MEAN HUMAN GRADEBOOKby Jared Koll
A night filled with gallantly effusive violence (Vitor Belfort’s head kick KO chief among them) deserves an event-wide gold star. But what about the individual fighters?
Here are the fighters who garnered the best and worst grades at UFC Fight Night 32 Saturday from Brazil.
Vitor Belfort: A+
That’s three-straight victories for the Brazilian in Brazil, and a reemergence on the middleweight contender list. Prior to Saturday’s manhandling of Dan Henderson, the only real critique on Belfort was his not-so-shadowy use of Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT), a highly controversial regimen often abused by former PED abusers (Not saying, just saying). But, due in part to Henderson also actively licensed for the same exemption, and Belfort’s utter violence, much of that will likely be ignored.
Jeremy Stephens: A
It’s often hard to resist hyperbole directly following an impressive win – so with a few days to let things mellow- man, Jeremy Stephens hits like Ike Turner after snorting unicorn blood. I expect the UFC gives Stephens another modest fight at featherweight before throwing him to the bigger divisional foes. But if he can replicate what he did Saturday on someone else, he’ll be hard to bury on an undercard.
Brandon Thatch: B
Thatch passed the sniff test that Paulo Thiago is now relegated to administering. Clearly the lanky welterweight has the offensive skills to overwhelm fighters who can’t force him horizontal, but 170 is filled with more capable grapplers than Thiago. Great win. Thatch did what he had to. But the real work is just beginning.
Rafael Calvalcante: B-
In an effort to put some untimely losses and ‘No Contests’ in his rear-view, Calvalcante did what he’s often shown he is more than capable of- landing devastating power. The Brazilian set up Igor Pokrajac with knees before dispatching him with thundering rights. That’s a good start to a reclamation project.
Dan Henderson: D
In comic books, even though our heroes may falter, they never age – thus leaving them the option of returning to their old form. Pride-era Dan Henderson is not coming back, folks. The right hand that once clubbed people so convincingly, and almost landed Henderson a fight with Jon Jones, is no longer landing. His power still remains, but reductions to Henderson’s speed, and stagnancy to his offense, have revealed the former champion to be an aging one-trick pony.
Paulo Thiago: D
Thiago more than likely lost his job Saturday in front of his home country fans while tapping to strikes. There’s no shame in that (it’s what happened to me when I was 16, working at Chuck E. Cheese’s). But the image of Thiago surprising Josh Koscheck with a devastating KO seems long, long ago.
Fights to Make Following UFC Fight Night 32by Jared Koll
It was an eventful night of fighting in Brazil, and they also had a UFC Fight Night being televised, which was cool. So now, after the dust has settled following Vitor Belfort’s stirring performance opposite Dan Henderson, among other great fights, we look toward the future bouts Zuffa should schedule.
Here’s who should fight whom…
Vitor Belfort vs. Chris Weidman/Anderson Silva WINNER
The impediments between Belfort and a licensing with the NSAC aren’t nearly as obstructive as they previously seemed. The fact is, if you keep blistering people publicly, the important people will take notice. There is no doubt Belfort, more than anyone at middleweight, has earned either a fresh shot at Weidman or a rematch with Silva for the UFC title. Talks of a Machida-Belfort match have already seemingly fizzled, so there’s few other options.
Dan Henderson vs. Mr. Probably No One
I know this is unlikely, especially given Henderson’s opinion on where he goes after this most recent loss and his still potent drawing power. You seldom see legends depart MMA pragmatically. They typically have to be dragged out bloddied and battered- I fear Henderson is no exception.
Cezar Ferreira vs. Thales Leites/Ed Herman WINNER
The humongous middleweight won but not in an overly impressive manner. I think Ferreira could stand to gain some more seasoning against mid-risk, mid-reward opponents. Both Leites and Herman pose a legitimate threat, but they aren’t particularly capable of exposing your ‘work-in-progress’ deficiencies. Ferreira is getting a pinch of the TUF coddling that has become the norm.
Thatch is a rangy fighter featuring a broad karate stance who likes to close distance and press. “Wonderboy” Thompson is quite similar, edging slightly more toward counter striking techniques. Both are creative with their respective offenses and are puzzling to opponents, not easily deciphered in-cage. Let the two engage in a wonderfully entertaining chess match.
