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Thursday, Dec 06, 2012

UFC on FOX 5: Official Preview and Predictions

By Tom Taylor

This weekend, the UFC stops in Seattle for UFC on FOX 5, one of the most stacked cards of the year. In the main event, Benson Henderson will defend his lightweight title against Nate Diaz. Beyond that, the main card will boast an anticipated light heavyweight matchup with definite title implications, between Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Alexander Gustafsson. Finally, the main card will be kicked off between a pair of welterweight scraps between Rory MacDonald and BJ Penn, and Mike Swick and Matt Brown. In a night that is sure to include fireworks, here is what we can expect from the main card.

Mike “Quick” Swick (15-4-0) vs. Matt “The Immortal” Brown (15-11)

The main event and the two fights that precede it are garnering the most hype in the lead up to UFC on FOX 5, but the first fight of the evening’s main card might well steal their thunder. In an interesting welterweight showdown, veteran welterweights Mike Swick and Matt Brown collide in a fight that is sure to be entertaining.

Swick recently burst back into relevance with a second-round trouncing of DaMarques Johnson at UFC on FOX 4, following over two years on the sidelines. Now, he will now look to replicate his performance against durable veteran Matt Brown. This will be no easy task.

In Brown, Swick will face a concrete-chinned stalwart of the UFC’s welterweight division—a man who has never lost by knockout. Brown will enter the octagon with three wins behind him, two of which he won by stoppage, evidencing the power he holds in his hands plus his propensity to dish out savage ground and pound. In addition to his punching power, Brown owns a third of his career victories by submission, proof of his ever-improving grappling skills.

Should these men opt to bang, the result will most likely be a barn burner. Both are known for their reluctance to back down, and both surely know that a win will give them a significant boost up the divisional rankings. Swick might be the sharper of the two men on the feet, but the wolfishness of Brown makes the results of a stand-up fight between the pair difficult to call.

On the ground, things appear more predictable. Swick has expressed interest in showing off his jiu jitsu, and to add a fourth submission win to his resume. Should this fight hit the mat, Brown will need to be wary, and be careful not to make the mistakes that have led to his eight previous submission losses.

When the televised portion of UFC on FOX 5 begins, look for Swick and Brown to get things underway with a bang. Watch for an energetic Swick to begin firing torpedoes at his opponent early, as Brown eagerly wings punches back, but lands with less success. While Swick may find his range and connect with some nasty punches, the sturdiness of Brown’s chin will be on full display as he absorbs Swick’s offenses, and refuses to say goodnight.

In a recent interview with Full Contact Fighter, Swick expressed his reluctance to strive for fight-of-the-night performances. Instead, he prefers to end things quickly. Given this, when he gets discouraged by Brown’s resilience on the feet, look for Swick to drag this fight downward, where he will quickly begin hunting for the tap. Despite the nine submission losses on Brown’s record, expect him to show impressive slyness in defending against Swick’s early submission attempts, but sooner or later, he will find his neck or arm locked up, with no escape route visible.

The Pick: Swick continues to gain momentum in his return, submitting Matt Brown in the second round.

BJ “The Prodigy” Penn (16-8-2) vs. Rory “Ares” MacDonald (13-1)

Young lion versus old lion—it’s an expression we’ve heard a million times before, and UFC on FOX 5’s matchup between BJ Penn and Rory MacDonald is a perfect example of a fight that meets this description.

Penn, the old lion, is one of only two men to win belts in two divisions in the UFC, as a former lightweight and welterweight champ. He’s fought the who’s who of both divisions, and even ventured up in weight to challenge former light-heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida in K-1. His opponent, MacDonald, on the other hand, is the young lion.

MacDonald has only one loss on his record, dealt to him at the hands of former interim welterweight champion Carlo Condit. Condit was able to put MacDonald away with just seconds left in the round, and if he hadn’t been able to do so, MacDonald more than likely would have walked away with a decision win. Aside from that loss, however, MacDonald has been on a tear, to say the very least. He will carry a three fight win-streak into his fight with Penn, including stoppage wins over Mike Pyle and Che Mills, and a dominating decision win over lightweight title challenger Nate Diaz. His stellar record, and the ease with which he’s been dispatching his opponents, have led many fans to tout MacDonald as the next big thing at welterweight. A win over a legend like Penn certainly wouldn’t hurt his cause.

