Triskaphobia – Why Is The UFC Afraid Of Trilogies?

I want to see Joseph Benavidez get another crack at Mighty Mouse.  That’s not a match-up that’s high in demand, but I have my reasons.  There first fight was extremely close.  The second fight ended in the most unexpected manner possible (short of Demetrious Johnson flying off the cage like Vega and decapitating Benavidez…you know what I’m saying).  A one shot kill courtesy of the champ.  Here’s how unlikely that finish was:

  • In 22 career fights spanning 7 ½ years, Benavidez had never been finished much less knocked out.  His 3 career losses had come by decision, two of which were splits in championship fights.
  • Prior to the second Benavidez fight, Johnson’s last knockout occurred on February 10, 2010 when he was still competing at the regional level.  In 11 WEC/UFC appearances, he had never recorded a single knockout.

The narrative of the rematch was clear cut: Johnson should use his uncanny speed and mobility to outpoint Benavidez, while Benavidez should wait for his opportunity to land a power punch.  There are few fighters in the lighter weight classes as adept at stopping his opponents as Benavidez.  Two minutes in, the narrative got torn up, burnt to ashes and cast out into the wind.

Johnson dropped Benavidez with a hellacious right hand that robbed the Alpha Male challenger of his senses before he’d even touched the mat.  It was the hardest, most perfect punch that Johnson had landed and probably ever will land in his life.  The guy who never knocks people out just put down the guy who never gets knocked out.  Two minutes and eight seconds was the official time.  The fastest KO in UFC flyweight history.

And yet I want to see them go at it again.

None of this is to say that Johnson’s punch was a fluke or that the first fight was some sort of robbery and that Benavidez should be the champ.  Johnson won both fights fair and square.  The result of their rematch was countless hours of training and study combined with the champ’s incredible fight night instincts.  That was no lucky punch.  But it would be a situation that would be difficult to replicate.  Were they to fight 99 more times, I wouldn’t bet on a Mighty Mouse knockout happening again.  Not just because of the stated reasons, but because of what Benavidez undoubtedly could learn from this second loss.  Make no mistake; there is always something to be learned from losing, even a shockingly abrupt setback such as this one.

The real issue for me is that the UFC (and, admittedly, most fans) has established this pattern where you get two cracks at the champ and that’s it.  Couldn’t get the job done?  Time to change weight classes, find work in another organization or retire buddy.  Even though fighters like Benavidez, Urijah Faber and even Junior dos Santos (who actually completed a trilogy) are the consensus #2 fighters in their respective weight classes, they are somehow almost completely out of the running for a title shot in the near future.

I should clarify that I understand that the UFC isn’t against trilogies; more logically, they’re against trilogies where one of the fighters has proven to be superior.  To me, that feels like they’re killing off contenders too quickly.

Imagine if Juan Manuel Márquez had never got his third and fourth fights with Manny Pacquiao?  Yes, I’m aware there are stark differences.  The Márquez/Pacquiao series took course over an eight year stretch.  Despite Pacquiao going 2-0-1, the first three fights were all open to interpretation.  And a fifth meeting between the two would do bigger box office than three (maybe more) combined Faber/Barão match-ups.  I get that.

But what if they had never booked that 4th meeting?  The boxing community would have been robbed of what was one of the sport’s most exciting and relevant moments of the year when Márquez put Pacquiao down on his face.  My point is that when you put the best with the best, only good things can happen.  I’d much rather see rematch after rematch than fighters who are not ready for the top spot being shoehorned into title matches.  At the present moment, is there anyone who thinks John Moraga is a better fighter than Joseph Benavidez?

Does it ever need to end?  If the champ keeps winning and top contender is able to hold onto his spot, how many times can you mash those action figures together?  3 times?  4?  7?  Luckily, these situations tend to sort themselves out as the talent cycle naturally creates new contenders.  Though that’s not always the case as we saw with Michael McDonald (who is already dangerously close to contender limbo), Ian McCall and Phil Davis (in his first contender fight against Rashad Evans).  Sometimes the next generation isn’t ready, so why should the UFC be in such a hurry to usher out the current one?