Jeremy Stephens vs. Akira Corassani/Maximo Blanco WINNER
I’m in the camp that wants Stephens to get more sooner. His power is a much-heralded quality that could challenge many in the division. However, I doubt Stephens would get to leapfrog so many simply because he cratered a man’s head against the chain-link cage. Corassani or Blanco is a more tempered resolution that invites Stephens to do what he does best: Wallop.
TRT Tussle: Belfort vs. Hendersonby Jared Koll
With the second UFC Fight Night in one week, Zuffa is set to bring MMA legends Vitor Belfort and Dan Henderson together for a light heavyweight clash Saturday from Goiania Arena in Goiania, Brazil.
For Henderson, it’s an opportunity to earn a much needed victory, ostensibly delaying father time for another day. For Belfort, a decisive win could mean a ground swell of fan support for a coveted chance at the middleweight title.
But just who takes it? Here are the picks…
It’s going to be nice to have a fight featuring Dan Henderson and Vitor Belfort that won’t be marred by talks of TRT. Regardless of your stance, the fact that both fighters are licensed for the controversial testosterone therapy should satiate people’s cries for ‘fair play.’
But let’s be clear, Belfort looks better than he’s ever looked, at 36, after supplementing with TRT. Those are just facts. Henderson hasn’t had the same invigoration of skill into his arsenal as a result, but he’s still iron-chinned and devastatingly powerful with his right hand.
In the end, I see Henderson’s downfall as his incapability to adapt in the same manner Belfort has. It has never been a secret what Henderson looks to do inside the cage, but eventually he’ll find that his power has become harder to land, his average speed has depleted, and, dare I say, his chin will someday fail him. Henderson is 44 and some have proffered that these regressions are already occurring.
Ultimately, there’s something to be said about momentum in fighting. Henderson is seemingly on the front end of a whimpering decline, while Belfort, with his blistering power and speed, is on a violent ascension.
PREDICTION: BELFORT via TKO RIGHT
This was a fight that was destined to happen. Originally slated as the finale to Brazil’s Ultimate Fighter season, injuries postponed the match.
Both middleweights are big for the division, particularly Ferreira, so this contest may simply come down to whose cardio is superior.
Sarafian is pretty limited in his striking, likely outmatched by Ferreira. However, Sarafian is more assertive offensively, bullying for takedowns and top control. If Sarafian can get early takedowns, and even if Ferreira can get up, it might be enough to rob his opponent of the chance of ever finding his rhythm.
PREDICTION: SARAFIAN via DECISION WRONG
A winner of just two of his last six UFC fights, Thiago’s back is firmly against the wall. Once the cage doors close Saturday, his back may also be against the Octagon fence.
Thatch is a fighter with the type of aggressive offense that can immediately vault him among the relevant prospects at 170. At this stage, Thatch is largely outmatched by the elite welterweights, but Thiago is a perfect test to better understand just where he stands.
Thiago will have a significant advantage if the fight goes to the floor, though he’s been unable to secure many submission finishes in his UFC career. Additionally, Thatch is a very rangy fighter, possessing the athleticism to keep his hips when Thiago counters strikes with takedowns. If Thatch uses his speed to control distance, this could be a great night for Denver native.
PREDICTION: THATCH via DECISION RIGHT
The UFC really likes Rony “Jason,” and rightfully so. The featherweight parlayed his stint on The Ultimate Fighter into a marketable career, bolstered by his fan-friendly style and personality. However, even after three straight wins, UFC matchmakers are throwing Bezerra in with the sturdiest test of his career, Jeremy Stephens.
It’s not hyperbole to say that Stephens hits harder than is typical of his weight class. Plainly, the newly-minted featherweight just hits hard for the species. And if his last fight, a bloody romp with Estevan Payan, is any indicator of how “Lil Heathen” settles into 145, then expect “Jason” to wear his infamous mask after Saturday for cosmetic reasons.
PREDICTION: STEPHENS via KO RIGHT
REST OF CARD:
I need to see more of Martins to make any real judgments on his skill. That said, I have seen Cruickshank and he’s hung in there with some pretty great strikers. Martins has a lot more to prove. I think Cruickshank controls the cage en route to a decision win.
