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Friday, Aug 10, 2012

UFC 150: Preview and Predictions

By Tom Taylor

This Saturday, the UFC will return to “The Mile High City,” Denver, Colorado, for UFC 150. Despite being a milestone card, UFC 150 will not boast the same wealth of star-power that other milestone shows, such as UFC 100, did. Regardless, the event’s main card is thick with promising and important matchups.

Headlined by a rematch between lightweight champion Benson Henderson and former champion Frankie Edgar, the main card will kick off with a featherweight scrap between TUF 15 standout Justin Lawrence, and rising prospect Max Holloway. Next on the docket is the return of former middleweight title challenger, Yushin Okami, who will look to bounce back after defeats to Tim Boetsch and reigning middleweight king Anderson Silva, as he takes on the relatively unknown Buddy Roberts.

Then, former welterweight title challenger Jake Shields will return to the middleweight division, where he enjoyed far more success, as battles the veteran Ed Herman. Finally, the headlining lightweight title fight will be supported by a lightweight co-main event between the highly regarded Donald Cerrone and Melvin Guillard.

When the violence kicks off in the high altitude of Denver, Colorado, here is what we might expect from the main card.


Benson “Smooth” Henderson (16-2-0) vs. Frankie “The Answer” Edgar (14-2-1) for the UFC lightweight championship:

Many fans question the legitimacy of this fight, Frankie Edgar’s third consecutive rematch in six title fights, yet the show will go on. Edgar and Henderson last met at UFC 144 in Japan, when Henderson stole the UFC lightweight title from Edgar with a unanimous decision win. Whether Edgar deserves this rematch is irrelevant now. He will have a chance to prove all the doubters wrong this weekend as he enters the octagon in hopes of reclaiming his title. Standing across for him will be the monstrously athletic and extremely durable Henderson, who surely will not be content to give up his newly acquired belt.

When the pair first met in Japan, the result was an extremely entertaining fight during which both men had their moments. In the end, however, it was the imposing athleticism and unpredictable dynamism of Henderson that won him the fight. Edgar did enjoy some success at several points but it was not enough to steal the fight in the eyes of the ever-important cage-side judges.  Still, given the success that both men had in their first fight, each man’s key to victory seems simple.

Execute the same game plan they used in their first fight, but better. Edgar, who was greatly undersized against Henderson will need to hunt more diligently for takedowns, speed up his already dizzyingly quick footwork and level changes, and be extremely wary of the unpredictable strikes of Henderson. At UFC 144, Henderson nearly lopped Edgar’s head off with a winging, spinning kick, made even more impressive by the fact that Edgar was holding Henderson’s other leg.

Then, Henderson nearly finished Edgar later in the fight with a seemingly rocket-powered upwards kick from his back.  As impossible as it sounds, Edgar will need to do a better job of predicting these unpredictable strikes from Henderson, while pushing the pace with abrupt level changes and blitzing combos.

Henderson, on the other hand, will need to be careful not to telegraph his more basic strikes. While his more wild strikes were effective against Edgar in Japan, Edgar was also able to catch a slew of Henderson’s kicks. Luckily for Henderson, Edgar wasn’t able to do too much with these caught kicks.

This time around, we can expect Edgar to punish Henderson any time a kick is caught or a mistake is made. Be it with a trip, a cross, or a takedown, Edgar will not let Henderson off easy for his mistakes, and Henderson will need to be wary of this. Henderson’s key to victory, will be a second showing of his unpredictable strikes, coupled with the use of his strength and size advantages.

We’ve seen Edgar wobbled before, in both his fights against Gray Maynard and in his last fight against Henderson. Despite Edgar’s uncanny ability to recover and scramble out of trouble when he’s on the brink of collapse, the power of Henderson, if properly applied, is undoubtedly enough to finish almost any lightweight.

Surely, given what is on the line, we will likely see Frankie Edgar and Benson Henderson 2.0 as they enter the cage for their rematch.  When the cage door closes, expect a fight that rivals their first for entertainment value, as both men go for the gusto, desperate to execute their own game plans.

Regardless of whose hand is raised in the end, we can expect the result to be decision. Both men are extremely difficult to finish, and both are lion-hearted. This time around, though, despite the numerous times we’ve seen Edgar thrive in rematches, the strength and flexibility of Benson Henderson will thwart the speed of Frankie Edgar.

The Pick: Benson Henderson wins a second unanimous decision over Frankie Edgar.


