Mixed martial arts fans won't have to wait until Saturday to get their eyes on some explosive, high-paced action as WEC 52 will take place on Thursday, November 11th from the Pearl at the Palms in Las Vegas, Nevada. It will be the WEC's penultimate event before their swan song on December 15th at WEC 53. The event will feature a main event showdown between former WEC featherweight champion Urijah Faber and former WEC bantamweight contender Takeya Mizugaki, a bout that could determine the next challenger to what will become the UFC bantamweight title. Chad Mendes, Javier Vazquez, Joseph Benavidez, and Wagnney Fabiano are just a few of the other names that will make appearances on this card, and it will air live on Versus at 9:00 PM EST.
Bantamweight: Urijah Faber (23-4, 8-3 WEC) vs. Takeya Mizugaki (13-4-2, 2-2 WEC): In the main event of the evening, Urijah Faber will make his debut at bantamweight as he battles Japanese import Takeya Mizugaki in a battle that could potentially decide who will fight the winner of Dominick Cruz vs. Scott Jorgensen at WEC 53 in December. Faber enters his debut after being demolished by current UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo back in April while Mizugaki dispatched of Rani Yahya at the same event via unanimous decision. Mizugaki previously lost to Scott Jorgensen at WEC 45, so this is a great opportunity for Mizugaki to break through any precedence that was set by his loss, especially if Jorgensen loses to Cruz.
I'm not on the side, however, that believes he can find a way to make that scenario become a reality. Faber's calling card throughout his career has been his speed and strength at 145 pounds, and the ten pound drop down to 135 pounds, while possibly hurting his cardio a bit in his debut, will probably increase the very attribute that has made him a champion. Furthermore, Faber mimics the style that Scott Jorgensen used to defeat Mizugaki back in December with the exception that Faber is flat out better in every area that Jorgensen excels.
While I love any Japanese import willing to make his way overseas and test himself on foreign soil, Mizugaki is in for a rude awakening. Unless Mizugaki can rattle Faber early, look for a standard Faber gameplan that involves diverse striking and relentless takedown ability. As I've said in the past, speed kills is a motto that always seem to reign true. His speedy striking and footwork should secure him a victory on Thursday night.
Featherweight: Chad Mendes (8-0, 3-0 WEC) vs. Javier Vazquez (15-4, 2-2 WEC): One of the better fights on this card as it will feature two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler Chad Mendes as he battles resurgent Brazilian jiu-jitsu whiz Javier Vazquez. Mendes has powered through Cub Swanson, Erik Koch, and Anthony Morrison in three appearances with the promotion, relying heavily on his wrestling background and strength to out muscle and punish opponents. Vazquez dropped split decisions to Deividas Taurosevičius and LC Davis when he entered the promotion in August of last year, but those are a bit deceptive. He did manage to show that he can be effective against two fighters who are usually very solid against grapplers.
Vazquez was given a third chance, likely due to the close decisions, and he delivered with wins over a declining Jens Pulver and a rather inexperienced Mackens Semerzier. Vazquez's style does present some intriguing obstacles, most notably whether Mendes can handle the quick transition skills of Vazquez. I'm having a tough time believing he can catch such a strong wrestler like Mendes who has shown that he can keep it standing and hurt opponents with his power. While I doubt he has the technical acumen on the feet to produce a jaw-dropping knockout, I think Mendes can use his strength to control Vazquez and win via decision.
Featherweight: Erik Koch (10-1, 2-1 WEC) vs. Francisco Rivera (5-0, 0-0 WEC): This was supposed to be a feature bout for Josh Grispi, but he pulled out of this fight due to injury only three days into this month. That didn't leave a lot of time for Sean Shelby to find a replacement, but the undefeated Francisco Rivera has stepped up on very short notice. I'm not exactly sure why Davis vs. Assuncao is still sitting on the undercard, but I suppose I'll give Koch vs. Rivera my due dilligence.
