After a disappointing event on Saturday night that featured Houston Alexander dancing around the cage, Jon Jones using illegal elbows to crush Matt Hamill (He still would have won), and Marcus Jones being completely dominated by bad striking, it's time for some better fights. Hopefully, UFC 107 will provide some better action. It will take place this coming Saturday, December 12th from the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee LIVE on pay-per-view. The main event will feature a lightweight title bout between the current champion B.J. Penn and challenger Diego Sanchez. Before we delve deep into the main card bouts, let's take an in-depth look at UFC 107's undercard match-ups.
In one of the more notable battles on the event's preliminary card, Muay Thai specialist Alan Belcher (14-6, 5-4 UFC) will take on American Top Team-product and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Wilson Gouveia (12-6, 6-3 UFC) in middleweight action. Both men will enter the contest coming off losses as Belcher lost a hard fought split decision to Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 100 while Gouveia was stopped in the third round by Nate Marquardt at UFC 95. This will be Gouveia's first fight back after suffering a back injury that caused him to pull out of his UFC 102 match-up against James Irvin's replacement, Ed Herman.
The size of Alan Belcher is always a constant topic of discussion when we talk about him. He's an immense fighter for the weight class, and it offers advantages and disadvantages. He has a lot of power to throw around, but his striking slows down considerably as the fight moves on due to his bulk. Gouveia has more of the natural middleweight build with above average striking ability coupled with a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt ground game. There is an opportunity to Belcher to put his power to work against Gouveia, but Gouveia has more options as he should be the better fighter on the floor.
The fight really comes down to whether Belcher can be effective on his feet without being put on his back. Gouveia will likely try to punch with Belcher in this fight, so he'll need to avoid the head kicks and powerful leg kicks of Belcher. If Belcher can stay off his back and keep a good pace, he has a good shot at winning. My only fear is that he'll become fairly tired as the fight goes on and slow down considerably. Gouveia doesn't have the greatest gas tank either, but Belcher's bulk becomes a hindrance rather than an advantage at that point. I don't think this will be a one-sided drubbing, but Wilson Gouveia should be able to finish Belcher -- especially if a gassed Yoshihiro Akiyama was able to put Belcher on his back.
The second middleweight match-up on the UFC 107 undercard will feature former M-1 Challenge fighter Lucio Linhares (13-4, 0-0 UFC) making his UFC debut against fellow Brazilian jiu-jitsu submission artist Rousimar "Toquinho" Palhares (9-2, 2-1 UFC). Linhares has beaten notable fighters such as Sean Salmon, Karl Amoussou, Toni Valtonen, and Robert Jocz. A couple of stints against better competition in Thales Leites and Tomasz Drwal didn't bode well for him early in his career, but he's improved considerably since those days. Palhares enters the contest after defeating Jeremy Horn via decision at UFC 93. He was scheduled to fight on Saturday night at The Ultimate Fighter 10 Finale, but Alessio Sakara pulled out due to injury.
While Jordan Breen will tell you that Linhares' Fight Finder picture alone is a reason to pick Linhares in this fight, I'll stick with what I know. Both men are formidable Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts, but Linhares will have an enormous size advantage in this match-up. He'll come in at 6'2" to Rousimar's 5'8" frame, and that should be a big advantage for Linhares in terms of striking with Palhares. Interestingly enough, all of Palhares' opponents in the UFC have been much bigger than him, and it hasn't given them a significant advantage.
The outcome of this fight will come down to the more controlling ground game unless Linhares crushes Palhares early with punches. Palhares' ground game is very good, and he has a repertoire of slick submission skills, quick transitions, and bone-crushing leg locks. In fact, the leg lock, one of the tougher submissions in MMA to pull off, is Palhares' most dangerous weapon, and it somewhat helps that his opponents are much lengthier than him when trying to pull it off. I think Linhares is smart enough to avoid the lock, but I think Palhares might be able to out grapple Linhares on the floor in this one. I'll take "Toquinho" via unanimous decision, but don't be surprised if he snaps a limb ala Daniel Acacio and Fabio Negao. I'd look out for the betting line on Linhares though. It might be ripe with value.
Four-time NCAA All-American and two-time NCAA Division I wrestling champion Johny Hendricks (6-0,1-0 UFC) will make his second appearance in the UFC as he takes on newcomer Ricardo Funch (7-0) in welterweight action. Hendricks enters the contest following a mild upset victory over The Ultimate Fighter Season 7 winner Amir Sadollah at UFC 101. Funch will make his debut riding his seven-fight undefeated record with his most notable win coming against Anthony Waldburger.
