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UFC 164 Preview

By on August 30, 2013

ben hendersonThree current or former UFC champions are in action on Saturday night, along with a former WEC champion to boot, as Milwaukee, Wisconsin hosts UFC 164: Henderson vs. Pettis. The main event has taken the lion’s share of the attention here, and for good reason- it’s a rematch of a fantastic fight from a few years back that has been a long time coming. However, the main card has some other intriguing bouts to look forward to, and I’ll preview all five of them here.

Erik Koch vs. Dustin Poirier

Koch comes from just down the road from me in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and what seems like a million years ago was slated for a featherweight title fight against Jose Aldo. That opportunity was lost due to injury and his only fight in the last 23 months was a TKO loss to Ricardo Lamas, whose own star is shining pretty brightly these days.

Poirier is in a similar spot after his 4-0 UFC bubble was burst first by a submission loss to Chan Sung Jung, then in a decision loss to Cub Swanson in a fight that really took the wind out of his sails. He needs this even more badly than Koch does, having lost two out of three in a time when the UFC is cutting fighters for left and right for doing just that.

Poirier is the slightly longer fighter, but he’ll be looking to close the distance rather than keep Koch at bay. I actually think that Koch’s takedown defense will be up to the task for most of the fight, but Poirier will use a strength advantage while clinching with Koch to wear him down and control the fight in the eyes of the judges. Add a moment or two here the power of Poirier puts Koch in trouble, and it’ll be enough to get Poirier the decision.

Prediction: Poirier by decision

Ben Rothwell vs. Brandon Vera

Remember February of 2006? Back then, Vera was a 28-year old prospect who had destroyed a couple of serviceable UFC veterans in Fabiano Scherner and Justin Eilers. He was in the midst of what would be a four-fight winning streak capped by a TKO win over Frank Mir, and he boldly proclaimed that he would win both the UFC Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight Championships.

Fast forward to today and Vera is nearly 36 years old and has accomplished neither of his (admittedly lofty) goals. In fact, he has lost four out of five fights, although the Nevada State Athletic Commission wants us to pretend that one of those losses didn’t happen because Thiago Silva failed his drug test. Given, he has been losing to pretty talented cats (Randy Couture, Jon Jones, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua), but at this point, Vera was supposed to be beating those kinds of guys, not subsisting off the occasional win against Eliot Marshall types.

Here we are, though, and a fighter whose career has been defined by unfulfilled potential goes against a fighter who is known for making the most of his own abilities in Ben Rothwell. A former IFL standout, Rothwell has alternated wins and losses in his UFC career, beating Gilbert Yvel and Brendan Schaub while dropping fights to Cain Velasquez, Mark Hunt, and Gabriel Gonzaga. Again, pretty good competition, and as with Vera, we see that he largely beats the fighters he should, but doesn’t step up against top-notch competition like you’d hope he would.

Vera’s talent has never been questioned. He can certainly outstrike Rothwell and use his foot movement to keep the big man off of him. But I fear that his conditioning will let him down, as Rothwell has certainly been working hard to prepare for a huge fight in his home state that he absolutely has to win to avoid the chopping block. Rothwell won’t make this a pretty fight, but he’ll pressure Vera and be more active throughout, with his sturdy chin keeping him out of trouble during key exchanges en route to a late TKO win.

Prediction: Rothwell by TKO

Clay Guida vs Chad Mendes

It’s become increasingly cool to dislike both wrestlers and wrestling because in truth, a good many successful college wrestlers come into the sport and are pushed into high-profile positions before they’ve evolved into well-rounded fighters. What results are often rather dull, uneventful fights due to the limited skill sets of former wrestlers who are great athletes, but not yet great fighters.

What’s lost in all of this criticism is how fun it is to watch when someone like Chad Mendes successfully learns the other aspects of the sport and you see the improvement happening before your eyes. After a 6-0 start to his WEC/UFC career that included only one fight that didn’t go the distance, Mendes has knocked three straight opponents cold since losing to Jose Aldo at UFC 142. Mendes used the loss to fuel him in his quest to become a better fighter, and it’s been great to see.

Meanwhile, Clay Guida was once one of the sport’s most popular fighters, despite a small (but vocal) population of fans who insisted that Guida was akin to a con man, clinching with opponents to avoid fighting rather than to actually win fights. That minority became much larger after Guida’s barely-watchable loss to Gray Maynard at UFC on FX 4, where Guida looked intent upon avoiding any actual contact with Maynard for most of the five rounds. A split decision win against Hatsu Hioki in his featherweight debut didn’t exactly change many minds, either.

