After what seems like a year of no major events (sorry Bellator), we finally kick off a nice string of big time fights this weekend with UFC 130. Unfortunately we’re off to a rocky start at the UFC Lightweight Title fight main event fell apart and was not replaced with another top fight. Don’t let that get you down though because, even though it’s Memorial Weekend, I’m sure the fighters came to work on Saturday. And if nothing else, it’s the return of Brittney Palmer, which should be enough to get any MMA fan excited.
Light Heavyweight Fight: Matt Hamill vs. Quinton Jackson
Originally scheduled to be the co-main event, Matt Hamill vs. Quinton Jackson was thrusted into the main event due to injuries to Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard. Hamill looks for the biggest win of his career while Jackson tries to make one more run at the title.
Hamill is coming off a strong win over Tito Ortiz, who may be past his prime but is still a big name and a slight mental hurdle for Hamill given his prior relationship with Ortiz. While Hamill’s strength is his wrestling, his striking has come a long way over the years. His defense could still use a lot of work but years ago he kept his hands low and never got them up while nowadays, he still keeps his hands low, but does a better job getting his hands up and moving away. As far as his offensive striking, it’s very basic and not very smooth. He has a good, stiff jab, and likes to set it up with an inside leg kick and also double it up. Even though his defense lacks, he seems to have a very good chin. Of course he won’t want to eat too many clean punches from Jackson, who is one of the divisions hardest punchers. Hamill’s best asset is his wrestling. He has quick takedowns and he’s very strong with his shot. He took down Ortiz, a very good wrestler in his own right, like it was nothing. He doesn’t really set up his takedowns but he does do a good job of timing them and ducking under his opponents strikes to secure them. On top, Hamill is very controlling, has a good base, and is very controlling. He’s also underrated in the scrambles and almost always ends up in a better position. He doesn’t look to pass unless his opponent forces him to but he is active from the guard with strikes, which allows him to stay on top without the ref standing them up. We’ve never really seen Hamill off his back but that’s in large part due to the fact that he’s tough to takedown and hold down. Another position we haven’t seen him in very often is in the clinch. Jackson was able defeat Lyoto Machida due to his success in clinch so Hamill will have to avoid this position. I suspect that Hamill knows this and the fact that he’s a wrestler and has hopefully studied Jackson’s recent outing should mean that he’s well-prepared should Jackson try and bully him against the cage. Hamill isn’t a cardio freak or anything but he is an aggressive fighter and the longer this fight goes, the more it favors him. If Hamill can hang around and take some of Jackson’s best punches, I think Jackson’s confidence will take a hit. For Hamill to win, he needs to put Jackson on his back. Use his jab to counter the hooks of Jackson, stifle Jackson’s movement and power with leg kicks, KEEP HIS HANDS UP, and when Jackson lunges in, duck under and get the takedown. He needs to constantly pressure Jackson and make him exert a lot of energy early. If he can consistently put Jackson on his back and keep him there then there is no reason why he can’t win a decision. I don’t think he’ll be able to finish Jackson though unless he overwhelms him with strikes late in the fight.
