It’s hard to believe, but this weekend will bring the fourth UFC event so far to network television, as Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Brandon Vera headline the UFC on Fox 4. Actually, the hard thing to believe is that Brandon fucking Vera is headlining an MMA show on network television. “The Truth” is sometimes stranger than fiction, indeed.
Hey, I’m not trying to be a “hater” (which by now is defined as, “anyone who says anything negative AT ALL”), but Vera, even with his wealth of talent and ability, is 1-3 in his last four fights. Sorry, 1-2 (1 no-contest) if you pretend, like the NSAC has, that the Thiago Silva ass-whooping never happened. His last appearance was a win ten months ago against Eliot Marshall. Not exactly “one win away from a title shot” territory, nor would you expect it to mean he’s ready to main event a Fox show.
Here we are though, and no matter what, someone who has already been beaten by Jon Jones will earn a title shot tomorrow night. Who will it be? Well, we don’t freaking now yet, smart guy, but you can read my well-researched (but ultimately inaccurate) guesses here.
DaMarques Johnson vs. Mike Swick
Remember Mike Swick? Was on The Ultimate Fighter, finished some guys pretty quickly, dropped a weight class and began competing as a skeleton with some skin stretched around its bones, and was once a win away from a title shot?
Yeah, that guy! Well, he’s back. How long’s it been? Why, just two and a half years ago is all. Let’s just say that the last time Swick fought, the UFC champs included Brock Lesnar, Lyoto Machida, and BJ Penn. The WEC hadn’t even merged with the UFC yet, so there were no featherweight or bantamweight divisions to speak of. Fedor Emelianenko had still never had a legitimate loss in his career, and Chuck Liddell wasn’t retired yet.
Okay, you get it, it was a while ago. What am I supposed to tell you about the Mike Swick of August, 2012? How the hell am I supposed to know whether his skills have held up, how he’ll look physically, or what he’s improved (between injuries, of course) in the course of the last 30 months?
It just means that predicting this fight is even more guesswork-intensive than picking any other fight. Barely-organized, unpredictable chaos complete with a fighter who has been out of action for a quarter of a decade? Let’s give it a shot!
While Swick and Johnson are both capable strikers, I’ll take Swick’s power over Johnson’s. In terms of grappling, both are savvy enough, though I again give the edge in pure technique to Swick, who also has the bonus of sneaky submissions when the option to snatch a choke or a limb presents itself.
The most damning aspect of this fight for Johnson, though, is his propensity to simply under-perform at the worst possible moments. While none of his specific skills overwhelm you, he’s always had the talent to be a good fighter. Still, he’s never put together the kind of runs that Swick has. Sure, Swick has shrunk under the limelight of a title opportunity against Dan Hardy, but there’s no title shot here and Johnson is not Hardy. Unless Swick is truly a shadow of his former self, he wins this one.
Prediction: Swick by submission
Joe Lauzon vs. Jamie Varner
These two are trending in opposite directions, as Lauzon was close to title contention until he ran into a head kick from Anthony Pettis, while Varner was on the outside looking in of the WEC invasion at 155 pounds until he crazily took a fight with Edson Barboza on late notice…and somehow won.
Now, people are wondering whether Lauzon was a flash in the pan, while Varner is getting hype as someone who could make a dent in the deep lightweight division. Hey, they could be right. However, I give Lauzon more credit than that.
These guys are both finishers, but Varner takes a lot of chances in the pursuit of finishes that a guy like Lauzon can exploit. Lauzon has a very active and creative submission game that can take advantage of the ambitious ground-and-pound of a wrestler like Varner, and while both have decent power, I like the polish in Lauzon’s striking game better.
The question here for me mainly comes down to cardio. Can Lauzon capitalize or make something happen before he fades late in the fight? As a bonus question, can Varner overcome his temptation to keep his improbable run going strong by taking a measured approach to the fight in the early goings while he waits for Lauzon to tire?
I’ll go out on a bit of a limb here and give Lauzon the benefit of the doubt, and call for a submission off of a Varner mistake in the early parts of the fight.
Prediction: Lauzon by submission
Ryan Bader vs. Lyoto Machida
This is a much more compelling fight than the main event, and should be the main event, really. I even think Machida has a better claim to a title shot than the two in the main event, as he actually won a round from Jones when they fought the first time.
Bader will unquestionably be working hard for the takedown here. Make no mistake about it- while Bader has power in his hands (particularly his right), he will barely be able to land if he stands with Machida. I would assume that his strategy will largely be based off of striking not to do damage, but to purely set up takedown attempts.
Simply put, if he doesn’t put Machida on the mat, he loses. He may try to outwork Machida, buoyed by the fact that fighters have been winning decisions lately based upon throwing more strikes and moving forward, regardless of how many strikes they actually land (or eat from their opponents) in the process.
Machida’s mystique may have worn off now that we’ve seen him rendered unconscious twice, but he’s still got perhaps the best footwork in the entire light heavyweight division. He will not be cornered by Bader, and his quick strikes- which do not require that he “sit down” on them- do not leave huge gaping holes that can be exploited via takedowns. I see him out-pointing Bader in frustrating fashion (for Bader, hopefully not for the fans) tomorrow night.
Prediction: Machida by decision
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Brandon Vera
This is a simple pick at first glance, and while there’s no hidden reality that is going to make me favor Vera, there are some asterisks involved. While Vera has frequently had mental lapses and even occasionally looked like he didn’t even want to be in the cage fighting in some of his past appearances, Shogun has not looked to me to be the undeniable, explosive force that he was in Pride during his UFC tenure.
Still, Shogun is a very talented striker with decent wrestling and good jiu-jitsu, nonetheless. The thing is that he does not move with the quickness he used to have, and he sometimes seems to tire quickly. Then again, he sometimes has five round battles where he looks relatively good all the way through, so he’s a bit of an unknown commodity from fight to fight in that respect.
With this being a five-round fight, it does give Vera a window of opportunity if Shogun gasses and if Vera is in great shape, but that’s a lot of “ifs”. Furthermore, Shogun is more often on point in terms of cardio these days, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt there.
Most importantly, though, Shogun is just plain better in every area. Vera’s striking is fairly similar to Shogun’s, with his emphasis on leg kicks and muay Thai techniques. However, Shogun has more power and works to his strengths better, while Vera will occasionally forget what he’s good at and let his opponent dictate the fight.
Shogun will simply outclass Vera, whose window has likely closed, as he was never able to build upon and capitalize on the talent he showed as a young heavyweight years ago. Vera is still a UFC-caliber fighter, but he’s not on Shogun’s level and it will show this weekend.
Prediction: Shogun by KO/TKO