Continuing a November of mixed martial arts action that fans will surely remember, WEC 44 will take place on Wednesday, November 18th from The Pearl at the Palms in Las Vegas, Nevada and feature a featherweight title bout between the current champion and powerful wrestler Mike Brown and explosive Nova Uniao-product Jose Aldo. The main card will also feature two former UFC lightweights in Leonard Garcia and Manny Gamburyan battling it out while Danny Castillo and Shane Roller will fight for a possible title implications. Former lightweight champion Rob McCullough is also slated to appear on the card.
This card has slipped under the radar of most mixed martial arts fans due to the extraordinary amount of MMA action we've been able to view in the last few weeks. Fortunately for those of us who will be able to tune in for WEC 44, we might be in store for one of the best match-ups of the month, a bout that hasn't received the talk it deserves.
Mike Brown (22-4, 3-0 WEC) is a product of the highly-touted American Top Team camp in Coconut Creek, Florida. While Brown doesn't have the wrestling background of a Josh Koscheck, he was a state champion in Maine and also wrestled collegiately at Norwich University, a private military college in Vermont. From those roots, Brown gained his mixed martial arts base of strength and wrestling, but he's managed to add a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt to his skill-set coupled with devastating striking power that abruptly ended Urijah Faber's night at WEC 36 and put Leonard Garcia into a daze at WEC 39.
Brown's opponent, Jose Aldo (15-1, 4-0 WEC), is also a product of a highly-touted camp in Nova Uniao, the same camp that trained B.J. Penn on the fine arts of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and has produced high caliber MMA athletes such as Vitor "Shaolin" Ribeiro, Wagnney Fabiano, Leonardo Santos, Thales Leites, and Marlon Sandro. Currently a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Aldo prefers to use his explosive striking to do the talking instead of a technical grappling game. He devastated WEC veteran Cub Swanson in 0:08 seconds at WEC 41 with a flying knee, and he demolished both Chris Mickle and Ronaldo Perez in previous stints in the promotion.
Stylistically, both men are similar in that they both have immense power in their hands. Aldo is visibly the quicker striker as he's exhibited blazing fast speed in his delivery, but Brown might have the ultimate countering ability by having the wrestling experience coupled with his strength to muscle Aldo to the floor. We haven't seen a lot of what Aldo has to offer on the ground, but we do know that Brown has the ability to smother opponents while also maintaining a good pace over five rounds.
While the hype surrounding Aldo is incredible due to his highlight reel wins, Brown's wrestling ability and strength will present a formidable challenge. Brown will also benefit from a size advantage come fight time as he is one of the biggest featherweights in terms of muscle and bulk come fight time in the world. Aldo has the opportunity to knockout Brown though, but I see this as a later round TKO victory for Mike Brown.
Former UFC lightweight fighters Leonard Garcia (13-4, 3-1 WEC) and Manny Gamburyan (9-4, 1-0 WEC) will square off in a featherweight bout that could push the victor into considerations for a contention bout in the future. Both Garcia and Gamburyan enter this contest following victories, Garcia defeating Jameel Massouh at WEC 42 while Gamburyan defeated John Franchi via decision at WEC 41.
There isn't much mystery as to how Manny Gamburyan is going to win this fight. He's going to try to takedown Leonard Garcia, stifle his airway with his Armenian chest hair, and bank on a top control blanket gameplan on his way to an unanimous decision victory. By default, I'm completely opposed to any fighter actually uses this type of strategy. Gamburyan isn't completely one-dimensional though as his strength does present an advantage in submission locks, so Garcia will have to be on the look out if he is put on his back.
Garcia's best tactic will be his quick power striking in the stand-up game. As we saw in the Rob Emerson bout, Gamburyan is susceptible to being punched into unconsciousness, and Garcia has the type of power to knock out Gamburyan. He also isn't a bad wrestler, has good reach against the shorter Gamburyan, and should be able to sprawl his way to catching Gamburyan in this fight. I'll take Leonard Garcia via TKO.
Wrestlers Danny Castillo (8-1, 3-0 WEC) and Shane Roller (6-2, 3-1 WEC) will meet in lightweight action in another battle that has been dubbed as possibly having title implications. Castillo recently knocked off a hyped Ricardo Lamas at WEC 42 while Roller defeated Marcus Hicks on the same card. Both men have faced some of the top talent in the division as Castillo lost to Donald Cerrone in his first WEC bout via armbar in the first round at WEC 34 while Roller was defeated by Ben Henderson via TKO at WEC 40 in his third bout with the promotion.
