After an extensive layoff, I’m back with the five question preview. Due to other writing obligations, I haven’t had the time to do this for certain events. Finally I’ll start doing these again, as I’ve planned my obligations out properly. The UFC returns to Japan for UFC Fight Night 52 and brings along an exciting card as they normally do. Mark Hunt versus Roy Nelson has always been a fight I’ve wanted to see for a few years now. The development of Myles Jury against a sturdy veteran in Takanori Gomi will be enthralling. We also get to witness the return of Yoshihiro Akiyama and the UFC debut of the bizarre yet talented Rin Nakai.
I’m joined by Thinesh John, who works extensively in covering the Asia MMA scene such as One-FC. He will be answering five popular questions for the five most intriguing fights on the card.
1. Masnori Kanehara is one of the true veterans in the sport that has yet to fight in the UFC. Is he ready to face top-level competition or are they throwing him to the wolves by matching him against Alex Caceres?
Strk: It could have been far worse if the original matchup came to fruition. Urijah Faber is someone I’d put in the category of “being thrown to the wolves”. This is still a tough matchup against a blue-chipper in Alex Caceres. It’s still a major difference, as Caceres has his limitations. He’s a very unorthodox striker that has an efficient jab. His issues are that his wrestling isn’t very good and he can get reckless at times.
That bodes well for Kanehara, who wants to stand-and-trade. In past fights, his power has began to increase. We’ve seen him finish more opponents in his recent fights. His experience in fighting the likes of Hatsu Hioki and Chan Sung Jung to decision are examples of how proven he is. His style still concerns me, where he relies too much on head movement to defend punches. His hands are far too low for my liking. I believe that he’s ready for this particular fight, but he needs to refine some of his tendencies to become a top ten bantamweight.
John: Kanehara’s call up to the UFC roster is a well-deserved one in my humble opinion, and at 31, I believe he’s in the prime of his career. With that said, the UFC more often than not tends to take it easy with first timers but they’ve certainly given the former Sengoku champ a stern test for his promotional debut.
He has wins over ‘Korean Zombie; and Kid Yamamoto, and is coming off a strong performance that ended in a DQ. Anyway, Kanehara is a strange case. He isn’t anything special off the gate though he is one of the better Japanese fighters right now from the realms of DEEP, Pancrase and ZST. While I can see him mustering a few wins in the UFC, I think to beat Caceres in his octagon debut will be a tough ask.
2. Miesha Tate’s tenure in the UFC has been apart of thrilling fights. We’ve yet to see a commanding performance from her though. Do you expect to see a much-needed dominant victory from her?
Strk: Obviously it’s tough to give a proper evaluation of Rin Nakai given that this is her debut in the UFC. I’ve actually found some of her old fights and she’s a handful from a grappling perspective. Her victory over Brenda Gonzales was simply from power and technique. She got Gonzales back and it only took one under hook for her to secure the rear naked choke.
Tate isn’t the biggest bantamweight and had issues against Liz Carmouche. She was controlled for a good amount of the first two rounds. This is a fascinating fight to put her against someone, who is massive for a bantamweight with grappling credentials. Tate should look to test Nakai’s standup throughout the fight. We saw her land a few decent combinations against Cat Zingano and Ronda Rousey. Even though Tate comes from a wrestling background, it would be wise to not get into wild scrambles against a bigger opponent like Nakai.
John: Absolutely. Rin Nakai is known for her Judo prowess and that should suit her well in the UFC but Miesha Tate, I’m afraid to say, is on a whole new level. Nakai’s only blemish on her record is by a personal friend of mine in Danielle West, who has nothing but good things to say about the 27-year-old having faced her on two separate occasions.
A huge part of Nakai’s game entails takedowns and control on the canvas but as we’ve seen so many times before, I think Miesha Tate will have no qualms fighting off her back. Nakai isn’t known for her striking abilities and while Tate is not the greatest in the stand-up department either, I believe Tate has enough in her arsenal and will be too skillful against Nakai. Nakai’s strength is well documented and has looked impressive against unknown housewives in recent times. However, apart from dressing up as a school girl to the press conference, I doubt she’ll give Tate a proper challenge. Ultimately,‘Cupcake’ should do well to fend off Nakai’s takedown attempts and after a few transitions or two, I can see Tate getting a successful sub.
3. What are your expectations for Yoshihiro Akiyama? He hasn’t fought in over two years and tends far too many damage in his past fights.
Strk: How can anyone place any significant expectations on him? As exciting as his fights have been in the past, his UFC run has been a disappointment. Now he’s coming back from a 31-month layoff to compete again. Now granted his opponent Amir Sadollah has gone under an extensive layoff as well. It’s a bizarre fight in general, but should still be an entertaining bout.
