After a relatively predictable UFC 111 card with the exception of Shane Carwin's fists bombing Frank Mir out of contention, the UFC now heads to the Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte, North Carolina for UFC Fight Night 21 on Wednesday, March 31st. The card features a number of quality match-ups including a heavyweight battle between Roy Nelson and Stefan Struve, and a main event lightweight showdown between Takanori Gomi and Kenny Florian. Before we take a look at the more relevant divisional match-ups on the main card, here's a brief rundown of the seven surprsingly solid match-ups on the event's undercard.
Andre Winner (10-3-1, 1-1 UFC) vs. Rafaello Oliveira (10-2, 1-1 UFC): The headlining preliminary bout at UFC Fight Night 21 will feature a lightweight contest between Team Rough House member and The Ultimate Fighter Season 9 runner-up Andre Winner taking on Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Rafaello "Tractor" Oliveira. Winner is coming off an impressive knockout victory over Roli Delgado at UFC 105 while Oliveira defeated John Gunderson via unanimous decision at UFC 108. Both men will try to avoid amassing a losing record as Winner lost to Ross Pearson at The Ultimate Fighter 9 Finale, and Oliveira dropped a decision to Nik Lentz in his debut.
Oliveira will be most effective on the ground, but he does possess a solid chin, heavy slams, and decent power in his hands. Winner will more than likely want to punch Oliveira while trying to maintain his base on the feet. While Winner hasn't proven to be a consistent knockout threat, it's obvious that his days at Team Rough House are improving his striking and overall power considerably.
This is an intriguing fight due to the challenge it presents for both fighters. Winner will have a tough time stifling Oliveira's takedown attempts, but Oliveira may be in for a surprising beatdown if Winner can unleash his hands. I'm leaning toward Winner, but I'm having a hard time seeing Winner stop Oliveira in the takedown game. Pick your horse!
Robert Emerson (9-8, 3-2 UFC; 1 NC) vs. Nik Lentz (17-3-2, 1-0-1 UFC): Another intriguing match-up on the UFC Fight Night 21 undercard will pit The Ultimate Fighter Season 5 contestant Rob Emerson against Minnesota Martial Arts Academy member Nik "The Carny" Lentz. Emerson enters the contest following an unanimous decision victory over The Ultimate Fighter Season 8 runner-up Phillipe Nover while Lentz went to a majority draw against the tough Brazilian Thiago Tavares.
This is definitely a style match-up I can get behind. Emerson will bring his scrappy style of brawling to the cage against a veteran wrestler in Lentz who also has a propensity to inflict solid damage on the feet. It could make for an entertaining back-and-forth war.
Lentz has shown that he can land some very heavy leg kicks during the course of a fight, and he normally uses those kicks to set-up strikes or takedowns. If Lentz can avoid Emerson's hands in this fight, it should be a pretty straight-forward drubbing for him as Emerson isn't exactly offensive off his back. Emerson wasn't able to land much against Nover, but Lentz has proven in the past that he's susceptible to being tagged. Interesting match-up, but I think I'll take Lentz here.
Yushin Okami (23-5, 7-2 UFC) vs. Lucio Linhares (13-5, 0-1 UFC): In middleweight action, long-time UFC veteran Yushin Okami will battle second-degree Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Lucio Linhares in a bout that most fans would consider an one-sided affair. Okami enters the contest following a debilitating loss to Chael Sonnen at UFC 104, but he managed to rattle off three straight wins prior to UFC 104 as he defeated Dean Lister, the late Evan Tanner, and Jason MacDonald. Linhares lost via heel hook to Rousimar Palhares at UFC 107, but he did defeat rising prospects Mikhail Zayats and Karl Amoussou during his days with M-1.
This is a pretty easy match-up to pick in my mind. Okami has proven that he can out wrestle and smartly grapple with Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts in the past, and his overall power and ground and pound abilities should give him the win here. Linhares doesn't have much to offer in the striking department, and I fear that Okami is too strong from top control for Linhares to be effective on the ground. I'll go with the smart bet here in Okami.
Caol Uno (25-12-5, 3-4-2 UFC) vs. Gleison Tibau (20-6, 5-3 UFC): The lightweights keep coming as Japanese legend and veteran UFC fighter Caol Uno battles Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Gleison Tibau. Uno enters the contest following a loss to Spencer Fisher at UFC 99, and a majority draw against Fabricio Camoes at UFC 106. Tibau is coming off a win over Josh Neer at UFC 104, and a surprising defeat at the hands of Melvin Guillard at The Ultimate Fighter 9 Finale.
