Here we go!
The UFC and Bud Light, teaming up to bring fight fans a show from New Orleans, have pulled out all the stops, putting welterweight contenders Jake Shields and Jake Ellenberger to war in the main event of UFC Fight Night 25 this Saturday night (Sept. 17, 2011) in "The Big Easy."
But before you flip over to Spike TV for some quality Cajun MMA, the promotion will dish out its usual spicy "Prelims" appetizer via Facebook live stream to whet our appetites.
Let’s see how it all boils over.
135 lbs.: Ken Stone (9-3) vs. Donny "Eagle Eye" Walker (15-7)
If the UFC was a fraternity, Ken Stone would be the nerdy freshman who had to go through an intricate, soul-crushing bout of hazing before being accepted. Rather than give the American Top Team product, who had finished nine of 10 opponents, another prospect or a mid-tier gatekeeper for his debut, ZUFFA decided to match him against former champion Eddie Wineland.
After being slammed almost through the mat by Wineland following an ill-advised flying guillotine attempt, he was matched up against perennial contender Scott Jorgenson, who was fresh off a humiliating loss to Dominick Cruz and took out his frustrations by putting Stone to sleep with a one-hitter-quitter from guard. Now 0-2 under the ZUFFA banner, Stone desperately needs a win to keep his job.
Continuing my earlier analogy, Walker would be the pledge whose family donates money regularly to the fraternity, leading them to let him off easy compared to the other eager hopefuls. Unfortunately, despite facing a fellow UFC debutante in Jeff Hougland, "Eagle Eye" fell in his first trip to the Octagon, getting soundly outstruck and outgrappled en route to a unanimous decision loss.
This snapped a seven-fight winning streak that included the likes of Bellator standout Kenny "The Tooth Fairy" Foster and likely left Walker teetering on the precipice of unemployment. A commanding win this Saturday would do wonders for ingratiating himself with the ZUFFA brass.
While I’ve admittedly only gotten to see about four minutes of Stone in action, what I’ve seen (aside from the parts where he was knocked unconscious) impressed me; he showed murderous leg kicks against Wineland and some very good wrestling and kickboxing against Jorgenson. Losing efforts generally don’t reflect well on fighters, but when they’re against two of the best in the world, some leniency is involved.
Walker looked decent against Hougland, but he didn’t show anything special in any area; his striking was okay and his BJJ, despite a plethora of submission wins, was anything but elite. He’s nowhere near Jorgenson or Wineland, and with a more reasonable opponent, I think we’ll see flashes of, if not greatness, then at least skill from Stone. Look for the ATT product to keep it standing with his wrestling and wear Walker down with leg kicks en route to a second-round stoppage.
Prediction: Stone via second-round TKO
Sometimes, life just ain’t fair.
Dunham, sitting pretty on an 11-0 record and fresh off a thorough disassembling of Tyson Griffin, was matched up against a returning Sean Sherk and, despite getting his forehead peeled open by an elbow from "The Muscle Shark" in the first round, proceeded to throttle the former champ in the standup for the remainder of the time. An unfavorable judge’s decision left a frustrated Dunham set to headline UFC Fight for the Troops 2 against Kenny Florian, but an injury to "Ken-Flo" pushed Melvin Guillard into his slot.
Dunham was unable to reignite his momentum, falling to the inhuman power of Guillard in just under three minutes. Now, two fights in the hole in a mercilessly stacked division, Dunham will need to work Bailey over this Saturday if he wants to regain his spot in the top 10.
Junior Dos Santos’s first pick in the thirteenth season of The Ultimate Fighter, Bailey demonstrated solid wrestling but quickly picked up a reputation for not being a finisher. After losing via unanimous decision to Chris Cope in the semifinals, Bailey was invited to compete on the season finale and pulled through, grinding Ryan McGillivray down for a solid unanimous decision. Bailey, who has been in the ring with the likes of Justin Wilcox and Roger Bowling, may have been forced into a must-win scenario by his fan-unfriendly style, and Evan Dunham would make for an excellent stock-booster.
Shamar Bailey is being sacrificed here; there’s no other word for it. Despite his recent setbacks, Dunham has proven himself to be one of the top lightweight prospects in the game, and there’s no shame in falling to Guillard. Bailey isn’t an exciting fighter and, despite the high hopes Junior had for him, just doesn’t look to have all that much upside. His wrestling is solid, but so is Sean Sherk’s, and Dunham would have choked him out if Sherk actually had a neck to speak of.
What it comes down to is this: Evan Dunham has faced and outmatched fighters at and above Bailey’s caliber. Bailey has never faced anyone nearly as skilled as Dunham. If Evan is even half the fighter we thought he was after embarrassing Tyson Griffin, he should win this easily.
Prediction: Dunham via first-round submission
Knockout machine Robert Peralta was enjoying a finish-filled winning streak under the Gladiator Challenge banner when he was called upon to face DREAM featherweight champion and monster puncher Hiroyuki Takaya on the undercard of Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley. After rattling the "Streetfight Bancho" with punches, Peralta won a contentious split decision in a major upset. With Mackens Semerzier injured, the UFC capitalized on its purchasing of Strikeforce and brought in Peralta to fill the gap.