Ricardo Funch is out of Team Link in Ludlow, Mass., the same camp that UFC heavyweight fighter Gabriel Gonzaga leads along with the housing prospects Karen Grigoryan, John and Chris Manley, Alexandre Moreno, and Brian Olsen. The camp once housed PRIDE veteran Paulo Filho as well. His team is made up of multiple Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts to help him with his ground game, but he mostly uses that vaunted game to gain position on opponents and pound them out.
This is a little tough to call. Funch doesn't have any sort of size advantage, but his striking might be a bit better than what Hendricks has to offer. The problem I see, however, for Funch is that Hendricks seems to be improving his power and striking ability. He manhandled Sadollah in the clinch and landed multiple uppercuts, and he's definitely bulking up in size. He's had three months to continue that line of preparation. He also happens to be one of the better wrestlers in the division, but will he suffer the same fate as Jake Rosholt, arguably the most heavily credentialed wrestler in the sport who was cut by the UFC after losing to Kendall Grove? I'll take Hendricks via TKO in this match-up.
The Ultimate Fighter Season 9 runner-up DaMarques Johnson (9-7, 0-1 UFC) will make his second appearance in the Octagon following his loss to James Wilks at the Season 9 Finale against Mexican mixed martial artist Edgar Garcia (7-1, 0-1 UFC). Garcia comes into the contest following a controversial split decision loss to Brad Blackburn at The Ultimate Fighter Season 9 Finale. Johnson is currently riding a two-fight losing streak, and he'll look to stave off being cut by the promotion with a victory.
The most worrying problem for Johnson is his strength of record. While Jason Reinhardt still takes the cake for padding his record with horrible competition, DaMarques has a lot of wins against sub .500 competition. Ryan Williams defeating him before his stint on The Ultimate Fighter doesn't give me a whole lot of confidence that he can beat a very capable Edgar Garcia either.
Johnson has a well-rounded skill-set, but I question whether or not it's actually good enough to beat the better competition of the UFC. My answer would be a resounding "No" at this point until we see some improvement. Will we see that improvement on Saturday night? I'm not optimistic, and Garcia's knockout power could be Johnson's undoing. Garcia has a fairly well-rounded game as well, but I think his big power, boxing, and wrestling will be enough to defeat Johnson. I'll take Garcia via TKO.
The final welterweight bout on the preliminary card will pit Canadian submission specialist T.J. Grant (14-3, 1-1 UFC) against the Brazilian jiu-jitsu techniques of Kevin Burns (7-3, 2-2 UFC) in a fight that could see the loser heading back to the minors. Both fighters are coming into this fight following losses with Grant dropping a decision to Dong Hyun Kim at UFC 100 while Burns was stopped by Anthony Johnson at TUF Finale 8 and lost via decision in a "Fight of the Night" performance against Chris Lytle at UFC Finale 9.
Stylistically, both men would prefer to be on the ground. Burns has a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu while Grant is a purple belt under former UFC fighter Jorge Gurgel. It would seem that both men are equals, but Grant has a very large repertoire of submissions on the ground ranging from arm triangles to kimuras to armbars to heel hooks. Burns hasn't mastered the submission game in such a manner, but he did manage to submit one of the better Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners in the sport in Roan Carneiro at UFC 85 via a triangle choke.
I see this fight being a problem for Grant in the striking department because he'll mostly be trying to work for the takedown while Burns has, at the very least, average striking ability. Grant really doesn't have the hands to compete with Burns in this fight, and Burns could simply avoid the ground in favor of a boxing match to eek out a decision win here. I'll take Kevin Burns via decision.
Lastly, The Ultimate Fighter Season 5 contestant Matt Wiman (10-5, 4-3 UFC) will take on Hawaii-native and B.J. Penn-trained Shane Nelson (12-4, 2-1 UFC) in lightweight action. Wiman enters the contest on a two-fight losing streak, dropping decisions to both Sam Stout and Jim Miller at UFC 97 and UFC: Fight for the Troops respectively. Nelson is coming off a decision loss to Aaron Riley at UFC 101.
I won't delve too deep into this one, but the loser could see themselves being thrown out on the street by the UFC. Nelson's inability to finish fights is the major argument against him in this bout, and Wiman is actually a pretty well-rounded fighter who just isn't good enough to beat the talent living in the middle of the division. There are better punchers in the lightweight division than Wiman, and his ground game isn't formidable enough to give anyone a real problem. Nonetheless, he should be able to dispatch of Nelson with quick hands and a good pace. I'll take Wiman via decision.