The last big UFC event of 2011 gets underway tomorrow night in Las Vegas and we’ve got our full preview and predictions for you below.
Brock Lesnar vs. Alistair Overeem
One of the biggest fights of the year in more ways than one sees Lesnar and Overeem battling it out to decide who’ll get the next shot at Junior Dos Santos’ title.
This is clearly a classic striker vs wrestler match-up in it’s purest form since both men are at an elite level in their chosen craft. Overeem has developed into a striking monster who’s conquered even K-1 kickboxing’s best. After suffering a number of KO’s earlier in his career he hasn’t just developed an imposing heavyweight physique, but also has built a strong defensive guard to help protect his chin. It’s his offensive output that attracts more attention however, and he’s got KO power in his hands and generates lethal force with his knees, particularly from the clinch.
Lesnar’s striking isn’t terrible, but it’s far more rudimentary in nature than Overeem’s and relies heavily on raw power. Worryingly, what we’ve seen from him in his last couple of fights is that he simply doesn’t like getting punched and reacts badly to it which leaves gaping holes in his game which Overeem will gladly exploit.
It’s therefore crucial that Lesnar spends as little time as possible on his feet and instead uses his wrestling credentials to get Overeem down ASAP. He’s not the most technical wrestler, but he makes up for it with his otherwordly physicality and speed for his size. Overeem may also look the part, but he’s had to work hard to get there – Lesnar is naturally the bigger, more powerful man and that will be to his benefit.
Overeem has pretty good takedown defense though and moves fairly well when he needs to for a big man, so it’s not a certainty that Lesnar will be able to impose his will. Overeem also has far more experience than Lesnar and that means he’s generally more well-rounded, and therefore won’t be completely out of his element if he is put on his back. He’ll need to be at his best if that scenario does occur though as Lesnar is absolutely ruthless with ground and pound from top control and will make short work of him if he can’t defend himself and get the fight upright again.
Though it’s not at the core of either mans games submissions can’t be ruled out either. Overeem has a crushing guillotine choke and several other tried and tested submissions in his arsenal, while Lesnar has been slowly working some into his own game as was demonstrated by his tap-out of Shane Carwin last year. This fight is more likely to be finished by strikes though.
The final consideration here is Lesnar’s lengthy layoff. 14 months after his last fight and with 12″ of his colon having been removed in the mean time, a major fight like this is hardly the idea platform to make a comeback from and surely will affect his cardio. I’m not convinced by Overeem’s cardio either and when he doesn’t get a quick finish his output does slow considerably. If lesnar can get him out of his striking comfort zone for extended periods it could pay dividends.
Tough fight to call, though whichever way it goes I’m expecting a finish sooner rather than later. If it wasn’t for Lesnar’s long layoff and alarming reaction to getting hit I’d be leaning towards him, but it’s hard to ignore those facts when they are staring you in the face. Overeem will have to tread a thin line between aggressive enough with his striking to back Lesnar down, while also being alert enough to react to the inevitable takedown attempts. If he fails to strike that balance he’ll be stopped fairly quickly by ground and pound, but the fact is he only needs one big punch or knee to swing this fight heavily in his favor and therefore I like him to stop the former champion on the feet.
Alistair Overeem to win by TKO in Rd1
Nate Diaz vs. Donald Cerrone
A great fight on paper has only been made more intriguing by the rapidly developing bad blood between these two highly entertaining lightweights.
This will be a fun fight wherever it ends up going. Nate sports the traditional Diaz brothers boxing technique, using his reach very effectively to launch flurries of punches from range at various angles to the body and head. So far he’s not quite on his brother’s level in this regard, but has shown signs in the last year or two that he is beginning to put it all together and with more power than he used to which is significant. He also has a stellar chin, though his tendancy to taunt his opponents with his hands down is always a concern.
Cerrone is also a very adept striker. There’s more versatility to his striking with kicks being a component he’ll look to emphasize here. He’s technically sound, has good speed and like Diaz has an excellent chin, but the long range Diaz works at may prove challenging to overcome and I’m not convinced he has the power to stop Diaz.
Wrestling wise I’d have to give a slight edge to Cerrone as he has the better takedowns of the two, showing a knack for being able to switch quickly to this from his striking.
Cerrone also has a slick ground game and in fact that’s where most of his wins come from despite his swashbuckling stand-up style. He’ll have a hard time tapping Diaz though as he’s a high level BJJ practitioner who’s as dangerous off his back as he is on top. Both men like to go for the finish on the mat so a ground battle between them could be fun to watch, but given their skill level they may well cancel each other out.
