It’s hard to believe that this Saturday will bring the 25th UFC Fight Night event on Spike TV. While the quality of the cards along the way has varied, a wise philosopher once said, “don’t complain about free MMA”. Of course, the same wise philosopher (ahem) also picked Daniel Cormier and King Mo Lawal to lose, but we don’t want to dwell on that, do we? On with the picks!
Alan Belcher vs. Jason MacDonald
Alan Belcher and (most importantly) his Johnny Cash tattoo will make their triumphant return this Saturday after what has become 16 months away from the Octagon. During that time, Belcher’s career was considered to be in doubt and Belcher went through multiple eye surgeries before being cleared to begin training again and return to MMA.
His opponent is no spring chicken, as he’ll face the 36-year old Jason MacDonald. The grizzled redhead has himself only fought once since May of 2010 (an April, 2011 submission win over Ryan Jensen), due to a horrific injury that resulted in a broken tibia and fibula. Therefore, we may as well cast aside concerns of ring rust for Belcher, as he and MacDonald will be fighting on a fairly level playing field in that respect.
Both fighters have extremely clear paths to victory: Belcher must bludgeon MacDonald with strikes, while MacDonald must submit Belcher somehow. Making MacDonald’s task more difficult will be the thudding leg kicks of Belcher, which will serve to create distance (as long as he doesn’t throw them without a set-up, in which case MacDonald could use a low kick as a takedown opportunity) and limit MacDonald’s mobility as the fight goes on.
While Belcher is one of the hardest kickers in the middleweight division, he’s a great all-around striker with good enough cardio, as well. MacDonald has to commit to coming all the way inside rather than chasing Belcher around the cage and looking for the perfect opportunity. If he can lean on Belcher or wear him down with some clinch work, his task will be easier. Still, I think Belcher will fight a smart fight, maintain his distance and avoid the mat (and thus, any chance of a submission loss) en route to victory.
Prediction: Belcher by KO/TKO
Jonathan Brookins vs. Erik Koch
Brookins makes his first appearance since winning “The Ultimate Fighter” last December against Koch, who boasts an eerily similar record (12-1 to Brookins’ 12-3) earned through extremely different means.
While Brookins is still very much attached to his wrestling base, Koch is a powerful and sometimes unpredictable striker that hasn’t lost since Chad Mendes defeated him by decision in the WEC. Brookins may not have the striking that Koch has, but he may well be able to take Koch down and frustrate him if he has the right game plan.
Koch has shown some ability to submit opponents in the past, but Brookins is not an easy foe to submit. He tends to be cautious enough on the mat that he doesn’t get himself in too much trouble, and Koch may just work on standing back up if he is taken down rather than look for a submission. If Brookins can avoid getting clipped in what will be a dangerous first round, I think he can squeak out a decision in a hard-fought battle where he wears down and controls Koch.
Prediction: Brookins by decision
Court McGee vs. Dongi Yang
The Battle on the Bayou continues with another TUF winner, Court McGee, entering the cage to face the aggressive Dongi Yang.
Yang is a competent striker with sufficient power, and is also an opportunistic grappler who will snatch a takedown or submission when a good chance to do so arises. He prefers ground and pound, however, and tends to maintain a consistent pace and level of aggression throughout the early minutes of a fight, though his cardio is a question mark.
McGee is more of a grappler, but has no doubt been further honing his striking in the eleven months since his impressive submission win over Ryan Jensen at UFC 121. I actually don’t think extremely highly of Yang’s striking, as lacks crispness after the opening minutes of his fights and he doesn’t mix up his strikes into various combinations very well. For this reason, I think McGee should be able to stay out of trouble while countering and eventually looking to force the fight into a phone booth.
McGee should be stronger and is going to be the better wrestler of the two. McGee uses his hips well in the clinch to avoid takedowns and utilize a number of throws, trips and takedowns. From there, his submission game is good from the top, and he’s more than happy to ground and pound opponents, as well. I think he has more than enough to weather a possible early storm from Yang, and then things could get ugly in the second and third stanzas as Yang peters out, allowing an eventual stoppage in for McGee.
Prediction: McGee by KO/TKO
Jake Ellenberger vs. Jake Shields
This is a very dangerous fight for Shields, who comes off of his loss to UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre hoping to bounce back and stay in the title picture. Ellenberger presents a serious challenge and at first glance, may appear to be better in most areas than Shields is.
Ellenberger is a better striker than Shields in terms of technique, footwork, head movement and power. He throws good combinations and can use them to set up his takedowns, too. However, while Shields used to have some of the more awkward-looking standup in the game, he has improved measurably in the last year or two. This is true even though Shields was unable to consistently get to GSP in their fight, which mostly consisted of kickboxing.
I don’t necessarily think that Shields will be able to take Ellenberger down right away, though his plan should be to try to do so. If not, though, he will accomplish the feat when Ellenberger starts trying to commit himself to his striking. Shields is very good at getting takedowns when his opponent plants and throws punches, and even if Ellenberger gets the takedown, Shields’ jiu-jitsu and ability to sweep opponents should ensure that Ellenberger can’t just score points from the top position.
The biggest worry I have here, besides that of Shields getting clipped, is his cardio. He will need to finish strong in what should be a highly competitive fight to win. I don’t see either guy finishing the other, although the finish I would most likely see would be a Shields submission. Ellenberger may be better in many areas than Shields, but Shields is greater than the sum of his parts and won 15 fights in a row for a reason. He will stay composed and fight his way to a win here.
Prediction: Shields by decision