Saturday, 26 November 2011

KSW 17 - Veterans, World's Strongest Man, prospects and wierd decisions.

It is really exciting both when there is a nicely hyped European card to watch and when the MMA calender is relatively uncluttered.  This weekend we had just Bellator 59 to look out for from the major US promotions, so there was a little bit of room to concentrate on Polish promotion KSW.  What's more, since the fights were happening in nearby Poland, here in the UK we could watch MMA without havng to either stay up crazy late or download later and run the risk of hearing the results before we see the fights.

The card featured the novelty of a former strongman, some famous veterans in James Thompson and Thierry Sokoudjou and some interesting prospects, not to mention some seriously odd decisions.  Also, I am pretty sure a few of the fights went to decision after just 2 rounds.  I watched all the fights all the way through and, while it is quite confusing following proceedings with Polish commentary, I am pretty sure I can can count all the way up to 3 without getting confused.  Can anyone let me know if I am going crazy or  are some of the KSW fighters a bit lazy?

Picture from Sherdog

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Bellator 58 - Bellator should be sharing the UFC's limelight this weekend.

Picture from Five Ounces of Pain

Last week Bellator 57 was a stonking card featuring two tournament finals and some other really fun bouts.  I really enjoyed Alexandre Bezerra's heel hook on Doug Evans and the really strange belly of Roger Hawk, he looked a bit like he had been deflated.  The highlights of course were the championship fights and Douglas Lima and Alexander Schlemenko won $100,000 each and title shot at Ben Askren and Hector Lombard respectively.

Bellator's tournament format is pretty unique in MMA at the moment and is its main selling point.  During a Bellator season a tournament gains momentum and we, the audience, get attached to the fighters who impress us.  The organisation comes in for some criticism because the title holders end up defending their belt once or twice a year and then fighting in mostly meaningless feature fights against under matched opponents.  The problem arises when like Christian M'Pumbu, the champion loses in a non-title fight.  Or, like Ben Askren, the champion is run very close in a controversial decision victory in title shot.  The tournament structure rules out rematches and title fights with anyone but season champions.

Those problems do matter and need to be sorted out.  The fact remains though, that there is something really satisfying about knowing that the guys fighting for the title have had to fight to get there, not just talk trash about the title holder (a la Sonnen or Diaz).  I am looking forward to Eddie Alvarez' title defence against Micheal Chandler this weekend just as much as I am looking forward to seeing Henderson vs Rua and Bowles vs Faber.  This leads me to wonder why it is that Bellator usually gets roughly the same amount of viewers as an underwhelming UFC pay-per-view despite being aired free on MTV2.  I watch MMA from the UK usually by nefarious means such as downloading, so it is very possible that I am missing something about the mindset of the fight watching (and paying) American public.  But, when good cards are available for free on TV, why are people not watching them?

Sunday, 13 November 2011

UFC on Fox - Did it deliver?

Wow, the latest UFC event featured two brilliant events at the top of the card, each great for their own reasons. It was, as I suspected, a mile a minute war between Henderson and Guida and those guys should feel slightly affronted that their fight didn't receive the promotion or attention it deserved.  Having said that, you can't argue that much with a fight that was available for free on Facebook and and I am pretty sure that fight will be aired a few times on some channel in the next few weeks.  The title fight?  Well that did not last long but for Junior Dos Santos it was enough time to win the Heavyweight Championship and prove his own words prophetic, that if you are a positive person good things will happen to you.

Image from MMAweekly

Velasquez vs Dos Santos

Highlights of the UFC Heavyweight Title fight can be found here.

The fight lasted for all of a minute and UFC execs will potentially be a little disappointed that the fight did not gain the sport a bit more exposure.  The fight started with Cain looking pretty comfortable standing with JDS, obviously aiming to pick at him with leg kicks.  Junior Dos Santos could be seen stalking Cain, getting his timing and distance and waiting for his opportunity.  That opportunity came when Dos Santos connected with an overhand right, just behind Velasquez' ear and the big Mexican was dropped.  The Brazilian swarmed and finished Cain off with heavy punches, before the champ could regroup.

