After a distressing month-long break between events, the UFC has finally thrown us punch-hungry fans a bone.
Just one week after the surprisingly-entertaining UFC 133: "Evans vs. Ortiz 2" show, they're returning to the Versus network for a fifth time with welterweight warmongers Chris Lytle and Dan Hardy at the helm, not to mention super-prospect Charles Oliveira and lightweight contenders Jim Miller and Benson Henderson.
That's not to say the main card is the only thing worth watching; eight delectable preliminary card fights are here to whet your appetites. And they're all most certainly worth more than just a passing glance.
Let's take a gander at the goods, shall we?
185 lbs.: C.B. "The Doberman" Dollaway (11-3) vs. Jared "The Messenger" Hamman (12-3)
A former champion wrestler, Dollaway was a contestant on the seventh season of The Ultimate Fighter, having the honor of getting submitted by Amir Sadollah twice. Since then, he has won five of seven, including a spectacular Peruvian necktie on Jesse Taylor and another "Submission of the Night" win over Joe Doerkson. His progress was temporarily halted when Mark Munoz did a Keith Moon impression on his face two trips to Versus ago, but he'll be more than happy to give Hamman a warm, hideously-painful welcome to the UFC middleweight division.
Jared Hamman came into the UFC's 205-pound division with nine knockouts to his name and wins over Aaron Rosa and Rogent Lloret, but took a left turn onto Queer Street at the vicious hands of Alexander Gustafsson in his debut. He has fought twice since, taking home Fight of the Night both times but the W only once. After falling to the wrestling prowess of Kyle Kingsbury, Hamman has decided to lose those love handles and try his luck at middleweight.
Hamman is a dangerous striker, but I have concerns about his dropping to middleweight. It's twice as far between those two classes as it is from, say, lightweight to featherweight, and there's no telling how drained he'll be. Even if I knew he was going to be at his best. Dollaway's wrestling should be sufficient to recreate Hamman's decision loss to Kyle Kingsbury.
He's an exciting fighter who's always welcome on my TV screen, but there're too many questions for me to pick him over a proven commodity like Dollaway, who will either smother him to a decision or wrap up his neck should Hamman fade from the weight cut.
Prediction: Dollaway via devision
155 lbs.: Danny "Last Call" Castillo (11-3) vs. Jacob "Christmas" Volkmann (12-2)
Lightweight Alpha Male representative Danny Castillo recovered nicely from getting the majority of his brain temporarily replaced by Anthony Pettis's shin, winning three straight since. His most recent victory, a one-sided outgrappling of Joe Stevenson, gave him a solid foothold in the absurdly stacked UFC lightweight division. Interestingly, Castillo's only three defeats have come to the three best lightweights of the WEC, and with one of the best camps in MMA supporting his efforts, he's on a mission to ensure his losing efforts go the way of the WEC.
A decorated wrestler with an impressive jiu-jitsu game to back it up, Volkmann entered the UFC welterweight division undefeated; unfortunately, two angry brick walls named Paulo Thiago and Martin Kampmann stopped his progress and swiftly booted his behind down to lightweight, where he has won three straight. He scored his most impressive victory in his last effort, a decision win over Antonio "Black Fedor" McKee, unbeaten in six years. Volkmann may not be the most consistent finisher, but he's a headache for anyone at 155-pounds and will look to gain contender status at the expense of Castillo.
Castillo looked excellent against Joe Stevenson, but then again, it was Joe Stevenson, who has somehow managed to completely tank without even losing his chin like normal fighters. Revisionist history it may be, but Castillo hasn't demonstrated the sort of wrestling game that can counter Volkmann's.
Volkmann's striking is average at best, but his relentless wrestling onslaught will be more than enough to carry him to an uneventful decision spent grinding Castillo against the fence. The Alpha Male product doesn't have the one-shot power to make Volkmann hesitate and I don't think he can stop the takedowns of an aggressive Volkmann.
Prediction: Volkmann via Decision
145 lbs.: Jim Hettes (8-0) vs. Alex "Bruce Leroy" Caceres (5-3)
Hettes, stepping in for an injured Leonard Garcia on short notice, has finished all eight of his opponents by submission, six of them in the first round. Interestingly, he's used five separate techniques to do so. With his flair for rapid limb contortion and willingness to fight on short notice, Hettes will likely remain in the division win or lose, but he'd rather make a statement in his first UFC battle.
Caceres made a name for himself on the twelfth season of The Ultimate Fighter with his flamboyant personality, although all the eccentricities in the world couldn't save him from the single-minded wrestling attack of eventual runner-up Michael Johnson. He misstepped again in his debut proper, falling to the submission prowess of Mackens Semerzier. With his back against the wall, Caceres will be desperate for a win against Hettes to prove he's more than just a sideshow attraction.