Allow me to discuss the merits (or lack thereof) of a few other trilogy fights where one fighter is already down two sets:

  • Urijah Faber (6-3 UFC, 8-3 WEC, 30-7) v. Renan Barão (7-0 UFC, 2-0 WEC, 32-1 [1 NC])

The most immediate and obvious choice.  Even if you believe that Barão was on his way to a decisive finish of Faber, the early stoppage was as bad as we’ve seen in a championship bout.  Faber’s lack of success in title fights is well documented, but even his most dogged detractors would have to admit that he got a raw deal here.  He looked amazing in his previous fights and he’d rightly earned another crack at UFC gold.  The continued misfortune of Dominick Cruz only made Sean Shelby’s decision easier.

The situation reminded me of Ken Shamrock/Tito Ortiz II, where the second fight ended in what Shamrock perceived to be an early stoppage.  That match was headed down a similarly bad path.  In truth, Shamrock had even less of a case for a rematch than Faber and most would assume that Ortiz had his number no matter how many times they fought.  Still, the powers that be deigned them worthy of an immediate rematch that took place on Spike TV.  It should be noted that UFC had heavily invested in the second fight, including coaching stints on The Ultimate Fighter, so it made good sense for them to continue a feud that still had plenty of juice left.

I don’t see why Faber can’t get one more shot on one of the UFC’s many free fight cards.  It’s not like quality main events are falling from the sky.  If you recall, both Faber/Barão meetings have been the result of injuries to Cruz.  It would be nice to see them face off one more time away from the shadow of the ex-champ.

  • Anderson Silva (16-2 UFC, 33-6) v. Chris Weidman (7-0 UFC, 11-0)

From a competitive standpoint, this might be the least appealing rematch.  Make whatever excuses you want, Weidman clobbered Silva and took his belt.  The second fight was tough to watch for obvious reasons.  I haven’t viewed a replay of the finish since that night.  I don’t plan to.

So why am I listing it?  I’m a huge Weidman fan and I don’t even care about the preposterous “he’s never truly beaten a dedicated Anderson Silva before” argument.  At this stage in their careers, Weidman is the better fighter.  It’s hardly worth discussing.

No, the reason I bring this up is because it would still draw enormous bank.  Silva/Weidman I brought in approximately 500,000 buys, while the sequel reportedly cracked a million (with a healthy assist from Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey).  I think it’s fair to say that a third fight could fall somewhere in between.  That would be a boon for the UFC, who are currently struggling to convince the public that they still have plenty of viable PPV stars.  I mean, if Dana White keeps saying Rousey is the biggest star he’s ever had, it has to be true, right?  Speaking of which…

  • Miesha Tate (0-2 UFC, 13-5) v. Ronda Rousey (2-0 UFC, 8-0)

How weird is it that Tate is winless in the UFC, yet still regarded as one of the top challengers?  I’m not disputing it as we all know that you can’t take wins and losses at face value in combat sports.  It just looks funny is all.

This is almost as tough a sell as Silva/Weidman because Rousey’s wins have been so definitive.  Exciting, yes, but definitive.  I know for me, personally, I could watch these two fight a dozen times.  There is such an explosive mix of personalities and styles and a genuine animosity between the two that there is so much for fans of all pedigrees to sink their teeth into.

I am in no way suggesting that Tate get a rematch anytime soon, only that she not be ushered into the “could-a-been” category so quickly.  Let’s say she has a Belfort-esque run of dominant finishes over top ten fighters.  You don’t need much of an excuse to convince people to watch these two go at it again.  I’d hate for the UFC to put off another fight between these two just because we’ve seen it before

  • Benson Henderson (8-1 UFC, 5-1 WEC, 20-3) v. Anthony Pettis (4-1 UFC, 5-1 WEC, 17-2)

As with Tate and Rousey, these two have only had one match in the UFC so it is relatively fresh.  Other than the ninja kick, I’d wager there’s a large portion of fans who have never seen the entirety of their first meeting, which is a shame since that was a brilliant encounter.

The result of the second fight was as shocking as the Benavidez/Johnson finish.  Henderson had only been submitted once before and he’d made a habit of using his incredible smarts and flexibility to escape holds in ways nobody had seen before.  That would explain why the UFC 164 crowd was stunned to see him get caught by a lightning quick Pettis armbar.

