Brace for another mixed martial arts (MMA) storm.
After a long reign as Lightweight Lord of the Strikeforce 155-pound division, Gilbert Melendez will finally make his long overdue Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debut. Aiming to spoil his Octagon arrival is UFC Lightweight Champion Ben Henderson, who is fresh off a stomping of "El Nino" teammate Nate Diaz on national television.
The two top-ranked mixed martial arts (MMA) standouts will collide in the UFC on Fox 7 main event, which takes place this Saturday night (April 20, 2013) at HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., the oft-frequented Strikeforce venue of choice.
Joining them on the broadcast are fellow Strikeforce imports Daniel Cormier and Josh Thomson, who will face Frank Mir and the aforementioned Diaz, respectively. In addition, Canadian standout Jordan Mein -- the only man to ever stop the gritty Dan Miller -- will step in on short notice to take on the surging Matt Brown.
But before all that, we have eight "Prelims" under card bouts to tide us over, the first three of which will stream live on Facebook.com, while the remainder will air on FX.
Check out previews and predictions for the first half of the UFC on Fox 7 "Prelims" below:
155 lbs.: Jorge Masvidal vs. Tim Means
Drubbings of Billy Evangelista and K.J. Noons brought some hype with Jorge Masvidal (23-7) into his Strikeforce championship showdown with Melendez; however, the passivity of "Gamebred" -- possibly the result of a broken hand sustained prior to the bout -- unfortunately resulted in a lopsided (50-45) unanimous decision loss, which marked his third defeat in his previous six fights. He got back on track with a decision over strongman Justin Wilcox and was slated to face Pat Healy on the promotion’s final card, but was sidelined with an injury training for the bout.
Masvidal has not put more than three consecutive wins together since 2008.
In a move that likely left Kevin Randleman solemnly shaking his head in sympathy, Tim Means (18-3-1) suffered his first career knockout loss to the sauna in which he was cutting weight before his fight with Abel Trujillo. And because state athletic commission don't sanction Man vs. Sauna scraps, "Dirty Bird" got to maintain his 11-fight unbeaten streak, including two dominant performances in the Octagon.
The former King of the Cage (KoTC) champion and owner of 13 knockout wins will enjoy a three-inch height advantage.
Masvidal has excellent striking skills and a sufficiently solid wrestling game to force most fighters to trade with him, but he is also immensely frustrating to watch. To put it bluntly, he has zero killer instinct -- he is content to simply potshot without committing to anything big. His fights are agonizing until (and unless) he lands something powerful and he makes no effort to make his own openings.
That's not going to cut it against Means.
Not only is Means taller and quite good at fighting tall, his Muay Thai is absolutely vicious, making close-quarters engagement equally unpleasant. He’s got great power, but even if Masvidal can withstand the onslaught, the aforementioned passivity of "Gamebred" is going to get him beat up.
There’s a reason Masvidal has no finishes in the last three years despite how well he can strike. Means is going to chew him up at range and Masvidal’s not going to commit enough to impose his own skills.
Prediction: Means via unanimous decision
Likely endearing himself to the UFC brass for life, T.J. Dillashaw (7-1) will take his second short-notice fight in little more than one month, replacing the injured Francisco Rivera after knocking out Issei Tamura back in March. The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 14 runner up -- a member of Team Alpha Male -- was slated to face Mike Easton in Oct. 2012 before being injured himself, and is perhaps simply making up for lost time.
Five of Dillashaw's wins have come inside the distance.
Six straight decision wins to start your MMA career generally doesn’t bode well for your future bludgeoning prospects, but it seems Hugo Viana (7-0) was just waiting for the right moment, annihilating Reuben Duran in his Bantamweight debut. "Wolverine" had previously made waves on TUF: "Brazil," knocking out Mauricio Rua understudy Alexandre Ramos with vicious elbows and losing a close decision to eventual winner Rony Jason despite the size disadvantage.
Interestingly, Viana's combat sports background is Tae Kwon Do, in which he has a black belt.
I’m really going to start disliking Dillashaw if he keeps on being a company man and beating up my favorite fighters on short notice. The scrapped bout with Rivera would have been an amazing, winnable slugfest for "Wolverine," but I don’t see him having anywhere near as much success against Dillashaw.