Castillo is a product of Team Alpha Male, Urijah Faber's Sacramento, California-based MMA camp, and he was a NAIA All-American wrestler for Menlo College. He has some striking ability, but his bread and butter lies in his takedowns and ground and pound tactics. Castillo will have to deal with a similar skill-set across the cage in his opponent Shane Roller.
Roller is a four-time state wrestling champion in Oklahoma and three-time NCAA Division I wrestler at Oklahoma State University. Like Castillo, he will bring a gameplan of takedowns and ground and pound, but he's shown the ability to land the guillotine choke in three of his six wins. Castillo will need to be aware of Roller's submission ability if he intends to take him down, but I imagine their styles could create a boxing match in this one.
I think Castillo has a good chance of winning this match-up for the simple fact that he's the better boxer. The only problem is that Roller is a three-time D-I All-American while Castillo's credentials go as far as a NAIA All-American. Roller has faced far better wrestlers during his years in college, and he may be able to outwrestle Castillo here on his way to victory. Also, my Dad, an Oklahoma State alum, would kill me for picking against the Cowboys.
In lightweight action, former WEC lightweight champion "Razor" Rob McCullough (17-5, 7-2 WEC) takes on newcomer Karen Darabedyan (8-1) in what could be the evening's upset special. McCullough is coming off a win over Marcus Hicks at WEC 39 while Darabedyan enters the contest with a recent knockout victory over Bellator fighter Estevan Payan at Shark Fights VI. This bout will pit McCullough's Muay Thai pedigree against Darabedyan's Karate, Taekwondo, and Judo black belts in a battle that could be ripe for a surprise ending.
As forementioned, Darabedyan has an extensive martial arts background in Karate, Taekwondo, and Judo. Like fellow Armenian fighter Karo Parisyan, Darabedyan holds a black belt in Judo with numerous titles and tournament victories in the judo circuits including winning a number of No-Gi grappling competitions such as Grappler's Quest. He's mainly a stand-up fighter however, and he'll be looking to put leather on McCullough's chin in this fight.
Unfortunately for Darabedyan, McCullough isn't exactly a pushover in the striking department. He uses solid front kicks to maintain range while also throwing good combinations and having a hard chin to withstand damage. The question becomes whether Darabedyan has the power to end McCullough's night, and will he take this fight to the floor if he doesn't? While I think McCullough is likely going to outstrike Darabedyan, I'm going to bank on the upset victory for Karen Darabedyan. I've been following his career for a couple of fights now, and I think he has some tools that might impress some fans.
Will Kerr (8-1) vs Kamal Shalorus (4-0-1): Kamal is an Iranian who lives in Texas. That's pretty interesting in this post-9/11 world, but the strength of competition he's faced in the deep South probably won't stack up to what Will Kerr has been dealing with in the Northeast. Kerr also happens to be a guy who uses the toe hold and heel hook in competition, and I have a craving for more heel hook. Will Kerr via submission.
L.C. Davis (14-2) vs. Diego Nunes (13-0): Solid fight here between former IFL fighter L.C. Davis and Brazilian kickboxer and jiu-jitsu fighter Diego Nunes. Davis' wrestling will be a major factor here, and it'll be up to Nunes to stop Davis from controlling him from the top. I'll take L.C. Davis via decision in a close one.
John Franchi (5-1) vs. Cub Swanson (13-3): Swanson should be able to defeat Franchi here following his quick loss to Jose Aldo at WEC 41. Franchi offers some wrestling ability and damaging elbows from the top, but Swanson's experience and pace should be able to push him through to victory. Cub Swanson via decision.
Antonio Banuelos (16-5) vs Kenji Osawa (15-8-2): I feel like Banuelos has the edge here in terms of striking, and he's shown a granite chin in most of his fights along with a good pace. Osawa is a game opponent, but I think Banuelos can point him to victory in this fight. Antonio Banuelos via decision.
Ricardo Lamas (6-1) vs. James Krause (10-1): Krause has the potential to submit Lamas here, but I'll go with my hometown guy here in Lamas as he has displayed technically sound striking, great conditioning, and good wrestling ability in previous fights. Ricardo Lamas via decision.
Frank Gomez (7-1) vs. Seth Dikun (7-3): After watching Seth Dikun's flying triangle choke, I'm going to have to go with him via submission in this one. While Gomez offers some ground and pound abilities, I think Dikun has faced a little bit tougher competition. Seth Dikun via submission, Round 2.