Well, here we are.
After a smorgasbord of shenanigans that I’m pretty sure most mixed martial arts (MMA) fans are sick and tired of talking about, UFC 152 is ready to go from the Air Canada center in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Headlining the pay-per-view (PPV) card is a Light Heavyweight title fight between division champion Jon Jones and late replacement Vitor Belfort, who has won seven of his last eight fights. In the co-main event, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will crown its first-ever Flyweight champion when Demetrious Johnson vs. Joseph Benavidez collide for five rounds of high-speed, 125-pound mayhem.
Before all that, however, we’ve got seven "Prelims" bouts to tide you over on Facebook and FX.
Check out part one of our UFC 152 "Prelims" breakdown, featuring the first four bouts of the fight card, after the jump:
Judo specialist James Hettes (10-0) had some hype behind him when he entered the UFC in the midst of a nine-fight submission streak, but his struggles against Alex Caceres caused it to simmer down somewhat. It promptly reignited, however, after "The Kid" massacred Nam Phan in one of the year’s most one-sided affairs. Seven of Hettes’ submissions have come via form of choke and all nine of them have been inside the ten-minute mark.
An alum from The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 12, Marcus Brimage (5-1) entered his second UFC bout a major underdog against Venezuelan murder machine Maximo Blanco, with the latter expected to pick up his eighth knockout with ease. Unexpectedly, "The Bama Beast" managed to outstrike the former lightweight King of Pancrase and shut down his wrestling, winning a split decision in a relatively uneventful affair. Brimage, who was originally knocked off "The Ultimate Fighter" by Team Alpha Male’s Bryan Caraway, owns a knockout win over UFC veteran Kyle Bradley.
I’ll fully admit that I was dead wrong about Brimage’s fight with Blanco and am probably tempting fate with this pick, but I think Hettes whips him. Brimage has solid technical standup, but he doesn’t have all that much power and he’s giving up five inches of height to Hettes, which means he won’t be able to keep Jimy from getting inside and he’ll have a major leverage disadvantage in the clinch. Plus, he’s hopelessly outgunned on the ground.
I want to see Hettes against a long striker with takedown defense before I start touting him as a blue-chip prospect, but he’s damn good at what he does and Brimage doesn’t have the goods to stop him from doing just that. Expect maybe thirty seconds of standup before Marcus takes a ride on the Hettes B*cthtoss Express, gets his back taken, and taps.
Prediction: Hettes via first-round submission
170 lbs.: Seth Baczynski vs. Simeon Thoresen
After an accidental soccer kick cost him a chance to win TUF 11 and he lost a narrow decision to Brad Tavares on the Finale, Seth Baczynski (17-8) wasted no time in earning his way back into the organization, knocking out Tim McKenzie and the highly-touted Alex Garcia despite getting his arm broken in the early going of the former. Since rejoining the organization, "The Polish Pistola" is undefeated (3-0), submitting Clay Harvison and Matt Brown and decisioning Lance Benoist. One of the bigger welterweights, Baczynski has only ever gone the distance once in victory.
With Joachim Hansen steadfastly refusing to ever join the world’s largest MMA organization, protege Simeon Thoresen (17-2-1) is representing Norway in his stead. "The Grin" debuted on the UFC’s second FUEL TV card against local Besam Yousef, submitting him in the second round after an entertaining back-and-forth affair. Thoresen has 15 submission wins to his credit and is 8-1-1 in his last 10, beating rising Welterweight John Maguire during that time.
Being a massive Japanese MMA fanboy, I am contractually obligated to root for all things "Hellboy," but this just strikes me as a bad match up for Thoresen. Baczynski is a huge welterweight who’s good pretty much everywhere the fight goes -- a grappling affair between the two would be all kinds of awesome, but I doubt Baczynski is going to let it get there. More likely, he uses his wrestling to keep it standing and pulverizes Thoresen from there, which is what Yousef was having success with before getting clipped.
It goes against every fiber of my being to pick against someone who’s trained by Hansen, but in this line of work, you just gotta man up and make the tough decisions. Baczynski stuffs Thoresen’s takedowns for a few minutes before catching him with something unpleasant and pounding him out.
