The UFC 133 undercard won’t light the world on fire, especially with the loss of former champion Rich Franklin and Brazilian star Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. There are still some important fights taking place starting at 9PM EST on Saturday night though. Another former champion tries to remain relevant while a Japanese superstar tries to remain employed. Two men with over 100 combined fights square off in what is like the most important fight of their careers. And a welterweight, who is being touted as the next great 170 lb fighter takes on a veteran grappler who is still fighting for respect. Maybe it’s not the most stacked undercard in UFC history, but it could be worse. It could be an overseas undercard.
In case you missed my preview of all the preliminary action, along with the explanation of the format chance, you can check it out by clicking here.
Middleweight Fight: Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Vitor Belfort
Don’t Hold Belfort’s Last Fight Against Him: Earlier this year, Vitor Belfort became part of Anderson Silva’s highlight reel when “The Spider” front kicked him right in the face. Lets not hold that against Belfort though. He was coming off a Mir Layoff and fighting arguably the best fighter in the sport today. I knew that, no matter what happened in that fight, even if Belfort won, that what we saw from him at UFC 126 wouldn’t be the best Belfort can be in 2011 due to the layoff. In this fight however, there are no excuses.
Akiyama’s Mindset: Yoshihiro Akiyama was originally scheduled to fight in March at UFC 128 but pulled out of the bout due to the tragedies in Japan. Five months later, with the tragedies in the rear-view mirror, where is Akiyama mentally? One would hope that he’s fully focused on the task at hand but you never know because fighters react differently to personal situations.
Cardio Vs. Mentality: The thing that has plagued Akiyama in his UFC run has been his cardio. He was moments away from defeating Chris Leben before his gas tank hit empty and he couldn’t defend a triangle choke. He had Michael Bisping hurt early and then faded as the fight went on. Even against Alan Belcher, a fight that he won but many felt he lost, he was tired in the final frame. On the flip side, Belfort doesn’t necessarily have cardio problems, he’s just known to mentally shut down when he doesn’t finish opponents in the first five minutes. If Akiyama has corrected his cardio problems he could get to Belfort late. If he hasn’t though, Belfort can’t shut down if Akiyama is still around in round two.
Belfort’s Highlight Reel: UFC loves to show Belfort’s highlight reel. It’s impressive. It’s also extremely out-dated. The 2011 Belfort isn’t the Belfort you see knocking out Wanderlei Silva or Marvin Eastman. He’s not the guy who just explodes on fighters with a flurry of punches. He’s turned into a patient, counter punching fighter. He still has fast hands with KO power, but don’t be fooled by his highlight reel that UFC continues to show.
Chin/Power Vs. Speed/Power: Akiyama has proven throughout his career that his parents blessed him with a great chin and he possesses power in his hands. He took some big punches from Leben and also rocked Leben, who is also known for his power and chin. Belfort has plenty of power in his hands, but he also has speed to go along with that power. Belfort’s chin might not be as good as Akiyama’s but it’s held up throughout his career, save for the Silva fight. Akiyama had a tough time dealing with the speed of Bisping, and Belfort is a much faster and powerful striker than the Brit.
Akiyama Is A Judo Black Belt: Believe it or not, Akiyama does have a black belt in judo. He hasn’t really showcased his judo skills in the UFC, except for some throws against Leben, but he does have some throws and trips in his tool belt. His problem is that he’s so willing to brawl with guys that he abandons his judo game and instead just starts slugging it out. It might not be a bad idea against Belfort to slow things down and conserve some energy by using the clinch or getting the fight to the ground.
Fight Prediction: This fight has the potential to be very exciting if both men are willing to trade leather, which I believe they are. And if the fight does stay standing, I favor Belfort before of his speed and power. Akiyama’s aggression will work against him and Belfort will catch him with a lightning quick counter that makes “Sexyama” a little less sexy.
Official Prediction: Vitor Belfort to defeat Yoshihiro Akiyama by TKO in Round One
Welterweight Fight: Brian Ebersole vs. Dennis Hallman
The Definition Of A Veteran: Brian Ebersole and Dennis Hallman have a combined 97 wins in 129 fights. Just think about that for a second. These two have seen it all in MMA. Maybe they haven’t fought the best competition in all 129 of those fights but there’s nothing that they haven’t experienced in the cage. Interestingly enough, in those fights, Hallman has never been submitted while Ebersole has never been TKO’d. So despite all of the cage time, somehow they each have a very rare claim to fame.
Ebersole The Entertainer: Ebersole doesn’t come to just fight, he comes to entertain. He makes wacky hand gestures in the middle of the fight, he’ll make goofy faces, and he’ll throw crazy strikes like cartwheel kicks and punches to the knee. Beyond his antics though, he’s a talented fighter. He’s well-rounded, covers up nicely on his feet, does well in the scrambles, and is an aggressive fighter. What I like most about his game is just how active he is in every position. He never stops working and isn’t afraid to take risks.