Penn, despite his accolades, has fallen on hard times recently. After losing the lightweight title to Frankie Edgar, and then losing an immediate rematch with him, he went on to knock out an aging Matt Hughes, fight Jon Fitch to a draw, and then be battered to a pulp by former Strikeforce welterweight champion, Nick Diaz.

After the Diaz loss, Penn announced his intention to retire from MMA. It has taken over a year, but apparently the thrill of professional cage fighting has lured him back to the octagon. Penn appears to have a rejuvenated dedication to the sport— something that he has seemed to lack at times in the past.  Rededicated or not, however, his return to the octagon will not be an easy one. Standing in his way will be MacDonald, who will have a significant size and strength advantage, and is also ten years Penn’s junior. Penn is famous for his slick Jiu Jitsu, ridiculous flexibility, and sharp striking, but he will certainly be challenged by the physicality of his young opponent. Add MacDonald’s immense talent to the equation, and there is no denying Penn has a difficult night ahead of him.

When this fight begins, expect MacDonald to put his physical advantages to use almost immediately, as he wings power punches at the former two-division champ, and bulldozes him against the cage, softening him up in the clinch. We have seen Penn lose steam when he has being roughed up before, but it is imperative that he keeps his cool under MacDonald’s assault if he wants to win this fight.

Penn’s takedown defence is well-renowned, but expect MacDonald to send his opponent to the canvas on several occasions. When this happens, look for MacDonald to stay heavy, and rain down a meteor shower of ground and pound. At this point, we may see Penn grimace uncomfortably, in the same way he did when under fire from Diaz and in his second loss to Georges St. Pierre. The significance of this bout to his continued relevance will see him hold on, though.

Expect a similar story through most of the fight’s first half, until finally, Penn pulls a rabbit out of his hat in the second or third, showing how valuable experience and guile can be in a sport like MMA.

The Pick: Penn’s jiu jitsu saves him in the second or third round. After sustaining a beating at the hands of MacDonald for a good portion of the fight, he secures a come-from-behind win via submission.

Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson (14-1) vs Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (21-6-0)

Here we have another classic example of old lion versus young lion. Like the bout between Penn and MacDonald that precedes it, old lion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua will look to slow the ascent of the dynamic Swedish prospect, Alexander Gustafsson.

Shogun, like Penn, has some extremely impressive credentials. A Pride Grand Prix champion, Shogun went on to capture the UFC light heavyweight by knocking out Lyoto Machida. He went on to lose his belt in his first defense to current champion Jon Jones, but  he is still a force to be reckoned with, armed with the speed and power to end any light-heavyweight’s night, and a solid chin to match.

Recently, the former champ has been hot and cold, alternating wins and losses in his last six fights. Most recently, Shogun put on a tepid performance against Brandon Vera, before finally sealing the deal with punches in the fourth round. Before that, he battled Dan Henderson to the losing end of a decision, in a fight that many fans call the greatest of all time.

Gustafsson, on the other hand, has been on a strictly hot streak. With one loss on his record, to fellow contender Phil Davis (whom he elected to start training with after the loss), Gustafsson has recently beaten Cyrille Diabate, James Te Huna, Matt Hammill, Vladimir Matyushenko, and Thiago Silva. He has finished two of those opponents with strikes, two by submission, and one by decision. Shogun is undoubtedly the toughest test of Gustafsson’s flourishing career, but with destructive power and vicious striking, Gustafsson also figures to be one of the toughest tests in Shogun’s recent years.

Both men are strikers, and if they opt to strike, it is likely we will see someone go to sleep. It’s difficult to say who the better striker is, as both have demonstrated incredible levels of violence in this area, but Gustafsson, who stands six-foot-five, will have a significant reach advantage. We saw Shogun thrown off his game by the long-range capabilities of Jon Jones, and Gustafsson may look to replicate this strategy, chopping his veteran opponent down with leg kicks, and stiff punches from the outside.