Hugo is fast, strong and hits pretty damn hard, none of which will help him once he’s been planted on his rear.
Hugo on his feet and in top position is beastly. But, Dillashaw isn’t going to let him spend any extended period of time in either position. Unless Viana can get those bombs of his landing early and often, Alpha Male’s choking prowess will be showcased once again as Dillashaw drags him down, takes the back and squeezes out his fourth straight UFC victory.
Prediction: Dillashaw via first round submission
155 lbs.: Roger Bowling vs. Anthony Njokuani
Winning his first seven fights by stoppage, Roger Bowling (11-3) entered Strikeforce with some hype behind him, but enjoyed mixed success once there, drawing even (3-3) with two knockout losses to eternal rival Bobby Voelker. Most recently, a two-fight knockout streak was halted by eventual champion 170-pound Tarec Saffiedine, who defeated him via wide unanimous decision.
"Relentless" has gone the distance just twice in victory, knocking out seven.
These past three years have not been kind to Anthony Njokuani (15-7), who has won just three of his last eight bouts and gone 2-3 in the UFC. Recently, an underwhelming win over John Makdessi in April 2012 was followed by a sound thrashing at the hands of Rafael dos Anjos, who held his own both on the ground and on the feet against the vaunted striker.
Njokuani has not competed since, recovering from a broken hand suffered against dos Anjos.
I’m not sure if Njokuani will ever have the takedown defense to crack the Top 15, but there are very few fighters in the division he can’t handle on the feet. Bowling is no exception. Njokuani has a four-inch height advantage and isn’t making his first weight cut. What's more, I’m not convinced Bowling has the wrestling ability that Danny Castillo and dos Anjos used to take "Njo" out of his game.
Njokuani hasn’t lost two straight fights since 2010, meaning he’s due for another win. If Bowling comes out swinging, Njokuani should take over around the midpoint as the weight cut takes its toll. And if he fights conservatively, that’ll just make it easier for Njokuani to pick him apart.
Either way, a late stoppage in the Nigerian’s favor seems the likely result.
Prediction: Njokuani via second round technical knockout
185 lbs.: Clifford Starks vs. Yoel Romero
A sizeable underdog despite being unbeaten, Clifford Starks (8-1) gave Ed Herman all he could handle in his second UFC appearance, beating up the veteran for much of the first round with a steady stream of right hands before eventually succumbing to his lethal ground game. Prior to that, he defeated GLORY competitor Dustin Jacoby in his Octagon debut, easily outgrappling the taller man for all three rounds.
Starks has been out of MMA action for more than one year for unknown reasons.
Despite being in his 30s, Yoel Romero (4-1) was considered among the top Light Heavyweight prospects going into his Strikeforce debut. Not only did he win a silver medal in freestyle wrestling at the Olympics in 2000, he is the older brother of No. 1-ranked Cruiserweight boxer Yoan Pablo Hernandez. Rafael Cavalcante, however, apparently didn't care for his gaudy credentials, knocking out Romero in savage fashion in the second round of their clash.
This will be his first bout since Sept. 2011 and his first at 185 pounds, which is two pounds lighter than his wrestling weight at the Sydney, Australia, games.
Year-long absence + UFC debut + extra 20 pounds to cut = I hate myself for making this pick, but I’m leaning toward Romero. He’s just so much more skilled than Starks that I can’t see this lasting long enough for those to come into play. Starks has a good right hand and solid wrestling, while Romero has an Olympic pedigree and major power in his hands. As bad as the "Feijao" smackdown was, Cavalcante eats wrestlers for breakfast, as "King" Muhammed Lawal learned the hard way.
There’s simply too much in Romero’s favor for all my misgivings to sway my opinion. On the ground or on the feet, expect the Cuban bruiser to lay down the hurt in a hurry.
Prediction: Romero via first round technical knockout
Stop by tomorrow for the rest of the UFC on Fox 7 "Prelims" previews and predictions, including a clash between a pair of Top 10-ranked Featherweight fighters.
See you then!
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the main card action on fight night (Sat., April 20, 2013), which is slated to air at 8 p.m. ET on FOX. The latest play-by-play fight updates of the live action will begin to flow earlier than that, however, around 3:30 p.m. ET with the "Prelims" under card bouts on Facebook and FX Channel.