Two of the best technical boxers in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight division will battle it out next Tuesday night (May 15, 2012) as Brazilian Fabio Maldonado battles Croatia's Igor Pokrajac on the main card of UFC on Fuel TV 3 in Fairfax, Virginia.
Maldonado has had his UFC career slowed by injuries, but he's been competitive and exciting in both of his bouts in the promotion, winning his debut via TKO and then dropping a close decision last year. He's finally healthy and raring to go against a talented fellow striker in Pokrajac.
Igor Pokrajac lived in the shadows of his training partner Mirko Filipovic for years, but has finally come into his own as of late. He crushed Todd Brown last March but the true feather on his cap was his 35 second destruction of Krzysztof Soszynski this past December which really put him on the map.
Will Maldonado be able to utilize his terrific bodywork against "The Duke's" punching prowess? Can Pokrajac continue his terrific momentum in the division? What's the key to victory for both light heavyweight pugilists?
Let's find out:Fabio Maldonado
Record: 18-4 overall, 1-1 in the UFC
Key Wins: James McSweeney (UFC 120), Maiquel Falcao 2x (Predador FC 9, Circuito Mariliense MMA)
Key Losses: Kyle Kingsbury (The Ultimate Fighter 13 Finale)
How he got here: Fabio Maldonado was an esteemed Brazilian boxer who made the transition to mixed martial arts (MMA). He lost two of his first four fights 10 years ago, took a three year break from MMA and came back with a fury in 2004, having won 16 of his 17 fights since then.
Maldonado stopped ex-UFC middleweight Maiquel Falcao via TKO twice during his run and he made a big splash in his UFC debut against James McSweeney. After eating a ton of punishment in the first round, the Brazilian landed a devastating body shot that took the fight out of the UK kickboxer. The Team Nogueira fighter showed no mercy, repeatedly coming back to the body with uppercuts and ground and pound after McSweeney dropped to eventually score a TKO victory early in the third round.
The Brazilian got a sturdy test against Kyle Kingsbury in his next fight and he would repeatedly be put in the muay thai clinch, but punched his way out of it. It It was a close fight but he found himself on the losing end of a decision. Maldonado stepped up in place of Thiago Silva to take on Pokrajac when the time came. .
How he gets it done: Maldonado isn't the most complicated man. He's got some legitimately impressive boxing skills and an extremely durable chin. James McSweeney threw everything but the kitchen sink at him in the first round of their fight and he still came out in the second round like nothing had happened.
The Brazilian wants to keep this fight in the pocket and he wants to work his big power punches to the body and head of "The Duke." In all honesty, as an all-around mixed martial artist, Maldonado is rather limited. He doesn't have great kicks, good defense or much of a ground game. He's primarily a boxer who's not afraid to take a shot to give one.
Even so, if Maldonado can mix up his punches, working the head and body, he can still keep Pokrajac guessing and potentially force the Croatian to make a mistake he can capitalize on. If they both land with power at the exact same time, it will likely be Maldonado who will be the last man standing.
Record: 24-8 overall, 3-3 in the UFC
Key Wins: Krzysztof Soszynski (UFC 140), James Irvin (UFC on Versus 2)
Key Losses: Stephan Bonnar (The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale), James Te Huna (UFC 110), Vladimir Matyushenko (UFC 103)
How he got here: Igor Pokrajac got his start as a training partner of the legendary Mirko Filipovic in Croatia. From 2003-2009, he competed 26 times, all in Europe and compiled a 21-5 record overall with all but four fights being stopped.
He would make his UFC debut later that year against Vladimir Matyushenko, but would drop a decision to the Belarusian wrestler. His bad luck continued against the heavy-handed James Te Huna, getting TKO'd in the third round.
The UFC kept him on the roster and he made that decision look wise after choking out veteran James Irvin in the first round and then winnning two of his last three fights. He most recently put on the best performance of his career, knocking out Krzysztof Soszynski in just 35 seconds this past December, which earned him a slot on the main card of this card against Fabio Maldonado.
How he gets it done: Pokrajac has some of the fastest hands in the light heavyweight division, so since he's going in there against another talented boxer, he's going to want to get into the pocket, work his head movement, his footwork and then pound away with his combinations.
Pokrajac possesses some terrific punching power and technique, but what might set him apart from Maldonado is his ability to mix in occasional kicks and knees. His knees are devastating if thrown properly, especially evident in his fight against Todd Brown, where he dropped him in the final 30 seconds of the first round.
His ability to mix it up against Maldonado, who's likely going to be only punching, could be what gives him the biggest advantage. That means he needs to get in really close at times to work his knees or create distance and work some kicks. If he can land enough of them, it will set up his powerful punches much easier as well.
Fight X-Factor: This fight could entirely come down to chin strength and durability. Both men are very evenly matched as they each possess terrific punching abilities. Maldonado, however, has never been stopped with strikes while Pokrajac has been on the receiving end of a TKO or knockout four times in his lengthy career. In terms of wear and tear, it might be Maldonado who can afford to eat a big strike more.
Considering both men are so skilled in the striking department, it could simply come down to who's the last man standing after both trade power shots.
Bottom Line: The more I look at this fight, the more I love it. Both men love to work their boxing and both are very capable strikers. I can definitely see this fight turning into a very fun technical kickboxing battle with lots of work to the head from Pokrajac's end while Maldonado really mixes in his punches to the body. This has extremely high potential to be a slugfest.
Who will come out on top at UFC on Fuel TV 3? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!