With injury problems having disrupted so many of the UFC’s cards in recent months it’s a relief to see an event that has strong fights from top to bottom. The Penn – Sanchez title fight in particular is as good a main event as we’ve had for several months.
Let’s get right into it with a closer look at the fights on the main card.
BJ Penn Vs Diego Sanchez
This has the potential to be as exciting a main event as we’ve had in some time. BJ Penn (14-5-1) has proven to be an unstoppable force in the lightweight division in recent times since claiming the title over Joe Stevenson at UFC 80, and then successfully defending it against Sean Sherk and Kenny Florian.
Considering he has a record of 21-2 it’s perhaps surprising that TUF Season 1 winner Diego Sanchez has had to wait so long for a shot at a title in the UFC. In his 12 fights for the promotion at both welterweight and lightweight he has defeated the likes of Joe Riggs, Karo Parisyan, Nick Diaz, Joe Stevenson and Clay Guida. He now believes it is his time to become a champion.
Saying and doing are two different things though, but there’s no doubt that Sanchez will provide a stern test for Penn. His core assets are his endless cardio, and his unbending belief in his own abilities, and they are ably backed up by well rounded skills and a strong chin.
It’s worth noting that in his 23 career bouts he has never been knockout out…or submitted for that matter. Then again, as Penn commented earlier this week, Sanchez has never faced a champion either.
Speaking of which, at 155lbs Penn is no ordinary champion. Like other belt holders in the UFC like GSP and Anderson Silva, he has the ability to make even very talented fighters appear mediocre. His cardio is a weak point that Sanchez will attempt to exploit, but that aside he possesses superior skills in all aspects of the game, and is among the best in business in certain areas like boxing, takedown defense and Jiu Jitsu.
I don’t see Sanchez finishing this one inside the distance so his best bet is to wear BJ Penn out with a relentless pace to claim a decision victory. To do that he has to deal with Penn’s superior striking and deadly submissions for the full 25 minutes however, and I think that may prove too much for him on this occassion.
It should be great fight and I’m going for BJ Penn to remain the champion with a submission victory in the 4th round.
Frank Mir vs. Cheick Kongo
Thanks to Frank Mir’s comments about Cheick Kongo’s ground skills, or lack thereof, there has been more attention brought to this bout then there might otherwise have been.
Former champion Mir (12-4) is of course coming off a convincing defeat to Brock Lesnar at UFC 100, though he had beaten the former pro wrestler a year earlier. Now he aims to put himself back into contention for a rubber match with the champion – if and when Lesnar recovers from his recent illness – and so he needs to make a statement in this fight.
Cheick Kongo (14-5-1) is also coming off a humbling loss, in his case to Cain Velasquez in which he was completely overwhelmed on the ground. While a win would not put Kongo in the title picture, it would be the perfect way to banish memories of that defeat and keep him in the mix against some of the divisions bigger names.
Mir has been highly critical of Kongo’s ground game, and in all honesty despite receiving some criticism for it, he’s not far off the truth. While he can work well from top position, Kongo lacks the skills to get himself out of trouble from his back. If Mir gets him down, then with his submission skills the fight should be as good as over.
The interesting dynamic in this fight however lies with what happens on the feet. Takedowns have been a weak point in Mir’s game in the past and Kongo also possesses some of the most fearsome striking in the division. If Mir chooses to stand with him for too long, or does not time his takedowns properly then he risks being knocked out.
Cheick Kongo’s knockout power means that anything can happen in this fight, but realistically Mir should win. The tricky part will be the takedown, and if he can manage to do that just once in the fight then I think the fight should be over. If he starts to believe he can outstrike Kongo on his feet however, things may end badly for him.
I’m going for Frank Mir by submission in the first round.
Kenny Florian vs. Clay Guida
After failing in his second attempt to hold a title belt against BJ Penn, Kenny Florian will look to pick up the pieces against another tough opponent in Clay Guida.
