Locked in the Guillotine MMA News Report 12.28.12 The Year End Edition
Hello one and all, I hope you had a very happy and safe Christmas. I for one enjoyed myself quite a bit and hope everyone else had at least as good a time as I did. It also seems the world didn’t end, which is either a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. One the plus side of that particular equation, you get more columns from me. Well, I suppose that could be a negative, but I’m looking at it as a positive. The UFC has decided to go out with a bang this year, because before the New Year kicks off we’ve got a really awesome fight card in the form of UFC 155. Plus there’s some fun news that came out, including a bit of insanity(?) from Jose Aldo. So for the last time in 2012 you’re Locked in the Guillotine, with many more to come next year.
Daley out: Paul Daley was set to fight in this seasons welterweight tournament for Bellator, and had to be looked at as a favorite to make it to the title shot. He wouldn’t win, because he’s British and doesn’t train wrestling and wrestling is all that Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren does, but seeing him knock a few guys out along the way would have been fun. Unfortunately for Bellator, that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. Daley was charged with assault in connection with a bar brawl in the UK this week, and as such cannot enter the United States. There will be more information available by April of next year as to if Daley will receive the necessary Visa’s to enter the U.S and in the mean time he plans to take some fights in Britain and stay in shape. While he’s out of the January tournament he remains a decent name with an exciting highlight reel to his credit and you have to believe Bellator will try to get him stateside at some point.
Cormier still wants Mir: Strikeforce heavyweight fighter Daniel Cormier told BJ Penn that he believes he has unfinished business with former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir. Mir was set to go to Strikeforce for their final show and fight Cormier because there aren’t any other heavyweights in Strikeforce that Cormier hasn’t already beaten convincingly. Mir was injured, and now Cormier faces a can by the name of Dion Staring. Should Cormier win, and he should, he has said he’d still like to fight Frank Mir in his first UFC fight. I think that’s a good idea, because I actually wanted to see Mir and Cormier fight. Mir is a great measuring stick for the upper level fighters at heavyweight, and if Cormier struggled with Mir it would show where his weaknesses were and where he needed to improve. I’d still like to see the two of them square off.
Jose Aldo wants three belts: UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo said this week that he feels he can compete at a high level at both 135lbs and 155lbs in addition to being hands down the best featherweight in the world. He mentioned his goal is to hold all three belts. Well, you can’t blame the guy for aiming high. Assuming Aldo can make 135, I’m not entirely sure he can but then again I don’t train with the guy, his quest for gold there would be fast. Bantamweight isn’t exactly stacked with talent, and if Dominick Cruz returns and defeats current interim champion Renan Barao, or Michael McDonald who takes on Barao for the interim belt next year, then Aldo could easily get a title shot on name value alone. Lightweight is a slightly different story, not that Aldo couldn’t be successful there but he couldn’t instantly get a shot. Lightweight is a very competitive division, and while Aldo could easily find success fighting there, he’d have to win at least one fight before getting a title shot in all likelihood. Hey, if anyone can get three different belts at the same time it is Jose Aldo, the man is just that talented. Plus that would be a great narrative for the UFC to tell, Aldo just has to get by Frankie Edgar first and foremost. I’m certainly leaning towards Aldo in that fight though.
I’m not going to lie, I’m excited for this card. Mostly the top two fights. That isn’t to say the rest of the card isn’t good, because it is, but I’m pumped for the final two fights of the night. But, as always, I like to start at the bottom and work my way up so let’s take a look at what’s going down this Saturday and what I think will happen.
Chris Leben vs. Derek Brunson: Can you say designated win? Quite frankly I think the UFC has an unhealthy fixation with the guys who were on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, including Chris Leben. Leben has had his share of ups and downs in his career, and quite frankly in his life as well. This is Leben’s return after a year long suspension stemming from abusing pain killers and having them in his system when he fought and lost to Mark Munoz last year. This fight is designed for Leben to win. Derek Brunson has lost his last two fights, a split decision loss to Kendall Grove of all people and a 41 second KO loss to Jacare Souza. Brunson’s bread and butter is wrestling, but Chris Leben has shown, at least when he isn’t doped out of his mind, that he’s difficult to take down. Expect Leben to stop Brunson in the first round, and hope that he doesn’t test positive for anything after the fact.
Yushin Okami vs. Alan Belcher: This is going to be a very telling fight for both guys. Yushin Okami hasn’t had the best string of performances as of late, he never really showed up against Anderson Silva, got finished by Tim Boetsch in the third round after winning the first two rounds handily, and only just got back on the winning track by beating Buddy Roberts. Alan Belcher isn’t Buddy Roberts. Alan Belcher has been talking a lot about wanting to fight Anderson Silva, and this is his chance to really make a case for that fight. Belcher just finished Rousimar Palhares on the ground with strikes after rolling with him on the ground. The guy has been very serious about improving and getting a title shot. At this point I have a really hard time picking against Belcher here. His striking is more diverse, he’s dedicated himself to improving his grappling, and he really does want a fight with Anderson Silva. I think Belcher finishes this fight, probably in the second or third.
