Things are about to get heavy at featherweight.
After defending his crown in dominant fashion against Kenny Florian and Chad Mendes, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight king Jose Aldo faces perhaps his toughest challenge yet as former lightweight lord, Frankie Edgar, looks to rebuild his kingdom 10 pounds south.
UFC 156, which goes down this Saturday (Feb. 2, 3013) at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, in Las Vegas, Nevada, also features a titanic Heavyweight clash between Alistair Overeem and Antonio Silva, not to mention pivotal division clashes such as Jon Fitch vs. Demian Maia and Ian McCall vs. Joseph Benavidez.
Yesterday, we previewed the first three bouts that comprise the initial UFC 156 Facebook/FX 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 before the pay-per-view (PPV) event starts at 10 p.m. ET.
Let's get cracking:
155 lbs.: Gleison Tibau vs. Evan Dunham
After struggling with consistency in his early UFC career, Brazilian goliath Gleison Tibau (26-8) seems to have finally hit his stride, winning four of his last five bouts with the sole defeat a questionable decision loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov. His last time out, he showcased his heart and resilience in front of his countrymen, surviving a monstrous left hand from fellow giant Francisco Trinaldo to take a decisive decision win.
Despite being only 29 years old, this will be Tibau’s seventeenth appearance inside the Octagon.
While he came out on the wrong side of the decision, it’s hard not to be impressed by the performance of Evan Dunham (13-3) in his UFC 152 bout with T.J. Grant -- a crazy brawl that saw the two grappling specialists elect to trade leather rather than submissions for 15 bloody minutes. Unfortunately, it also dropped Dunham to 2-3 in his last five fights, and while his job likely isn’t in danger, he’ll need an excellent performance against Tibau to get his place back among the division’s elite.
He’s not the most physically-impressive specimen, but Dunham has some of the most underrated wrestling in the division. Sean Sherk increasingly struggled to drag him down in their fight, he easily outgrappled Tyson Griffin, and he took down a solid wrestler in Grant whenever he got bored of trading leather. He doesn’t have much stopping power, but he’s not getting put on his back against Tibau.
And that's bad news for the Brazilian.
His striking has definitely come a long way, but Tibau just doesn’t beat people he can’t outwrestle. Impressive as his size and strength are, he doesn’t pack big power either and hasn’t performed well against the division’s tougher wrestlers.
If Dunham tries to brawl again, I think it’s a toss-up, but if he constantly pressures Tibau and makes a determined effort to get the fight to the ground often he can win this comfortably. Expect him to do so, winning an increasingly one-sided grappling match after dropping the opening frame because of his tendency to start slow.
Prediction: Dunham by unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Tyron Woodley vs. Jay Hieron
Stepping in for the injured Erick Silva, Tyron Woodley (10-1) has not been in the cage since his hectic back-and-forth battle with Nate Marquardt for the Strikeforce welterweight belt in June. Before that loss, he had beaten the likes of Jordan Mein, Paul Daley and newly-minted champion Tarec Saffiedine, although all three wins came by decision after having finished six of his first seven opponents.
"T-Wood" is two inches shorter and six years younger than Jay Hieron (23-6).
After giving Bellator welterweight kingpin Ben Askren all he could handle in a split-decision loss and winning a subsequent bout in Legacy Fighting Championships, Hieron was invited back to the UFC when Josh Koscheck was forced out of his bout with Jake Ellenberger. "The Thoroughbred" was unable to pick up his first-ever UFC victory, dropping a decision to "The Juggernaut" in a lackluster affair.
Hieron had previously competed twice in the Octagon, losing to Georges St. Pierre in 2004 and to Jonathan Goulet in 2005.
Questionable as some of his performances in Bellator were, the fact remains that Hieron is the only man in MMA to take more than one round from Ben Askren. And while Woodley is faster and hits harder than Askren, his wrestling pales in comparison to the "Funky" one’s. Plus, his striking comprises mostly his right hand, leading me to believe Hieron has him beat in that area.
With the short notice and the fact that he is making his UFC debut off of a knockout loss, I fully expect Woodley to come out looking for the takedown with a passion. Without the crushing power that Ellenberger has, however, he will be unable to stop Hieron punishing him standing before, after and during his failed takedowns. He may tag Hieron once or twice, but his instinct is to wrestle after hurting people, meaning he should be unable to capitalize if that happens.
Hieron takes a decision after shrugging off a dozen or so shots and landing just a bit more on the feet.
Predicion: Hieron by unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Yves Edwards vs. Isaac Vallie-Flagg
Since suffering the ignominy of being the only person in the UFC to get knocked out by Sam Stout, Yves Edwards (42-18-1) has firmly established himself as a player in the Lightweight division, most recently putting Jeremy Stephens to sleep for the first time in "Lil’ Heathen’s" career. Edwards, 36, debuted in 1997 and first competed in the UFC in 2001, making him pretty much the elder statesman of 155.
Of his 42 wins, 33 have come inside the distance.
Fighting out of Jackson Winkeljohn MMA, Isaac Vallie-Flagg (13-3-1) scored the biggest win of his career this past May, defeating former K-1 HEROs superstar Gesias Cavalcante on the under card of Strikeforce: "Barnett vs. Cormier." The win improved his record to 10-0-1 since starting his career 3-3.
Despite being only two years younger than Edwards, he has less than one-third the number of fights.
Vallie-Flagg is a very solid fighter, but strikes me as just ever-so-slightly worse than Edwards in most areas. His striking, while sound, isn’t as fast or crisp as Edwards’, nor is his takedown defense particularly impressive.
Beating Cavalcante is impressive, but despite being younger than "Thugjitsu Master," "JZ" is significantly more run-down. Edwards still has the speed and timing to pick a good chunk of the lightweight division apart on the feet and a ground game that, while not appearing that often, can ruin your day.
A fight where he can use both is just bad news for Vallie-Flagg. Edwards peppers a dominant striking attack with a handful of takedowns to sweep the judges’ scorecards.
Prediction: Edwards by unanimous decision
Let me be frank: This card is going to kick ass ... I can't wait.
See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the UFC 156 PPV main card action, which is slated to start promptly at 10 p.m. ET. Up-to-the-minute updates and fight-by-fight coverage will begin to flow earlier than that, however, around 6:30 p.m. ET with the "Prelims" bouts on Facebook and FX.