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The Walk Out – “UFC 127: Penn vs. Fitch”

The UFC returns to the land down under this weekend with a less than spectacular card. While the main event is very intriguing, the rest of the card leaves a lot to be desired. I’m still holding out hope that a kangaroo fills in for one of the fighters. We’ll go ahead and call the kangaroo Joey Rivers. Alas, there will be no kangaroos, no koala’s, and no emu’s. There will however be Brittney Palmer, which is enough to save even the worst UFC card.

Welterweight Fight: Jon Fitch vs. BJ Penn

Jon Fitch continues his march towards another UFC Welterweight Title shot but standing in his way is former UFC Lightweight and Welterweight Champion BJ Penn. The winner of this fight is said to be getting the next title shot, and while I believe Dana White this time around, given his history of handing out title shots and then taking them away quicker than Liam Neeson’s life in Gangs of New York, you can understand the skepticism.

Fitch isn’t the most exciting guy, inside or outside the cage, but he’s extremely effective at what he does. Even though he’s known as a wrestler, Fitch is also a decent striker. The thing he does best is using his reach. He doesn’t have a great jab but he paws with it, throws some inside leg kicks, and just controls the distance well. He’s improved his defense significantly since the beating Georges St. Pierre put on him at UFC 87. He’s also learned how to set up his takedowns better with his strikes. Granted he only throws one strike, usually a jab or a straight right, before transitioning into a takedown attempt but it’s still better than shooting without a threat. Fitch’s bread and butter is in the clinch and on the ground though, grinding out opponents with short punches, knees, and elbows. It’s a style that is known in some parts as simply “Fitch’n.” He pushes his opponent into the cage, wears on them with his size, and batters them with short strikes. He’s very strong in the clinch and even guys with solid takedown defense find themselves on their back with Fitch on top of them. On top Fitch just continues his grinding style until his opponent finds a way to their feet. He stays active enough not to get stood up and even if he is stood up, he goes right back into clinch/takedown mode because when the ref forces the stand up, he knows that his opponent didn’t do the work of getting up, the ref helped him out. Now Penn is one of the best grapplers in all of MMA but he’s never been successful off his back. Not only has Penn never submitted anyone off his back but Fitch’s biggest strength might be his submission defense. He’s gone on record as to saying that he’ll give guys submissions so they’ll burn themselves out or so he can pass to better positions. Fitch is by far one of the most confident guys on the ground that you’ll ever find. Of course Fitch’s biggest advantage in this fight is his size and strength. Fitch is one of the biggest welterweights in the division and we all saw what St. Pierre, another big welterweight, did to an undersized Penn. Now there is a difference as St. Pierre is explosive and athletic while Fitch doesn’t come close to matching him in either department, he is a guy who won’t be out-worked or get discouraged if Penn stuffs an early takedown. Fitch pretty much needs to follow St. Pierre’s game plan from UFC 94. Maybe strike with Penn early, avoid the counter right hand, and then go into “Fitch Mode.” Use his size, wear on Penn, get him down, posture up to break the rubber guard, batter him with punches, and rinse and repeat. The thing I actually like about Fitch is that he’s not going to change his game for any reason. All this talk about him being boring doesn’t bother him, Dana’s comments don’t bother him, the crowd booing doesn’t bother him, Fitch is gonna Fitch and haters are gonna hate. Given his recent history, I feel the only way Fitch wins this fight is by decision. Not only is Penn tough to finish but also he’s never been finished in a three round fight. So if Fitch could somehow finish Penn, it would be by far the biggest feather in his career cap.