Recently, though, Shogun has been looking more often to his takedowns. We saw him land successful takedowns against Dan Henderson (an Olympic wrestler) and Brandon Vera. He may look to emulate this strategy and expose the developing ground game of Gustafsson. We can expect Gustafsson to have prepared for the possibility of a ground fight, but it is possible that Shogun will look to bring this fight down, and work some ground and pound. However, Gustafsson has shown increased aptitude on the ground, and this, coupled with his size, should allow him to work back to his feet if he ends up on his back.

In the end, expect Shogun to land a few takedowns, but Gustafsson to be the more successful man on the feet, as he lights up his lionhearted opponent with heavy strikes from the outside. And while Shogun’s chin may finally fail him one day, it is unlikely that it will be against Gustafsson.

The Pick: Gustafsson wins the striking exchanges and escapes trouble on the ground, battering his seasoned opponent to a unanimous decision win.

Benson “Smooth” Henderson (17-2) vs. Nate Diaz (16-7)

When Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz enter the octagon together, it will be difficult not to notice the stark differences in their physical appearances. Henderson, the champion, is a thick, athletic specimen with legs like tree trunks. Diaz, the challenger, looks scrawny but is significantly taller and possesses a lanky frame that plays perfectly into his boxing heavy style and excellent jiu jitsu.

Henderson swiped the belt from the highly regarded Frankie Edgar at UFC 144 in Japan. Given the closeness of the fight, however, Edgar and Henderson met again at UFC 150, in a bout that ended up being even more controversial. Many fans believed Edgar did more than enough to win back his belt, but the judges sided with Henderson, and now the belt is his to defend.

Henderson is as dynamic as fighters come. With incredible strength, elastic flexibility, impressive submission defense, and a wide array of unorthodox strikes, he has the potential to be an extremely entertaining champion. So too, however, does Nate Diaz.

Diaz is as famous for his tough-guy attitude and in-cage taunts as he is for his boxing and ground game. He will carry a three-fight win streak into his title fight, having recently bested Takanori Gomi with a first-round submission, Donald Cerrone in a lopsided decision, and Jim Miller with an impressive second-round choke. Before that however, we saw Diaz tossed around and outmuscled by Dong Hyun Kim and Rory MacDonald during a brief trip to welterweight. He was clearly undersized for the division, as it appeared to be quite easy for his more powerful opponents to toss him around like ragdoll. Following this realization, Diaz returned to lightweight where he is better suited physically.

Unfortunately for the challenger, however, the champion is such a powerful lightweight that he may well be able to toss Diaz around with the same ease that MacDonald and Kim did. Henderson is also a very effective wrestler.

Diaz is a whiz off his back though, and every time Henderson puts him there, he risks being caught in a submission. Still, Henderson has been submitted only once in his 19-fight career, despite several close calls at the hands of dangerous grapplers like Mark Bocek and Jim Miller. Despite his opponent’s premier submission skills, it’s unlikely that the rubber-limbed champion will be submitted in this fight.

Henderson has also never been knocked out, despite taking the best shots of apt strikers like Donald Cerrone, Anthony Pettis, and Frankie Edgar. Even in light of Diaz’s high-output boxing style, it is unlikely Henderson will have his lights turned out.

Yet Henderson has had difficulty finishing his opponents recently and is on a five-fight decision streak while Diaz has only been finished once throughout his 23-fight career, showing similar durability to the champion.

Given these factors, it is unlikely we will see a finish in this fight—but don’t let that stop you from tuning in. It isn’t a stretch to predict that Henderson and Diaz will steal fight-of-the-night honors, given the never-say-die attitude both men always bring to the cage. Look for this pair of elite lightweights to unleash hell on each other, but at the end of the night, Henderson’s more diverse striking, particularly his kicks to his opponent’s legs and body, as well as his ground and pound, will lead him to victory.

The Pick: At the end of a wild battle, rich with plenty of close calls, expect the power, durability, and more diverse strikes of Henderson to be the catalyst for a successful defense of his title—Henderson by unanimous decision.


posted by FCF Staff @ 4:46 pm
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