In a year where some of the UFC’s top fighters have been continuously plagued by injuries, getting the chance to watch one of the most exciting talents in the world for the fourth time in 2011 comes as an early Christmas present. Jon Jones may just have been the year’s most pleasant surprise. It is not that he has exceeded expectations — as his potential was never in doubt — but the timing of his rise has caught everyone, including Jones himself, off guard. After all, it was only ten months ago when Jones was merely helping his then training partner and current bitter rival, Rashad Evans, prepare for his scheduled title bout against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. However, an injury sustained by Evans in training changed the light heavyweight division’s entire landscape, and the rest, as they say, is history. But before Jones steps inside the cage for arguably the toughest test of his career, MMA legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira will bid to avenge his 2008 loss to Frank Mir in the evening’s co-main event. Nogueira’s brother, Rogerio, faces a must-win situation in his bout with a resurgent Tito Ortiz, while former featherweight top contender Mark Hominick faces Chan Sung Jung in what can only be described as sure-fire violence.
* Mitch Clarke to defeat John Cholish by Decision
* Rich Attonito to defeat Jake Hecht by Decision
* Mark Bocek to defeat Nik Lentz by Submission in Round 2
* Yves Jabouin to defeat Walel Watson by Decision
* John Makdessi to defeat Dennis Hallman by TKO in Round 3
* Jared Hamman to defeat Constantinos Philippou by Decision
* Krzysztof Soszynski to defeat Igor Pokrajac by Decision
Featherweight Fight: Mark Hominick vs. Chan Sung Jung
Following his stunning submission victory over Leonard Garcia, “The Korean Zombie” faces what could well be the toughest fight of his career.
Hominick is the better and more technical kickboxer, and he will be the superior fighter on the inside. In particular, Hominick’s body shots — his left hook to the body to be exact — are absolutely devastating. He seldom gets predictable with those body shots, as he will mostly use them to finish off combinations. Moreover, Hominick possesses serious fire power with his right cross and lead left hook. Jung’s habit of getting sloppy could come back to bite him here, as it has always made him hittable, and with someone as proficient on the inside as Hominick, he could pay a big price. Conversely, Hominick himself is guilty of standing inside the pocket a fraction too long. More worryingly, he tends to stand right in front of his opponents with little movement. This got him in trouble against Jose Aldo last April, and Jung possesses the power to punish him for it as well. To Hominick’s credit, he possesses a very solid chin, but he should nevertheless not attempt to tempt fate.
Despite not being especially known for his leg kicks, Jung would be wise to use them liberally in this bout, as Hominick’s flat-footed stance and his allergy towards checking kicks is well documented. The Canadian’s takedown defense is equally shaky, but despite his underrated ground game, Jung lacks the offensive wrestling to consistently put him on his back. Despite showing a more composed and technical approach in his bout with Garcia, this remains a tough match-up for Jung, who is coming up against a superior striker who can take advantage of his defensive deficiencies and punish him with counters.
Official Prediction: Mark Hominick to defeat Chan Sung Jung by TKO in Round 3
Welterweight Fight: Brian Ebersole vs. Claude Patrick
Patrick is replacing Rory MacDonald on relatively short notice, and the result is a much less interesting fight. Nevertheless, this is quite the opportunity for the Canadian in his home country, in what is certainly a winnable fight. Patrick is a versatile wrestler who can both change levels and rip double legs, as well as rough opponents in the clinch and get trip takedowns from there. This will be his obvious path to victory, as Ebersole’s takedown defense is nothing to write home about, and while he is good at scrambling and escaping, he doesn’t pose much of a submission threat from the bottom.
Patrick’s stand-up however, is a little raw, and Ebersole will be the better striker of the two. While somewhat wild, Ebersole’s striking is deceptively versatile, especially in close-quarters, as he can rough opponents up with knees and elbows from the clinch. Furthermore, should Ebersole get on top in a scramble, he possesses some very good ground and pound. He is very active from the top, will often look to stand up from the guard and reign down some heavy leather, and has some brutal elbows to boot.
Patrick’s cardio is a little iffy, and that could well be the deciding factor in this fight. After a bright opening round for the Canadian, his cardio will likely fail him, and Ebersole will take over on his way to a decision win.