Alot the talk of the post fight press conference centered around Velasquez' failure to make any real attempt to take Dos Santos down.  Of course Velasquez did not plan get countered while throwing a hefty left hook.  He  most likely planned to give Dos Santos plenty to think about before taking the shot.  After all, the Brazillian has great take down defence and is a great counter striker, you certainly don't want to go in with a predictable game plan.  In my previous post about this fight I said that the fight would depend on who could keep this fight in the area of their expertise.  I was very surprised to hear Joe Rogan wax lyrical about Velasquez' stand up.  I was sure that he would struggle to match a fighter of Dos Santos' boxing calibre on the feet.  I just expected the fight to last longer and for Cain to begin getting the fight to ground as Dos Santos tired.

Velasquez is not going anywhere.  He did not have enough time here to show the best of himself but it seems very unlikely that he is a much worse fighter than we thought he was a few days ago.  He will feed back into the talent pool against one of the top guys, probably sooner rather than later.  As for Dos Santos he faces the winner of Overeem and Lesnar next and neither fight will be a walk in the park.

Henderson vs Guida

Image from MMAweekly

This fight was great!  Just as with the Miller fight, I had no idea Henderson would be able to stay so dominant over Guida.  Guida claimed in the post fight presser that he thought the fight was close but I do not think so.  Guida was in it right untill the end and even caught Bendo from time to time but Henderson was the clear winner in each round for me.

The things I liked most about Henderson in this fight were his ability to stuff take downs, beat Clay up on the fence and to spring back up.  At times he looked like BJ Penn, punching Guida in the face while hopping on one leg, avoiding the takedown.  Against the fence he delivered vicious knees to the stomach that looked frankly horrible.  Guida managed to embroil him into a messy, hairy brawl at times, but even then Henderson used the cleaner, crisper striking to take the advantage.

Henderson's fight against Frankie Edgar is going to be great too.  It will be interesting to see how he deals with being the scrappier, pluckier striker when faced with Edgar's great boxing.  As for Guida he falls back down the pecking order for a little while and looks to climb the ladder again.  Maybe him a Miller could fight next?

Bits and bobs

I am really chuffed that the Junior Dos Santos won.  He seems a super nice guy and I like his street fighter-esque jump and point before a fight.  I prefer MMA when nice guys with great talent succeed and that is what happened in California.

Like many people I am a bit disappointed that Dana White has chosen to question Velasquez' tactics and talk more about the strength of production than he did about the strength of Dos Santos.  Dos Santos had just knocked out Cain Velasquez for goodness sake.  No-one else had done that before.  Sometimes the UFC's spokesman tends to get carried away with promoting the organisation and forgets to promote the fighter.

Finally, I am a little bit concerned about the heavy weight division.  In some ways there seem to be more elite fighters at that weight class than ever before, but the worry is that there is a massive gulf between the likes of Pat Barry and Roy Nelson and Alastair Overeem and Junior Dos Santos.  There is a top four or six fighters who might well end up fighting each other quite alot in the next few years, I hope the UFC does not use up all its big fights too soon.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Bellator 57 - Write up from

The current Bellator season is entering into the tournament championship fight faze now and the next few weeks feature some of the most important fights of Bellator's year. For an organisation struggling with attracting viewers as it is, it probably did not want two tournament finales on the same night as a Manny Pacquiao and a massive UFC fight for free. It is what it is though and for anyone with TiVo or a torrents programme Saturday night or Sunday day time are going to be jam pack with great fights. I have already written a preview of UFC on Fox and made my picks and obviously the boxers are only allowed to fight standing up and only with their hands so there is no point in talking about or watching that. Below I have done a run down of the Bellator 57 card, focusing on the tournament championship bouts between Lima and Saunders and Vianna and Schlemenko.

Picture from

Vianna vs Schlemenko

I am very excited about this fight. Vitor Vianna seems like a great prospect and Alexander Schlemenko is an intimidating veteran on a run of some devestating finishes since his decision loss to reigning middleweight kingpin Hector Lombard. That Lombard fight is the Russian's only loss in his last 12 fights. It is interesting that, while in fighting terms Schlemenko is a bit of a granddad, Vianna is five years his elder.

