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Thursday, Nov 15, 2012

UFC 154: Official Preview and Predictions

By Tom Taylor

This weekend, at UFC 154 in Montreal, the UFC’s top Pay-Per-View draw and welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre will return to action after well over a year on the sidelines.

St. Pierre will face a significant test in his return, as he takes on the interim welterweight champion, Carlos Condit. In the evening’s co-main event, Martin Kampmann and Johny Hendricks will square off in a bout that is hypothesized to provide a challenger for the winner of the fight between St. Pierre and Condit.

Beyond the main and co-main events, UFC 154’s main card will showcase two middleweight matchups, the winners of whom will break ahead from the pack and march toward the upper echelon on the division. Finally, the main card will be kicked off by an important featherweight fight between two men whose jobs might be on the line. Aside from St. Pierre and Condit, UFC 154 doesn’t offer much in the way of superstars, which is surely based on the organization’s confidence in St. Pierre’s ability to sell Pay-Per-Views. Stacked with stars or not, however, the evening’s fights should provide us with some quality violence, and some interesting storylines. When the action gets underway in Montreal this Saturday, here is what we might expect from the main card.

Mark “The Machine” Hominick (20-11) vs. Pablo “The Scarecrow” Garza (11-3):

It’s hard to believe that less than two years ago Mark Hominick gave featherweight champion Jose Aldo one of his toughest fights to date. At UFC 129 in April 2011, a bloodied Hominick was able to rally in the fight’s final frames to pummel the champion like no other has ever done.  After coming up short in his shot at the title, Hominick was forced to cope with the untimely death of his long time coach, Shawn Tompkins. From there, things only got worse for the former contender, as he saw back to back defeats at the hands of Chan Sung Jung and Eddie Yagin. Needless to say, since his fight with Aldo, Hominick has had a rough go.

In the first fight of UFC 154’s main card, Hominick will face lumbering featherweight Pablo Garza, who is also riding a loss streak, despite having dazzled fans in late 2010 and early 2011. Neither man can afford a loss in Montreal, so we can expect them to fight with doggish ferocity.

Despite Garza’s having dished out one of 2010’s most violent knockouts, a first round flying knee that hospitalized his opponent Fredson Paixão, Hominick is the more refined striker of the two men. On the flip side, Garza’s lanky frame and aggressive style make him the more dangerous grappler, as evidenced by his seven submission victories.

This fight, however, will probably unfold on the feet. Nothing says “I still belong in the UFC” like a savage knockout, and both men will be hunting for one. Garza will risk standing with a sharper striker, confident that his long reach and aggression can carry him to a win, and this will be his undoing against Hominick.  Hominick has bested taller men before; one needs only to watch his first round thumping of George Roop for proof of this. He will put on a similar performance against Garza, as he picks his shots, and punishes his opponent for every mistake he makes. Garza has never been knocked out before, and Hominick will probably not be the first man to finish him in this way, but cleaner technique and higher output in the striking exchanges carry him to a win.

The Pick: Hominick tastes victory for the first time since January 2011, securing a unanimous decision win in front of his fellow Canadians.

Nick “The Promise” Ring (13-1) vs. Constantinos “Costa” Phillipou (11-2)

In the second fight on UFC 154’s main card, Canadian Nick Ring will look to put an end to the four fight win streak of rising middleweight, Constantinos Phillipou. Phillipou has lost only once in five UFC appearances, and is quietly tiptoeing his way towards the upper ranks of the middleweight division. Ring, on the other hand, has been hot and cold since entering the promotion.

Technically, Ring has gone 3-1 in the UFC, but one of those wins was an extremely controversial unanimous decision over Riki Fukuda at UFC 127. Ring’s last win, a unanimous decision over The Ultimate Fighter season 11 winner, Court McGee, was also quite close. At the end of the day, while he has seen some success in the UFC, “The Promise” is yet to live up to the potential he entered it with. Like his former opponent McGee, Ring was a contestant on season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter, and until he was injured midway through the season, he was thought to be one of the most promising prospects on the show. Against Phillipou, Ring will have the opportunity to finally make a statement in the UFC.