Not too long ago Jackson was one of the most feared light heavyweights in the division. But after back-to-back uninspiring performances, he’s in need of a statement win to regain his luster. He’s still extremely powerful on the feet but he’s become rather predictable. He doesn’t throw many jabs and his whole offense seems to be a left hook followed by a right hook. He still has a devastating counter right hand but if fighters can get in and out before he’s able to get off with it, it’s no good. Defensively, he still doesn’t check leg kicks but he does a good job with his cover and roll style. Everyone knows about his legendary chin but it has seemed to crack a bit, as evidence by Rashad Evans and Machida being able to stun him with one shot. Hamill has power but I don’t think he has one-shot power to put Jackson away. Recently, Jackson’s biggest success has come in the clinch with his dirty boxing. He has good control in the clinch and does a nice job damaging his opponents with uppercuts. A problem with his constant clinching though is that if the tables are reversed on him, it makes it easier of his opponents to get him down. Off his back, Jackson is either really good and quick at getting up or very content on just lying on his back and controlling his opponent in hopes of forcing a stand up. There seems to be no in-between with him. Hamill isn’t going to allow himself to be controlled so Jackson needs to use an underhook to get up and avoid lying on his back for an extended period of time. If Jackson can put Hamill on his back, that would be a huge link in his chain as, at the very worst, it could be a confidence deflator for Hamill. My biggest concern with Jackson is his mindset. He’s already talking about retirement and making movies and he’s been known to take trying lightly if he doesn’t feel threatened by his opponent. And based on his comments about Hamill and the fact that he didn’t really want this fight, I think it’s safe to say that he doesn’t feel threatened by him. If Jackson comes out predictable and just looks for the one big punch to end the fight, it might be there for him, but he’ll make this a much harder fight than it needs to be. Jackson needs to really rediscover his boxing in this fight. Start using his jab more, start going to the body (where Hamill has had trouble taking shots in the past), and start looking for the uppercut in order to counter Hamill shooting in. Above all else, Jackson needs to find a way to keep the fight on the feet. If Jackson is going to win this fight, chances are it’ll be by TKO. Maybe he out-strikes Hamill on the feet and wins a decision but I figure that if the fight remains standing for the majority of the time and Hamill takes a bunch of clean punches, one of them will knock him down and out.
I think this is a much closer fight than people make it out to be and they just look at the names and automatically give the edge to Jackson because of his track record compared to Hamill’s. Lets not forget that Hamill is the only man in MMA to hold a victory over Jon Jones (yes, I know the circumstances surrounding the fight and the ending, just humor me). I’m favoring Hamill though. I don’t trust that Jackson is 100% locked in on Hamill while I know Hamill will be ready to turn in the best performance of his career against Jackson. Don’t get me wrong, Jackson could easily put Hamill away with one punch and it wouldn’t shock me but I think Hamill will be able to consistently get takedowns and he’ll grind out a decision. It might not be pretty or exciting but it won’t matter to Hamill as long as he gets the win.
Prediction: Matt Hamill to defeat Quinton Jackson via Decision
Heavyweight Fight: Roy Nelson vs. Frank Mir
In a rematch of their highly publicized 2003 grappling contest, Roy Nelson and Frank Mir battle to move up the heavyweight ranks.
Nelson took a beating in his last fight against Junior dos Santos but he was the first person to survive the full 15 minutes with the top heavyweight contender and showed plenty of heart in the loss. Known for his grappling, Nelson has been more of a striker in his UFC run. He throws a stiff jab and has a sneaky good left hook but his go-to punch is his overhand right. He does a nice job setting it up with his jab but he’ll also throw it as a counter. Defensively, he keeps his hands high and does a nice job covering but he leaves himself wide open for uppercuts and body shots. His stomach softens the body shots but uppercuts sneak though because of his unwillingness to move his head. Luckily he has a very good chin but you never want to be known as the guy who can take a beating. Nelson’s biggest asset on the feet is his aggressiveness. He constantly moves forward and pressures his opponents, which can be overwhelming for some fighters and is a great way to hide striking deficiencies. He has good takedowns, but not great, and he usually gets them by using an outside trip in the clinch. On the ground, Nelson’s favorite position is side control. He’s great at using his large stomach to hold down his opponents. From side control he’s able to use his stomach to sort of isolate his opponents arm, which allows him to get the crucifix position and set up a kimura or batter his opponents with strikes. Nelson doesn’t really find himself on his back very often because of his good takedown defense and quick hips. He’s good at using an underhook to get to his feet and has a nice half guard sweep. Nelson needs to make this a dirty fight. Don’t let Mir dictate the pace, constantly pressure him, get the fight into the clinch, and using some dirty boxing. I think Nelson will want to keep the fight standing because it seems like he’s fallen in love with his power and I believe that after the Dos Santos fight, he has extreme confidence in his ability to take a punch. Nelson would be smart to mix in some takedowns though, if anything just to give Mir something else to think about. Even though he’s a jiu-jitsu black belt, Mir is no slouch on the ground so a submission is going to be very tough to come by. Nelson can finish Mir with strikes though or win a decision if he’s able to stay in Mir’s face, do more damage with his strikes, and control him in close quarters.