Schlemenko is primarily a stand up fighter with a great chin, a devestating clinch game full of knees and great all round kickboxing. He did pull off a super surprising guillotine choke on Galesic at Bellator 50, but I do not see a repeat of that happening against Vianna. Schlemenko will look to stay on the outside of Vianna and, if Vianna makes the decision to stand and trade given the confidence he has gained from TKOs in two of his last three runouts the Russian will easily evade his attack and make him pay with direct, economical but powerful strikes.

Vitor Vianna trains with Wanderlei Silva and you wonder if in his last few fights he has modelled his striking style on the wild attacks of his sparring partner. Silva has found in his last few fights that attacking with reckless abandon can lead to quite random results. Against a striker of Schlemenko's caliber I think the results are quite predictable, Vianna will be knocked out. Surely Vianna knows this and will try and get the fight to the ground at the earliest opportunity where he has an undeniable advantage. I have not been overly impressed by Vianna's take down ability in the three or four fights I have seen him in and Schlemenko has great defence.

Without the ability to get the fight to the ground this match up should be all about Alexander Schlemenko picking off Vitor Vianna and avoiding big punches. Don't get me wrong, if Vianna somehow takes this fight to the ground he stands a great chance, I just don't see it happening. Schlemenko will knock him out, possibly as early as the first round.

Here is a video of Vianna's only loss to Thiago Silva.  It was five years ago so I don't think we can read too much into it, but he has the same trouble with take downs in the beginning of the round as I think he will have with Schlemenko.

Here are his fights against Sam Alvey and Bryan Baker.  Particularly in the Baker fight, look out for the wiuld punching that I think Schlemenko will punish at Bellator 57.

Ben Saunders vs Douglas Lima

Picture from MMAmania

To look at Ben Saunders' record you could be forgiven for thiking that he is one of those fighters that had his shot at the big time and blew it at the UFC. The reality though, is that he had a few injuries at the wrong times, including under-performing in TUF 6 due to 'flu and a few dodgy decisions, like the decision to step in to fight John Fitch when preparing for Jake Ellenberger. In Bellator, Saunders has been outspoken in his dekight at the tournament format, where perfromances and wins rather than politics lead to promotion through the ranks. He seems to thriving under the pressure of the knockout setup (as well, it has to be said, from a slightly lower level of opposition). Saunders' background is pretty cool, beginning martial arts training Jeet Kune Do. He has a dynamic striking style, passable wrestling, great top game (including sharp elbows) and looks good off his back.

Douglas Lima is on an 8 fight win streak including three fights in Canada's premier promotion and
two fights in Bellator. At 23 years old, he is technically an up and comer but with 24 fights under his belt he could equally be considered a veteran. The Saunders fight represents a step up in class from anyone he has fought before and, despite his winning streak, this may well be a tough test for the Brazillian. He is a well rounded fighter with high Brazillian Ju Jitsu credentials and viscious Muay Thai. More than half his career wins have come by submission but in recent bouts he has tried to emphasise his improved stand up.

The new and improved “Killer Bee” will find it relatively easy to deal with Lima's stand up and, should it go to the ground I expect to see Saunders on top. Expect to see Lima bloodied up and a TKO in the second round.

Let's not overlook Bellator 57 this weekend.  The tournament format offers some relief from the relentless marketing and political machinations that get in the way of the fights that should happen in the UFC.  Despite getting pretty low viewing figures, Bellator consistently puts on great shows.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

UFC on Fox - Two great fights, too tough to pick

I am super excited for this weekend, it is going to be a big one for fight fans. There is the uber-hyped (and rightly so) fight between the two best heavyweights in MMA which is sure to be a stonker, what absolutely should be a number one contender decider in Henderson and Guida and the conclusion of the Bellator Season 5 tournaments in the Middleweight and Welterweight divisions. Apparently there is some boxing as well, but presumably no-one would want to watch that.

