UFC 125 will take place on Saturday, January 1st from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The event will feature a main event lightweight title showdown between current champion Frankie Edgar and challenger Gray Maynard. The bout will be a rematch of their non-title affair back in 2008 at UFC Fight Night 13, a fight that ended Edgar's undefeated streak and fueled some doubt as to whether he could ever become a champion. Obviously, Edgar proved those doubters wrong by running through every possible opponent and defeating B.J. Penn twice, but Maynard's size and wrestling background will prove to be a huge challenge for the smaller Edgar.
The UFC will be airing three free preliminary bouts on ION TV. If you don't get ION TV with your current provider, Dana White says you're an idiot. I say... you should probably check the extended packages of your current provider. ION TV isn't as "network" as the UFC would lead you to believe. Comcast stuffs it within their extended digital package, and most other providers do as well. Zach Arnold posted some ways in which you can view the bouts, but rabbit ears is your best bet as it is available over-the-air in most markets.
ION Televised Preliminary Bouts
Lightweight: Marcus Davis (17-7, 9-5 UFC) vs. Jeremy Stephens (18-6, 5-5 UFC): Headlining the UFC's recently announced foray into network television on ION TV, Marcus Davis will hope to prove that his gloomy days are behind him as he battles 24-year-old knockout threat Jeremy Stephens in lightweight action. This will be Davis' debut in the 155 pound weight class, and if you thought Davis looked absolutely ripped at 170 pounds -- I can't imagine what he'll look like after shedding fifteen more pounds. While Davis has had problems in the welterweight division, Stephens has found his niche as one of the more exciting fighters in the lightweight division. He isn't afraid to stand and bang his way to bonus money. It hasn't been as successful as he would hope, but at 24 years of age -- he has time to develop while putting on a show for the fans.
It will be interesting to see what Davis brings to the table in a lighter weight class. While I think the cut will hurt his gas tank a bit, his speed in tandem with his boxing should benefit from the move. Davis talked about this with our own Duane Finley a little over a week ago:
"I think my strengths in this fight are my technique, movement, speed and my overall experience will be a big factor," Davis remarked when breaking down the matchup. "He brings in youth, aggression, confidence and strength...he's a strong kid and the dude's ripped as shit. He's built like a fighter and you are going to see two guys in there that do their job. It's a great matchup and I'm glad he asked for it. I'm glad the UFC asked me to do it because I feel it's going to be an excellent fight. I think Jeremy is a great guy and we have a lot of similarities. We've been stuck in the airport together before so we've had the chance to talk on several occasions and we both approach this game the same way. He's a fighter...he looks at like a job and he knows it's his job to go out there and entertain. Win or lose you know that if you watch Jeremy Stephens in a fight he's going to try to put it all on the line and he's going to try to entertain everybody. That's our job and when I'm fighting somebody who is like that or see somebody who is like that I respect them. I respect him as a person and for his skills. I'm looking at the fight with Stephens like I did against Chris Lytle. I'm looking at him with a lot of respect and I'm excited to get this thing going."
Stephens is more of a power puncher than a technician in the stand-up game, and Davis could use his speedier footwork to move in and out of danger while peppering Stephens with a jab. If he can successfully implement that type of gameplan, Stephens will have a rough night trying to catch the Bangor, Maine native.
I'd be lying if I didn't think of the Chris Lytle fight when I heard this match-up was going down at lightweight, but Davis sits in the same doghouse that Phil Baroni currently sits in. We're all doubters until you prove it to us, and we've heard the same song and dance from Davis in the past. Can he deliver this time out? Size will be an issue for Stephens, but I imagine Stephens' toughness and power will give Davis problems. I'll go with Stephens, but don't be surprised if Davis blows our minds with a gutty performance on Saturday night.
Featherweight: Josh Grispi (14-1, 4-0 WEC/UFC) vs. Dustin Poirier (8-1, 2-0 WEC/UFC): Grispi may be the lone assassin waiting in the shadows to pick off Jose Aldo's perceived invincibility at the top of the division, but many fans have no idea who the brilliant 22-year-old from Plympton, Massachusetts actually is. His obscurity from the casual fanbase has mostly been due to the fact that he's suffered a bevy of injuries over the course of the last two years, only fighting four times in the last two years. Incredibly, Grispi hasn't missed a beat when he's returned from the long layoffs. He submitted LC Davis in 2:33 of the first round at WEC 49 after a little over a year off from the sport. To say that's amazing is an understatement.
Poirier will step into the Octagon having won at WEC 52 a little over one month ago in quick fashion as he dispatched of Zach Micklewright in fifty-three seconds. While that may seem impressive, Poirer hasn't been tested at the level that Grispi has been fighting at since his debut in the WEC, and in my mind -- this is Grispi's fight to lose. Grispi is one of the slick, young guns in this sport, and he continues to impress with every performance. Look for him to do the same in this showdown, either by TKO or a guillotine choke.