Since his loss Florian, now 11-4, has dropped his long-term coach Mark DellaGrotte and has spent a significant amount of his time training at the Tri-star gym in Montreal with GSP’s trainer Firaz Zahabi. In particular he has been improving upon his wrestling skills, and he’ll certainly need them against his upcoming opponent.
Clay Guida (25-10) has also been looking to reinvigorate his game after losing to Diego Sanchez in his last fight. He has headed for renowned trainer Greg Jackson’s camp in preparation for the bout where he’s had the opportunity to train with some of the best fighters in the world.
Despite the changes I don’t expect we’ll see a drastic difference on this occasion. Guida will still come on strong for the entire fight, will look to use his wrestling, and will be very difficult to finish.
Florian will fight intelligently, using movement and angles where possible to keep Guida at bay and unleash some strikes, and if the fight goes to the ground, he will pose a threat thanks to his BJJ skills.
I think Guida is a tough fight for Florian coming off a loss. As he has done numerous times in the past, I expect Guida to nullify Florian’s strengths by getting in close and giving him very little time and room to make an impact on the feet or on the ground.
I’m opting for Clay Guida to hug his way to a decision.
Paul Buentello vs. Stefan Struve
Originally scheduled to fight Todd Duffee, Paul Buentello now kicks off his second stint in the UFC against another up and coming prospect, Stefan Struve.
Since leaving the UFC in 2006, Buentello (24-10) has fought in both Strikeforce and Affliction, putting together a winning record of 5-1, though the truth is that several of the wins came from less than impressive competition.
21 year old Stefan Struve (21-3) got off to a less than auspicious start to his UFC career, lasting only 54 seconds against Junior Dos Santos, but he has since proved his worth with wins over submission victories over Denis Stojnic and Chase Gormley.
14 years older than his opponent at 35, Buentello has proven over the years to be a dangerous striker with knockout punching power. He will be looking to keep this fight standing where he holds the advantage, and away from the ground where he is most vulnerable.
Standing 6ft 11′ Struve will hold a 9 inch height advantage going into this fight against Buentello. While certainly an advantage on the feet, he has shown in previous fights that he can use his long limbs to his advantage on the ground as well, with 14 of his wins coming by way of submission.
I’ve not been overly convinced with Stefan Struve’s stand-up skills so far in the UFC, and Buentello may well capitalize on that early in the fight. In the end though I think Struve will get this fight where he has the best chance of winning, and lock in a submission against the veteran.
Stefan Struve to win by submission in the second round.
Jon Fitch vs. Mike Pierce
After losing out to GSP at UFC 94, Jon Fitch has since got back to more familiar winning ways with victories over Akihiro Gono and Paulo Thiago. Currently 10-1 in the UFC, Fitch looked set for a major rematch against Thiago Alves, until he pulled out injured, leaving Mike Pierce to step in as a late replacement.
Pierce claimed victory in his first time out in the octagon against Brock Larson, and holds a 9-1 record overall, including a victory in the WEC. He had originally been training to fight Josh Koscheck, and that will perhaps stand him in good stead as he now faces an equally tough opponent.
Pierce is a good wrestler who should not be underestimated, but fighting Jon Fitch in your first appearance on the main card is a daunting challenge, and a big step up in class.
Fitch has went to a decision in his last four fights and has publicly stated that he wants to finish this fight inside the distance. Of the two fighters he is certainly the more likely to do so thanks mainly to his submission skills, though I believe he also has the edge in striking and wrestling as well.
It will be interesting to see how Pierce copes in the biggest fight of his career so far, and how hard Fitch will push to get an impressive victory. In the end it’s hard to look past Fitch who has proven time and again to be too much for all but the very best in the welterweight division.
I’m predicting Jon Fitch to win by decision.
Undercard: (Predicted Winners Highlighted in Bold)
Alan Belcher vs. Wilson Gouveia
Matt Wiman vs. Shane Nelson
Johny Hendricks vs. Ricardo Funch
Rousimar Palhares vs. Lucio Linhares
DeMarques Johnson vs. Edgar Garcia
Kevin Burns vs. TJ Grant