Penn returned to the welterweight division in his last fight, knocking out Matt Hughes in quick fashion, proving that he’s as dangerous as they come when he’s on his game. He’s an outstanding MMA boxer. He has an effective jab, puts together crisp combos, and utilizes good head movement. He has quick hands, especially in the welterweight division where guys are a bit slower, and a deadly counter right hand. In some ways Penn’s counter right hand dictates how his fights go. He KO’d Hughes with the counter right and he rocked Joe Stevenson and Diego Sanchez early with a counter right, throwing them completely off their game. When Penn can land that counter right in the opening moments, it usually leads to success for him. The difference between Fitch and all those fighters though is that Fitch has better defense and is faster than Hughes and he’s also not going to wildly rush in like Stevenson and Sanchez. Penn has to use his speed and technical superiority on the feet and also be more aggressive. I know he likes to counter but Fitch won’t give him much to counter. One thing Penn can’t do is allow Fitch to control the clinch. He needs to find some way to break the grip of Fitch in tight in order to remain standing. A lot of times Penn seems content on being pushed against the cage while his opponent goes for takedowns. Not only will Fitch complete those takedowns but the clinch control is looked at as dominance in the judges eyes. Penn also can’t find himself on his back. He has a very good rubber guard but Fitch will likely be too strong for it to mean anything and Penn isn’t the most active fighter off his back when it comes to submissions. If Penn can’t keep the fight on the feet, he needs to find some way to end up on top. He’s going to have a tough time taking down Fitch, unless he uses his speed on the feet and sets it up by catching Fitch off guard. While I’d never suggest a fighter give up his back, Fitch does have sloppy back control and I think Penn is crafty and quick enough to bait Fitch into trying to take his back, create a scramble, and then end up on top. While Fitch has an excellent defensive guard, Penn’s top game is outstanding as he’s not only very technical but he’s crafty as well. For the first time in a long time, Penn brought in a high caliber fighter to his camp to help him out, that being Hughes. Even if you think Hughes has lost a step inside the cage, he’s still a great training partner, especially given his style. Hughes will be able to imitate that grinding style that Fitch has and he’ll get Penn used to having a big body just lay on top of him. Penn usually trains with mid-level fighters and his close friends so bringing in Hughes is a step in the right direction for a guy whose training camp came under heavy fire following his second loss to Frankie Edgar. For Penn to win, he’ll need to use his speed, keep the fight standing at all costs, and becomes more active off his back. Penn’s best chance is to win early because once Fitch gets into “Fitch Mode,” he’s hard to stop. If Penn is going to win, he’ll likely be the first person in the UFC to finish Fitch, either with a quick KO or rocking him and then getting a submission, because Penn is a finisher who rarely wins decisions and Fitch rarely loses them. It’s possible that Penn wins the first two rounds in order to take a close decision though.

We always hear about “style vs. style” fights. Well this is a “pedigree vs. pedigree” fight. Penn is the fighter with unlimited talent who doesn’t quite work as hard as he should to tap into that talent while Fitch is the fighter with an unquestionable work ethic who doesn’t have the most natural talent in the world. Penn is as dangerous as they come, especially early in the fight, but Fitch’s size advantage and grinding style will be too much for Penn. Unless Penn catches Fitch early, Fitch should be able to push Penn against the cage, wear him out, take him down, and continue to wear him out en route to a “Fitchision.”

Prediction: Jon Fitch to defeat BJ Penn by Decision

Middleweight Fight: Jorge Rivera vs. Michael Bisping

The talking stops between Michael Bisping and Jorge Rivera this weekend as the two finally step into the cage to see whose fists can punch a mouth that is trying to cash a check. Or something like that.

