Following a lackluster weekend at The Ultimate Figher 12 Finale that included one of the most controversial decisions of the year, the UFC fires back with a much more anticipated line-up of fights at UFC 124. The event will take place on Saturday, December 11th from the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and it will feature a UFC welterweight title showdown between Josh Koscheck and Georges St. Pierre. The card will also include appearances from Stefan Struve, Jim Miller, Charles Oliveira, Joe Stevenson, Mac Danzig, Thiago Alves, John Howard, and Sean McCorkle.
As always, the UFC has put together a solid undercard filled with some of Canada's best prospects. Jesse Bongfeldt, Sean Pierson, and John Makdessi will all debut on the card, and veterans Mark Bocek and Joe Doerksen will also fight on the undercard as well.
Lightweight: Mark Bocek (11-3, 4-3 UFC) vs. Dustin Hazelett (12-6, 5-4 UFC): It's hard to believe that the Brazilian jiu-jitsu whiz kid, Dustin Hazelett, is on the chopping block in the UFC, but two straight knockout losses has him on the verge of release. Rick Story and Paul Daley are very tough opponents, but the UFC now has an extensive roster with the addition of two weight classes from the WEC merger. That spells disaster for Hazelett if he loses on Saturday night.
Bocek isn't an easy fight at all for Hazelett, and it's suprising to see this match-up since Hazelett has provided the UFC with some great submissions. But the UFC is a proving ground for the best fighters in the world, and Hazelett needs to prove he belongs in the promotion.
Bocek's close and controversial decision loss to Jim Miller should provide some intrigue in this match-up. He's a very good Brazilian jiu-jitsu grappler, but the question is whether Hazelett's vision as a phenomenal submission fighter who has transitioned his game to mixed martial arts effectively can work over a competent fighter like Bocek. My initial thought was that Hazelett could control Bocek from the bottom and use his lengthy frame to threaten consistently over the course of three rounds, and it's tough not to look at all 6'1" of Hazelett's frame and see a tremendous obstacle for Bocek.
I'll take Hazelett here. Bocek has the chops to be dangerous on the ground, but wading through those lengthy limbs is going to be a problem. Whether or not Hazelett can submit Bocek is another story.
Middleweight: Rafael Natal (12-3, 0-1 UFC) vs. Jesse Bongfeldt (21-7, 0-0 UFC): Natal is highly overrated in my opinion. He didn't impress me at all in his fight leading up to his signing with the UFC, and it wasn't a surprise to see Attonito win. While I did believe the match-up was tailor-made for Natal to impress, he was much more hesitant in coming forward, laying back and trying to counter Attonito's flurries for most of the fight. He tried to kick from range way too often, allowing Attonito to rush in with overhands. And his ground game proved to be rather ineffective in the final frame as Attonito was laying his arms down in positions that most dynamic grapplers would have taken full advantage of.
Bongfeldt is a solid prospect with good wresting, decent stand-up, and an uncanny ability to survive and pull out some come-from-behind heroics. TJ Grant was working over Bongfeldt at times during their battle in '08, but got caught in an armbar late in the fight. Sean Pierson bloodied up Bongfeldt as well, but Bongfeldt was able to reverse a position from his back and crush Pierson in the second round. The Goulet loss is probably the biggest reason why fans are down on Bongfeldt, but I think it's a bit unwarranted.
Bongfeldt still has some holes in his game however. His striking is decent as he likes to work kicks in with his punches on the feet, but Natal will likely have an edge there. His best bet is to use his strength to strong arm Natal to the ground and pound on him over three rounds, and I think he can implement that gameplan as Natal just isn't that threatening. If Natal comes out much more aggressive, it'd be favorable for him, but I'll take Bongfeldt via decision.
Welterweight: Matt Riddle (5-1, 5-1 UFC) vs. Sean Pierson (10-4, 0-0 UFC): A relatively unknown prospect versus a well-known UFC tested fighter like Matt Riddle would normally set off some warning signs. Either Pierson is a legitimate threat, or this is another fight in which Riddle will be tested in some areas of his game and hopefully learn from the experience. Sean Pierson embodies both of those scenarios, but he isn't the type of fighter we can lump into a category of "tomato cans".
