This Sunday night (June 26, 2011), two very exciting welterweights will put it all on the line during the UFC on Versus 4 main card as John Howard and The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season seven veteran Matt Brown will battle for the right to keep their jobs.
Howard has been a notorious slow starter but that didn't stop him from opening his UFC career with four straight wins. "Doomsday's" rise to the top of the welterweight division was halted by Jake Ellenberger and then sent crashing back to Earth by Thiago Alves six months ago at UFC 124. He needs to at least stop the bleeding now.
Matt Brown was a fighter to keep an eye on in early 2010 after scoring three straight stoppage victories before he met a similar fate. A trio of submission losses has "The Immortal's" back against the wall as well and there's no doubt he absolutely needs a win to keep his job on Sunday night.
Can Howard get back on track when he's not facing a top contender? Can Matt Brown find it within himself to dig deep and salvage his career? "Doomsday" was an unkillable Superman villain while obviously, "The Immortal" can't die. Who will meet their end on Sunday night?
Let's find out:
Record: 14-6 overall, 4-2 in the UFC
Key Losses: Thiago Alves (UFC 124), Jake Ellenberger (UFC on Versus 2)
How he got here: John Howard made his mark on the welterweight division with his heavy hands and exciting, brawling style. He stole the "Fight of the Night" bonus in his UFC debut against Chris Wilson at UFC 94: "GSP vs. Penn 2."
Howard turned middling success at the Ring of Combat promotion in Atlantic City into a huge seven fight win streak which included four in a row in the UFC. He capped off his UFC win streak with back-to-back knockouts against Dennis Hallman and Daniel Roberts, the Hallman KO being one of the craziest come-from-behind knockouts in UFC history after getting thoroughly outwrestled for nearly three full rounds, a controversial stand-up gave him a chance to knock "Superman" out of the sky with just five seconds left in the fight.
His domination of Daniel Roberts with ground and pound would put him in line for some big fights against some major players in the 170 pound division.
Sadly, Howard couldn't pass the tough tests in front of him. Jake Ellenberger brutalized Howard and forced his eye to swell up something fierce (pictured above) and he didn't get any breaks in his next fight, taking on former title challenger Thiago Alves at UFC 124.
Howard chose to stand and bang with the striking specialist and it resulted in a one-sided beating. He'll be fighting for his UFC life on Sunday night's main card.
How he gets it done: Despite being outstruck by both Ellenberger and Alves, Howard still has some serious power in his punching arsenal. He just needs to find the confidence and the proper set-up to use it effectively.
If he wants to stand with Brown, he'll need to keep his distance and look to counter if his TUF veteran opponent wades in haphazardly. It could leave some huge openings to put him back in the highlight reel.
"Doomsday" also has some decent wrestling credentials. He's not on the level of a Jon Fitch or a Josh Koscheck, but he can take people down and beat on them from top position if given the opportunity. Matt Brown has looked a bit helpless on the canvas lately so if Howard sees an opening, he should absolutely seize it and put "The Immortal" on his back.
Record: 11-10 overall, 4-4 in the UFC
How he got here: Matt Brown was a bit of a journeyman, competing against some tough fighters all over the country, winning some and losing some before he found a home with the UFC through The Ultimate Fighter season seven.
Brown didn't win that season, but got off to a hot start with the promotion. After losing a close split decision to eventual contender Dong Hyun Kim, Brown went on a hot streak that included three consecutive dominant stoppages.
He capped off his streak by obliterating Ultimate Fighter season nine winner James Wilks for three straight rounds and finishing the Brit with some vicious ground and pound.
With the win, Brown was matched up against a tough contender in Ricardo Almeida, who was still considered one of the toughest grapplers in the world, especially at welterweight. Almeida physically dominated the fight and forced a submission just past the midway point of the second round.
This began a tough stretch for "The Immortal," where he would continue to get dominated on the ground by more technical and aggressive fighters like Chris Lytle and Brian Foster. There were many rumors that he'd been cut from the UFC but the promotion decided to reward him for his exciting style and keep him around for one last chance. When John Howard's original opponent Martin Kampmann had to back out with injury, Brown stepped up to fight for his UFC future.
How he gets it done: Brown needs to get comfortable again inside the octagon. He's been dominated for three straight fights and that'll definitely be playing some mind games with him.
He's still got power in his hands and he's definitely got some impressive Muay Thai striking skills when he's got his opponent up close or in the clinch. He'll need to push the pace and force Howard to make a mistake and leave an opening.
The only way to pass a mental block is to fight through it and Brown absolutely needs to get that belief in himself again. He still has the same skills as the guy who was crushing opponents just one year ago, he just needs to believe he can do it.
He should also avoid the ground at all costs unless he can control a dominant top position and rain down some big punches.
Fight "X-Factor:" The "X-Factor" for this bout is definitely the threat of being cut. There's a lot at stake for both men. Brown has a three fight losing streak while Howard has lost two in a row. Unless they put on one of the greatest fights of all time, one of them is getting released from the UFC when this fight is over.
How each man responds to this pressure is up to them. Sometimes a fighter gets more conservative with their gameplan, fighting not to lose, other times, they go balls to the wall like the injured, cornered animal they are. Whoever responds to the pressure better is coming home with the win.
Bottom line: With how hard both men hit and how dangerous they both are on the feet, there is definitely the possibility that this fight turns into an all-out slobberknocker. Both men could come out swinging for the fences, hoping to impress the UFC brass and put themselves back on the map.
They could also come out totally conservative and make this a snoozer. It all depends on how each man reacts knowing that his job is on the line. It will take two to tango on Sunday night.
Who will come out on top at UFC on Versus 4? Let us know in the comments section below!