Two crafty veterans will square off under unique circumstances this Saturday night (Feb. 23, 2013) as Court McGee makes the drop down to welterweight for the first time to take on Josh Neer on the UFC 157 main card in Anaheim, California.
McGee is currently in the middle of the first two-fight losing streak of his career, which has prompted The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 11 winner to make the cut from middleweight to 170 pounds. He's had seven months to prepare for the weight cut so hopefully he can pull it off.
Neer went the opposite direction, moving from lightweight to welterweight as he got older in the UFC. "The Dentist" is currently on his fourth stint inside the Octagon and is in serious jeopardy of being given his walking papers if he can't defeat McGee.
Will the drop to welterweight put McGee back on the winning track? Can Neer keep his job with a win? What's the key to victory for both men?
Record: 14-3 overall, 3-2 in the UFC
How he got here: Court McGee has been through quite a bit despite not being 30 years old yet. You've probably heard his story now but in case you haven't, McGee nearly died while addicted to heroin and through recovery, discovered a passion for MMA. He became sober in 2006, had his first fight in 2007 and hasn't looked back.
"The Crusher" was extremely active early in his career, taking nine fights in his first full year of mixed martial arts competition and his sole career loss has been to UFC veteran Jeremy Horn. McGee took a five fight win streak into the tryouts for season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter, where his story captivated producers, cast members and the fans.
After initially defeating Seth Baczynski to get on the show, McGee lost a controversial majority decision in his second fight to Nick Ring. He would earn a shot to redeem himself when Rich Attonito broke his hand. The Utah native would defeat James Hammertree and Brad Tavares to advance to the show's finale.
In the finale, McGee dominated Kris McCray, choking out "Savage" in the second round to be crowned the winner of The Ultimate Fighter season 11. Since the show, McGee has struggled with injuries, only fighting twice over a two year span, but since regaining his health, he's dropped consecutive decisions to Costa Philippou and a rematch against Nick Ring
The Pit Elevated fighter is now ready for a step up against a fellow rising prospect in Constantinos Philippou.
How he gets it done: McGee possesses a respectable wrestling and submission game but Neer is probably strongest on the ground as well. This fight could come down to who has the edge in the stand-up realm.
If he can keep it on the feet, "The Crusher" does have some respectable boxing (2-0 as a professional) and has a strong history with karate as well, but he's not exactly ferocious in his striking and he lacks significant power there especially with his punches.
McGee should feel comfortable standing and trading with Neer, trying to mix up both his boxing and his kicks as he's the larger man.
If all else fails, McGee can try to take this fight to the canvas and utilize his wrestling and physical advantages. When you've got a fighter dropping from middleweight against a former lightweight, that should be a huge benefit for him.
Record: 33-12-1 overall, 6-8 in the UFC
How he got here: Josh Neer has been here before, this is actually his fourth stint in the UFC for the 29 year old Midwestern scrapper. "The Dentist" originally entered the UFC after accumulating a 13-1-1 record on the regional circuit, but was submitted in his UFC debut by Drew Fickett in the inaugural UFC Fight Night event.
He was brought back four months later most likely as a feeder to Melvin Guillard, but Neer surprised fans and UFC execs by submitting "The Young Assassin" in the first round and then following up his victory by defeating Ultimate Fighter season two winner Joe Stevenson, halting his nine fight win streak.
Neer would find himself on the outside looking in after two straight losses including a submission defeat to Nick Diaz, but would work his way back once more by going 6-1 in regional shows over the next year. In his third stint with the UFC, the native Iowan defeated Din Thomas, lost a close split decision to Nate Diaz and then tapped out Ultimate Fighter season 6 winner Mac Danzig with a triangle choke to earn some high profile fights.
He found himself on the receiving end of consecutive decisions after being controlled by wrestlers Kurt Pellegrino and Gleison Tibau which again left him looking for work outside the UFC. Neer bit off a bit more than he could chew in losing to Eddie Alvarez in a Bellator "superfight" but worked his way back to the UFC with four straight first round stoppages. He performed admirably against Keith Wisniewski in his return, elbowing his opponent into oblivion which forced a doctor stoppage at the end of the second round.
Neer then battled striker Duane Ludwig and after getting lit up on the feet for a bit, he took the fight to the canvas and scored a quick submission victory. He was hoping to continue his run at 170 pounds against Mike Pyle but was knocked out brutally in the first round.
"The Dentist" failed to get back on track against Justin Edwards, quickly getting submitted via guillotine choke. He'll be fighting for his life against McGee on Saturday night.
How he gets it done: Neer is incredibly scrappy. He can stand and bang or he can take the fight to the ground. The key for him is to be aggressive. He needs to crowd McGee on the feet and not let him get comfortable, perhaps keeping him moving backward and not letting him sit down on his punches.
If Neer can take the fight to the clinch, he's got some pretty solid elbows he can throw on the inside. Who can forget when he trashed Keith Wisniewski's face in his return to welterweight?
Pressure and aggression are the keys to a Neer victory here. Even if he can't get the fight to the ground, if Neer is constantly keeping McGee on the defensive, he's got a very good shot of winning.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest factor for this fight has to be size. Neer spent a significant portion of his career as a lightweight before moving back up to 170 pounds while McGee spent his entire career at 185 or higher before making the cut. Expect McGee to be significantly larger and stronger in the Octagon on Saturday night.
The other factor has to be the that McGee is dropping down to welterweight for the first time. We've seen it time and time again where a fighter dropping down a weight class can't take a punch like they used to, they don't have the same conditioning or maybe even they're slower against more energetic competition. If McGee has any adverse affects to the weight cut, that could play into Neer's favor, especially because he'll be much fresher.
Bottom Line: This fight actually has some potential to be entertaining. Neer is a guy that "wars" as Lorenzo Fertitta puts it and he'll be bringing it to McGee from start to finish. McGee also showed a sense of urgency in his last fight against Nick Ring, knowing he needed either a big third round or a finish to win and he absolutely raised his level. Both of these fighters have interesting styles that actually mesh pretty well together and it could make for a pretty damn entertaining scrap. I like the odds.
Who will come out on top at UFC 157? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!