The UFC brings yet another lightweight title fight to Fox this weekend for Fox UFC Saturday, which takes place at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, CA. The HP was the home base of Strikeforce, and this UFC card features seven Strikeforce veterans making their transition into the ranks of the UFC. Headliner Benson Henderson makes his second appearance in front of the network television audience, after pulling in 5.7 million viewers for his last title defense against Nate Diaz on Fox this past December. This weekend's card is stacked from top to bottom, and features Team Alpha Male's Joseph Benavidez, T.J. Dillashaw, and Chad Mendes all looking to continue their winning ways. Benavidez faces number eight ranked flyweight Darren Uyenoyama, Dillashaw is taking on the undefeated Hugo 'Wolverine' Viana, and Mendes is one of the heaviest favorites on the card in his matchup with Darren Elkins, who has amassed an impressive five-fight winning streak in the UFCs featherweight division. Let's now take a look at the meaningful action set to take place on the main card.
Matt Brown returns as the opener of the main card after his 2nd round dismantling of Mike Swick back at UFC on Fox 5. He has his work cut out for him against the up-and-coming Jordan Mein, who at the age of 23 already has 35 professional fights. Mein comes in on a three-fight winning streak and has won nine of his last ten. Brown, who rides a four-fight streak going into Saturday's fight, is the more accurate striker of the two, with FightMetric stats showing a 58% accuracy rate to Mein's 42%. Mein is the more active striker however, coming in at 4.27 SLpM (strikes landed per-minute) to Brown's 3.4. Mein has eight first-round finishes since 2010, and also comes in with a 74% striking defense average, compared to 58% for Matt Brown. Brown is more likely to go for a takedown against Mein, bringing in a 47% percent takedown accuracy rate, and averages 1.8 takedowns per-15 minute fight to Mein's zero in both columns. Brown is no stranger to taking punishment, and I think he will be able to endure more of Mein's attack than his previous opponents. I see this one ending by way of second round TKO for Jordan Mein.
Next up is a pivotal match at 155 lbs, featuring Josh Thompson and Nate Diaz, who both are coming off of title-fight losses to the night's headliners, Melendez and Henderson, respectively. In Thompson's decison loss to Gilbert back in May of 2012, a lot of people had him winning three rounds to two. The judges gave that one to 'El Nino', but it could have easily gone to Thompson, who in the fourth round came very close to finishing Melendez from several choke attempts from his back. Thompson is the more diverse striker of the two, employing leg and body kicks with his combos. Nate, along with his brother Nick, have sort of developed their own brand of boxing in the octagon, which involves almost as much trash talk and mind games as it does volume punching. Diaz lands more often than Thompson, with a FightMetric average of 3.55 vs Thompson's 2.44 SLpM. Thompson is slightly more accurate, coming in at 48% striking accuracy vs Diaz's 43%.
Diaz is well known for his slick jiu jitsu game, but Thompson's wrestling base gives him slightly better takedown numbers, with 40% takedown accuracy to Nate's 25%. Look for Thompson to keep busy with his footwork and kicks, and to change levels if Diaz overwhelms with his boxing. Diaz is dangerous off of his back, so Thompson doesn't have a clear advantage if it hits mat, which I think it will. This might means a lot for both fighter's as they try to climb back up the ranks at 155 lbs, and I give a slight edge to Nate, having trained with Gilbert Melendez, who fought Thompson three times. For me, this is the toughest fight on the card to pick, and could easily get fight-of-the-night. I see this one going to the judges cards and Nate leaving the HP Pavilion with the win.
The co-main event features the debut of Daniel Cormier, who won the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix against Josh Barnett and was set to face Frank Mir last year in Strikeforce, and we finally get to see this anticipated matchup on free tv. Frank Mir comes in off of a title fight loss to Junior Dos Santos at UFC 146, and Cormier is undefeated in mixed martial arts with a record of 11-0. Cormier has the clear edge in striking stats, landing 3.86 strikes per minute, versus Mir's 2.45. Cormier also absorbs less, eating 1.36 strikes per-minute vs Mir's 3.83. Cormier defends strikes against him at a 71% clip, vs Mir's 40%. Daniel Cormier has flawless 100% takedown defense, vs Mir's 50%. Mir's downfall has always come at the hands of power punchers, and most of his wins were against either aging or less adept grapplers, where he could crank out his signature submissions. Cormier's base comes from an Olympic wrestling pedigree, and it will be interesting to see how these two match up on the ground, where Mir's best chance is to capitalize on a split-second opportunity, because against Cormier, that will most likely be the only opportunities he will be afforded. This fight may not even make it to the mat, with Cormier's propensity to knock out opponents willing to stand in front of him long enough, combined with Mir's propensity to stand in front of dangerous strikers for a hair too long. I don't like Mir's chances in this fight, but he should give DC his most dangerous fight yet. I'm going with the 4-1 favorite, Daniel Cormier, by KO, though I can't nail down which round.
The lightweight title hangs in the balance of the night's main event between Gilbert Melendez and Benson Henderson. Melendez looks to hand Henderson his first UFC defeat, as the champ is 6-0 inside the octagon, and has won 15 out of his last 16, losing only in that time frame to Anthony Pettis in the infamous final WEC title fight at WEC 53 in 2010. 'El Nino' hasn't lost since 2008, and brings a seven-fight win streak into the UFC. FightMetric grappling stats give the edge to Henderson, who shoots for an average of 3.2 takedowns per 15 minute fight, compared to 1.94 by Melendez. He comes in with a 51% takedown accuracy rate vs the challenger's 44%. Melendez does defend slightly better, with 71% of takedowns defended vs Henderson's 67%.
On the feet, Melendez brings a SLpM average of 3.56 compared to Henderson's 2.93. Benson is more accurate, as is sometimes the case with fighters who come in with lower per-minute attempts than their opponent. Benson lands 45% of the time, whereas Gilbert lands 33% of his strikes. Melendez's only two losses have come by way of decision, and all six of Henderson's UFC victories have come from the judges scorecards. Gilbert's last outing against Thompson doesn't lend itself to being able to outlast Henderson. Gilbert has that veteran poise in the cage that allows him to calmly try to escape in bad situations, and not make careless mistakes. I still don't think that will be enough to get past Benson, who should take a close decision and further establish himself as the best fighter in the world at 155 pounds.