This Sunday night (June 26, 2011), the Ultimate Fighting Championships returns for UFC on Versus 4. While the main card will have some mouth-watering bouts like Cheick Kongo vs. Pat Barry and Nate Marquardt vs. Rick Story, the undercard is loaded with potential.
The key story coming out of the undercard is the amount of fighters who are dropping weight classes. UFC lightweight standouts like Joe Stevenson and Tyson Griffin will both be making their featherweight debuts while an Ultimate Fighter season 11 middleweight contestant in Rich Attonito will be dropping down to welterweight for the first time.
Even UFC newcomer Ricardo Lamas and UFC returnee are dropping down a weight class just to remain competitive.
There will be many fighters competing for their promotional lives in these eight undercard bouts so expect a lot of action as many a man will have their back firmly against the wall.
Check out our full undercard preview with predictions after the jump.
145 lbs.: Tyson Griffin (14-5) vs. Manvel Gamburyan (11-5)
Tyson Griffin was nearing contender status in the lightweight division before he hit a wall. First it was Evan Dunham completely toying with him for three straight rounds of grappling action. Then it was Takanori Gomi blasting him to kingdom come with a vintage right hand and finally, he ran into the UFC enigma that is Nik Lentz and lost a very close split decision. Griffin routinely gets in fantastic fights and has taken home five "Fight of the Night" bonuses in his career. He'll look to work his improving stand-up and try to outmuscle Gamburyan in his return to the featherweight division after a four and a half year absence.
We last saw Manny Gamburyan fighting Jose Aldo for the WEC featherweight title. "The Anvel" had gone 3-0 since dropping down to the featherweight division which included a decision victory over Leonard Garcia (wow!) and most impressively, a first round knockout of former champion Mike Brown. Gamburyan possesses strong judo, excellent leg locks and improving striking. He decided it would be smart to stand and trade with Jose Aldo and he paid for it dearly, being rendered unconscious just 90 seconds into the second round with an uppercut and some brutal ground and pound.
This fight should primarily be contested on the feet as both young men have become much more accustomed to the stand-up game in their recent fights. Griffin trains out of Xtreme Couture so they're probably working a solid gameplan to help him get back on track just like Gamburyan did when he dropped to the featherweight division following consecutive losses.
Prediction: Tyson Griffin via decision
145 lbs.: Joe Stevenson (31-13) vs. Javier Vazquez (15-5)
Joe Stevenson is another lightweight that was a little bit small for the division and dropped down after three consecutive losses. He had appeared to get his career back on track after switching to Greg Jackson's gym and scoring big wins against Nate Diaz and Spencer Fisher but he was put in his place by George Sotiropoulos, knocked out by Mac Danzig and then outstruck by WEC import Danny Castillo. The former lightweight title challenger still believes he's got enough in the gas tank to compete with the best in the world so he's dropping down.
Javier Vazquez lives up to his "Showtime" nickname with some seriously flashy moves. His rear naked choke victory over Mackens Semerzier was one of 2010's best submissions but then he ran into the freight train that was Chad Mendes. Mendes completely outwrestled and even outstruck the exciting fighter en route to a unanimous decision victory. Vazquez has an iron chin and a ton of heart. If he loses, it's always by decision because he's incredibly difficult to knock out and he would never tap to a submission.
This fight could take place either standing where Stevenson will look to work his boxing or on the ground where Stevenson will try to control Vazquez with his superior wrestling. The only way that Vazquez wins this is if he can catch "Daddy" in something but I don't see it happening.
Prediction: Joe Stevenson via decision
Joe Lauzon is one of the UFC's most exciting lightweights to watch. He's extremely aggressive even to the point of pushing the pedal so hard that he runs out of gas. He's always looking for the finish whether it's from punches or from his excellent jiu-jitsu. After running train on Gabe Ruediger at UFC 118, he was thrown to the wolf that is George Sotiropoulos in his next fight. "J-Lau" put on a show but Sotiropoulos' superior grappling was just too much for him and he got overwhelmed. He'll be looking to get this fight to the ground and submit Warburton from the get-go.
Curt Warburton is bit of an enigma. He got handled by Spencer Fisher in his UFC debut but he outgrappled the Polish striker Maciej Jewtuszko in his "win or go home" fight. When his back is to the wall, Warburton goes to his safety net which is his wrestling. He's got respectable striking capabilities but he'll be looking to put Lauzon on his back and keep him there.
Standing, Lauzon should have the advantage as well as submissions but we've seen a good wrestler overcome both disadvantages to win a fight. I don't think Warburton is a good enough wrestler to pull it off though.
Prediction: Joe Lauzon via submission
170 lbs.: Daniel Roberts (12-2) vs. Rich Attonito (9-4)
Daniel Roberts was on quite a nice run in the UFC before Claude Patrick put a detour in his path. Roberts trains out of Cesar Gracie's camp and he's gleaned some decent striking away from the Diaz brothers but where he truly shines is in his jiu-jitsu. "Ninja" loves to wrap people up and put them away but his weakness thus far has been wrestling.
Wrestling just happens to be Ultimate Fighter season 11 veteran Rich Attonito's bread and butter. He was a standout at Hofstra before deciding to make the transition to MMA and he trains out of American Top Team. After going 2-1 in the middleweight division, he decided to make the drop down a weight class when David Branch was a little too much for him in strength and size. Daniel Roberts is a very similar fighter to David Branch but just a little bit smaller.