Normally, I'd go with my gut here and pick Caol Uno by his versatile grappling skills, but Uno still remains a tough pick in many fights due to his lack of strength and striking. While his grappling is very good, Tibau presents an interesting challenge in that he has a lot of strength to break free from submissions. He also happens to be a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt himself, which should allow him to see the positional strategies that Uno employs coming.
Tough call here. Can Uno's grappling be a menace to Tibau on the ground? It probably can, but will he be able to finish off the Brazilian? I'll have faith and go with Uno here, but Tibau should probably win this match-up.
Jacob Volkmann (9-2, 0-2 UFC) vs. Ronnys Torres (14-2, 0-1 UFC): The final lightweight battle on the undercard will pit Nova Uniao prospect Ronnys Torres against Minnesota Martial Arts Academy fighter and NCAA Division I wrestler Jacob Volkmann. Volkmann has had an unfortunate run in the UFC as he's dropped his first two battles in the Octagon to Martin Kampmann and Paulo Thiago. While those are two names that are near the top of the food chain, the losses do put Volkmann in the precarious position of potentially being cut with one more loss. Torres is also inching closer to the chopping block as he dropped an unanimous decision to Melvin Guillard in his debut at UFC 109.
Torres showed some impressive pace and takedowns in his battle with Melvin Guillard, but he failed to execute his submissions when he had Guillard in bad positions. Like most opponents, Torres was very cautious of Guillard's power, and that's something he probably won't need to deal with against Volkmann.
What he will need to expect is some very good takedown defense from the former NCAA D-1 wrestler, and it's probably the most significant match-up in terms of styles in this match-up. Torres has explosive takedown ability, but will he be able to put Volkmann to the ground? Will we see more of Torres' striking game due to the limited danger Volkmann possesses with his hands?
Another tough fight to pick, but I'll go with Torres here. I liked his pace and sense of urgency in the Guillard battle, and Volkmann seems very content at trying to punch as a mediocre striker. I think that bodes well for Torres.
Charlie Brenneman (11-1, 0-0 UFC) vs. Jason High (9-2, 0-0 UFC): The lone welterweight battle on the UFC Fight Night 21 fight card will feature Pennsylvania-born wrestler Charlie Brenneman battling Antonio McKee-trained wrestler and Twitter addict Jason "KCBandit" High. Brenneman's only loss came against current UFC fighter John Howard, and he's compiled a good record of 10-1 over the course of his three-year career. Unfortunately, the strength of that record is low, and this should be a step-up in competition for Brenneman since his loss to Howard.
High re-enters the workforce after a lengthy layoff following a knockout loss to DREAM Welterweight Grand Prix champion Marius Zaromskis during the final of that tournament. Impressively, High defeated Brazilian jiu-jitsu phenom Andre Galvao in the semifinals of the Grand Prix and submitted Yuya Shirai during the opening round.
This looks like a classic wrestler vs. wrestler showdown with the exception that High will more than likely not sink into the mold of striking with a fellow wrestler. Like most Team BodyShop Fitness fighters under Antonio McKee, conditioning is number one. High will more than likely succeed in wearing out Brenneman over the course of three rounds, but Brenneman's strength of record concerns me enough to give High a good chance at submitting "The Spaniard" as well.
Gerald Harris (14-2, 1-0 UFC) vs. Mario Miranda (9-0, 0-0 UFC): One of the more interesting battles taking place on the undercard will be the middleweight clash between Ultimate Fighter alum Gerald Harris and undefeated prospect Mario Miranda. Miranda has been a highly-touted prospect for quite some time massing nine wins with phenomenal Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills. He's a product of the AMC team in Washington led by Matt Hume, but he has also trained with Team Black House as well.
Harris is a much improved fighter since his days on The Ultimate Fighter. He's managed to put on more muscle, gain a lot of power in his hands, and finish off opponents in devastating fashion in recent fights. He currently trains with Nate Marquardt at Grudge Training Center in Denver, Colorado.
I'm a bit conflicted in a pick here. Miranda's jiu-jitsu chops are very good, but Harris not only has a solid camp, improving power, and good wrestling skills -- but he also has the advantage of the high altitude in Colorado helping his conditioning. Furthermore, Harris' power could become a problem for Miranda if he gains top position. I like Harris here, but Miranda is a live underdog in this fight.