Unfortunately for Mr. Leroy, a sideshow attraction may be all he is. He's entertaining enough, especially outside the cage, but he's just not a great fighter. It's always a gamble picking a debuting fighter against a veteran, but Caceres hasn't shown me anything to indicate that he's a UFC-caliber fighter. His striking is average at best and his forte, submissions, may not be enough to counter the grappling of Hettes.
The UFC newbie will likely take it to the ground immediately in search of a submission, and I don't think Caceres has what it takes to stop him. Boards don't hit back, but unfortunately for Caceres, people do.
Prediction: Hettes via first-round submission
135 lbs.: Joseph Benavidez (14-2) vs. Eddie Wineland (18-7-1)
Benavidez, still desperately looking for a nickname to call his own, might want to try out "Lil' Franklin". The Alpha Male standout has run through everyone Zuffa has thrown at him save champ Dominick Cruz, including guillotine submissions of BJJ black belts Miguel Torres and Wagnney Fabiano. He may not be the biggest bantamweight, but his incredible speed and nasty wrestling attack, reminiscent of Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar, have carried him to victory again and again. He wants a third crack at Cruz, and Wineland has the great misfortune of being in his way.
Inaugural WEC bantamweight champ Eddie Wineland walked into UFC 128 on the cusp of regaining his former glory, one win away from a shot at his old title. He was on a five-fight winning streak, capped off with two phenomenal knockouts in his previous two efforts. Unfortunately, the tenacity of Urijah Faber shut down his newfound rise, and he's surely on the warpath to reignite it. A devastating striker with a penchant for crushing the body, Wineland can open up a world of hurt on anyone at 135-pounds and will be intent on scraping his way into the top five with a win on Sunday.
Wrestlers have been a long-standing weakness of Wineland, and while he had success stuffing Faber in the first round of their fight, the former featherweight kingpin eventually managed to take him down and keep it there. Everything Urijah brings to the table, Benavidez does as well, only he's even faster. He's giving up three inches of height and probably some reach, but Benavidez is used to being the smaller guy, having given up an absurd amount of height and length to Torres.
Wineland has been improving his takedown defense and I don't doubt that it will be even better this time than it was against Faber, but Benavidez's cardio is off the charts and I highly doubt he'll be discouraged if he gets denied a few times early on. I expect Wineland to find some success early on with jabs and straights, but Benavidez is eventually going to get inside, and once he's there, I don't think Wineland will stay standing for long. Plus, the threat of a takedown is once again going to keep Wineland from committing to shots that can actually hurt Joe.
Barring another out-of-nowhere guillotine from the Alpha Male product, look for him to beat on Eddie from the former champ's guard for at least twelve of the fight's 15 minutes on his way to a comfortable unanimous decision.
Prediction: Benavidez via decision
155 lbs.: Cole "Magrinho" Miller (17-5) vs. T.J. "The Spider" O'Brien (16-4)
Sneaky submissions slickster Cole Miller, who hasn't seen the judges in almost four years, hit a bit of a snag on his quest to establish himself as a contender at 155 his last time out, where he was absolutely manhandled by Matt Wiman at UFC: Fight for the Troops 2. Prior to this roadblock, he seemed to have found his stride, outstriking and outgrappling former Ultimate Fighter winner Ross Pearson and pulling off a smooth inverted triangle-kimura combination on Dan Lauzon. Now, following his third defeat in his last seven fights, Miller needs a win this Sunday to remain relevant in his crowded division.
O'Brien has one of the most impressive stats in the UFC: every single one of his victories has been via submission. Even more interestingly, nine of those sixteen subs have come via triangle choke. Unfortunately, statistics aren't much help when you're caught in a crucifix, and he fell in his UFC debut to Paul Kelly last November. "The Spider" has never seen the judges and has only left the first round four times, but losing is not an option this Sunday, as excitement can only carry you so far.
Miller, talented as he is, may be a bit of a choke artist; in his tenure as a UFC fighter, he's had a pattern of win-win-loss, repeated three times. Unfortunately for O'Brien, though, Miller is coming off a loss, so probability states that Magrinho will come out on top. O'Brien's finish rate may be unbelievable, but like Jason Reinhardt, who is also on this card, a large chunk of his victories have come at the expense of mediocre competition. Miller showed much-improved striking against Pearson, particularly in his use of range, and O'Brien doesn't have the wrestling prowess of Wiman or Escudero to make Miller hesitant.
I expect Miller to control the striking early on before stumbling his foe with a good shot, dragging him to the ground, and pulling out another bizarre submission from the top.
Prediction: Miller via first-round submission
185 lbs.: Ed "Short Fuse" Herman (21-9) vs. Kyle "KO" Noke (19-4-1)
"Short Fuse" is right; after losing two years of his career to a knee injury and subsequent surgeries, Herman exploded back onto the scene with a forty-eight second pasting of Tim Credeur. A five-year veteran of the UFC, Herman had hit a bit of a rough patch even before he decided to imitate Shogun in the worst possible way, having fallen in two of his previous three. While his instantaneous pummeling of Credeur may have bought him some more time, Herman has no intention of letting his new lease on UFC life go to waste.