Mir has traded wins and losses in his last five fights and he’s coming off a victory in a high-level sparring contest against Mirko Cro Cop. Like Nelson, Mir is known for his jiu-jitsu but has become more of a striker in his recent performances. He stands southpaw and usually leads with a straight left hand. What I like about Mir’s striking is that he’s not a “one and done” puncher. When he throws, he puts together rotating combinations (as in, right-left-right or left-right-left) and likes to throw three strikes at a time. Mir is at his best when he gets off first as he’s not a good counter puncher. In fact, his best counter strike is an inside leg kick, which is more effective than one may think as it throws off his opponents balance and timing. When it comes to his wrestling, I think that he’s a bit overrated. No one mistakes Mir for a world-class wrestler but people seem to believe that his wrestling is good or above average when in reality, it’s just average. I definitely don’t think his wrestling is good enough to get Nelson down. While Nelson did win their 2003 grappling contest, that bout means almost nothing this Saturday. Not only was it in 2003 but it was also a pure grappling bout, which means no striking was involved. On the ground, Mir should be able to hold his own against Nelson. He’s solid on top and likes to use the kimura and on his back he likes to roll for ambars and leg locks. I doubt Mir wants to spend a lot of time on his back against Nelson trying to grapple with him because as long as Nelson is on top, he’s in control. Mir’s cardio has always been questioned and not only will his cardio be a factor in this fight but so will his body. After losing to Brock Lesnar, Mir packed on a lot of muscle and that served him well against Cheick Kongo but didn’t do him any favors against Shane Carwin. So after losing to Carwin, he dropped a bit of weight but still had much more muscle than recent years. He seems to be struggling to find a balance between speed and power, which is going to get him in trouble against a top heavyweight like Nelson. I also think that Mir is afraid to get hit. His chin isn’t terrible or anything because it takes a lot to put him out but he just doesn’t react well when he’s pressured and getting hit. Mir can win this fight if he uses his speed, stays on the outside, and gets to Nelson before Nelson gets to him. He needs to use his reach and stay on the outside. If he’s able to Nelson down then that would be big for him but he shouldn’t blow too much energy trying to do so. Mir can finish Nelson with strikes because he does have power but I think it’s more likely that he’ll win on points by out-striking Nelson.
This is a very close fight to call and a lot depends on which Mir shows up. I know he’ll show up in shape but if that shape is more muscle than needed, it could be to his detriment. At the end of the day, I favor Nelson because I know he’ll be willing to make the fight a slugfest and I don’t think Mir will react well to that. Expect Nelson to constantly pressure Mir and put leather in his face for 15 minutes.
Prediction: Roy Nelson to defeat Frank Mir via Decision
Heavyweight Fight: Travis Browne vs. Stefan Struve
Coming off a victory in the co-main event of UFC 124, Stefan Struve returns to the cage against Travis Browne, who looks to remain undefeated in MMA.
Even though he’s undefeated and has had two televised UFC fights, Browne has flown under the radar and not much is known about him. He’s a very powerful striker and usually gets off to a fast start. He likes to go head-body-head with his punches and ends most of his combinations with a left hook. Browne’s problem in the striking department is that he rushes in with his hands down, which leads him wide open to counter punches. Browne spent a lot time in the clinch against Cheick Kongo and he held his own. One thing I was impressed with is that he had quick hips and was able to hit a couple of good throws in order to get Kongo down to the ground. On top he has good control, likes to throw elbows, and uses a kimura threat to pass to better positions. We’ve never seen Browne off his back but he seems to have good takedown defense and a solid base so I’m not sure Struve will be able to get him down or sweep him. If Browne wants to get Struve down, which shouldn’t be too hard considering Struve’s lack of takedown defense, he needs to stay postured. Struve has good wrist control but he’s a little too content to just lie on his back and take a beating. As long as Browne doesn’t blow himself up or make a mental mistake, he should be able to rough up Struve on the ground. Browne needs to do what he does in every fight and that’s get off to a good start. Struve is a notorious slow starter and if Browne can get to him early, he can finish him because he does have one punch power. The only way I see Browne winning this fight is in the first round with a knockout. He slows down as the fight grows longer while Struve gets stronger.