Time Boetsch vs. Costa Philippou: The injury bug really hurt this fight. This was initially supposed to be Boetsch taking on top ranked Chris Weidman. This fight does have some intrigue though, because Costa has proven himself a good fighter and if he wants to take a step up he’s got to have an impressive performance against Boetsch here. Costa’s takedown defense has looked good his last two fights, but with all respect to Court McGee and Riki Fukuda, they aren’t Tim Boetsch. For Costa to win he’s got to keep the fight standing and use his boxing skills to hurt Boetsch. I just don’t think Costa is ready for a guy on the level of Tim Boetsch. Boetsch will control this fight from start to finish and get a decision.
Jim Miller vs. Joe Lauzon: The worst nick name in MMA is back. It used to be a toss up between Kenny Florian and Joe Lauzon, but with Florian retired “J-Lau” is hands down the single worst nick name in MMA. That said, it will take something special to top this as Fight of the Night. Jim Miller and Joe Lauzon are two of the most exciting fighters in the lightweight division, if not the entire UFC. In fact, if this fight does indeed take Fight of the Night honors then Joe Lauzon will tie Anderson Silva with twelve post fight bonuses, and that’s assuming he doesn’t also score a knockout or submission of the night. As for this fight, I’m psyched for it. Both guys come to fight, both guys look to finish, and both guys want to make a statement. Jim Miller has been close to a lightweight title shot on more than one occasion only to have his momentum derailed. Lauzon has never been close to a title shot, but has never had a boring fight. Both men are submission experts, both men are good in scrambles, but I can’t see a reason to really pick Lauzon here. Miller went to the mat with Charles Oliveira, a much more dynamic submission artist than Lauzon, and submitted him with knee bar. Miller holds two important edges in this fight, wrestling and cardio. Lauzon has a history of fading after the first half of the first round, a problem Miller doesn’t have. Miller also has better wrestling, both offensively and defensively. I think Lauzon will look good for the first three minutes or so, then in the second when he fades Miller will come on strong and finish him. Either way this should be a killer fight.
Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos: When this fight was announced I was both excited, and a little upset. Upset because this fight could very well end Cain Velasquez’s title dreams in the UFC, excited because these are hands down the two best heavyweights in MMA right now and we get to see them fight again. A title fight, at heavyweight, featuring two guys who I love to watch? Oh you had better believe that for the last column of the year we’re Going Deeper!
Cain Velasquez is one of the best, most well rounded heavyweight fighters in the sport. He has relied predominantly on his wrestling to be successful, that and his incredible pace. Cain has the highest average strikes per minute thrown in the UFC. Not just the heavyweight division, in the entire UFC. The guy is relentless, and he never gets tired. On the ground, if Cain is on top you’re in for a barrage of strikes. Cain’s control isn’t the best, but his volume of strikes, and the fact that he has no problems transitioning back into a takedown if you try and get up let him get away with it. His instincts are also very good, prior to his first fight with JDS the only time he’d faced any kind of adversity in the UFC was against Cheick Kongo. Even then, each time he was tagged with a strike he immediately transitioned into a takedown and put the Frenchman on his back. While Velasquez certainly improved after that fight, his striking defense remains a bit of a question mark, and against a guy with the striking power and technique of Junior dos Santos that’s the last place you want to be deficient. Cain’s best weapon isn’t his wrestling, it’s his pacing. The guy comes forward, forces you to work, and never gets tired. He wins because guys wilt under the constant pressure. In fact, you can attribute most of his UFC wins to that fact. Ben Rothwell wilted under the barrage of punches and the pace of Velasquez, Brock Lesnar succumbed to the sheer volume of accurate strikes Cain threw at him, and Bigfoot Silva was completely stifled and shut down by the former champion. Cain excels at using his superior conditioning as a weapon, forcing you to work, to fight, to constantly expend energy until you can’t fight back anymore. At heavyweight, that kind of a weapon is doubly effective due to the generally poor conditioning of guys who weigh in excess of two hundred and twenty pounds. Cain’s wrestling is very good, his transitions from double to single, his use of the cage to help secure his takedowns, his striking and grappling in the clinch, in fact in terms of all around skill Cain might be one of the most well rounded fighters in the UFC. Not just the heavyweight division, but the entire UFC. In fact Cain has never even lost a round outside of the one blemish on his professional record, that being his loss to Junior dos Santos. Outside of that one big overhand right and the follow up strikes on the ground, Cain Velasquez has looked like the Terminator. For Cain to win this fight he needs to push the pace, he needs to get the champion against the fence and wear him down. If Cain can get the champion into the later rounds, get him on his back, and dish out the high volume of strikes that Cain is known for, he can certainly win this fight.