Noke, who is officially the single most awesome person in the UFC for having been Steve Irwin's bodyguard (especially since the kind of stuff that would make Irwin actually need a bodyguard would make the average UFC fighter pee himself), was an early favorite to win the eleventh season of The Ultimate Fighter before Kris McCray held him down for a lackluster decision. He's bounced back, however, with a TKO of teammate Josh Bryant and submissions of Rob Kimmons and castmate Chris Camozzi. The last man to face Hector Lombard and come out...not losing, Noke is rapidly rising in the middleweight division and will gladly step on Herman on his way up.
You don't spend two years on the sidelines getting pointy metal things jammed into your joints without something being lost along the way, and forty-eight impressive seconds aren't enough to convince me that Herman has shaken his ring rust. Noke's nickname may be a bit hyperbolic, but he does have very solid standup and a very good grappling game to back it up. As the recipient of two knee surgeries in six months, I know what Herman has had to go through, and while Noke will never be a champion, he's not someone to fight when you're anything but 100-percent. Herman may get another fight afterwards due to the fact that he's replacing Tom Lawlor on short notice, but his momentum after Credeur is going to come to a screeching halt.
Prediction: Noke via decision
135 lbs.: Edwin "El Feroz" Figueroa (7-1) vs. Jason Reinhardt (20-2)
A Muay Thai specialist with a penchant for first-round finishes, Figueroa was brought to the UFC to serve as cannon fodder for fast-rising Michael McDonald, but apparently lost the script somewhere along the way, toughing out the prospect's vicious striking and submission attempts en route to a decision loss that nonetheless raised his stock. While he hasn't faced the cream of the crop in his career, Figueroa has proven himself to be tough as nails and relentless in his search of the knockout, which should keep him in Dana's and the fans' good graces, especially if he takes out Reinhardt this Sunday.
At the ripe old age of forty-one, Reinhardt has decided to drop down to bantamweight to stake his claim as a UFC-worthy fighter. His first couple of efforts ended poorly, as he was obliterated by Joe Lauzon at lightweight and then instantly submitted by Tiequan Zhang at featherweight. Reinhardt, who was undefeated before his UFC debut with almost no fights going past the first five minutes, will be having only his second fight in the last three years, and will need to overcome this ring rust if he wants to stay under the Zuffa umbrella.
Let me just say it flat-out: Jason Reinhardt is not a good fighter in any sense of the word, and no amount of weight dropping is going to change that. Only one of his last five wins came against someone with a record above .500, and that was an anomaly. Despite training Muay Thai primarily, Figueroa is a sloppy brawler with little more than grit and tenacity on his side, but he's still superior to Reinhardt. I hate the term "can-crusher," but never is it more appropriate than when describing Jason. I expect he'll rush forward and either get caught with an overhand right or run smack into another guillotine. I'd be surprised if this goes past two minutes.
Prediction: Figueroa via first-round TKO
205 lbs.: Karlos "The Terminator" Vemola (8-1) vs. Ronny Marki "Ronny Markes" Sales da Silva (11-1)
Karlos Vemola made his name on the regional shows, ending four of his first six bouts in under a minute with his solid wrestling and face-imploding ground-and-pound. While his UFC debut was rather underwhelming due to a massive size disadvantage that allowed Jon Madsen to control him for three rounds, he immediately stamped his name as one to watch (not to mention the imprint of his fist into Seth Petruzelli's skull) with an intense beatdown at UFC 122. A match-up with Luis Cane at UFC 128 fell through due to a mouth infection, but the Czech brawler has no intention of letting the fear he instills fade.
Replacing an injured Stephan Bonnar, who wasn't quite "Psycho" enough to face Vemola at less than 100%, da Silva, who fights out of Nova Uniao Kimura alongside premier flyweight Jussier da Silva, notched the first major win of his career at the expense of former WEC champ Paulo Filho. Eight out of his twelve fights have ended in the first round from a nice mix of submissions and knockouts. With a phenomenal camp behind him, he will be out to prove that you're not safe from Nova Uniao just because you weigh more than 145-pounds.
Vemola isn't a world-beater and possibly never will be, but this is a fight he should win in spectacular fashion. Ronny has an excellent record, but the majority of it is rather empty. Vemola's striking is poor, but his strength is phenomenal, his wrestling is solid, and his ground-and-pound is reminiscent of Brock Lesnar on methamphetamine. Markes is certainly a prospect worth following, but I don't think he survives the initial spastic pummeling that his foe will unleash.
Prediction: Vemola via first-round TKO
A solid free card this Sunday and only two weeks until UFC 134 in Brazil. It's good to be an MMA fan, right Maniacs?