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The Warm Up – “UFC 123: Rampage vs. Machida”

The Octagon returns to Detroit for the first time since 1996 this weekend with UFC 123: Rampage vs. Machida. For those that don’t remember that UFC’s last trip to the Motor City, let me try and refresh your memory or teach you some history. It was UFC 9, Senator John McCain’s strongly worded letter led to modified rules, and the main event of Ken Shamrock vs. Dan Severn happened to be one of the worst MMA fights of all time as fighting was in fact, ballroom dancing on that night. Lets hope things go a little bit better this time. I just hope that the fighters are not afraid to just lose it in the cage, because if I had one wish, it would be for the fighters to take care of business so I can stay wide awake watching great action, live from the home state of Marshall Mathers, right next to the 313.

Light Heavyweight Fight: Lyoto Machida vs. Quinton Jackson

Early last year it seemed like Quinton Jackson and Lyoto Machida were on a collision course to battle for the UFC Light Heavyweight Title. Jackson had just defeated Keith Jardine and Machida had just captured the belt by defeating Rashad Evans. But The Ultimate Fighter brass and Mauricio Rua had other plans. So one year later, instead of battling for the title, Jackson and Machida are battling to stay on top of the division and another crack at the belt.

Machida not only tasted defeat for the first time in his career the last time he was in the octagon but he was also brutally knocked out. So the big question is, how does he respond? He’s still an excellent fighter who is very hard to hit but now he’s been hit and he’s been hit hard. The one thing he has to do is change his gameplan. He’s become repetitive with his movement and combinations and that’s where Rua took advantage. He always circles left on the exit and he always follows up a body shot with a straight left. Now Jackson won’t have the timing of Machida down like Rua had because he doesn’t have the advantage of having faced him for 25 minutes but if Jackson has studied any tape or if he smartly reads this preview column before they enter the cage, he could exploit these habits of Machida. If Machida can become less predictable on the feet, he’s going to be even tougher to hit than he already is. His biggest weapon is his speed and movement, something we’ll likely see a lot of against Jackson. Machida leaps in and out with his strikes and moves back and away smoothly when his opponents press forward. Jackson keeps his hands high, has a great chin, and Machida’s power is a questionable. So expect Machida to really work the lower half of Jackson’s body. It’s well known that Jackson hates checking leg kicks and with high hands leaves an open body. Machida may also look to surprise Jackson by going for a few takedowns. While Jackson does have very good takedown defense, Machida is a master of balance and sweeping opponents off their feet when battling on the inside. Jackson is good at getting up off his back but takedowns do score points and Machida is a jiu-jitsu black belt so it’s not out of the question that he could submit Jackson. Machida might not have the power to finish Jackson but he certainly has the speed and skills to win a comfortable decision.

Jackson has always been on exciting fight with knockout power in both hands but if there’s one knock on him, it’s his mental preparation. We all know that he hates to train but against Machida, it goes beyond that. He’s been calling Machida “boring” ever since he lost to Evans and he didn’t even want this fight because of Machida’s boring style. Whether or not you think Machida is boring in your opinion but one thing his style is to his opponent is frustrating. Jackson is already frustrated by Machida’s style and that frustration is going to be even more apparent when they enter the cage, Machida takes his time engaging, and Jackson throws his arms up and yells at Machida to fight him. Sometimes that will get fighters to engage but to Machida, that will just get him to sit back even more while Jackson recklessly moves forward and eats counter shots. Jackson had a tough time dealing with the speed of Evans and the footwork of Forrest Griffin. Hopefully he’s learned something from those fights and doesn’t attribute those performances to long layoffs because Machida’s speed and footwork is at least double that of Evans and Griffin. Jackson is an excellent counter puncher who throws heavy hooks. He’ll need one of those hooks to land and land flush in this fight. That’s going to be easier said than done though against Machida, who doesn’t stick around long to get countered. Jackson might try to use his wrestling in this fight but not only is Machida tough to takedown but he’s tough to get a hold of. If Jackson is able to get a hold of him though, expect Jackson to try and rough him up in the clinch with dirty boxing rather than trying to put him on his back. Jackson isn’t going to outpoint Machida. So his best hope is to test the questionable chin of Machida, land one of his powerful punches, and put “The Dragon” to sleep for the second fight in a row.

