Next Wednesday's (October 9, 2013) UFC Fight Night 29 main card bout between welterweights Mike Pierce and Rousimar Palhares isn't the kind of bout that you typically see on your average Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) card.
Both fighters will be looking to make a statement at Jose Correa Arena in Barueri, Brazil, but it's for entirely different reasons.
Pierce is a longtime division stalwart who's been an incredibly tough out for some of the best talent in the stacked UFC 170-pound division. He's taken Johny Hendricks and Josh Koscheck the distance in fights many felt Pierce won. Currently on a four-fight win streak, Pierce is baffled at why the UFC even chose to match him up with Palhares, whom he labels a "cheat."
If not for those two razor-thin losses to Hendricks and Koscheck, Pierce would be on a 10-fight win streak and almost definitely ranked in the top five. But he's not even ranked in the top 10 and he attributes that to his grinding style many deem boring. He has finished two out of his last three opponents via strikes; so a stoppage of Palhares could leave the UFC brass with no choice but to grant Pierce a top opponent.
Across the Octagon, Palhares will stand, faced with an entirely different set of circumstances. While his opponent is fighting for recognition, Palhares is simply fighting for relevancy. This will be his first bout since failing a drug test for elevated testosterone levels following his knockout loss to Hector Lombard at UFC On FX 6. It's also his first fight at welterweight, and Pierce won't plan on providing a cordial welcome.
Palhares is on thin ice because he was finished in his last two bouts and failed the drug test, earning a nine-month suspension. Add that to his previous suspension for holding onto one of his leglocks too long, and Palhares desperately needs a win to keep his job. It's an odd fight as you don't usually see a fighter on a four-fight win streak facing a disgraced opponent who has lost two in a row.
But this is mixed martial arts (MMA) and anything can happen. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Mike Pierce vs. Rousimar Palhares.
Record: 17-5 overall, 9-3 UFC
Key Losses: Johny Hendricks (UFC 133), Josh Koscheck (UFC 143)
Keys to Victory: Pierce is a gritty welterweight who doesn't get a lot of media coverage or credit. His style isn't the most aesthetically pleasing way to win, but it's effective nonetheless. Pierce has an identical number of decision victories and knockout wins to his name, but a striking stoppage is probably the only way he's going to get the high-level bout that he's been campaigning for.
Thankfully for him, Palhares has been finished via strikes quite often recently.
That's an area Pierce has been focusing on. He'll always have a proficient wrestling base thanks to his collegiate career at Portland State University, but that's not going to score him any points in the eyes of UFC matchmakers.
Pierce is in the unenviable position of not only needing to win, but to win impressively. Palhares is going to be a wildcard with his perceived size advantage at welterweight. Pierce most likely won't be able to grind him out against the cage like he has past opponents. It will be to Pierce's benefit to keep this fight standing because Palhares has an extensive arsenal of devastating finishing holds when the fight hits the ground.
Pierce has never tapped out in his MMA career, but there's no reason to put that to the test on fight night. Engaging in a ground battle with a huge Brazilian Jiu-jitsu master like Palhares is literally dangerous for your health, even for a well-trained veteran like Pierce. To pick up the statement win here, Pierce should look to use his defensive wrestling to keep the fight standing where he can look to test Palhares' suspect chin.
Record: 14-5 overall, 7-4 UFC
Keys to Victory: Palhares is in a rough position right now with his aforementioned losses and suspension. A loss to Pierce will probably see him receive his walking papers from the UFC. It's hard to predict if the cut down to welterweight will help or hinder him.
He was a huge and powerful middleweight so he's probably going to be an absolutely massive welterweight. That could mean cutting a ton of weight, so he'll need to do that the right way in order to show up fresh and focused rather than drawn and ineffective. His nickname "Toquinho," which translates to "little tree stump," is an accurate description of the brutish fighter.
He's used that strength and power to bully his opponents on the ground, obtaining 10 submission victories. A frequent utilizer of vicious heel hooks and kneebars, many of his holds have left his opponents screaming in pain after they tapped. Those will be difficult to lock up against a resilient fighter like Pierce, but that won't stop "Toquinho" from looking for them.
When the fight starts on the feet, Palhares will be out of his comfort zone. He's only notched a single striking-based victory in his career, so Pierce will look to keep this fight off the ground. If Palhares can drag the bout to the canvas, a world of potential opportunity will open up. His strength advantage will come into play.
But Pierce knows that his shot at recognition is on the line, and he's no doubt been training an insane amount of submission defense for this fight. That means Palhares will have to come in on top of his total game without distractions.
The cards may be stacked against the Brazilian, but he'll have the crowd roaring behind him. His power submission game gives him a chance in any fight, but he'll have to be mentally powerful to defeat a savvy veteran like Pierce.
Bottom Line from Barueri: The bottom line here is that this is one of the strangest bookings we've seen in recent months. Pierce continues to get little respect for his winning strategy, but he hasn't really beaten anyone truly top-notch, either. A win over one of the biggest welterweights to ever grace the Octagon will do wonders for his name recognition, but only if he gets a finish. If he neutralizes Palhares by pushing him up against the cage for three rounds, he'll be stuck in the same position that he is in now.
Thankfully for the fans, that's going to be nearly impossible to do with an active Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner like Palhares. The Brazilian will be anxious to put on a decisive performance for his homeland brethren, and he probably knows that his job will be on the line next Wednesday. Palhares will hope to gain one of his trademark submissions to prove he can still hang with the fighters in UFC.
Since a loss most likely means being cut for "Toquinho," expect him to lay it all on the line. Pierce has a knack for turning fights with aggressive finishers into long, drawn-out wars. Recently, though, he appears to be looking for more finishes as he adapts to what the UFC wants from its fighters. He's not going to tap easily, but Palhares can quickly implement holds that are rarely seen in the cage.
While Palhares could reinvent himself at 170 pounds and take a tough division by storm, it's going to be a steep uphill climb. His first test will come in Brazil versus a man with momentum. The Jose Correa Arena will be a proving ground, and the pressure lies heavily on the shoulders of both Pierce and Palhares.
Mike Pierce looks to get on a five-fight win streak against a massive welterweight in Rousimar Palhares. Can he keep the ball rolling against a violent submission whiz like "Toquinho?"