Rivera is a veteran coming off the biggest win of his career against Nate Quarry and now tries to follow that up with a signature win over Bisping. Rivera is mainly a striker with knockout power in his hands. He throws good leg kicks, and covers up when he throws them, which is a lost art for a lot of fighters, has a powerful counter straight right, and likes to throw a straight right-left hook combo. Expect Rivera to really look for the overhand right considering that’s the punch that has given Bisping the most trouble in his career and it’s Rivera’s best punch. He can’t try to headhunt with it though because that what got Yoshihiro Akiyama in trouble against Bisping. Rivera covers well on his feet but in doing so, he leaves his body wide open. In tight, Rivera likes to use the plum clinch, throw knees to the body, and use dirty boxing. One thing he does is push his opponent against the cage and then throw a nice measured right hand right on the chin. Rivera’s takedown defense is decent but if he finds himself on his back, he’s going to be in a lot of trouble. He doesn’t have a very good guard and Bisping has a controlling top game. Rivera is good on top though and can also do a ton of damage from the guard. He mainly likes to punch with his right hand on top but when he elbows, it usually comes from his left side. Rivera needs to be the aggressor in this fight. Bisping is a good rhythm fighter. When he gets into his rhythm and he’s able to dictate the pace, he’s tough to beat. But when his opponent is the one pressing forward and getting off first, Bisping gets very flustered. Rivera not only needs to be aggressive to get Bisping off his game but he needs to be aggressive in order to use his power and take away Bisping’s speed. Rivera can’t afford to get into a technical striking contest with Bisping simply because he’s just too slow. Bisping’s hands are very quick while Rivera’s aren’t. So Rivera needs to do his best to turn things into a brawl. I do worry about Rivera’s lay off. While he’s not coming off any major injury, he hasn’t fought in almost a year due to various reasons. When you’re an older fighter like Rivera, it’s best to stay active so you can stay in shape. Also, all the trash talking he’s done may have actually motivated Bisping, who could have easily taken Rivera lightly considering that Rivera really hasn’t done much to warrant this fight. All that said, Rivera has power in his right hand and Bisping is susceptible to that same right hand so that one punch could change everything. If Rivera is going to win, it’ll likely be by knockout. He doesn’t have the submission skills to catch Bisping and if it goes to a decision, I’m not sure how Rivera wins unless he’s able to score takedowns.

Bisping is a fighter that you either love, probably because you’re from England, or you hate, probably because you’re not from England. No matter your opinion of him, it’s hard to deny that he’s a talented fighter. Even though he lacks power, he’s a good technical boxer. Now his striking is very basic as all he really throws is a one-two combination or some variation of that (meaning a double jab-straight jab, a feint jab-straight right, ect…) but it’s effective. He also throws a lot of kicks but almost all of his kicks come from his lead leg and they’re all more distance finders than damaging blows. Like Rivera, Bisping likes to use the plum clinch when things get in close quarters. Unlike Rivera though, Bisping throws almost exclusively knees in the clinch. Bisping likes to pride himself on being a good wrestler from England but being the best wrestler in England is like being the best player on the Cleveland Cavaliers. He doesn’t really set up his takedowns, other than using a double high feint and then shooting, and he’s able to takedown weak wrestlers but anyone with even decent defense, which includes Rivera, should be able to remain upright. If Bisping is able to get on top though, Rivera will be in big trouble. Bisping has very underrated ground and pound. He likes to stand in his opponents guard and throw down with punches and what he lacks in power on the ground, he makes up for in volume. Should Bisping find himself on his back, he shouldn’t have too much trouble getting up or controlling the posture of Rivera as he does have a very good defensive guard. Bisping just needs to fight his fight against Rivera. A lot has been made about Rivera getting in Bisping’s head with all the pre-fight trash talk but I don’t think Bisping will be blinded by emotion when the cage door closes. He’s a much quicker striker than Rivera so he needs to use that speed, get in and out, avoid the right hand, and attack the body of Rivera. Rivera leaves his body wide open as he covers up when his opponent takes so Bisping needs to end his combinations with strikes to the body. It may not put Rivera down right away but they’ll add up and pay dividends later in the fight. For some reason Bisping has the reputation of not being a finisher, especially as of late, but he’s faced tough guys and simply doesn’t have the power to put guys away with one shot. That said, Rivera has a suspect chin and submission defense, has never lost a decision, and Bisping has finished guys who are considered a level below him. Bisping could overwhelm Rivera with strikes, possibly submit him on the ground, or win a decision by out-boxing him like he’s done in most of his recent victories.

This really seems like Bisping’s fight to lose. You can say Bisping has been protected during his UFC tenure, and maybe he has, but he’s also beat some good fighters and has only lost to top level fighters. Rivera has KO power and if he can land that clean punch, he could easily win but if Bisping shows up and fights like he normally does, he should be able to pick apart Rivera en route to a decision, maybe even a late round stoppage.