Lullo came into the UFC on an eight-fight winstreak and was booked to debut against a 6-0 Brazilian named Edson Barboza as a short-notice replacement for Darren Elkins. Three cringe-worthy rounds later and Lullo, unable to walk after being on the receiving end of a barrage of wicked leg kicks, had become the monstrous striker’s sacrifice to the lightweight division. Originally pegged to face Mackens Semerzier in his featherweight debut, Lullo is now on the opposite side of a late fight shift and will look to capitalize on his increased size advantage to grasp Octagon victory for the first time.
I’m always excited by sub-155 guys who can lay down the hurt, and Peralta’s eleven knockouts are quite intriguing. Plus, even though the fight was controversial, he proved dangerous enough to force Takaya, a notoriously dangerous puncher, to play a wrestling game against him.
That said, it’s difficult to imagine someone finishing Lullo with strikes to the head, particularly after he shrugged off the enormous power of Barboza’s punches. While Peralta has faced the better competition (including Darrell Montague), he will only have had twelve days to prepare for Lullo, and considering Lullo’s fondness for rubber guard and how baffling that technique can be when one isn’t ready for it, this lack of preparedness may be his undoing.
Lullo is relentless with his takedowns and guard-pulls no matter how big a beating you lay on him, so he is going to get Peralta to the ground eventually, and I don’t see Peralta surviving once it gets there.
Prediction: Lullo via second-round submission
170 lbs.: Seth "The Polish Pistola" Baczynski (13-6) vs. Clay "Heavy Metal" Harvison (7-1)
Seth Baczynski has some of the most fluctuating luck I’ve ever seen. After getting pasted in nine seconds by Roger Bowling in 2009, he got his shot at the big time by being selected for the eleventh season of The Ultimate Fighter. Unfortunately for him, he was matched up against eventual winner Court McGee and lost a decision, but was allowed back on when a fractured jaw forced Chris Camozzi off the show.
In a fight with Brad Tavares, however, he accidentally threw and landed a huge soccer kick, disqualifying him, and he lost a close decision to Tavares in a rematch. Now, with two wins since his release from the UFC (including an incredible come-from-behind knockout that saw him survive a broken arm to deliver it), Baczynski has a new lease on MMA life and will look to make the most of it against Harvison.
Harvison, who fought for Team Lesnar on The Ultimate Fighter, was originally slated to face DaMarques Johnson this weekend. An injury nixed the bout, but he’ll be looking to put on a show against the returning Baczynski. Though he was submitted by finalist Ramsey Nijem in the quarter-finals of the show, Harvison was booked for the show’s finale and put on a slobberknocker against fellow competitor Justin Edwards. Harvison would win a close split decision, but he would welcome a definitive win to establish himself as a legitimate welterweight contender.
I can respect guts, but I don’t forgive poor technique just because a fighter is gutsy, and Harvison wasn’t exactly RJJ in there against Edwards. Plus, he gassed badly far earlier than any UFC fighter should. I’m not saying Baczynski is some guru of the cage, but he is the more experienced fighter by a large margin, especially against solid competition (Harvison has only three fights against opponents with winning records and he lost one of them).
Despite the short notice, I have reason to expect Baczynski to be the better-conditioned fighter come Saturday, and with how nasty his triangle is, I see him submitting a tired Edwards early in the third.
Prediction: Baczynski via third-round submission
Cody McKenzie garnered interest during his stint on The Ultimate Fighter with his nonchalant attitude, constant dipping, and downright diabolical guillotine, which he used to humiliate Marc Stephens in under twenty seconds. Unfortunately for the "AK Kid", his standup deficiencies were exposed by Nam Phan, who finished him with a nasty body attack.
He rebounded with yet another guillotine on the season’s finale, but could not overcome the vaunted "Thug-jitsu" of Yves Edwards. Having missed out on a fight with Bart Palaszewski due to injury, McKenzie is no doubt itching to get his hands on another unsuspecting neck.
Vagner Rocha got a huge opportunity when, at 6-1, he was selected to replace an injured Mac Danzig on the UFC 131 main card. He most likely regretted everything about the decision to take that fight (not to mention being born with legs) when his opponent, Donald Cerrone, beat the everloving tar out of him with a constant stream of vicious kicks. Rocha, a BJJ black belt, likely bought himself some extra time with the promotion by electing to face such a dangerous opponent on such short notice, but he’ll need a win over McKenzie if he wants to make the most of that time.
I’m sure a lot of it had to do with the short-notice nature of the fight and the caliber of his opponent, but Vagner Rocha looked absolutely awful against Cerrone, demonstrating zero standup acumen and below-average takedowns. McKenzie hasn’t shown himself to be a great striker by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s shown resilience and a good overall submissions game to complement his signature guillotine; I wouldn’t be surprised if he took Rocha down.
