The biggest weekend for the UFC is finally here. While the end of the year event is usually more stacked, nothing is more valued than the fourth of July weekend event. That is the main reason behind their being two title fights occurring. Besides it being international fight week, they always look towards putting on major fights during this time of year. They’ve done that with a compelling main event between Chris Weidman and Lyoto Machida. Two world class fighters that couldn’t have more contrasting fighting styles. It doesn’t get more compelling than that.
Ronda Rousey makes another quick return to defend her bantamweight title against Alexis Davis. I’m also greatly anticipating the return of Stefan Struve, who faces Matt Mitrione in a potential fight of the night. Urijah Faber is somehow on the preliminary portion of this event, which will be talked about. This card isn’t as stacked as some past cards in late 2013, but still very good on paper. I’m joined by Thinesh John, who has done an excellent job in covering One FC.
1. Are you in favor of the UFC putting recognized names as the main event of the prelims in order to boost ratings on Fox Sports 1?
John: At first glance, it didn’t come off as a surprise to me that the UFC opted to put some of the more recognized names on the prelims. Quite simply, they’ve done it before.
The ratings have played an integral role in the UFC’s partnership with FOX. You could perhaps understand why the likes of Urijah Faber (who served as a headliner in his previous appearance), Alex Caceres, and Kenny Robertson are on the undercard.
I mean no disrespect to Marcus Brimage and PXC veteran Russell Doane, when I say they don’t deserve a spot on the main card, because while they are talented in their own right. The aforementioned fighters certainly carry more name value and are ones that fans would be willing to spend their purses on. With that said, if the UFC sees an increase of viewership on FOX Sports 1, you can’t fault them for pulling off a smart business decision.
Strk: I’m not the biggest advocate of their decision, but it’s understandable from a business perspective. Urijah Faber is a major commodity that attracts a lot of interest. While I’d put him in a category of “too valuable” to be fighting on the prelims, they’ll still benefit from having him fight on there.
It’s hard for me to believe that someone fighting for the title should go down to the preliminary portion of the card. I don’t mind seeing a popular name from “The Ultimate Fighter” like Kelvin Gastelum or Uriah Hall as a perfect candidate as a headliner. That’s just me thinking as the president of the company. Since that will never happen, I’ll say that I’m in favor of it because it will help drawing in a wider audience. The two title fights is what will be attracting pay-per-view buyers in the end. Faber will be the draw to bring in fans to boost ratings.
2. What does Uriah Hall have to improve on the most in continuing his road to redemption?
John: In Uriah’s first two UFC outings, he gave up way too many takedowns and was eventually forced to succumb to decision defeats. His clash with Chris Leben, on the other hand was a straight forward tussle, given how both fighters loved to stand and trade.
I think this match-up against Thiago Santos gives Uriah a little breather, considering the caliber of competition he’s locked horns with thus far. I’m not entirely sure of Santos’ grappling credentials but if the fight eventuates on their feet. I’ll stick my neck out and reckon the 30-year-old will be in for a long night against Uriah’s stellar striking pedigree. This is a perfect match-up for Uriah to start racking some momentum from, and of course, mount a bit of consistency.
Strk: It may sound cliché, but he needs to simply find his comfort zone. I had the opportunity to interview him in person last February for the UFC’s black history month tour. He deeply went into discussing his attempts at trying to find his identity as a fighter. His kindness hinders him at times, which sounds ridiculous yet it has affected him in fights. His loss to John Howard was a prime example.
Hall seemed to have the right mindset against Chris Leben, although that fight was his for the taking. His counter striking and athleticism proved to be overbearing for a declining brawler. Thiago Santos is still relatively new and hasn’t had the opportunity to showcase his attributes much. He won’t back down from a striking battle, but Hall is too wise to engage in a brawl. What I’m most looking forward to Hall is being a bit more aggressive and controlling the octagon more. On many occasions, he’s allowed his opponents to take control. He can’t rely on his counter striking all the time.
3. Matt Mitrione has shown some flaws, while being on his back. Do you think Stefan Struve should look to take the fight to the ground immediately or look to stand-and trade for a bit?
John: It’s hard to distinguish who’s actually going to get the better of the other in the stand-up department. While Struve may not possess the type of power Mitrione has in his hands, he most certainly garners a significant reach advantage. If Struve picks his punches right and use his gifted range and footwork to mix up combinations, I can see him outpointing Mitrione for a decision.
Mitrione did look absolutely outstanding in his TKO victory over Shawn Jordan, proving to the masses that his striking skills can be used to devastating effect. He’ll need to figure out a way around Struve’s reach, and if he does that, his haymakers will give the Dutchman something to contend with. Either way, as you aptly pointed out, Mitrione has holes in his grappling game and coincidentally, that happens to be Struve’s forte. Struve is more than just savvy on the canvas so I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if he decides to drop guard and work for submissions, or get the fight to the mat with takedowns.