Dos Santos vs Velasquez

This is a great match up for so many reasons. These two are the best two heavyweights in the world at the moment while at the same time their relative inexperience makes it doubly exciting; these guys are both evolving and we will most likely see even better fighters in both of them on Saturday night. At this time when Diaz and Sonnen (probably) are showing that getting a title shot is about being enough of a bad guy to force your way into a title shot, it is great to see two lovely guys with great talent pitted against each other. The hype is coming from their abilities and the fact that stylistically this fight will almost certainly be great, there is no need for smack talk.

From here

Velasquez comes into this fight off the back of a heavy lay off due to injury, although he is adamant that has been healed for a long time and he has had a great camp. Given Velasquez's style and history I do not think that ring rust ought not to be a problem. When he entered the sport it did not take him long to get up to speed (see here and here, with two dominating performances, albeit over pretty low level competition. Since then he has dealt comfortably with all comers, using his supreme wrestling base and improving stand up to beat top flight competition with ease. Years competing at a high level as a wrestler and an MMA career where he has shown maturity and composure beyond his years demonstrate that Cain will not be fazed by whatever his return throws at him.

Do not take that to mean that Dos Santos is not a genuine contender in this fight. Velasquez will arrive at his best, but I believe both these men face the toughest opponent of their relatively short careers. Dos Santos is the more experienced fighter with wins over plenty of top guys. He is no slouch on the ground as BJJ brown belt but there is no question that he wants to stand and box Cain. The key to his chance of winning the fight will be his ability to stuff take downs or, preferrably avoid shots as much as possible by cutting angles and circling. If he allows Velasquez to back him up to or cut off at the fence of the cage it could be a short night, as the he has some serious ground and pound. On the feet, despite his opponent having a respectable ground game, Dos Santos should be expected to employ better head movement to avoid strikes and sharp, technical boxing with knockout power thrown in.

I cannot wait and, at a push I pick Velasquez to win by ground and pound TKO in round 2.

Henderson vs Guida

From here

How this fight did not make to a properly televised card I do not know. I have moaned a bit before about MMA politics getting in the way of good fights and here it is again. This fight should be for the number one contendership for a shot at Frankie Edgar's Lightweight title. I sincerely hope it will be. However, given the way the UFC makes title match ups, the winner (especially if it is Henderson, relatively new to UFC fans) may not have the momentum in the eyes of casual fans to headline a main event that will pull big PPV buys against Edgar. Put the fight as a prelim before or recorded and after the Heavyweight bout and these two fighters would get massive exposure and the Lightweight title boutn would be much more sellable, with the right guy fighting the champ.

Anyway, it is still a very important fight for both Ben 'Smooth' Henderson and Clay ' The Carpenter' Guida. Guida seems to have turned a corner since back to back losses to Diego Sanchez and Kenny Florian and finds himself on a 4 fight win streak against the likes of Pettis and Gomi. He has always had a really cool style about him. He is a wrestler and does tend to take guys down and beat them up, in a way that some fans criticise of other fighters. However with Guida's crazy hair, intense tempo and generally twitching busy-ness it is great to watch. He has now added the ability to rigorously follow gameplans and an all round intelligence to his approach that is yielding results.

I was surprised when Ben Henderson was touted by some as destined to fail in the UFC. In the WEC it was easy to see that he had all the tools at his disposal to be a top guy and that he just needed time to put it together. He is 12 – 2 with two wins over Donald Cerrone and one impressive beat down of Jim Miller. His wrestling is great, especially the way it is suited to MMA. He has made himself enough of a handful on the feet that he can set up shots and when he gets hold of a leg or two he has massive power. Like Guida he has crazy hair and energy to burn, so should this fight go 3 rounds, do not expect the pace to slow down. I expect 3 rounds of everything. Both guys will get on top and rough each other up, both guys will look to use a bit of stand up to set things up and there will be some cool scarmbles. The winner will be the one who manages to do the more decisive damage when he achieves a cominant position.

