The big boys are hitting the strip.
With an all-heavyweight main card pay-per-view (PPV), UFC 146 is ready to set Las Vegas, Nevada, on fire this Saturday night (May 26, 2012). Junior dos Santos and Frank Mir will battle for "Cigano's" title, while the likes of Cain Velasquez and Roy Nelson will attempt to make their way back to the top of the division.
However, first we've got some fine scraps to tide you over in the "Prelims" under card fights that will air live on fight night thanks to a mixture of Facebook and FX programming.
Yesterday, we previewed the three bouts that comprise the Facebook portion of the "Prelims" under card right here. Today, we share breakdowns of the remaining four that will air live -- and for free -- on FX from the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Let's get cracking:
155 lbs.: Jamie Varner vs. Edson Barboza
Sailing has not been smooth on the good ship Jamie Varner (19-6-1) since "C-4" took the World Extreme Cagefighting WEC) Lightweight title in a veritable blitzkrieg of violence. After his entertaining decision win/Oscar audition over Donald Cerrone, things quickly went tits-up for the hard-hitting mixed martial arts (MMA) veteran as he went 1-4-1 in his next six bouts.
While it seemed that Edson Barboza 's (10-0) momentum had fizzled somewhat after close calls against Anthony Njokuani and Ross Pearson, the heavy-handed Brazilian reminded fight fans the reason he's considered one of the hottest prospects at 155 pounds with a spectacular wheel kick knockout of Terry Etim back at UFC 142.
Combining hellacious kicks with surprising takedown defense, Barboza has been collecting fight night bonuses like nobody's business, and a crack at the top 10 can't be too far in the future if he defuses Varner.
While I'm an unabashed die-hard Barboza supporter, I don't think his -500 line accurately reflects the fight. Varner's definitely been on a downswing, but he's got solid hands and sufficient wrestling to take down Barboza, and if not, then at least have him worried about the possibility. Clever boxing has so far been the most effective tactic for frustrating Barboza. And Varner may have the tools to execute that game plan.
He'll still lose. I just don't think is chances are this slim.
Barboza has yet to be brought down in the UFC for more than half a second. His sprawl and base have both proven excellent, and he looks to have a solid butterfly guard to get off his back. He's also a good three inches taller than Varner and knows how to use it.
Varner's a tough bloke, so I don't anticipate Barboza finishing him, but Varner will wish he was asleep after 15 minutes of getting his legs and torso turned into pudding.
Prediction: Barboza via unanimous decision
Runner-up on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 7, C.B. Dollaway (11-4) has hit choppy waters since starting his UFC career 5-2. The Versus network was not kind to "The Doberman," as Mark Munoz flattened him with his notorious ground-and-pound and Jared Hamman took advantage of a depleted gas tank to put him away with punches.
While his submission and wrestling prowess are undeniable, Dollaway may be on thin ice if he can't keep Strikeforce veteran Jason Miller (23-8) winless in the Octagon.
"Mayhem" talked a big game in his TUF stint opposite Michael Bisping, but when it came time to step into the cage, his 15 months away from the game bit him hard, as he gassed horribly after a solid first round to be finished by Bisping in three. The defeat dropped Mayhem's UFC record to 0-2, and while his time on the show certainly granted him some leeway, there's no telling if that can cover two straight losses.
It's always tough to call a fight between guys who recently suffered cardio problems, but in this case, I'm more willing to forgive "Mayhem's." As stated, this was his first bout in over a year, and he has proven capable of going five rounds in the past. As such, while I expect Dollaway to have some success with his wrestling in the early going, things should slip more and more in Miller's favor as the rounds go by. The submission game leans towards Miller, and Dollaway has a snowball's chance in Hell of tapping him.
Again, look for Dollaway to put Miller on his back and hold him there for a while, but lose steam until, late in the bout, Miller drags him down, takes his back, and gets his first UFC victory.
