Well, it's been awhile, hasn't it?
For the first time in more than seven years, the Welterweight belt will be on the line without Georges St-Pierre involved because knockout artists Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler will battle for the now-vacant strap this Saturday (March 15, 2014) evening at UFC 171, which will emanate from American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.
Several of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) division's elite will also be in action -- Carlos Condit will face the fast-rising Tyron Woodley, while Jake Shields looks to derail Hector Lombard's efforts at 170 pounds.
UFC 171 features eight "Prelims" under bouts this time around, half on Fight Pass and the rest on Fox Sports 2. Let's see what's going on in the former:
155 lbs.: Renee Forte vs. Francisco Trevino
Renee Forte (8-3) had an unsuccessful run on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Brazil" and then a submission loss in his Octagon debut, leading him to try his hand at Lightweight. In one of the night’s bigger upsets, he managed to defeat Terry Etim in his 155-pound debut at UFC on FUEL TV 7, battering the versatile Englishman in front of the latter’s hometown crowd.
Forte, however, found less success at UFC 165 against John Makdessi, who knocked out the Brazilian in round one to hand him his third loss in five fights.
Despite being outsized enough to regularly weigh in beneath the division limits, Francisco Trevino (11-0) enjoyed success at both welterweight and middleweight, picking up a regional title in both weight classes. The Texas native has ended eight fights inside the distance, though three of his last four went to the judges.
He stands two inches taller than Forte.
Trevino’s time at middleweight should have given him an edge in dealing with Forte’s size. Unfortunately, he’s got nothing to lean on when dealing with Forte’s skill. His record is quite empty and Forte, while not a world-beater, is a solid grappler with good punching power.
Trevino’s decent striking isn’t devastating enough to deter Forte’s advance and I doubt he’ll have much success staying on his feet. He’s in much deeper water than he’s ready for and Forte should pound him out from top position relatively quickly.
Prediction: Forte by first-round technical knockout
125 lbs.: Will Campuzano vs. Justin Scoggins
After an winless (0-2) opening UFC run, Will Campuzano (13-5) dropped to flyweight and found immediate success, rattling off five straight wins. He sufficiently impressed the UFC brass to earn a bout against prospect Sergio Pettis, dropping a unanimous decision after a solid back-and-forth affair.
He will enjoy four inches of height over Justin Scoggins (8-0).
Scoggins, one of UFC’s youngest fighters, 21, stormed onto the scene in December, walking through Australia’s Richie Vaculik late in the first round. The knockout marked his fifth in a row and seventh stoppage overall. He replaces Darrell Montague, forced to pull out due to injury and rescheduled to face Kyoji Horiguchi later this year.
This one may be a sleeper for Fight of the Night; both Campuzano and Scoggins are extraordinarily entertaining. Though Will has faced much greater competition, I feel that Scoggins will be a bit too much for him.
I’m extremely impressed by Scoggins’ power and versatility on the feet. Campuzano, while tough as nails, suffers from somewhat rudimentary boxing, which looks to come up short against his young foe’s brutal kicking arsenal. There is, of course, Campuzano’s solid wrestling game, but Scoggins’ ability to stay on his feet seems solid.
I suspect we’ll get a little over a round of quality action before a well-placed Scoggins head kick levels his lanky foe.
Prediction: Scoggins via second-round knockout
185 lbs.: Bubba McDaniel vs. Sean Strickland
Though Bubba McDaniel (21-7) earned a second chance via the wildcard on TUF 17, he was unable to capitalize, falling to eventual tournament runner up, Uriah Hall, in seconds. While he managed to submit Gilbert Smith at the Finale, Brad Tavares knocked his UFC record to .500 his second time out, defeating McDaniel via decision.
McDaniel has scored 16 submissions and gone the distance just twice in his career.
Sean Strickland (13-0) was scheduled to face Octagon veteran Tomasz Drwal two weeks ago, but answered the call when McDaniel castmate Tor Troeng was forced out of this bout because of injury. "Tarzan," 23, had previously acquired and defended the King of the Cage Middleweight crown.
He has scored seven knockout victories, five of his last seven wins coming via strikes.
I must confess, I can’t find any recent footage of Strickland. As such, this prediction doesn’t have much merit; his record suggests he’s a monster, but I’ve been fooled by that before. On multiple occasions. Talk on the Internet suggests he’s a great prospect, but the same was said of Marcelo Guimaraes at one point.
Strickland was preparing for a striker and has half Bubba’s experience. Without a goat to sacrifice for true foresight or any potent hallucinogens to grant me a glimpse into spacetime, I have to go with my gut, and my gut says Bubba grinds him out.
Prediction: McDaniel via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Daniel Pineda vs. Robert Whiteford
Rapid submissions of Pat Schilling and Mackens Semerzier put Daniel Pineda (18-10) on the fast track to contender status, only for subsequent losses to Mike Thomas Brown and Antonio Carvalho to halt his momentum. A rapid win over Justin Lawrence got him back on track, only for Diego Brandao to hand him his third UFC defeat in four fights.
"The Pit" will give up two inches of height to Robert Whiteford (10-2).
Whiteford, undefeated since his professional debut, got the call to adventure (read: the UFC) in Oct. 2013 when Jim Hettes was left without a dance partner just one week before UFC Fight Night 30. Though he managed to make it to the second round, there would be no "Rocky" moment for the underdog, who slept from a triangle choke in the second round.
He has ended six fights inside the distance, five by form of knockout.
Pineda is just a bit too wild and his takedown defense a bit too poor for the division’s elite, but his power and killer instinct make him dangerous for anyone at 145 pounds. He’s much more experienced than Whiteford, likely hits harder and figures to be the better grappler.
So long as his exhaustion against Brandao wasn’t something he plans to make a habit of, I don’t figure Pineda will have too much difficulty. Through punches or takedowns, Whiteford will hit the deck early on and, once Pineda’s gotten a chance to work, he’ll stay there.
Prediction: Pineda by first-round submission
Four more UFC 171 "Prelims" fights to preview and predict tomorrow, sporting some of the sport's top blue-chip prospects.
See you there, Maniacs.
MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 171 fight card below, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, right on through the FOX Sports 2-televised under card bouts at 8 p.m. ET and then main card PPV, which is slated to begin at 10 p.m. ET.