Phillipou has been using his boxing with great results lately, handily out-dueling the likes of Jorge Rivera, Court McGee, and Riki Fukuda in recent decisions wins. He was also able to knock out Jarred Hamman in the first round at UFC 140. While Ring comes from a kickboxing background, the outcome of this bout will probably depend on his ability to take Phillipou down. Given the solid takedown defense Phillipou has shown in his UFC career thus far, we can expect this to be a difficult task for Ring.

In the end, expect a reasonably close fight between these two middleweights, as both find some success on the feet, but Phillipou finds a bit more.

The Pick: Constantinos Phillipou snatches a hard-fought unanimous decision win by simply hitting Ring harder and more often than Ring hits him.

Francis “Limitless” Carmont (19-7) vs. “Filthy” Tom Lawlor (8-4)

This fight, like the two that precede it on the main card, could have just as easily been on the undercard and swapped with Alessio Sakara’s fight with Patrick Cote or Mark Bocek’s fight with Rafael Dos Anjos. It’s good to see Francis Carmont getting the main-card recognition he deserves, though.

It took Carmont some time to find his groove, but it seems he’s finally found it. The French-born, TriStar representative has rattled off eight consecutive wins, finishing all but one of those opponents. Most recently, he scored a second round submission win over Karlos Vemola at UFC on Fuel TV 4. It would be a stretch to call Lawlor a significant step up in competition for Carmont, but he is a scrappy, durable opponent who can certainly give Carmont a good fight.

Lawlor has, however, had difficulty had difficulties with powerful grapplers before, and Carmont is just that. That isn’t to say Lawlor is without paths to victory though. In his last fight, “Filthy” flaunted some ferocious power by knocking out Jason MacDonald in the first round of their UFC on Fuel TV 3 scrap. Lawlor also has three submissions amongst his eight career wins, so his tapping Carmont out is not out of the question. It is unlikely, though.

When this fight begins, look for Carmont to waste no time in bulldozing Lawlor to the ground. Lawlor is a capable grappler, but it will quickly become clear that Carmon is not only more skilled in this area, but also physically stronger. Carmont has finished the majority of the fights he’s won, which is a clear indication of his aggression and killer instinct. Look for him to attack Lawlor from all angles early on, and eventually tie Lawlor up in something he can’t escape.

The Pick: Carmont continues his ascent up the middleweight division’s ranks, and shows why he belongs on the pay-per-view with a second-round submission victory.

Martin “The Hitman” Kampmann (20-5) vs. Johny “Big Rig” Hendricks (13-1)

Whether or not the winner of this bout is actually awarded a title shot as UFC president Dana White previously suggested remains to be seen, but there is no denying the importance of this fight to the welterweight division.

Hendricks will carry an impressive win-streak into the bout, having beaten Mike Pierce and Josh Koscheck in close decisions, and knocking out T.J. Waldburger and Jon Fitch in his last four fights. The win over Fitch, which he pulled off in less than 10 seconds, was a particularly huge exclamation point in Hendricks’s career, and solidified his role as an elite 170-pounder. In that win, and his other three knockout wins, Hendricks showed that he has the punching power to leave just about any welterweight supine.

The thing that makes this fight interesting then, is that Hendricks will be facing Martin Kampmann, who has one of the most durable chins in the weight class, and has shown repeatedly that he can be down, but not out. Most recently, Kampmann secured come-from-behind wins over heavy hitters Thiago Alves and Jake Ellenburger, at UFC on FX 2 and The Ultimate Fighter 15 finale respectively. Kampmann has shown he can hang with just about any type of fighter, going toe-to-toe with wrestlers, submission fighters, and dangerous strikers. The only two losses Kampmann has seen in his past seven fights, after all, are consecutive losses to Jake Shields and Diego Sanchez. Both times, Kampmann lost by decision, and both times, an impressive number of fans thought he should have been awarded the victory.

Despite these close losses, Kampmann has asserted himself as a true contender at 170 lbs. If he can beat Hendricks, there will be few men who argue more of a case for title contention than him. But Hendricks’s dizzying power and solid wrestling base make him the favorite in this fight for a reason. He will bring the fight to his opponent, and in all likelyhood, ring his bell early. Kampmann has stated before that he often needs to be hit a few times before he can get his head in a fight. Against Hendricks, he will be hit and hit again—he’ll know he’s in a fight.