Prediction: Baczynski via first-round technical knockout
135 lbs.: Mitch Gagnon vs. Walel Watson
Ontario’s Mitch Gagnon (8-2) may not have won his UFC debut, but he damn sure gave it everything he had, pushing "The Ultimate Fighter" veteran Bryan Caraway to his limit with brutal clinchwork before finally succumbing to a rear-naked choke in the third. The bout won "Fight of the Night" and snapped a six-fight winning streak for Gagnon, all submissions. Save for a third-round submission due to a slam, all of his wins are by way of choke, each of them coming inside five minutes.
The 5’11" Walel Watson (9-4), easily the tallest bantamweight in the organization, impressed mightily in his debut, taking out Joseph Sandoval with a head kick and punches in 77 seconds. His sophomore effort, a close decision loss to Yves Jabouin, saw him nearly defeat one of the best strikers in the division, but there is nothing positive that can be said about his fight with T.J. Dillashaw. Using his wrestling to its full potential, Dillashaw mounted and pulverized "The Gazelle," outlanded him 154-19 in total strikes. The second round in particular may have been the most stastically one-sided round in UFC history, with Dillashaw landing 94 blows to Watson’s two.
Watson will need one hell of a performance to get himself into the Bantamweight picture.
It feels odd to pick against a guy five inches shorter than his opponent, but there’s one and only one factor that will decide the fight: Watson is completely damn useless off his back. Gagnon has decent wrestling and good submissions. I feel this is pretty clear-cut.
The only way I see Watson winning this fight is if he somehow catches Gagnon coming in, but the majority of his strikes have little power and he’s not good at keeping people far enough away that they can’t shoot. Takedown, back mount, choke victory for the Canadian.
Prediction: Gagnon via first-round submission
170 lbs.: Kyle Noke vs. Charlie Brenneman
Kyle Noke (19-6-1), who was deemed badass enough to be Steve Irwin’s bodyguard, entered TUF 11 as a favorite to win it all, having a win over Brian Ebersole and a draw with Hector Lombard on his record. Unfortunately, "KO" had no answer for Kris McCray’s wrestling and lost his chance at a six-figure contract in decidedly "meh" fashion.
Noke put three straight wins together in the UFC proper, but is now sitting on a two-fight losing streak that prompted the drop to 170, where he will be debuting this Saturday.
Charlie Brenneman (15-4) went from nobody to the Next Big Thing™ in a hurry. Just two fights removed from a brutal knockout loss to Johny Hendricks, "The Spaniard" replaced Nate Marquardt on hours’ notice against Rick Story (who was the reigning Next Big Thing™) and shockingly outgrappled him for a unanimous decision win. He fell just as quickly as he rose, however, suffering a knockout loss to Anthony Johnson and a submission loss to Erick Silva in two of his three subsequent fights.
Brenneman will need a dominant win, most likely a finish, if he wants to regain contendership.
I’m always skeptical about guys dropping a weight class off losses, and this one reeks of more, "I’m getting my ass kicked by guys better than me so I’d better go beat up little dudes" than, "I’m too small, better go fight in my weight class." Plus, even if the weight cut goes off without a hitch, this still seems like a bad match up for Noke, who struggles with cardio and defensive wrestling, both of which Brenneman can exploit in spades.
People rag on Brenneman for his one-dimensional attack and for how boring he is, but he’s only lost to damn good welterweights, and I believe he beats pretty much anyone he can outwrestle. Noke may do well in the early going, but Brenneman is just going to shoot takedowns at him until one of them sticks, and fending all those off is going to wreak havoc on Noke’s cut-depleted cardio.
This is probably Noke’s last hurrah in the Octagon, while Brenneman may never crack the top-10 again, but he’s more than capable of taking out someone on Noke’s level. Grindfest decision win for "The Spaniard."
Prediction: Brenneman via unanimous decision
Stop by tomorrow for a look at the rest of the "Prelims."
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE blow-by-blow, round-by-round coverage of UFC 152, 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 main card action as it happens throughout the evening this upcoming Saturday night.