Middleweight: Phil Baroni (13-12, 3-6 UFC) vs. Brad Tavares (6-0, 1-0 UFC): Baroni has taken a bit of time off from battling inside the Octagon over the last year to clear his head and train in Thailand at Tiger Muay Thai. From the interviews I've watched of his sessions in Thailand, Baroni was adamant to point out that the trip was to get him back into shape, help him relax, and hopefully help him focus on being a better fighter. Not surprisingly, pacing was an issue that was brought up by Baroni himself in the interviews, and I'd agree that his inability to pace himself had been one of his major downfalls as a fighter.
It's hard not to feel for fighters who have done what they believe is the right thing in training at specific camps and working with tougher training partners, and Baroni is no different. You can truly see the "Bad Ass" gone from his demeanor, and he seems to be focused on the task at hand. Training with AKA for this fight is also a blessing for him, especially with his recent run of losses.
Tavares has the tools to beat Baroni, but it doesn't take much when Baroni throws huge power from the start and gasses by the third minute of round one. I fully expect to see a different Baroni, but that doesn't take away from the fact that Baroni has never been the most skilled striker. Powerful, sure, but can he slip those powerful hooks into Tavares' chin?
Baroni has been right in the interviews he's done in the lead-up to this event. Everyone is counting him out, including the UFC. And it's tough for me to jump off of that bandwagon until I see some improvement or change in Baroni's style. This is by no means an impossible fight for Baroni to win, but he must pace himself to have a chance. With that said, I have doubts, and Tavares has just enough technique to outlast Baroni and edge him out on the scorecards.
Featherweight: Mike Brown (24-6, 6-2 WEC/UFC) vs. Diego Nunes (15-1, 4-1 WEC/UFC): Brown's strength, power, and wrestling ability is a formidable combination for any opponent to match up against, but as we've seen in Brown's two lossess -- his stand-up game can be exposed if his opponent can avoid being crushed early. Nunes has the type of stand-up game that can give some of the best in the WEC problems, and Brown could be on the receiving end of the diverse striking game of Nunes for most of the fight.
Unfortunately, Nunes doesn't have the power to end the fight in one punch whereas Brown does. That could be the difference maker in this contest. Nunes has relied on his resiliency and survivability in many of his fights, but Brown's power could devastate him in a split second. I think Nunes may get the better of Brown in a few exchanges, but Brown will likely take this to the ground and smother Nunes with his strength. I'll take Brown via decision.
Welterweight: Daniel Roberts (11-1, 2-1 UFC) vs. Greg Soto (8-1, 1-1 UFC): Solid match-up here as Roberts and Soto are a bit of a style mismatch. Soto is more of the aggressor as he likes to wrestle opponents to the ground and utilize strikes from top control or transition to chokes. Roberts has the perfect style to counter that aggressiveness, although he also likes to impose his own takedown game before opponents can do the same to him. Petz showed that a good defense can stifle Roberts, but Soto will have to be on his game in order to repeat what Petz was able to do. Unfortunately, Petz was unable to produce enough offense, and Roberts came away with the victory.
The intrigue in this fight is whether Soto has enough technique and defense to run through Roberts and maintain top control while avoiding submissions. The Cesar Gracie jiu-jitsu fighter will provide be challenging to bring to the floor, but his submission game should be a concern for Soto, especially in instances where he leaves his neck exposed during shots. It's a tough call, but I think Roberts catches Soto in a choke at some point during the fifteen minute time limit.
Lightweight: Jacob Volkmann (11-2, 2-2 UFC) vs. Antonio McKee (25-3-2, 0-0 UFC): Most fans who've watched Antonio McKee battle under the MFC banner in Canada are unenthusiastic at the thought of "Mandingo" bringing his style of cautious ground and pound and smothering wrestling ability into the Octagon. At 40 years of age, it hard to fathom that McKee would be successful in those tactics, but he's proven to be a cardio machine who can out wrestle nearly anyone put in front of him. McKee would like you to believe he can out wrestle even the best the UFC has to offer, and to be perfectly honest -- I'm quite intrigued at the possibility of seeing him try to accomplish that feat.
Volkmann is also a wrestler who has some limited capabilities in the stand-up game, but he hasn't been very successful in implementing his background inside the Octagon. McKee will provide a fairly straight-forward approach in this match-up, and that should help Volkmann focus on the task at hand. But I'm skeptic in the idea that he can stop McKee's relentless threat of takedowns. McKee loves to wear down his opponents, and Volkmann doesn't offer much hope if he can't stop McKee's wrestling. I'm under the assumption that he can't.