A big weekend of MMA action is capped off on Sunday night with UFC Live 4 in Pittsburgh. Sports fans in Pittsburgh are used to hard hits (The Steelers), young talent (The Penguins) and unknown players (The Pirates) so they should enjoy the event this weekend. It might not be the prettiest or most spectacular card in the world, but Brittney Palmer more than makes up for that.
Welterweight Fight: Rick Story vs. Nate Marquardt
Rick Story is back in action less than a month after defeating Thiago Alves to take on former middleweight contender Nate Marquardt, who is making is welterweight debut.
Story Skill Assessment: Story is known for his power wrestling but against Alves he showed that he has some solid striking skills. He’s not a very technical striker and he throws mainly hooks but he always throws two or more strikes at a time and he does a nice job going to the body and mixing up his attack. He stands southpaw and likes to lead with a left straight. He also has a good right hook to the body. What I like about Story’s striking is that he uses it to get inside or to set up his takedowns. In the clinch he does a good job staying active with short knees and punches and also changes level frequently, looking for the takedown. I also like that every time he breaks on the clinch, he always lets his hands go. He’s very strong in the clinch and does a nice job using the cage to assist himself to get takedowns. Marquardt has good balance and solid takedown defense but he can be put on his back by a relentless wrestler. On top he likes to attack the body and the head with elbows. He’s a heavy puncher and like he does on the feet, he does a good job mixing up his strikes and constantly attacking. Off his back, Story won’t be much of a threat to Marquardt outside of an attempted kimura. While Story has fought on just a months rest before, he was usually fighting guys who were also fighting on short rest and he definitely wasn’t fighting the caliber of fighters that Alves and Marquardt are. The good thing about this type of short notice fighting is that Story just fought, so he’s still in shape. It’s not like he was out of camp and resting when he got the call. So while fighting on short notice is usually a detriment, it’s kind of a lesser of two evils thing.
Story Game Plan: Story needs to pressure Marquardt. He did a great job of against Alves constantly pressing forward, never letting Alves rest, and really testing his cardio. Marquardt’s cardio could be very suspect due to the weight cut so Story should test that. Also, I hope Story has an uppercut in his arsenal because it could come in handy against Marquardt, who ducks his head a lot after throwing his straight right. If Story can get to the body of Marquardt and wear him out against the cage and with his pace, he can win this fight.
Marquardt Skill Assessment: Marquardt is a relatively well rounded fighter but has been inconsistent as of late. He’s a technically sound striker who can put good combinations together when he wants to but he does have a tendency to over rely on his straight right. It’s a deadly accurate and powerful punch and he does a decent job of setting it up with a feeler jab but he doesn’t follow it up with anything. Also, when he throws that punch, he puts so much into it that on his follow through, he ducks his head, which leaves him open to counter uppercuts. He has a good lead leg head kick and a good left hook but again, he’s gone away from those strikes in recent outings. Where Marquardt has improved as of late is his takedown defense. He has good balance and against Dan Miller, he went away from trying to grab a guillotine choke on takedowns to just defending the takedown. On the ground, Marquardt has good submissions, usually looking for the guillotine choke in all positions, and likes to throw elbows whether he’s on top or on his back. Marquardt was very strong in the clinch at middleweight so I would expect him to be even stronger at welterweight. Of course, as with any fighter making a weight cut for the first time, you have to wonder how his conditioning is going to hold up. Marquardt is usually a well-conditioned fighter but if the weight cut drains him, he might not be fresh come the third round. Also, he’ll likely lose some of his speed due to the cut.
Marquardt Game Plan: Marquardt needs to try and establish his jab early to keep Story at bay, and that will allow him to unload with his right hand. The right hand is the best punch to use against a southpaw so Marquardt will likely be looking for that punch even more than he already does. Marquardt also needs to use his newfound strength advantage to stay out of the clinch and off his back. He can’t allow Story to press him against the cage and control him.
Fight Prediction: This is a tough fight to call because, even though I think Marquardt is the better overall fighter, you never know how his body is going to react to the weight cut. Because I think Marquardt will be able to handle the cut relatively well, I think he’ll win. I think he’ll be able to muscle around Story a bit, something Story isn’t used to, and he’ll land the straight right at will. Story is a tough costumer and probably won’t be finished but Marquardt should do enough to win a decision.
Official Prediction: Nate Marquardt to defeat Rick Story by Decision
Heavyweight Fight: Pat Barry vs. Cheick Kongo
Heavyweight strikers collide as Pat Barry and Cheick Kongo battle it out in the evening’s co-main event.