Somehow, the 25 minutes they spent together in the WEC cage did more to cement Pettis as a champion in my eyes than the 4 minute submission in their rematch.  I felt like Pettis was the better man both times, but that it wasn’t out of the question for Henderson to someday figure out his rival.  After all, he’d done it to pretty much everybody else.

*****

So what do you all think?  Did I leave any matches out?  Am I completely crazy?  Are these fights unpalatable at this point?  Will they ever be marketable?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones v. Team Sonnen – Week 12 and Finale Recap

At 21 years old, Kelvin Gastelum was the youngest contestant ever on the American edition of The Ultimate Fighter (Patrick Iodice, a member of Australia’s TUF: The Smashes was 19).  He was the last pick of Team Sonnen.  His boyish admiration for Ronda Rousey made him seem more like an overachieving fan boy than a legitimate mixed martial arts prospect.  His character had a lot of negative hooks and nobody expected him to go on and win the whole thing but that’s exactly what Gastelum did.  In any other year, Gastelum would be the story.

But this was supposed to be the year of Uriah Hall.

Explosive.  Unique.  Handsome.  Complex.  Black.  Hall’s flashy kicks seemed to extend beyond the octagon and out of our television screens.  We’ve seen so many editions of TUF that we know better than to make too much out of any competitor’s success no matter how easily they dominated on the show (Mac Danzig, anyone?), but Hall was something else.  He wasn’t just knocking people out, he was doing it in new and unorthodox ways.  A spinning hook kick right on the button.  A one-shot cross while fading away.  Rapid fire strikes from bottom position.  It was like catching a hotshot rapper’s first mix tape.  Raw and undeniable.

So what happened?  Rewind to last Saturday, where two new stars were born.

*****

You won’t see me at the front of the women’s MMA bandwagon.  I fully support the legitimacy of the concept and I absolutely think that women have a place in the UFC, but I believe people need to be more realistic about their expectations.  Pat Barry recently said that the women’s fights are usually the most exciting fights on any card and while that may often be the case, it has as much to do with those fights being sloppy, undisciplined affairs as it does with top shelf martial arts acumen.

The Miesha Tate-Cat Zingano fight was a good one, worthy of the “Fight of the Night” award it would later win, but it was also an example of a contest being held to a different standard because of the gender of the competitors.  Not better or worse, but different.  One thing I’ve noticed in a lot of female fights is that the females are not as adept at maintaining dominant positions.  This negates the methodical grappling that casual fans have no interest in and leads to a lot of scrambles that translate into more action.  More action is always good, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of technique.  That is why champions like Rousey are such a valuable asset, as she steps into the cage and takes care of business even if it does come at the risk of making her opponents look overmatched (and thus, less marketable).  Women’s MMA is deservedly on the up and up, but let’s not pretend that it’s anywhere near the depth or skill level of the male ranks yet.

If I hear one more person criticize Dana White for not integrating the female’s earlier I might throw a hissy fit.  That’s right, a hissy fit.  He was quoted a couple of years ago as saying that women’s MMA just wasn’t ready for the big stage yet and now that he’s pushing it so hard some are calling him out as a hypocrite.  Isn’t it possible that a couple of years ago, women’s MMA wasn’t where it was today?  Tate, Zingano and Rousey were nowhere near the fighters they are now and they’ve undoubtedly improved every aspect of their game since then so why would White have been in any rush to start a women’s division before?  It’s especially befuddling when you consider that they were bringing in the 145 and 135 divisions around that time.  If anything, White’s timing couldn’t be better with several high profile prospects rounding into shape and, of course, the ascension of Rousey.

*****

It wasn’t the finals most were hoping for, but that’s about the only thing you could say was disappointing about this season of TUF.  With better production values, better fights, more compelling personalities, and less sophomoric hijinks, everything about this season kicked ass.  It might seem like the quality of the fights isn’t always something the show runners can control, but in the past they’ve sacrificed credentials in favour of controversy.  This season they were able to find a balance between guys who could bring it in the octagon and on the testimonial set.  There is nothing more compelling than the human drama surrounding the types of individuals who fight for a living and any other fluff only gets in the way of this basic narrative.  Sure, there comes a point where you’ve heard the same “hard times, hard man” origin one too many times, but this season the guys were able to back it up when the time came to throw down.