While Jackson has the power to put anyone out cold, that power only comes out when fighters are willing to brawl with him. Machida won’t brawl with him. He’ll stay on the outside, pick his shots, fight “boring,” and completely frustrate Jackson. It might not be the most exciting fight ever but it will be a return to form for Machida.

Prediction: Lyoto Machida to defeat Quinton Jackson by Decision

Welterweight Fight: BJ Penn vs. Matt Hughes

After dropping two straight fights in the lightweight division to Frankie Edgar, BJ Penn returns to the welterweight division to face a familiar foe. Winner of three straight fights, Matt Hughes faces Penn for the third time. Their first two fights were for the UFC Welterweight Title and they split them with Penn winning the first encounter and Hughes taking the rematch. Now it’s the rubber match and although no title is on the line, plenty of personal pride is.

Despite losing two straight fights in a lower weight class, Penn is still a world-class fighter. He had a lot of trouble with the speed and timing of Edgar, something that won’t be a problem with Hughes. In fact, Penn will have a significant speed advantage in this fight. He has an outstanding jab, which he’ll likely look to use constantly against Hughes. Penn’s biggest strength though is his counter punching. Hughes isn’t known for his great movement so when he throws, Penn will always be looking to return fire with a counter hook. Even though he was put on his back by Edgar, a much smaller man that Hughes, Edgar was able to keep Penn off balance with his speed and punching. Hughes has never been known for setting up his takedowns with his hands. He usually just overpowers his opponents, something he hasn’t had much success with as of late. Penn has always been known for his great balance and takedown defense and he’ll need to put it to great use in this fight. If he’s put on his back, he’ll likely use the rubber guard to control the posture of Hughes and then either look for a sweep or scramble up to his feet. As always with Penn, his conditioning will come into question. He’s not adding any unnecessary weight for this fight and it’s only a three round fight, his first three round fight in over three years, so one would think that his conditioning would be fine but you never know with Penn. He did change up his training camp a bit, moving slightly away from his family but he certainly didn’t make the change many fans begged him to make following his recent loss. Penn has a variety of ways to win this fight. He has the power in his hands to knockout Hughes, he has the submission skills to choke out Hughes, and he has the all-around skills to win a decision.

Somehow, despite being a UFC Hall of Famer and the greatest welterweight of all time, people continue to write off Hughes. And yet he continues to prove doubters wrong. The biggest criticism of Hughes seems to be his predictable style. When he wants to wrestle, he stands southpaw and when he wants to strike, he stands orthodox. The only person naïve enough to fall into this trap is a person who deserves to be out-struck or out-wrestled. Hughes can still strike in southpaw and still wrestle in orthodox. He might not be as comfortable but it will make him a bit unpredictable and possibly throw his opponent off. Hughes has gotten the better of things on the feet in his last two fights but that’s because he was facing Renzo Gracie and Ricardo Almeida. Penn is a much more polished and quicker striker and I doubt Hughes will want to trade strikes with him. If he does however, look for Hughes to throw plenty of basic combinations and mix in some leg kicks. Obviously Hughes will want to put Penn on his back but he’s always had trouble in doing that. The only time he’s been able to takedown Penn is when Penn had either suffered a broken rib or had totally gassed himself out. If he can get Penn down though, we’ll see typical Hughes on top. That being a very controlling top game with plenty of ground and pound mixed in. Hughes’ biggest advantage is going to be his size. He’s going to enter the cage a good 15 to 20 pounds bigger than Penn. Look for Hughes to try and muscle Penn around in the clinch, which will not only take away his speed but also his conditioning. While some may question the mental status of Penn, the mental status of Hughes has never been better. At this point in his career, he’s having fun fighting, he’s not worried about records or titles, and he knows that his legacy is intact. If Hughes is going to win, he’s going to have to turn in a country boy performance. That means using his strength, putting Penn on his back, and roughing him up in the clinch and on the ground en route to a stoppage or a decision.

