The UFC have put together an impressive card for their first event on the Versus network, with the televised bouts in particular being filled with potentially explosive encounters.
Read on for our full preview and predictions for this event which officially kicks off a succession of quality MMA action over the next 10 days.
Brandon Vera vs. Jon Jones
While the main event of the evening may not be for a title, or to establish a top contender in the light-heavyweight division, Brandon Vera Vs Jon Jones is undoubtedly a mouth-watering prospect between two dynamic strikers.
The stand-up battle between these two has the potential to be spectacular. Vera is a skilled muay thai fighter – technically sound with an excellent range of kicks in particular, the ability to piece together effective combos, and a dangerous clinch game. Jones also makes full use of all eight limbs, though he is more unorthadox, creative and hard to predict in the way that he uses them, which can often lead to spectacular highlight-reel moments peppering his fights.
Reach could be the key factor in the stand-up battle in my opinion. Normally Vera enjoys an advantage in his fights this way which he undoubtedly plays upon, but in this occasion Jones enjoys an abnormal 84.5″ reach, some 6.5″ more than his opponent. I believe that could prove to be something of a culture shock for Vera, and difficult to come to terms with in a 15 minute encounter.
The other interesting factor here is wrestling. Vera is no slouch in this department as he showed by stifling much of Randy Couture’s Greco-Roman work in his last fight. Once again Jones is not entirely conventional with his grappling which could prove advantageous. By his own admission his wrestling is very much based around his offensive throws, like the one that damaged the shoulder of another accomplished wrestler, Matt Hamill, in his last visit to the octagon.
In that fight Jones also showed some aggressive ground and pound, though Vera believes he may have an edge in the submission department which could make the difference on the mat.
I’m excited to see how this fight pans out. At 22 Jones is considered by many, including myself, to be one of the future stars of the sport, but this is a stern test of his abilities, with Vera undoubtedly being his toughest opponent to date. Technically Vera is the better striker at this stage, but Jones is improving at a rapid rate and I think his raw talent and physical gifts at this stage in his career will take him to victory here.
I’m picking Jon Jones to win, but I’ll be slightly cautious and say he’ll do it by decision.
Junior Dos Santos vs. Gabriel Gonzaga
After four impressive wins in the UFC, 25 year old Junior Dos Santos is within touching distance of the top of the heavyweight ladder. Unfortunately for him several other competitors are also awaiting their shot at the title, and so the Brazilian now has to negotiate a tricky fight against Gabriel Gonzaga while he waits for his turn.
We know from his previous bouts that Dos Santos carries fight-ending power in his hands, and can put it to good use even when faced with a top-level striker like Gilbert Yvel. His largely offensive output does leave some notable gaps in his defense though, as he has a tendency to drop his hands lower than is advisable, particularly when unleashing a combination.
The major question mark regarding him (and one which we devoted an entire article to) though is how good his ground game is since none of his previous four opponents were able to test him in that regard. This fight may finally give us some answers since his opponent is a highly-decorated BJJ practitioner.
Much will depend on how Gonzaga chooses to approach the fight though. He has stated in the pre-fight interviews that he is happy to stand and trade with his fellow Brazilian, and believes that his own leg kicks (which infamously knocked out Mirko Cro Cop) may be the key to gaining the upper-hand in the fight.
His knockout loss to Shane Carwin however should perhaps serve as a timely reminder as to why he should be aiming to get this fight to the ground a.s.a.p.
While I don’t think people are giving Gonzaga enough credit leading into this bout, I’m still going to opt for Dos Santos here. It’s worth remembering he has faced ground specialists before, such as Fabricio Werdum and Stefan Struve and given them few opportunities to even consider taking the fight to the ground. Even if the fight does hit the mat, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, until I see evidence to the contrary, that he is at competent enough to stay competitive after years of training under the Nogueira brothers.
I’ll take Junior Dos Santos to win by KO in the second round.
Cheick Kongo vs. Paul Buentello
Both Cheick Kongo and Paul Buentello will enter this fight with something to prove after losing in their last visits to the octagon, and considering that both fighters love nothing better than to engage in a stand-up battle, this should prove to be an explosive encounter.
Kongo has had a rough time of it of late, being paired up with two of the divisions best in Frank Mir and Cain Velasquez, both of whom were well equipped to deal with his obvious weaknesses on the mat. That won’t be the case against Buentello however, and he will see this as an opportunity to remind people why he is considered one of the most dangerous strikers in the heavyweight class.
At the age of 36 Buentello will know that he has to get a win under his belt in order to ensure he is able to maintain his spot on the roster. It’s unlikely that will change his game-plan however, which more than likely will, as with most of his career, rely on him connecting with a right cross on his opponents chin.
Kongo is not a youngster either at 34, though he is clearly in far superior shape compared with Buentello at this stage in his career. While his place in the UFC is not in jeopardy yet, he certainly needs the victory here to arrest his slide down the heavyweight division rankings.
I like Kongo in this match-up. Buentello had three rounds to make his mark in a stand-up battle with Stefan Struve and failed to do so. That doesn’t bode well for a similar fight with Kongo who is a better technical striker and has more weapons in his arsenal.
I see Cheick Kongo ending this fight by TKO in the third round.
Alessio Sakara Vs James Irvin
After his KO loss to Anderson Silva back in 2008 James Irvin tested positive for pain-killers and subsequently admitted to having an addiction to them. Since then injury problems have forced him out of two fights, but now after almost two years out, he returns to the octagon against Alessio Sakara who is currently two fights unbeaten in the promotion.
Some eyebrows may have been raised that this fight was bumped up to the main-card after an injury, while the likes of Clay Guida remain on the undercard, but with both fighters being heavy-handed sluggers with knockout power, clearly the idea is that this should open up the show with a bang.
Irvin holds claims 10 of his 14 career wins by knockout, while Sakara holds eight out of 14 by the same manner. Meanwhile in the past three years only once has either fighter seen past the first round of a fight. That should tell you everything you need to know about what to expect from this encounter.
It should be noted that Irvin is making his first appearance at 185lbs for his return to the octagon, and that may well have a bearing on the fight, though he claims he is well prepared for the weight cut.
Bearing in mind the weight-cut, the long layoff, the injury woes and the battle with pain-killers it’s hard to get enthusiastic about Irvin here. It’s entirely possible he could connect with a fight-ending blow early on in this battle, but if Sakara can survive the initial onslaught he should be in good shape to claim the victory.
I’m opting for Alessio Sakara to win by TKO late in the first round.
Undercard: (Predicted Winners In Bold)
Daniel Roberts vs. John Howard
Eliot Marshall vs. Vladimir Matyushenko
Duane Ludwig Vs Darren Elkins
Clay Guida Vs Shannon Gugerty
Brendan Schaub vs. Chase Gomley
Mike Pierce Vs Julio Paulino
Eric Schafer vs. Jason Brilz