UFC on Versus 4: "Marquardt vs. Story" is all set to go down this Sunday night (June 26) live from the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, PA.
Remember: MMAmania.com will provide results and LIVE play-by-play for the cable network telecast starting at 9 p.m. ET, as well as quick results of all the preliminary card action much earlier in the evening.
Headlining the promotion's trip to "Steel City" is a battle of old school versus new as former middleweight number one contender Nate Marquardt makes his welterweight debut against surging division prospect Rick Story.
Can he be "Great" at 170-pounds? Or faced with the "Horror" of a career as a smaller fighter?
A couple of intriguing heavyweight battles also populate the main card as stocky and cocky Pat Barry tries to slug his way to victory against the muscular Frenchman Cheick Kongo while former "Ultimate Fighter" Matt Mitrione looks to make it 5-0 as a Zuffa employee against the ever-dangerous Christian Morecraft.
Let's break it down.
Outside of a title shot, it's hard for me to imagine a more important fight for Nate Marquardt (31-10-2) than Sunday's slugfest against Rick Story (13-3). While he leaves the 185-pound weight class on a win, he was widely criticized by UFC President Dana White for his performances as a contender.
To me, a loss to Story would be catastrophic for his UFC career, because it leaves fans with the impression that he abandoned his inconsistent run as a middleweight only to head south and falter there as well. How do you match him up after a debut loss?
Could Marquardt be the first fighter in the history of the promotion to serve as a gatekeeper in two divisions?
The oddsmakers have labeled him a slight underdog and weight cutting issues notwithstanding, I think it's a tasty pick. I'm not suggesting Story is a pushover, but I'm also not going crazy over his recent win over Thiago Alves. "The Pitbull" was handily defeated, but looked more like the victim of an incompetent gameplan than a fighter who was out of his league.
And I also can't erase the memories of Story's split decision wins over Jesse Lennox and Nick Osipzcak, which by some accounts could have gone the other way.
The "Horror" is exactly what he looks like: a big, strong welterweight with good hands and good wrestling. When he's on, he's pretty tough to beat. To that end, he's basically a smaller version of Nate Marquardt, and like we learned from Senator McComb in "Timecop," two of the same person can't exist in the same place at the same time.
That has me picking the original Marquardt, because all things being equal, he's got over 40 fights compared to Story's 16. A successful weight cut in my eyes makes for a successful debut on Sunday night.
Nate Marquardt def. Rick Story via unanimous decision.
Sticking with the bar-fight maxim that a good big man will always beat a good little man, I think I'm going to further embarrass myself and pick Cheick Kongo (15-6-2) in his heavyweight hoedown against Pat Barry (6-2). I don't want to, because I'm not a fan of the foul-prone Frenchman, but I have to pick to win.
Because I'm a winner!
Anyway, on paper this looks like a stand-up battle between two guys with excellent striking. Well, if I really believed this thing was going to stay upright for the duration of the bout, I might be more inclined to favor Barry and his tree-chopping leg kicks.
Instead, I'm going to hearken back to the days of feared consequences, when Paul "The Job Hunter" Buentello said that Kongo takes it to the ground when he doesn't want to risk getting KTFO. I believe that's his gameplan for this fight as well.
And why not? Barry's ground game looks like the black-and-white clips of "Johnny Got His Gun" in Metallica's "One" video.
"HD" has his best shot to win this thing in the opening round. If his training at Death Clutch has paid off, he'll be able to circumnavigate Kongo's bumrush and stay on the outside while chopping away at those Eiffel Towers the Parisian calls legs. If not, he'll be covered and smothered like a Denny's hashbrown.
Cheick Kongo def. Pat Barry via unanimous decision
Also making a case for heavyweight relevancy is Matt Mitrione (4-0). I, like many fight fans, didn't expect to see the former NFL'er last this long in the world's largest fight promotion, but he's come a long way since bumbling his way through The Ultimate Fighter 10 and actually looks better in each fight.
It's time to start taking "Meathead" seriously.
It's also time to start giving him bigger names in the division, which I think he earns by stopping Christian Morecraft (7-1) on Sunday night. This is by no means a "gimme" fight for Mitrione and if you called me on Monday morning and told me the Cape Cod crusher was able to pull off a submission, I wouldn't be shocked.
Four of his seven wins are by tap, snap or nap, including his uncorking of Sean McCorkle last March.
Having said that, I don't get the impression that Morecraft is all that impressed with his fleshy foe and will likely try to stand and trade with him just to prove a point. I don't think it's outrageous to suggest he may have better stand-up than Mitrione, but who needs technique when you have that kind of power?
It's going to matter when you're fighting guys in the top five, but it won't matter on Sunday night, as the head with meat lets one go that pops and drops the world of Morecraft.
Matt Mitrione def. Christian Morecraft via technical knockout
Also rising from the ranks of The Ultimate Fighter is Matt Brown (11-10), who somehow avoided jail time in his attempted murder of Pete Sell back at UFC 96. Slaying "Drago" was part of a three-fight win streak that raised his stock considerably in the 170-pound division and earned him a bevy of big name opponents like Ricardo Almeida and Chris Lytle.
Then it all came crashing down.
Now "The Immortal" is on a three-fight skid and will almost certainly be chopped if the judges don't like what he's able to do against John Howard (14-6), who's also on the verge of unemployment.
"Doomsday," like Brown, was electric early in his Octagon career, but now finds himself saddled with consecutive losses to Jake Ellenberger and Thiago Alves.
The difference for me in this fight and the reason I'm picking Howard is that in defeat, he still looked competitive. He was outstruck by "The Pitbull" and the cageside doctor betrayed him against "The Juggernaut," but he was in those fights the entire time.
Brown has just looked outclassed from start to finish.
That doesn't make him any less exciting to watch and I can't wait to see the kind of performance he's capable of with his job on the line, but I think Howard does just a little bit more, a little more often and a little more successfully to squeak by when the smoke eventually clears.
John Howard def. Matt Brown via split decision
That's a wrap, folks.
Remember to come check us out after the show for all the latest results, recaps and coverage of UFC on Versus 4: "Marquardt vs. Story."
What do you think? Now it's your turn ... let us have it in the comments section and share your thoughts and picks for Sunday night's event.