Preview: UFC 149: Faber vs. Barao
By Tom Taylor
This Saturday, the UFC will make its inaugural trip to Calgary, Alberta, Canada for UFC 149. While the card has been remoulded significantly by injury, the end result is still a promising event from top to bottom. UFC 149 might no longer be an obvious candidate for card of the year, but here is what we can expect when the UFC invades “Cow-town”.
Urijah Faber (26-5) vs Renan Pegado (28-1) for the interim bantamweight championship:
Despite Dominick Cruz’s withdrawal from a third fight with Urijah Faber, UFC 149 will not be without a title fight. Due to Cruz’s injury, Faber and Renan “Barao” Pegado will now square off for the interim bantamweight belt. As one of the UFC’s biggest stars, at 135 lbs, Faber will have his work cut out for him against the lesser known Pegado this weekend. In “Barao”, Faber will face a surging athlete riding a 27-fight win streak. Both men have certainly had their fair share of fights, but Faber has battled through several title fights and will have the experience edge. Yet despite Faber’s time in the limelight of UFC title fights, Barao likely dictates the pace of this fight.
Look for “Barao” to set a fast pace early, circling “The California Kid,” whipping him with leg kicks and the proficient striking he used to ground Brad Pickett during their encounter at UFC 138. Don’t be surprised to see Barao attempting to execute a game plan similar to the one Jose Aldo used to dismantle Faber at WEC 48. Faber will eat some shots as he refuses to give up ground to Pegado, but will eventually turn to wrestling to escape unfavourable time on the feet with his opponent. In Pegado’s most recent fight, he faced a talented wrestler in Scott Jorgensen, but did not crumple under Jorgensen’s takedowns. Instead, Pegado dominated Jorgensen for three rounds, solidifying his role as number one contender. While Faber might have more success than Jorgensen did in taking down Barao, expect Barao to stuff the majority of attempts and work aptly off his back if he is put there.
Faber’s best chance, then, might be to drag his opponent into deeper waters, pulling Barao into the championship rounds and testing his cardio. We have seen Faber fight for five rounds on more than one occasion, but Barao is less tested in this regard. Still, it is unlikely that Barao will enter this fight with cardio that is anything short of stellar. The lower weight classes are notorious for their gas tanks, and this is even truer at the elite level. In the end, neither man will go easily. Faber has only been finished twice in his career, and Barao has never been defeated by stoppage. If Barao can handle the pressure of a title fight and main event slot, this fight is his.
The Pick: Expect Barao to land more significantly and to avoid Faber’s attacks on the ground en route to a unanimous decision victory—and having the interim bantamweight belt wrapped around his waist.
Hector Lombard (31-2-1) vs Tim Boetsch (15-4-0):
UFC 149’s main event is supported by the long awaited octagon debut of Hector Lombard. In his first UFC outing, the former Bellator middleweight champion will collide with Tim Boetsch.
Boetsch, who saw moderate success as a light heavyweight, has since dropped to middleweight with great results, amassing a 3-0 record at 185 lbs. In his last fight, Boetsch was dominated for two rounds by former middleweight contender Yushin Okami, only to rally in the third round to take the Japanese fighter out on his home turf. In his middleweight bouts prior to the Okami fight, Boetsch used his size and strength to execute throws and trips on Kendall Grove and Nick Ring. Against Hector Lombard, Boetsch will not have such a glaring physical advantage. Lombard, who is a decorated Judoka, will not be easily rag-dolled by Boetsch. In fact, the opposite would not be surprising. Lombard is as physically imposing as any fighter in the division, and his judo talents could well allow him to throw Boetsch around. Lombard will also hold a significant advantage in striking.
Given that his UFC debut has been so anticipated, Lombard should come out with guns blazing. Expect the Cuban-Australian to attempt to blitz Boetsch, charging forward to verify that he does in fact belong among the top five middleweights in the world. Boetsch will fire back, but his best hope lies in his immense heart and grit, which he showcased during the Okami fight. In the past, Boetsch has been a slow starter, but if he can weather Lombard’s early storm, he might be able to tire the Bellator veteran and start playing his own game later in the fight. Lombard is no slouch, however, and despite his tendency to finish fights quickly, will have prepared for a three-round war. In the end, this fight will not likely go the distance. Okami had Boetsch in trouble early on in their bout, and Okami’s punching power doesn’t hold a candle to Lombard’s. Okami dominated Boetsch for two rounds, and wasn’t able to pull the trigger. Lombard will not let up when he has Boetsch in trouble. Expect the heart of Tim Boetsch to be on full display throughout the earlier portion of this fight, but his heart will only carry him so far in the blast radius of Lombard’s punches.
The Pick: Lombard wins by first-round knockout.
Cheick Kongo (17-7-2) vs Shawn Jordan (13-3-0):
Cheick Kongo was first expected to lock horns with Brazilian legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, but when Nogueira withdrew from the fight with an injury, up-and-comer Shawn Jordan stepped in to face Kongo.
