Two of the fastest-rising welterweight prospects in the UFC will meet this Saturday night (October 1, 2011) on the UFC on Versus 6 main card as Charlie Brenneman takes on the always dangerous Anthony Johnson in a bout with some important divisional implications.
Brenneman finally made his mark in the UFC after stepping up on extremely late notice to take out Rick Story in the co-main event of UFC on Versus 5 earlier this Summer. It was an incredibly gutsy maneuver and it paid off for the AMA Fight Club fighter big time. Now he's looking to prove he deserves his place in the rankings.
Anthony Johnson has always been a talented prospect in the UFC but he's never truly gotten over the hump to become a top contender. His victory over Dan Hardy earlier this year after a 17 month layoff helped his cause, and now he's looking to take it to the next level.
Will Brenneman continue his feel-good story by outwrestling the wrestler? Can Johnson silence the critics with another tremendous knockout? Who will dive headfirst into "the mix" in the crowded welterweight division?
Record: 14-2 overall, 3-1 in the UFC
How he got here: Believe it or not, Charlie Brenneman was mildly famous before he ever stepped foot in a cage. He competed on the original season of Spike TV's Pros vs. Joes and actually ended up winning the show alongside his brother. It was only after winning the show that he began his mixed martial arts career.
Brenneman had been a strong collegiate wrestler and he carried that system into his fighting. He repeatedly took his opponents down and smashed them. After compiling an 11-1 record on the regional circuit, he made his UFC promotional debut at UFC Fight Night 21 against fellow newcomer Jason High. Brenneman was able to utilize his wrestling to take down the wrestler and win a unanimous decision.
He would be thrown to the wolves in his next bout at UFC 117 when he squared off against former national champion wrestler Johny Hendricks. "The Spaniard" won the first round pretty handily but that only angered Hendricks, who came out and knocked Brenneman down three times in the first 40 seconds of the second round to win via technical knockout.
The AMA Fight Club member rebounded against Amilcar Alves with a unanimous decision in his next fight and was slated to face T.J. Grant at UFC on Versus 5, but Grant had to pull out during fight week with an illness. Brenneman cut weight anyways and was a surprise replacement for Nate Marquardt, who was booted from the UFC after a testing too high on his testosterone levels. The Pennsylvania native shocked the MMA world by repeatedly putting top 10 welterweight Rick Story on his back and winning a unanimous decision.
He'll be tested this Saturday night against another top divisional contender in Anthony Johnson.
How he gets it done: Brenneman has decent striking and submissions, but it's his wrestling that gets him his victories. He's not likely to knock anyone out standing, but what he does do incredibly well is set up takedowns with his striking.
Even when his opponents know what's coming, he can distract them with a hook and dive in for a double leg takedown. Brenneman is tenacious with his wrestling and really puts his opponents on their backs better than anyone not named Georges St. Pierre in the welterweight division.
His key to victory will be using leverage and technique to make up for what will likely be a large strength and size disadvantage. "The Spaniard" does a great job working his takedowns whether they are in the center of the cage or along the fence and he chains his attempts together well, which can catch opponents off balance.
He doesn't pass guard very well, at least not at a high level, so he'll have to remain very active with short punches from guard if he doesn't want to get stood up.
Record: 9-3 overall, 6-3 in the UFC
Key Losses: Josh Koscheck (UFC 106), Rich Clementi (UFC 76)
How he got here: Anthony Johnson took the fast track to the UFC. With his freakish size and power for a welterweight, he made his promotional debut in just his fourth professional fight. Prior to that, he had been a national champion wrestling on the junior college level.
He didn't get off to a great start in the UFC, going 2-2 in his first four fights, losing via submission to the significantly smaller Rich Clementi and getting his eye poked badly by Kevin Burns which somehow resulted in a TKO loss. In between those fights, he showed his potential by knocking Ultimate Fighter season six finalist Tommy Speer silly in less than a minute with a vicious punch.
"Rumble" went on a solid three fight win streak, avenging the eye poke to Burns and knocking out both Luigi Fioravanti and Yoshiyuki Yoshida in the first round. This earned him a big time divisional match-up against top contender Josh Koscheck. Johnson struggled to land big strikes against Koscheck, resorting to wild punches and his lack of a serious submission game resulted in a second round rear naked choke defeat.
He was slated to face John Howard but their fight next got past the ridiculously awesome war of words before Johnson was sidelined with a horrible knee injury. He would be shelved for 17 months before finally returning against Dan Hardy at UFC Fight Night 24. Johnson smashed Hardy with strikes and then rode out a decision with his significantly superior wrestling, something he caught some flack from the fans and media.
He was originally going to fight Nate Marquardt at UFC on Versus 5 but was sidelined with another injury but is ready to go this Saturday night against his Brenneman.
How he gets it done: Everyone only seems to remember his last fight, in which Johnson positionally dominated Dan Hardy with his wrestling in the final two rounds, but they seem to forget every one of his other UFC fights prior. Johnson has knocked out his opponent in every other one of his UFC victories. He's got some serious power.
"Rumble" is very dangerous with not only his punches but also his kicks, something Brenneman should be very careful about considering he tends to stoop down a lot looking for takedowns.
Johnson is the bigger, stronger fighter so his best plan of action would be to employ the "sprawl and brawl" style that Jens Pulver and Chuck Liddell made famous back in the day. When Brenneman shoots in for takedowns, Johnson immediately needs to grab some underhooks or drop down in a deep sprawl. He's a solid wrestler in his own right but why risk it by turning this fight into a grappling match?
In the stand-up, Johnson should keep his distance because he's got a significant eight inch reach advantage with his punches. He could pick Brenneman apart with a lead jab and then follow up with a power strike if he does any damage.
Hopefully he's been putting some time in the gym working on his knees. A well-timed knee can be the perfect foil to a great wrestler and Brenneman's chin likely wouldn't hold up if he gets blasted badly on the way in.
Fight "X-Factor:" The X-Factor for this fight has to be Anthony Johnson's size. Charlie Brenneman will want to take him down but that will not be easy considering Johnson's wrestling credentials and the fact that he might be the largest welterweight in the world. Johnson is 6'2 and routinely cuts from well over 200 pounds when preparing for a fight. That's a lethal combination that could spell doom for Charlie Brenneman.
Brenneman absolutely needs to use his technique to prevail here. His timing needs to be perfect with every takedown or he's going to be shrugged off with ease. If he can handle "Rumble's" size, he can win, but it certainly won't be easy.
Bottom Line: There are a lot of questions about this fight in terms of excitement level. Johnson played it safe his last bout against Dan Hardy because "The Outlaw" couldn't wrestle, but that won't be the case against Brenneman. Brenneman doesn't play it safe with his wrestling, that's mainly his primary weapon in every fight. While his bout against Story was exciting mainly because of the whole underdog story of a guy stepping up on one day's notice, if he does the exact same thing against Anthony Johnson, people might start calling him boring.
Johnson will hopefully be looking for the knockout in the stand-up and Brenneman will hopefully be looking to actually pass guard and threaten with big ground and pound or submissions. If not, this one could lose steam very quickly.
Who will come out on top at UFC on Versus 6 this Saturday night? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!