One man's loss is another man's gain.
With Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez out because of another injury, former K-1 champion and Pride FC standout, Mark Hunt, steps in to face Fabricio Werdum this Saturday (Nov. 15, 2014) for the division's interim title in the main event of UFC 180 from Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Mexico.
In addition, Kelvin Gastelum will try to keep his record unblemished against the crushing power of Jake Ellenberger, while Dennis Bermudez attempts to raise his win streak to eight at the expense of Ricardo Lamas.
We previewed and predicted the first three UFC 180 "Prelims" under card matches yesterday right here. Today, we dig into the top three prior to the pay-per-view (PPV) start.
Let's do this:
145 lbs.: Yair Rodriguez vs. Leonardo Morales
The kicking acumen and submission skills of Yair Rodriguez (3-1) worked in tandem to bring him victory in the opening round of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Latin America," a triangle submission over Humberto Brown. In the semifinals, he took out teammate Rodolfo Rubia, forcing him to submit to strikes via said kicking onslaught.
He is three inches taller than "Chimmy."
Leonardo Morales (4-0) became the sole Featherweight member of Team Latin America to reach the semifinals by knocking out Masio Fullen via head kick in the opening round. Once there, he out-dueled Team Mexico’s Gabriel Benítez to a decision win, earning a berth on the Finale.
His victories are split evenly between knockout and submission.
Rodriguez and Morales are quite similar -- both athletic kickers with some real power in their strikes. Though Rodriguez is taller, I’m leaning toward Morales.
Rodriguez has a great arsenal, but an issue that I’ve ascribed to Daron Cruickshank in the past: He treats it like a grab bag rather than putting together a cohesive assault. He’ll throw wheel kicks without set up and seems almost entirely focused on attacking the head. Morales, meanwhile, has a crisper boxing attack and some crushing low kicks to go along with the head strikes.
Both of these guys have a lot of developing to do, but at this stage in their careers, I believe Morales’ cleaner attack will overcome Rodriguez’s physical advantages.
Prediction: Morales via third-round technical knockout
135 lbs.: Alejandro Perez vs. Jose Quinonez
Alejandro Perez (14-5) managed to defeat one of the most highly-credentialed members of Team Latin Amerca in the opening round, scoring a decision over Colombian Olympian Fredy Serrano. In the semifinals, he earned one of the most impressive wins of the season, flattening Guido Cannetti in the first round.
He has won nine of his last 11 bouts, the sole losses coming to Masio Fullen and Quinonez.
Jose Quinonez (3-1) opened the season impressively, thrashing Bentley Syler on route to a first-round technical knockout. His grappling came into play in the semi-finals as he defeated teammate Marco Beltran via unanimous decision.
Two of his three professional wins are by first-round knockout.
This fight may just boil down to output. Perez seemed gun shy against Serrano’s wrestling assault, while Quinonez is both aggressive on the feet and a capable grappler should the need arise. Add that to the fact that Quinonez already owns a win over "Diablito" and what appears to be a size advantage and the prospects become grim for Perez.
Perez does have good takedown defense and sharp punches when he lets them go. If Quinonez can get him worried about the takedown, though, he should be able to overwhelm his teammate with power and volume.
Fear the mustache.
Prediction: Quinonez via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Jessica Eye vs. Leslie Smith
Jessica Eye (10-2) burst onto the scene back in Bellator, choking out former tournament winner Zoila Gurgel in just 58 seconds. She has not been quite as fortunate in her Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) career, losing a contentious split decision to Alexis Davis after having a win over Sarah Kaufman overturned because of a failed drug test.
Eye is three inches shorter than "The Peacemaker."
Leslie Smith (7-5-1) entered UFC on short notice, falling to rival Sarah Kaufman for her third loss in four fights. She managed to rebound nicely in her second appearance by thrashing TUF veteran Jessamyn Duke via first-round body shot knockout.
The stoppage marked her fourth victory by form of knockout.
Smith looked destructive against Duke, but it wasn’t a flawless performance. She was chasing Duke more than cutting her off, which she can get away with against a poor user of distance but will cost her against Eye. "Evil" has the cleaner boxing. And if she’s not drawn into a short-range slugfest, I don’t think Smith can stop her from running circles around her.
The key to Smith’s victory is cutting off the cage and forcing Eye to exchange against the fence. Unfortunately, I believe Eye is just a bit too slick for that to happen. Smith will have her moments, especially if she can land some of those heavy body shots, but her lack of Octagon control will cost her as she eats heavy one-two combinations all night.
Prediction: Eye via unanimous decision
A great Heavyweight interim title fight and two fun fights between finishers. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday evening.
See you then, Maniacs!
Remember that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 180 fight card on fight night, starting with the two Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, right on through the FOX Sports 1-televised under card bouts at 8 p.m. ET and then main card PPV, which is slated to begin at 10 p.m. ET.
Current UFC "Prelims" Prediction Record 2014: 169-69 (1 NC)