Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber
For the first time in UFC history the bantamweights take headline duties on Saturday night as Cruz looks to avenge a previous loss to Faber from back in the WEC days while also defending his title for the first time in the UFC.
Since that fight, which took place some four years ago, Cruz’s game has undoubtedly come on leaps and bounds. In particular he’s elevated his striking game to a very high level, showing tremendous footwork and proving to be a difficult target to hit while firing off combinations at unusual angles his opponents just don’t see coming. It’s similar in a way to what Frankie Edgar does at lightweight, with the same drawback in that he isn’t the hardest hitter around.
Faber’s striking has also improved, but not quite so drastically. He’ll have a much more direct style and will be hoping that his own speed and combinations can find holes in Cruz game that others have failed to exploit. Faber also has a good chin and I think he may be preparing to attempt to wade through Cruz’s strikes in order to land his own.
Last time out Faber submitted Cruz and that’s surely going to be on his mind here too. There’s no doubt Cruz has improved his takedown defense however and I expect Faber to have a much harder time putting him on his back this time around.
Faber also has a nice knee-tap takedown of his own that flows very naturally from his striking which Faber will have to be wary of, but he is excellent in the scrambles and it’d probably be wise for Cruz to keep this one standing as often as possible.
Tough fight to call. If Faber gets this fight to the floor I think he still has a significant advantage over Cruz there and will have a good chance of pulling off a submission. After watching him struggle to get Eddie Wineland down last time out I question how much success he’ll have against a much more elusive fighter like Cruz. Meanwhile I can see the champions unorthadox striking style being hard for Faber to handle, as a number of his team-mates have also found out to their cost. Overall I’m torn, but I do believe Cruz has the greater momentum at this stage in his career, so I’m going for him to eek out a decision victory.
Dominick Cruz to win by decision
Wanderlei Silva vs. Chris Leben
Silva and Leben are renowned as two of the most entertaining brawlers in the sport, and they both have their eyes not only on a win here, but also the ‘Fight Of The Night’ bonus cheque as well.
Striking is both men’s stock-in-trade and there’ll be plenty of leather flying around the Octagon when they get in there. At this stage in their career’s I’d say Leben is the more willing to stay in the pocket and swing for the fences, often times taking punches flush in the chin to land some of his own. It’s just as well then that Leben has a remarkable good chin, even given the fact he was TKO’d by Brian Stann last time out.
Though Silva is perhaps the epitomy of the classic ‘brawler’ he has eased up a little recently following a string of losses, several of which were by KO, and now fights a little more cautiously, and chooses his moments to go toe-to-toe rather than relentlessly seeking those opportunities. Given that there’s a question mark over his chin now that’s probably a wise decision.
Technique wise Leben focuses more on his hands, while Silva also favors wide-looping punches but mixes things up a little more and his muay thai clinch and knees could be an advantage if he chooses to employ them.
Despite their record of knocking out opponents both men are actually well versed on the ground and pose a threat from submissions. With neither having a definitive advantage there it may discourage them from spending too long on the mat, but a takedown or two during a round certainly can’t be ruled out given that it’s a strategy Silva used at times against Michael Bisping in 2010, while Leben also outwrestled Jay Silva last year.
A couple of final issues. Firstly there’s the fact that Silva has spent the best part of a year and a half on the sidelines due to knee surgery. Therefore ring rust and cardio issues are a real concern for him, particularly if he can’t end this fight quickly.
Secondly, Leben has mentioned that he’s nervous about fighting the man he’s looked up to and somewhat emulated his own style on over the years. It’s was an almost tangible fear during the pre-fight press conference and it’ll be interesting to see if that affects his performance, particularly coming off a TKO loss.
As always in a match-up between two heavy-handed strikers, the fact is that either man could win at any moment. I’m leaning ever so slightly towards leben on this occasion though. I’d feel more comfortable about it if he didn’t leave his chin out waiting to be hit all the time, but he can certainly take a punch, while Silva’s isn’t what it once was. That’s true of Silva’s overall game as well – he’s now slower, less aggressive, and coupled with a lengthy injury layoff that’s a real cause for concern.
Chris Leben to win by TKO in Rd2
Dennis Siver vs. Matt Wiman
With three consecutive wins apiece, Siver and Wiman head into this fight knowing that a win on Saturday night will put them in a strong position in the rapidly changing lightweight division.