I am going with a Henderson split decision, although it is a mighty tough call.

I am not going to write up the Bellator card, but please do not take this as a sign that anything outside of the UFC is forgettable. There will certainly be posts in the future focusing on Bellator cards, especially when Eddie Alvarez defends his title because I think he is one of the best in the world. It just so happens I have limited time and the two fights mentioned above are pretty untoppable.

Other bits and bobs

It is quite funny that Dana White is quoted here as saying 

Not only does this mark our first event on FOX since we announced a multi-year broadcast agreement with the network this past summer, but it marks a return to the glory days for many sports fans. It signals a return to the days when sports' biggest prize - the world heavyweight title - is decided live and free on network television. 

Firstly he spends half his time saying that it doesn't matter how big a guy is, it is how good the fight is that fans care about. Second, I am pretty sure the majority of future heavyweight title fights won't be aired live on free to air TV.

Forest Griffin tweeted some pretty stupid jokes about rape on Twitter and then got a bit uppity when people got upset. I am not sure the UFC needs to do anything about it, it is not a crime to make horrible jokes that will really upset victims of horrible crimes. However it does make you a bit of an arse. The fact that Forest didn't apologise has disappointed me a bit because I had thought he was a pretty nice guy.

Cheers folks, come back Sunday for a run down of what happened and I hope to include some analysis of Bellator 57!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

UFC 138 Delivers Despite Nay - sayers

Hey, Nay Sayers, stop saying nay!

Well, a much maligned card delivered a stonking final three fights as well as a clinical come back from injury for Terry Etim which earned him Submission of the Night and Knockout of the Night went to Che Mills for taking out Chris Cope with consumate ease. Pickett and Barao's brief war earned them $70,000 a piece for Fight of the Night. The post fight press conference made interesting watching as a triumphant Dana White felt vindicated for what most people considered a pretty thin main card.

The undercard was pretty hit and miss, starting off with a disappointing decision loss for Vaughan Lee in a slightly underwhelming fight. Che Mills viscious knees got the crowd rocking but the rest of the pre-show was quite heavy on grappling and the Birmingham crowd grew quite restless. The main card absolutely delivered though and below I will talk through what happened and the impact some of the results might have.

Faaloloto is the not the toughest test Terry Etim will have to face if he is to climb the ladder of the UFC's lightweight divison, but you can only beat what is put in front of you and Etim did it in devestating style in just 17 seconds. Faaloloto attempted to press Etim who landed constantly while moving, then as the Hawaiian realised he had no businesses standing with the Brit he tried to take him down and Etim decisively jumped into a tight guillotine. Dana White said after the fight that Etim will likely be quickly back in action and he will almost certainly face a tougher test next.

Here's a link to the Post fight press conference

This was quite a strange fight to see inhabiting the main card and it lived up to its lack of hype and expectation. Although he spent some time resisting, as soon as the fight got to the ground Diabete looked completely out of place with a high level grappler like Perosh and succombed to a rear naked choke in the middle of the second round. I suppose Perosh will continue to hover around the undercard in the UFC for a while longer.

I seemed to be one of the only people eager to see Papy-Adebi do well in this fight and I was rather disappointed that it ended the way it did, as quickly as it did. I have read a little bit of reaction so far praising Abedi's standup and speculating that he was troubling Alves in the beginning. I thought the outcome of the fight would depend on whether Papy could take Alves down but he looked confident to stand and trade with the Brazillian. Big mistake. Although Thiago Alves took a little while to figure Abedi out, he quickly made the Congolese fighter pay with crisper, more powerful shots. His submission finish was a bit of a surprise but by then he could have done whatever he wanted to finish.

Alves looked really impressive and as I said earlier, you can only beat what is put in front of you, but I would be a little bit hesistant to suggest the Alves of old is back. He needs some tests against proven talent before we really know what level he is at. As for Abedi, it was always a big ask for him to make his UFC debut against a guy of Alves ability and experience when his own MMA career is at the very early stages. I certainly would not rule him out from making progress later, especially if gets some opponents closer to his current level, but this was a not a great start for him.