Look for Attonito to try to pick Roberts apart with his striking and if he sees an opening, he'll shoot in for the takedown. Attonito has the ability to control where this fight takes place so he'll have the advantage.
Prediction: Rich Attonito via TKO
Charlie Brenneman first made his mark when he won the first season of "Pros vs Joes." He was a strong wrestler at Lock Haven University and got his start in MMA as primarily a self-trained fighter. He eventually joined up with AMA Fight Club which is most notable for housing the brothers Jim Miller and Dan Miller. Since the switch, Brenneman has gone 8-1 in MMA including a stunning upset of Amilcar Alves in his last fight this past January. "The Spaniard" primarily looks to stand up long enough to give an opening to score takedowns.
T.J. Grant has been a gatekeeper of the welterweight division. Basically, if he can defeat you, you're out of the UFC. The Canadian currently holds a 3-3 record in the UFC and has alternated wins and losses ever since making his debut with the promotion at UFC 97. Grant is pretty well-rounded but not particularly great at any aspect. Despite holding 12 submission victories outside the UFC, he's yet to catch anyone yet since joining the big leagues.
Look for Brenneman to control the cage with his wrestling advantage and he might just keep this bout standing if he feels he can hang with Grant. Grant will likely be fighting for his UFC life with this bout but it may not be enough to save him.
Prediction: Charlie Brenneman via decision
155 lbs.: Nik Lentz (21-3-2) vs. Charles Oliveira (14-1)
Nik Lentz seems to thrive on infuriating Dana White. White does not like his style, in fact, his wall-hugging clinch-fest against Andre Winner probably cost the company several pay-per-view buys at UFC 118 on the free Spike TV prelims. Lentz has quietly gone 5-0-1 in the UFC since making his debut in September of 2009. He's got a grinding style where he looks for takedowns relentlessly no matter if it angers the fans or not. Usually, his control and cage dominance are enough to win him fights in the eyes of the judges. Lentz may have been listening to the criticism because in his last fight, he primarily stood and banged with Waylon Lowe and was getting seriously beat up on before coming out with a miracle guillotine choke just two and a half minutes before losing a decision.
Charles Oliveira was a rising star in the promotion that might have bit off a little more than he could chew when they threw him against title contender Jim Miller at UFC 124. Oliveira, just 21 years old, submitted Darren Elkins via triangle choke in just 41 seconds in his UFC debut and followed it up by outstriking and eventually submitting former Ultimate Fighter winner Efrain Escudero. Against Miller, he got a little too confident in his jiu-jitsu skills and while stuck in a leg lock against the New Jersey native, Miller switched to a kneebar that forced a lightning quick tap to save his leg.
The story of this fight will be Lentz's wrestling against Oliveira's striking and submissions. I have a gut feeling that Oliveira is going to completely go to work on Nik Lentz in both the stand-up and on the ground. Lentz's only option may be to push him into the cage and wall and stall his way to victory.
Prediction: Charles Oliveira via submission
Here's another bout with two men dropping down a weight division. Ricardo Lamas was a staple of the WEC lightweight division as a fighter that was good, but could never quite get over the hump. He went 4-2 under the WEC banner. The Cuban-Mexican-American trains out of Illinois and primarily uses his grappling to win his fights but his striking has come a long way. He hasn't really scored a significant submission victory, but he's a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He'll need all of his grappling skills to be in tip-top shape against an extremely tough wrestler like Grice.
Matt Grice was a three time Oklahoma state wrestling champion in high school but a car accident cut his collegiate career short. He instead transitioned to MMA. This is actually his second stint in the UFC as his first time around didn't go so well. Grice went 1-3 in a four fight span that saw him repeatedly get caught in bad positions due to opponents having superior jiu-jitsu skills. Since his release, he's gone 4-0 fighting in Oklahoma including three first round stoppages. Matt does not want to screw up what could potentially be his last shot with the big show.
Look for Grice to try to use his wrestling to control the fight on the ground while Lamas tries to defend his takedowns and either keep it standing or latch on a guillotine or triangle choke. The guillotine has been Grice's weakness in two of his losses so he's got to keep his neck protected when shooting in.
Prediction: Matt Grice via TKO
Michael Johnson ran through much of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 12 cast using his superior wrestling to take his opponents down and keep them there. In the TUF 12 Finale it was his striking that almost won him the fight against Jonathan Brookins. Johnson clipped Brookins standing and was very close to finishing him and his inability to finish that cost him the fight and the coveted UFC contract. Brookins instead outgrappled Johnson for the remaining two rounds to earn a decision. "The Menace" moved his training camp out to Greg Jackson's in Albuquerque which is the perfect place for him to hone his skills and become a better all-around fighter. He displayed some power against Brookins and he'll be looking to score a big knockout on Sunday night.
Edward Faaloloto is basically being brought in to lose. He's only had three professional fights and the only time he was in the cage against a legitimate fighter in Anthony Njokuani, he got knocked out. There really wasn't a good reason to bring him back when the WEC merged with the UFC other than to feed him to an Ultimate Fighter cast member who still needed some seasoning. Faaloloto has some skills but it he was controlled on the ground by Njokuani of all people, a guy who's not exactly known for his grappling prowess. I don't expect this one to be pretty.
Prediction: Michael Johnson via TKO
So what do you think Maniacs?
Is there a specific undercard fight that intrigues you? Who needs a win the most to keep their job?