Photo via Esther Lin of MMA Fighting.
UFC 152: "Jones vs. Belfort" is set to be a terrific night of fights tonight (Sept. 22, 2012) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, with solid showcases from top to bottom. There are many intriguing stylistic match-ups to look out for, but few compare to the level of a certain lightweight showdown on the FX broadcasted portion of the preliminary card.
Though it may not have been viewed by Zuffa as a more significant fight than Matt Hamill vs. Roger Hollett, it's exactly that. It will be a battle between two top-notch grapplers who aren't too shabby in other areas. This is the kind of fight that you should show casual mixed martial arts (MMA) fans who may think grappling is boring.
What then, you may ask, makes these two such exciting ground fighters?
They are both terrific at scrambling, and combine great technique with relentless offense. This bout will not be a grinding wrestling match.
Here's why it will win "Fight of the Night."
Evan Dunham (13-2) is a fighter who has made a name for himself with an exciting jiu-jitsu based attack. Six of his 13 wins come by way of submission, and he's known to threaten early and often. The holes in his game are few and far between, but he has been known to occasionally sacrifice position for a bold submission attempt, which has cost him in the past.
Dunham also sports an improving stand-up approach, and his boxing consists mainly of stinging straight punches. Though he is not a bad striker by any means, yet another slight flaw in his game is his initiation of stand up exchanges, or lack thereof. He is a solid striker, don't get me wrong, but sometimes he could benefit from more offense, rather than the laid back approach he usually uses. In his bout with Shamar Bailey, we got to see this from him, but in his most recent outing against Nik Lentz, he seemed to give up on it. Where Dunham might be a good striker, flaws like this are what allowed a lesser skilled striker like Lentz to win stand-up exchanges on various occasions.
My rating of Dunham as a fighter? He's solid and well rounded, but flawed in certain respects. He fits the bill of being a specialist, with a formidable ground game, but he is still a respectable striker. What he may lack in aggression standing he makes up for on the ground, and he never shies away from letting the fight go where it may. He'll engage in any position, and oblige any fighter for an intense war of wills.
T.J. Grant (18-5), a fighter I believe to be overlooked by many fans, has looked terrific in his last few wins inside the Octagon. Like Dunham, he bases most of his game off his jiu-jitsu attack, which he has used to gain 13 submissions in his career. He is very good at initiating scrambles, and his wrestling game is simple but effective. Whereas his upcoming opponent may give up position for submissions, Grant tends to prioritize position first and foremost, but he still doesn't shy away from offense.
In his most recent outings, we've seen Grant utilize his positionally dominant jiu-jitsu game to make respectable grapplers look like absolute nobodies. Against Shane Roller, he dominated him for nearly every minute, eventually finishing him in the third round by technical submission. In his bout with Carlo Prater, he came out on top in every scramble, dominating Prater en route to a lopsided decision victory.
Grant also has an underrated striking game, one I expect him to try using against Dunham. Despite being a very big lightweight, he has quick strikes which he uses to compliment his clinch and takedowns. Occasionally, he can look a bit sloppy standing, but he has improved upon that greatly in his last few bouts. His clinch game is also brutally effective, as Grant is known to rough up many fighters from this position with knees and punches.
As for Grant's overall game, it is quite similar to Dunham's. He is known better for his ground game, and rightly so, but he still has a good striking game. He may not have quite as many defensive liabilities as Dunham, but he isn't quite as offensive on the ground, which could make a big difference.
What we see here is a bout between two highly skilled lightweights. I can't remember a single time I've been bored by either, and they are primarily grapplers. The notion that grappling is a boring component of MMA is completely unjustified, and these are two fighters that prove it wrong. They have similar approaches, and it will be interesting to see them lock horns to see who's better.
We will undoubtably see scramble after exciting scramble, as well as an interesting striking clash. Both fighters can generate a ton of offense, and both have a lot of will power. The styles and skills these men possess lend themselves to a terrific fight, and we'll see that when the cage door locks.