Rivera has some power, and some of the video I watched was very convincing. Powerful right hand, and he loves to mix in uppercuts in exchanges, something we don't see nearly enough. But Koch has some solid experience against tough opponents like Bendy Casmir, Jameel Massouh, and Chad Mendes. I believe he can avoid that power, and eek out a decision win over Rivera. Rivera is, however, an enticing upset pick.
Bantamweight: Joseph Benavidez (12-2, 4-2 WEC) vs. Wagnney Fabiano (14-2, 4-1 WEC): Wagnney Fabiano's upset loss at the hands of Mackens Semerzier back in October of last year in conjunction with a style that isn't so fan-friendly completely derailed his chance at vying for the title despite having four wins in five appearances with the promotion. While his Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills have certainly gained the respect of opponents like Akitoshi Tamura and Fredson Paixao, he remains rather one-dimensional in the type of gameplan he can impose.
Enter Joseph Benavidez, former contender to the crown. With only two losses in his career, both to current champion Dominick Cruz, it isn't surprising that he's the current favorite in this fight. He also has a track record of crushing Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts, barraging Rani Yahya, Miguel Torres, and Jeff Curran over the course of his WEC career.
Fabiano inevitably was going to end up here, in line for a potential shot at Dominick Cruz. The fact that Benavidez has lost twice doesn't bode well for his continued attempts at challenging for the title, but this is a new era with the WEC being devoured by the UFC. Fabiano is a decent upset pick if he can control Benavidez, but Benavidez's speed and ability to stay out of guard is tough to pass on. Fabiano's stand-up isn't bad either, and he could use his size to really take it to Benavidez. Tough call here, but I'm going with the quickness and wrestling ability of Benavidez. The bout could go either way though.
Bantamweight: Damacio Page (12-4, 3-1 WEC) vs. Demetrious Johnson (7-1, 1-1 WEC): Interesting match-up here as Page finally returns to the cage after a year off from competition due to injuries he sustained in training for bouts against Takeya Mizugaki and Antonio Banuelos. Demetrious Johnson has since debuted in the WEC against Brad Pickett in a losing effort while defeating Nick Pace at WEC 51 in September. While there are still a lot of fans calling for Johnson to step down to 125 pounds, there isn't a flyweight division in the world paying what the WEC is at 135 pounds, which isn't much. The merger also solidifies Johnson's determination to make a name for himself at 135.
Nick Pace was a huge obstacle for Johnson... literally, but Johnson's overwhelming aggression in the wrestling department kept Pace at bay for most of the fight. Johnson's size is definitely an issue, but his strength does make up for it. Unfortunately, Page isn't unaccustomed to dealing with wrestlers, and his punching prowess should bank him a win on Thursday night.
Featherweight: Raphael Assuncao (14-3, 2-2 WEC) vs. LC Davis (16-3, 3-1 WEC): The WEC should have put this on the main card. It's amazing how Koch vs. Rivera gains a main card spot based on... nothing. In any case, Davis vs. Assuncao has all the makings of being an attrition-based war of the ages. Interestingly enough, conventional wisdom does have a place in this discussion as Diego Nunes serves as evidence that Davis should beat Assuncao on Thursday night.
Most of you probably don't recall how Nunes defeated Assuncao, yet lost to LC Davis, but here's a quick refresher. Davis relentless worked for takedowns against Nunes, effectively neutralizing Nunes' stand-up game. Assuncao... didn't do that. In fact, he thought he could actually stand in front of Nunes without eating punches, and while Assuncao was on the short end of a very close decision -- Davis beat Nunes definitively.
While "MMA Math" is a formula that is proven to be worthless on a daily basis, I think it applies here. Assuncao will have a very hard time stopping Davis' aggressive takedown ability, and Davis is very effective in mixing up his strikes to catch opponents off guard with takedown attempts. Assuncao has the grappling acumen to regain his feet, but Davis excels in the scramble, annoying opponents relentlessly until he can regain a dominant position on the ground once again. Both guys can strike effectively, but I imagine Davis will go back to his reliable roots and smother Assuncao in wrestling. LC Davis via decision.
