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UFC 138 Breakdown: The Main Card

While it might be no more than an underwhelming overseas card vastly overshadowed by the following week’s mega title fight between Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos, UFC 138 still features a main event with direct title implications. In a relatively shallow middleweight division, Chris Leben and Mark Munoz find themselves within touching distance of an improbable title shot. A win could very well propel the victor into a title eliminator scenario, making a shot at the middleweight title in late 2012 not unlikely. Also bidding to make the most out of a main card spot are the likes of Brad Pickett, Renan Barao, local hope Terry Etim, and former welterweight number one contender Thiago Alves.

Preliminary Predictions

* Chris Carisio to defeat Vaughan Lee by Decision
* Chris Cope to defeat Che Mills by TKO in Round 2
* Rob Broughton to defeat Philip De Fries by Decision
* Michihiro Omigawa to defeat Jason Young by Decision
* Justin Edwards to defeat John Maguire by Decision

Light Heavyweight Fight: Cyrille Diabate vs. Anthony Perosh

Diabate’s UFC run in a challenging light heavyweight division has been surprisingly successful thus far. A loss to rising prospect Alexander Gustafsson can be easily forgiven due to two impressive performances against Luiz Cane and Steve Cantwell. Diabate’s diverse striking will likely prove too advanced for his opponent. Perosh’s flat-footed stance and iffy footwork will make him vulnerable to the Frenchman’s arsenal of kicks. Diabate will throw plenty of leg kicks as well as body kicks, and unless Perosh times a takedown correctly, he will be a sitting duck. Moreover, Diabate possesses some good boxing skills as well, and he will continuously put together three-punch combinations and look to finish things off with a body kick or a knee from close-quarters. The left uppercut is something Perosh needs avoid running into, especially when looking to close the distance and look for the takedown.

Diabate’s lanky frame and resulting reach advantage will prove problematic, as it will allow him to control range and land kicks from distance without his opponent having any opportunity to close in on him. Perosh is a competent grappler, but his wrestling isn’t dynamic enough to consistently take Diabate down. He tends to rush his takedown attempts, and his double leg is often guilty off coming from outside the proper range. Accordingly, it will be difficult for “The Hippo” to repeatedly put Diabate on his back. To his credit, the Aussie possesses some solid guard passing and very decent back-control. However, Diabate’s improvements in his takedown defense and overall grappling will allow him to stay out of trouble, pick his opponent apart, and potentially polish him off in impressive fashion.

Official Prediction: Cyrille Diabate to defeat Anthony Perosh by TKO in the Round 2

Lightweight Fight: Terry Etim vs. Eddie Faaloloto

British prospect Terry Etim returns from an extended layoff to take on Eddie Faaloloto in what can only be described as a fight made to get him back on track. Faaloloto has looked less than impressive in his two Zuffa outings, falling victim to Anthony Njokuani in the WEC and Michael Johnson back in June.

For such a dynamic striker, it is Etim’s grappling that is most impressive. He is not the most competent wrestler, but his submission arsenal, both from the top and the bottom, is extremely impressive. Etim’s front head lock work is particularly noteworthy, as he uses it to get the upper hand in scrambles and transition into guillotines, D’Arce chokes or any other variation. If Etim has worked on his offensive wrestling during his long layoff, he might be better served to take the fight to the ground and make the most of the grappling advantage that he possesses.

Conversely, Faaloloto could very well look to take his opponent down and secure top position. However, Faaloloto lacks the ability to set his double leg up with his striking, and when that particular shot fails, he will look to clinch up. In fact, the American’s clinch work is quite effective, as he looks to throw plenty of knees to the thighs and body, and will occasionally switch things up by getting the muay Thai clinch and going into full head hunting mode.

On the feet, Faaloloto is surprisingly capable, and possesses some truly nasty leg kicks. Etim’s long legs will make them a target for the Hawaiian, who will undoubtedly look to capitalize. As such, Etim needs to be on his toes, move constantly, and utilize his solid jab to set the tempo of the fight. Etim will also look to stay long and throw plenty of body kicks in an effort to set up a high kick, but he needs to get rid of his habit of looking for the clinch, especially since Faaloloto could very well have the advantage there.

Fighters coming off long injury breaks seldom impress in their return fights, but as long as Etim’s cardio is in check, he should recover from a potentially slow start to right the ship with a late finish.

Official Prediction: Terry Etim to defeat Eddie Faaloloto by TKO in Round 3

Welterweight Fight: Thiago Alves vs. Papy Abedi

If Thiago Alves is ever going to recapture the form that saw him earn a shot at the welterweight title, he can’t afford any more hiccups. Abedi is a talented Judoka with very good overall grappling skills and some surprisingly solid striking. His most efficient work comes from close-quarters, and he is sneakily good at closing the distance and initiating the clinch.

Alves has fallen prey to such approaches against both Jon Fitch and Rick Story recently, and his habit of backpedaling when pressed instead of circling away could cost him yet another fight here. It will be vital for the American Top Team product to cut off the cage and stop Abedi in his tracks with trademark leg kicks. Alves seemed hesitant to use them as off late, likely in fear of getting taken down. However, Abedi is not someone who will time a kick, switch levels, and plant Alves on his back with a double leg. Instead, he will look to close the distance and clinch up, making him vulnerable to Alves’ bread-and-butter outside leg kicks. Additionally, Alves possesses a nasty counter left-hook and an equally dangerous right cross. His knees from the clinch are something Abedi will need to look out for as well.

