Two very different levels of MMA experience will meet this Saturday night (February 4, 2012) as 11 fight UFC veteran Ed Herman takes on undefeated but relatively green Clifford Starks to open up the UFC 143 main card in Las Vegas.
Herman has been a force ever since returning from a horrific pair of knee injuries which sidelined him from the Octagon for over 21 months and nearly ended his career. His resurgence has been highlighted by a pair of first round finishes against UFC veterans Tim Credeur and Kyle Noke. He'll be looking to enter a new tier at 185 pounds if he can get past Starks on Saturday night.
Clifford Starks takes on all comers. The undefeated wrestler based out of Arizona made his UFC debut just two weeks after competing for 15 full minutes at Shark Fights 20. Not only was he not affected by the short notice and lack of preparation, he imposed his will and dominated fellow newcomer Dustin Jacoby on the UFC 137 preliminary card.
Will Ed Herman continue his incredible comeback story? Can Clifford Starks' wrestling skills be enough to snuff "Short Fuse?" How does each middleweight secure a victory on Saturday night?
Let's find out:Ed Herman
Record: 19-7 overall, 6-5 in the UFC
How he got here: Ed Herman worked the local Pacific northwest circuit before back-to-back victories over Nick Thompson and former UFC champion Dave Menne earned him an invite to The Ultimate Fighter season three. Herman made it to the finals where he would lose a gritty decision to Kendall Grove in a fight that impressed Dana White so much that he awarded both men a "six figure" UFC contract.
Since being awarded the contract, "Short Fuse" had been a mid-level middleweight, defeating all the guys he was supposed to beat while losing to the Demian Maias and Alan Belchers of the world. He was injured badly against Aaron Simpson, but fought on anyways before utterly destroying his knee in the second round.
Herman considered retiring after re-aggravating the injury in training but he stayed the course and returned to action after 21 months away, smashing Tim Credeur in just 40 seconds and then submitting Aussie veteran Kyle Noke with a heel hook in the first round just two months later.
After several months off, "Short Fuse" is back and ready to go against prospect Clifford Starks.
How he gets it done: Herman has been a new man since making his return from injury. His stand-up has been crisp and his submissions have been very active and violent.
Early on, expect to see the Colorado based scrapper test his stand-up skills. He's been sitting on his punches much better and throwing with significantly stronger technique and power lately, so he'll definitely have the edge in that department. If he can tag Starks, he will continue to follow up until he can finish the fight there.
I'm expecting Herman to use his wrestling defensively at first, trying to keep this fight standing so he can continue to pound away. If Starks takes him down, Herman will be extremely active in the submission department, throwing everything up from armbars to leg locks to triangle chokes off of his back.
He's gained a real mean streak and it'll be interesting if he can keep his momentum going.
Record: 8-0 overall, 1-0 in the UFC
Key Wins: Dustin Jacoby (UFC 137)
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Clifford Starks is a bit of a late bloomer. He was a Division I wrestler, competing in the prestigious Arizona State program. He signed up with Arizona Combat Sports and made his professional debut in 2009, scoring a second round submission.
Starks became a staple of the Arizona based Rage in the Cage promotion, winning all five of his fights there before competing at Shark Fights 20, where he won a unanimous decision against Artenas Young. The 30 year old got the call from the UFC and made his debut in the promotion just two weeks after his last fight, dominating Dustin Jacoby with his top control wrestling over the course of three rounds at UFC 137.
He agreed to fight veteran Ed Herman in his next bout and was bumped to the main card when the Dustin Poirier vs. Erik Koch fight was scrapped due to injury.
How he gets it done: Starks is still very raw in terms of major MMA skills, but the 30 year old wrestler might just have the recipe for success against Herman. It's a pretty simple gameplan, but it worked very well in his UFC debut against Dustin Jacoby, just take his opponent down and be active enough with ground and pound to avoid stand-ups.
Starks is very strong, and despite being four inches shorter than Herman, he's got an equal reach. He should try to put some pressure on Herman in the stand-up portion and force his opponent to try and counter. If and when Herman counters, that's when Starks needs to close the distance and work for a takedown. Herman showed in his last fight that he's not afraid to fight from his back, as he scored a nasty heel hook after repeated submission attempts from bottom.
The key for Starks is to be able to put Herman on the canvas and keep him there while avoiding getting tapped out. Herman is not going to just be content to use a closed guard and pray for a stand-up. He'll be working for submissions and sweeps constantly so Starks will need to keep a strong base. He'll have to walk the fine line of not being too open with his striking to get tapped or swept and not being too tentative with his ground and pound to force a stand-up.
Fight X-Factor: The X-Factor here has to be experience. Clifford Starks' only major career victory was his UFC debut against Dustin Jacoby, a fighter who most likely will be getting his walking papers after suffering his second consecutive defeat in the promotion this past weekend. While their ages may be similar (Starks is 30, Herman 31), there is a tremendous gap in competition level. Ed Herman will be having his 12th fight in the UFC on Saturday night to Stark's second. Herman is significantly more well-rounded, has seen all different types of styles in his UFC career (including Stark's already).
That said, the last time Herman faced a very strong wrestler, he was defeated by Aaron Simpson. This is not a gimme fight by any stretch of the imagination.
Bottom Line: There are two ways this fight can go. The first would be if Ed Herman gets to continue his resurgence with a strong showing of his full repertoire of skills in his stand-up and submission attack. I can definitely see him clearly outperforming Starks in the striking department and there is a strong possibility that he can overcome his inexperienced foe with his wide array of submission skills. Unfortunately for Starks, I don't see him winning this fight any other way than being very boring by scoring takedowns and not taking many risks on the ground, even if that opens him up to referee stand-ups. We'll see how it turns out, however. I have been wrong plenty of times before.
Who will come out on top at UFC 143? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!