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UFC 137 Breakdown: The Undercard

Another event, another major slice of bad luck for the UFC. Georges St-Pierre‘s injury and subsequent withdrawal from UFC 137‘s scheduled main event against Carlos Condit may have literally cost the world’s leading MMA promotion millions of dollars in PPV revenue. Losing a marquee main event is a substantial blow for any card, let alone one headlined by a title fight featuring one of the sport’s biggest stars. Luckily, this weekend’s card had an equally compelling co-main event (which has now been promoted to main event status) and a potentially action-packed undercard, making UFC 137 a can’t-miss show for MMA hardcores. Before B.J. Penn and Nick Diaz lock horns, the likes of Cheick Kongo, Matt Mitrione, Mirko “Cro Cop”, Roy Nelson, George Roop and the debuting Hatsu Hioki will take center stage.

Preliminary Predictions

* Clifford Starks to defeat Dustin Jacoby by TKO in Round 2
* Chris Camozzi to defeat Francis Carmont by Decision
* Danny Downes to defeat Ramsey Nijem by Decision
* Brandon Vera to defeat Eliot Marshall by Decision
* Tyson Griffin to defeat Bart Palaszewski by Decision
* Donald Cerrone to defeat Dennis Siver by Decision

Featherweight Fight: Hatsu Hioki vs. George Roop

Long considered one of the best fighters outside the Zuffa banner, grappling ace Hatsu Hioki will finally make his Octagon debut. The Japanese sensation could very well possess the most diverse and well-rounded grappling game in MMA. However, in order to make the best of his UFC run, he needs to permanently get rid of his nasty habit of fighting to his detriment. Hioki has continuously engaged in ill-advised slugfests, and while he hasn’t always paid the price, he has made life more difficult for himself as a result.

To his credit, his fight with Marlon Sandro – his most impressive win to date — saw some tremendous improvements in Hioki’s striking. Most notably, Hioki’s ability to slip punches and counter efficiently was truly eye-opening. His jab, footwork, and especially, head movement frustrated his Brazilian foe, and Hioki displayed the kind of maturity and discipline in his striking that was missing throughout his career. Instead of wild brawling, Hioki looked both crisp and technical on his feet.

Nevertheless, taking a similar approach against Roop could be risky. While somewhat deficient defensively, Roop brings a versatile striking arsenal to the table.  He does a decent job at utilizing his lanky frame by throwing plenty of front kicks to the body, and when he closes the distance, he mixes up his combinations well and likes to finish with a kick, either to the legs or body. Roop’s best weapon is his body punch. Hioki will have faith in his chin — which has yet to be cracked — but he needs to be wary whenever Roop gets on the inside, as he doesn’t want to taste Roop’s left hook to the liver. Additionally, Roop’s high kick will remain a menacing threat throughout the fight.

Roop’s major weakness however, is his takedown defense, which bodes well for Hioki and his sneaky double leg takedown. Perhaps the most surprising element of Hioki’s game — one that often takes his opponents by surprise — is his ability to suddenly switch levels and shoot for a double. From there, it’s a display of true grappling wizardry. Hioki’s guard passing is as good as it gets. Roop needs to be particularly on the lookout for the fact that Hioki likes to pass guard using the far side underhook. Hioki has even improved his ground-and-pound and has now become less single-minded in his grappling attacks (which used to be exclusively reliant on submissions).

Roop has improved his ability to hip escape, regain guard, and scramble back to his feet, but against a grappler of Hioki’s caliber, that is a tough proposition. In fact, this will give Hioki the opening he needs to take dominant positions. His mount control in particular is very difficult to deal with, and he likes to use that position to go for armbars and especially, his bread and butter mounted triangles. Even if Hioki does struggle to take the fight the ground, pulling guard will not be a bad idea by any means, as he possesses an equally dangerous submission game from the bottom, and some of the best sweeps in the business.

Should Hioki fight smart, this fight is his for the taking. However, Roop’s striking and firepower, coupled with Hioki’s occasional lack of strategic awareness makes an upset very well on the cards. Still, Hioki’s recent fights have been positive as far as sticking to the game plan is concerned.

Official Prediction: Hatsu Hioki to defeat George Roop by Submission in Round 2

Bantamweight Fight: Scott Jorgensen vs. Jeff Curran

Just two years ago, Jeff Curran was riding a four-fight losing streak in the now-deceased WEC. Since then, he’s went 4-1 fighting in non-Zuffa promotions. His one significant fight however, was a loss to Bryan Goldsby in Bellator. Truth be told, despite being “only” 34 years of age, Curran has started to wear down as a fighter, and it wasn’t surprising to hear him declare his intentions to retire if he were to lose his upcoming bout.

Throughout his career, Curran’s problem has been his wrestling. While he’s an extremely solid grappler, his wrestling  — both offensively and defensively — is not up to par. Against Jorgensen, it will be no different, as the Utah native will be the better and stronger wrestler. Jorgensen’s double leg and especially, his trip takedowns should be enough to plant Curran on his back. Furthermore, Jorgensen’s ground and pound is arguably the most brutal in the division. He doesn’t often look to pass guard, and is instead content to posture up inside his opponent’s full guard and rain down some hammers.

For his part, Curran is extremely active off of his back, and will be a constant threat with submissions and sweeps. “Big Frog” is an expert at utilizing the butterfly guard to avoid damage, or get overhooks and control his opponent’s posture. Alternatively, he likes to implement an open guard (his preferred approach) and consistently try to find openings for triangles and armbars. Conversely, Curran is often guilty of wasting energy on lost cause guillotine attempts that always seem to backfire.