Official Prediction: Brian Ebersole to defeat Claude Patrick by Decision
Light Heavyweight Fight: Tito Ortiz vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
As always with any Ortiz fight, his chances depend on whether he can plant his opponent on his back; the Ryan Bader fight notwithstanding. Nogueira’s takedown defense has historically been not up to par, and he has been out-wrestled in his past three fights. However, to his credit, that aspect of his game has gotten increasingly better and the improvement could be seen from fight to fight. While it looked horrific against Jason Brilz (as was his entire performance), his takedown defense held up in patches against Bader and he completely shut down Phil Davis’ double-leg attempts in the first round of their encounter. It wasn’t until Davis closed the distance and started going for single legs that he was successful in putting the Brazilian on his back. In fact, single legs have long been Nogueira’s Achilles Heel, as he often looks hapless defending them and instead opts for fruitless guillotine attempts.
Single legs aren’t especially Ortiz’s bread and butter, as he is almost exclusively reliant on his — admittedly great – double leg takedown. Even at this stage in his career, Ortiz was still able to put Evan on his back with a double leg in their August encounter. One of the key aspects in Ortiz’s power double is his ability to cover great distance when shooting in with very little set-up. The good news for Ortiz is that if he gets Nogueira down, as tricky as the Brazilian’s guard is, Tito will be more than happy not to pass it, as his entire game is designed around landing elbows from full guard. Conversely, while not nearly as dangerous as his brother off of his back, Nogueira still possesses some dangerous half guard sweeps, and if he manages to secure one and get on top, he won’t find it too hard to pass Ortiz’s guard and work from there.
If Nogueira’s cardio is in check, the fight is his for the taking, as Ortiz’s cardio hasn’t held up in ages, and there is little to suggest it will now. Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan will assuredly be surprised when Ortiz inevitably slows down midway into the second round, but the fact is, this has happened in pretty much every Ortiz fight since 2006. Should that be the case once again, Nogueira will have little trouble stuffing Ortiz’s takedowns and pick him apart with his superior boxing. While hittable and has some less than stellar footwork, Nogueira can put some crisp combinations together that will likely prove too much for Ortiz to handle.
Official Prediction: Antonio Rogerio Nogueira to defeat Tito Ortiz by Decision
Heavyweight Fight: Frank Mir vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
While Nogueira will almost inevitably show up in better shape this time around, the nature of the match-up hasn’t changed all that much. Despite a fantastic win over Brendan Schaub last summer, Nogueira’s defensive striking, footwork and head movement continued to leave something to be desired, and this has been the story of his career. In his prime, he was able to compensate with an otherworldly chin and crisp offensive boxing. Nowadays, while his ability to put combinations together has persisted, he is a slower version of the man who once was the world’s top heavyweight.
Mir will be the faster striker, and will probably have a little more power in his punches as well. While his performances have been inconsistent, he is the more versatile fighter on the feet. He will be more light-footed, and will use his footwork to try to stay clear of Nogueira’s right cross. That will be crucial for Mir, as that particular punch is the perfect antidote for a southpaw, and Mir has never been one to take a punch all that well. Mir will look to throw the same combination that led him to victory the first time around; the straight-uppercut-straight. Nogueira’s habit of tucking his head down makes him especially vulnerable to that combo, and the Brazilian needs to learn from his mistakes if he is to make amends for his 2008 loss.
Mir’s takedown defense isn’t bulletproof, but it should be enough to hold off Nogueira. “Minotauro” doesn’t possess much of a shot from the outside, and instead relies on securing the clinch, get double underhooks, and trip his opponent to the ground. This is where the outcome of this fight could be decided, as Mir has been dominated in the clinch in the past, but he’s also had some success, such as in his last fight against Roy Nelson. If he can create a little bit of space and punish Big Nog with knees, he will be safe. However, if he gets pushed around against the fence and allows Nogueira to dirty box and potentially put him on his back, he will be in trouble.
Despite Mir’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu proficiency, there isn’t a heavyweight in the world that Nogueira can’t out-class on the ground. If Mir tires and Nogueira manages to drag the fight into its latter stages, he could well put him on the ground and dominate from there. Nogueira’s guard passing is ridiculously effortless, and his submission arsenal is as good as it gets. If things get too desperate, he could well pull guard and look to sweep, as he possesses some of the best open guard work the sport has ever seen.
While the fight will probably be more competitive than their initial encounter, and Big Nog certainly has a chance if he connects with a combination or takes Mir down, the fact is, he isn’t getting any younger or faster, and he will likely come off second best against his rival once again.
Official Prediction: Frank Mir to defeat Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira by TKO in Round 2
Check back in later today for my breakdown of the main event between Jones and Machida!
PHOTO CREDIT – UFC