For a lot of UK fans this was the de facto main event and it lived up to the promise of being a barn burner. In the pre-fight press conference Pickett said he was happy to make this a war and see which of the two had the stronger chin. That is the kind of fighter he is and he usually comes on top in these kind of fights. Barao, though, is a different kind of fighter. He threw bombs and while Pickett threw heavy leather too Barao outlanded him significantly. It was a knee that put Pickett in trouble but he was being out struck even before that. After the crunching knee Barao pounced with some brutal ground and pound, a super speedy back mount and an rear naked choke. Pickett was visibly devestated and rightly so. He showed great composure and recovery to stay aware as Barao swarmed but the Brazillian showed he was on another level and gave Pickett no room to get back in the fight.

This will by no means be Pickett's last fight in the UFC, but it has set him back a fair way from the title shot he is after. He is still a force to be reckoned with in the 135lb division but I think he got caught by a guy who until now had not been really tested and he maybe made some assumptions about him. Well Renan Barao passed his test with flying colours having stood and traded with one of the hardest punchers in the division and put him away. Perhaps he needs to fight another of the top pool of fighters, maybe the winner of Faber vs Bowles (who will potentially have a gap to fill as Dominic Cruz recovers from surgery), before we can say he is deserving of a title shot, but he is certainly close.

Had there been any hype leading up to this card, this fight would have lived up to it. Leben is clearly a fan favourite in the UK and the fans blew the roof off as he entered the cage. Leben came into the fight off the knockout of Wanderlei Silva, saying that if Wanderlei could not go toe to toe with him, no-one could. It seems like he was proved right.

This fight started with both fighters feeling each other out for all of 25 seconds before Munoz took the fight to the ground. The next few minutes saw Leben getting up and Munoz trying to keep him down or on the cage. Leben did manage to get on top himself at one point too. This was punctuated horrible looking standing exchanges as both fighters looked to knock the other guy out. After a round which Munoz edged due to repeated take downs the last 10 seconds saw Munox just trying to avoid Leben's bombs.

At the start of the second round Mike Goldberg said “this fight is one swing away from being over at any time”, but Leben walked through the best Munoz had over and over again. Leben tried a few chokes but he never really had them anywhere near deep enough, nor did he have Munoz's body controlled. Munoz on the other hand hit Leben with some of his 'Donkey Kong' ground and pound, hit him on the way back up, basically hit him with everything he had. Check out the post fight press conference. Someone asks him was he worried about Leben coming out swinging if he was hurt but he answers that he does not think he really was hurt. He kept walking forward in the same plodding zombie manner that he did from the first bell. The referee probably should have stopped it when he first looked at the cut and told Leben to tell him he could see so that the fight could continue, but by the end of the second round there was no way he could continue.

I have not always been a fan of Leben. I tend to prefer fighters who fight with more finesse and intelligence, rather than seeing which fighter has the toughest chin or the hardest hands. After tonight though, I really realised that for Leben his chin is his greatest weapon and his style is the best way for him to utilise it. If it were not for the cut to his eye, who knows how the fight would have gone. Leben seems unknockout-able and he may well have found his opportunity as Munoz tried harder and harder to put him away as the fight progressed, has he not been cut.

Munoz really impressed. He proved he too has a great chin and a really diverse attack. We saw some wrestlers really lie on top of opponents for five round on some of the prelims to this card, but Munoz stays busy, looks to advance and looks to do damage. The low key nature of UFC 138, the loud mouth of Chael Sonnen and the exposure Mike Bisping will receive with his latest reality TV stint probably means that Munoz will need another fight to gain the momentum and hype for a title shot. I feel like Sonnen had his shot and, while he came closer than most to beating Anderson Silva, the clostest he came was being choked out by the champ. However, any illusion we had about the cast iron fairness of title shots in the UFC has been broken many times, especially after the Diaz/Condit/GSP affair and I think it is safe to say Sonnen will be the next in line. In that case I would love to see Bisping vs Munoz as a number one contender match up.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