On the feet, Curran is the more technical striker. His counter lead left hook and his right cross will prove problematic for the ultra-aggressive Jorgensen, who is often a bit too willing to stand inside the pocket and throw down. However, Jorgensen’s power can’t be underestimated, and his right hand in particular is something Curran needs to avoid at all cost.

Ultimately, Jorgensen’s wrestling will prove to be the difference-maker. And while Curran will be a constant threat from the bottom, he is unlikely to polish his opponent off with a submission.

Official Prediction: Scott Jorgensen to defeat Jeff Curran by Decision

Heavyweight Fight: Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic vs. Roy Nelson

In all likelihood, this bout will mark the loser’s last trip inside the Octagon. To waste words explaining why “Cro Cop” is not the fighter he once was is useless, as this has been the case for four years now. However, Nelson himself did not look too stellar in his last couple of outings.

For “Cro Cop” to have any chance in this fight, he needs to be far more active on the feet. Historically, “Cro Cop” has not fared well against fighters who aggressively pressured him. However, against the likes of Nelson — who lacks the speed and explosiveness moving forward — “Cro Cop” was often willing to step inside, cut his opponent off, and counter. Nowadays, he simply backpedals, seemingly intimidated.

On the feet, Nelson will look to do what he always does; he will move forward, double up on the jab, and follow up with his favorite overhand right. He will also use that pattern in order to close the distance, secure the clinch, muscle his opponent up against the fence, get underhooks, and look for the takedown. If  “Cro Cop” is to have any success in this fight, he needs to be more aggressive in order to prevent Nelson from settling into that rhythm.

The fight against Pat Barry showed that when Filipovic does move forward, he still possesses some of the best combinations in the division. Contrary to popular belief, Mirko was never a one-trick pony, as there was far more to his striking than his dreaded left high kick. He often mixed up his combinations by landing some brutal body shots, and his uppercut was among the best in the business. Despite breaking down physically, “Cro Cop” still possesses some of those skills. The problem however, is that he is never the ring general anymore, and seems to be out of ideas as to how to dictate the action. It doesn’t help matters that the backbone of his offense — his leg kicks and body kicks — are gone due to numerous knee injuries throughout the years; meaning that he can no longer set his high kick up properly, which in turn makes it very telegraphed.

As such, Nelson will simply need to circle to his left and away from Mirko’s left leg, while following the aforementioned strategy. If he manages to take Filipovic to the ground — and he very well might — Nelson will use his underrated guard passing ability and ground and pound, all the while smothering his opponent and not allowing him any chances to scramble up to his feet.

On paper, this is actually a winnable fight for the Croatian. However, it is extremely difficult to have any faith in “Cro Cop” at this point in time. Additionally, and despite often being ridiculed due to his looks, Nelson is a talented fighter with a dangerous skill set. That, coupled with his solid chin, makes it very hard to give “Cro Cop” a legitimate chance in this one.

Official Prediction: Roy Nelson to defeat Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic by TKO in Round 2

Heavyweight Fight: Cheick Kongo vs. Matt Mitrione

if Matt Mitrione is ever going to become a contender in the heavyweight division, he needs to emerge victorious in this one. For all the grief he received following his stint on season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter, Mitrione has turned into quite a serviceable — and even likeable — heavyweight. His professional Football background is a testament to his athleticism, which is a rarity in the division. However, whether his cardio has improved or not remains to be seen.

One of the most impressive aspects of Mitrione’s game is how increasingly dynamic his striking looks on a fight-to-fight basis. He utilizes leg kicks very efficiently (particularly the inside leg kick), and his straight left is not something Kongo will want to taste. Occasionally, Mitrione switches things up by firing a kick to the head. He has developed a decent jab, although he is at times guilty of neglecting it in favor of some wild brawling, which only quickens the gassing out process. This was on evidence in the Joey Beltran fight, and Mitrione needs to avoid having a repeat of that against Kongo, as the Frenchman has never displayed any obvious cardio problems, and will likely be the fresher fighter deeper into the fight. To his credit, Mitrione has thus far showcased a stout chin, and has proven to be able to absorb some hard shots during those wild slugfests.

The same can’t be said about Kongo, who in addition to having some defensive deficiencies, seems to crack when he gets tagged cleanly. In his defense, he has yet to be separated from consciousness, but even when he isn’t completely wobbled, he tends to become quite tentative whenever he takes a solid hit. While Kongo’s right cross is a weapon to be reckoned with, he will be the slower and less fluid striker in this fight. Therefore, expect him to be quick to close the distance, get the clinch, knee Mitrione in the “thighs”, and work hard for the takedown. This is where Mitrione needs to show improvements, as his takedown defense has been his Achilles heel, both on “TUF” and in his bout with Beltran. In fact, even his fight with Kimbo Slice saw Mitrione get put on his back with relative ease.

Mitrione needs to use the cage to stay upright, as Kongo lacks the wrestling to secure a clean takedown away from the fence, and will almost assuredly look to push him up and use the cage to get  the takedown. Just as important for Mitrione is his ability to get back to his feet if taken down. Kongo is not a great grappler by any means, but he’s more than content to stay in his opponent’s guard and land some vicious ground and pound, highlighted by some brutal elbows.

For my money, this is the toughest fight to pick on the entire card. If the fight ends early, Mitrione’s hand is likely going to be raised. If it goes the distance, it is Kongo who will triumph due to some crucial takedowns in rounds two and three on a tired Mitrione. I’ve had a change of heart since my pick on the podcast…

Official Prediction: Matt Mitrione to defeat Cheick Kongo by TKO Round 1