From Jon Jones’ initial misstep of sacrif…*ahem*…“matching up” Gilbert Smith with Luke Barnatt to Hall’s frenzy inducing annihilation of Adam Cella, you could tell early on that this was a special bunch.  They had to be to save this program from last year’s cast, the worst and most indistinguishable in TUF history.  The rest of the preliminary round was a mix of big names being exposed in front of a national audience (“Bubba” McDaniel and “King” Casey) and hard fought scraps that rendered the order of the fighter picks irrelevant.

All throughout the season, the theme stayed the same: who truly wants to win?  The focus was on the mental game, with Chael Sonnen seeming to have the magic touch when it came to pushing his team through various psychological obstacles.  Not to say that Jones was a bad coach, but his aloof persona and relative inexperience made it difficult for him to connect with his team on any meaningful level (the closest relationship on Team Jones was between Dylan Andrews and the older, wiser Stonehorse Goeman).  Jones is still in the “doing” phase of his career; the teaching will come to him eventually.

Hall was a fan and betting favourite every time he performed, but there were doubts swirling around Gastelum.  The experience of Bubba, the grinding attack of Collin Hart, the confidence of Josh Samman…all of it was supposed to be too much for the kid from Yuma.  He didn’t just survive these tests, he passed with flying colours.  Bubba and Samman got choked out, Hart suffered a sudden knockout and through it all Gastelum stayed humble and absorbed everything he could in his time in the house.  The show is designed for ratings and to push new faces for the UFC, but can you imagine how lucky these guys are to be worry about nothing but staying in shape and training with high level instructors for six weeks?  It might not be much fun, but Gastelum made the most of it.

Andrews fell to Hall as expected (though Andrews did not embarrass himself by any means), but Gastelum forgot to read the part where he was supposed to lose so that Hall and Samman could have their grudge match.  The two finalists ended up following a similar path to the finale, a decision win to get into the house followed by three straight finishes.  That fact didn’t do much to change the perception that Hall was the most unstoppable force ever to emerge from the TUF house.  Gastelum was pegged as a 3 to 1 underdog.

Not to take anything away from Gastelum, but Hall’s performance on Saturday was obnoxious.  It was as if all of our worst fears and assumptions about him were true.  He came out tentative, not looking to own the moment and then he started dancing around like Anderson Silva.  His gyrations made him look cocky and stupid.  He dropped his hands and backed himself up against the cage as Gastelum pressed onward.  Hall would later say that he was using the cage strategically, but all it did was give him less room to maneuver as Gastelum shot in and brought him down time and time again.  When the fight was standing, Hall had some nice stretches where the hype seemed warranted, but none of his trademark stuff landed and he just couldn’t sustain any offence.  Hall fought hard, but not smartly, making it easy for armchair corner men like myself to pick him apart.  He’ll be back and his name still has considerable buzz, but he needs to grow up and show what he can really do.

As for Gastelum, he did what he had done all season: attack, attack, attack.  It’s to his credit that he probably would have beaten even the best version of Hall.  The prevailing story going into the fight was Gastelum’s heart vs. Hall’s talent, but Gastelum showed that he’s got plenty of talent too.  He’s confident with his wrestling and he’s got power in his hands, a combination of attributes that has worked out well for many UFC stars.  He’s likely to drop down to welterweight, where he should fit right in with what is largely considered a wrestler’s division.  Gastelum might still not be the most talked about name, but I’m sure he’ll settle for a Harley, a fat contract and a tournament trophy from the best TUF season in ages.

