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Friday, Aug 03, 2012

UFC on FOX 4: Preview and Predictions

By Tom Taylor

This Saturday, the UFC will broadcast on FOX for a fourth time. The event will take place in Los Angeles, California, and will, according to UFC president Dana White, provide us with an opponent for the winner of Jon Jones and Dan Henderson’s upcoming light heavyweight title fight. The fighter given this honor will be determined by the results of two fights; one between Shogun Rua and Brandon Vera in the main event, and another between Ryan Bader and Lyoto Machida in the co-main event. While all of these men have already fallen to current champ Jon Jones, the competitor deemed most worthy post-event will be plucked from the back-burner and awarded a second chance at the belt. Aside from this duo of light heavyweight matchups, the main card of UFC on Fox 4 also marks the return of the veteran Mike Swick after over two years of inactivity. Swick, who was a participant on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, will lock horns with DaMarques Johnson. Finally, an appealing scrap between dynamic lightweights Joe Lauzon and Jamie Varner will serve as the icing on the cake of the event’s promising main card.

When the main-card action commences on Saturday night, here is what we might expect from the fights.

Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (20-6-0) vs Brandon “The Truth” Vera (12-5-0, 1 NC)

At first glance, this fight appears to be an obvious mismatch in favor of the Pride tournament winner and former UFC champ, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. While judging a book by its cover can prove misleading, this time around the first glance should be accurate.

Shogun lost his last fight to Dan Henderson in one of the greatest battles in UFC history, yet many believe the fight should have been a draw. Regardless of the fight’s official outcome, Shogun and Henderson both reassured the world that, despite their long tenures as fighters, they are still extremely dangerous competitors. Before his war with Henderson, Shogun won an important victory on his home turf, crumpling Forrest Griffin in the first round at UFC 134. While criticism recently circled at Shogun’s alleged refusal to fight rising prospect Glover Teixeira, the fact remains that in his last two endeavours, Shogun has looked the wrecking machine that made him famous in his Pride days.

Almost as famous as Shogun’s accolades, however, have been his apparent failures to remain dedicated to his career in the past. On more than one occasion, he has led the MMA community to become skeptical that his heart is still in it, showing up on fight night looking pudgy and out of shape, with cardio to match. Such was the case during his fight with Mark Coleman at UFC 93, where both men heaved for air, exhausted early on in the fight. If Shogun cannot motivate himself to properly prepare for this fight, it will be his undoing. There is no doubt that Vera will show up in tip-top shape, knowing full well what a victory over Shogun would mean for his own standing in the light heavyweight division. The X-factor in this fight, then, will be which version of Shogun shows up to fight.

If we are treated with an appearance by the Shogun who stood toe to toe with Dan Henderson, it will not be an easy night for Vera. While Vera is no slouch, the fact remains that he was recently released from the UFC.  In fairness, the release followed a one sided beat-down at the hands of Thiago Silva, who later tested positive for performance enhancers, yet upon return to the promotion, Vera did little to validate his presence, edging out Eliot Marshall in a lackluster fight. It would be wrong to say that Vera is without advantages, as he trains at Alliance MMA, a camp rich in UFC light heavyweights such as Joey Beltran and Phil Davis. His wrestling chops are also forgotten all too often, but regardless, Vera will have his work cut out for him when he enters the cage this weekend.

When the bell rings in Saturday night’s main event, expect an exciting but short-lived firefight. Shogun will look to keep this fight standing, and while Vera’s main strength is his Muay Thai, he will likely not survive long on the feet with the former champion. Look for Shogun to come out guns blazing, finding his mark early, and shooing away any game plan Vera brought into the cage. When trouble strikes, look for Vera to hunt for the clinch or a takedown—with little success. We have seen Vera lose his cool in the past when he is in the trajectory of an onslaught, and given Shogun’s aggressive style, expect to see this again.  It will only be a matter of time before Shogun is able to drop his opponent and finish the job with some ground and pound.

The Pick: Shogun wins by first round knockout, and barring a spectacular finish in the co-main event, thrusts himself back into number-one-contender status.

Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida (17-3-0) vs Ryan “Darth” Bader (14-2-0)

It does not seem like all that long ago that Joe Rogan welcomed us to “the Machida era,” following Machida’s knockout win over Rashad Evans and crowning as light heavyweight champion at UFC 98. Since then, Machida has fallen once—and arguably twice, depending on your standing on their first fight—to Saturday’s main-eventer, Shogun Rua. Following his back-to-back fights with Shogun, Machida went on to lose a split decision to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, then knock out a retiring Randy Couture only to fall again to current divisional king, Jon Jones. In many ways, it appears that Machida’s winning the title turned out to be the worst thing for his career. Regardless, Machida will now have a chance to right his ship against accomplished wrestler, Ryan Bader.

In this matchup, the conventional wisdom that “styles make fights” appears to ring true. In Machida and Bader, we have two fighters who are almost polar opposites. Machida is cited frequently for his elusiveness. He has made himself famous by forcing his opponents to chase him as he weaves in and out of danger, landing violent strikes from his karate-based fighting stance, frequently scoring violent and unpredictable knockout wins. Bader, on the other hand, is an Arizona state wrestler with a powerful frame and the ability to ground almost anyone he gets his hands on. And while his striking might not be as refined as his opponent’s, if Bader lands clean, he has the power to decimate. Just ask Keith Jardine and Jason Brilz.

While it didn’t end in a knockout, Bader scored the most significant win of his career in his last fight, ousting Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 144 in Japan. Despite being dropped on his head by a nauseatingly brutal slam by Rampage, Bader was able to outmuscle and outwork en route to a unanimous decision win.  Bader was successful on several occasions in taking down Rampage, and will likely look to take the same approach against Machida, knowing full well how a prolonged striking match with a fluid striker could end. This strategy will not be easy against Machida, however.

Before any takedowns are attempted, look for the two men to feel each other out, pawing outwards, each wary of the other’s strengths. Eventually, it will be Machida who launches the first attack, lunging forward with speedy and accurate punches. For these brief moments that Machida is in range, look for Bader to dive for the takedown. Were it anyone but Machida, Bader would likely find success, but Machida has the uncanny ability to exit the danger zone just as quickly as he entered it. This will end up being a significant theme of the fight, as Machida slips in and out of Bader’s defenses.

As the fight wears on, the lofty implications of the fight will lead both men to turn on the aggression. Look for Bader to press forward, eager to land shots of his own by cutting off Machida’s escape routes and cornering him against the cage. Still, Machida will escape nearly unscathed, mounting his own offensive on the way out of danger. The more success Machida finds in this regard, the more dangerous he will become, countering more and more effectively as his opponent chases him. But Bader’s chin will hold true as he is careful not to wade in too heavily. Having undoubtedly reviewed Machida’s past fights, Bader will understand what over-committing to any given attack can mean against “The Dragon.”

In the end, expect Machida to land more significantly against a more aggressive Bader in a fight that is eerily similar to Machida’s UFC 123 split-decision loss to Rampage Jackson, and perhaps equally difficult to score.  Because of this, it is unlikely that this fight will provide us with the next light heavyweight title challenger, if only because these two opponents are more evenly matched than their main event counterparts.  At the end of a three-round fight, Machida’s accurate offense will be given more weight than Bader’s full-steam-ahead aggression.

The Pick: Machida wins by unanimous decision.

Joe “J-Lau” Lauzon (21-7) vs Jamie “C-4” Varner (20-6-1)

If you asked MMA fans where Jamie Varner had disappeared to before UFC 146, most would not have an answer. Varner made a triumphant return to the bright lights of the big leagues at UFC 146, blasting Edson Barboza in the first round of their fight, despite being a late injury replacement. Before this, however, the former WEC lightweight champion had vanished almost completely into obscurity. Now, Varner will have a chance to prove that his upset victory in his UFC return was more than a fluke, as he takes on the always dangerous and always exciting Joe Lauzon.