Rocha may have an advantage on the ground, but he hasn’t shown the ability to dictate whether he ends up on top or bottom, and I’ll take the guy who’s at least demonstrated some wrestling acumen. McKenzie should win a decision in a sloppy standup battle, but I wouldn’t put it past him to try his luck on the ground; either way, he’s too much for Rocha.
Prediction: McKenzie via unanimous decision
Interesting fact: Benoist’s first MMA match took place just over 18 months ago. Since then, he has gone unbeaten, never even seeing the second round. His list of victims includes The Ultimate Fighter 11 hopeful Cleburn Walker, and with another TUF veteran in his sights, Benoist has every intention of making a statement in his UFC debut.
Matt Riddle, who scored one of the ugliest knockouts in the history of The Ultimate Fighter before being submitted by Tim Credeur, hasn’t seen the cage since an impressive display of guts against Sean Pierson back in December. On two separate trips to Versus, Riddle was booked to compete but had to be taken off the card due to injury. With the welterweight division as top-heavy as it is, Riddle will most certainly be intent on breaking a few more jaws to get his name out there, and stopping an undefeated prospect would go a long way towards that goal.
As an aspiring mixed-martial artist and amateur boxer, watching Riddle’s "striking" against Pierson nearly made me violently ill, and for the sake of my sanity, I’m going to assume he’s usually a little bit better than that. Aside from that sad display, he’s shown a good grappling game in the past, which he should rely on here.
Benoist may only have two fewer fights than Riddle, but three years of fighting against UFC-caliber opposition will definitely do more for a fighter’s evolution than two years in the regional circuit. Riddle will never be champion and probably won’t even crack the middle of the pack if he continues fighting like a numbskull, but his experience and takedowns should be too much for Benoist.
Prediction: Riddle via unanimous decision
Fighting out of Team Curran, Stumpf replaces the injured Daniel "Ninja" Roberts on only five days’ notice. Interestingly, Stumpf’s first twelve fights all took place during the span of two years, after which a two-and-a-half year hiatus kept him out of the ring. Stumpf has nine finishes in his eleven wins, and a tenth would likely get him on the welterweight map.
After winning his UFC debut, Waldburger got the unenviable task of entering the cage opposite the bearded murder machine known as Johny Hendricks and lasted only ninety-five seconds before being overwhelmed by his power. Like his opponent, Waldburger is a consistent finisher, stopping eleven opponents before the final bell. T.J.’s dangerous grappling attack will be put to the test this Saturday as he, in all likelihood, fights for his livelihood.
There really isn’t much going to Stumpf’s favor here; not only is he fighting on less than a week’s notice, this is only his second fight in the past three years and the first one was a decision win over a 6-12 fighter. Waldburger isn’t elite by any stretch of the imagination and his five (T)KO losses cast quite a bit of doubt on his resiliency, but Stumpf just doesn’t seem like a fighter capable of exploiting this vulnerability. The ensuing grappling should be entertaining enough, but Waldburger shouldn’t have too much trouble securing the tap.
Prediction: Waldburger via first-round submission
170 lbs.: Justin Edwards (6-1) vs. Jorge "Lil’ Monster" Lopez (11-1)
Justin Edwards, a replacement for Keon Caldwell on the thirteen season of The Ultimate Fighter, made the highlight reel in his very first fight. Unfortunately for him, he got there on the end of Tony Ferguson’s heel, getting blasted unconscious by an upkick. He managed to partially redeem himself in a solid effort against Clay Harvison that, in the eyes of some, was more than enough to give him the win. With six finishes including five by submission, Edwards is sure to be entertaining on Saturday, but he needs to be more than just entertaining if he wants to stay employed.
Wand Fight Team prospect Jorge Lopez, who turns 23 later this month, actually started training in MMA when he was 14 at none other than the legendary Chute Boxe camp, becoming friends with Anderson Silva before eventually finding a home under the tutelage of "The Axe Murderer". A former high school wrestling standout, Lopez enters the Octagon on a ten-fight winstreak and, like Bellator tournament fighter and camp-mate Vitor Vianna, will look to represent his legendary mentor against the upper echelon of MMA fighters.
Edwards did show quite a bit of heart against Harvison, but he also showed a very inadequate gastank and serviceable-at-best striking. Unfortunately for him, Lopez has the power and longevity to exploit these weaknesses, as his kicks and takedown defense are both very solid.
Wanderlei Silva says Lopez will be a champion; while that is definitely hyperbole from a proud coach, the fact remains that Lopez is a product of Wand Fight Team, which outright means he’s tough as nails. He’s gotten some flak in the past for not going for the finish, but he knows the importance of making a good first impression, and after sapping Edwards’s cardio with sprawl-and-brawl, look for him to end it late with a big flurry.
Prediction: Lopez via third-round TKO
That's a wrap.
Remember: MMAmania.com will provide results and live updates of all the Facebook preliminary card bouts on fight night followed by a round-by-round, blow-by-blow breakdown of all the main card action as it unfolds.
How do you see the Facebook "Prelims" going down? Any dark horse picks or upsets? Let's hear your predictions in the comments section below.