Alves actually possesses some very good takedown defense. Even in his loss to Story, Alves was never really taken down and controlled for any significant period of time. Rather, it was his inability to circle away that forced him to get stuck against the fence for the majority of the bout. His base is extremely solid, and Abedi will have a hard time throwing him around. More importantly, Alves is an expert at using the cage to wall walk and regain his feet. Even in his losing effort to Georges St-Pierre, Alves was consistently able to scramble up and regain his vertical base.

While he may not exactly return to vintage form, Alves should be able to come off on top in this one, and at the very least, get a dominant decision victory.

Official Prediction: Thiago Alves to defeat Papy Abedi by Decision

Bantamweight Fight: Brad Pickett vs. Renan Barao

Brad Pickett finally makes his UFC debut after spending over ten months on the sidelines. Welcoming him inside the Octagon is dangerous Brazilian grappler Renan Berao.

Berao is very single-minded in his approach: He will move forward, throw a lot of one-two’s, land an occasional leg kick, and aggressively look for the takedown. The fact that he lacks a good shot from the outside forces him to be even more determined — and at times desperate — in his attempt to close the distance, as most of his takedowns come from the clinch. Once in that position, Berao will work for the double underhooks and look to get a trip takedown. Therefore, Pickett will be smart to avoid tangling up in the clinch for any extended period of time, keep his distance, and fire off jabs from the outside.

Pickett keeps it simple with his stand-up: jabs, left hooks, and inside leg kicks. Where he is surprisingly good however, is in the wrestling department. And given that his opponent’s grappling is very top-position based, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the Englishman to plant his foe on his back. However, he will need to be extremely cautious in the scrambles, as Berao feeds on those opportunities, and is quite the expert at getting dominant positions off of them. If Pickett gets his back taken in a scramble, he will find himself in all sorts of trouble as Berao gets the body triangle and looks to sink in the rear-naked choke.

Should Berao get on top in more conventional means, he is unlikely to be too active with any kind of ground-and-pound. That is undoubtedly the most frustrating aspect of his game, as if he fails to pass his opponent’s guard, he tends to do a whole lot of nothing. However, frustrating as it may be, it is often enough to win a fight, and Pickett needs to avoid getting stuck on the bottom for too long.

If the layoff doesn’t prove to be too problematic, I expect Pickett’s superior striking and much underrated wrestling to be the difference-maker in this one, provided he is willing to use said wrestling. If not, it will be Berao who takes his opponent down and put another win on his impressive resume.

Official Prediction: Brad Pickett to defeat Renan Berao by Decision

Middleweight Fight: Chris Leben vs. Mark Munoz

Underwhelming as it is, this main event is still a highly relevant fight in its division, with direct title implications as well. The five-round nature of the bout makes things a little harder to predict, but it should — in theory — sway things in Munoz’s favor the deeper the fight goes.

While neither is a cardio machine, Leben has a habit of tiring himself out by engaging in crazy slug-fests. In a twenty-five minute fight, this does not bode too well for him. Conversely, against the very hittable and iffy chinned Munoz, a slug-fest is not the worst idea in the world for Leben, who packs up one of the bigger punches in the division and possesses an iron chin to boot.

Leben’s stand-up may not be as one-dimensional as it looks, as he fires off some body kicks with surprising frequency, but he is still heavily reliant on his monster left hand. To Leben’s credit, he isn’t only efficient when moving forward like a zombie, as his counter left hook is arguably his best punch. It is a punch that Munoz needs to be extremely careful of, as his sloppy punching and lack of head movement will leave him exposed, and against a someone like Leben, one punch is all it takes.

Similarly, Munoz’s striking revolves around a heavy right hand. However, he is even more sloppy and reckless than Leben is with that particular punch, and it will leave openings for counters. As such, Munoz should not take any risks, and try to utilize his wrestling advantage to dominate proceedings.

Munoz’s wrestling has not translated all that well to MMA, and that is mainly due to his inability to transition seamlessly from striking to takedowns. Munoz lacks the ability to use his boxing to set up the shot before switching levels, and this in turn makes his takedowns somewhat telegraphed. However, “The Philippino Wrecking Machine” has some excellent chain wrestling, to where he doesn’t always need to be successful with his initial takedown attempt.

While Leben’s aggressive style makes him prone for takedowns, he possesses decent takedown defense and an underrated ability to get back to his feet. If he gets taken down, it will be crucial for Leben to scramble up, as Munoz’s ground-and-pound is some of the best in all of MMA. That said, as brutal as it is, Munoz’s ground-and-pound is leaves opportunities for his opponent to escape, as Munoz often likes to stand up while inside his opponent’s guard and rain down with some bombs. This will grant Leben the opportunity to push off and get back up.

It is an extremely tough fight to predict, but logic suggests that if it were to end early, Leben will likely come out victorious, while a venture into deep waters favors Munoz. I favor the former to happen.

Official Prediction: Chris Leben to defeat Mark Munoz by TKO in Round 1

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