Barry Skill Assessment: Barry is one of the hardest hitters in the heavyweight division. He’s a very technical and quick striker with arguably the best leg kicks in MMA. He doesn’t really set them up but he times them so well and gets them off so fast that opponents have a hard time avoiding them. As far as his hands go, he likes to lead with a right straight and has a good counter right hand but otherwise he doesn’t really let his hands go. When fighters get close to him, he likes to push away and then throw leg kicks. He switches stances a lot during fights and when he switches to southpaw, he almost always throws a head kick. Defensively, Barry doesn’t really react well to getting his. He keeps his hands low and has a tendency to either stay around and take punches or back straight up and take punches. His takedown defense is improving but it’s not great and on the ground he just looks to survive by holding on and hoping for a stand up. Barry also has trouble in the clinch and allows himself to get controlled, even though he’s quick enough and has the hips to easily spin off and away. My biggest problem with Barry is that he has too much self-admiration when he fights. It’s like he expects guys to just crumble when he hits them and he doesn’t think guys will fight back, so when they do, he becomes confused. He obviously has a lot of natural talent but he can’t expect things to just be handed to him in the fight.
Barry Game Plan: Barry has to use his speed and hands in this fight. We’ve seen that Kongo doesn’t like to get hit and that when he does, he’ll begin to use his strength to clinch. So Barry has to tag Kongo and then avoid the clinch game of Kongo. If he can use his speed to frustrate Kongo and not admire his work too much, he can win this fight.
Kongo Skill Assessment: Kongo is known for his powerful striking but he’s become so much more over the years. He’s still a heavy-handed striker who has a very good straight right and a stiff jab. He has hard leg kicks but he hasn’t really unleashed them in recent outings. Defensively, he drops his hands far too often when he backs up and it doesn’t seem like he likes getting hit. Every time he gets hit, he immediately looks to clinch in order to slow things down. In the clinch he’s very strong, has good control, and does a good job staying active with knees to the thighs (and sometimes groin). He gets the majority of his takedowns from the clinch as well, usually pulling out his opponents leg in order to them to the ground. On the ground he has some of the most brutal ground and pound in the sport. He puts a lot of power into his ground punches and he’s very accurate with his strikes on the ground as well. Kongo’s weakness is his wrestling and bottom game but against Barry, that’s not likely to come into play. While Barry might have a speed advantage, Kongo will have a big reach and size advantage.
Kongo Game Plan: If he decides to strike with Barry, he’ll need to use his jab to keep Barry at bay and avoid the leg kicks. I fully expect Kongo to press Barry against the cage and rough him up in the clinch though. He needs to pressure Barry, get him backing up, and then use his strength to bully Barry in the clinch.
Fight Prediction: Kongo has always had success against strikers because, for some reason, strikers don’t think he’ll grapple with them. And that’s why Kongo will have success against Barry. Kongo is very strong in the clinch and based on what we’ve seen from Barry, his clinch game is very weak. Unless Barry has corrected his clinch game and is able to avoid Kongo and use his speed, he’s destined to be bullied against the cage for 15-minutes.
Official Prediction: Cheick Kongo to defeat Pat Barry by Decision
Welterweight Fight: Matt Brown vs. John Howard
With their backs against the wall, John Howard and Matt Brown look to remain employed at the expense of their opponent.
Brown Skill Assessment: Brown is the most feared mid-level fighter in the world. He’s mainly a striker, he throws good straight punches, has chopping leg kicks, and has KO power in his hands. He gets hit a lot, especially with right hands, but he has a very good chin. Brown’s problems are on the ground. His takedown defense is almost non-existent, especially in the clinch, where he easily gets thrown to the ground. On the ground, he’s actually not terrible, just his submission defense is terrible. He has quick hips and can win out on scrambles when he initiates them. He also has a very good armbar. His submission defense is dreadful though. No matter what position he’s in, he can find himself stuck in any submission in the book. On top, he has heavy ground and pound but his positioning isn’t very good and he gives up the top position far too often.
Brown Game Plan: Brown has to keep this fight standing. His ground game just isn’t very good while he at least has the chance to KO Howard on the feet. Howard throws a lot of power hooks and the best way to beat those hooks is with straight punches, which is what Brown does best. Brown also throws good leg kicks, which is something that gave Howard trouble in his last fight.