Of course that is easier said than done. Standing across from Cain will be a man on an absolute tear. The UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos is currently riding the longest winning streak in UFC heavyweight history. With one more successful title defense he will have tied the record for most successful consecutive defenses in UFC history. Crazy to think that no one has defended the title more than twice successfully, but there it is. Junior has gone the distance just twice in his UFC tenure, both times against men known for their incredible ability to take punishment, and both times he clearly won the decision. Much like Cain Velasquez, Junior dos Santos has never looked to be in danger. He’s never been put in a bad position either standing or on the mat, he’s never even looked rattled in the cage. Junior’s biggest weapon has always been his boxing. From his UFC debut when he landed an absolutely devastating uppercut on Fabricio Werdum to his picking apart of Frank Mir, Junior has lived and died on his punching power and his ability to land those punches cleanly while avoiding trouble. What gets overlooked with JDS many times is how he sets up those punches. He’s not averse to throwing punches to the body, in fact early in fights he frequently throws jabs to the body to help establish distance and set up strikes to the head. Junior’s technical abilities tend to get less discussion than they should because of his striking power, but the man knows how to land punches. In his fight with Shane Carwin he constantly landed a fast and accurate jab that kept Carwin off balance and set up his other punches. The other big advantage Junior has over other punchers in the UFC is his variety of strikes. Too many strikers in MMA in general look for one blow. Paul Daley is all about the left hook, Chuck Liddell threw the overhand right, Mirko “Cro Cop” threw the meanest left high kick in the world, even guys who aren’t great strikers tend to throw just a one two combination or a hook aimed at the head. Junior dos Santos has big power with either hand, and in more than one strike. His ear wiggling uppercut to Fabricio Werdum was with his right hand. He stopped by Gilbert Yvel and Gabriel Gonzaga with well timed left hooks, and Cain Velasquez was felled with a big overhand right. That kind of diversity is a huge advantage. If there was a knock on Junior, it has been his conditioning. After his three round beating of Roy Nelson he was visibly tired, and that raised a flag. It seemed to serve as a wake up call to the champion as well, because he was much less tired, and more measured in his output of strikes in his three round fight with Shane Carwin. Junior also has really good hips. Not only is he good at avoiding takedowns, he’s very good at getting back to his feet. Against Shane Carwin he stuffed a few takedown attempts, and the one time Carwin got him down Junior was back up to his feet seconds later and absorbed no damage. Of course Cain Velasquez brings a more relentless attack and a more damage based grappling style than Carwin.
So, what is going to happen? For Cain Velasquez to win and regain the heavyweight title he will need to force the champion to work. He cannot wait for Junior to get comfortable or pick his spots, he needs to close the distance, get Junior’s back against the fence and wear him out with a relentless attack of punches, knees, and takedown attempts. Cain doesn’t have one punch power, he overwhelms his opponents. He has to keep Junior on the back foot, keep the champion off balance, drag the fight into the later rounds and force the stoppage. Unfortunately that is much easier said than done. Junior dos Santos has very good footwork, and very good cage awareness. He rarely backs straight up, he circles, he keeps his feet in a position to defend the takedown if necessary, and he looks to counter attack. For the champion he needs the fight to stay standing, and in the middle of the octagon. The clinch is something of a mystery in many ways, Cain excels at getting takedowns from the clinch and his volume striking style benefits from the close quarters, but if his fight with Cro Cop was any indication than Junior can be a dangerous clinch fighter as well. The key to the clinch in this fight is where it takes place. If it’s against the fence I have to believe Cain has the advantage as long as his back isn’t against the cage. In the middle of the octagon I think Junior has an advantage, with room to sprawl if Cain shoots he can land hard short punches that could hurt the challenger. Picking a winner here is very difficult, because both men are the very best the heavyweight division has to offer, and both are quite capable of beating the other. Unfortunately for Cain Velasquez, I don’t think his striking defense is good enough to last two to three rounds without getting clipped by dos Santos. Junior’s ability to land strikes, to maintain the distance, and the power he has just provide too many opportunities for him to win. Cain Velasquez has much less room for error than Junior dos Santos does, and with Juniors power it only takes one blow to change the entire look of the fight. It wouldn’t shock me at all to see Cain regain the title, because he is an incredibly gifted fighter, but I have no reason to pick against the champion in this one. Junior dos Santos could well supplant Fedor Emelianenko as the greatest heavyweight of all time.
Well, I don’t know about you guys but that was tiring. I was planning on adding my predictions for the new year here, but after all that I’ll save it for next week. So tune in then to see my bold predictions for 2013 as it pertains to the world of MMA. For this week, I’d like to hear yours. I know my fellow writers, and I know I really should have gotten my picks in for the big collaboration that Larry does every year, but I’m lazy and hadn’t thought about it. I apologize to all those who are missing out because of that. But they will be up here next week, and I would really like to hear what you guys think. So your predictions, and your thoughts on the fights tomorrow. Really I just like hearing from you guys. For the last time in 2012 you’ve all escaped the Guillotine, and I’ll see you next year.