Struve is quickly becoming one of the more popular heavyweights in the division and it’s easy to see why given his reputation for having exciting fights. Despite his size and reach, his striking isn’t as good as it could be. He throws good straight punches and isn’t afraid to get into exchanges. I say his striking isn’t as good as it could be because of the fact that he isn’t afraid to get into exchanges. If he would start to use his jab and a front kick more, he’d be extremely tough to deal with and hit on the feet but because he’s willing to go toe to toe, he takes more punches than he needs to. Also despite his size and reach, he’s a guy who likes to fight on the ground. He has an active guard and good wrist control, which he uses to set up triangles and sweeps. On top, he’s a handful to deal with. He has good top control and is relentless with his strikes. As mentioned above, Struve is a slow starter. He often times loses the first round but then mounts a comeback in the second and finishes his opponent. The problem with his slow starts though is that he takes an absolute beating during those opening moments. It’s not like he just starts slow but his opponent is in “feel out mode” and it’s an uneventful round that Struve just happens to give away. He starts slow, is seconds away from getting finished, somehow survives, and then pulls off the comeback. It’s not the way I’d recommend fighting but it seems to work for him. Like with most of his fights, Struve needs to weather an early storm. Browne is a fast starter but then fades if he doesn’t get the early knockout. If Struve can avoid the power of Browne in the opening moments then he should be able to take over. Browne has good takedown defense but as he slows down, when he moves forward with his hands down, he’ll be open to straight counter punches, which Struve throws very well. Struve can finish Browne with strikes or a submission, likely starting in the second round, or if Browne proves to be tough to put away, he can win a decision
Unless Browne catches Struve early, which is very possible given Browne’s power and Struve’s ability to take an ass-kicking in the first round, Struve should win this fight. He’ll have to fend off Browne early but after the first five minutes at the most, he should be able to take this fight over. I think this will be your typical Struve fight where he’ll survive the first and then take over and finish Browne in the second.
Prediction: Stefan Struve to defeat Travis Browne via TKO in Round Two
Welterweight Fight: Rick Story vs. Thiago Alves
Scheduled to be on SpikeTV before the loss of the original main event, Thiago Alves and Ricky Story look to prove that they should have been on the PPV card in the first place in a welterweight showdown.
Story has been quietly making a run in the welterweight division, winning five straight fights and coming off a victory over the previously undefeated Johny Hendricks. He’s a solid striker but nothing spectacular. He stands southpaw and likes to lead with the left straight. He throws kicks but they’re rather slow and if he decides to get into a kickboxing contest with Alves, he might not be able to walk away without limping. One thing Story does well is attack the body. He throws a nice right hook to the body and when he gets inside in the clinch, he does a nice job of ripping body shots. The problem with going to the body against a guy muy-thai artist like Alves is that it leaves your chin exposed for knees and we know Alves has deadly knees. Story’s biggest strength though is his wrestling. He’s a strong wrestler with a good takedown. He was able to get Hendricks down a couple of times and Hendricks is a two-time division 1 national champion. That said, I think Alves has better takedown defense than Hendricks, whose aggressiveness gets him in trouble in the cage. On top Story has a very good base and is a heavy ground and pound artist. He’s good at avoiding his opponents guard, moving to half guard of side control, using good posture, and raining down punches and elbows. Where Story excels is in the scrambles. He’s very quick in the scramble and usually ends up in a better position. Because of this, Story might be a little more willing to open up with ground and pound because if Alves tries to explode to his feet, Story could see that as an opportunity to try and secure a better position. Story needs to get this fight to the ground. I think it’s pretty safe to say that if he tries to trade strikes with Alves, he’s not going to last long. Story needs to press forward with his left hand, put Alves against the cage, work the body a bit since Alves’ cardio is a bit questionable, and when Alves goes to throw a knee, secure the takedown. It’s a little risky to wait for the knee to get the takedown because if he’s a second late, he’s going to take damage. But I don’t think he’s going to be able to takedown Alves as long as Alves has both feet on the ground. Alves is very tough to finish so if Story is going to win this fight, it’ll likely be by decision thanks to clinch and ground control.