*****

Other TUF 17 Finale thoughts:

  • Cole Miller saved his job with a submission win over Bart Palaszewski.  It seems like only yesterday that “Bartimus” was a top 10 featherweight, but the division got deep quickly and he will be looking for work elsewhere.
  • Okay, I think I should probably lower my expectations for Jimmy Quinlan at this point.
  • I’d lower my expectations for King and Gilbert Smith too, but I didn’t have any to begin with.
  • After having watched it a bunch of times, there’s no doubt that the last two elbows Travis Browne threw against Gabriel Gonzaga were illegal shots to the back of the head.  You could argue that they were inadvertent as Gonzaga had the misfortune of crumbling into their path, but they were illegal nonetheless.  As a Browne fan, I’d like to see the result stand but a change to a no-contest is more than reasonable.
  • I can’t be the only one who still looks forward to Urijah Faber fights.  We’re talking about a guy who has been the best or second best in whatever division he’s fought in for the better part of the last decade.  He has a high finishing rate and is nearly impossible to put away himself.  The only fights he’s lost are title fights and while one could argue he gets too many of those, who else should have them?  Faber is an all-time great and people should appreciate that while he’s around.

The Gift & The Curse: UFC 149 Preview & Predictions

Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira.  DREAM bantamweight champion Bibiano Fernandes.  Thiago Silva.  Shogun Rua.  Yoshihiro Akiyama.  Thiago Alves.  Michael Bisping.  José Aldo.  These are some of the names that were originally slated for UFC 149 in Calgary but for one reason or another, will no longer be appearing.  Dana White referred to this as the most “cursed” card of all time and one would be hard pressed to dispute that claim.  Making things worse is the fact that this is the UFC’s first card in Alberta, making a good first impression even more important.  Luckily, Calgary has its own budding MMA scene including promotions such as Pure Fighting Championships and the long-running Rumble In The Cage (which produced current Strikeforce welterweight contender, Jordan Mein).  That kind of grassroots following usually leads to a receptive and educated crowd…or a bunch of bloodthirsty rednecks.  Either way, it’s a testament to the UFC’s depth that they are still able to load a card in a foreign country with a potent mixture of reliable veterans, hungry prospects and a hearty helping of local talent.  Time and time again we’ve seen cards packed with marquee names flop and lesser anticipated cards deliver, so it should be interesting to see how UFC 149 (which gradually descended from the former to the latter) fares according to that trend.

Fun fact: Based on record alone, this card features three of MMA’s most unbeatable fighters: Ryan Jimmo hasn’t lost in 16 contests, Hector Lombard in 25 and Renan Barão in 28.

We’re going streaking!

*****

*current ranking in parentheses (#)

Lightweight Bout: Mitch Clarke (61) v. Anton Kuivanen (60)

What you need to know: Clarke has the honour of starting off the show in his home province (he fights out of Edmonton, Alberta) and he should benefit from the crowd cheering him on.  Kuivanen dropped a unanimous decision in his debut, but has the stronger resume outside of the UFC including wins over fellow prospect Ivan Buchinger and Black House veteran Thiago Meller.

How it’s going down: While Clarke might be more motivated, Kuivanen has fought tougher competition and that’s going to make the difference in what should be a close fight.

The pick: Kuivanen

Featherweight Bout: Antonio Carvalho (51) v. Daniel Pineda (28)

What you need to know: Carvalho, a native of Ontario, is well travelled and owns some huge victories in Japan including wins over Takeshi Inoue, the legendary Rumina Sato and current top five featherweight Hatsu Hioki.  Pineda won his first two UFC fights via first round submission before dropping a hard fought decision to former featherweight champion Mike Brown.  He’s replacing an injured George Roop.

How it’s going down: Despite Carvalho’s past conquests, I have to go with what I’ve seen recently and Pineda has looked great in the UFC so far, even in his lone loss.  While I doubt that Pineda will be able to submit him, youth might be the difference here (Carvalho is seven years older).  Pineda should be able to find a second gear in the later rounds and take the fight.

The pick: Pineda

Bantamweight Bout: Bryan Caraway (-) v. Mitch Gagnon (-)

What you need to know: Caraway is a talented fighter who got an unfortunate rep as a head case during TUF 14 and as a misogynist for his clumsy attempts to back up girlfriend Miesha Tate in her Twitter war with Ronda Rousey.  If you missed it, a fan wondered if Rousey could beat Caraway in a fight, to which he replied he would “knock her teeth down her throat” and “break her arm.”  Whoa now!  Coincidentally, he’s making the drop to 135, which is Rousey’s weight class.  Don’t get any ideas.

