Two of the most devastating and resilient punchers in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight division will collide this Saturday (Sat., Sept. 20, 2014) when the world's leading mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion heads back to the legendary Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, with UFC Fight Night 52.
In the main event, former Pride FC and K-1 superstar Mark Hunt faces Roy Nelson, who is fresh off a brutal knockout of the venerable Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. In addition, former Pride FC Lightweight champion Takanori Gomi will return to action against the surging Myles Jury, while the "Queen of Pancrase," Rin Nakai, makes her promotional debut opposite Miesha Tate.
It's a fun one.
UFC Fight Night 52, including the six "Prelims" under card matches, will stream live online via UFC's Fight Pass service. Let's see what's in store for the early risers (main card start time is slated for 3 a.m. ET).
135 lbs.: Michinori Tanaka vs. Kyung Ho Kang
Long considered Japan’s top prospect, Michinori Tanaka (10-0) picked up and defended the PXC Bantamweight championship before entering the world’s largest fight promotion. Once there, he defeated The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 14 veteran Roland Delorme in June, outgrappling the Judo specialist for a unanimous decision win.
The 23-year-old is four inches shorter than Kang.
The UFC career of Kyung Ho Kang (12-7) started off slow, losing close decisions to Alex Caceres and Chico Camus in his first two appearances (although the former was overturned because of a failed drug test). "Mr. Perfect" finally re-entered the win column in Jan. 2014, choking out Zst and Pancrase vet Shunichi Shimizu.
Nine of his professional victories have come by submission.
This has the potential to be a terrific ground battle and I’ve been having a difficult time trying to pick out the winner. Despite Kang’s physical advantages, though, I think I’m going to pick Tanaka to stay unbeaten.
Kang is dangerous on the mat and a very adept guard passer, not to mention his effective takedown game. The issue is that he is not the most positionally-sound, his aggression opening sweep opportunities to his foes. Tanaka’s Judo prowess and strength should be sufficient to capitalize on these openings and spend the majority of the bout in top position.
With a powerhouse like Kang, an early finish is possible, but I believe Tanaka’s positional control will win the day.
Prediction: Tanaka via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Kazuki Tokudome vs. Johnny Cass
Kazuki Tokudome (12-5-1) found mixed success in his UFC career, defeating former Chute Boxe coach Cristiano Marcello in an entertaining battle before dropping a decision to TUF: "Smashes" winner Norman Parke. In May, he survived a hellacious first round to claw his way to a split decision loss against "The Korean Bulldozer," Yui Chul Nam.
The judoka stands two inches shorter than the debuting Johnny Case (18-4).
Since a loss to current World Series of Fighting (WSOF) champion Rick Glenn in 2010, Case has won eight straight bouts, finishing six opponents inside two rounds. He has finished 16 overall, 11 by form of knockout.
He is one of five opponents to be signed to and then pull out of Joe Ellenberger’s Octagon debut.
Tokudome’s chin is a major liability, but I’m leaning toward him here. I wasn’t terribly impressed by Case’s performance in his last fight, a split decision win over E.J. Brooks that one could easily argue he lost. Tokudome’s Judo should allow him to emulate Brooks’ success in the clinch and he has the boxing to handle Case inside.
If Tokudome comes prepared to grapple, he should be able to grit his way past Case. Johnny’s recent opposition has been mostly poor and Tokudome’s inside work should be too much for him.
Prediction: Tokudome via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Maximo Blanco vs. Dan Hooker
Once one of the top prospects in the sport, Maximo Blanco (10-6-1) has struggled under the ZUFFA banner, losing his sole Strikeforce fight and opening his UFC career 1-3. He managed to snap a two-fight losing streak in May, dropping Andy Ogle in the opening seconds on the way to a unanimous decision win.
"Maxi"is four inches shorter than Dan Hooker (11-4).
"The Hangman" -- on the heels of five straight wins -- took on England’s Ian Entwistle in his promotional debut in June. Showing impressive composure, Hooker capitalized on Entwistle’s pursuit of the heel hook, battering him into submission with elbows in the latter portion of the first round.
He has gone the distance just once in victory, splitting his 10 finishes between knockout and submission.
Blanco is a bust. I was certain he’d be a force to be reckoned with, but he’s just not. He never cleaned up his striking enough to consistently land his power or open up his wrestling, not to mention that he has the fight IQ of a bowl of pistachios.
Still, he’s a strong puncher and a solid wrestler, so I’ll pick him here.
Hooker seems to have a solid all-around game, but nothing to suggest he can turn away Blanco’s wild charge. Blanco might even have consistent wrestling success for the first time in UFC.
I’m fond of the phrase "as long as" and it is rarely as emphatic as when I talk about Blanco. As long as Blanco doesn’t do something horribly stupid (again), he should be able to overrun Hooker and polish him off with ground-and-pound late in the first round.
Prediction: Blanco via first-round technical knockout
Three more UFC Fight Night 52 "Prelims" matches to preview and predict tomorrow, featuring the return of Hyun Gyu Lim and a fun Bantamweight clash.
See you there.
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 52 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches, which are scheduled to begin at 12:30 a.m. ET, right on through the Fight Pass main card at 3:30 a.m. ET.