Prediction: Michael Bisping to defeat Jorge Rivera by TKO in Round Three

Lightweight Fight: Dennis Siver vs. George Sotiropoulos

Looking to move one step closer towards a UFC Lightweight Title shot, George Sotiropoulos takes on top striker Dennis Siver.

Siver has almost come out of nowhere in just under a year. After losing to Ross Pearson in early 2010, Siver rebounded with victories over Spencer Fisher and Andre Winner. Now he gets a crack at Sotiropoulos, who is on a meteoric rise (or maybe fall) towards the title. Siver is a very good striker. He’s quick on his feet, throws a good one-two combo, has a deadly counter left hook, and of course is famous for his spinning back kick. Siver’s biggest problem striking is his lack of size. He’s a short guy so he has to get inside in order to be effective. That might be tough against Sotiropoulos as he uses his reach very well so look for Siver to use a lot of kicks early in order to get the distance and timing of Sotiropolus down. Joe Lauzon had a lot of success against Sotiropoulos by creating angles and using the straight right hand. Expect Siver to try and recreate Lauzon’s success, without gassing out after the first round. Obviously Siver needs to stay out of the clinch and off the ground against Sotiropoulos. In clinch, Sotiropoulos will be able to use his size and strength to wear down Siver and eventually get a takedown. Once again, Siver needs to try and recreate the game plan of Lauzon by punishing Sotiropoulos when he goes for takedowns. Siver is a purple belt in jiu-jitsu so he could probably hold his own against mid-level guys but Sotiropoulos is, as Joe Rogan likes to say, “top of the food chain when it comes to jiu-jitsu.” Sotiropoulos submitted Lauzon and dominated Joe Stevenson and Kurt Pellegrino, both jiu-jitsu black belts, on the ground so one would think that he would have a relatively easy time against Siver. Look for Siver to be aggressive in this fight. He is a better overall striker than Sotiropoulos and if he can take away the distance, get in and out with his speed, and avoid a grappling contest then maybe he’ll catch Sotiropoulos with a good combination or at least frustrate him. Siver has the power to put Sotiropoulos down but if he can’t do that, he could win a decision as long as the fight stays standing for the majority of the time.

Sotiropoulos has had one of the strangest path to the titles in UFC history. He went from fighting unknown and lower-level Jason Dent, to fighting former title contender Stevenson, to now fighting mid-level Siver. Sotiropoulos is a good striker with amateur boxing experience who uses his reach well. He pumps a decent jab and puts a good right hand behind it. Given his grappling expertise and his willingness to go to the ground, I’d like to see him throw more kicks but he’s starting to mix them into his game a bit more. Sotiropoulos is a big lightweight who doesn’t set up his takedowns very well but he’s comfortable in the clinch position. He mainly likes to push guys against the cage, drop a level, and work for the takedown from there. If a takedown doesn’t work, he has no problem pulling guard. On the ground, Sotiropoulos is an absolute monster. His long limbs and size allow him to control fighters from the top and bottom positions and his guard passes are outstanding. He’s not all that active with his striking on the ground but he’s so technical and his control is so good that he doesn’t need to use his striking that much in order to advance his positions. On top, he always looks for an arm, whether it be via armbar or kimura and if one isn’t there, he’ll go for the other. Should Sotiropoulos find himself on his back, he’ll no doubt use the rubber guard to control the posture of Siver and then look for a sweep to end up on top. Sotiropoulos can likely survive on the feet against Siver but it should come as no shock when he tries to get the fight to the ground. Siver’s ground game is relatively untested in the UFC and he’s definitely never dealt with a grappler at the level of Sotiropoulos. Look for Sotiropoulos to feel things out on the feet for a very short time and then go for a takedown within the first minute. Even if he doesn’t get it, he’ll likely drive Siver into the cage and then use his size to wear him down before once again trying for the takedown. On the ground, Sotiropoulos will implement his usual patient style as he tries to set up a submission. Sotiropoulos could win this fight in any of the three main ways. He could overwhelm Siver with strikes on the ground, finish him with a submission, or just control him on the ground on his way to a decision.