Lauzon last appeared at UFC 144 in Japan, where he was knocked out by Anthony Pettis. Prior to this defeat however, Lauzon was frequently mentioned in top-ten discussion, due largely to his submission win over Melvin Guillard at UFC 136. While it seems that the hype that followed Lauzon out of his fight with Guillard might have been premature, a win over Varner would re-solidify his role as a relevant 155-lb fighter.

Indeed, both Lauzon and Varner will be hungry for wins at UFC on Fox 4, but neither man will have an easy road to victory. When the cage door shuts, expect the action from these two crafty lightweights to commence early. Lauzon, who thrives in the first round, will look to set up takedowns with an array of strikes. Lauzon’s primary hope in this fight, we must assume, is to work for a submission. Given this, we can expect to see him attempting to drag Varner down from the get-go. During this period, Varner will need to be able to keep his cool under fire if he wants to survive the early attacks of Lauzon. Being an accomplished wrestler will serve Varner well, as he is able to sprawl on Lauzon’s takedown attempts and fire back with his own powerful punches. It would not be surprising to see both men in trouble in this fight’s opening frame, with both releasing a sigh of relief as they return to their corners at the round’s conclusion.

As the fight continues, look for Varner to turn it on, launching his powerful right hand at Lauzon at every opportunity. Lauzon’s stand up is nothing to laugh at and was, in fact, the catalyst for his submission win over Guillard at UFC 136, but in the end look for Varner’s bombs to find their mark. Finally, Varner will smell blood and chase a wobbled Lauzon to the mat. Following a brief struggle for position, and perhaps a few wild submission attempts from Lauzon, look for Varner to continue the bombardment. Lauzon works well off his back, but providing Varner keeps a level head, prolonged ground and pound will lead Varner to a sound stoppage.

The Pick: Varner wins by second-or third-round TKO.

Mike Swick (14-4) vs DaMarques Johnson (15-10)

We have not seen Mike Swick compete since February 2010, when he lost to Paulo Thiago at UFC 109. Before this loss, Swick lost a decision to former title challenger Dan Hardy. Swick failed to return to action following this string of losses, as a plague of injuries kept him on the sidelines. During his absence from the Octagon, he kept busy touring war zones around the world to support the troops. These endeavours are admirable, but for a professional mixed martial artist there is no substitute for time in the octagon. When Swick finally makes his return this weekend, he will do so against a well-rounded DaMarques Johnson. Johnson is a game opponent, holding  six wins by knockout and seven by submission—but the glaring variable in this fight will be Swick’s ability to shake off the ring rust.

UFC matchmakers were merciful with Swick in his comeback. Instead of throwing him in with the lions of the top-ten, he was awarded Johnson, who is also coming off a loss. In his most recent fight, Johnson was submitted by British prospect John Maguire. All in all, Johnson has managed to split his UFC career with four wins, and four losses. While he is a talented fighter, the truth is that Johnson has never been able to crest the top of the decision, falling anytime he has met a top-15 or even top-20 opponent. Given this, we can expect him to have trouble with Swick, prolonged layoff or not. Swick, although he has never been a champion, has competed with far more dangerous opponents than Johnson in the past, at welterweight, middleweight, and even light heavyweight during the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter. It is unlikely, then, that Johnson will be able to give Swick problems that he has not encountered before.

If Johnson hopes to win this fight, he will look to test the cardio of Swick, attempting to wear Swick out in the clinch and damage him with strikes. Swick, however, will likely not have cardio problems in his return, having diligently prepared, and once he starts finding his range, will begin to let his crisp strikes fly. Despite Johnson’s best efforts, look for Swick to outland him on the feet, and outwork him in the clinch. Eventually, when his other alleys close, look for Johnson to attempt to take the fight to the ground. If Swick’s cardio holds out as we can expect it to, Johnson will have little success in this department. Look for Swick to punish a frustrated Johnson with torpedo-like jabs throughout the fight’s first half. As the fight wears on and Swick finds his groove, expect his strikes to diversify. Eventually, it will be a knee or a hook that works for Swick—and sends Johnson tumbling. From here, Swick finishes him off quickly.

The Pick: Mike Swick wins by second round TKO.

posted by FCF Staff @ 10:09 am
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