This is a tough fight to call, mainly because I don’t know what to expect from Penn. If “The Prodigy” shows up, he beats Hughes. If “The Crybaby” shows up, he loses. I favor Penn because he’s always had success against Hughes when he hasn’t been gassed or injured and he has more ways to win. Penn is going to use his speed and superior boxing to beat up Hughes on the feet while also stuffing the takedown. Eventually he’ll end up hurting Hughes on the feet or get a better position on the ground and submit Hughes.

Prediction: BJ Penn to defeat Matt Hughes by Submission in Round Two

Lightweight Fight: Joe Lauzon vs. George Sotiropoulos

After he rattled off back-to-back victories over Joe Stevenson and Kurt Pellegrino, many thought George Sotiropoulos would be one fight away from a title fight. Instead of he’s facing Joe Lauzon, fresh off his destruction of Gabe Ruediger, who many consider a step back for Sotiropoulos with very little mention of the UFC Lightweight Title.

As impressive as Lauzon looked against Ruediger at UFC 118, he was still facing a guy who couldn’t put down the cake long enough to cut weight for a fight on national television. Lauzon is a decent striker and wrestler but his primary weapon is his jiu-jitsu. He might not have the most technical jiu-jitsu but he’s active on the ground and when he sees a potential submission, he goes for it with all his strength and ability. He especially loves attacking the arms of his opponents. On the feet, look for Lauzon to throw a lot of knees. Sotiropoulos has a bad habit of ducking his head when throwing his punches and if Lauzon can time that with a knee right up the middle, he could catch Sotiropoulos flush. Lauzon will want to get this fight to the ground though. The problem with that strategy is that Sotiropoulos is excellent on the ground as well. If on top, Lauzon will have to deal with the rubber guard of Sotiropoulos. I’m sure he’s trained diligently on posturing to break the rubber guard and quickly passing to avoid the rubber guard. The main thing Lauzon will need to do is stay extremely active on top. He can’t let himself be controlled by Sotiropoulos, who stays active on bottom with elbows, because he could end up losing a decision even if on top for the majority of the fight. If there’s a questionable part to Lauzon’s game, it’s his conditioning. He’s only been to a decision once in his career, against Sam Stout, and he gassed badly in that fight. I don’t hold that against him because he was coming off a Mir Layoff but it’s still a point worth noting. Lauzon will need to turn in the best performance of his career to win this fight. Sotiropoulos is tough to finish but Lauzon could be active enough to win a decision. At the very least Lauzon needs to put all his Call of Duty: Black Ops play to good use and make this fight a war.

Sotiropoulos looks better with every passing fight. He’s essentially a better version of Lauzon. His boxing is basic but solid, expect for his habit of ducking his head. He throws a strong left hook-right straight combo that Lauzon will have to be on the look out for. Sotiropoulos’ weak point is his wrestling but Lauzon isn’t exactly known for his stout takedown defense. On top Sotiropoulos is excellent at using his striking and overall technical ability to set up his passes. His top control is outstanding and he’s very good at ending up with the better positioning following a scramble. Given that Lauzon’s strong point is also jiu-jitsu, I wouldn’t be shocked if Sotiropoulos tries to keep this fight standing as he is the better striker while also stuffing the takedowns of Lauzon. He may also look to test the cardio of Lauzon by using his strength in the clinch and bully him around a little bit. Sotiropoulos could win this fight in any area. His striking is good enough to where if he wants to keep it standing, he could win a decision or score a TKO. If he’s in trouble on the feet, he can get the takedown and control Lauzon on top and possibly submit him.

Even though Sotiropoulos hasn’t finished any of his top opponents, he has won comfortable decisions. If Sotiropoulos is going to be a title contender, he needs an impressive performance against Lauzon. I think he’ll look to keep it standing for most of the fight and if he feels that the rounds are close, he’ll look for late takedowns in order to sway the judges in his favor.

Prediction: George Sotiropoulos to defeat Joe Lauzon by Decision

Middleweight Fight: Maiqual Falcao vs. Gerald Harris

Coming off the most impressive slam since Quinton Jackson powerbombed Ricardo Arona, Gerald Harris welcomes Maiqual Falcao to the octagon.

