Two young and very hungry bantamweights will be making their major television debuts this Friday night (January 20, 2012) as Alliance MMA's Mike Easton takes on King of the Cage champion Jared Papazian on the UFC on FX: "Guillard vs. Miller" main card in Nashville.
Easton is the current hype man for UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, but he proved he's got some major skills as well when he made his debut in the UFC last October, smashing fellow newcomer Byron Bloodworth via second round technical knockout. Another strong showing on the FX main card could completely change his life.
Jared Papazian won the King of the Cage bantamweight crown last June against Abel Cullum and at just 23 years old, was already asking Sean Shelby to give him a shot in the UFC. Well, he got his wish and now it's time for him to make the most of this tremendous opportunity as he'll likely have more eyes on this fight than all of his prior 21 bouts combined.
Will Easton continue to barrel through the lower ranks of the UFC bantamweight division? Can Papazian seize Easton's momentum and become and instant player at 135? What's the key to victory for both men on Friday night?
Let's find out:
Record: 11-1 overall, 1-0 in the UFC
Key Wins: John Dodson (UWC 4), Byron Bloodworth (UFC on Versus 6), Josh Ferguson (UWC 6)
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Mike Easton began fighting professionally at just 20 years old but his schedule was extremely sporadic. He competed just four times in his first three years, winning all four bouts. His pace didn't truly pick up until he received his black belt in 2007 and began competing in the East coast's Ultimate Warrior Challenge promotion.
"The Hulk" won his first four fights in the UWC, including bouts with future Ultimate Fighter season 14 competitorJosh Ferguson and show winner John Dodson, which earned him a shot for the title against former WEC bantamweight champion Chase Beebe.
Easton would win a split decision over Beebe in one of the most controversial and heavily criticized decisions in MMA history. After the fight, Easton would suffer a series of injuries and setbacks which delayed his return for two full years. When he finally made his comeback, it was in the UFC against fellow newcomer Byron Bloodworth. Easton crushed Bloodworth to take a second round TKO victory in his promotional debut.
He was originally slated to face Ken Stone, but Papazian stepped up on short notice when Stone went down with an injury.
How he gets it done: Easton utilized kicks extremely well in his last fight with Byron Bloodworth, so he'll be looking to keep his distance early in the stand-up portion and work Papazian's legs with repeated kicks. If he sees an opening to get inside, Easton is also very powerful with the short strikes, so he'll likely be looking to follow up with those leg kicks by closing the distance with knees or hooks.
If he can get the fight to the ground, he should have an advantage over Papazian, who comes from more of a kickboxing and Muay Thai background. Easton is very powerful and has been a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu for over four years now. Expect to see him try to work his ground game against the King of the Cage champion as his submissions and top control should give him a huge advantage on the canvas.
Record: 14-6 (1 No Contest) overall, 0-0 in the UFC
Key Wins: Abel Cullum (KOTC: Epic Force)
Key Losses: Jimmie Rivera (KOTC: Empire)
How he got here: Jared Papazian actually entered the sport of mixed martial arts because he got jumped by 10 guys when he was in high school and he wanted to learn to fight back properly.
After a rough 4-4 start to his mixed martial arts career, he turned it all around after switching management and training camps. Papazian has been extremely active in his career thus far, fighting six times in 2009 and following that up with seven fights in 2010.
"The Jackhammer" rode a wave of momentum all the way to a bantamweight title shot against top prospect Jimmie Rivera, losing a highly controversial decision. When Rivera vacated his title to compete on season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter, Papazian got another shot at the belt against veteran Abel Cullem, and he made the most of it by defeating "The Silent Assassin" via five round decision in a thrilling affair.
After defending his title once more and handing Marvin Garcia the first loss of his career, Papazian stepped up on short notice in place of the injured Ken Stone to fight in the UFC.
How he gets it done: Papazian should try to avoid the ground game against Easton at all costs, even if it means playing slightly defensive. In the stand-up, expect to see him really work the clinch, which has been his go-to area in times of need. Papazian is very good at controlling his opponents in the clinch, even if he doesn't do much damage as he can still score some points there with the judges.
Something else to keep in mind is his endurance. "The Jackhammer" fought in three five round decisions last year, so he's clearly got the gas in the tank to push an incredible pace for three rounds and not lose a step. He needs to take advantage of that, get in Easton's face and keep him guessing and working hard throughout the course of the fight.
If he can force Easton to work harder than he expected, he could wear him down and that could create all the openings he needs to get off with his strikes. Papazian has a tremendous opportunity in front of him and the 23 year old needs to make a good first impression.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this bout is most likely the fact that this is Papazian's Octagon debut. Say what you want about ring rust, but Octagon jitters are as real as it gets. We've seen it time and time again that fighters blow their gas tank quickly trying too hard or they psyche themselves out completely. Papazian's experience as King of the Cage champion should help him in that department slightly, but he's still just 23 years old. Even Easton looked awkward and unsure of himself in the first round of his Octagon debut against an overmatched opponent.
The fact that this debut is also taking place on the main card of an FX fight event which will be seen by millions of people around the world certainly won't help either.
Bottom Line: Despite being a late injury replacement, this should be a competitive and highly interesting match-up in the UFC bantamweight division. Jared Papazian has a ton of talent which is just now beginning to be tapped while Mike Easton proved late last year that he's got the power and skills to make an impact at 135. Both of these young men have an exciting fighting style which should be a solid recipe for entertainment. There's even a bit of fight drama as Papazian has been critical of Easton's friend and training partner Dominick Cruz in the past. There is potential for a stellar showcase of bantamweight talent in this bout.
Who will come out on top at UFC on FX: Guillard vs. Miller? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!