Howard Skill Assessment: Howard is a power puncher. He throws mainly hooks and he almost always leads with a left hook. What I like about Howard’s striking through is that he’s rarely one and done with his punches. When he throws, he’s coming with two or three or four strikes before he’s done throwing. He also has some very heavy leg kicks. Like Brown, Howard’s parents blessed him with a very good chin. Howard’s biggest weakness is his takedown defense. He’s not bad off his back though. He does a nice job controlling the posture of his opponents and as a solid submission game. Despite his weak takedown defense, he does have good takedowns. On top, he’s not as active as you’d think he would be given his power but he does a nice job landing short punches and staying relatively active if his opponent is able to control his posture. He does his best on the ground when he’s able to stand over his opponent or in their guard and have full range to throw down punches.
Howard Game Plan: Even though Howard would probably bang with Brown, there’s no reason to risk it, especially when you’ve lost two straight fights. Howard should get this fight to the ground, which shouldn’t be all that hard, and then rough up Brown with strikes.
Fight Prediction: I just can’t pick Brown against anyone with a decent ground game, and Howard has a decent ground game. Howard shouldn’t have trouble getting Brown down and on the ground, he’s going to rough him up with power punches and become the first person to finish Brown with strikes.
Official Prediction: John Howard to defeat Matt Brown by TKO in Round Two
Heavyweight Fight: Christian Morecraft vs. Matt Mitrione
Matt Mitrione looks to continue his meteoric rise to the top but first he must get through a very tough Christian Morecraft.
Morecraft Skill Assessment: Morecraft is finally getting a big time fight and now he has to prove he’s ready for it. He’s a decent striker but really he just uses his striking to get inside. He’s strong in the clinch and likes to push his opponents against the cage, break, and then throw before getting inside again. He likes to get trip takedowns from the clinch and he’s very good at using the cage to his advantage. On top, he has sick ground and pound. In the guard, he throws a lot of hammerfists but he also likes to stand in his opponents guard to stack them and rain down with more punches. If he’s not in guard, chances are he’s going to be roughing up his opponent with elbows. He does the annoying trick where he just grinds his elbow into his opponents face. Morecraft showed off a solid guard in his last fight against Sean McCorkle. He likes to go for triangles off his back but he’ll also roll for a kneebar, which can be used as a sweep to gain top position. Morecraft also has very good submission defense, which could be tested as Mitrione has an underrated submission game. Morecraft’s biggest grappling weapon is his guillotine choke, which he goes for in scrambles and uses to defend takedowns.
Morecraft Game Plan: Morecraft’s best chance to win this fight is in the clinch and on the ground. Despite having power, Mitrione is the more polished striker and Morecraft can’t afford to look for a homerun punch while Mitrione finds his rhythm. Morecraft is a better grappler than Mitrione so he needs to put him on his back, avoid Mitrione’s triangle, and rough him up with strikes.
Mitrione Skill Assessment: Mitrione went from an unlikable and green fighter on The Ultimate Fighter 10 to a fast rising heavyweight who has improved in every fight. He’s mainly a striker, and although he keeps his hands way too low, he’s quick on his feet. He stands southpaw and likes to throw the inside leg kick. He does a lot of swatting with his right hand, and that’s all to set up his left straight. He also has a sneaky good right hook. His biggest weakness seems to be in the clinch. He lets himself get controlled too much against the cage, which seems to be a common theme among Duke Roufus trained heavyweights. Mitrione has a decent guard. He likes to isolate the left arm and tries to set up a triangle off his back. Mitrione’s biggest strength is his cardio. He pushes a high pace for a big man and he keeps that pace up for 15 minutes.
Mitrione Game Plan: Mitrione needs to stay out of the clinch and use his speed and pace to wear out Morecraft on the feet. I expect him to throw a lot of leg kicks to slow Morecraft down and use a jab to keep Morecraft at bay and to set up his left straight.
Fight Prediction: One of these guys is ready to take that next step and I think that guy is Morecraft. It’s really a tough fight to call because Mitrione is constantly improving and Morecraft is still a bit of a mystery to me. I like Morecraft though simply because of his ground game. I think he’ll be able to get Mitrione down and batter him on the ground with strikes before sinking in a submission.
Official Prediction: Christian Morecraft to defeat Matt Mitrione by Submission in Round Two
Quick Preliminary Picks
*Tyson Griffin to defeat Manny Gamburyan by Decision
*Javier Vazquez to defeat Joe Stevenson by Decision
*Joe Stevenson to defeat Curt Warburton by Submission in Round One
*Rich Attonito to defeat Daniel Roberts by Decision
*Charles Oliveira to defeat Nik Lentz by Submission in Round Two
*Ricardo Lamas to defeat Matt Grice by Decision
*Michael Johnson to defeat Edward Faaloto by Decision