For its second venture onto the FOX network, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has hauled in some serious beef, pitting rivals Rashad Evans vs. Phil Davis against one another in the main event and mixing in loudmouthed bangers Chael Sonnen and Michael Bisping to set the stage.
Because there are only three main card bouts, there will be a total of eight "Prelims" contests that will air live on FUEL TV, beginning at 5 p.m. ET on fight night.
155 lbs.: Evan Dunham vs. Nik Lentz
Xtreme Couture wunderkind Evan Dunham (12-2) was coming off two fantastic performances as he stepped in to face late replacement Melvin Guillard, neither of which received their just recompense from the judges. His domination of Tyson Griffin was inexplicably a split decision, while his thrashing of Sean Sherk was called a loss. The judges had nothing to do with this one, though, as he was brutalized by the resurgent "Young Assassin" and stopped in the first round. Bouncing back with an authoritative victory over Shamar Bailey, Dunham will aim to put his hype train right back on the rails against Nick Lentz (21-4-2, 1 NC).
Replacing injured Brit Paul Sass on little more than one month’s notice, Lentz last fought at UFC 140, suffering his first official loss since 2007 to Canadian grappling machine Mark Bocek. Despite hunting for a guillotine all fight long -- the man who "choked out Brock Lesnar" (read all about it here) -- was unable to overcome the positional dominance of Bocek. In his previous effort, "The Carney" had been battered by Charles Oliveira until an illegal knee in the midst of the onslaught forced the bout to be called a no-contest. With his notoriously fan-unfriendly style and about a 1.5-fight losing streak, Lentz could very well be fighting for his job this weekend.
I was very harsh on Lentz in my preview of his fight with Bocek, and while he definitely did better than I expected him to do, this just strikes me as another terrible match up for him. Guillard thumping notwithstanding, Dunham is one of the better grapplers at 155 pounds and has solid wrestling and striking games to go along with it. Lentz has a decent guillotine and good wrestling, but I remain of the firm belief that his long unbeaten the streak had a lot to do with luck and that he doesn’t have the tools to recreate Guillard’s or Sherk’s victories.
I was considering calling for Dunham to submit him, but it’s more likely that Dunham beats him up standing or latches onto his back for a straightforward decision -- Lentz is a tough nut to crack. In any case, Dunham shouldn’t have too much trouble with this one.
Prediction: Dunham via unanimous decision
265 lbs.: Mike Russow vs. Jon Olav Einemo
Portly powerhouse Mike Russow (14-1) left the morass of contendership and entered the realm of legend in his sophomore UFC effort, bouncing back from 12 minutes of beatdown at the hands of Todd Duffee to put away the muscular upstart with a punch to the temple. Refusing to be a flash in the pan, he went on to upset expert wrestler Jon Madsen at UFC Fight Night 24. After a bizarre series of drug tests from his foe sank his UFC 136 bout with Dave Herman, Russow’s jiggly rise to the top must now overcome one big Nord.
Golden Glory-trained Jon Olav Einemo (6-2) -- one of the only men to defeat Roger Gracie at the Abu Dhabi Combat Club -- returned from a 4.5-year hiatus to debut in the Octagon against eccentric banger Dave Herman, engaging in a fantastic back-and-forth throwdown before being stopped by strikes in the latter part of the second round. Contract disputes ensued, however, and he -- along with Golden Glory teammate Marloes Coenen -- was released from ZUFFA. Now that his camp and UFC President Dana White have kissed and made up, though, Einemo is ready to unleash Ragnarok on the heavyweight division.
This strikes me as a bad match up for Russow. Yes, Einemo hasn’t really beaten anyone of note, but "The Viking" is still a huge dude with one of the more decorated grappling pedigrees in the heavyweight division. And despite almost five years out of the game, still managed to give Herman one heck of a fight.
Russow just doesn’t have great striking or, in my opinion, the grappling game necessary to hang with Einemo, who, unproven though he may be, should still score a victory in this one. Einemo by ground-and-pound from mount.