After dropping back-to-back fights, Alves rebounded in a big way this past December with one of the most well rounded performances of his career against John Howard. Alves is one of the most technical and diverse strikers in the welterweight division. He throws straight punches, mixes in kicks, puts together smooth combinations, and gets his hands up quick defensively. He has a couple of go-to combinations that work for him. He likes to use an inside leg-jab combo, which is really his set up for everything else. He also throws a nice jab-leg kick combo, which is very effective for him. He also throws a great one-two combo and has a good lead leg head kick. He counters punches with a left hook and counters leg kicks with the straight right. He has no real wrestling background but his takedown defense is very good. He’s huge for a welterweight, which obviously helps but he also has quick hips and knows how to use underhooks to stuff the takedown. Even if he does end up on his back, he’s good at using the underhook to get to his feet. Also on the ground, Alves has a very good defensive guard. He does a nice job controlling his opponents posture and takes rather limited damage on the ground. Against Howard, Alves showed off a new wrinkle to his game, which was going for takedowns of his own. I don’t think he’ll have that same kind of success against Story, who was able to stuff the takedowns of Hendricks with great consistency, but at the very least, he could shoot of the takedown just to give Story something else to think about. Obviously Alves will want to keep this fight on the feet. He’s a much more accomplished striker and he has knockout power. He can’t be afraid to let his strikes go. Against Georges St. Pierre and Jon Fitch, I think he was so worried about the takedowns that he was tentative on the feet and afraid to really unleash with kicks. He can’t be afraid to throw kicks against Story. He needs to trust his speed and takedown defense. If he does that, he should be able to light up Story on the feet. Look for Alves to throw a lot of straight right hands, especially if Story decides to throw his slow kicks. The straight right is the weakness of the southpaw and it becomes an even bigger weapon against them if they’re going to throw kicks and drop their hands. Story has never been finished in his MMA career but Alves has plenty of power in his limbs and if he catches Story clean, he can put him away. If he’s not able to do that though, he can win the decision by keeping the fight on the feet and battering Story was punches, knees, and kicks.
I’m a big fan of Alves and I like him in this fight. I don’t want to discredit Story because he’s a very talented fighter but I think Alves is on another level and he’s also fought and beaten much stiffer competition. If Story can get Alves down he more often than not then he could obviously win but I think Alves’ takedown defense will be too much and on the feet, he’ll pick him apart with his hands and feet. I think the end will come when Story hangs around a little too long when going to the body and he takes a knee that puts him down and out.
Prediction: Thiago Alves to defeat Rick Story via TKO in Round Two
Middleweight Fight: Jorge Santiago vs. Brian Stann
Back in the UFC after a successful run in smaller organizations, Jorge Santiago hopes his second UFC run goes better than his first. He has no easy task this Saturday as he battles the former Marine and heavy hitter Brian Stann.
