I’m sure there’s a joke to be made about deja vu, but we’re all bored of it by now: yet another UFC Lightweight Title rematch is going down tonight. I kind of get the first two; BJ Penn was a dominant champion and the original fight with Frankie Edgar wasn’t exactly clear-cut, while a draw pretty much necessitates a rematch.
But this one? Sorry, but why are we watching this again? Ben Henderson and Edgar are good fighters and are fun to watch, but why is Edgar being granted an immediate rematch when none is really needed? Why couldn’t he be fighting Nate Diaz right now for the next title shot, with Henderson facing Anthony Pettis in a rematch of their own spectacular WEC title fight?
Anyway, it’s too late to worry about it now. Let’s enjoy this for what it is and just think, if Edgar wins a razor-thin decision tonight, we could be in for Henderson-Edgar III!
Given that we’re at the day of the fight, here are my slightly brief picks:
Max Holloway vs. Justin Lawrence
Lawrence is still undefeated as a pro, even though millions saw him defeated by Mike Chiesa on The Ultimate Fighter. He brings karate-style standup against Holloway, who has a good boxing game and looks to work the body, which I always enjoy seeing.
Lawrence has fought against better competition at this point, and looked better while doing so, and though you have to wonder whether Holloway can exploit some holes in Lawrence’s game by working in close and pounding away with body shots, that will be easier said than done.
I think that Lawrence’s movement and use of rangy kicks and straight punches will keep Holloway at bay for most of the fight. Furthermore, while neither man stands out by way of his grappling acumen, Lawrence likely has the advantage there, too. Should be a great fight, and a fairly competitive one.
Prediction: Lawrence by decision
Yushin Okami vs. Buddy Roberts
Okami has lost two straight now, with his last loss coming in devastating fashion to Tim Boetsch in a fight that Okami was clearly winning. He was slated to fight Rousimar Palhares in what I think would have been a great stylistic matchup, but one of the many recent injuries that we’ve seen affect UFC cards led to the relatively-unheralded Roberts stepping in.
Roberts showed some good tools against Caio Magalhaes at UFC on FX 3, but it’s hard to expect that his takedown defense from that fight will extend to this bout, considering Okami is much more adept at taking down foes than Magalhaes. Okami is a strong, relentless middleweight that will drain opponents more often than not.
The question here is whether the loss to Boetsch will affect Okami’s mindset (or even the loss to Anderson Silva, which was also devastating). A too-cautious approach can often spell even more danger in MMA, particularly against someone like Roberts, who needs you to give him some room to operate. Still, I’ve got Okami here in a one-sided decision.
Prediction: Okami by decision
Ed Herman vs. Jake Shields
I know Herman has won a few fights in a row, but I’m not a big fan of this fight and think there’s a very small likelihood of Herman winning. The two are similar in some respects (limited standup, a grappling-centric approach) but different in others (Herman prefers ground-and-pound, while Shields prefers technique, control, and submissions). The thing is that Shields is better everywhere.
The standup portion of the bout is where anything can happen, as is usually the case with MMA fights. Neither man packs scary power (they are more capable of showing scary-looking technique), but hey, you never know!
Once this hits the mat, you are looking right at a methodical, controlling grindfest. Herman is strong, but Shields is physically capable as well and should be able to plant him on the mat and keep him there without much problem. Shields’ great jiu-jitsu ensures that we won’t see any ugly surprises once the fight hits the mat, and I think he’ll get a submission at some point in the fight, probably in the later rounds.
Prediction: Shields by submission
Donald Cerrone vs. Melvin Guillard
This is in many ways, the most exciting fight on the card. Less may seem to be at stake than with the title fight, but is that really true? A loss for either man means a lengthy exile from the title picture, with the division being so top-heavy and both men having sustained fairly recent losses.
Casual fans will likely just see this as a standup war, and while both men do like to trade, their styles couldn’t be more different. Guillard moves around a lot more than Cerrone, who likes to settle down in front of his opponent and trade strikes. Meanwhile, Guillard likes to look for one or two punches at a time, while Cerrone will use a lot more kicks (especially leg kicks) and throw better combinations. Then, there’s the difference in power: while Cerrone can hurt opponents, Guillard’s power is really special at 155 pounds.
Another x-factor here is that Cerrone is considerably better on the mat than Guillard. Throwing a monkey wrench into any plans to exploit Guillard’s submission defense, though, is Guillard’s “ever-improving” (thanks, Mike Goldberg) wrestling. Guillard is very strong and can be difficult to take down except with extremely well-timed attempts. Still, if this fight goes to the mat, it is unquestionably not where Guillard wants to be, and Cerrone will certainly look for a submission.
This is really a pick-em, as are most fights where one fighter seems to be at a disadvantage, yet packs prodigious punching power. I’ll take Cerrone by late submission here.
Prediction: Cerrone by submission
UFC Lightweight Championship
Ben Henderson vs. Frankie Edgar
The last time these two fought, it was pretty damned close. Edgar’s side has been increasingly fond of pointing out that without the upkick that hurt Edgar in round two, it would have been a much different fight. Perhaps. However, if you take away the most damaging blow(s) that any fighter lands in any given fight, things would be much different. It’s kind of like saying “If Frank Trigg could have avoided being submitted by rear naked chokes, he could have beaten Matt Hughes,” or “Hey, if Uncle Pete could stay out of jail, hold a job, and stop getting drunk off PBR and beating his wife, he’d be a pretty good person.”
The upkick didn’t happen for no reason, or out of luck. It wasn’t some sort of random event, and you can’t simply “take it away” and look at what you have left. At least, not with any kind of intellectual honesty. The upkick is a symptom of the fact that Henderson thinks outside of the box, and that no matter what situation he is in, even on his back in a supposedly-vulnerable position, he attacks. He doesn’t let up.
There’s a difference between that mentality and one like Edgar’s, where he is simply always moving and doing something. Always moving is different than always attacking, and I think that’s where this fight may be decided.
Edgar got the better of a good number of exchanges last time, and was at his best when countering confidently and getting the hell out of the pocket immediately afterward. However, after watching Edgar make others fight at his own particular tempo and pace in the past, I was surprised to see how easily Henderson dragged Edgar into a fight. Look at Edgar-Maynard 2 and 3; Maynard succeeded early on in what looked to be either a brawl or a straight-up execution, and then proceeded to allow Edgar to move around, pick his shots, and recover. Henderson isn’t going to do so, and he has the gas tank to back himself up.
In a way, predicting the outcome here is an exercise in futility (kind of like predicting the outcome of ANY professional MMA bout), because you just know it’s going to be close. When a fight could very well come down to one or two rounds out of five, and when those rounds may well be decided by a timely takedown, a few extra strikes landed, or a well-placed upkick that seemingly comes out of nowhere, it’s hard to be terribly accurate.
With that unnecessary and somewhat cowardly disclaimer, here it is: I’ve got Henderson winning the rematch.
Prediction: Henderson by decision