Siver is a compact, powerful fighter who has solid boxing that’s spiced up by speedy head-kicks and his trademark spinning back kick which aren’t just for show and force his opponents to always be wary of what’s coming next. He’s also a tough character with a decent chin and that makes him hard to break down.
Wiman’s striking has improved during his tenure in the UFC and he now shows better technique along with good speed and movement. Those last two attributes could be vital for Wiman as it’s dangerous to remain a stationary target when Siver is on the offensive.
Where Wiman holds a significant advantage is with his wrestling. He has good top control, effective ground and pound which could cause Siver problems and has a few submissions in his arsenal too. Getting the German to the ground can be tricky though as George Sotiropoulos found out, but there’s no doubt that will still form a big part of Wiman’s strategy here.
Another close fight but I’m opting for Wiman. I believe he’s a somewhat under-rated fighter, while Siver is perhaps being a little over-rated after his win over Sotiropoulos. Overall I think Wiman is the more well-rounded fighter and that’s the key here as he uses his speed and movement to stay competitive on the feet while looking to get Siver to the floor where he should hold a significant advantage.
Matt Wiman to win by decision.
Tito Ortiz vs. Ryan Bader
Ortiz heads into this fight knowing that another loss will end his long UFC career, while Bader is also keen to avoid another loss on his record after having his long unbeaten run broken by Jon Jones on his last visit to the Octagon.
Former champion Ortiz is no longer the force he once was. The sport has evolved in recent years, while he hasn’t, often spending more time on the treatment table lately rather than in the training room. Plagued with spinal issues Ortiz has looked to use his wrestling less and his striking more, but the truth is that while he’s durable he’s not a top level striker and doesn’t have significant punching power.
In many respects Bader is a younger, better version of Ortiz, and that’s certainly true of his striking. While he’s not a particularly diverse or creative striker he does the boxing basics well enough and backs it up with raw power.
It’s much the same story in the wrestling department. Bader is bigger, stronger, more powerful and has good technique to go with it. Ortiz is a ground and pound specialist, but it’s hard to imagine him finding himself in many advantageous positions to exploit that skill-set here.
Cardio is an issue for Ortiz. The injuries and long spells on the sidelines have taken their toll and he often appears to slow down significantly in the latter rounds of his fights these days. Distractions outside of the cage in the build-up to this fight relating to a split-up with his long-term partner Jenna Jameson won’t have helped his cause either.
I just can’t see a way for Ortiz to win hear, Bader seems to be an upgraded version of him in all aspects of the game. One thing Ortiz does have is his toughness though, and that might be enough to get him to the final bell, but I expect the younger fighter to comprehensively beat him up on the feet and, if and when neccessary, on the mat too.
Ryan Bader to win by decision
Carlos Condit vs. Dong Hyun Kim
While not neccessarily carrying the star power of some other fighters at 170lbs, both Condit and Kim are on a solid winning run at this moment in time, and will be looking to prove that they are worthy of title consideration with an impressive win here.
Condit is a versatile striker who mixes things up nicely with knees and kicks. He’s also battle-hardened, and while he can be hurt he has a knack of finding a way to win even when he looks to be down and out. Kim on the other hand tends to want as little to do with the stand-up game as possible and tends to use his striking only as a way to set-up takedowns.
In essence Kim is a grinder, and an effective one at that remaining unbeaten in his fifteen fight career leading into this encounter. His judo background blended with wrestling and natural physical attribues like size and strength affords him plenty of opportunities to get his opponents to the floor and then control them on top.
Condit is the opposite of Kim on the ground – dynamic, good in the scrambles and relentlessly looking to finish the fight. All good attributes, but it’s questionable whether he’ll find any room to operate against Kim’s much more methodical approach.
This appears to be a difficult fight for the usually highly entertaining Condit to shine. Kim has a tried and tested formula for grinding out wins and I believe Condit will be the latest victim of that, though I’d certainly never discount him from producing something unexpected when the chips are down.
Dong Hyun Kim to win by decision.
Prelims: (Predicted winners in bold)
George Sotiropoulos vs. Rafael Dos Anjos
Melvin Guillard vs. Shane Roller
Brad Tavares vs. Aaron Simpson
Brian Bowles vs. Takeya Mizugaki
Anthony Njokuani vs. Andre Winner
Jeff Hougland vs. Donny Walker