After being cut by the UFC in 2006, Santiago went on to win 11 of his next 12 fights against some pretty stout competition. He’s an aggressive striker who pumps a decent jab and throws a solid one-two combination. He likes to leap in with a jumping knee, which isn’t exactly the most effective move in the world since he doesn’t really set it up and I doubt will catch Stann off guard. A combination you can expect to see out off Santiago is a jab followed by a head kick. Santiago’s biggest problem on the feet is his very suspect chin. Five of his career eight losses have come by (T)KO and in the first fight against Mamed Khalidov, he was rocked from hammerfists while Khalidov was on his back. Santiago often times is bullied in the clinch but he is good at securing trip takedowns. The flipside to that though is that the majority of takedowns he gives up is from the clinch. On top Santiago uses good head control to set up his passes. He’s a tad bit sloppy on top though and can be swept over when he postures. Santiago is very good off his back. He has an active guard and likes to isolate his opponents right arm to set up either a kimura or omaplata sweep. For Santiago to win this fight, he needs to work the body of Stann of get the fight to the ground. He has good knees to the body so he’d be wise to get the fight into the clinch, rough up Stann with knees, and try to secure the takedown. Stann doesn’t have great takedown defense and Santiago is crafty in the clinch with his trip takedowns. If Santiago can get on top of Stann, he could easily control him or secure a submission. Santiago also has power so it’s possible that he finishes Stann with strikes, whether it be with one shot or an abundance of them.
Stann is coming off huge victory, becoming just the second person in MMA history to stop Chris Leben with strikes. He’s a heavy handed striker and possibly even underrated on the feet. People seem to only think he just has heavy hands when reality is, he moves very well on his feet and does a nice job getting in and out. The move to middleweight has really benefitted him and he’s adapted well to the weight class. He throws a good leg kick-right straight combo. He’s also very good in the clinch, which is where he really took it to Leben. He was able to bully Leben in the clinch, rough him up with uppercuts to the body, and land some devastating knees. Stann’s biggest problem in his career has been his takedown defense. He showed improved defense against Leben but Leben was constantly looking for the trip takedown in the clinch rather than your traditional wrestlers shot. Off his back, Stann does a nice job controlling his opponents right arm and looking for a triangle. Santiago has good submission defense though so I don’t expect Stann to catch him with anything off his back. Santiago’s takedown defense isn’t great either, especially from the clinch. If Stann can get on top, expect him to work the body of Santiago before posturing up and raining down some right hands. The best thing about Stann is his calmness under pressure. Being a former Marine, you know that nothing will get to this guy. That’s key in this fight because he has plenty to lose. After beating a well-known fighter like Leben in the co-main event, he now faces a relatively unknown Santiago in the nights opener. Not only that but there is rumors swirling that if he wins, he could be one of the coaches on The Ultimate Fighter 14. While that pressure may overwhelm some fighters, I don’t expect Stann to be bothered by it. I’m sure Stann wants to keep this fight on the feet. He trusts his power and Santiago’s chin is very suspect. Santiago is an aggressive striker so Stann will need to avoid the initial rush and then look to counter with either the straight right or left hook. If things are a little too close on the feet, look for Stann to clinch with Santiago, push him against the cage, and rough him up from there. Stann has KO power and if he catches Santiago clean, he can turn his lights out. I feel like that if Stann is going to win, it’ll be by (T)KO. Obviously he could win a decision by out-striking Santiago and having some success in the clinch but if Stann puts his hands on Santiago often enough, sooner or later he’s going to go out.
As good as Santiago has looked since his first UFC run, it’s tough to really get a read on guys who have spent the past few years in Japan. While Santiago has fought some solid competition, the circumstances in Japan are just so different from that in the UFC. Because of that, and because of Stann’s power against Santiago’s chin, I have to go with Stann. I think he’ll catch Santiago early and he’ll put him away in impressive fashion.
Prediction: Brian Stann to defeat Jorge Santiago via TKO in Round One
*Miguel Torres to defeat Demetrious Johnson via Decision
*Kendall Grove to defeat Tim Boetsch via Submission in Round Two
*Gleison Tibau to defeat Rafaello Oliveira via Decision
*Michael McDonald to defeat Chris Cariaso via TKO in Round One
*Renan Barao to defeat Cole Escovedo via Submission in Round Two