I’m not a betting person at all, but I think Struve will feel out Mitrione on his feet a little, before taking the fight to the canvas and submitting him.
Strk: If Mitrione were more physically imposing, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Struve pull guard like he did against Lavar Johnson. We’ve seen how confident he is on the feet and embraces mixing it up. He’s been training with Antoni Hardonk, who used to be a professional kick-boxer. Unless the fight gets dicey and Struve begins to get tagged, I’ll be surprised if he pulls guard or goes for a leg sweep. After a long layoff, you get the sense that he wants to stand-and-trade immediately.
Similar to your opinion, Struve will try to get the fight to the ground if he’s struggling in the first round. He did that against Mark Hunt, who is arguably the best striker in the heavyweight division. While I’ve been critical of Struve in the past for not utilizing his jab and ground skills more efficiently, he’s had a long time to improve. Of course he’s only had a few months to work physically, but his mental preparation is something I’ve always questioned in the past. We need to see him start fighting wiser. The first three minutes of the fight will decide whether or not Struve should look to exploit Mitrione’s main flaw.
4. Are you taking the fact that Alexis Davis is the first black belt that Ronda Rousey has faced with any credence?
John: Absolutely. It’d be criminal to count off Davis with her outstanding Martial Arts pedigree. The thing about Davis is that she loves a scrap and her striking has improved by leaps and bounds in recent times. I’m still not buying the hype behind Rousey’s striking skill-set and mind you, that’s not because she’s yet to feature in a full on striking battle. Rousey’s boxing has come a long way and she uses it to get into the clinch, before choosing to either unload with strikes or push for her trademark Judo tosses. I believe Davis will have an edge, if she keeps her distance and makes it a methodical affair.
While this will be another fight full of questions, Davis has to keep the fight standing. You made a great point that she has a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu too but the Canadian is not known for her wrestling. Rousey is a true Olympic-level athlete, capable of sending anyone, head over heels with throws.
Strk: Cesar Gracie is widely respected, so it would be asinine to discount Davis’ black belt from him. I’m still skeptical if Davis can avoid being submitted, due to Rousey’s strength and elusiveness. The way she tosses her opponents to the ground and transitions into securing either full mount or side control is terrifying. Davis may have a reach advantage, but her striking isn’t considered very powerful.
I’ve never been a believer in MMA math, but it was concerning to see Davis have an undersized Rosi Sexton’s back for two minutes and not generate much offense. Her best bet is to try to wear Rousey out and pick her moments with leg kicks. She decimated Liz Carmouche with leg kicks last November in an impressive victory. While it’s nearly impossible to land efficient leg kicks against Rousey, she is better off trying to knock her out rather than trying to out-grapple her. The strength discrepancy is too wide in Rousey’s favor.
5. Do you see Chris Weidman being able to overpower Lyoto Machida in the clinch and on the ground, similar to what he did against Anderson Silva?
John: I think Weidman will look to pull off the exact game plan he produced against Anderson Silva: Patience, and bide his time in trading shots. Machida is an excellent counter-puncher with immaculate footwork that’s second to none. The Brazilian is more than capable of jostling in shots quickly, and moving out before getting hit. His feints can easily outwit even the best at middleweight.
Having said that, I don’t think Weidman will be fazed by Machida’s riddle excerpt at all. On the contrary, Weidman’s striking has come along very nicely and if uses his combinations to set up a clinch battle, I believe he will have the power to get a takedown from thereon in. Weidman is a physical specimen and is able to muscle anyone to the canvas. He can implement his imposing top control game at will. I think it will take a round or two for Weidman to get used to Machida’s crafty techniques on his feet but once he gets the takedowns going, the American should be able to secure a TKO finish.
Strk: Weidman has done everything in his power to silence critics. I’m still conflicted with this fight because both fighters have looked so impressive. Weidman has done everything you can ask him to do, while Machida looks scary as a middleweight. He seems more rejuvenated and dangerous, compared to his last few fights as a light heavyweight. His takedown defense is still top-notch and his counter striking has proven to be impeccable.
My major concern is based on Weidman’s knees. He had surgery about seven weeks ago, which isn’t very long ago. While he may be “the master” at checking leg kicks, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Machida try to break him down with leg kicks. Knee injuries have proven to be detrimental for many fighters over the years. You aren’t able to kick as well, nor shoot in as quickly as you used to for a takedown. We know Machida won’t fool around like Anderson Silva did. Also, he won’t get manhandled inside the clinch or on the ground like Silva did. As talented and composed as Weidman has proven to be, this is a matchup nightmare for him. Eventually, he’ll be forced into a striking battle and that’s where he’ll gets caught.
Twitter: @Allen_Strk & @ThineshJohnMMA