PREDICTION: CRUICKSHANK via DECISION WRONG
The murkiest fight on the card, featuring two fighters embroiled in recent losses, no contests, and the desperate need to leap into the win column. Calvalcante is more well-rounded than Pokrajac, and I can’t see Calvalcante getting waxed the same way he did against Thiago Silva in his last outing. All things equal, I see this contested on the feet and Calvalcante’s got more dynamite.
PREDICTION: CALVALCANTE via TKO RIGHT
This fight probably isn’t going the distance; both these guys swing for the fences. Akhmedov is making his UFC debut and he happens to be the MMA ethnicity-du-jour, Dagestani. Every fighter as of late from that region in Eastern Russia has been disassembling their opponents from their consciousness. I’m smart enough to note empirical trends.
PREDICTION: AKHMEDOV via TKO RIGHT
Quinn Mulhern was a late scratch and Salas stepped up to take his place. Tavares has been around for a long time and is still only 29 years old. Much of his promise has been muddled by the peaks and valleys of his UFC tenure, but I think he is still too skilled for Salas.
PREDICTION: TAVARES via SUBMISSION RIGHT
The gameplan for LaFlare will be to avoid making mistakes against Ponzinibbio, one of the undercard’s best fight finishers. I never like that as a ‘Paths to Victory’ subheading, especially since I think LaFlare is lacking any dynamic offensive skills.
PREDICTION: PONZINIBBIO via TKO RIGHT
Neither of these fighters moves the needle for me, and both are likely teetering on the edge of Zuffa employment. I remember expecting a bit more out of Sicilia following his run onTUF, and I generally think his UFC opponents have been a tinge sterner.
PREDICTION: SICILIA via TKO RIGHT
This is a bout between a long-touted prospect (Ortiz) and a veritable Brazilian stud (Maria Tome). I am generally hesitant to pick a fighter who is a 30+ fight veteran, whose only fight of note is his last one (first in the UFC), a loss to John Lineker. I’ll take the Duke Roufus protege – I like guys who share mat space with Ben Askren and Anthony Pettis.
PREDICTION: ORTIZ via DECISION RIGHT
MMA Fight Predictions to date:
UFC Fight Night 31: (11-2)
MEAN HUMAN GRADEBOOKby Jared Koll
U.S. troops from Fort Campbell, Kentucky provided a raucous backdrop for UFC Fight Night 31: Fight for the Troops 3, which offered some scintillating action Wednesday night.
With plenty of veterans littered throughout the fight card, it was a patriotic display of fellow human violence.
Let’s see how the fighters graded out…
Tim Kennedy: A
Through cheers of “Ranger Up!” the Army Staff Sergeant exceeded the expectations of most by knocking out Rafael Natal in round one, apparently in spite of suffering a torn quad the week prior. Adding a wrinkle of fight-ending power to his already potent arsenal is exactly what Kennedy was missing, as he has yet to garner a huge fan-following despite being one of the best middleweights around. If these trends continue, Kennedy will not only be a dangerous test for middleweight contenders, but among that same ilk.
Alexis Davis: B+
Davis and her opponent, Liz “Girl-Rilla” Carmouche, fought a competitive contest that earned it’s co-main event distinction, and thus continued the trend of female fights delivering beyond their hype. Davis likely won strong consideration for the next title challenge at women’s 135. Clearly, from what she showed Wednesday, there are considerable challenges she poses to any adversary.
I’m pretty high on Palacio because his days are numbered. As an Olympic silver medalist, Palacio came to MMA late in his athletic career and has hit the ground running. He’s doing everything right, including his Merc’ing of Ronny Markes in the third round Wednesday night. With no glaring deficiencies, I’m in the camp that fast tracks Palacio in the middleweight division. Sure, his technical striking could use some polish, but with his wrestling and power there are few outside of the elite who can hang with the Cuban.
We saw Khabilov take on his sternest test to date Wednesday, and at times he looked as if the ground swell of fan support was premature. If it wasn’t for a third round wheel kick out of nowhere, I’d probably have given the bout to his opponent, Jorge Masvidal. But the judges pretty much scored the whole fight for Khabilov, so his ostensible early missteps were not as consequential as they appeared.