It’ll be interesting to see if Akiyama goes back to using his Judo background to his advantage. He’s a third degree black belt in judo, yet hasn’t necessarily exploited it during his UFC tenure. His stand-up battles have been exciting to witness and the fight of the night bonuses have made him a good fortunate of money. Still you have to wonder from all the losses, will he fight wiser? My expectations for Akiyama are limited. I’d like to see him fight smarter and not focus sorely on putting on a show. I’m aware that this is a big return fight for him, but he needs to make sure he wins. If Dan Hardy can take Sadollah twice, then I’m sure Akiyama can.
John: Truth be told, Amir Sadollah has not fought in two years either. I think people, me included, have been really harsh on Akiyama. He is, in all fairness, one of few fighters in his late thirties who loses but keeps getting harder match-ups thereafter.
With three ‘Fight of the Night’ honours in his five UFC fights, we know Akiyama always shows up for a good performance. I suppose he would have been working harder on his faults during his two year break and Sadollah is a perfect opponent for this comeback-fight, of sorts. I can see “Sexyama” getting his hand raised, as long as he survives Sadollah’s grappling game. It will then be his fight to lose. With regards to Akiyama possibly having a few more fights in the UFC, well, only time will tell.
4. Myles Jury has started to evolve into a well-rounded fighter. Do you see him testing his striking or does he play it safe by using his explosiveness to get in and takedown Takanori Gomi?
Strk: Jury should certainly take his chances on the feet. He’s shown a good habit of utilizing angles and an effective jab in past fights. As dangerous as Gomi may be, he tends to be wild and look for the knockout blow too often. Jury has shown a smart tendency in throwing volume punches and catch his opponent slipping for a takedown. His fight IQ is impressive for a fighter that hasn’t even entered his prime yet.
I’m sure he’ll be looking to throw some leg kicks in mixing it up. Jury is slowly becoming the complete package as a fighter. He needs to take his opportunities in fights that are made for him to be tested, but also win. Gomi isn’t a slouch by any stretch of the imagination. He’ll be going forward and throwing dangerous combinations. It will be up to Jury to continue to use his high fight IQ and wear him down through each minute.
John: Jury wanted this fight and stylistically, I can’t see him losing this. Some could argue that Gomi is on a four fight winning streak despite his setback against Diego Sanchez, but his cardio looked a cause for concern in his most recent match-up with Isaac Vallie-Flagg. At 25 years old, Jury, on the other hand, is quick and has good combinations and power on his feet.
I doubt ‘Fury’ will hand Gomi his first ever TKO defeat but since he is on enemy territory, I wouldn’t be surprised if intends to play safe by mixing in a couple of takedowns. Gomi might end up being the aggressor with his unorthodox style whilst landing more significant punches but I feel Jury will use his footwork to good effect to out strike his counterpart and perhaps mix in a takedown or two for a lopsided decision call.
5. Could you see Roy Nelson go back to his wrestling and grappling roots from his time in the IFL? Besides Junior Dos Santos, Nelson hasn’t fought a striker of this caliber in Mark Hunt.
Strk: He may very well have to. Nobody can deny that Nelson has arguably the greatest chin of all time. How he managed to last fifteen minutes in one-sided beatings against Junior Dos Santos and Fabricio Werdum was incredible. Those fights happened two to three years ago. Nelson has gotten older and eventually those punches start adding up. If he gets tagged continuously (which will more than likely happen), he will have to get the fight to the ground.
We haven’t seen him look for a takedown in quite some time. It has become apparent that he relies on his knockout power to finish fights early. In this matchup against a world-class striker who is highly durable, Nelson should look to avoid getting into a slugfest. Hunt has made improvements on the ground, particularly when he’s been on his back. That still is the best way to defeat him, unless you have an evident speed advantage on the feet like Dos Santos did. Nelson clearly doesn’t have that, so he should look for takedowns and try to wear Hunt down. Is he going to do that though? I have my doubts, considering his pledge to always fight a fan-friendly style in past fights. Things could certainly change though.
John: As I said on the latest episode of Sucka Radio, this is a match-up of two behemoths. This has knockout written all over it and could go either way, but as you pointed out, everything could change if Nelson returns to his stellar grappling roots. While it’s no secret both fighters pack a punch on their feet, Nelson is by far the more superior grappler having garnered a black belt under Renzo Gracie. His wrestling pedigree is ranked among the best in the Heavyweight division as well, so if the fight does indeed hit the mat, Nelson’s control in top position and transitions might just be too much for Hunt to take.
But here’s the thing: On his feet, there’s nothing complicated about Nelson’s game. His signature overhand right is one of his only plans of attack. Stipe Miocic proved that if you have good footwork and you circle away from the power right, Nelson will have a hard time. Hunt’s kickboxing credentials, meanwhile needs no introductions and while he could out strike Nelson, it’ll be hard to see him or anyone for that matter crack Nelson’s iron chin. I’d be surprised if Nelson does not decide to employ takedowns off the bat and contends to strike on his feet instead. Nelson has a good chin and rarely gets credit for his setups in landing the powerful overhand right, but even so, Hunt has the ability to pick anyone apart on his feet. I fancy ‘Big Counrty’ to play it safe and chain wrestle his way en route to a ground-and-pound stoppage.