UFC 138 - No big names but plenty to get excited about


The UFC is making the trip to the UK for the first time in roughly a year. I am genuinely excited by the fights. The card has a bitter-sweet taste to it as it is perceived by many to be considerably weaker than the average UFC event, but nevertheless offers UK fight fans the opportunity to see some elite fighters in the flesh. After a preamble about the pros and cons of the card I'll talk through my picks for UFC 138

UK fans could be forgiven for feeling hard done by with the card brought to the UK in the UFC's sole visit to Europe of 2011. The proceeding four events featured four title bouts and would have included five had George St. Pierre's knee not been damaged. A week after Chris Leben and Mark Munoz battle it out to determine who is next in line to be leapfrogged by Chael Sonnen for a title shot at Anderson Silva, the heavyweight title will be decided live on Fox. UFC 138 features two fights between fighters vying just to be in the mix. Most US journalists are not even willing to fly out to the UK to cover the event. I must admit I feel a bit miffed at the mistreatment myself, but since UFC 138 must air via tape delay and is therefore not sellable as a pay-per-view, the UFC will be less willing to use up a title fight. The good news though, is that a smaller stock of high profile fighters has left room for both established and up and coming European talent. My picks for the most interesting bouts are the Stockholm-based Congolese fighter Papy Abedi against powerful one time welterweight contender Thiago Alves and the UK's best shot at a title match up, Brad Pickett fighting scary Brazilian submission machine, Renan Baroa.

Munoz vs Leben

The main event of UFC 138 features Chris “The Crippler” Leben and “The FilipinoWrecking Machine” Mark Munoz in the organisation's first non title five rounder. In my opinion this fight pretty well represents the sport's past verasus the sports future. In Leben you have a fighter who “likes to bang”, throwing wild power punches and making use of a strong chin to walk through opponents attacks and in Munoz you have a guy who came in as a wrestler and is methodically addressing the weaker areas of his game to become a well rounded mixed martial artist.

I am seriously impressed by Mark Munoz's ability to reinvent himself, learning quickly from losses and poor performances. He will always be able to rely on an ability to out wrestle the majority of fighters in the middleweight division, with the probable exception of Chael Sonnen. But there were worries earlier in his career that on the feet he kept his hands too low and wide, leaving him vulnerable to punches through the middle. In recent fights, particularly in a bullying performance against Damien Maia, he has shown crisper, tighter Muay Thai and used that improved stand-up to set up his shots. That ability to better integrate his wrestling base into an MMA context is what makes Munoz one of the most exciting contenders in the division.

Leben on the other hand is more of a brawler with a career long tendency to try and bring fights to where only he could be comfortable; brutal messy brawls. Leben has pretty solid wrestling and underrated ju jitsu but rarely will you see him call upon those in the course of a fight. Plan A has been pretty effective for Leben with knock-out wins over notable opponents, including Wanderlei Silva, where he changed his game plan from walking forward with his chin out throwing hooks to walking forward with his chin out throwing straight shots to counter Silva's wide wild striking.

I do not expect this fight to go all five rounds, but if it does I expect Munoz to last the better of the two. He will use his wrestling to control the fight, leaning on “The Crippler” and beating him up on the ground. On the feet he will use more cautious but nevertheless powerful punches and quite possibly take advantage of Leben's gaping defence.

Here's a link to the trailer for the fight, watch Leben walk forward and eat big shots from Akiyama from the beginning, I think it will be a different story if he tries that against  Mark Munoz.

I am predicting a third round stoppage for “The Filipino Wrecking Machine”.

Pickett vs Barao

Both Renan "Canon" Barao and Brad “One Punch” Pickett come into this fight after disappointingly missing out on high profile bouts earlier in the year. Picket might have fought ex WEC champion Miguel Torres and Baroa might have fought Dominic Cruz's most recent victim Demetrious Johson.