Jorge Masvidal: C-
This is another setback for “Gamebred” in a career that has offered numerous opportunities to break into that rarefied air of MMA contenders. For all his skill and toughness, Masvidal can’t seem to put it all together on any given night. Luckily, mostly for us fans, he still serves as a litmus test for any fighter who thinks he’s legit. We’ll see more of Masvidal in the future.
Colton Smith: C-
Smith watched a close 1st round submission win turn into a submission defeat after Michael Chiesa survived an early scare and reversed roles in the second frame. For as dull and boring as many find him, he did show improvement, aggressively seeking a tapout. And Smith will undoubtedly get better and better training alongside Tim Kennedy. Smith might always be somewhat of a risk averse wrestler, but that’s not the worst mark to bestow a fighter. Right, Fitch?
Photo: Esther Lin/Getty Images
FIGHTS TO MAKE AFTER UFC FIGHT NIGHT 31by Jared Koll
The UFC’s third installment of Fight For The Troops was a Wednesday night success, offering a night of competitive and entertaining scraps despite lacking top-level talent.
Tim Kennedy surprised the fight world not just by winning, but by winning in the fashion he did: leaping in with a right hook, KOing Rafael Natal while nursing a torn quad.
Let’s see who’s next for some of the notables from UFC FIGHT NIGHT 31…
“The Count” wanted the winner of Lyoto Machida-Mark Munoz initially but an eye injury, and Machida’s subsequent ascension, have pretty much cleared that slate. Let Tim Kennedy welcome the Brit back in early 2014. This is exactly the type of opponent that each fighter should beat if they’re serious about getting to the top-tier again.
Alexis Davis vs. Ronda Rousey/Miesha Tate WINNER
Davis astutely dominated her fight opposite Liz Carmouche, a former title challenger. The division is thin on viable contenders, and I have serious doubts that there’s a woman in the division that can handle Rousey at this stage. But Davis has earned it, and she seems to be next in the queue.
Rustam Khabilov vs. Michael Johnson/Gleison Tibau WINNER
The Dagestani sambo specialist struggled early to latch on to Jorge Masvidal, unable to implement his aerial suplexing for which he is touted. It was likely an aggressive third round, and wheel kick knockdown, that earned Khabilov his victory in a far closer fight than the scores would suggest. Clearly there is still work to be done- Tibau or Johnson are suitable foes at this stage.
Jorge Masvidal vs. Pat Healy/Jamie Varner LOSER
The common narrative for Masvidal was rehashed Wednesday: clearly the lightweight has skill, but he can’t seem to get over the proverbial hump. It’s malfeasance that TWO judges inexplicably scored the bout 30-27 Khabilov. Masvidal is the best lightweight fighter to fail to ascend to elite status, and that makes my heart slightly heavy. For Healy and Varner, it’s much the same. These guys are all terribly talented and terribly underrated.
Palacio (who, BTW, looks like a fucking action figure) is quickly becoming a fighter to watch. Given his relatively old age, his Olympic credentials, and his propensity to smash people’s blocks off (as he did to Ronny Markes), I expect the UFC to fast track this contender. Tavares tweeted Wednesday that he wanted Kennedy, and his win streak is begging for a step up…it’d be hard to ignore Tavares if he gets past Palacio.
Michael Chiesa vs. Myles Jury or Norman Parke
The southpaw was able to weather Colton Smith’s razor-close submission attempt in the first frame, adroitly securing a back take off a trip from the whizzer, which led to the rear-naked-choke victory. His next opponent largely depends on how the UFC wants to bring the TUF champion along; Jury if the road needs accelerating, Parke if they’re taking it a bit slower.
Courtesy: Bleacher Report
The Ultimate Fighting Championship makes it way to Fort Campbell in Hopkinsville, Kentucky for its third installment of UFC Fight For The Troops, featuring Army Staff Sergeant Tim Kennedy in the main event opposite Brazilian Rafael Natal.
Which fighters will notch another tally in their win column? Read on and find out…
It’s pretty rare that I write up a main event without much to say. But this is the state of affairs with the UFC, which consistently churns out fightcards faster than Jason “Mayhem” Miller discards societal norms.
