Tonight, Georges St. Pierre and Josh Koscheck will take to the cage to settle a couple of pressing matters, the biggest of which is who will have possession of the UFC Welterweight Championship after this evening. And they say that fighting never solves anything. Furthermore, they’ll head up a card that may not be bursting with the “wow” factor, but is a sneaky good lineup that may make for several memorable scraps. Here are my thoughts on UFC 124’s main card.
Jim Miller vs. Charles Oliveira
Miller has long been one of the lightweights that I think gets unfairly overlooked: he presents a tremendously well-rounded approach that has gotten him through eight UFC fights with just one loss. Yet, here he is, still not really within striking range (no pun intended) of a title opportunity. Perhaps he can inch ever closer with a win over Oliveira, who is 14-0 and 2-0 in his young UFC career. Oliveira’s claim to fame is helping to trigger the ridiculous release of Efrain Escudero after impressively tapping out the former TUF champ in their September bout.
Many expect that Miller will be in trouble both on the mat and on his feet in this fight, but I beg to differ. Miller outstruck Duane “Bang” Ludwig in their bout, and will not be particularly intimidated by anything that Oliveira will throw at him. On the mat, sure, Miller had better be careful. But let’s not forget that it will be Miller’s choice whether or not to take the fight to that location in the first place.
Miller, for all his talents, is not a particularly adept finisher, so he has to fight a really good, solid fight in order to take this one in the eyes of the judges, especially with decisions being so unpredictable lately. Meanwhile, Oliveira will be the one to threaten with finishes throughout the fight, so Miller must stay on his toes.
I think Miller will be able to keep the pressure on Oliveira without doing anything stupid. Oliveira will have his moments, but Miller is a quality lightweight who belongs in the upper echelon of the division, and I think he’ll prove that tonight.
Prediction: Miller by decision
Joe Stevenson vs. Mac Danzig
This may be the most underappreciated battle of “The Ultimate Fighter” winners ever, and there’s a good enough reason for that. Both of these fighters have not exactly set the world on fire since winning the show. Danzig is likely fighting for his job at this point, as he’s lost four out of his last five fights and is just 3-4 in his entire UFC career. Meanwhile, Stevenson has turned things around a bit, winning two out of three, but is still 3-4 in his last seven fights in the UFC.
The thing is, they are both quality fighters, but suffer from some issues that just continue to keep them from ascending to the top of the packed lightweight division. To an extent, both are “jack of all trades, masters of none”, though Stevenson does have some solid jiu-jitsu skills that allow him to finish fights from time to time. But when facing the elite wrestlers in the class, they can both be controlled. When facing elite grapplers, they can be submitted. Against elite strikers, they get outpointed. You get the idea. In the 155 pound division, you have to have a talent that stands out and gives you an advantage.
I think that Danzig may be slightly better technically in the standup, but Stevenson will be pushing the pace and won’t allow Danzig to fight on his own terms. Danzig is not that hyper-aggressive type of fighter that is going to set the pace and wear down opponents the way that Diego Sanchez, Clay Guida or Stevenson do. That will be what hurts him the most, as Stevenson will land takedowns, a few timely combinations, and frustrate Danzig on his way to a controlling decision victory.
Prediction: Stevenson by decision
Thiago Alves vs. John Howard
This has definite Fight of the Night potential, as these two will not enter the cage hoping to eke out a decision or do anything that doesn’t involve vacating the other one from consciousness.
Though they both have a nice highlight reel showing off explosiveness and concussive power, their styles are really pretty different. Howard will look to close the distance, blend takedowns with ground and pound, and even land some hard shots from inside with his dirty boxing. Meanwhile, Alves hits as hard as any welterweight, but likes to use leg kicks to dismantle his opponents and goad them into dangerous exchanges.
There won’t be much relief for Howard if he is unable to make headway standing up, because Alves has very good takedown defense, particularly when he can see that a takedown is coming. If Howard is just going to shoot as a “last resort” after being stunned, it won’t be very effective.
The one question here for Alves has to do with the weight cut. Sure, Alves made 171 pounds for this fight, but how much is cutting all this weight taking out of him? Will he look lethargic, like in the second Jon Fitch fight? If so, Howard is the wrong opponent to take a night off against. However, I think Alves has- at least for the moment- addressed the weight cutting issues and will be back to his old ways here. He will need to either lose some muscle mass or go to 185 pounds in the long run, though.
Prediction: Alves by KO/TKO
Stefan Struve vs. Sean McCorkle
This is a fight that I wasn’t terribly excited about from the outset, and while that hasn’t changed a whole lot, McCorkle’s colorful brand of trash talk has livened up the proceedings a bit and made the fight a little more interesting, as a result.
Struve, of course, is a tall, though not exactly lanky fighter who has bulked up over his last few fights, weighing in at 253 pounds for this bout. He generally gives up strength against opponents due to his height and has not learned to use his reach advantage as well as one would hope just yet, but hasn’t really struggled with bigger, stronger opponents in the past.
Now, better opponents? That’s a different matter, as Struve looked pretty bad against both Roy Nelson and Junior dos Santos. Does McCorkle have what it takes to join that pretty talented duo? We’ll have to see, but I know that he’s going to try to get in and muscle Struve around. Even in a fight that he won against Christian Morecraft, Struve flirted with disaster and ate some big shots from beneath his opponent before turning things around. He can’t afford to let McCorkle muscle him to the mat and land unanswered shots while looking for an opening for a submission. However, I think that’s just what will happen.
Prediction: McCorkle by KO/TKO
Georges St. Pierre vs. Josh Koscheck
First of all, let me say that judging this fight solely on their 2007 bout is a big mistake. Even Greg Jackson says that he thought they “caught Koscheck sleeping” during that one, which Koscheck has also alluded to in the past, saying that at that point in his career he had pretty much stopped training wrestling in favor of working on his standup.
Well, it backfired, as St. Pierre had been using his wrestling to dominate the division, and Koscheck’s skills were to rusty to compare during their three round fight. Now, Koscheck is starting to embrace what got him to the UFC in the first place, and will likely be looking to out-grapple St. Pierre tonight.
Actually, he’s looking to out-everything GSP, as Kos believes that he is better both in the striking and wrestling departments than the champ. I think Kos is most wrong when it comes to striking. St. Pierre has used his ground game so much in recent years that people forget what a dynamic striker he is. He will be able to pick Koscheck apart with counters and kicks as well as good punching combinations, while Kos will play right into that by looking for that big right hand.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Koscheck takes a round or two. I wouldn’t even be completely shocked if Koscheck won. Who, outside of Jon Fitch, has a better skill set to challenge GSP? You absolutely have to be able to stop St. Pierre’s tremendous takedown attempts, as well as land some of your own, to have a chance. Furthermore, though St. Pierre is the better striker, Koscheck does have game-changing power that can put any opponent down if given the chance.
St. Pierre is just better in all of the little areas. His takedowns are partially so hard to avoid because he mixes them so well with his striking combinations. Meanwhile, he’s hard to hit with a meaningful strike, he has great cardio, and he is capable of sticking doggedly to his game plan, which may not always lead to Fight of the Night awards, but does allow him to continue winning. Koscheck is more likely to get drawn into bad exchanges, he fights more emotionally, and has had trouble in the past as a result. Plus, he’s done the seemingly-impossible and pissed St. Pierre off. That’s not a good thing.
St. Pierre will look to break Koscheck’s spirit in the first couple of rounds by nullifying him and controlling him, then look to break the rest of him in the last half of the fight. I think he’ll succeed.
Prediction: St. Pierre by KO/TKO