Hallman’s Resurgence: Hallman has been in and out of the UFC since the dark ages of the company. He should be on a three-fight UFC winning streak, if not for a questionable stand up with just seconds remaining against John Howard. He bounced back after the loss to beat a very dangerous Ben Saunders and stop the enigmatic Karo Parisyan. Halmman is an excellent grappler with top-notch wrestling. He’s 35 but he’s proving that he can still hang with good fighters.
Fight Prediction: I think this fight will come down to Hallman’s wrestling. He’s a better wrestler than Ebersole and if he gets him down to the ground, Ebersole is going to have a tough time submitting a guy who has never been submitted. It might not be a pretty fight, but it won’t matter to Hallman as long as his hand is raised in the end.
Official Prediction: Dennis Hallman to defeat Brian Ebersole by Decision
Middleweight Fight: Costantinos Philippou vs. Jorge Rivera
Rivera On His Last Legs: Jorge Rivera is 39 and has been a mid-level fighter for his entire career. He talked himself into a big fight against Michael Bisping, where he was dispatched of pretty easily, although that fight wasn’t without controversy. Rivera is someone who comes to trade. He throws his right hand every chance he gets and he has a sneaky left hook. He covers up relatively well although he’s taken a lot of punishment throughout his career and doesn’t have the greatest chin in the world. Rivera has to know that this is his last stand. If he loses this fight, he might not be out of a job because he’s been through so much in his personal life that UFC has some sympathy for him, but he could be staring retirement in the eyes.
Philippou Given A Chance: Constantinos Philippou was originally to fight in the opening bout on the show. Now he’s on PPV against an established fighter. He was given this slot because he’s primarily a striker and UFC wanted to maintain the, “firework show” that fans were likely to get between Rivera and his original opponent Alessio Sakara. Expect to see a lot of left hooks and uppercuts by Philippou and I’m sure he’ll be happy that Rivera will stand in the pocket and trade with him, unlike Philippou last opponent, wrestler Nick Catone. Maybe Philippou will try to take the fight to the ground, as he is trained by top grappler Matt Serra, but he knows why he was given this fight and he knows what everyone wants to see.
Fight Prediction: This is a fight between two guys who will be willing to slug it out in the center, and when that happens, anything can happen. That said, I’m going with Philippou because he’s younger, quicker, and has taken less punishment throughout his career. I think his power and chin will overcome Rivera’s power and chin, leading him to a victory.
Official Prediction: Constantinos Philippou to defeat Jorge Rivera by TKO in Round One
Welterweight Fight: Mike Pyle vs. Rory MacDonald
Pyle vs. The Hype: Mike Pyle has been in this position before. At UFC 120, he fought John Hathaway, who was coming off a destruction of Diego Sanchez and was thought to be the next great welterweight. That didn’t matter to Pyle though, who went into Hathaway’s home country, took the fight to him, and picked up a unanimous decision victory. Now Pyle takes on another heavily hyped welterweight with another chance to play the role of spoiler.
Is MacDonald The Next St. Pierre? Rory MacDonald is already being compared to Georges St. Pierre, and this time it goes beyond the fact that they’re just both Canadian. Not only are they training partners, but you can see a lot of what St. Pierre does in MacDonald’s game. Two things that are very noticeable are the way MacDonald throws inside leg kicks, which GSP uses a lot in his fights, and MacDonald’s love of the superman jab-leg kick combo, which GSP uses about once a round when he competes. It’s pretty easy to see why many have pegged MacDonald as the next “Rush” once the current champ slows down.
Pyle’s Grappling: If you ask people at Xtreme Couture who gives them the most fits on the ground, chances are they’ll say “Pyle” faster then they say “uncle” when he has them trapped in a submission. When he gets guys on the ground and on their back, he controls them more than the moms on Toddlers & Tiaras. He makes sure to maintain position before submission and loves the side control position. He’s also not afraid to be on his back, where he has an excellent triangle. He’s described as a “ground bully” because of the way he forces himself into positions and submissions, despite his opponents best efforts to stop him.
MacDonald Is Seasoned: At only 22, MacDonald is already a seasoned fighter. He’s fought on PPV before, he’s fought in front of 55,000 people, he’s fought some tough guys, and, most importantly, he’s tasted defeat. He knows what its like to be in control of a fight, only to lose, and you can bet that he doesn’t want that to happen again. Not only that, but he’s getting pushed in the gym every day by one of the best fighters in the world.
Fight Prediction: Pyle will be a tough test for MacDonald, but I think the young Canadian will be able to pass. Pyle has good takedowns, usually getting fights to the ground with trips in the clinch, but MacDonald is going to be tough to get and hold down. I think MacDonald’s technical superiority and speed will be too much for Pyle.
Official Prediction: Rory MacDonald to defeat Mike Pyle by TKO in Round Two