He ain’t no Bobbie Riggs.

Gagnon is a submission expert having won gone 8-1 with all of his victories coming by way of tap out.  He makes his UFC debut.

How it’s going down: If Gagnon can’t get his submission game going, it’s going to be a long night for him.  Caraway is a good wrestler with excellent top control, but he’s prone to lapses in confidence and concentration.  I predict he’s going to slip up here and against a fighter with Gagnon’s level of grappling, you can’t afford to make any mistakes.

The pick: Gagnon

Light Heavyweight Bout: Ryan Jimmo (-) v. Anthony Perosh (15)

What you need to know: Jimmo has been a name on the Canadian MMA scene for some time, having won 16 straight after losing his first fight.  He has wins over UFC veterans Jesse Forbes, Marvin Eastman, Wilson Gouveia and Sokoudjou.  After failing to make it past the preliminary round of TUF 8 and being forced out of UFC on FX 1 in January due to an injury, Jimmo finally gets his chance to fight inside the octagon.  Along with Elvis Sinosic, Perosh has been a pioneer of MMA in Australia and he’s managed to put together a decent run in the UFC having finished his last three opponents.

How it’s going down: I hate to say it, but this looks like a showcase fight for Jimmo.  Then again, Perosh’s last opponent was another Canadian prospect, Jimmo’s teammate Nick Penner, and he finished him inside of a round.  Perosh is tough as they come and there’s no way he’s going to roll over for Jimmo, but “Big Deal” is eventually going to shake off the octagon jitters and take over.

The pick: Jimmo

Bantamweight Bout: Roland Delorme (19) v. Francisco Rivera (26)

What you need to know: Delorme looks like Jay Baruchel.  He’s 2-0 in the UFC so far, living up to his vaunted BJJ pedigree by ending both fights via submission.  Rivera is stepping in for Bibiano Fernandes, who was removed due to the fact that he hadn’t actually signed with the company.  Whoops.  Rivera lost two UFC featherweight bouts before dropping down to bantamweight and recording two speedy knockouts in the Tachi Palace Fights promotion.  He won a decision in his return to the UFC in May.

How it’s going down: Rivera can be an explosive striker and Delorme is a slow starter, but if he can weather the early assault he should have no problem getting the fight to the ground.  Once there, Rivera will be at a major disadvantage.  You might even say that he’s…”out of his league”.

I’m so, so sorry.

The pick: Delorme

Middleweight Bout: Court McGee (21) v. Nick Ring (29)

What you need to know: McGee and Ring are both looking to bounce back after dropping decisions to Costa Philippou and Tim Boetsch respectively.  They fought before on TUF 11, with Ring getting the better of a close decision.  Ring was forced to pull out with a knee injury and McGee would replace him and go on to win the competition.  Ring gained some notoriety for preventing a mugging in his hometown.  The UFC followed up by inviting the victim of the attack to attend the show.  Kudos all around.

How it’s going down: McGee is a “grinder”, which isn’t always a bad thing, but he’s getting a well deserved reputation for putting on slow, plodding fights.  Against Philippou, this backfired as his conservative style failed to sway the judges.  Look for Ring to stay off of the cage and pick McGee apart with superior striking.

The pick: Ring

Welterweight Bout: Chris Clements (44) v. Matt Riddle (37)

What you need to know: The UFC threw Thiago Alves, Sexyama and a pinch of Siyar Bahadurzada into the matchmaking blender and this was the result.  Clements is replacing Alves, while Riddle is replacing Bahadurzada who was replacing Sexyama.  Got all that?

While this match-up obviously lacks the cachet of the original pairing, it’s an excellent choice for the first fight of the PPV card as these are two fighters always looking to engage.  Riddle, for better or for worse, has never been in a boring fight and Clements owns the fastest knockout in MMA history (3 seconds!), having one-punched a charging Lautaro Tucas in 2006.  Clements won his UFC debut in April and has beaten Jonathan Goulet and Rich Clementi via TKO.

How it’s going down: Riddle is a strong wrestler, but you wouldn’t know it from watching him.  All he does is stand and bang, which has worked out pretty well for him since he’s been lucky enough to stick with the UFC for his entire career so far.  If he follows his usual M.O., expect the more creative Clements to have the advantage in this one.