This seems like a showcase fight for Sotiropoulos. Siver has never proven that he’s on the same level as Sotiropoulos’ recent competition, competition that Sotiropoulos has essentially dominated. Unless Siver can find a way to keep the fight standing, I don’t like his chances in this fight. Sotiropoulos should be too much for him on the ground and if Sotiropoulos is truly ready for a title shot, which I think he is, he should not only win but finish Siver.

Prediction: George Sotiropoulos to defeat Dennis Siver by Submission in Round Two

Welterweight Fight: Brian Ebersole vs. Chris Lytle

Brian Ebersole makes his UFC debut, replacing Carlos Condit, against the always exciting and entertaining Chris Lytle.

Ebersole is a well-traveled veteran finally getting a crack at the big time. He’s a well-rounded fighter who prefers to stand and trade. He stands southpaw, has a good left straight, likes to use leg kicks, and throws these wacky hammerfists to the thighs. Leg kicks will be key for Ebesole as Lytle doesn’t check them very often and Ebersole could take away some of the power of Lytle with them. Defensively, he covers well and has an excellent chin, having never been knocked out in his long career. He’s very strong in the clinch, although he doesn’t do as much damage as one would hope for. He seems rather content on just putting his opponents against the cage and controlling them. He’s solid on the ground although doesn’t offer too much off his back. He mainly goes for chokes when it comes to his submission game. He’ll lock on a guillotine choke after a scramble or he’ll look to set up an arm triangle from the top. Ebersole is taking this fight on short notice so his cardio will be a bit questionable and he might get overwhelmed by the moment, seeing as it’s his first time in the UFC and under the bright lights. Eberole’s mindset is what could really determine this fight. If he’s willing to go out there and try to put on a show with Lytle, then this could be one entertaining fight that Ebersole could end up winning as long as he lands the cleaner punches and uses his reach or he could end up losing as Lytle as power and will probably be more aggressive. Now if Ebersole wants to slow things down, clinch, and try to grind out Lyle he could do that as well. I know Lytle said he’d never fight a boring fight following his loss to Matt Hughes but if a guy is simply bigger, stronger, and more controlling then what can Lytle really do about that? Ebersole is a finisher but Lytle is extremely tough to finish so one would think that if Ebersole is going to win, it will be by decision. That said though, Lytle has taken a lot of shots in his career, his chin could go at anytime, and Ebersole has the power to put him away.

Lytle is often referred to as the gatekeeper of the welterweight division, which isn’t necessarily untrue. He is on a four-fight win streak though and coming off a big win over Matt Serra. He’s a very good striker with pro boxing experience. He tends to get wild with his strikes, especially late, but early he puts together good crisp combinations. He has a heavy right hand, a very good uppercut, and throws a lot of body shots. Look for Lytle to use a lot of body shots in this fight as Ebersole covers high and Lytle will want to use the body shots to take away some of the conditioning of Ebersole. Even with his pro boxing experience and his willingness to stand and trade, the majority of Lytle’s victories have come by way of submission. He’s active in all areas on the ground and is constantly looking for submissions. Off his back he has a good triangle and also likes to use the kimura sweep. On top, Lytle will go for whatever submission is available. Should Ebersole try to slow things down and clinch with Lytle, I expect Lytle to roll for a kneebar in order to not only shake Ebersole but also to try and finish. Lytle is a guy who will take the fight as it comes. If Ebersole wants to slug it out, Lytle will oblige. If Ebersole wants to turn things into a grappling contest, Lytle will roll with him. It’s fair to question Lytle’s mindset heading into this fight. He was scheduled to fight Condit, who is a well-known fighter coming off a big win, and not he’s fighting Ebersole, who is relatively unknown. I wouldn’t worry too much about Lytle though because he’s the type of guy who just loves to fight, no matter whom his opponent is. Ebersole has never been KO’d but Lytle does have power in his hands, Lytle could add another submission victory to his record, or Lytle could win a decision by just being more active in all areas.