It’s pretty simple. Tim Kennedy has established himself as a tough out. He’s not someone you’d ever want to fight from a marketing standpoint. He is tough to finish, so you’ll likely never look good winning; he’s methodical and careful, so if you lose you might be planted on your sponsorship decals for 15 minutes; and, worst of all, no one really knows who he is, so your risk-to-reward incentive is perilously poor.
But guess what? He’s better than Rafael Natal, whose run in the UFC is equal parts serendipitous and perplexing. Natal has said he will look to be the first man to submit Kennedy Wednesday night, which would be a Golden Eagle-sized feather in his cap, because Roger Gracie and Ronaldo Souza- both likely among the top ten best grapplers in MMA- failed to do just that.
I’m really scared by the likelihood this fight goes the distance in unassuming fashion. Furthermore, the main event designation may require that the water torture will prolong over 25 MINUTES! Here’s hoping I’m wrong and Kennedy does more than just win.
PREDICTION: KENNEDY via DECISION RIGHT
I’m happy to see the UFC is getting to a point where no fight card is complete without a raucous female fight to show the men how it’s done. That’s really been the story of the fledgling women’s division: they seldom disappoint.
This encounter between two of the more accomplished fighters on roster should be no different.
Boasting very similar fight styles, Carmouche and Davis will likely spend a great deal of the contest working for control from the clinch; a physicality edge could be strongly argued for Carmouche, while submission savvy could be awarded to Davis. Regardless, these are two fighters who largely look for the same thing: takedowns, control, and position before damage.
Considering how evenly matched these fighters are, I suspect a very competitive 15 minute tumult.
PREDICTION: CARMOUCHE via DECISION WRONG
Youth probably won’t be well served here. Markes, at 25, is a really large middleweight, who has plenty of room to grow, both in skill and into a light heavyweight most likely. As it stands, Markes is a durable wrestler who thrives with cage control while wilting opponents. He’ll need to sharpen his striking and finishing ability to ever become a real divisional threat, which he knows. But that seems destined for another day.
Palacio is an Olympic freestyle silver medalist in wrestling who also possesses some explosive ferocity, as he displayed with his flying knee KO of Clifford Starks. Unlike most fighters at the tail end of their 30s, physical ability will be an asset, not a detriment. After all, Palacio beat wrestling great Cael Sanderson THREE times in international competition.
Outside of some fortuitous striking exchanges, the clear advantage is to the elder combatant.
PREDICITION: PALACIO via TKO RIGHT
TOUGHEST FIGHT TO CALL ALERT! This one’s a head scratcher.
This test in Khabilov’s young career will be the most instructive to date. Much like his Eastern Russian comrade and teammate Adlan Amagov, the hype train is rolling downhill and it’s fringe-filled with vodka and Matryoshka dolls. The Sambo specialist has rudimentary but powerful striking, which he supplements with aerial suplexes that basically maim his opponents; much like Khabib Nurmagomedov (also Dagestani), if he gets your waist, you’re going where he wants.
Masvidal has been fighting since his South Florida days with Kimbo, and boy has he evolved. He’s essentially a street tough hood who developed world class skills. The archetypal “City kid done good.” His boxing is technical and he is a criminally underrated grappler. He’s basically the whole package but has faltered at all the “turning point” fights.
For Masvidal, I’m not sure if this is a pivotal bout in the same way as, say, his debut with Sengoku or title fight with Gilbert Melendez was (both times where he faltered), but it feels like it.
Khabilov is the more highly-touted prospect- and a favorite, which feels scandalous- but this could get interesting. If Masvidal is passive, as he’s sometimes prone to be, I think Daegestani MMA’s star rises even further. I really don’t know.
PREDICTION: UGH. KHABILOV via DECISION RIGHT
I’m really cheering for Chiesa. On a personality level, his story of attrition, compounded by the humanity he displayed dealing with his father’s death during his TUF season, eclipses nearly any other opponent on the “Boy, I’d like to buy that guy a beer – Oh, he’s not a big drinker?…um…NICE BEARD!” scale. (It’s a reliable valuation, feel free to use it).