Kongo has fallen into the role of a gatekeeper. Generally able to take out competition outside the top ten, he has fallen every time he has challenged a top-ten opponent. While he lost to the likes of Frank Mir and Cain Velasquez, Kongo has beaten Pat Barry, Mirko Filopovic, Paul Buentello and Matt Mitrione. He also fought Travis Browne to a draw. A fighter like Shawn Jordan, who is still relatively untested, should be the kind of opponent that the imposing French kick boxer would hope for.
Jordan looked great in his UFC debut, as he finished Oli Thompson with second round punches. Prior to that, Jordan submitted Lavar Johnson. Kongo will be a significant step up, Jordan will not be without advantages. For one, he has made a home for himself at the famous Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts. His handler, Greg Jackson, has likely helped him to prepare for all of Kongo’s strengths. Against lesser strikers, Kongo uses his hands. In fights where he can be challenged on the feet, he often uses his wrestling skills to win. The latter will be Kongo’s plan in this fight; Greg Jackson will have coached Jordan accordingly. Look for Jordan to try to keep this fight standing, knowing full well what a knockout victory over Kongo would do for his nascent career. The 37-year-old Kongo’s experience, however, will be the story of this fight, as he is able to keep his composure when under attack, landing at range on the feet, and finding success with his takedowns despite Jordan’s preparation. Kongo will be looking to right his ship after a tough knockout loss to Mark Hunt at UFC 144, and his desire to get back in the win-column will have him looking more focused and aggressive than usual. Look for Kongo to land significant offense on the ground, demonstrating the impressive ground and pound he used in his wins over the likes of Mustafa Al Turk and Paul Buentello.
We have seen Jordan’s chin fail him in the past, in losses to Mark Holata and Kenny Garner. This time around, his chin will be up against the pulverizing ground and pound of Cheick Kongo. Chances are, it will not survive the onslaught.
The Pick: Kongo wins by second-round TKO.
Brian Ebersole (50-14-1) vs James Head (8-2-0)
Fresh off a unanimous decision win over TJ Waldburger at UFC on FX 4, Brian Ebersole has stepped in on short notice against James Head. Ebersole will look to build on an 11-fight win-streak, having not lost since 2008. Head had initially been preparing for Claude Patrick but will instead face the man who recently beat Claude Patrick.
The glaring difference between these two fighters is their experience: Ebersole has had over six times more professional fights than Head. It is hard to imagine that Head brings anything to the table that Ebersole has not seen before in one of his nearly seventy opponents, but this is MMA, and anything can happen. Head, whose bread-and-butter is jiu jitsu, has also demonstrated effective striking throughout his career, winning four of his eight victories by TKO. That Head has the tools to win this fight with his wide range of offense cannot be denied, but it is unlikely that he will catch the wily Ebersole off guard very easily. Head might be a jiu jitsu whiz, but Ebersole has shown time and time again that he is extremely difficult to submit, and the end result might be a stalemate on the ground. Given this, expect Head to try to score on the feet in this fight. Despite Head’s best efforts though, it will be Ebersole who finds more success in the head-hunting department, as he wallops his opponent repeatedly with a varying arsenal of strikes—until he feels comfortable shooting for a takedown. From there, look for Ebersole to blast through his opponent’s defenses with elbows and ground and pound.
The Pick: Ebersole wins by TKO in Round 1.
Chris Clements (11-4-0) vs Matt Riddle (6-3-0)
This fight has been changed, and changed, and changed again. As it stands, this matchup is the end-result of a hurricane of injuries. Initially, Yoshihiro Akiyama and Thiago Alves were supposed to square off. Then, when Akiyama withdrew with an injury, Siyar Bahadurzada stepped in against Alves. Next, Alves pulled out with an injury, and Chris Clements stepped in against Bahadurzada. Finally, Bahadurzada followed suit and withdrew from the fight, leaving Matt Riddle to step in against Chris Clements. Somehow, at the end of the day, we’re still left with an appealing matchup that, on paper, promises to be very entertaining.
Chris Clements holds numerous advantages in this fight. First, he has had much longer to prepare than his opponent, Matt Riddle. Second, Clements will have the support of Canadian fans behind him as he fights in his home country. Third, Matt Riddle’s never-say-die, excitement-at-all-costs style, will play perfectly into Clements’s strengths. While he is by no means a superstar, Clements might well be one of the hardest hitters at welterweight. In his 11 career wins, he has achieved all but one by knockout. While he was not able to win his UFC debut by knockout, he won none-the-less, and he will look to tack another win onto his record against the young Matt Riddle.
Riddle, who is 3-2 in his last 5, has fallen into slugfests with superior strikers in the past. While these fights have been barn burners, they have not been victories for Riddle. If he wants to win this fight, Riddle will need to be cautious, picking his shots, and keeping his composure against the heavy-handed Clements. Clements, who has admitted that he yearns to emulate the fan-favorite style of Chris Lytle, will be more than happy to oblige Riddle in a firefight if Riddle offers. While Riddle might take a methodical approach in the bout’s beginning, a few solid shots from Clemens might well throw the young fighter off his focus. In the end, expect this bout to unfold mainly on the feet, where the much older, but much harder-hitting Clements will prevail, even if he is unable to finish the durable Riddle.
The Pick: Chris Clements wins by unanimous decision.