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UFC 169 Preview

By on January 31, 2014

renan baraoAlthough this card took a definite hit when former UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz’s injury woes continued and he had to pull out of his unification bout with Renan Barao (and officially drop his title in the process), it’s still a really good card bolstered by two title fights. Multiple time title contender and former WEC champion Urijah Faber steps in to fight Barao for the second time, while Jose Aldo defends his UFC Featherweight Championship against surging contender Ricardo Lamas.

Abel Trujillo vs. Jamie Varner

Trujillo was originally slated to face Bobby Green, and Varner is pretty much a lateral move both in terms of challenge for Trujillo and entertainment value for the fans. Varner is a good all-around fighter who has made a nice career for himself in the UFC after being fourth banana in the WEC’s lightweight division to standouts Anthony Pettis, Benson Henderson, and Donald Cerrone.

Varner is a solid wrestler and decent striker, and may look to take this one down, since Trujillo is not much when it comes to creating offense off of his back. Trujillo is also pretty dangerous standing up, and can land a takedown or two himself depending on how the fight goes. This one should be close, but I think Trujillo has more power and will be aggressive enough to see it through.

Prediction: Trujillo by KO/TKO

Ali Bagautinov vs. John Lineker

These two sport an impressive combined 6-1 record in the UFC, with Lineker having four of those six wins under his name. He hasn’t lost since his first UFC fight and has won three in a row by KO/TKO. His biggest issue in the Octagon has been making weight, as he has missed a few times already to make the grueling 125-pound limit. He did make it without issue this time, although you wonder whether this is the right weight class for him. Perhaps it is, and he just hadn’t nailed down the right weight cutting process until now.

Bagautinov has sound grappling and is a more precise striker than the wilder Lineker, preferring straighter punches to Lineker’s wider shots. He may be able to beat Lineker to the punch as a result. Both vary their strikes well, with Lineker working to the body as well as the head and Bagautinov mixing in kicks and knees effectively.

Neither guy has outstanding cardio, so that could be a factor here. Ultimately, I’ll take Lineker in a fight that could be pretty entertaining, but where he’ll wobble Bagautinov once or twice in order to get the nod despite not landing the volume of strikes the Russian does.

Prediction: Lineker by decision

Frank Mir vs. Alistair Overeem

I’ve been having a hard time finding confidence in Mir for the last few years, as he seems to have worn down and become much more susceptible to knockouts as his career has started to come to a close. Most problematic is the fact that he doesn’t seem to have the speed that helped set him apart from bigger heavyweights years ago. He has looked downright lethargic even in victory, with his forgettable (until the finish) win over Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic coming to mind. When he beat Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira with a kimura, he was also rocked just before the final sequence, let’s not forget.

Overeem hasn’t been great either. In fact, he’s been a complete disappointment in the UFC, going 1-2 with losses to Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Travis Browne, two men he was highly favored against. Both times, he looked a little too comfortable before his gas tank and/or complacency got the best of him. Against Browne, he was front kicked in the face in embarassing fashion, especially for a former K-1 standout and World Grand Prix champion.

Mir has to survive early on and let Overeem wear himself down. It’s easier said than done, because Mir’s striking has largely failed to evolve. Sure, he has some power, but so does Overeem, and Overeem has much better technique and throws combinations that will dwarf Mir’s own efforts. Furthermore, Mir’s lack of wrestling has become a problem in recent years, as he’s unable to get his fights to the ground with any kind of regularity. Overeem’s strength and solid base will continue that trend.

Mir will fight hard and has earned his place in UFC history, but in a fight which feels a lot like a “loser leaves town” pro wrestling match, Overeem will land some nasty strikes before the midway point- maybe in the clinch, where Mir is too content to hang out and take punishment against bigger fighters- and win the fight.

Prediction: Overeem by KO/TKO

UFC Featherweight Championship
Jose Aldo vs. Ricardo Lamas

Lamas has really burst onto the scene, compiling a 4-0 UFC record while largely missing out on the fanfare that should usually come with four quality wins. His last three wins (Cub Swanson, Hatsu Hioki, Erik Koch) have come against other fighters who are- or were– entrenched in the title picture, so he’s earned this opportunity.

Lamas brings an all-around game with good wrestling and capable, if not exactly dynamic, standup. However, he’ll face someone who now has a legitimate claim to being the most dominant champion in the organization, with Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva no longer holding their titles. Sure, Jon Jones is probably the better choice, but with seven straight successful title defenses under the Zuffa banner, Aldo’s certainly in the conversation.

The problem is that occasionally, Aldo will put on a bit of a stinker. Against Mark Hominick and Frankie Edgar, he clearly won, but still looked less than superhuman while doing it. He seems to lose a bit of his spring in the later rounds, which is not good for a guy who has gone into the championship rounds in four of his last five fights.

However the biggest problem belongs to Lamas, and it’s that he simply doesn’t have the skill set to give Aldo a good run. He’s a competent wrestler, but Aldo’s faced better, and his opportunistic submission game won’t help him against someone the caliber of Aldo, especially since he’ll be unlikely to really get the fight to the mat in the first place. Aldo will end up picking him apart by the middle of the fight with far superior striking.

Prediction: Aldo by KO/TKO

UFC Bantamweight Championship
Renan Barao vs. Urijah Faber

Faber has had four title shots in the last five years under the WEC and UFC banners, and lost them all. Of course, those four fights are his only losses during that time, which shows how good of a fighter Faber still is, as if his recent win over Michael McDonald didn’t hammer that point home.

Faber is on quite a surge, having won four in a row since losing to Barao at UFC 149 when they clashed for the then-interim title. In that fight, Barao was too long for Faber, who had a hard time finding his range and resorted to rushing in with strikes which would miss more often than land while eating measured counter-strikes for his efforts. He was also unsuccessful on all of the takedown attempts that he sprinkled throughout the fight. He made it to the final bell, but he clearly lost, just the same.

I wonder what kind of strategy he’ll have for the rematch. Barao will likely stick with a cautious approach, especially if Faber plays right into his hands by getting twitchy and deciding to rush in. I would like to see Faber sit back and make Barao come to him and see what happens, but Faber is too aggressive for that. So we may end up with a fight much like the last one, where Barao is content to just land the better shots whenever Faber rushes in, while picking a few spots to get aggressive himself with more dynamic attacks.

Ultimately, Faber will have a hard time doing what he does best by capitalizing on the wild moments of a fight with opportunistic submissions and takedowns, because Barao probably won’t open up enough himself. You never know, but the smart pick is Barao.

Prediction: Barao by decision

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