The pick: Clements

Welterweight Bout: Brian Ebersole (20) v. James Head (48)

What you need to know: Ebersole is stepping in for Claude Patrick, a man that he defeated at UFC 140.  Willing to fight anybody, anytime, Ebersole put off his plans to drop to 155 to salvage this bout.  Head overwhelmed Papy Abedi in his last fight, winning by rear naked choke in the first round.

How it’s going down: Head has potential, but Ebersole is far too experienced, well rounded and unpredictable for him.  I expect Ebersole to assert himself on the feet with some heavy leather, while getting the better of scrambles and controlling the fight.

The pick: Ebersole

Heavyweight Bout: Cheick Kongo (10) v. Shawn Jordan (20)

What you need to know: Kongo was looking to finally establish himself in the top ten by taking on Minotauro, but Nogueira made the wise decision to bow out and continue rehab on his injured arm.  Jordan is a Strikeforce transplant who finished Oli Thompson in his UFC debut.  He trains with Greg Jackson.

How it’s going down: Jordan’s power is no joke, but I expect Kongo to dominate.  It’s never smart to bet against a Jackson cornered fighter as he always seems to get the most out of his fighters.  Considering the physical gifts and work ethic that Jordan already has, that could lead to an intimidating finished product.  Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s quite there yet.

The pick: Kongo

Middleweight Bout: Hector Lombard (-) v. Tim Boetsch (3)

What you need to know: Lombard (replacing an injured Michael Bisping) is on an insane streak having gone unbeaten in his last 25 fights (the only blemish being a draw against Kyle Noke).  Boetsch has looked impressive himself, dominating his first two fights at middleweight (over Kendall Grove and Ring) before scoring a hellacious comeback KO against top 5 middleweight Yushin Okami.  That #3 ranking I have for Boetsch might seem stupidly high, but I still had Okami ranked near the top when Boetsch knocked him out so Boetsch took his spot.  We’ll see if he truly deserves it on Saturday.

How it’s going down: Boetsch is a bad ass and I’ve always believed that Lombard is actually slightly overrated, but this is a good match-up for the Cuban judoka.  Boetsch also has a judo background (not nearly as renowned as Lombard’s) and I can’t remember the last time two practitioners of this particular discipline faced off.  I don’t expect it to be a major factor here, but it’s a neat detail.  The quality of Lombard’s competition has been justifiably criticized, but there’s no question that the man has dynamite in those fists.  Boetsch isn’t the most evasive fighter and eventually “Shango” is going to land enough shots to put the big man down for the proverbial count.

The pick: Lombard

Hector will still only be the second baddest Shango around.

Bantamweight Interim Championship Bout: Urijah Faber (2) v. Renan Barão (3)

What you need to know: Outside of Cruz-Faber III, this was the best bantamweight fight you could book and the UFC did the right thing by giving this opportunity to Barão, even though he’s far from a household name.  Like Jimmo and Lombard, Barão owns a gaudy undefeated streak, winning all 28 of his fights since losing his MMA debut.  Any concerns that he might falter when faced with top level competition were quieted when he cruised through bouts with top 10 bantamweights Brad Pickett and Scott Jorgensen.

Barão is the favourite, but this one is too close to call.  You want to say that Faber has the experience advantage, but the top tier of MMA is a young man’s world and the changing of the guard usually comes whether we’re ready for it or not.  Barão trains with José Aldo, who dominated Faber in their match and likely proved invaluable during game planning.  If Barão can avoid takedowns and pick Faber apart with leg kicks (something he was able to do against Jorgensen, another elite wrestler), you can expect this fight to have a similar outcome.

Faber has the more powerful hands and if he’s able to clip Barão, the whole fight could change in a second.  We’ve yet to see how Barão reacts to adversity as he’s done an excellent job of avoiding damage five contests under the Zuffa banner.  Faber’s ability to pressure will be unlike anything Barão has seen before.  I see Faber taking the first round, with Barão making the necessary adjustments to eventually come out on top.

The pick: Barão

And if you really need incentive to watch, Rachelle Leah and Logan Stanton are back.  Happy now, Calgarians?