The UFC knows how to build contenders. Look no further to Hatsu Hioki, who was offered a title shot at Jose Aldo, but showed rare honesty by declaring he wasn’t ready to take on the champ after just two fights in the Octagon. Guess where he is during tomorrow night’s UFC show on FX?
On the prelims.
This is a guy you want to have challenge for the title, right? On a pay-per-view card? Probably as the main event? Why in the hell would you–you know what? Screw it. On with the picks.
Ross Pearson vs. Cub Swanson
This fight promises solid entertainment value, if not a tremendous amount of immediate importance to the featherweight division. Pearson has made the successful transition to the lower weight after not being able to make sufficient progress at 155 pounds, and Swanson has been a mainstay for years, but has been delayed time and again by injuries and untimely losses alike.
The “Just Bleed” crowd may like this one, as will Dan Miragliotta, who abhors any action on the mat that doesn’t take place at the pace of a UFC Undisputed 3 video game matchup. Neither of these men should initially show all that much interest in taking the fight to the mat, as both will undoubtedly believe in their respective standup skills (as they should).
Swanson is certainly the more vicious striker, and likely the more powerful, as well. However, longtime readers will know that I tend to favor technically sound strikers over sluggers, unless the slugger in question is the benefactor of prodigious power. I don’t think Swanson fits that mold, though he will occasionally put away a tough cat like George Roop with strikes.
Therefore, I see Pearson really picking apart Swanson as the fight goes on, as long as he doesn’t get flustered or allow himself to be seduced by the dark side and start brawling with Cub. Pearson may even have the option of a takedown or two if he wants to really seal the deal in a close fight. He wins this one as the better all-around fighter.
Prediction: Pearson by decision
Brian Ebersole vs. TJ Waldburger
I don’t think the UFC knows quite what to do with Ebersole, a 31-year old journeyman with over 60 fights and a 3-0 UFC record. Expected to lose to Chris Lytle in his UFC debut, he instead won by decision. He then defeated a resurgent Dennis Hallman at UFC 133 in a fight that will be remembered as much for Hallman’s banana hammock (and accompanying in-fight wardrobe malfunction) as for Ebersole’s dominant performance. They threw him another 30+ year old veteran (Claude Patrick) in his next fight, and he won again.
The UFC seemed to throw up their hands and say, “I don’t know…TJ Waldburger, I guess?” If Ebersole beats the 24-year old Waldburger, then who knows what they’ll do. Too bad Dan Hardy is busy fighting Amir Sadollah. At this rate, Ebersole will be ready for a title shot right around his 40th birthday, after assembling a 30-0 UFC record against all the Ricardo Almeidas and TJ Grants that the UFC can toss his way.
Waldburger presents similar challenges to a few opponents Ebersole has faced, including the crafty submissions of Chris Lytle. It is the striking where Ebersole will have the biggest advantage, although I think he is the better wrestler and stronger fighter, as well. Really, Waldburger will be forced to take what Ebersole gives him, try to find a way to the mat, and look for a mistake. The problem is that Ebersole has not been making them of late.
Like many submission-first fighters, Waldburger tends to get in trouble on the bottom when he can’t exploit a weakness and crank a limb. Ebersole, if he chooses to bring the fight to the mat, will likely use effective ground and pound while avoiding Waldburger’s traps en route to victory.
Prediction: Ebersole by KO/TKO
Spencer Fisher vs. Sam Stout
Fisher, a longtime fan favorite and UFC mainstay, has carved out a nice career with plenty of exciting matchups and highlights to remember. Unfortunately, at 36 years old and having lost four of his last five bouts, he appears to be nearing the end of a distinguished career. One of his better rivals during his UFC time has been Sam Stout, who he has split two exciting bouts with, so it seems appropriate that they be matched up one more time in what logic indicates may be Fisher’s last UFC bout.
I criticize the UFC’s tendency to quickly issue pink slips to struggling fighters frequently, but I applaud them for giving a sturdy veteran who has provided the organization with plenty of great fights like Fisher a little leeway. You could even call this a favorable matchup for “The King”: Stout will not take Fisher down and employ the type of grinding style that gives him trouble. Furthermore, Fisher has mostly gotten the better of Stout in the past, winning the clearer of the two bouts while only dropping a split decision in their first encounter, which he took on late notice.