Both men have excellent conditioning so that won’t be a factor here. If it goes the full three rounds, and given their ability to take a punch it may well do just that, then expect them to be fighting hard for the full 15 minutes.
Given how well matched they are this one is almost 50-50. Since I have to make a choice I’m going for Cerrone who’s got more momentum behind him at the moment and I think his versatility on the feet and ability to secure point-scoring takedowns could also be important factors in an extremely close decision victory.
Donald Cerrone to win by decision.
Jon Fitch vs. Johny Hendricks
Fitch finally makes his return to the Octagon after a lengthy spell out through injury and finds himself with a tough first fight back against Hendricks.
Striking isn’t Fitch’s forte, but it’s not a major weakness for him either. He’s competent technically with both his hands and feets, but doesn’t have the power or the aggression to really trouble opponents.
Hendricks meanwhile is rougher around the edges with his offensive output, but does wield heavy hands and Fitch will want to keep from getting hit too often if he wants to hang on to his current six fight unbeaten run.
Both men are at their best in the wrestling department. Fitch is perhaps the quintessential grinder. He’s not the most skillful wrestler, but he is a tireless worker, has an excellent gas tank and is not afraid to win ugly with ‘lay and pray’ tactics when required.
On the other hand Hendricks is actually a better credentialed wrestler and has more of a finisher’s instinct with a stoppage via ground and pound likely to be his goal if he can get it.
On paper Hendricks looks like a decent bet to pull off an upset. What we’ve learned about Fitch over the years however is that he’s more than the sum of his parts and simply has a knack for winning. This is a potential banana skin for him, but it’s never wise to bet against him. If he does get the win it’s almost certain to come by decision though.
Jon Fitch to win by decision.
Alexander Gustafsson vs. Vladimir Matyushenko
Gustafsson and Matyushenko aren’t on the root to a title shot any time soon, but both have been making quiet progress in the light-heavyweight ranks recently.
Though he scored a KO victory last time out Matyushenko isn’t particularly known for his striking abilities and overall I’d have to give Gustafsson the edge in that department. He’s fairly tall for the weight cass at 6ft 5″, but moves well, can piece together some solid combinations and will have more offensive weapons than his opponent who relies almost exclusively on his boxing.
Wrestling has been the foundation of Matyushenko’s game for years and it should be his main focus of attack in this fight. Though slowing with age he’s still strong and tough to shake if he gets on top and starts a methodical ground and pound assault.
Gustfasson’s own wrestling has been strengthened thanks to teaming up with 205lb division star Phil Davis, but while his active style will ensure it wouldn’t be an easy night for ‘The Janitor’ on the floor he’s far more likely to use his relative youth and agility to keep the fight standing.
I like Gustafsson here. His speed and solid striking should be problematic for Matyushenko and I think the younger man will be spritely enough to escape from his lumbering clutches as he tries unsuccessfully to take the fight to the floor. I don’t think he’ll be able to get a finish early, but if he provides enough of an offensive output to wear him down then a stoppage could be a possibility late in the fight.
Alexander Gustafsson to win by TKO in Rd3.
Nam Phan vs. Jim Hettes
Phan and Hettes will get the UFC 141 main card underway with their featherweight scrap.
Former TUF star Phan has a distinct stand-up advantage in this one. He’s one of the division’s best in this regard, making up what he lacks in power with excellent technique and a particularly nice line in body punching that can really sap the strength of his opponents in the later rounds.
By comparison Hettes own stand-up is nothing to write home about and will be purely be a means to an end as he looks to set up a takedown or engage in the clinch in order to attempt to get Phan down. In his past nine fights Hettes has been successful in doing so and in all nine he’s promptly produced a submission victory so that leaves little room for doubt about his gameplan coming into this fight.
Phan is somewhat vulnerable to takedowns, but he’s also crafty and has a knack of finding his way back to his feet. In fact he’s never been submitted in his 26 fight career so Hettes has his work cut out for him if he wants to continue his submission streak.
At this stage Hettes is still something of an unknown quantity. While he’s been slicing through opponents like a hot knife through butter so far he’s not fought the same caliber of fighters as Phan and I think he’ll find it more challenging to get him to tap while at the same time being outclassed in the striking department. I’m not convinced yet that Phan can become a major force at 145lbs, but I think this is a fight he can win.
Nam Phan to win by decision.
Junior Assuncao vs. Ross Pearson
Danny Castillo vs. Anthony Njokuani
Dong Hyun Kim vs. Sean Pierson
Jacob Volkmann vs. Efrain Escudero
Matthew Riddle vs. Luis Ramos
Manny Gamburyan vs. Diego Nunes