gone 40 minutes with Dominick Cruz, a much better striker than Fabiano, and held his own on the feet so I doubt he’s afraid to slug it out with the jiu-jitsu ace. If he’s in trouble on the feet or feels a round is closer than it should be, he’ll likely go for a late takedown and trust his submission defense. Even though he’s taking this fight on short notice, I don’t think conditioning will be a problem for Benavidez. Not only does he seem like the type of guy who stays in shape year round but he’s been helping Chad Mendes and Urijah Faber prepare for their fights on this card. So if you’re looking to use the “short notice” excuse for Benavidez, don’t bother.

With the way he’s looked in his WEC career, I can’t trust Fabiano right now. Not only that but this is a tough style fight for him. Benavidez’ takedown defense is good enough to keep things on the feet, he’s a better striker than Fabiano, and he sets a pace that is tough for any fighter to deal with. Fabiano is tough to finish so he might be able to survive all three rounds but he’s going to be badly outworked the entire fight.

Prediction: Joseph Benavidez to defeat Wagnney Fabiano by Decision

Bantamweight Fight: Demetrious Johnson vs. Damacio Page

It’s been over a year since we’ve seen Damacio Page in action but “The Angel of Death” is back in our fighting lives and looking to keep up the momentum he started to build in 2009. Demetrious Johnson is quickly back in action after picking up at unanimous decision victory over Nick Pace at WEC 51.

Johnson is a solid fighter with power and good ground game but he’s a bit small for the weight class. So to make up for his lack of size, he’ll need to use his speed against Page. Page is known for quick starts and while he doesn’t have a questionable gas tank, he is coming off an injury filled layoff, which always affects a fighters conditioning when they get back in the cage. Johnson can’t let Page bully him around in the clinch or on the ground. He needs to use a lot of movement and tire out Page with his activity. He’s a better grappler than Page so once Page is possibly tired out, he’ll likely look to get things to the ground and work his submission game.

Page has built up almost a cult-like following with his nickname and fighting style. He’s won his last two fights in a combined one minute 20 seconds, he trains with Team Greg Jackson, and he’s fought a lot of top guys in MMA. His strength in this fight will be his strength. He’s a much bigger fighter than Johnson and he’ll need to use that size and power to put Johnson away early. Being the better and more powerful striker, chances are that Page will want to sprawl and brawl in order to keep things standing the entire fight. He’d also be smart to slow Johnson down by clinching, pushing him against the cage, and leaning on him to not only take away his speed but also wear him out.

As always, I caution picking fighters coming off Mir Layoffs. They never fight up to their full potential and they always seem to gas quicker than they normally would. Of course the remedy for that is to finish fights quickly, something Page does very well. The other thing is that WEC always goes against the grain when it comes to following theories and such. So while Page might not have a full gas tank and he might not be able to fight to his full potential, chances are we won’t even get a chance to find out.

Prediction: Damacio Page to defeat Demetrious Johnson by TKO in Round One

Preliminary Predictions

*Raphael Assuncao to defeat LC Davis by Submission in Round Two
*Anthony Njokuani to defeat Edward Faaloloto by TKO in Round One
*Zach Micklewright to defeat Dustin Poirier by Decision
*Clint Godfrey to defeat Michael McDonald by Submission in Round One
*Mackens Semerzier to defeat Cub Swanson by Decision
*Yves Jabouin to defeat Brandon Visher by Decision

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