The hits keep coming as Zuffa follows up a relatively lackluster event in Oberhausen, Germany last weekend with a much more stacked roster of fights this weekend at UFC 123. The event will take place from the Palace in Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan, a city in the metropolitan area of Detroit, this Saturday, November 20th. The card will feature three significant battles as Quinton Jackson returns to battle Lyoto Machida in the main event of the evening while B.J. Penn moves up to welterweight to fight Matt Hughes and George Sotiropoulos aims to continue his ascendancy to the top of the lightweight division as he battles Joe Lauzon.
UFC 123 will also broadcast two preliminary battles for free on Spike TV at 9:00 PM EST, and as always -- there is always a possibility that other fights from the preliminary card could make the broadcast as well.
Welterweight: Matt Brown (11-9, 4-3 UFC) vs. Brian Foster (14-5, 2-2 UFC): Many of the UFC's free broadcasts are built on the foundation of drawing fans into the excitement and hopefully getting those fans to buy the pay-per-view. They also give existing fans the opportunity to see some of the exciting match-ups on the undercard that we wouldn't normally get to watch until a few days later. One of those battles, which I must commend Joe Silva for creating, is a welterweight showdown featuring The Ultimate Fighter season seven quarter-finalist Matt Brown and Team H.I.T. Squad fighter Brian Foster, and it's been given the headlining spot on the free broadcast because, on paper, it should be an explosive battle.
While Brown hasn't made a name for himself as a highly successful fighter in the division, he's well-known for being a competitor who is determined to not be labeled a boring fighter. He constantly moves forward, engages his opponents, and risks it all in the Octagon to put on a good performance and come out victorious. Unfortunately, victory hasn't been a constant in his most recent bouts as he was submitted by Chris Lytle at UFC 116 and choked out by Ricardo Almeida at UFC 111. The two-fight losing streak may have Brown on the verge of release from the promotion.
Foster has proven that he can be equally exciting as Brown in past performances, showcasing a dynamic striking game in tandem with a solid wrestling skill-set. Interestingly enough, the diversity in his striking game may very well be the deterrent to his progression in the division. While quick action and high-flying kicks may be the solution to the bored fans in attendance, it hasn't helped Foster secure victories against tougher opponents. His quickness and power is appealing to watch, but he's found himself on the end of a single leg or a scramble that ends via a submission in two of his four bouts in the UFC.
Fortunately for Foster, that type of style can be insurance that you'll find yourself back in the Octagon despite a loss. And it also works wonders in gaining opponents who are willing to stand in front of you to eat those types of blows. Matt Brown is exactly that type of opponent, and while I believe he has a shot at landing some significant blows against Foster -- Foster's speed and power are going to punish the TUF alumnist in this fight. Furthermore, I think Foster will eventually finish a battered Matt Brown, and casual fans will finally see the potential that the 26-year-old Oklahoma-born fighter has as a talent in the UFC's welterweight division.
Middleweight: Aaron Simpson (7-1, 3-1 UFC) vs. Mark Munoz (8-2, 3-2 UFC): It isn't often that we get a middle-of-the-pack battle that is both intriguing inside and outside of the Octagon, but the UFC has managed to pit two long-time friends against one another in the opening bout of Spike TV's free preliminary broadcast. Yeah, read that again. Two friends actually decided to fight one another to progress their careers. Yahoo! Sports' writer Maggie Hendricks has the full background of their lengthy friendship, but the friendship stems from their days of wrestling and coaching wrestling at a collegiate level.
Simpson was a two-time NCAA All-American at Arizona St. while Munoz was also a two-time All-American with a NCAA championship title in 2001 at 197 pounds. Both Simpson and Munoz transitioned to coaching at the collegiate level following their own wrestling careers, Simpson at Arizona St. and Cal Tech while Munoz assisted at UC-Davis. They even discussed transitioning to mixed martial arts while coaching at the NCAA Championships in 2007.
The decade-long friendship will be put aside on Saturday night for, at the maximum, fifteen minutes, and that storyline certainly creates an interesting match-up. Both men have outstanding wrestling ability with Munoz having the slight edge, but Simpson has proven that he possesses one-punch knockout power, an attribute that has stunned Munoz in past performances.
Simpson has the ability to stuff Munoz, similarly to what Yushin Okami was able to do at UFC on Versus II. If he can do that, his power and striking ability should be enough to win him this match-up. The x-factor is Munoz's training, specifically whether he's improved his striking enough to down Simpson and finish him with brutal ground and pound. The problem I see, however, is in Munoz's overall skill on the feet. If he's improved considerably since his bout with Okami, he can win handily, but I'm hedging my bets on Simpson. I'll need proof that Munoz can look good in his striking technique before I'm willing to pick him against a guy who's proven he can crush opponents with one blow.
Welterweight: Karo Parisyan (19-5-0-1) vs. Dennis Hallman (42-13-2-1): For whatever reason, fans still seem to have an inkling that Karo Parisyan can battle back from his fight with anxiety and make a run at the UFC crown. I'm not one of them, and I find it strange that fans completely discount the fact that he doesn't have the skill, even at 100% physically and mentally, to defeat many of the upper echelon fighters in the division. In fact, I would argue that his return to the Octagon at UFC 123 this weekend will be his toughest test to date due to his mental state.