However, it’s been five years since their last encounter, and while Stout’s career has hardly taken off (he’s largely treaded water in the lightweight division, regularly winning two fights only to lose one), time is on his side as the much younger fighter here.
Technically, both are extremely sound, utilizing good movement, angles, and fundamentally solid striking techniques. Stout provides a more muay Thai-based approach, and will utilize kicks and other techniques to keep Fisher off balance. Meanwhile, Fisher has the heart of a brawler and will flaunt his power advantage during exchanges when possible. He may believe that he can walk through Stout’s strikes, and for the most part, he may be right.
The only question is whether Fisher’s days as a durable fighter are simply numbered or have already passed. He has still never been knocked out cleanly, but the wear and tear seems to be accumulating, and the types of strikes he used to shrug off seem to be having greater effect. Stout will undoubtedly look to slow him down with leg kicks and body punches, and his focus will be on being the more active fighter and landing more shots (as it should be).
While Fisher is the better pick to land a “home run” shot, Stout is the safer pick in a sport where judges regularly favor quantity above quality. Fisher is all too comfortable to trade two punches for three, and Stout will take advantage. I also see Stout picking up steam as the fight goes on, while Fisher likely wanes. Of course, I’d be okay with being wrong.
Prediction: Stout by decision
Clay Guida vs. Gray Maynard
In an absolute must-win for two fighters who badly want to stay in the title picture, Guida and Maynard square off. Both employ grappling-heavy styles, though in very different ways. Guida wants to drag his opponents into deep waters, and his style reflects that: he gets in close, clinches against the fence, throws knees and leans on opponents, and occasionally pulls them down any way he can to the mat. Meanwhile, Maynard is more of a typical wrestler who will lean on you in the clinch, but also is comfortable shooting for takedowns in the middle of the cage.
In terms of striking, neither has a wealth of technical ability. Guida is a determined striker with a sturdy chin that likes to keep it simple with lots of two-punch combinations and counters. He’s not the kind of fighter who will let you get in and out without answering via strikes of his own. His cardio allows him to strike confidently throughout the fight, and his chin keeps him in the pocket.
Maynard is one of quite a few wrestlers who has discovered that he possesses knockout power. As a result, he throws a lot more looping punches and hooks than Guida does, and the devastating results of his successful punches have been shown in his two latest bouts with Frankie Edgar. Earlier in his career, Maynard was much more focused on a wrestling-centric game plan, and it will be interesting to see if he focuses on outstriking Guida here.
A very important thing to consider in this matchup is the referee: none other than Standin’ Dan Miragliotta. Regular readers know that I have often decried Miragliotta’s all-too-frequent standups and separations from the clinch. For some reason, Miragliotta thinks that he needs to interject himself into the fights he referees on a constant basis, which leads to standups and separations that often occur after just over 30 seconds in one position.
I don’t need to tell you why that’s a game-changer for a fight like this. Guida has practically made a living off of being all over his opponents, pinning them against the cage, draining the energy out of them, and employing a controlling strategy. Miragliotta will all but nullify that, forcing Guida to re-engage Maynard in the clinch over and over again, because if you aren’t knocking your opponent’s head off, Standin’ Dan isn’t happy. I think this hurts Guida more than Maynard, as Maynard will be more happy to stand and trade than Guida will in the long run.
The other x-factor here is the length of the fight, which I think suits Guida more. Guida was made for five-round fights, and would gladly fight seven-rounders if the UFC asked him to. Maynard has more experience in five-round bouts, but we’ve seen him fade later on against cardio machines like Edgar. This fight, which is a no-brainer in favor of Maynard if it lasted three rounds, is suddenly going to be very close if Guida takes the two final rounds against a fading Maynard. Still, I’ll go with the fighter who will be better early on, be less affected by awful refereeing, and who has more potential to change the fight with his power.
Prediction: Maynard by decision