Smith, on the other hand, has always seemed smarmy on television and following fights, which admittedly is a poor barometer. But he’s also a particularly clumsy (albeit stifling) fighter. In essence, when he wins a fight you don’t really feel as though a fight was won. Myles Jury basically did exactly what Smith did to Mike Ricci (smothered with top control) and was universally panned, while Smith got a Harley Davidson he didn’t care to earn.
Ultimately, Chiesa’s got striking in the bag, and certainly possesses more skill scouring for submissions. Smith really doesn’t do anything terribly well apart from putting considerable amounts of weight on his opponent, enough so they can’t seem to move for 15 minutes. Here’s Smith’s chance to showcase a level of development that could potentially lead to more exciting fights- Hell, even finishes- in the future. But win or lose, I don’t see Smith becoming a showman.
PREDICTION: CHIESA via SUBMISSION RIGHT
REST OF CARD:
James Krause vs. Bobby Green
Both of these fighters have been circuit giants for most of their careers, fighting in reputable promotions like RFA, Strikeforce and KOTC. Now Krause and Green will do battle following wins over solid opposition; Sam Stout and Jacob Volkmann, respectively. Krause has a good jab while offering sneaky submissions when he’s taken down. Green is powerful, displaying resiliency, moxie, and an impressive wrestling game. In a bout with a lot of unknowns, I’m taking the guy who can control the action.
PREDICTION: GREEN via TKO RIGHT
Roop is essentially a parlay buster…he’s beaten Brian Bowles and The Korean Zombie but still remains more likely to fall to good opposition. Rivera has the power in his hands to absolutely ring Roop’s historically hittable bell. But, seriously, all bets should be off.
PREDICTION: RIVERA via TKO RIGHT
Steven Siler is suddenly a 30-fight veteran with a winning UFC record who’s already faced some of the best in the biz and has been particularly effective since 2007. So it’s high time the kid gets some credit, right?….Absolutely…and I swear I will if he beats Bermudez, who should be able to take Siler down despite engaging in inexplicable brawling exchanges, which Dennis seems to love but his corner must loathe.
PREDICTION: BERMUDEZ via DECISION RIGHT
I was surprised by de Randamie’s striking against Julie Kedzie her last time out. The dutch kickboxer looked untouchable at times before Kedzie (maybe the toughest woman on the planet) rallied from time to time. Nunes is less of a tactical striker but as much of a brawler as anyone, as noted in her romp over Shiela Gaff. Given Nunes’ size disadvantage, and the rangy abilities of her foe, I don’t think she is in for a good night, one likely spent in a brutalizing clinch.
PREDICTION: DE RANDAMIE via DECISION WRONG
I was really enjoying Camozzi’s somewhat unlikely run in the UFC as he amassed four straight wins before being thwarted by Ronaldo Souza’s vice like arm-triangle choke. Those days are likely over. Larkin is a not a multi-faceted threat; he relies heavily on his crisp and creative striking, utilizing precision kicks and speed. But Camozzi hasn’t shown (yet) the ability to make opponents pay for their deficiencies, quite simply because he isn’t dynamic in any discipline himself. Larkin was definitely competitive against Francis Carmont in his last bout, a loss, and I don’t think Camozzi can replicate Carmont’s game.
PREDICTION: LARKIN via DECISION RIGHT
Edwards is 37 years old, has lost 4 of his last 6 bouts, and has suffered the lumps of well over 60 fights. I think those metrics are enough to give me pause against almost any competent fighter. Medeiros, despite an awkward thumb injury his last time out, is unblemished and more than capable of defeating Edwards if he can avoid the “Thugjitsu” specialist’s sneaky power.
PREDICTION: MEDEIROS via DECISION RIGHT
Magny would be smart to utilize his reach, which is definitely a feature of this fight where Baczynski could struggle with if it is implemented astutely. But, rather, I think Magny will reveal tangibly inept takedown defense, which even a moderate clinch grappler like Baczynski can exploit.
PREDICTION: BACZYNSKI via SUBMISSION RIGHT
Houston is a late replacement facing an MMA veteran with very serviceable wrestling. There isn’t much more to say. If Brunson can control the likes of Chris Leben while avoiding haymaker specials, than i think Houston, at only 4-0, should take this as a learning experience.
PREDICTION: BRUNSON via TKO RIGHT
MMA Fight Predictions to date:
UFC Fight Night 30: (8-3)