Melvin “The Young Assassin” Guillard (30-10-2) vs. Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (18-4-2)

Long gone are the days of Guillard and Cerrone training together at Greg Jackson’s gym in Albuquerque, New Mexico, it seems. While Cerrone still calls Jackson’s famous camp home, Guillard has since migrated to the Blackzillians camp in Miami, Florida, and now the two former teammates will lock horns in the co-main even at UFC 150. It was not long ago that both men were being talked about as title contenders. Since then, both have lost, and rebounded with wins.

In Denver, both will look to work their way back to the top of the division by building a two-fight win streak. Cerrone and Guillard are both respected as two of the most entertaining fighters in the lightweight division, and given the finishing abilities and killer instincts they share, we can expect this fight to be brief, regardless of who wins. Cue the fireworks.

Guillard’s probable game plan should not come as a surprise to anyone. The powerful lightweight will look to knock Cerrone out cold as early as possible. If he is not able to do so, however, he is in trouble. Not only is Cerrone vastly more dangerous than Guillard on the ground, but he also has striking skills that are nothing to laugh at. Cerrone, with the support of the strategy-whiz Greg Jackson behind him, should be well aware of Guillard’s strengths, and furthermore, his weaknesses.  Given this, Cerrone should be well-prepared for a standup Blitz from Guillard, and will probably be well armed with a counter attack.

In the area of pure striking, few lightweights compare to Guillard. This is MMA, however, and Cerrone will be able to mix punches, kicks, and takedowns into a dangerous smoothie that should give Guillard fits. Unless Cerrone obliges Guillard in a boxing match, or Guillard puts Cerrone away early, this fight appears to be Cerrone’s to win. When the bell rings, do not anticipate any hesitation from either man. Both will come out firing on all cylinders, and while anything can happen, Cerrone’s more complete skill set, supported by his sturdy chin, will carry him through an impressive performance against Guillard.

Prior to his most recent loss, a decision beating at the hands of Nate Diaz, Cerrone looked to be on fire. In his last fight, he looked the same, helping MMA fans forget about his poor showing against Diaz. When he enters the cage with Guillard, we can expect a similarly apt and violent Cerrone, eager to and capable of winning the fight in a variety of ways.  Guillard has recently lost twice by submission, first to Joe Lauzon, then to Jim Miller. This time around, he figures to fall victim to a Cerrone submission.

The Pick: The two friends duke it out, blasting each other, until Cerrone wobbles Guillard and drags the fight to the mat in the second round. Cerrone wins by second-round submission.


Jake Shields (27-6-1) vs. Ed “Short Fuse” Herman (20-8-0)

It’s safe to say the UFC career of Jake Shields has not gone the way he hoped. Once a dominant middleweight champion in Strikeforce, beating Dan Henderson in his last defense in the promotion, Shields migrated to the UFC to go 2-2 in a series of disappointing fights. Now, Shields will make his anticipated return to the middleweight division, where he enjoyed the most success of his career. Standing in his path will be fellow grappler, Dave Herman, who is anything but an easy fight.

Herman will ride a three-fight win streak into the fight, finishing Tim Credeur, Kyle Noke, and Clifford Starks in his most recent octagon appearances. This streak of finished fights is nothing new for Herman, who, in 20 career wins, has won by decision only twice. Shields on the other hand, adopts a different approach, opting for a stifling style, often winning his fights by decision. With wins over Carlos Condit, Dan Henderson, Martin Kampmann, and most recently, Yoshihiro Akiyama on his resume, Shields has faced and beat an impressive list of the world’s best fighters. It is safe to say that Shields has fought more dangerous opponents than Herman. Still, Herman cannot be counted out.

It has been over two years since Shields last competed as a middleweight, whereas Herman is well acclimatized to the 185 lb division. Furthermore, Shields has openly admitted he is struggling to adapt to Denver’s high altitude. While he is a favorite over Herman, Shields is clearly not without disadvantages in this fight.

The hype that followed Shields into his UFC debut is all but gone, as he was proven almost irrelevant as a UFC welterweight. His return to middleweight, then, will act as a sort of reinvention, and so a win against Herman will be especially important. If he loses, the aura of invincibility that once followed the Cesar Gracie representative will be long gone, and his options will continue to narrow. Given this, we can expect a vintage Shields to make an appearance, wasting no time in securing a takedown against Herman. Despite Herman’s submission chops, look for Shields to bulldoze him to the ground as early as possible, and begin imposing a suffocating, win-at-all-costs top game.