The Canadian national wrestling team Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestler is far from a mediocre fighter as he's impressively crushed fellow prospect Ricky Goodall and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Fabio Holanda in his last two fights. From what I've heard, Pierson has had some bad luck with injuries and motivation in the early days of his career, but he now seems to be fully invested in the sport and hoping to make a splash in the UFC. Riddle isn't exactly a world beater, but he has proven to be a tough challenge for lower level fighters making their way into the promotion.
I'm actually going with the upset here. Pierson has some great transitions to mount that he's continually caught opponents with, and his power from top control is impressive. Riddle should give him a run for his money, but it's hard not to like a guy who has entered the cage with a white top hat. I'll take Pierson via the upset here, via TKO.
Middleweight: Joe Doerksen (46-13, 2-6 UFC) vs. Dan Miller (12-4-0-1, 4-3 UFC): Everyone who understands the personal turmoil that Dan Miller has been under over the course of the last year wants to see Miller come out of his current funk and win, but seasoned veteran Joe Doerksen isn't going to fold easily. While Doerksen's career has been marred by failures at the highest level, he has carved out quite a career for himself by winning some bigger fights at the regional level. His striking has become a much more relevant part of his game in recent years, and Miller hasn't truly shown that he can strike with consistency.
Nonetheless, I think this is Miller's fight to win. While Doerksen is a veteran who can pull off victories when he's a clear underdog, I think Miller's grappling in combination with his average striking skills will be enough to edge Doerksen here. Don't be surprised if this goes to decision.
Welterweight: TJ Grant (16-4, 3-2 UFC) vs. Ricardo Almeida (12-4, 4-2 UFC): Grant's weaker strength of record is a sign that this could be a long night for him, but I'd also point out that Almeida is also the better grappler in a match-up that is essentially a Brazilian jiu-jitsu grappling match. The problem with that logic, however, is that most of these similar style fights turn into striking duels, and that could be a risky proposition for both fighters.
The safe bet is Almeida as he has faced stiffer competition throughout his career and has the better ground game, but Grant may have a shot at catching Almeida on the feet, despite not having world class striking skills. Almeida should be able to work over Grant over three rounds and win this contest via decision.
Lightweight: Pat Audinwood (9-1-1, 0-1 UFC) vs. John Makdessi (7-0, 0-0 UFC):Opening the night at UFC 124 for fans in attendance will be a lightweight contest between Team Bombsquad fighter Pat Audinwood and Firas Zahabi MMA kickboxer John Makdessi. Audinwood debuted at UFC 119 in September, losing to Thiago Tavares via a guillotine choke at the 3:47 mark of the first round. Makdessi's last bout was also in September, a one-sided drubbing of WEC veteran Bendy Casimir. The victory was not only Makdessi's best win to date, but it earned him a shot at competing in the UFC.
Makdessi's background consists of an Olympic Junior gold medal in Taekwondo and multiple gold medals in kickboxing competition in North America. His style is rather predictable due to that background, but he's shown surprisingly tough takedown defense throughout his career. His move to Firas Zahabi's gym only further solidifies that attribute in his defense, and Audinwood, mostly known as a wrestler/grappler, will have a tough time trying to take down Makdessi and work his submission game.
There is, however, a good chance that Audinwood could catch Makdessi if he can bring the fight to the ground. He has a huge reach and height advantage in this fight, and he does a nice job of circling away from power. Makdessi is wide open for takedown counters as well, and he kicks far too often for my liking. He does, however, vary his kicks by kicking at the legs, working in spinning back kicks frequently, and throwing the occasional head kick to surprise opponents. He's also built like a "Bull", as he's nicknamed. I'll take Makdessi here as I think he can hurt Audinwood quite badly with his kicking prowess, but don't be fooled by Audinwood's average striking game -- he could very well put Makdessi in trouble on the ground quickly.