Lightweight: Anthony Njokuani (12-4-0-1, 3-3 WEC) vs. Edward Faaloloto (2-0, 0-0 WEC): Faaloloto comes to the WEC by way of Chris "The Crippler" Leben's training camp in Hawaii. The former U.S. Navy admiral bodyguard and breacher doesn't have overwhelming experience or a background in mixed martial arts, and there is some speculation that this is simply a gift to keep Njokuani's exciting style in the fold for the merger.
I'm not entirely sure I believe that, but it's strange to see a 2-0 fighter, who's fought neophytes like himself, get the opportunity to upset an experienced striker like Njokuani. I won't let my imagination get the best of me however. Njokuani, as long as he doesn't get taken down or get creamed by a spinning Jewtuszko elbow, should bomb Faaloloto.
Lightweight: Zach Micklewright (7-1, 1-1 WEC) vs. Dustin Poirer (7-1, 0-1 WEC): Some would say this is a pointless contest as it's hard to believe either guy has the chops to make it in the shark tank of the UFC Lightweight division. I would agree with those sentiments, and the loser of this match-up will likely be sent packing. Micklewright was knocked out by Bart Palaszewski in his last appearance while winning his debut over Muhsin Corrbrey. Poirer battled Danny Castillo in his debut, putting up an admirable effort, but ultimately losing via decision.
Flip a coin. That's my advice. Both Micklewright and Poirer can throw with bad intentions, and that's likely what's going to end this fight on Thursday evening. Micklewright does have a tendency to work for hip throws, but Poirer proved that his defense can be thwarting in his efforts against Danny Castillo. That leads me to believe that someone is getting knocked unconscious here. I'll take Poirer via TKO.
Bantamweight: Clint Godfrey (11-2, 0-1 WEC) vs. Michael McDonald (10-1, 0-0 WEC): McDonald is the youthful 19 year old phenom that many fight fans have been talking about as potentially being the next great fighter in the 135 pound division. He began training when he was 10 years old, and began fighting professionally at 16. When Joe Rogan talks about the next generation of professional fighters, this is the kid that fits the mold.
McDonald will draw Clint Godfrey in his debut match-up, and a cursory glance would indicate that Godfrey may be in for a rough night. McDonald's wins over Escovedo and Tapia overshadow anything that Godfrey has accomplished so far, and McDonald's proven power in tandem with a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt should put him on track to win here. I'll take McDonald via TKO.
Featherweight: Cub Swanson (14-4, 4-3 WEC) vs. Mackens Semerzier (5-2, 1-2 WEC): It's still amazing to look at Mackens Semerzier's record and believe he actually beat Wagnney Fabiano. It was one of the biggest upsets of 2009, but I doubt he'll enjoy that type of glory again any time soon.
Swanson isn't the technical ground grandmaster that Fabiano or Vazquez is, nor does he have the strength and grappling acumen of Taurosevicius. But he does have the experience and grit to outlast Semerzier. With that said, I'm taking Swanson via decision here, but Semerzier is a very game opponent. It wouldn't surprise me if he can control Swanson on the ground and pull of a slight upset here.
Featherweight: Yves Jabouin (14-5, 0-2 WEC) vs. Brandon Visher (13-1, 1-1 WEC): I'm a bit dumbfounded by the odds on this fight at the moment. Visher enters this contest currently as a 2 to 1 favorite over Jabouin, the same Jabouin who fought admirably against top-flight featherweight Raphael Assuncao and nearly blasted Mark Hominick out of contention in a wild WEC 49 encounter. Two fights against solid competition, one of which is in line to fight for a title now. Time to open your wallets.
Visher's strength of record doesn't convince me that he'll have the staying power to survive the merger, and Jabouin has shown diverse striking ability and above average skills in his two appearances. Visher will put up a fight, but Jabouin's mix of kicks and strikes on the feet will find a home on Visher's chin. Jabouin via TKO.