Prediction: Miller via third-round submission
145 lbs.: Diego Brandao vs. Darren Elkins
With a fiery temper and fistic dynamite to match, Diego Brandao (14-7) unleashed one of the most violent runs in the history of TUF, wiping out all three of his foes inside the house in brutal fashion. In his Finale clash with Dennis Bermudez, "Ceara" proved that he could handle adversity with the best of them, eating a colossal counter shot and subsequent ground-and-pound before latching onto an armbar and becoming the first Brazilian to win the show.
With massive power and a lethal ground game, Brandao is as dangerous as they come, and will be out to carve out a place in the UFC's featherweight division at the expense of Darren Elkins (13-2).
A wrestler by trade, Elkins has had one of the more ... interesting runs in the UFC. His first two bouts with the promotion ended in less than ninety seconds combined thanks to Duane Ludwig's foot turning backwards in the first and Charles Oliveira immediately submitting him in the second. Undaunted, Elkins dropped to 145, where he won a highly-questionable decision over Michihiro Omigawa and a clear-cut decision over Tiequan Zhang. With question marks hanging over him, Elkins can prove he's for real by stopping the freight train that is Brandao.
As emphatic a supporter of Brandao as I am, I consider myself a realist about his abilities. While some of his knockout losses could be explained by him fighting above his proper weight class, I am of the firm belief that someone who can stand his ground and take advantage of the big openings he leaves in his striking will beat him far more often than not.
Good thing that doesn't describe Elkins.
He's a solid wrestler, granted, and his standup isn't awful, but he doesn't have any one skill that can overwhelm Brandao. While he did manage to avoid getting subbed by Zhang, time has shown that said accomplishment may not mean all that much, and Brandao is a more proven submission stylist.
And that's assuming Elkins even gets him down before eating one of those monster punches.
The fight basically comes down to this question: can Elkins consistently take Brandao down and stay clear of both his big punches and his submissions?
Yeah, I'm gonna have to say no. Brandao by hurt.
Prediction: Brandao via first-round knockout
170 lbs.: Duane Ludwig vs. Dan Hardy
Long regarded as one of the best strikers in MMA, 12-year veteran Duane Ludwig (21-12) looked like a new man after moving back up to Welterweight, outlasting Nick Osipczak and upsetting Amir Sadollah in entertaining fashion. Old dogs and new tricks don't quite mesh, unfortunately, and Josh Neer exploited Ludwig's notoriously-lacking ground game to put him to sleep with a guillotine.
Now 2-3 in his latest UFC run, "Bang" may be at the limit of where his name can take him, and could need a solid win to stay employed.
Falls don't come much harder than Dan Hardy 's (23-10). After going 12-1 and earning a crack at champion Georges St.-Pierre, "The Outlaw" is now in the midst of a four-fight skid, getting manhandled by Georges St. Pierre, knocked out by Carlos Condit, smothered by Anthony Johnson, and outstruck and submitted by Chris Lytle. While his willingness to stand and trade has kept him employed regardless, Hardy's running out of room for error, and Ludwig could be the sacrifice he needs to keep the UFC brass pleased.
I love watching Ludwig operate. His combinations are incredibly smooth, and there is serious heat behind every limb. Technically speaking, he's leagues ahead of Hardy, and "The Outlaw's" mediocre takedown game may not be enough to exploit Ludwig's age-old weakness.
The issue is that Ludwig's jaw simply isn't there anymore. Miller rocked him down at 155 and Osipczak had him in a bad way early in their bout. Hardy's knockout power was obscenely overstated by the UFC in its attempt to make his fight with GSP not look like the hideous mismatch it was, but it's more than enough to crack what's left of Ludwig's chin.
Expect Ludwig to own the stand up by a fair margin before catching a wayward left hook and hitting the deck.
Prediction: Hardy via first-round technical knockout
There’s nothing quite like quality big men going at it, Maniacs.
See you Saturday!
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE blow-by-blow, round-by-round coverage of UFC 146, beginning with the "Prelims" bouts on Facebook scheduled for around 7 p.m. ET. In addition, we will also provide LIVE, real-time results of the FX action at 8 p.m. ET and the the PPV main card action as it happens throughout the evening this upcoming weekend.