Everything is bigger in Texas.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is heading down to Houston this Saturday night (Oct. 8, 2011) with two title fights and plenty of other bouts with title implications at stake that should keep the good ole' local boys happy.
UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar will look to finally avenge the only loss of his career against the power of Gray Maynard, while Jose Aldo will try to remind the world the reason he is the number three-ranked pound-for-pound fighter alive at the expense of Kenny Florian.
But, before we see all that, we've got a bevy of "Prelims" fights to get our blood pumping. As is standard procedure, two fights will be broadcast on Spike TV and the remainder on the UFC's Facebook page.
Follow me after the jump as we dissect the latter (Facebook) portion of the card:
265 lbs.: Joey Beltran vs. Stipe Miocic
Beefy brawler Joey Beltran (13-5) first announced his presence in the promotion’s heavyweight division with a surprising upset of Rolles Gracie back in his Octagon debut at UFC 109. While he looked to be working his way up the ranks with a decision over Tim Hague, a pair of hard-fought losses to Matt Mitrione and Pat Barry brought his ascent to a standstill. With his back against the wall, however, "Mexicutioner" soundly dominated and finished the debuting Aaron Rosa at UFC 131.
Miocic (6-0), surprisingly enough, is a former NCAA Division I wrestler, but his striking has been the story of his brief career. Miocic has finished all six of his foes via strikes, all of them in the first two rounds. Sporting the red-and-white checkerboard shorts emblematic of his native land, the Croatian prospect will look to succeed where his head-smashing fellow countryman, Mirko Cro Cop failed:
In the deadly UFC heavyweight division.
Beltran has consistently impressed with his resiliency. The leg kicks he absorbed from Pat Barry looked like they would have shut down everything below the average man’s waist. What I still haven’t seen, however, is any improvement in technique. He landed well against a tentative Barry and a hideously-overweight Rosa, but he seems content with just being a brawler. Miocic hasn’t faced competition anywhere near as stiff, but he’s shown good hands and, unlike Beltran, has a solid wrestling game to turn to if things go south.
Miocic will be just too technical for Beltran. I don’t expect a classic left high kick, but I expect a decently-entertaining scrap with Miocic sharpshooting from the outside and snapping up takedowns to break up the flow. Beltran makes for great fights, but I’m not convinced he’s a great fighter.
Prediction: Miocic via decision
145 lbs.: Tiequan Zhang vs. Darren Elkins
Zhang (15-1), the first-ever Chinese Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, signed with World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) in summer 2010, defeating Pablo Garza via guillotine in his debut. Unfortunately for the "Mongolian Wolf," a dominant first round against Danny Downes at WEC 53 was compromised by cardio issues, resulting in a unanimous decision loss. He got back on track at UFC 127, submitting Jason Reinhardt in less than 50 seconds in his featherweight debut. With no decisions among his 15 wins, Zhang will be out to prove that impressive record is due to more than just lack of competition.
Elkins (12-2), who made his featherweight debut at UFC 131, has had one of the more interesting UFC careers. After accidentally breaking Duane Ludwig’s ankle during a takedown attempt and then getting armbarred by Charles Oliveira in less than a minute, Elkins was matched up with top 10-ranked contender at the time, Michihiro Omigawa, and walked away with an incredibly questionable decision. Elkins owns a win over Pat Curran and, despite his wrestling background, has only three decisions to his name. With questions surrounding all three of his Zuffa efforts, Elkins will need a win Saturday to prove he’s a legitimate UFC-caliber fighter.
Let it be known that I am still incredibly steamed about the Omigawa decision, but I think he beats Zhang without controversy. Zhang has got a phenomenal submission game and will certainly be a handful in the early going, but before his fight with Downes, he had never even seen the third round, and his gas tank was depleted halfway through the Downes match.
Elkins has been mediocre in the UFC and I wouldn’t be surprised if Zhang catches him in that gnarly guillotine of his, but Elkins still looked fresh after three rounds of Omigawa playing pattycake with his face. Zhang has a chance if he can suck Elkins into his guard early, but Elkins should have the wrestling to sprawl-and-brawl his way past a tiring Zhang to a unanimous decision.
Prediction: Elkins via decision
185 lbs.: Aaron Simpson vs. Eric Schafer
A former assistant wrestling coach at Arizona State University, Simpson (10-2) made one heck of an impression in his first two fights for Zuffa, knocking out David Avellan and Tim McKenzie in less than two minutes combined. Unfortunately, an angry, red-headed roadblock named Chris Leben derailed his "A-Train" with a nasty left hand, and an impressive effort against Mark Munoz also resulted in defeat. Now, with two wins in a row over Mario Miranda and Brad Tavares, Simpson will look to re-establish himself as a contender and prove he’s still the killer we thought he was in the WEC.
Schafer (12-5-2), stepping in for the injured Nick Catone, will make his eighth UFC appearance on Saturday. Though he fought at light heavyweight for a long time, "Red" decided to cut down to middleweight after consecutive losses to Ryan Bader and Jason Brilz. With a triangle victory in the books from just last month, a win over Simpson on short notice would definitely get him on Dana White’s good side.
It disappoints me that Simpson hasn’t shown the huge power he demonstrated early in his career on the big stage. He’s fast and crisp on his feet, but expecting a knockout nowadays just seems like a pipedream. In any case, he’s still got great wrestling, even if it’s not up to snuff with his excellent pedigree, and he’s got the cardio to maintain a grinding pace all night. Schafer has struggled with heavy punchers in the past (and even not-so-heavy hitters like Michael Bisping), and both of his last two losses were to powerful wrestlers.
It’s on short notice, only Schafer’s second fight at this weight, and it’s against a legitimate contender. I expect Simpson to grind Schafer down against the fence and possibly drop him once or twice en route to a comfortable 30-27.
Prediction: Simpson via decision
The former WEC light heavyweight champion and the first man to not only go past one round with Brian Stann, but defeat him, injuries kept Cantwell (7-4) out of the game for the entirety of 2010. And the precision uppercuts and knees of Cyrille Diabate spoiled his return to the eight-walled cage. Presently on a three-fight losing streak, "The Robot" will need an impressive victory in his middleweight debut if he wants to remain a Zuffa employee.
Massenzio (12-5), originally cut from the UFC after two straight losses, made his way back to the UFC by agreeing to face Krzysztof Soszynski on short notice at 205 pounds. While he was predictably dominated by his foe’s massive size advantage, he showed excellent resilience and earned himself a fifth fight with the promotion. Winless in his last three UFC efforts, Massenzio bought a lot of good will by fighting Soszynski, but a win is most certainly necessary for his continued employment, too.
This is an eliminator match: Neither fighter has given White any reason to expect consistent success. Each man has a single win in the UFC over somebody no longer with the promotion. Cantwell looked like garbage against Diabate, offering no resistance whatsoever to the lanky Frenchman’s striking attack. On the other side, however, he did manage to defeat Brian Stann via technical knockout, which is honestly more than Massenzio has ever done. Further, all three of Cantwell’s recent losses have been to superior strikers, which Massenzio most certainly isn’t. Expect a slow-paced morass of stuffed takedowns and potshots from the outside for Cantwell, ending with his hand raised.
Prediction: Cantwell via decision
See you then!
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE blow-by-blow, round-by-round coverage of UFC 136, beginning with the pay-per-view telecast at 9 p.m. ET on Oct. 8, 2011. In addition, we will deliver up-to-the-minute quick results of all the under card action from the Facebook online stream and Spike TV telecast much earlier on fight night.