Herman on the other hand, may in fact opt to keep the fight standing. While it is true that Herman is far from a whiz on the feet, he would likely have an edge in the power-department over Shields. With five knockout or TKO wins in twenty career victories, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Herman attempt to expose Jake Shields’s sloppy, and unimpressive standup.

Regardless of Herman’s game plan, however, it is unlikely he will be able to escape the grinding attack of Shields. If his cardio holds up in light of the division change and high altitude, we can expect three rounds of Shields wearing out his opponent, en route to a clear-cut decision win.

The Pick: Jake Shields makes a successful return to middleweight, securing a unanimous decision win.


Yushin “Thunder” Okami (26-7-0) vs. Buddy Roberts (12-2-0)

Buddy Roberts has been thrown in with the lions of the middleweight division. Whether he is ready remains to be seen. Despite the two-fight losing streak he will carry into this fight, Yushin Okami remains an extremely difficult test for anyone in the division, and is, without a doubt, the most towering hurdle Roberts has faced to date.

Okami, who has recently lost to Anderson Silva and Tim Boetsch, both by knockout, will suddenly find himself faced with a greatly lower ranked opponent. It is true that Okami is a considerable and deserved favorite to beat Roberts at UFC 150, but Okami’s last fight was a picturesque reminder of why an underdog should never be completely counted out.

After dominating for two rounds, Okami, who was a favorite to win, had the tables turned on him and was savaged by a rabid Tim Boetsch. He now finds himself in a precarious position, as desperate for a win as he has ever been since his career began.  A loss to be Roberts would thrust Okami to the very depths of the middleweight division, a far cry from the main-event title fight he was part of less than a year ago.

It is safe to surmise, then, that we will see a focused Okami enter the cage this weekend. In the first two rounds of his fight with Boetsch, Okami looked to be the best fighter he has ever been. While he lost in the third round, his performance in the first two rounds cannot be forgotten. Against Roberts, we can expect a similar version of Okami, diluted by a cautiousness seen only in fighters who desperately need a win.

Look for Okami to keep Roberts at bay with jabs and winging kicks from the get go. When he feels comfortable doing so, expect a patient, measured Okami to work the clinch, and punish the body of Roberts with knees, ripping elbows and short, powerful punches.  On the flipside, Roberts, with the brain of Greg Jackson in his corner, will look to fight at long distance, circling Okami and punching as necessary to avoid the clinch and Judo of his Japanese opponent.

In the end though, all the game planning and dedication in the world will not change the fact the Okami is an abrupt and sizable step up in competition for Roberts. He may hold his own initially, but try as he might Roberts will not be able to avoid tie-ups with Okami, where he will absorb significant punishment, until Okami staggers him and follows him to the floor. From here, elbows will seal the deal, as “Thunder” brutalizes Roberts to secure a win.

The Pick: Okami wins by second-round TKO, finally reentering the win-column.


Max “Blessed” Holloway (5-1-0) vs. Justin “The American Kid” Lawrence (4-0-0)

In this fight, we will watch two promising featherweight prospects attempt to take the next step into the deep waters of the 145 lb division. One will falter; the other will take an important step forward. In Lawrence, we have an undefeated competitor coming off a devastating knockout win over John Cofer at The Ultimate Fighter 15 finale. Touted early on as one of TUF 15s most promising entrants, Lawrence fell short on the show, only to impress at the finale.

Holloway, on the other hand, despite having lost before, appears to be equally promising. His lone loss came at the hands of the highly respected Dustin Poirier, and Holloway has looked dominant on either side of his lone defeat.

Given the relative greenness of both fighters, look for both men to come out with the goal of making a statement. Both have proven before that they are capable of scoring knockouts, and in all likelihood, both will be gunning for one as they kick off this weekend’s main card. While both prospects will be content to blast each other for the fight’s duration if need be, we can expect a slightly different approach from either fighter.

Lawrence, still high off the glory of his recent crippling knockout win, will look to land big, powerful shots. Holloway, on the other hand, has shown an aptitude for stringing together beautiful combinations, working the body and head with great efficiency. When these two styles clash, provided Holloway keeps his wits about him, it will be his approach that proves more effective, as he lands repeatedly, and frustrates Lawrence.

In a fight that appears to be an early candidate for fight of the night, look for Lawrence and Holloway to put on a show, regardless of the outcome. In an entertaining fight that isn’t too damaging for either man’s young reputation, it will be the combinations, footwork, and volume punching of Holloway that prevails.

The Pick: The young Max Holloway continues his rise, and steals a unanimous decision.

posted by FCF Staff @ 11:18 am
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