Two talented mixed martial arts (MMA) veterans will meet this Saturday night (April 21, 2012) as Xtreme Couture's John Alessio battles elite grappler Mark Bocek on the UFC 145 main card in Atlanta, Georgia.
John Alessio has thrice fought in the UFC, even once battling Pat Miletich for the Welterweight (155-pound at the time) title back in 2000. He earned his trip back to the big show by winning 10 of 11 fights and by dropping down to the current Lightweight division (155-pound) late last year.
Mark Bocek is a top talent in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) at 155 pounds. He's submitted a large contingent of fighters and he's got experience against the best of the best in the division, although he's still searching for that signature victory. He's got some serious grappling credentials and he'll be hoping to showcase them against Alessio.
Will Alessio finally get that 0-3 UFC monkey off his back? Can Bocek continue to dominate all but the most elite lightweights in the UFC? What's the key to victory for both men on Saturday night?
Let's find out:
Record: 34-14 overall, 0-3 in the UFC
Key Wins: Ryan Healy (Score Fighting Series 4), War Machine (TPF 5), Luigi Fioravanti (MFC 22)
Key Losses: Siyar Bahurdazada (United Glory 14), Carlos Condit (WEC 26), Paul Daley (MFC 19)
How he got here: Believe it or not, John Alessio has been fighting since 1998, having fought 48 times against high level competition throughout that period. He made his UFC debut back in 2000 when he was just 20 years when he challenged Pat Miletich for the then-lightweight title which was actually 170 pounds. He would lose to Miletich but would be brought back to the UFC six years later to take on then-undefeated Ultimate Fighter season one winner Diego Sanchez.
Alessio gave Sanchez all he could handle, winning the first round before dropping a hotly contested decision. After a victory in the WEC, he would be brought back to the UFC for a third time, this time taking on an in-his-prime Thiago Alves where he would again drop a decision.
Alessio would earn one more shot at glory when he challenged Carlos Condit for the WEC welterweight title but he would be forced to tap out with just one second remaining in the second round. He would have success bouncing around promotions from Dream to WEC to MFC but Alessio began to hit his stride once more in 2009.
Since May of 2009, the Xtreme Couture fighter has won 10 of 11 bouts, only losing to Siyar Bahurdazada, which after his performance this past weekend, isn't nearly as bad of a dark spot on his record. Alessio dropped down to lightweight in November of 2011 and has dominated his last two opponents at 155 pounds, finally having a nice size advantage. When Matt Wiman was forced out with an injury, the UFC came calling and Alessio will be getting his fourth stint in the UFC.
How he gets it done: Alessio is very well-rounded with a nice diverse attack of submissions, wrestling and striking but he really needs to be careful against Bocek, who has some of the most dangerous top control in all of the UFC lightweight division. While Alessio has won most of his career fights on the ground, he needs to utilize his striking game if he wants to win this fight.
Expect to see Alessio utilize his size here to keep the fight standing whether it's simply in the pocket or in the clinch. If he can wear Bocek down in the clinch without getting taken down, that wouldn't be a bad idea either but it's much more likely that he'll try to utilize his length and size in the striking department.
Alessio has a pretty solid left jab and he can follow it up with a straight right if he can connect solidly. Bocek's been hurt before and while Bocek is not the best striker out there, he's compact and capable of rocking Alessio if he can connect flush, just like he did against Frankie Edgar. I foresee Alessio trying to keep his distance, not throwing many kicks and working his crisp punching attack to try to win a decision.
Record: 10-4 overall, 6-4 in the UFC
Key Wins: Nik Lentz (UFC 140), Dustin Hazelett (UFC 124), Doug Evans (UFC 79)
Key Losses: Ben Henderson (UFC 129), Jim Miller (UFC 111), Frankie Edgar (UFC 73)
How he got here: Mark Bocek earned his stripes the hard way when he studied Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) under Rickson and Renzo Gracie. He earned one of Canada's first ever black belts in BJJ and actually caught the attention of the UFC on the highest level when he began instructing BJJ for UFC owners Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta.
Bocek started slow, losing two of his first three UFC fights but he built confidence against lower-tier fighters on the undercard. After a very spirited loss to Jim Miller at UFC 111, Bocek finally scored his signature victory when he blasted through Dustin Hazelett's rubber guard at UFC 124 and finished the crafty BJJ wizard with a triangle from mount in one of 2010's best submissions.
He returned to welcome Ben Henderson to the UFC a year ago but after a hard-fought battle, he would lose a unanimous decision. He bounced back last December to hand Nik Lentz the first loss of his UFC career, controlling the Minnesota wrestler from top position over the course of three rounds.
How he gets it done: The TriStar product has gone on record saying he has the best jiu-jitsu in the lightweight division. Bocek definitely backed up that statement with an impeccable performance against fellow submission expert Dustin Hazelett at the end of 2010. On top of his fantastic BJJ, Bocek also has a stifling top control game and some extremely competent ground and pound in his arsenal.
He wants to take this fight to the ground and he wants to do it immediately. Look for the Canadian to clinch or shoot for takedowns early and often until he perseveres. Alessio is not going to be a walk in the park due to his experience, and Bocek does have some power so I expect to see Bocek try to set up his takedowns with a big hook which will hopefully bring Alessio's hands up defensively and open himself up for a takedown.
Once on the ground, that's Bocek's world.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight has to be John Alessio's mentality heading into this bout. He's 0-3 in all of his previous three trips into the Octagon, granted that was a long time ago and against elite competition, but that's still gotta be messing with him in the back of his head. He's got the size, experience and talent to win this fight but if doubt is creeping in or if he tries to overcompensate, he's going to find himself in a bad spot, which is on his back against Bocek. The mental game is just as important as the physical so Alessio really needs to keep himself composed and stick with the gameplan for the full 15 minute duration of this fight.
Bottom Line: This fight has some potential. Bocek is always fun to watch when he's working his top control game and either threatening a TKO from top or with a submission. Alessio will be trying his darndest to keep the fight standing so that potential mini-battle will be very exciting. Also, the storyline with Alessio having failed in three prior UFC attempts is compelling and a reason to root for him. It's been eating away at the veteran and he wants nothing more than to get that first UFC victory after nearly 12 years. There's potential that the fight could slow down if Bocek can't score a takedown or if Alessio can force a stalemate on the canvas but it's a worthy risk.
Who will come out on top at UFC 145? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!