Here, I don’t know what Guida can do. He’s not going to out-wrestle Mendes. He certainly doesn’t want to strike with him, as Mendes’ tremendously accurate boxing has unquestionably gotten better with the addition of Duane “Bang” Ludwig to Team Alpha Male’s coaching staff. I hate to say it, but all signs point to Guida doing much of what he did against Maynard in their snooze-fest. He’ll keep his distance, pick his shots, and hope to eke out a decision. It won’t work, but I think the fight will go all three rounds, nonetheless.

Prediction: Mendes by decision

Josh Barnett vs. Frank Mir

Let’s talk about Frank Mir. He debuted in the UFC in 2001 at UFC 34 and has been fighting professionally for 12 years, but has managed just 23 fights in all of that time due to injuries and various setbacks. He has also floated around in the top ten the last several years, despite only going 6-4 since 2008.

Still, Mir’s career seems a successful one. A remember watching him end a 20-month layoff with a terrible performance against Marcio Cruz and thinking that he would never be the same again after the motorcycle accident that cost him his UFC title. However, he has managed to beat some pretty good fighters in the last several years, including Brock Lesnar, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (twice), Cheick Kongo, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, and Roy Nelson. For better or worse, we know who Frank Mir is and what he can (and cannot) do.

Barnett is another case entirely. Since his last UFC appearance in 2002, he has fought under 10 different promotional banners, and outside of his recent run in Strikeforce and his Pride days, hasn’t been facing the best competition. The fact that he couldn’t beat Daniel Cormier, who is talented, sure, but has nowhere near the experience that Barnett has in MMA, showed that Barnett’s ceiling at this point in his career may not be much higher than Mir’s.

In this one, Mir may actually have the advantage while standing. Though he certainly doesn’t have the quickness he once bragged about in his younger days, he has fairly accurate strikes and throws some decent combinations, too. He packs a little power, though he’s more likely to hurt you with a succession of shots than a single punch. Barnett, though not aesthetically pleasing to watch while striking, is a competent stand-up fighter and can usually avoid trouble, especially against less dynamic strikers, such as Mir.

Where this fight gets interesting is when it comes to grappling. Mir has experimented with putting on weight in the past, but it wasn’t good weight and he seemed to learn his lesson. Barnett will be bigger, but will he be stronger? Furthermore, will Mir be able to stop takedowns from Barnett, should “The Warmaster” decide to pursue a ground battle?

Once on the mat, how will Barnett’s catch wrestling match up with Mir’s aggressive style of jiu-jitsu? One thing that could come into play is that Mir is often too willing to give up position in order to chase an unlikely submission. He also hangs out in bad positions for too long before realizing that he’s taking too much punishment and needs to improve his position. I don’t think any of these factors lead directly to Mir’s demise, but I do think that Barnett will take advantage of them, along with better cardio than Mir, and win a decision.

Prediction: Barnett by decision

UFC Lightweight Championship
Ben Henderson vs. Anthony Pettis

Somehow, Ben Henderson has become labeled as a “boring” fighter, because if you don’t finish enough opponents, your fights are “boring”, even if they actually aren’t. So, fans who apparently never saw Mir-Cro Cop (or hell, Gonzaga-Jordan) have decided Henderson is boring and too much like Georges St. Pierre, despite that nearly limitless list of differences in their fighting styles, approaches, and skill sets.

Whatever. Henderson has never been a boring fighter, and if you think he’s not actively pursuing finishes in his fights, you simply don’t know what you’re talking about. Calling a guy who was in a masterpiece like the first bout between these two “boring” is practically blasphemous, and I expect that the rematch will reinforce my point nicely.

The first time these two fought one another, Henderson looked frustrated at times by Pettis’ dynamic techniques. While Henderson has become adept at kicking the legs of opponents, Pettis has the timing and skill to counter those kicks with punches, as he did the first time around. He was also more of a threat on the mat than Henderson, making Henderson work when he would manage to take him down.

Henderson is stronger than Pettis and in the clinch, will get takedowns to go his way, but Pettis is very dangerous off of his back and can stand back up or challenge Henderson with a submission very quickly. Of course, Henderson may be the hardest fighter in all of MMA to submit, but Pettis can still win some favor with the judges by controlling the fight from the bottom when it does hit the mat.

While standing, Pettis will look to be more active than Henderson, as he was the first time around. Henderson has to improve his awareness of where he is from their first matchup, because getting his back to the cage is what allowed the Showtime Kick to land. It also takes away the threat of the takedown to a large degree, leaving Pettis to ply his trade with flashy techniques.

This has all the makings of a classic, with two fighters who are very hard to finish, have tons of gas in the tank, and match up extremely well slotted to go five rounds in the Octagon with the UFC Lightweight Championship on the line. There’s one thing that worries me: the possibility that Pettis took this fight too soon after his recent knee injury and wasn’t able to train as hard as he would have liked. Other than that, I have no problems predicting that Pettis wins this one like he did the last time, even though Henderson has undoubtedly improved since then.

Prediction: Pettis by decision

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