This Saturday night (Dec. 14, 2013) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweights Joe Lauzon and Mac Danzig will square off in the opening main card bout of UFC on FOX 9 from Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California.
Lauzon is coming off a decision loss to Michael Johnson at UFC Fight Night 26. It was one of the most one-sided losses of his career. Despite being one of the most exciting fighters in mixed martial arts (MMA), Lauzon hasn't looked all that great as of late. Before losing to Johnson he dropped a bloody decision to Jim Miller at UFC 155.
He's in dire need of a win if he wants to hang on to any degree of relevancy in the talented UFC lightweight division.
Fortunately for him, his opponent Danzig is in the same position. The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 6 winner was knocked out cold by Melvin Guillard at July's UFC on FOX 8 card. He also lost his previous bout, a split decision to Takanori Gomi at UFC on FUEL TV 6. Danzig is a solid fighter but he doesn't quite have the illustrious track record that Lauzon has amassed.
A loss could send him to fight in another promotion so the stakes will be high in Sacramento. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Joe Lauzon vs. Mac Danzig:
Record: 22-9 overall, 9-6 UFC
Key Losses: Anthony Pettis (UFC 144), Michael Johnson (UFC Fight Night 26), Jim Miller (UFC 155),
But past accomplishments can only get you so far in the cutthroat world of MMA.
Lauzon has to lock up a victory over Danzig to avoid the dreaded three-fight skid. To do so, he'll need to be much sharper than he was against Johnson. In that fight Lauzon simply had no answer for the crisp boxing of Johnson. He continuously lumbered forward, but all that got him was more punches to the face.
Obviously this strategy isn't going to work against Danzig, who is proficient on the feet, despite not possessing Johnson's overall speed and striking ability. The time is right for Lauzon to go back to his trademark grappling skills that earned him 18 submission wins throughout his career.
Danzig has only tapped out twice so it won't be easy. But if Lauzon wants to get back on the winning track, trying to win a boxing match simply isn't in his best interest. That's not to say that he‘s a worthless striker, because he's not.
However, it has become quite clear at this point that his ground prowess is light years ahead of his kickboxing game. Lauzon should look to set up some initial boxing combinations that transition into strong takedown attempts. Shoring up his wrestling game is paramount because he didn't look for many takedowns against Johnson despite getting absolutely picked apart in the stand-up.
Lauzon should be the favorite here because of his overall background and strength of opponents.
But we haven't really seen the best version of him recently.
It's on "J-Lau's" shoulders to prove to the fans that he still belongs in the Octagon with the best lightweights in the world.
Record: 21-11-1 overall, 5-7 UFC
Key Losses: Melvin Guillard (UFC on FOX 8), Takanori Gomi (UFC on FUEL TV 6), Jim Miller (UFC 100), Clay Guida (UFC Fight Night 15)
Keys to Victory: Danzig has been on a rough downward trend in recent years. He's lost four out of his past six UFC fights and doesn't really have a signature win to his name. He's already somehow survived a three-fight losing streak and he won't likely make it through another one.
That makes this fight do-or-die for Danzig.
To ensure victory at UFC on FOX 9, Danzig needs to show up mentally prepared. He knows the grave nature of the situation, but he can't let that affect how he fights. If he does, he's going to be too tentative. The experienced Lauzon should be able to pick up on that like a cheetah hunting its prey.
Danzig has five knockouts and 10 submissions to his name. While getting his foes to tap out may be his preferred method of winning, it probably won't be his best gameplan against Lauzon. "J-Lau" has almost twice as many submissions and is known for his Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills more than anything else.
Danzig needs to bring a well-rounded skill set to the Octagon. His boxing isn't all that polished and he hasn't knocked anyone out since 2010, but he does hold a significant edge over Lauzon in terms of significant strikes landed. He's also more accurate on the feet and Lauzon's striking hasn't exactly been top notch in recent bouts.
On the other hand, Lauzon is a notoriously tough out who is able to eat an otherworldly amount of punishment and keep fighting. His losses to Johnson and Miller were a testament to that fact.
If Danzig can't outland Lauzon on the feet, perhaps he should go for some takedowns of his own. He's competent on the ground and rarely taps out so that will play to his favor. Danzig should attempt to sprawl Lauzon's takedowns and land a few punches. If he can eventually gain an advantageous position on the ground, an upset may be within reach.
Danzig has everything to lose and much to prove at UFC on FOX 9. With pressure mounting, it won't be an easy night.
Bottom Line from Sacramento: The bottom line for this fight is that both fighters are in unenviable spots in one of the toughest divisions in MMA. Lauzon's job is probably guaranteed thanks to the wars he's put forth over the years; however, Danzig's most definitely is not.
A loss will most likely see him cut from UFC. The 33-year-old has to win and he has to do it now.
This fight became a lot more out in the open once it was promoted to main card status. The whole world is going to see just how much Lauzon and Danzig truly have left in the tank. They've been floundering lately, but no one can argue with their grappling skills.
If this fight hits the ground, fans could be treated to a back-and-forth chess match that could result in either fighter getting submitted. The odds are in "J-Lau's" favors in terms of that, but Danzig still has the skills to surprise.
It's just far from guaranteed that he will keep his job by notching arguably the highest profile win of his career.
This bout is going to come down to who wants it most. Lauzon didn't seem all that enthused in his last bout and Danzig got absolutely destroyed, so the heat is on for these two longtime UFC combatants.
Joe Lauzon and Mac Danzig will go to war with their fighting relevancy on the line. Will this be an easy win for Lauzon? Or will Danzig prove he still deserves to fight in the world's biggest MMA promotion?