I expect this to be a very entertaining fight. I think Ebersole will want to put on a show in his UFC debut and Lytle is never afraid to slug it out with his opponent. Even though Ebersole is well-rounded, it just seems like Lytle is a better version of him. After an entertaining start, Lytle gets the fight to the ground and locks on a submission, possibly a leg lock.

Prediction: Chris Lytle to defeat Brian Ebersole by Submission in Round Two

Middleweight Fight: Chris Camozzi vs. Kyle Noke

Kyle Noke fights in his home country for the first time in almost three years against fellow Ultimate Fighter 11 alum Chris Camozzi.

Camozzi travels outside North America for the first time in his MMA career and right to Noke’s home country. Camozzi is a solid striker who uses a lot of kicks and keeps the distance well. Camozzi really prefers to just use kicks on the feet and doesn’t really let his hands go. He does a good job of mixing up his kicks from high to low though. Camozzi does his best work in the clinch. He’s strong in tight and throws good knees to the body. He’s a decent grappler and likes to go for the neck of his opponents. He’ll look for the guillotine in the clinch and off his back. He’s not great off his back and was battered badly on the ground in his last fight against Dong Yi Yang. I would think that Camozzi would want to keep this fight standing, whether it be distance or in the clinch. He’ll likely use a lot of kicks and he needs to keep his hands up as Noke hits hard and throws tight punches. If Camozzi is eating too many punches and his kicks aren’t working for him, he’ll likely look to put Noke against the cage and wear him out with knees and elbows in the clinch. Camozzi could win this fight by KO if he catches Noke with a head kick after setting it up with leg kicks or a knee in the clinch, he could win if he catches Noke in a guillotine choke, but if Camozzi wins it’ll likely be by decision by controlling the stand up and the clinch.

Noke returns home for the first time in almost three years, looking to put on a show for the Australian faithful. Noke is a good fighter who prefers to strike. He has quick and powerful hands. He uses his reach well, has a solid jab, a good straight right, and throws heavy leg kicks. What I like about Noke’s striking is that he mixes things up well. Noke is solid on the ground, has a good triangle off his back, and likes to ground and pound from the top position. If Noke can’t finish with strikes on top, he’ll look to finish with the rear naked choke. Noke’s problems come against strong grapplers, which Camozzi can be in the clinch. Noke can’t spend much time in the clinch against Camozzi. He needs to spin away or give Camozzi the takedown and work off his back for the triangle or scramble up. I think Noke will want to keep this fight standing for the most part unless he’s eating too many kicks. He needs to counter the leg kicks with the straight right hand. If things aren’t going his way on the feet, he’ll look for the takedown and rough up Camozzi on the ground. Camozzi has never been finished by strikes but Noke could easily be the first person to do that. If he can’t put him away with strikes though, he might be able to choke him out or win a decision by getting the better of the striking and mixing in some takedowns.

On The Ultimate Fighter 11, I thought Noke was the most talented fighter on the show and I still believe that, besides Court McGee, he is the best talent to come from that season. Noke isn’t a world-beater by any means but he should be able to beat Camozzi by being faster on the feet and better on the ground. I think Noke counters a kick of Camozzi and puts him down and out rather quickly.

Prediction: Kyle Noke to defeat Chris Camozzi by TKO in Round One

Preliminary Fight Predictions

*Ross Pearson to defeat Spencer Fisher by Decision
*Alexander Gustafsson to defeat James Te-Huna via Submission in Round One
*Nick Ring to defeat Riki Fukuda by TKO in Round One
*Anthony Perrosh to defeat Tom Blackledge by Submission in Round Three
*Zhang Tie Quan to defeat Jason Reinhardt by Decision
*Chris Tuchscherer to defeat Mark Hunt by Submission in Round One
*Maciej Jewtuszko to defeat Curt Warburton by TKO in Round Two

This might not be the highest profile card ever but it could still end up being a great show as long as the fighters perform. UFC spoiled fans earlier this month and they’ll continue to spoil us in the coming months so if you’re down on this event, while I don’t blame you, keep your head. And if you’re not watching this weekend, make sure to check out The After Party.

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