Parisyan's performance outside of the UFC against Ben Mortimer at Impact FC I in Brisbane, Australia didn't inspire much confidence either, and I'm severely doubtful that Parisyan will suddenly "wake up" and barrage opponents with Judo and guard passing. While I do believe Karo has the edge in this fight, Hallman's jiu-jitsu remains very effective in controlling opponents and putting them on the defensive. His loss to Jon Howard was a miraculous feat of last second heroics in which Hallman was knocked out cold with five ticks left on the clock in the third round. Before that, Howard didn't offer much of a challenge, and Karo doesn't possess the heart-stopping power that Howard presents.
He does, however, have the takedown ability to put opponents in bad positions on their backs, and he's proven to be impossible to submit up to this point in his career. That covers Hallman's bread and butter on the ground, but he has shown some improving stand-up skills that can lead to takedowns. If he can change levels and put Karo on his back, it wouldn't surprise me to see Karo wilt under the pressure.
Karo's mental state is a huge x-factor, and I have to take it into account in this fight. Hallman has the skills to be a nightmare on the ground when it comes to control, and while I think Karo can succeed in all areas in this fight -- I'm going with Hallman until Karo can prove that he has the capacity to put that anxiety on the back burner when the pressure of a fight is upon him.
Lightweight: Edson Barboza (6-0, 0-0 UFC) vs. Mike Lullo (8-1, 0-0 UFC): Brazil is likely going to dominate the ranks of the lower weight classes all the way up to welterweight in the next three years, and Edson "Barboza" Mendes Jr. will be one of the lightweights who will not only draw fans due to his exciting style -- but he'll likely succeed in ascending to, at the very least, a mid-echelon level. While his ground game has yet to be truly tested again elite wrestlers or grapplers, someone better expose Barboza before he learns the intricacies. Unfortunately for his opponents, he's developing at a rapid pace and his lengthy 5'11" frame at lightweight only helps him in tough situations on the floor.
There are a lot of people that are high on Mike Lullo, and it's strange to see that from a first-time UFC fighter who doesn't have an extensive background against quality opponents. From all indications, the guy is beloved by his local fanbase here in my home state of Illinois and Wisconsin, but his strength of record, which is very common in this region, is weak. He has the submission ability to be a threat, but his overall takedown game seems rather pedestrian in comparison to the defense that Barboza has shown in the past. Look for the heavily-credential Muay Thai black belt to impress and devastate the legs of Lullo, finishing him via TKO, Round 1.
Lightweight: Paul Kelly (10-3, 4-3 UFC) vs. T.J. O'Brien (16-3, 0-0 UFC): With the UFC-WEC merger coming down the pipe in December, it's going to be rather tough for fighters to earn a stay in the promotion in 2011. Some of these lower card battles could significant in determining who stays and who goes, and Paul Kelly may be on the verge of release, despite his 2-2 record in his last four appearances. He most recently dropped an unanimous decision to Jacob Volkmann at UFC on Versus: Jones vs. Matyushenko in August, defeated Matt Veach via guillotine choke at UFC 112 in April, and was on the end of a spinning back kick from Dennis Siver at UFC 105 in November of last year. He had previously defeated Rolando Delgado in his UFC lightweight debut at UFC 99 in June of last year.
O'Brien is an experienced submission artist out of Iowa, and he probably gave Paul Sass a run for his money in the attempt to amass the most wins consecutively by triangle choke. At one point, he had five straight victories via triangle choke, and his 6'2" frame is the key to his success in that department. Kelly has been improving his striking over his last few fights, but he's nowhere near a level that I can safely say he'll dominate O'Brien on the feet and stay off the ground. After all, Kelly was predominantly a wrestler when he first stepped into the Octagon. A lay and pray style of fight from Kelly won't bode well for him, and the style match-up here does hold some concern as to whether Kelly can escape O'Brien's submission game.
I'm not a sucker for Midwestern fighters who have feasted on the sub-par talent littering the grounds of county fairs and festivals, but O'Brien does have some wins over, at the very least, lower level competition that barely makes its way out of the "awful" category. Kelly's experience should net him the win, but O'Brien is an enticing underdog pick that I would consider. I'll take Kelly via decision, but I'll be looking heavily into O'Brien's performances.
Lightweight: Tyson Griffin (18-4, 7-4 UFC) vs. Nik Lentz (19-3-0-2, 3-0-1): Opening up the evening's action, Xtreme Couture team member and former top ten ranked lightweight Tyson Griffin will try to reassert himself as an imposing challenger to the upper echelon of the division as he battles NCAA Division I wrestler Nik Lentz. Lentz, as you may recall, won his last battle in an uneventful decision over Andre Winner at UFC 118, an outcome that was exacerbated the discussion regarding wrestling and its dominance in mixed martial arts. Regardless of Lentz's style, he's managed to put together a 3-0-1 record in four appearances with the promotion, and he has the opportunity to put himself in prime position to make an assault at the top fighters with a victory.
Griffin enters the contest after suffering a brutal knockout at the hands of former PRIDE lightweight champion Takanori Gomi at UFC on Versus: Jones vs. Matyushenko in August. He previously lost to Evan Dunham via split decision at UFC 115, but did manage to crush an overweight and wild Hermes Franca at UFC 103. Griffin's kickboxing and wrestling experience should give him the edge on paper in this fight, but Lentz's relentless takedown attempts could stall this fight out and tire Griffin considerably. While Lentz isn't a prime candidate for putting on an exciting performance, he has the skills to win against anyone who can't defend the clinch or takedown game. Unfortunately, Griffin has those skills, and his own wrestling background should provide him with the means to winning this fight. I'll take Griffin via decision.