Fists will fly in "The Mile High."
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has packed its bags and headed off to the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo., with several of its finest fighters in tow. Newly-minted light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will defend his 205-pound title for the first time against the concussive power of Quinton Jackson, while legends Matt Hughes and Takanori Gomi will look to re-enter the win column at the expense of Josh Koscheck and Nate Diaz, respectively.
That’s not the only action, however, with an excellent undercard also on the docket to whet our collective appetites. As usual, two fights will be broadcast on Spike TV an hour prior to the event, while the remaining bouts can be watched on the UFC Facebook page.
Let’s take a look at those Facebook fights:
A UFC veteran and further evidence that there are only 10 names in Brazil mixed-and-matched to create full names, Junior Assuncao (12-4) brings a rather interesting accoutrement with him into the Octagon: A black cord in capoeira, also known as "that crazy dance stuff Eddie Gordo from Tekken uses." While he isn’t quite as crazy with his striking as, say, "Lelo" Aurelio, Assuncao possesses a dangerous stand up game and a jiu-jitsu black belt to back it up. At 1-2 under the ZUFFA banner, Assuncao will hope to wipe the slate clean with a solid win over the debuting Yagin.
Yagin (15-4-1), who signed with the UFC not even a month ago and last fought in early August, came back strong from an 18-month leave of absence, defeating Joe Neri and, impressively, Joe Soto in a combined 3:39. Since a loss to Rich Clementi in 2004, "The Filipino Phenom" has won seven of eight, notching six stoppages along the way. Having already fought twice in the past three months, Yagin would certainly welcome a quick win over Assuncao to keep business booming for the Alliance MMA representative.
Assuncao is on a nice streak, but to be frank, none of what he’s done so far in his career matches submitting Joe Soto, ring rust or not. His capoeira credentials are impressive, but his striking isn’t as fluid as his pedigree would suggest. Further, this fight was announced only three weeks ago, and Yagin, who as I mentioned has been staying busy, will likely be in better shape for this fight.
What it comes down to is this: Assuncao just isn’t all that good. I have reason to believe that Yagin, on the other hand, is. Expect the latter to use his guillotine and takedown defense to keep it standing and light up Assuncao en route to a dominant decision.
Prediction: Yagin via decision
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
Takeya Mizugaki (14-6-2), who made his name in a spectacular slugfest with then-champion Miguel Torres, has been hovering on the edge of contendership ever since. Having faced and beaten the likes of Rani Yahya, Mizugaki has fallen short against the elite of the division, including Scott Jorgenson and, most recently, Brian Bowles. The Japanese striker is never short of excitement, however, but he knows a win over Escovedo is necessary for his continued employment.
Escovedo (17-7), the inaugural World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) featherweight champion, hasn’t exactly been walking down a yellow-brick road himself. After a handful of defenses, consecutive losses to Urijah Faber, Jens Pulver and Antonio Banuelos, followed immediately by a horrible bout of staph, his MMA future was in doubt. Luckily, after three years, he returned at 135 pounds, knocking out prospect Michael McDonald and former WEC title challenger Yoshiro Maeda along the way. His luck may have run out yet again, however, losing three of his past four. "The Apache Kid" desperately needs to secure victory if he doesn’t want to be sent packing.
Aside from Torres, the people who have beaten Mizugaki have had a universal attribute: Excellent wrestling. Whenever Mizugaki has the superior wrestling, he wins with a combination of quick striking and effective takedowns. Escovedo is not on that level. He’s quite the fighter and he hasn’t exactly been losing to scrubs (Omigawa, Barao, McDonald), but it’s hard to shake the feeling that his time is simply over.
Until Mizugaki can consistently defend takedowns from the likes of Jorgenson and Bowles, he will never be champion, especially since he doesn’t have the sort of power needed to make an opponent tentative. That said, Escovedo does not have the skillset to exploit this weakness and will be unable to overcome the scrappy Shooto veteran’s speed and submission defense.
Prediction: Mizugaki via decision
205 lbs.: James Te-Huna vs. Ricardo Romero
Stepping into the Octagon to face Igor Pokrajac back at UFC 110, Te-Huna (12-5) had the honor of being the first Kiwi fighter in the UFC, doing his country proud with a third round finish. Not that this was atypical -- seven of the man’s previous eight wins were via technical knockout. Though he found himself unable to overcome Swedish boxing prodigy Alexander Gustaffson in the "Land Down Under" at UFC 127, Te-Huna still has the lightning hands and brutal power to make sure it’s always a fight.
Romero’s (11-2) entry into the UFC was a little less triumphant and a little more hideously painful. Unable to secure a takedown, Romero found himself on the wrong end of a literally jaw-shattering beatdown from Seth Petruzelli for a round and a half before digging deep and submitting the eccentric striker with a straight armbar. Unfortunately for him, Kyle Kingsbury gave him no such respite, as it took him less than 30 seconds to flatten Romero with a knee and punches. Romero will need a great win to erase that memory. And Saturday is as good a time as any.
Impressive as Romero’s resiliency was in the Petruzelli fight, the fact remains that in the 8.5 minutes or so he’s spent in the Octagon, all but 20 seconds were spent getting his skull caved in. Te-Huna isn’t a world beater and never will be, but his hands are dangerously quick and his wrestling is improving. Plus, his fight with Gustafsson was his first in a year and he still managed to put Gustafsson on his back, which, as Matt Hamill and Phil Davis could tell you, is no mean feat. Romero is a better submissions artist than Te-Huna, but I have no reason to think he’ll get the chance to utilize those skills before Te-Huna brings those bricks of his to bear.
Romero came out of UFC 116 with a wired-shut jaw and a win bonus. He’s going to leave UFC 135 with one of those things.
Prediction: Te-Huna via first round technical knockout
Check back in tomorrow for a look at Tim Boetsch vs. Nick Ring and Anthony Ferguson vs. Aaron Riley, which will be roping in viewers on Spike TV. Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide complete live blow-by-blow coverage of UFC 135 results, including the Facebook, Spike TV and pay-per-view (PPV) streams this weekend.
Photo via Dallas Winston of SB Nation.