Not much is known about Falcao. He has an impressive 25-3 record with 21 of those victories coming by way of TKO, he trains at Chute Boxe, and he’s a big middleweight. Based on the limited footage I’ve seen of him, it’s very clear that he’s a fast starter with explosive and powerful striking. He’s a throw back to the old Chute Boxe days when Wanderlei Silva and company would come out firing and not let up until the ref pulled them away. That’s exactly what I expect from him in this fight. He’s making his UFC debut against a highly touted Harris and he has absolutely nothing to lose. He’s going to come out guns blazing and go for the knockout and not stop until he gets it or he gasses himself out. Hopefully he’s worked on his takedown defense because Harris is a very good wrestler who will look to counter Falcao’s aggression with a quick takedown. Falcao may only have one way to win this fight but sometimes all you need is explosive power and confidence to score an upset.

Harris looks better with each passing fight so one would think that we’re in for the best Harris ever this Saturday. His striking isn’t great and he has a tendency to load up on one punch and get into unnecessary brawls but he gets away with it thanks to his speed and power. His bread and butter is his wrestling. He’s an explosive athlete with a power takedown and heavy ground and pound. He’d be wise to avoid getting into a brawl with Falcao, given that’s what Falcao excels in and instead bait Falcao into a brawl and quickly change levels to get a takedown. I’d be shocked if Harris spends more than a minute on his feet in this fight and once he has Falcao on the ground, he’ll likely look to pound him out.

This is Harris’ fight to lose. As long as his pride doesn’t get in the way and he feels like he has to stand with Falcao just to prove that he can, he should win this fight. He may have to weather an early storm but after a quick flurry, he’ll likely put Falcao on his back and pound away with strikes until the ref jumps in.

Prediction: Gerald Harris to defeat Maiqual Falcao by TKO in Round One

Light Heavyweight Fight: Tim Boetsch vs. Phil Davis

Finally on the main card, Phil Davis looks to justify the hype against a very tough Tim Boetsch, who hopes his second UFC run is more successful than his first.

Boetsch has traded wins and loses and in UFC career and he’s coming off a fight against Todd Brown where he didn’t look all that impressive but he did enough to pick up the victory. He’s good at everything but not great at anything with his main strength being his actual power and strength. The problem is that he’s going up against Davis, who is as strong as they come in the light heavyweight division. Boetsch is a better striker than Davis but his leg kicks will probably be taken away in this fight thanks to the wrestling of Davis. Boetsch is a good wrestler but he’s not on the level of Davis. He had trouble stopping the takedowns of Matt Hamill and Davis is a better wrestler than Davis. He also gassed out in that fight although that could be attributed to the altitude in Colorado. Boestch needs to keep this fight standing in order to win.

Training at American Kickboxing Academy, Davis looks much improved in every fight. He’s already an outstanding wrestler but his hands seem to improve each time out and he’s climbing up the ranks in the world of jiu-jitsu as well. Boetsch has had trouble with wrestlers in the past. In fact, all three of his losses have come against very good wrestlers in Vladimir Matyushenko, Hamill, and Jason Brilz. Davis is just as good as those three in the wrestling department and even if he’s not as technically sound as them, he’s certainly more explosive and powerful. Davis says that he wants to be unpredictable in this fight so look for him to stay on his feet longer than most expect and maybe even throw some leg kicks but when push comes to shove, he’s going to be going for the takedown when he feels if he’s in any type of trouble. Davis can win this fight in a variety of ways. He could grind out Boetsch on the ground en route to a decision, pound him out on the ground, or even submit him after a scramble.

This is essentially a showcase fight for Davis. Based on their styles and skills, Davis should be able to put Boetsch on his back early and often. From there it will be up to Davis to look impressive with his ground and pound and top control. I think Davis can push a strong pace on the ground end eventually finish Boetsch late in the fight.

Prediction: Phil Davis to defeat Tim Boetsch by TKO in Round Three

Preliminary Fight Predictions:

*Brian Foster to defeat Matt Brown by Submission in Round Two
*Aaron Simpson to defeat Mark Munoz by TKO in Round One
*Karo Parisyan to defeat Dennis Hallman by Decision
*Edson Barboza to defeat Mike Lullo by TKO in Round One
*TJ O’Brien to defeat Paul Kelly by Submission in Round Two
*Tyson Griffin to defeat Nik Lentz by TKO in Round Two

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