Despite a strong start from Hendricks though, look for Kampmann to start turning it on in the latter part of the fight’s first half, as he hits his opponent with kicks and stiff jabs at range. Hendricks will find it difficult to find a home for his power punches with Kampmann using his long range artillery so affectively. From there, look for Hendricks to bully Kampmann against the cage, and hunt for a takedown. Don’t be surprised to see a cage-shaking slam at this point, as Kampmann will almost certainly find himself on his back.

As Hendricks rains down the ground and pound, look for a game Kampmann to hold on, and when all hope appears to be lost, pull off another come-from-behind win by finding a miraculous submission.

The Pick: Kampmann pulls off another come-from-behind win, but not before playing the role of the punching bag for two solid rounds. In the third round, he locks up a submission victory and possibly a shot at the winner of St. Pierre vs Condit.

Georges “Rush” St. Pierre (22-2) vs. Carlos “The Natural Born Killer” Condit (28-5)

The UFC has made a significant attempt at selling this fight as a champion versus champion, title unification bout, but at the end of the day, Carlos Condit is just another man who wants to beat the seemingly invincible Georges St. Pierre— something Condit himself alluded to at the UFC 154 press conference in Montreal.

St. Pierre has lost only twice in his 24-fight career, and has avenged both of those losses. Regardless of your stance on the Georges St. Pierre vs. Anderson Silva pound-for-pound best debate, there is no denying the sheer dominance with which St. Pierre has consistently performed.

Condit will face the starkest test of his career in St. Pierre, and will look to avoid the steamroller takedowns, accurate striking, and unending cardio that have helped his opponent achieve such great success. And while he certainly deserves to be the considered the underdog in this fight, Condit is widely considered the toughest test St. Pierre has faced in some time. This opinion is due largely to the breadth of weapons Condit brings into the cage, from diverse yet powerful strikes, to aggressive and affective Jiu Jitsu. Couple this fact with Condit’s tendency to finish his fights, and St. Pierre’s lengthy absence from competition, and this matchup becomes quite difficult to call, which is extremely uncharacteristic of St. Pierre’s fights.

It is difficult to say what affect St. Pierre’s long layoff will have on his performance, but against a dangerous opponent like Condit, he will need to be razor sharp. Furthermore, it will be interesting to see what strategy St. Pierre employs against “The Natural Born Killer”. Will he resort to his effective takedowns and risk putting himself in the path of Condit’s brutal knees (the likes of which he used to savage Dong Hyun Kim at UFC 132)? Will he dump Condit on his back, and brave Condit’s proven knack for locking up submissions? Will he gamble on a striking match with the always unpredictable Condit and attempt to use his careful, measured striking to earn the W? In the end, there is no way to know until fight night, but Condit certainly seems to have answers for a variety of his talented opponent’s strengths—in a way that many of St. Pierre’s former opponents have not.

Still, we have to remember this is GSP. The same man who has outclassed the likes out Matt Hughes, Josh Koscheck and BJ Penn (twice each) as well as Sean Sherk, Matt Serra, Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves, Dan Hardy and Jake Shields. Love or hate his recent conservative fighting style, he has been a downright force since regaining his title from Matt Serra in 2008.

When this match begins, expect Condit to come out like the Tasmanian Devil in a classic Warner Brother cartoon, hitting GSP with a hurricane of strikes, and quite possibly giving him more trouble than he’s seen since his historic upset loss to Matt Serra in 2007. At this point, we will see what kind of heart St. Pierre has, as his ability to stay calm under fire will be paramount to his emerging from this fight as the champion. St. Pierre will need to shrug off any flashbacks to the Serra loss that he feels, and keep his wits about him. If he doesn’t, he’ll lose.

The TriStar representative has demonstrated some serious resolve in the cage, however, and he will probably emerge from any early scares. From there, look for St. Pierre to find his groove. He may look clunky and maladjusted early on, but as the fight progresses, he’ll begin to feel more at home in the octagon, and begin landing crucial takedowns.  Then he’ll land some more. While he may lose the first round, and maybe the second, the latter portion of the fight will be unquestionably his, as he outworks and outmuscles a frustrated Condit en route to a vintage GSP win.

The Pick: St. Pierre notches another big win into his belt, and gives fans one more reason to beg for a showdown with Anderson Silva by stealing a unanimous decision win from an impressively game Carlos Condit.


posted by FCF Staff @ 5:00 pm
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