Pickett represents probably the UK's biggest hope of a UFC belt, with the 135lb division and this fight is an opportunity for him to announce himself to mainstream fight fans, having established himself as a force in the now defunct WEC, notably defeating Demetrious Jonhson and Ivan Menjivar. In his last outing, against Menjivar he showed great heart, composure and a solid (ish) chin to walk through some heavy punishment in the second round to very nearly stop his opponent and snatch a unanimous decision victory.

Baroa is relatively unproven in top level fights outside of Brazil and Pickett might well be the toughest test he has faced yet, despite Barao being unbeaten in his last 26 fights. He trains with fighters like Jose Aldo and Marlon Sandro so he will undoubtedly enter the cage with a solid camp under his belt.

Quite simply, this promises to be a cracking fight. Brad Pickett is a powerful boxer who pushes a frenetic pace, can take punishment and has ground skills too. Despite having a dangerous submission game, I do not expect Pickett will want to role with Baroa. Pickett will most likely try and keep this fight a standing slugfest, taking advantage of his power, pace and ability to absorb damage to cause damage. For his part, Barao has proved himself strong in all areas of his game then most opponents he has faced so far. He has a decided advantage on the mat and may look to move the fight there if he doesn't feel he can stand and trade with the Brit.

I expect the more battle hardened Pickett to end Barao's 26 fight win streak with a decision win in a gruelling stand up war.

Abedi vs Alves

This fight between Papy Adebi and Thiago “Pitbull” Alves is tough to call and incredibly intriguing. It is a battle of two massive welterweights. Alves has more than once failed to make the 170lb weight limit and this Adebi's first fight at the weight class, having previously fought at 185lb. One time welterweight contender Alves is 1-3 in his last 4 UFC fights, including a mauling from champ GSP and a 3 round 'lay and pray' from Jon Fitch. Abedi is currently unbeaten in his young MMA career, but this is without doubt his toughest fight so far.

The Congolese-Swede Adebi has a strong judo base, a submission wrestling pedigree, powerful slams and an improving stand up game. Alves has very few secrets in his game. He is a big, strong kick boxer with chopping leg kicks, knock-out power and and solid take down defence. His downfall has been an inability to switch game plans when things are not going his way and to get up off his back if an opponent manages to put him down.

Abedi has not really been tested on the European circuit so far and it will be interesting to see how he deals with a seriously top level fighter in Alves. This is by no means a classic striker versus grappler match up, since Abedi has a pretty well rounded MMA game. However, the Stockholm based fighter will almost certainly try to get this fight to the ground as quickly as possible where he can work his brutal ground and pound and avoid the vastly superior Muay Thai of the Brazilian. Alves will be well aware of this and despite his being dominated by elite wrestlers Fitch and St. Pierre, I do not expect Abedi to be able to man handle him to the same extent. To take down an elite fighter like Alves, Abedi will have to create opportunities to get close enough to shoot using strikes. However, Papy has so far shown himself to be much more comfortable as a counter striker and would tend to be happier on the outside, rarely coming forward to press opponents. Alves might well be quite comfortable coming in with tight flurries and getting out again without committing himself too much.

While I am excited to see how Abedi progresses in the UFC, I think Alves will be too much too soon for him, handing him his first defeat via knockout, probably in the 2nd round.

A bit more from the card...

The rest of the card has some pretty intriguing match ups and British fighters to look out for.  Here's a link to The Finest Hour: UFC 138, which visits some of the British fighters who will be appearing.

Vaughan Lee looks like an exciting fighter, unbeaten since he moved down to his natural weight class at 135lb. I was pretty excited to hear a brummie accent chatting about UFC as well. A non-fight fan friend of mine wondered if American fighters would be less intimidated by such a friendly regional accent...

Rob Broughton makes a quick come back after dragging Travis Browne into a punishing three round fight at the end of September. His opponent Philip De Fries is a BJJ specialist and has won all his previous bouts by submission (with the exception of one no contest). It is a bit of step up of De Fries, but I would expect him to try to take advantage of Broughton's suspect cardio and possibly cause an upset.

Even though the biggest names in the sport are not flying over to Birmingham for UFC 138, I am excited about a card that matches some top prospects with experienced campaigners and gives some underrated British talent a high profile show case.