Prediction: Einemo via second round technical knockout
135 lbs.: Johnny Bedford vs. Mitch Gagnon
After defeating the touted Carson Beebe to get into the house on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 14, Johnny Bedford (18-9-1) was doing just great until sudden-onset fist, courtesy of eventual winner John Dodson, left him geographically befuddled. Luckily, the UFC brought him back to fight on the show Finale, where he put on a clinic against world-ranked flyweight Luis Gaudinot, brutalizing him everywhere the fight went before putting him away with body blows. Originally a replacement for Demetrious Johnson against former champion Eddie Wineland, "Brutal" must now face highly-touted prospect Gagnon if he wants to further put the Dodson debacle behind him.
A submission machine and former Ringside Featherweight Champion hailing from the Great White North, Mitch Gagnon (8-1) hasn’t just submitted all eight of his victims (apart from a third-round sub via slam) he’s done it in the first round every time. With five guillotines and two rear-naked chokes to his credit, it’s definitely in Bedford’s best interest to keep his neck well away from his Ontario-based foe. Replacing Eddie Wineland on short notice, Gagnon could put the division on notice with a dominant win over Bedford.
Because I can’t find footage of Gagnon, my skepticism gland (every writer has one) is going into overdrive and making me want to slap myself for this, but I’m picking him to beat Bedford. The last time someone with a submissions record like this came into the UFC, he (Jim Hettes) handed Nam Phan one of the most lopsided beatings of his life. In addition, of Bedford’s nine losses, a whopping eight have come via submission, and while the most recent of those came in 2009, it still strikes me as a major liability.
It might be hairy in the early going and it wouldn’t surprise me if Bedford ran over him, but fortune (as well as idiocy) favors the bold. Guillotine victory for the Canadian.
Prediction: Gagnon via first-round submission
145 lbs.: Cub Swanson vs. George Roop
Eternally-entertaining Cub Swanson (15-5), who has done an excellent job of proving himself more than just the guy who got utterly annihilated in six seconds by Jose Aldo. His last two battles, against Mackens Semerzier and Ricardo Lamas, were fantastic back-and-forth affairs. And while Swanson went 1-1 in those two, he proved himself one of the most entertaining bangers in the 145-pound division. He’ll look to make his mark on FUEL TV by bouncing back from his arm-triangle loss to Lamas against the surprisingly-resurgent George Roop.
Likewise phenomenally entertaining George Roop (12-8-1) shocked the mixed martial arts (MMA) world by becoming the first man to ever stop Chan Sung Jung, blasting "The Korean Zombie" with a head kick at World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) 51. Bouncing back from a subsequent knockout loss to Mark Hominick, he defied the odds once again by utterly dominating Josh Grispi before nearly taking out consensus number two featherweight Hatsu Hioki. An absurdly lanky striker who looks to have finally figured out how to use his height, the Team Tompkins representative will be out to break his team’s current slump by scoring a third knockout in five fights.
I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but Roop apparently turned into a pretty good fighter while we weren’t looking. Despite his height and obvious weight cut, his cardio is excellent, allowing him to maintain his long-range offense all through the fight. He’s gotten quite good at using his length to good effect and has picked up teammate Mark Hominick’s penchant for ripping to the body.
Swanson is also a good all-around fighter, but doesn’t excel in any one area to the extent that Roop does and is often willing to brawl. While he’s still a solid fighter, he’ll be dealing with a six-inch height disadvantage and doesn’t really have the tools to close that gap.
An interesting factoid adds some intrigue to this match up: Neither man has won or lost two straight since 2008 and both are coming off a loss. That pattern’s getting broken this Saturday, and considering Roop’s developing striking, he’ll be the one doing the breaking. Look for him to pick Swanson apart from range with heavy kicks and straight punches.
Prediction: Roop via unanimous decision
More free fights? Title shots on the line? I like what I'm seeing, Maniacs.
See you on Saturday.
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE blow-by-blow, round-by-round coverage of UFC on FOX 2, beginning with the "Prelims" bouts on FUEL TV scheduled for around 5 p.m. ET. In addition, we will also provide LIVE, real-time results of the main card action as it happens throughout the evening this upcoming weekend.